Thursday, January 14, 2010

Read-Thru: BASH! Ultimate Edition

Recently, I've been looking for an easy-to-run game to use with new players. As providence would have it, I found a complimentary coupon code in my email, from the fine folks at Basic Action Games, which netted me the PDF version of BASH! Ultimate Edition (Basic Action Super Heroes), the latest iteration of a rules light RPG that manages to keep it simple, while allowing players to reenact every major trope of super-powered fiction, be it comics, movies, or cartoons. Overall, the game definitely scratches an itch for me.

The Basics of Basic Action

The core mechanic is a 2d6 roll, multiplied by the appropriate stat. The dice themselves explode in an odd and cool way: if you roll doubles, you get to roll an extra d6 and add it to the dice total before the multiplier. If your extra die happens to match the original doubles, you get to roll and add another, and this repeats till the bonus die doesn't match. Again, all this before the multiplier.

A typical stat goes no higher than five, but different circumstances (equipment, powers, etc.) can bring the multiplier up beyond 10, depending on the power level of the game. There's potential for some very high results. For instance, when playing a cosmic-level game, there is a 200+ success level (called Beyond Imagination). Regardless of this, BASH! seems like it will handle all power levels, from pulp heroes like the Shadow, to the Power Cosmic-wielding Silver Surfer.

Like many modern games, BASH! has in-game currency, called Hero Points. Hero points can be used to add to rolls; they can be combined to buy Hero Dice, which can be used to great effect. The Narrator gets equivalent currency in the form of Setbacks and Villain Dice respectively.

The game includes over 70 powers, and I could find nothing of note missing from the list. There are simple systems in place to modify powers to make them cooler or cheaper. The amount of customization is astounding, given the ease of the creation system. We're not talking 80s Marvel game easy (due to BASH!'s point buy character generation--random will almost always be easier, if not more desirable) or Champions (or even Mutants & Masterminds) depth (no higher math required), but it hits a sweet spot that appeals.

The details of the system manage to stay light while giving players options to imitate great comics moments like the Fastball Special. The knockback rules guarantee all kinds of genre-appropriate property damage. There are even rules in place for completely scalable, improvised weapons--from lamp posts to city buses.

Over half the book is for GMs. The Narrator's chapter is packed with tips for running a game. Given my recent interest in player-facing rolls, I found it interesting that the rules for minions make fighting them completely player-facing. While only minions work that way, it's nice to see the concept in use in another game. An additional nice feature in this section is a series of random encounter tables.

The Settings chapter provides genre-specific tweaks for running in 10 different styles, including all the proverbial "ages" found in comics, as well as pulp, super teens, cosmic, sci-fi, and fantasy. Included are ideas for mixing genres as well.

Finally, there are appendices, which include an archetype appendix, broken down by character scale, and a whole section on alternate mechanics for the game, which includes several different resolution options to include dice pools, playing cards, and Fudge dice.

What I Would Change

The book starts out with a glossary of terms and leads right into character creation and rules, which is great, but I found important rules hidden in the Powers chapter (which comes after the rules) that aren't necessarily power-specific, like the details on how area effect works in the game. Also, the minion rules are hidden in the Narrator's chapter, which wouldn't be a problem if the writer didn't make a big deal out of the need for transparency between the Narrator and the players in a super hero game. Why not just put all the rules in the rules chapter?

BASH! uses quite a few tables. I'd like to see the tables put together at the end of the book or in a free download on the website. The book does include a dice roll chart on the back of the book (for those who don't want to use a calculator or wait for someone to multiply 23 by nine in their head), but it's the back cover of the book, which is black--printing that table for those who need it would use a ton of ink. I did notice a more printer friendly chart available on the website, which is a good thing.

The core mechanic of the game is so different (in a good way) from others I've seen. This book needs tons more substantive examples. For instance, sometimes modifiers are applied to dice rolls (before the multiplier), sometimes modifiers are applied to the multiplier, and sometimes modifiers are applied to the final result. A few more examples might help a reader contextualize which to use in what situations better. Also, there are success levels in the game, but sometimes you have to beat a target number by a certain amount--essentially a target number modifier.

The PDF

While this is a locked PDF, which I'm not a fan of, BASH! is fully bookmarked, and the publisher left copy and paste capability intact. There's no printer-friendly version, but BASH!'s clean layout couldn't get much more printer friendly without removing all the art, which has always seemed wrong to me.

Who is this for?

Anyone who's ever wanted to try a supers game but was intimidated or turned off by the front-loaded, math-heavy character creation typical of the genre should check this game out. BASH! also seems well-suited to introduce new players. Old school gamers would probably get a kick out of this game, as it leaves much open to GM interpretation. Finally, I'd feel pretty comfortable handing out some of the archetypes from the back of the book and running a pick-up game with this, no notice needed--and who doesn't have a need for that?

Who should stay away?

If you like highly detailed character options, this is not the game for you. If you find yourself wanting more realism in a game, move along. If you want a lot of detailed rules for every possible maneuver, I'd also recommend checking out another product.