Tuesday, 26 August 2014

First Impressions: Fluxborn Part 4

After the high note of chapter two, I'm excited  interested to see what the third chapter brings us. A thought occurs to me as I get ready to dive into a juicy pile of conflict resolution mechanisms. The signal to noise ratio of this product so far has been mostly noise with only a little bit of salvageable signal. I can only hope this trend doesn't continue. Then again, it doesn't really matter to me. Unless the mechanics blow me off my feet, I'll just use this as a reference point when working on game systems. A brief aside, I got my hands on a copy of FATAL. I won't link to it, believe me when I say this system has absolutely no redeeming qualities. Also, yes, this is the one game I will flat out admit to pirating. Byron Hall deserves none of my money, this game barely deserves to exist. It's only merit is that it snugly occupies the title of worst roleplaying game created by humans. Anyways, I heard about this game and thought to myself, “there is no way it could possibly be as bad as people are saying”.
It was.
Then, being the obsessive collector I am, I said to myself, “you know what? There has to be some redeeming quality, if not in the setting material, then in the mechanics. Surely there has to be at least one salvageable idea in the midst of this gargantuan literary turd.”
There wasn't.
The point of this whole story is to illustrate this point: no matter how bad the mechanics are, this game is still better than FATAL. Wait, no that isn't it. The point is: even if the system is bad, I will enjoy combing through the mechanics looking for gold. I can't say that reading though the FATAL mechanics was enjoyable. It was more like having teeth pulled while under a sedative, or cleaning a bio-hazard site with a sponge instead of a toothbrush. Slightly better than a dreadful experience, but not by much.

Before we delve into this chapter, I suppose I should have a set of guidelines for me to judge if I like the system or not.
  1. Does conflict resolution match the conflict?
  2. Does the central mechanic have any interesting ideas?
  3. Is the system limited to one core dice mechanic?
  4. Does the system function as written?
  5. Does the system promote active participation?
  6. Is the system complex enough to allow for sufficient character variety?
  7. Are the rules well explained?

Chapter 3

The core of the system is fairly simple. Skills and stats are paired and added to a roll. Fairly standard stuff so far. D6s are the dice used in the core mechanics, and this is where it gets interesting. For untrained skills you roll one die. When using trained skills you get to roll two dice. Although I'm not sure how that balances out, given that skills already give you a bonus. This does give you significantly less chance of rolling “Drama Dice”, their equivalent of fumbles and critical misses. You also get to roll the second die while making untrained skill rolls but only add the result if it's a six, otherwise the result doesn't matter. I think that adds needless complexity and could slow down play. There is already a mechanic that gives an automatic success when you roll two sixes. Personally, I would have a roll of six on one die to allow the player to roll again and add the two results together. It adds a bonus for good rolls and streamlines the process.

Helping on a task has fairly standard rules, but honestly, I think they missed an opportunity to do something really interesting with their two dice system. Maybe one player rolls the untrained die and the assistant rolls the trained die, with the special rules for success and failure applying to each. I'm not completely sure how that would work, but it's just an example of incorporating an interesting facet of their design into the rest of the mechanical framework.

We get a quick glimpse of the target number required for the various levels of difficulty, devoid of any context, before moving on to character creation and hopefully some explanation of what we just looked at. The attributes start at zero, and can stay at zero, which is something I like. I should mention before we get any further that this is a points buy system from what I've seen so far. Anyways, the idea of starting at zero and requiring every stat to be at least one seems pointless to me. Some systems require at least one point in a stat to have functional characters. If a system has a minimum value, then a character should start at zero. The points are divided between categories instead of having a large pool of points like ORE. Oddly, you get a similar amount of points between skills and attributes.

There is an example of character creation immediately after. Before, I might mention, giving us what the attributes or skills are. In the example we see that wealth is handled abstractly. As long as your purchases are below your total coins your total coins remains the same. Purchases equal to your total skills reduce your total by 1. Now, I don't hate the name coins but I think a more general wealth or resources fits better. This may seem contradictory with my complaints earlier about the setting's lack of originality but when it comes to mechanics, I think it's best to avoid the abstract and take the well trodden path. The exception are rules-light games, something like coins would fit with the lexicon of the average rules-light narrative games.

One thing I'm torn on is justifying experience spends. I like that they mention a need for players to explain why they can suddenly speak Turkish. On the other hand, that is the sort of thing that can generally be hand-waved away. Obviously, learning something like sailing while stuck in a desert is harder to justify, so a player might need to explain that to his GM.

The section on attributes lists limits and averages. I think this should be put up with the character creation summary. If not, then the summary should be a side bar. Honestly, the simple layout is bothering me now. The large font and straightforward layout is aesthetically pleasing at first but makes mechanical discussion messier. A more complex layout could have made the setting chapter more interesting too. Now, I understand if they couldn't afford a graphic designer to do the layout or didn't want to spend the money, but I think spending that money would have made a better product.

The attributes can easily be divided into physical, mental, and social attributes. The social attributes are the only ones that are really interesting. We have the standard Charisma but we also have Trickery. This novel stat concerns deception. Charisma seems to be concerned with the pleasant side of the social world. I like the neat division of attributes but I'm not sure if separating deception and social graces is the best way to separate social stats. That is the sort of division I think is best covered by skills. On the subject of skill and attribute interactions, the skill list has no suggested attributes. Is athletics usually covered by Strength or Finesse? I don't know. The skills themselves are general while still covering a specific set of knowledge and abilities. Education, which covers science and history but I would imagine is suppose to deal with things like advanced math as well, is pretty general and ill defined.

Guts are another game economy, allowing for a bit of direct mechanical control by players. They start with two and gain a point at the start of a session or by completing objectives in game. I'm not a huge fan of Guts as a name, it only really works for one of its two functions. The function it works for is the ability to ward off death. Instead of dropping to a Health score of 0, you can spend a point of Guts to remain at Health 1. Interestingly, while using this ability, the player can choose to move away from their attacker. A neatly cinematic touch that could bring the character out of a potentially fatal melee. You can also spend these points to alter the results of the dice in a skill check. I find it odd that they single out skill checks. Why can a player not spend their points on an attribute check? It seems like an oversight on the designer's part. I think these would be better called Luck as their current name doesn't really line up with the function it serves.

Closing Thoughts

Chapter three is far from over. That said, this is the biggest chapter of all. Hopefully I'll be able to complete this chapter and the Bestiary in my next post. That said, now we have to look back on my checklist from the start of this post.

Does conflict resolution match the conflict? Don't know.

Does the central mechanic have any interesting ideas? Yes, I haven't seen the dice scaling before.

Is the system limited to one core dice mechanic? So far.

Does the system function as written? From the point of view of pure mechanical functionality? Yes. Is it balanced? I have no idea.

Does the system promote active participation? Yes. I'll do another post explaining exactly what I mean when this review/first impression is over.

Is the system complex enough to allow for sufficient character variety? So far, between the list of twenty skills, a big list of boons and more to go, it looks like there is plenty of player choice in character creation.

Are the rules well explained? The core mechanics are written out in clear, plain language. The skills and attributes could use some work, but I've explained all that above.

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