Tuesday, August 16, 2011

[Read-Thru] Agents of Oblivion

Recently my friend, Sean Preston of Reality Blurs, sent me an early copy of Agents of Oblivion (AoO), an upcoming Horror/Espionage setting for Savage Worlds. The copy was sent simply for my amusement, but I offered to provide my thoughts on this Savage setting for this site, and he agreed.

The copy I received is text only, but it is the final text (barring any last-minute proof-reading) of the game, laid out and waiting for art.

Forgive the length of this post, but I’ve seriously waited several years for this setting…

The Read-Thru:
Savage Worlds veterans should be careful to read this section, as there are a couple tweaks, to include the bonus for being human, starting and available Skills, Hindrances, and Defining Interests. Speaking of Defining Interests, this is one of my favorite features common in Savage settings from Reality Blurs—essentially you choose a set of hobbies and other interests not necessarily covered by Skills, and these get you bonuses to your Common Knowledge rolls. This is a great way to help flesh out your character.

Another thing AoO provides is archetypes, nearly ready for play. Essentially the Attributes, and Skills are filled in, and you need only choose your Edges, Hindrances, and Defining Interests (though the latter can be chosen in play). These archetypes are a nice compromise between designing a character and having a pre-gen—your work is nearly done, but the archetypes are customizable so you can still feel like the character is yours.

There are a few additional skills—not the typical Knowledge (Whatever), but real new skills. I’m not a huge fan of the new Skills. All these skills could be covered by existing skills, and while they make things a little better defined, I’m personally a “fewer is better” thinker. On the bright side, Agents get four free Skills at d4, so this should make up for the extra Skills you have to choose from.

There are several new Edges and one new Hindrance. My favorite addition here is Power Mods. These edges modify existing powers in a way you might expect to do in a supers setting. For example, there’s one called Selective, which allows you to choose who is hit with an area effect power. Very cool! In addition there are Technological Edges, which deal directly with cybernetic implants.

In the Setting Rules section there are rules for Extended Trait Checks (or ETCs), as originally found in Reality Blurs’ Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin. These cover a similar roll to the new Dramatic Tasks rules found in the new Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition (SWD). I’m glad these are here, though. They’re well written and more detailed, which allows for greater flexibility. I can see using both ETCs and Dramatic Tasks in the same campaign, depending on the situation. Also, it may be awhile before many players convert to SWD, and I think this type of rule is essential to the genre.

AoO provides some great guidance on different ways to use skills for certain situations you don’t want to roleplay out, such as manhunts and hacking. There’s some good stuff here. I think other licensees—and for that matter, designers of all systems—should take note of this. This type of guidance can be invaluable to a gaming group.

Now for my favorite rules bit of AoO—Using Powers. Reality Blurs has devised another way to go Power Point-less in Savage Worlds. I am aware of three other ways it’s done, including Savage Worlds of Solomon Kane, Hellfrost, and the new SWD. This version is my personal favorite. Basically you just ignore Power Points, and power maintenance begins immediately. Blast and bolt were re-written and broken down into separate powers to take care of the stickiness these rules would cause with those Powers as written. While I don’t have a problem with Power Points, some Savages do, so this is a Good Thing.

Special Ops teams are typically provided their gear, and AoO has a great day to simulate this. Agents are given Resource Points to spend on mission loadouts—package deals for equipment. Players take a few moments to make their gear picks, and off they go. There are also rules for that equipment an Agent may need when already in the field. This seems to work very well and can actually be used right alongside the standard money system if your campaign concentrates at all on your Agents’ real lives.

You can also use your Resource Points to purchase Perks—special benefits you may need for a mission, like calling in an air strike or arranging an escape from a bad situation—and Spytech & Special Training (which I would hope I don’t need to describe). These are a nice idea and necessary to the genre for sure. Well handled.

The final section of the players’ portion of AoO is a lexicon of terms used in this setting and the special ops genre in general. I find this sort of thing very useful for immersion, and it’s great for newbies not already familiar with the lingo.

The Eyes Only!—or GM section—of AoO is chock full of great setting info and GM tools. As is pretty common in Savage Settings, it comprises much more of the book than the player section.

The Hidden Histories section gives you the setting history and info you need on Oblivion and its evil counterpart, Pandora. I love that Reality Blurs went with the G.I. Joe/Cobra format for their bad guy. It’s nice to have someone for the players to be paranoid about and blame for everything—makes a GM’s job easier!

The campaign section gives a lot of great advice on the genre and provides some clear direction for the GM. In addition it provides guidance on tweaking the setting elements, including, aliens, conspiracies, magic, horror, and tech. It really allows you to run anything from the default Mission: Impossible meets X-Files, all the way to G.I. Joe versus Cobra—no kidding!

The campaign advice section rounds out with campaign archetypes, which are generally frameworks for your campaign’s direction. This section covers a huge swath of campaign types—really anything I could think of while reading the book.

The next section, Agency World View, gives you an idea of what’s going on around the world, and it’s designed to work alongside the campaign archetypes. There are a ton of story seeds to be found in these pages. You could seriously run several campaigns out of this book with very little prep!

Speaking of little prep, AoO includes the now-obligatory adventure generator found in so many Savage settings. The Mission Generator, as it’s called, is much more detailed than the typical adventure generator, though. It’s chock full of great options for when you have one hour till the game session starts and you seem to have failed to prep (that may happen to me sometimes).

In addition to the Mission Generator, there’s a Creature Generator, for those times when your mission consists of “just what the hell is this thing killing people?!” I love this tool and could spend days just making creatures.

This is where we get into the “But wait, there’s more!” section of the book.

As if there wasn’t enough campaign goodness in this book, AoO includes sample story arcs, one for each of the Campaign Archetypes from earlier in the book. These are basically outlines for Plot Point Campaigns. Combine these story arcs with generated missions, creature hunts, and stories of your own devising, and voila! The story arcs are reminiscent of what Ken Hite called Savage Skeletons in The Day After Ragnarok, but they’re more detailed, including stats for each story arc’s major players later in the book.

The final section details some useful NPCs and organizations, including those from the aforementioned sample story arcs. The NPCs cover nearly any other character you may need for a game, certainly any character with little tweaking.

The Conclusion:
Agents of Oblivion may be Reality Blurs’ best effort to date. With enough information to support seven complete and varied campaigns packed into the book, the full edition of AoO can’t make it into my hot, rather large hands fast enough.  Awesome setting aside, this may have been called the Horror/Espionage Companion, were it a Pinnacle product.

If you enjoy horror, espionage, modern action/adventure, or any other modern gaming, this book is a “can’t miss” for you. Don’t bother with the book if you are not into any of those things or detest fun in general.