Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Authority RPG and Resource Book: The Rules (Tabletop Roleplay Review)

So, now we've dealt with the lore in as spoiler free a manner as possible, (hopefully to encourage some of you to check out Warren Ellis' work on StormWatch and The Authority) we're here's a few thoughts on the rules. This not going to be too simple given that the rules and details themselves are fine, but the core system itself is fairly divisive among people. It's based upon the Tri-Stat System, a somewhat uncommon set compared with GURPS or traditional D20 RPGs, and no one seems to have a set opinion on it. Just Google it and you'll find people adamantly loving it, adamantly hating it, praising one area but disposing others, with no dominant group. True, this is hardly uncommon among most systems, but if you were to get eight RPG fanatics to read this thing, no one opinion would even begin to cross over with the other.

However, as this is opinion driven, I personally think that the system itself is serviceable. Certainly not outstanding, and lacking some of the more fun elements of Shadowrun and Dark Heresy, but it's not nearly as convoluted as Exalted or bad by any standard. 

So, how does it work as a whole? Well, the Tri-Stat system itself proves to be oddly simplified, with characters having three primary stats covering all the usual groups. To compare with D&D, this means that Strength, Dexterity and Constitution are effectively all rolled into one stat (Body), Intelligence and some more scholarly aspects of Wisdom are rolled into another (Mind) and the other half are combined with Charisma to make one more (Soul). On the one hand, this does nicely streamline things in many regards and makes certain parts of the system far less clunky, easing people into RPGs as a whole. On the other though, it does remove too much depth and dynamic ideas for my personal liking. Linking in Strength and Constitution for example, that's all fine, but Dexterity as well seems to be going a bit far. It just doesn't allow for enough "sub-genres" for fighter to exist, even with the Less Capable Defect elements in play. That last Defect choice is what helps event out certain points, differing hard hitting glass cannons from slow but extremely strong tanks. 

Say for example you had a very high body stat, to turn your guy into more of a juggernaut and free up some points to spend on other areas (because there are always points) you could turn Speed or Agility into a defect. This would mean he was strong, tough and all the rest, but would be slower by comparison. The effects vary, as it inflicts a -3 penalty on major widespread attributes like those mentioned, or a -6 to more specialised areas. How good this is really will vary from person to person, as it can seem quite extreme. The system covering these areas goes from an inept individual (1), a normal human (4), an Olympian (12), and then to basically a Super Saiyan (20).

As a whole, the system just seems to play things too safe, and you'll quickly realise this when the group runs into enemy encounters. Given their power levels, most checks by the players are usually going to be relatively easily passed, and the few times the system offered some serious challenges was thanks to large negative modifiers. The problem is that this works both ways, so when you end up with enemies on roughly the same level as the characters, it can just result in continual no-selling of attacks as they repeatedly pass on their defensive checks. Okay, this can encourage parties to be very original with their own rolls, but it also means that the more straight forwards battles can be a real slog at times.

So, with so many negative qualities in mind, does it really cover many good aspects if any? More than you'd expect. The foremost being that the system is actually extremely easy to get into and very streamlined. This isn't to say it's simple by any means, and there's still a learning curve to be had, but it means that games move forwards very quickly. There's none of the usual waiting or speed bumps you run into with the likes of Shadowrun or the other games cited above. You could have a character hacking into a computer system, someone interrogating another character, a third person on a firing range, and a forth trying to survive torture, and it would be smoothly running. You wouldn't run into those same sort of bits or elongated sequences where one character's story hijacks the entire session for half an hour.

The actual book itself brings up multiple examples and cites how to keep things balanced between players in session, and in the tests runs we've done it works fairly well. It's quite easy to shift about and rearrange the narrative to suit an ongoing story, and the mechanics are speedily handled enough to have a story built upon them without strangling character moments. This, combined with its rapid combat and fast sequences, means that it's surprisingly open to new players. Being open to any new person of any kind is always a bonus, and it goes hand in hand in this case with a staggering level of flexibility.

When pointing out that the book covers a vast array of characters and figures in the first part of this review, that also went into the stats. You have everything here started out and covered from the main team to an overweight politician. While that might seem very general and obvious, please take into account that this ranges from a man who can bench press Everest and cauterise the moon to someone who can barely shoot a pistol. Then keep in mind all of that is covered on this basic system, and it goes to even greater extremes. The Authority being statted out didn't just stop at its humanoid members, but also went into its several kilometer long flying headquarters, the Carrier, and it works. You could have practically anything covered under this system, and while it might not be perfectly covered, it's adaptable enough for you to take a stab at almost any nutso idea you want.

The flexability of the game is greatly assisted by a staggering number of skills and character attributes which are on offer to new players. These are the parts which really assist in the greater flexibility on offer and allow players to fully tailor characters as and how they wish. So, while you might get certain abilities and points you'd expect such as being fated to follow a certain path or being ultra accurate with certain weapons, you then have some of the truly insane stuff. 

Want to have a skill in the domestic arts of housekeeping? It's got you covered. 

Want to have a literal divine relationship to call upon or the ability to transform cities into personal mecha? Yep, it's in there. 

Want to have force fields? The book has several pages devoted to sub-catagories of that ability. 

Hell, that goes that for quite a few of them, from alternate forms to a stylised combat technique involving guns. Again, it's simple so don't expect it to be ultra-detailed as with other systems, but it's wide and varied enough for you to basically build whatever combination of hero archetypes you might want. A personal favourite was basically combining the abilities of Mister Fantastic with Nick Fury, elasticity, genius, personal army of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and all.

In addition to such a variety of attributes, you then have the bonus of the exact nature of special attacks. These go on for several pages at a time, and the few which don't offer such a wide variety of points or ideas are always simple enough for the GM to develop house rules surrounding them. This can be especially helpful on the subjects of energy or damage absorption, or replicating the ever increasing power telekinesis has in all fiction. The overall point, however, is that it's really a system where freedom was their big emphasis without it ever over-complicating the game, and on that front it remains a definite success.

There's really little else to truly talk about beyond this save for how certain characters are presented. As mentioned in the first part, players are given the opportunity and freedom to play as members of the Authority and those figures are statted up. However, like so much present in the book, the writers emphasised that their variations were guidelines more than anything else. As such, they offered ideas and points present to shift things about with these characters or build upon them as they players wished. So, if someone wanted to focus primarily upon Midnighter's nature as a brutally efficient killer over all else, the book suggests ways to really focus upon this. It even goes so far as to use this in the example sessions and gives the players freedom to mess about with things.

Between this and the lore section, The Authority RPG and Resource Book is a very solid RPG choice. It's not perfect by any means, and certainly not utterly outstanding. The real attraction here is going to be the depth the book goes into the lore and the freedom on offer more than anything else. However, as a fan of the series it's more than enough to satisfy those familiar with the team's exploits and covers more than enough information for new fans. If you're familiar with the team or just like the general themes the comic was going for, this is a definite recommendation. Given the quality on offer here, it's a damn shame Guardians of Order weren't about for longer, or that their long planned StormWatch book never saw the light of day. Still, at least Wildstorm fans can be happy in the knowledge they utterly nailed this one.

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