Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday 19 May 2024

Big Boss Beat ’Em Up

The city is not what it once was. As darkness falls, those that lurk in the shadows by day step out to make the city theirs. The gangs rule. Intimidation and violence are their game. They sell drugs and make millions for their bosses. Anyone who stands in their way is left battered and bruised—or worse, their blood running in the gutters. The police do what they can or just what they paid to do. They are underfunded and undermanned. They are paid to look the other way. They are paid to make it easy for the gangs. The authorities are underfunded and barely listening to the city’s inhabitants. The authorities’ search for improvement and perhaps for regeneration means they listen to the voices of the wealthy, the latest in a succession of ‘great’ developers, men and women who make great promises that only seem to add one more gleaming edifice to the city, and even if their plans come to fruition, their benefits rarely reach the average citizen, let alone anyone on the streets. For the city’s citizens, life no longer feels safe, there is no sense of a future, and if they cannot flee the confines of city, their lives are ones of despair. Behind it all lurks a powerful presence, working the levers of power and pulling the strings, perhaps sat atop one of those gleaming towers… Yet for some, this is too much. They can tolerate the situation no longer and have banded together with like-minded men and women to stand up to the gangs, to protect their neighbourhoods, and to face down the head of the criminal conspiracy that has knotted itself around the city. Can they prevent the Urban Decay?

Urban Decay is a roleplaying game of beat ’em up action inspired by classic arcade video games, movies, and comic-books. Streetfighter and Mortal Kombat, The Warriors and Big Trouble in Little China, The Old Guard and Daredevil. Published by Osprey Games and designed by the author of Jackals – Bronze Age Fantasy Roleplaying, this is an investigation and action roleplaying game that focuses on the brawls and the martial arts, designed for short campaigns in which the Player Characters clean up the streets, take down the thugs and the mooks, punch out the gang leaders, and duke it out with lieutenants, all before confronting the big boss and putting an end to the real threat to their neighbourhood and of course, the city. This is a roleplaying game in which a story of vengeance and vigilantism is going to be told, the action played out in its bloody, bruising glory, and then its pages closed. This is not a roleplaying to play in the long term, but more as a one-off, the occasional in-between popcorn and soda mini-movie marathon as a respite from the longer, more involved campaigns.

A Player Character in Urban Decay has six attributes. These are Damage Bonus, Initiative, Move, Guts, Clash Points, and Wounds Per Row. To this are added twenty-one skills. The creation process is a nine-step process. This begins with deciding upon a concept and recording the basic stats, which includes points in all skills except guns. Urban Decay is a roleplaying game about punches, kicks, sweeps, grapples, two-by-fours, katanas, and so on, but not guns. They have a role in the game and a Player Character can start play with one, but they are not the focus of the game. This is further enforced by the fact that the Guns skill does not have an associated trait, so although the John Wick series of films are an inspiration for the roleplaying game, there is no scope for gun-fu. Once the concept and the basic stats are done, the player then chooses an Archetype, Background, Training, and a Code before customising the character with extra points, selecting some equipment, and penultimately selecting a Crew Type. Lastly, a player answers a few questions about his character to ask why he is getting involved in the story to come. So, an Archetype could be Charismatic or Skilful, a Background Law Enforcement or The Street, Training the Face or the Fighter, and a Code the Agent or the Killer. In each case, these options add bonuses to attributes, skills, and traits, the latter granting various bonuses and effects in play.

The Crew Type represents how the Player Characters work together and how they know each other. Each Crew Type, such as Fighting Stable or Thieves, offers a bonus to a particular skill for one Player Character and a general skill bonus based on the relationship between one Player Character and another. Ideally, the Crew Types are set up for four players, although adjustments can be made if there are more or fewer players.

Maja Wincenty
Archetype: Strong Background: The Street Training: The Finder
Code: The Local Crew Type: Street Squad

Damage Bonus: +1
Initiative: 10
Move: 14
Guts: 11
Clash Points: 4
Wounds Per Row: 6

Rippling Muscles: Influence for Intimidation
Word on the Street: Streetwise for finding the rumours
A Port in Every Storm: Streetwise for finding people
Home Field Advantage

Athletics: 30%, Craft: 30%, Deception: 30%, Dodge: 45%, Drive: 35%, Endurance: 45%, First Aid: 50%, Grappling: 35%, Guns: 00%, Influence: 50%, Kicking: 40%, Mechanics: 30%, Melee Weapons: 25%, Perception: 65%, Scavenge: 60%, Stealth: 35%, Streetwise: 85%, Striking: 75%, Thievery: 30%, Thrown Weapons: 35%, Willpower: 55%

Equipment: Leather jacket (Protection 2), flashlight, mobile phone, $50

Mechanically, Urban Decay employs the Clash system, the same as in the author’s Jackals – Bronze Age Fantasy Roleplaying. This is a percentile system in which rolls of ninety-one and above is always a failure, even though skills can be modified or even raised through advancements above one hundred percent. Rolls of doubles rolls under a skill are a critical success and rolls of double over are a fumble. Opposed rolls are handled by both parties rolling, with the participant who rolls higher and succeeds at the skill check winning. If a Player Character has a trait associated with a particular skill, then his player can roll an extra for the ‘one’s or units die. This enables a player to reroll the dice and turn fumbles into failures and successes into critical on their character’s signature skills.

Between them, the players also have access to a pool of Momentum points. These can be spent to re-roll failed checks, damage rolls, to add narrative twist to a scene, to invoke an Advanced Talent that a Player Character does not have, to prevent death occurring if a Player Character is reduced to zero wounds, and so on. The Momentum pool size is equal to the number of players plus two and resets at the start of every adventure or ‘Level’. It can be earned for rolling criticals.
For example, Maja is looking for a runaway girl. She approaches ‘End Row’ Ernie, a street corner dealer to ask if he has seen the girl. Maja’s player rolls her Streetwise skill. The result is eighty-eight. This is not only above her skill, but a fumble too. Maja’s player invokes her ‘A Port in Every Storm’ trait for her Streetwise skill and rerolls the eight on the ‘one’s die. The result is a six, so the total roll is eighty-six, a failure, but not a fumble. Maja’s presence attracts the attention ‘Endrow’ Ernie’s boss, who draws up at that moment in his car and as he climbs out of the tells her to buzz off…
If in terms of skills and skill checks, the Clash system in Urban Decay is simple and straightforward, combat by comparison, is not. Every combatant typically one main action in a combat round, often a standard type of attack, but with the addition of Clash Points, combat becomes more dynamic, more heroic. Attacks are made using the appropriate combat skill—Grappling, Kicking, Melee Weapons, Striking, or Thrown Weapons—and a successful roll means that the target has been attacked and damage will be inflicted. However, the target can spend Clash Points to turn into an exchange of blows or taunts or a Clash of wills. It then becomes an opposed roll. Clash Points can also be spent on minor actions in addition to an attacker’s main action, such as opening or closing a door, switching weapons, diving into cover, and so on. Clash Points can be spent to improve an attack, to make a Feint or Power Attack, to do a Grapple or a Sweep the Leg move with a Kick.
Maja is on the street corner, having got nowhere with ‘End Row’ Ernie, and Ernie’s boss—Dwayne—has arrived by car and wants to get her away from the corner because she is disrupting business. Dwayne also wants to teach ‘End Row’ Ernie about talking to strangers. ‘End Row’ Ernie is a Melee Mook and Dwayne a Melee Soldier. Each has an Initiative of twelve, whereas Maja has an Initiative of ten. ‘End Row’ Ernie has one Clash Point to share with his fellow Mooks—if they turn up—and as a Melee Soldier, Dwayne can have up to five. The Game Master does not rate Dwayne all that highly and gives him two, whereas Maja has four. This is the number that both will have each round to spend.

The Game Master rolls five for ‘End Row’ Ernie and Dwayne and their joint Initiative is seventeen. Maja’s player rolls six, which sets hers at sixteen. Still, Dwayne and ‘End Row’ Ernie. Dwayne acts first. He snarls at Maja and says, “We don’t like people shoving their noses where they don’t belong. We’re gonna learn you a lesson.” The Game Master spends the one Clash Point the two share to have Dwayne draw a club and then she rolls Dwayne’s Attack Line to determine the options that Dwayne will have. She rolls twenty-three and the options are ‘Savage Blow’, which will inflict damage and the target will also possibly lose Clash Points, or ‘Hack & Slash’, which lets Dwayne attack, break from cover, and then retreat. She chooses ‘Savage Blow’ and rolls forty-eight to hit, which is enough. Maja’s player decides to spend a Clash Point and turns it into a Clash. He rolls sixty-three. This is below his Striking skill and higher than the Game Master rolled, so Maja succeeds, and blocks the attack. Now it is her turn to react. Maja’s player selects ‘Strike: Perfect Strike’ as an option. It costs Maja her three remaining Clash Points, but ignores any Protection. Dwayne has no Clash Points to spend until the next round. Maja’s player rolls thirty-three—a critical. This will double damage. An unarmed strike is eight-sided die plus a six-sided die for Maja’s damage bonus. A Critical attack versus a Failure means that Maja inflicts maximum damage—fourteen points—and earns a point of Momentum, and it ignores the three points of Kevlar that Dwayne is wearing. It is a cracking blow and it almost, but not quite reduces Dwayne’s Health by half. With a look of a surprise on his face, he really felt it though…
In the long term, a Player Character can advance any skill beyond one hundred. This opens up the possibility of selecting Advanced Skill Talents. These include ‘Kip-up’ for Dodge which enables a Player Character to stand from prone as a free action for a Clash Point or ‘Skilled Fighter’ for ‘Striking’, which permanently reduces the Clash Point cost for a specific combat action, enabling it to become a signature move. There are Advanced Skill Talents for all skills except Guns and there some for Momentum use as well.

For the Game Master there is short, but solid advice on the genre, keeping the action high, having the boss gloat, and so on. In terms of tools, she has the Domination Pool, which is like the Momentum Pool, but for the bad buys. In terms of campaign design, Urban Decay is built around a series of linked districts across the city, which the Game Master seeds with plans and secrets, lieutenants in charge, and clues to the next district. This will all lead to a final showdown with the gang boss. Each district requires further design and choices, and the Game Master is given a ready list of places and people to chose from with which to populate a district, plus effects which the Player Characters can take advantage of or be hindered by. Each district has links to other districts that make them easier to travel to, but travel between district is difficult because the further a district is from home, the more unfamiliar it is. Within each Level/District, the Game Master also designs the path through it, with encounters and all of the opposition. In terms of opposition, the Game Master is given the options to design the Boss for her campaign, much in the mode of Player Characters, including an Archetype, such Rich or Mastermind; Resources including political Power or Esoteric Secrets; Fighting Style like Brazilian Jujitsu or Duellist; and Local Plan, what the Boss plans for the Crew’s neighbourhood. Then the Game Master is given to do something similar with Lieutenants, applying templates such as Alluring or Cruel to a base template, whilst Elites such as Brute, Martial Artist, and so on, all the way down to Soldiers and Elites are all standardised.

Lastly, for the Game Master, there is ‘Blood in the Streets’, a starting scenario. It is really a prelude to a full campaign, taking the heroes through the one path of a Level. It is a showcase for the roleplaying game’s mechanics and gives a chance for the players to show off their moves.

Physically, Urban Decay is very nicely presented. The artwork is excellent of anime punk and really moody painted scenes. It is also well written and easy to read.

Urban Decay is a roleplaying game about getting down and dirty in the streets and taking the fight to the gangs and the scum and working their up the chain. Battling their way through mooks and soldiers and lieutenants, all the way up to finally confronting the boss—and this can be in the players’ home city or the city of their choice. The rules allow for plenty of dynamic action as the Player Characters throw punches, sweep the feet out from under the enemy, and smack down the big boss. Urban Decay is your direct to video, gritty urban thriller that is going make enough to get not one, but multiple sequels, each time going up against a different boss—until an old one decides to come out of retirement. So, pick up Urban Decay, play a campaign, play something else, then come back for the sequel


Osprey Games will be at UK Games Expo which takes place on Friday, May 31st to Sunday June 2nd, 2024.


  1. Yes, but the rest was coming. Unfortunately, I had to be focusing on another task, so the review was not quite finished. It was only slightly late, plus it was a bonus review for Sunday.