Wednesday, 27 August 2014

First Impressions: Fluxborn Part 5

Chapter 3 (Continued)

We're starting off with combat rules. As I touched on in the last post, this game involves active combat. I'll explain what I mean by illustrating an example of passive combat. In D20 games (like D&D 3.5) one player attacks and they compare their result to a static number in their target's stats. That said, there are things like saves, but that really reverses the roles. One player rolls and compares the number to a static value. While this results in faster combat, I think it is less engaging to the players because you have to wait for your turn to come around again before doing anything. With an active combat system, which is any system in which both players roll with the defender's roll acting as the difficulty for the attack, the players have an active roll in combat even when they aren't making a choice.

To illustrate, let's say Hrothgar the bard is attacked by a wolf. In a game with passive combat, the wolf attacks, Hrothgar's player compares the number to a static value and takes damage or doesn't. Then Hrothgar takes his turn and rolls to hit the wolf. Then the player goes back into inactivity for the rest of the turn. In active combat, Hrothgar rolls to defend against the wolf. Then he takes his turn and rolls to hit the wolf, with the wolf rolling to defend. This is a pretty simple example of combat, and with more participants there is still waiting but a player gets to act twice as much in the second example. So in terms of design I prefer the active model because it guides gameplay in a direct that is more engaging than the passive model.

To bring it back to Fluxborn, I feel as though their combat system has made some pretty good choices. Most of it is pretty standard and I won't go into too much detail, but notably, when you have two opposed critical successes, the defender successfully defends themselves but the attacker gains a point of Wild or Logic which I think is a good touch. It rewards both players for their good roll (The idea of rewarding people for essentially random factors is something I'll have to explore more at a later date.) but antagonistic nature of the conflict is avoided but making the attacker's reward independent of the primary conflict.

Attacks not dealing lethal damage are left to the GM's discretion. There is a mention of grappling but only how to initiate it, the end effect is left to the imagination. I don't mind this idea in concept but I feel that mixing the more narrative driven GM fiat style rules don't mix with the concrete style of rules found elsewhere in this chapter.

Combat seems fairly lethal. The average damage of a melee attack is around 7 and health averages around 15. Players can take a little more than two average hits without armour before dying. Armour looks to be fairly cheap so that alleviates the effect somewhat.

There is an interesting system with weapons and armour. Players have a list of generic types but there is a list of qualities, like Big, Fast, Shield or Thick that modify what the weapon can do. I tried to do a system like this before but in my attempt all qualities including damage were picked by the player. In both systems the price depends on what qualities you give your gear. In my attempt it was only weapons, armour was still fairly undefined. Considering this allows a player to create any number of weapons or armour without long lists, I enjoy this type of design. Then again, generally, if I've tried it before, I'll like seeing it in print.

Stunts are next and initially seem to be generic ability but there are some interesting combo rules. Instead of the Exalted combo system (which just allows a single player to combine different abilities) this encourages cooperation on a strategy between various player characters. There is some tactical choice with which stunts you pick thanks to a balance mechanic. Players have to alternate between Wild and Logic Flux in a combo or it is more difficult to accomplish. Aside from the stunt and combo rules, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of tactical decisions you can make in combat. I don't mind that as much, not every game is meant to be played on a battle map with miniatures. What I do mind is the lack of some important details. In the body of the rules I couldn't find how to calculate movement or initiative. These are two things that should be plain and easy to find in the rules. Movement isn't abstracted since there are ranges for weapons and presumably some stunts. On the plus side they have a fairly comprehensive example of play which is something I think all games should include just to clarify exactly how some rules work. Sometimes not even the most comprehensive technical-style writing can adequately convey some rules. In that case, an example of how the rule works in play is invaluable.

Stunts act a special abilities and magical spells. They seem varied and useful. Combos also look like a big part of combat in this system which I'm totally okay with. They are taking something their system does which is cool, original, and done well and making it a major focus of the system. Sadly this section doesn't have any art. The rest of the chapter, especially the equipment section is full of beautiful and evocative art. Really, this seems to be the strongest of the chapters so far.

Chapter Four

Ah yes, the Bestiary, I am firmly in my territory as a GM. As a brief aside, these single book systems really some kind of monster repository. If they don't print it in the book for space concerns or whatever reason, they should release it for free online. These stat collections make it easier for GMs to run a game, simple as that. If a GM is interested in running a game, there is a higher chance they'll buy the book. Now this product is released for pay what you want so that isn't a huge concern but in my mind the quality of a product jumps greatly if they include tools for GMs. The art in this section is good but there isn't as much of it as I would like. That's nitpicking though, with one notable exception the art in this book has been the best part.

There are a variety of creatures ranging from animals to nightmare creatures. Some entries come with custom stunts which, considering their importance, is a nice touch. The sample Wilderbeast which is a lovingly illustrated thing called a Duckmouth Gazelle really captures the surreal quality I've been looking for throughout this game. Generally, the sample creatures are imaginative and varied enough to provide a decent groundwork for a campaign. Sadly, one of the biggest things I was looking forward too, the tools to generate antagonists, is severely lacking. There are plenty of examples to draw from and some general advice and lists of monster specific abilities but no major section on creating monsters. Also, while this is something that most games lack, there is no easy way to tell how powerful an antagonist is. The D20 Challenge Rating system has some major flaws but it exists and you can generally assume that creatures of equal CR are around the same difficulty. Without looking at the stats, and even after that, we don't get a clear idea of the power level of the stats presented in chapter four. While I'm not happy about that, I can't fault them unduly for something that a lot of games struggle with.

Closing Thoughts

So, we come to the end of Fluxborn and with it, this first impression. I hope to do more of these in the future, but I think I'll keep it to one post. I'm might switch to doing standard reviews as it seems far easier. I'm going to rate each chapter out of ten and then give my rating for the whole book.

Chapter 1: 4/10
This chapter was a disappointment to me. With the introduction offering so much potential, I learned in this chapter that the game was (not quite, but very close to) your typical medieval fantasy. There were a few glimpses of mechanics that kept me going. I can unequivocally state that this chapter has no reason to exist. All of its contents could fit in the other chapters and they would be better for it.

Chapter 2: 5/10
By no means perfect, this chapter had a very weak start. Eventually, the scattered ideas of interest won me over. If, for whatever reason, I ran this game in the future I would ignore most if not all of this chapter. That said, there are a few ideas that I may shamelessly steal the next time I run a fantasy game. The biggest thing this chapter did was reinvigorate my interest in the game.

Chapter 3: 7/10
There are a few major issues with this chapter, but in general I liked what I saw. I stand by my complaints about how the layout could have been improved by adding more variety. In general, there were quite a few original ideas and ideas I've seen (or come up with independently) that were well executed.

Chapter 4: 6/10
The Bestiary is perfectly serviceable, if a bit short. I’m trying to resist judging this chapter based on disappointment. When the introduction claimed this chapter had guidelines for creating antagonists, I was expecting something a little more robust. Fluxborn didn't deliver. It did, however, offer a wide variety of well crafted and beautifully illustrated beasties for your PCs to fight.

Fluxborn: 6/10
Interesting mechanics and some clever ideas hidden throughout the rest of the books. The setting is by far the weakest part of the game. Overall, a beautiful book that squanders its potential and core concept.

Would I run it? No.
Would I play it as written? No, there are too many issues with the setting for me to really enjoy playing it.
Would I buy it again? Yes. It's available for free and even the suggested price is not too bad. Besides this the first product from an indie developer. Hopefully, they learn some lessons from writing and producing this game and apply them to their next publication along with their beautiful aesthetics. Aside from the benefit to the developers, there are some interesting mechanical design choices and setting tidbits that I can pull out to examine or use as inspiration for other games. This is a thesaurus of gaming, I want to have it on my shelf, but I'm not going to recommend it to my friends unless they need something like it.

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