Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review: Rogue Mage (2012)

What if someone held an apocalypse and nobody came?

That is an over-simplification, but it is the jist of what I get from reading a little bit of the Rogue Mage series by Faith Hunter. Now I need to be upfront here about a few things.

1. I have never read the Rogue Mage books, but they are something I have been aware of and I have been meaning to check out.
2. I know Christina Stiles and have worked with her (somewhat) in the past.

That out of the way, lets look at this game.

Rogue Mage is a new RPG from Christina Stiles and Faith Hunter, published by Misfit Studios.
It is a modern supernatural game, so I am already inclined to like it, but also inclined to be critical of it.  I will work to balance this for this review.

The game is a d20 based one, but not 100% d20.  There is a list of changes for those of us that pick up a d20 game and try to go as we always have.  So no attacks of opportunity, no hp, no classes, no levels and so on.  Mostly this resembles Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Ed quite a bit.  The damage tracker is similar, but  simpler. There is a Toughness save (like M&M) and Combat is a skill (like other games). So mechanics wise this is really an elegant system, but it doesn't add a lot of new material.
So like M&M all you need is a d20 to play.
Also this is the Player's book only.  The Game Master's Guide will be out later.

Chapter 1 covers the basic rules of the game.  I thought this was a touch odd, since we have not rolled up any characters yet, but I think the reasoning is that the rules are so simple that leading off with them allows you to read them once and then easily refer back to them as needed.

Chapter 2 covers the setting.  You don't need have read the Faith Hunter books to use this game, something I think is very important.  The books look good and I am looking forward to reading them, but I have this book now.  Briefly the world changed with the return of the Seraphs on June 12, 2011. Day before my birthday. The war that follows engulfs the world and leaves it in shambles; in fact it is known as the Last War. The present day is 2117 (or 105 PA, post ap).  Given Rush is in concert as of this writing 2112 would have been cooler for me, but hey.   Immediately I am drawn to the parallels between this game and Eden's Armageddon. Except in Armageddon the war is still going on and it's 2018 (that seemed SO far away back when I was playtesting the game). The world though in Rogue Mage is more messed up with the new Ice Age and all the plagues.   Tech is all over the place with advanced technology in the regions away from the ice to steam powered retro-tech.

Chapter 3 is Character Creation. There are abilities and skills familiar to most d20 games.  Characters though have points in which to buy these similar to many other non-d20 systems and M&M. In addition there are Talents, Drawbacks and Magic.  First up are the character races; neomage, third-generation kylen, human, seraph-touched, rogue daywalker, and second unforeseen (mule). These are detailed in the book and fit into the cosmology of the game.  Races can be bought with character points, or in the case of humans, character points are awarded back to you. Attributes and skills are bought with points.  Talents can either be normal, special or supernatural and have varying point costs. Drawbacks give you back points. There are also Luck points (think Hero or Drama points) and a virtue/taint tracker which is a new twist.
There is a character creation walk-through and many sample characters.

Chapter 4 deals with abilities; Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom and so on and saves.
Chapter 5 deals with skills. The list is a familiar one for anyone that has played a d20 game in the last 12 years.  Of note though, Combat is a skill now.  I rather like that to be honest.  A trainable skill instead of a built in aptitude.

Chapter 6 covers Talents.  Think of these as something similar to Feats or Qualities, or most like the Powers in True 20.  Many of these are Feats from the SRD, but that is fine because they still work here.  As you can imagine there are a lot of them here, a little more than 30 pages worth.  Then we also get the Drawbacks.  These are like negative feats.  They take something from you, but you get Character Points in return. We get 10 pages of those.

ASIDE: While this game diverts a bit from the d20 mainstream, there is enough here that is the same to make you wonder if your other d20 resources might work with it.  For that answer I would have to say I see no reason why not.  Sure you are deviating from the source material more, but mechanically speaking, unless it relates to levels, classes or HP I can't see why it wouldn't work.

Chapter 7 is Magic. There is a lot here, not just in terms of rules for magic, but the spells themselves. Over 46 pages.  Again some spells from other games could be converted and used here.  One would need to figure out the point cost for casting them.  I wonder if the spells from the d20 Call of Cthulhu would be compatible?  Or even BESM d20 Advanced Magic.  If so, then this game would open up a wealth of playing options.

Chapter 8 details Virtue, Money and Luck.  Virtue and Taint stand in for the basic alignment system, but this also has more in-game effects.  Virtuous characters are more resilient to some magics for example.
Wealth is a score, rather than a track-able resource like gold pieces.  And Luck Points, like I mentioned are like Hero or Drama points.

Chapter 9 discusses Secondary Characters, aka NPCS.
Chapter 10 has equipment. It is an interesting mix of future and past tech and high tech and magic.

Chapter 11 details combat.  Combat normally gets it's own chapter, but I would have figured it a little closer to skills.  No matter, it is here and it tells you what you need to know. Of importance here is the damage track and conditions rules.  Remember, there are no HP here, so this is how you know if you are good or about to die.  This combat makes this game a bit more deadly than your typical d20 game.

We end with some fiction from Faith Hunter (each chapter had some too) and an Index.

The layout is clean and easy to read.  The art is really good as well and really captures the feel of the game well I think.  It is all black and white so it won't kill your printer.

There is a lot I really like about this game.  First it has so much potential with things I am already doing.  Secondly the fact that is also seems to fit in mechanically with a bunch of books I already have is also great.

I think I would have loved to have seen this as a Unisystem game.  But I know there are a lot of reasons why that could not have been done.  Plus the rules from Mutants & Masterminds, as I have done in the past, can be tweaked to give you a Unisystem like experience.  To be 100% honest if there is anyone out there that could be trusted to do that it is Christina Stiles and Misfit Studios.

Something though is keeping me from absolutely loving this game though.  I think it is because I have not read the books it is based on yet.  I also think there is not enough information here on how to run a game.  That is not a big deal for me really, I have 100s of books that tell me that. I don't know how to run one in this universe.
But these are not the shortcomings of this book; only my understanding of the world of this book.
I do hope the Game Master's Guide comes with a sample adventure.

Here is what I do know.  Misfit Studios has done a a great job in the past with Unisystem products and Mutants & Masterminds ones.   This rule set seems to be a perfect middle ground for them and I hope that we get to see it for more games.


Cross Planes said...

Mind explaining how the damage tracker is simpler?

Timothy S. Brannan said...

There are not as many conditions on the RM one as there is on the M&M2/True20 one.

So you move through it faster.

I guess "Simpler design" is better, not to imply "simpler to use" cause both are really easy.

M Pax said...

Interesting. Signed up for your blog hop. Great to meet you.