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Thursday, 29 June 2017

Free RPG 2017: Borderhounds Role Playing Game: Apartment 11A

Now in its tenth year, Free RPG Day offers up a variety of different titles for different games, typically introductory rule sets, also known as quickstarts, or scenarios. The scenarios are of course for existing games, but whilst the quickstarts may likewise also be for existing games, many are for forthcoming games, giving gamers a chance to experience a new game or setting before they released. RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Quickstart and Adventure is one such release, as is Borderhounds Role Playing Game: Apartment 11A.

Borderhounds Role Playing Game: Apartment 11A is a release from Troll Lord Games, best known as the publisher of Castles & Crusades, a stripped back version of the d20 System which did two things. First, it did not emulate Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition, but rather an older version of the game, something akin to Dungeons & Dragons and Basic Dungeons & Dragons, the versions of the RPG that essentially predated Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Second, it prefigured the Old School Renaissance in presenting old interpretations of Dungeons & Dragons. What Castles & Crusades did introduce was a rules system called the SIEGE Engine. Primarily, this includes a skills and action resolution mechanic for every situation bar combat, which worked just like the d20 System. The SIEGE Engine was an attribute check system which divided each character’s and each monster’s attributes into primary and secondary attributes. Primary attributes gave a base target to succeed of 12 and secondary attributes gave a base target to succeed of 18, with primary and secondary attributes determined according to Class and Race. Every situation had a Challenge Level that could be added to the base target, which gave a Challenge Class against which a player would roll and add bonuses for character's Level, attribute bonuses, and Class. In play it has proved to be a simple means of handling almost any situation in the game.

In the years since its publication in 2004, Castles & Crusades has continued to be popular and the SIEGE Engine has been used in a number of different roleplaying games and genres, including the Science Fiction of Star Siege and the Pulp action of Amazing Adventures. The latest roleplaying game to join the SIEGE Engine family is the Borderhounds Role Playing Game, for which Borderhounds Role Playing Game: Apartment 11A is the quickstart released for Free RPG Day 2017. Before explaining what Borderhounds Role Playing Game and Borderhounds Role Playing Game: Apartment 11A both are, it is important to note that it is not. What Borderhounds Role Playing Game is not is a d20 System interpretation of a roleplaying game of guns, swords, cyberware, and magic a la Shadowrun. The reason that it needs to be said is that the cover of Borderhounds Role Playing Game: Apartment 11A very much gives that impression. After all, one character can be seen wielding a pistol and a katana, another a spell and a revolver, a third looks like a Dwarf complete with assault rifle, cyberarm, and red Mohican, and a fourth who is a Troll with a submachine gun. Which of course, looks very Shadowrun-like.

So if the Borderhounds Role Playing Game is not a multi-genre roleplaying game of magic, guns, and cyberware set in a future America, then what is it? Well, it turns out to be a multi-genre roleplaying game of magic, guns, and cyberware set in a future Hell—and America. This Hell has gone corporate in a big way and what it primarily trades in is the Human Soul—known as ‘Weepers’. Sometimes those Souls go astray and sometimes demons go rogue, and this is when the Department of Retrieval, Hell’s industrial espionage arm, steps in. Or rather some demonic bureaucrat puts out a contract to tender and freelance bounty hunters and troubleshooters known as Borderhounds bid for it. Sometimes these contracts take the Borderhounds into the Wasteland surrounding the thousand mile radius Corporate HQ or even back to Earth.

In the Borderhounds Role Playing Game, the player characters are of course Borderhounds. They primarily Humans, but can also be Demon/human Hybrids, who are widely despised in Hell. No matter their Class, they all have access to firearms, but some Classes like the Occultist have access to spells, a handful of Zero Level and First Level spells being given to that end. Some characters also have access to ‘Forza Infernis’ or ‘Powers of Hell’. These include powers such as Hellfire Blast and Hellfire Burst, Boost Attribute, Danger Sense, and Track Hell. All  ‘Forza Infernis’ require Infernis points to cast and apart for demons, are fatiguing to cast. Humans and Weepers who cast ‘Forza Infernis’ are automatically fatigued, whereas Hybrids must make a Saving Throw against their Constitution to avoid being fatigued.

Four pre-generated characters are provided to play the scenario, ‘Apartment 11A’. They include a Soldier who can bestow leadership bonuses on his allies and a bonus on strategy and tactics checks; an Occultist with knowledge of the arcane and Hell who can cast Arcane Bolt and various spells (though how many is not clear); a Renegade who is the equivalent to the Thief Class; and a Hybrid Street Fighter who has claws, horns, and teeth and besides being able to teleport back and forth from Hell to Earth, can cast ‘Forza Infernis’. All are Third Level and all will need transferring to a character sheet.

The scenario in ‘Apartment 11A’ is a very short affair, just over two-and-a-half pages in length. In it, the player characters are a Borderhounds team on Earth who work for Kain’s Henchmen, a larger group. Relatively new at the job, they have been tasked with tracking down and killing Felswop, a demon on the run in dingy Chicago. This is a small job, passed down by a more famous Borderhound because it was not worth his time. As the scenario opens, the player character Borderhounds have tracked Felswop to the Walton building and are about to go in. All they have to do is enter, go upstairs, enter the titular appartment, and kill the demon. This is not as easy as it sounds, but it is not all that interesting either. There are a couple of traps and a handful of monsters to fight, but very little beyond that. There is very little variation in what the player characters will face and no opportunity for anything other than combat. The result is that ‘Apartment 11A’ feels somewhat flat and one note, not really something you would want for quickstart to showcase a new game.

 Beyond its vibrant cover, Borderhounds Role Playing Game: Apartment 11A is workmanlike in all aspects. The writing is reasonable even if the scenario design is uninspiring. All right, so the pages of Borderhounds Role Playing Game: Apartment 11A are limited at just sixteen and with a lot to pack in, but the scenario does not offer much beyond combat. The good news is that the scenario will not take longer than a session to play through if that. As the very first taster for the Borderhounds Role Playing Game, Borderhounds Role Playing Game: Apartment 11A works adequately enough, but as a quickstart to entice players to play the game, it is underwhelming.