Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

Gaming Fun; Recent Reading

Tri-Stat dX Core System Role-Playing Game

Guardians of Order have just published Tri-Stat dX, a synthesis of BESM and SAS (their superhero roleplaying game). It was written by Mark C. McKinnon and Adam Jury, Stephen Kenson, Jef Mackintosh, David L. Pulver, and Jesse Scoble, and is available in book form for 10$US and in PDF form for download for free. dX is slightly crunchier than BESM (it adopts SAS's Power Modifier Values (PMVs) and changes the scale of charater points), and it changes a few things, like Own a Big Mecha, but it seems to be pretty good. Visually, it has a very clean, spare look, from the black cover with the Tri-Stat dX logo on the front and the Guardians emblem on the back, to the layout and organization of the text inside. The only art in the book is on the few pages that are advertisments for other Guardian books or their Magnum Opus imprint: no anime-style art here to put off the anime-phobic. It ought to provide a useful datapoint in the discussions about art-filled, expensive (color, hardback, etc.) game books and plainer, more text- oriented game books. It will be interesting to see how this turns out for Guardians.

I was surprised to see (in the ads in the Tri-Stat dX book) how reasonable the license fees are for the use of dX and BESM through Guardian's Magnum Opus creator-owned roleplaying game publishing imprint, especially since Guardians handles all the printing and distribution of the game. This seems like it ought to be boon to game creators who are not ready to plunge into game publishing themselves, but have a good game they needed published.

Update: there is a Tri-Stat dX character sheet available from Guardian's web site.

BESM: Cold Hands, Dark Hearts

Guardians also recently published BESM Cold Hands, Dark Hearts (CHDH), a gothic horror setting viewed through an anime lens, reinterpreting western supernatural material in the light of the Japanese manga, anime, and games. It's written and illustrated by David Okum and, despite the (im)moderately cute gothic toddler on the front cover, it looks like it should support games ranging from the lighthearted to the downright serious, though throughout it concentrates on the action and adventure side of things.

CHDH opens with a manga (a welcome change from plain flavor text) that sets out a rather grim backstory. David Okum's art here is more spiky and less cute than some of his other illustrations in the book, and despite the unfortunate duplication of one page of the story and the resultant omission of another (but see below), it does a good job of laying out the backstore and setting the mood. (And all this before the actual title page!) This is especially important because we later learn that the story is explicitly intended to familiarize players with the setting. Guardians has made the whole story available on their website as a preview, including the missing page, so GMs can point players to it for an introduction to the game.

Once we get past the title page, we find a short introductory chapter covering CHDH's sources and looking at how Japanese culture combines with western supernatural traditions to produce new interpretations in manga, anime, and games, and how western media has been influenced in tern. It's a nice summary of large subject and touches a good number of the influential anime in passing.

The second chapter, the bulk of the book, covers character creation. It immediately lets us know that player characters are intended to be supernatural entities in a behind-the-scenes mystic struggle, and then lays out the character termplates for the suggested supernatural entities, along with brief descriptions of magic systems used by each type and some additional background material. There are ten different types of entities, ranging from shapeshifters and vampires to sorcerous humans to spirits of the dead and zombies, and a couple of the entity types have sub-types, so there's plenty of variety. I was pleased to see how well the BESM system specific rules fit in with the background material, completely avoiding the "overwhelming list of stats" syndrome. The chapter continues by briefly listing the schools of magic and spells availble to each school, followed by an alphabetical list of the spells themselves. Each school is specific to a type of supernatural entity, and mechanically the schools are represented by a default level of the Magic attribute for each type of entity. It's a good example of how to some flavor on top of the generic effects-based BESM attributes. The chapter concludes a some short bit of useful advice about character generation.

The third chapter covers playing in the CHDH world. It discusses what the players are likely to be doing and the daily lives of player characters and their interactions with the unsuspecting masses around them. It also describes some important places around the world, how magic works and lists some esoteric organizations and example Items of Power.

The fourth chapter is the GMs section. It gives some guidelines for setting up a campign, including some possiblities for why the player character would be working together. It lists some monster archetypes and describes the seven Daemon Lords who are major villians (or heros, to some) in the setting, along with suggestions for how to use them in play.

The fifth and last chapter is an example campaign. It includes three lightly detailed scenarios, a short discussion on how to expand the campaign, and five brief scenario ideas.

Finally, the book ends with the appendicies: a world map, a biography, and an index.

With CHDH Guardians of Order has continued with the BESM tradition, seen in Centauri Knights and Uresia: Grave of Heaven, of engaging settings in small packages. Like those earlier books CHDH is full of neat ideas and includes interesting system material as well and providing useful examples. I think it's a good example of minimalizst setting, and anyone feeling overwhelmed by the many super-detailed settings available would do well to look at CHDH. It's also worth a look for those seeking a less angst-filled horror setting than White Wolf's World of Darkness.

Recent Reading

  • A Mist of Prophecies by Steven Saylor. This, the nineth book in Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series about the Roman detective Gordianus the Finder, takes up with Grodianus back in Rome after his travels in search of his supposed dead son, and fittly starts out just as depressingly as the last book ended. I hope things start looking up a bit for Gordianus and his family.

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