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Sunday, 26 September 2021

A Bounty of Action & Action Points

Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game is designed as the world’s easiest roleplaying game—and it is. Mostly. Published by Great GM following a successful Kickstarter campaign, it is a Science Fiction roleplaying game in which the Player Characters are galactic bounty hunters. The need for law enforcement has grown to the point where it has not only been commercialised, but institutionalised, and whatever their species, their background and their former occupations, today’s bounty hunters are graduates of Bounty Hunter School. Now they ‘Seek Capture Return Get Paid’. Their clients are governments, law enforcement, corporations, and even individuals. It is a lucrative business, but expenses, in particular, operating their own starship, are high.

Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game comes not as one book, but three. They include ‘Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game’ along with ‘Bounty Hunter Resource: Huntari Region’ and ‘Bounty Hunter Bounty: Halcord Midmo’. However, they are not separate books, but have been compiled into one book and compiled into one book without each being renumbered. It gives the book an odd feel, but not necessarily a feel that impedes play. That oddity aside, Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game comes with everything necessary to play, including rules and character generation, setting, and a scenario.

A character—a Bounty Hunter—in Bounty Hunter is defined by his Species, Skills, Action Points, and Equipment. The creation process is a matter of making eight choices. These are for Species, Birthright (or origins), Education, Career prior to becoming a Bounty Hunter, Reason to Become a Bounty Hunter, Six Interests, Abilities, and Name. In the default setting of ‘Bounty Hunter Resource: Huntari Region’, eight Species are given and at each choice up until Reason to Become a Bounty Hunter, a player has nine options to choose from and each choice provides a Bounty Hunter with two Skills. At the Six Interests step, a player is free to select extra Skills his Bounty Hunter does not have—the number depending on the number of players, whilst for Abilities, he selects a single one. An Ability is an extraordinary or dramatic talent, such as Fast Draw, which allows a Bounty Hunter to automatically act in the First Phase of a Dramatic Scene with a Ranged Attack or Doctor, which increases the amount the Bounty Hunter heals from five Action Points to six. Also up until the Six Interests step, all of the options are accompanied by a piece of flavour text, which a player is encouraged to copy and modify to help develop his Bounty Hunter’s background. With more than one player, the creation process is intended to be collaborative, with players discussing the Skills they have chosen so that a broad range of Skills is available to the party.

Thorby Baslim
Species: Human
Reputation: 1
Birthright: Slave Pits
Education: Streetside
Career: Spy
Reason: Death
Skills: Culture, Deception, Engineering, Logic, Melee Combat, Mounted Weapons, Ranged Combat, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Strength
Ability: Polyglot
Languages: Slavesk, Galactic
Action Points: 20

Mechanically, Bounty Hunter is simple. It uses an Action Point economy. Every Bounty Hunter starts each day with a total of twenty and they represent not just his capacity to act, but also his health. To act, the Bounty Hunter must have the particular Skill and simply expends one Action Point. If he does not possess the Skill, then he cannot undertake that task, though he can defend himself in combat. If the Bounty Hunter has the Skill and the Action Point is spent, he automatically succeeds at the task. It is as simple as that.

However, Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game gets a little more complex when it comes to opposed actions, with participants in a situation—for example, a Bounty Hunter using Intimidation against a small time crook NPC with more information about a bounty, the Game Master using Psychology to mentally defend himself—expending Action Points to counter each other. Typically, this countering of Action Points continues until one participant decides to give way, switches to a different Skill which cannot be countered or defended against, or one participant exhausts his Action Points. Tasks can also be Repeated, requiring the Bounty Hunter to expend Action Points over multiple rounds for it to succeed, and they can also be Chained. This is again, more complex in that a player will need to expend multiple Action Points to succeed at a task. For example, to fire a weapon at another spaceship, Thorby Baslim uses the Mounted Weapons Skill, but to target a specific location on another spaceship, his player needs to link or Chain three Skills, in this case, Engineering, Logic, and Mounted Weapons. His player pays an Action Point for each use of the three Skills, for a total of three. In general though, Chained actions are used for starship combat.

Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game is played in Freeform or Dramatic scenes. Freeform scenes are when general or supportive actions and roleplaying takes place, Dramatic scenes are when the action and excitement take place, and could be a shootout, an interrogation, a computer hacking attempt, and so on. Each Dramatic scene is divided into two phases, a First Phase and a Last Phase. Each participant can take one significant action in a Dramatic scene, but must choose whether to act in the First Phase or the Last Phase, and if a participant wants to act in the First Phase, he must expend an Action Point. This is in addition to the expenditure of an Action Point to use a Skill. Within each Phase, all actions are simultaneous and each player needs to declare his action lest his Bounty Hunters be unable to act for that Scene…! In combat, if an attack is successful, damage is inflicted in terms of Action Point loss—two for a punch, three for a martial arts strike, five for a sword, five for a RAN ‘Rail-Assist Nil Point Variance Projectile’ Pistol, seven for a PHASE ‘Phased Hayer-Accelerated Single Electron’ Pistol, and so on.

Starship combat in Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game adds another degree of complexity, but not overly so. Players and their Bounty Hunters are still using their Skills and expending Action Points to act, but a starship has various components, from communications and countermeasures to scanners and transponder unit, each of which has a Power Pool of points. A Power Pool is slightly different to Action Points, in that although it represents how much damage a particular component can suffer before being knocked out, it also represents how effective it is. A player can spend Action Points to have his Bounty Hunter shift points from one Power Pool to another to increase a component’s effectiveness, for example, increasing the damage done by a RAN turret, or to repair damage done to a starship.

Beyond a handful of NPCs and sample spaceships, the latter running from single-pilot craft to warships, Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game includes a sample setting with ‘Bounty Hunter Resource: Huntari Region’. This details a region of space occupied by several different factions, not just Humans, including the Rakesh microbe colonies, the tentacular Lonlaneek, the militaristic and dispassionate Goraan, the warlike and feline Baharresk, and more. There are eight different Species in the region, plus AIs, all of them playable as Bounty Hunters. They are all different and they are all interesting, although the Baharresk do feel like the Aslan of Traveller’s Third Imperium setting and the Kzin of Larry Niven’s Known Space tales. A nice touch is that their descriptions do include their preferred pronouns. The various polities and sectors are described in a fair amount of detail in just a few pages each, covering governance, unique features, military and police, individual worlds, and a list of bounties. So the Greypan Alliance consists of human-dominated worlds in a mutual defence and trade pact, which heavily patrols against intruders from the region of space known as the Rift which dominates the Huntari Region, contains a completely neutral sector space within its borders, and is home to the Mefausa Henad, a ruthless criminal syndicate that the authorities have failed to stamp out. Conversely, the Noso Protectorate is completely surrounded by the Rift and is home to the amphibious humanoids, the Trafye, who are more interested in science and the mysteries of the Rift and its black holes, neutron stars, and so on, than in expanding. There is a wealth of detail here for the Game Master to include in her campaign, although the Huntari Region as a whole is missing an overview that would help the reader before it dived into its detail.

Rounding out Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game is ‘Bounty Hunter Bounty: Halcord Midmo’. This is a beginning scenario designed to take place after the Bounty Hunters have graduated from Bounty Hunter School. It is specifically designed for a party of four players, so may need some adjustment if this number is different. This is a good introductory adventure for both the Game Master and her players and it nicely escalates in scale. It should provide a good session or two’s worth of play.

Physically, Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game is very nicely presented. It is full colour throughout, the artwork is excellent, and throughout there are not only well written examples of the rules and play, but boxes marked ‘Critical Concepts’. Most are for the Game Master, though there are some for the players, but they all explain particular aspects of the game and how it is played. These are very helpful and to the point. Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game does need an edit here and there, but the problem with it is the lack of cover. Printed on good quality paper stock throughout, it does feel as if it should have a cardstock cover for better protection.

Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game is designed as the world’s easiest roleplaying game—and it is. Mostly. Play comes down to whether or not a Bounty Hunter has the right Skill and not just sufficient Action Points to act, but whether or not a Bounty Hunter has enough Action Points to act now or needs them for the next Dramatic scene. So it is a resource management game as much as anything, and the switch to diceless mechanics, as easy as it is, also requires a shift in how the game is played. The player more used to the dramatic, sometimes last minute, even unskilled, desperate roll of the dice to save the day will need to adjust to considering just how much effort or resources his Bounty Hunter has every day. Which will limit what his Bounty Hunter can do each day. In a traditional roleplaying game, this limit might be due to timing or damage suffered and the need to heal, essentially down to the randomness of the mechanics, but in Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game, it is built in. In the long term, as a Bounty Hunter increases his Reputation by bringing in more bounties, the number of his Action Points will increase, but that limitation in resources will still be there.

In terms of storytelling, the removal of dice—or other random mechanic—from Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game also shifts the storytelling. Both players and the Game Master need to be proactive in their narration of outcomes and of making scenes dramatic and exciting, because there is no ‘Woah!’ moment of that stunning dice roll. This is not necessarily a criticism, but both need to be aware of it before playing this roleplaying game, and for some players, that shift might just be too radical a step. That said, the lack of dice and the simple resource economy of the Action Points in Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game make it perfect for playing online.

Ultimately, not every playing group is going to adjust to the mechanics of Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game, but its simplicity makes it easy to learn and teach, and the lack of dice does give player and Game Master alike greater control of the narrative—as long as they have sufficient Action Points, that is. For example, for a group wanting to do space opera in the vein of The MandalorianBounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game would be a good choice. Exactly thirty years on from the first diceless roleplaying game—Phage Press’s Amber Diceless Roleplaying GameBounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game provides an impressively simple, narrative driven roleplaying game with an equally simple premise and set-up.

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