#RPG – Dishonoured RPG Review

As a supplement to my video review of the game, here’s a character and some sample play/mechanics.

Jaime Vavala, The Gutter-Blade

Truth: Loyal to my friends.
Truth: Driven by revenge.
Skills: Fight: 6, Move: 6, Study: 4, Survive: 4, Talk: 5, Tinker: 4
Styles: Boldly: 4, Carefully: 4, Cleverly: 4, Forcefully: 4, Quietly: 5, Swiftly: 5
Focus: Fencing: 5, Stealth: 4, Locks: 3, Streetwise: 3
Contacts: Urza the Fence
Talents: Flashing Steel: Second Attack at +1 difficulty if attacking ‘Swiftly’.
Gear: Fine Blade: Damage 4, Block (reroll 1d20 in defence), Melee

The rattly old cart comes to a halt just inside the city gates of Samara and the steel cage is thrown open. Huddled men, little more than skeletons, shuffle off the cart, wrapped in thin blankets. Only one man moves with any bearing or strength, a rail-thin man, looking as though he is made of coiled rope, his face thin and sallow, his eyes hollow and sunken, but full of fire.

Jaime, the gutter-blade, back from his time in the prison camps of Tyvia. One of a handful to survive long enough to be freed, in the proper sense.

Jaime draws the thin blanket around himself tighter and moves through the slushy streets, his feet numb from the ice. Two men peel away from the eel-stand to follow him.

[Contest Roll]
[Gang Member Move 6, Quietly 4]
[17/15 = 0 successes. 5/8 = 2 successes]

[Jaime Study 4, Cleverly 4]
[8/12 = 1 success]

Jaime takes not of the distorted reflection in a bottleglass window, there’s someone following him. As he trudges through the slush he waits for a carriage to pass, and ducks into a side alley to try and shake off the pursuit.

[Contest Roll]
[Jaime – Move 6, Swiftly 5, Stealth 4]
[10/18 = 1 success]

[Gang Member Study 4, Cleverly 4]
[10/19 = 0 successes. 1/9 = 2 successes]

It seems like the two men have been lost as Jaime darts along the alley as fast as he can, picking his way through streets that were once familiar until he finds the sign he’s looking for. Three golden balls dangling outside a basement shop. He shuffles down the steps, opens the door with a little chime and turns the sign to closed.

There is a large, burly man behind the counter with forearm hair as long as your thumb.

“Urza,” croaks out Jaime. “I’ve come for my things.”

Urza turns, surprised. “Jaime? I thought you were dead!”

“I asked you to look after my things. I want them. Now.”

Urza begins to shuffle through the shelves. “It has been a long time Jaime my friend, and I thought you were dead.”

“I paid you enough back then. I want my clothes, my coin and my sword.”

Urza shrugs apologetically and continues to rummage.

The door chimes again, despite the closed sign, and a pair of men enter, scarred and rough looking, the men who followed him.

“Hello Urza,” says one of the men. “Cadenza sends greetings. You’re not going to help this criminal are you?”

“Ah Yev, Miron, of course not, heh…” Urza raises his hands, leaving a battered old scabbard on the top of the table, the worn handle of the sword dully reflecting the lamp light.

“Now then,” says the taller of the two men. “Why don’t you come outside with us, Gutter-blade? Let’s have a nice little chat about what you got up to in prison.”

“If Urza won’t help me, I guess I’ll help myself.”

[It’s important to see if Jaime manages to attack first, he has his back to the gang members so they have the drop on him, increasing the difficulty by +1]
[Gang Members Study 4, Swiftly 5]
[10/18 = 0+1=1 Success, 2/18 = 1+1=2 successes]

[Jaime Fight 6, Swiftly 5, Fencing 5]
[6/9 = 2 successes, enough]

[Now the actual attack]
[15/20 = 0, + Complication]
[Second Attack +1 Difficulty]
[8/11 = 2 successes]

[Gang Member Defence Fight 5, Forcefully 5]
[20/19 = 0 successes + Complication]
[16/11 = 0 successes]

Jaime lashes out with his blade, moving like lightning. The first gang member throws himself back from the sharp edge, just barely getting out of the way, falling back through Urza’s window in a shower of glass and wood.

The second guard is slashed across the throat and falls, gurgling to the floor, dying on the dusty floor.

[+2 Chaos, +2 Momentum]

There’s a third man, waiting outside on watch, and now he draws his own knife and joins the fight, as the first man hauls himself up from the floor and throws himself at Jaime in a bearhug.

[Grapple]
[Fight 5, Forcefully 5, Brawl 4]
[1/20 = 2 Successes, Complication]

[Knife Attack]
[Fight 5, Swiftly 5]
[7/5 = 2 successes]

[Defence]
[Fight 6, Swiftly 5, Fencing 5]
[3/6 = 3 successes]
[1/10 = 3 successes]

[Spend two momentum to make a counter attack]

Jaime turns with the man who leaps into him, slashing him from his neck to his navel and opening him up like the world’s least appealing string of sausages, twisting just in time to block the knife in a shower of sparks.

[+2 Chaos, -2 Momentum, +2 Momentum]

Jaime twists, using the opening from the parried knife to do a quick double-slash, back and forth across the man’s belly and thighs.

[Spend momentum for one extra die]
[Fight 6, Swiftly 5, Fencing 5]
[3/8/10 = 4 successes]

[Guard Defence]
[Fight 5, Swiftly 5]
[10/18 = 1 success]

The guard groans from the slashes, blood and entrails spilling rapidly from his opened guts and opened arteries.

[+2 Chaos, +3 Momentum]

Jaime jerks the sword, spraying the blood from it and turns back to Urza.

“You spent my money, didn’t you?”

“I did. How about I clean up this mess and move somewhere warmer and we call it even.”

“Not even, but better.”

Jaime slides his sword into its scabbard and starts stripping the gang members for their boots, clothing and purses. Three members of his gang, that was a good start, but only a start.

#RPG – Review: DUST Adventures

I got my much awaited copy of DUST Adventures, the RPG by Modiphius Entertainment, set in Paolo Parente’s world of DUST, which has been used for model kits, a board game of world domination set in the same universe, comics and two battle games, one a more simplified and swift board-game battle – not too dissimilar to Rebel Assault (though it pre-dates it) and the other a more conventional wargame.

It’s fair to say that I’m something of a DUST fanatic and it’s also fair to say DUST has lost a fair bit of impetus recently due to changing partners from Fantasy Flight and getting embroiled – like so many people have – over fights about Kickstarter money. Here’s hoping the RPG and the new figure releases sets that in a different direction.

Modiphius, of course, are on the up and up – launching off their Cthulhu-themed world war two releases and branching out into a lot of other new projects. They’re definitely ones to watch if they don’t expand too fast – which is always a worry – or their Kickstarter led business model doesn’t fall through in the wake of all these other crowdfunding scandals which, to be fair, haven’t yet embroiled them.

So what’s DUST? DUST is an alternative world war two scenario wherein the German explorations in Antarctica lead them to discover an alien spacecraft buried in the ice and a surviving alien in a life support pod. The real pivot point of the alternative history doesn’t really come in until 1943 when Hitler is assassinated and the deployment of walkers – made using reverse-engineered alien technology and uniquely best suited to the combat conditions in Stalingrad lead to a German victory there.

With the removal of Hitler and the application of super-technology the Germans regroup and are able to go back on the offensive.

To cut a long story short we see the emergence of three great superpowers, the Axis, who are no longer Nazis (a shame really, since Nazis make great baddies), the Soviet Bloc – the SSU – which unites Russia, China and large chunks of South America following Marxist revolutions, and the Allies, which is mostly the United States and the former Empire of the United Kingdom, with a smattering of independent nations here and there.

England has been invaded in a successful Operation Sealion and even America is not untouched, suffering SSU incursions into Florida and Alaska. It’s now 1947 and the allies are hard pressed on every front still behind when it comes to technology and becoming increasingly desperate – when a UFO allegedly crashlands in Roswell, an event that may change the tide of the war again…

Aesthetically DUST has always been rooted in the pulps, bombergirls and pinups and that kind of fast-paced, weird war with uplifted gorillas, zombies, laser weapons, tesla weapons, supersoldiers and power armour has always been what the boardgame has been about, albeit with a harder more serious edge than some other treatments of the same concept.

With that out of the way let’s get into the game itself.

System

Characters creation is fairly simple, you toss a few points into a handful of statistics, select a few overlapping skill packages that represent your former life and experience and then you’re good to go. Characters in the DUST RPG are essentially the same as the heroic characters from the boardgame and wargame, super-tough heroes with special abilities that take them over and above the norm.

The game uses a fairly simple dice-pool system, again derived from the board-game and wargame and while you can use special dice (marked with targets, faction symbols and shields) you can – thankfully, also use normal dice counting 5-6 as the ‘target’ which is, typically, a hit. To succeed at a task you’ll be rolling a dicepool of Statistic+Skill and sometimes an Advanced skill on top. For example, a sniper might roll Mobility+Firearms+Sniper Rifle in taking their shot. Most of the time when you’re doing something of ‘average’ difficulty, you’ll be rolling to aim for two successes. Keep in mind that the whole system is skewed towards the heroic level, so an average person only has 1 in any statistic and probably only 1-2 in any skill, so some poor Chinese conscript is likely to only be rolling two dice with their attack and for those following along at home that’s only a one-in-nine chance of succeeding – without adding any more complications.

For players, they can push themselves beyond their normal capacity by using Action Points, a game-altering mechanic that along with their more unusual abilities lets them bend the game to favour the heroes. While there’s no explicit suggestion that the Games Master have Action Points of their own to spend, I would strongly suggest doing so.

The system itself is fairly intuitive from there, all the sorts of mechanics you’d broadly expect from a dicepool system. Damage gets a little complicated, especially compared to the existing boardgame where a point of damage is a casualty for a normal soldier and a level of damage for a hero. Here you get ‘capacity’ for mental damage, physical damage and non-lethal damage and everyone’s going to get at least two points in it, which can impact somewhat negatively on the pulp feel of gunning down whole units of enemy soldiers at a time and may have been an aesthetically compromising rules decision here.

Presentation

The game is hardback and just over 200 pages in length, it’s well put together and full colour throughout, though a lot of the art has the muddiness and lack of clarity that a lot of game art does these days. The layout is a bit cramped and this is not helped by a nearly two inch border column either side of the page spread which is occasionally filled with sidebar information and in-game fiction, but more often left blank. The page real-estate this takes up could, perhaps, have been better used to space out and present some of the content in a clearer way, or to include more background information on aspects of the gameworld that are under-explained, such as Japan.

A major disappointment for me was the art, not so much its execution, but its content. There are too many photographs of miniatures in here, fair enough that the makers of DUST are primarily in the model business, but to me it never looks good for much the same reasons as TV show games never look that good if they fill their pages with still images from the show. Art just works so much better thematically. Still, it wasn’t just that but that the pinup aesthetic so integral to DUST’s development and history had been so vastly toned down.

Call it sexism or whatever if you like, but the pinup is emblematic of the era and has been integral to DUST’s appeal since its inception lending it its unique visual style and supporting its cast of what you might call ‘strong female characters’. For them to be downplayed and largely absent is extremely disappointing.

The other disappointment is the lack of expanded detail on the game world. I was hoping to find out more about the background of the game world than what I have already gleaned from the wargame materials but there’s not much extra here – something that would have sold the book to non-RPG fans who are just fans of the game and its world.

Scores

I give marks out of five, before anyone jumps on me, and three is ‘average’.

On style I have to, sadly, give the game a three out of five. While it’s competently executed the muddiness of the art and the seemingly deliberate avoidance of the pinup aesthetic dramatically compromises the presentation of the book. While the material in it is sufficient to play it is cramped, sometimes hard to reference and has a lot of wasted space.

On substance I again give the book a three. There was a missed opportunity here to expand on the game world’s background, tease material for forthcoming releases and go into detail and this was missed.

Overall that gives DUST adventures a 3, an average score, but this is largely down to my investment in the broader game world and the intellectual property as a whole.

I would still recommend the game, but contextually within the IP as a whole. DUST Adventures reads more like a companion volume to the rest of the material, rather than necessarily as a stand-alone game of its own.

I’ll still be playing it.