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Author Topic: @ctive8  (Read 1661 times)


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« on: September 22, 2006, 04:57:54 PM »

This is the second in a series of reviews of products by Postmortem Studios, this time of the complete RPG pretentiously but perhaps appropriately entitled "@ctive8".

Let me start with this note: I think that this game might have been a hell of a lot more interesting if it was made as satire. As it is, written seriously, I think its going to be unappealing to a fairly large segment of the gaming population.

Now, to give you the story of @ctive8 in brief:  this is an RPG about political activism.  Not about running a political game, but rather a game that self-describes itself as having a political message (though what that message is besides "people ought to be more activist" is truly beyond me), where you roleplay a group of people brought together by a wierd computer program that functions sort of like a free-range internet forum designed to unite people to take action against injustices or problems in the world.

Its a game that the author describes as being about "actually acting on what you believe in, striving to make a difference, and, in some small way, actually making the world a better place".  That's all well and good, but, wouldn't it actually be better if people just went out and DID these things, rather than play an RPG based on doing those things?
I mean, anyone who already is an activist will probably be too busy "activising" to bother playing an RPG about being an activist. Anyone who isn't probably won't find this game too appealing.
I'm an historian.  I enjoy RPGs that are about history; I wouldn't be particularly interested in an RPG that was about being an historian. Except maybe if it was about being an Historian with powers of time-travel, or being an historian with superpowers, or being an historian caught up in a dark occult underworld of conspiracies, or something along those lines.

This is not a game about activists with superpowers, or activists who time-travel to set right what once went wrong, or activists caught up in a dark world of occult conspiracies. Its about activists being normal activists.

A few structural notes about the book itself:  First, the format of the book is, like the previous book I reviewed by this company, solidly structured but nothing to write home about. Its efficient and adequate. The neatest illustration in the book is probably the cover, which is formed of a collage of a metric ton of tiny images that unite to create a vague collage about political themes. All the illustrations in the book (and there's a fair amount) are in black and white, and the artwork is efficient, but again nothing to write home about.
The book is some 40 pages long, of which the first 23 are a combination of political diatribe (most of it relatively mild, some of it in first person and kind of disjointed, a couple of rants against the "first past the post" system of democracy, etc), in-game fiction (explaining that @ctive8 is some kind of almost viral computer program whose origins are shrouded in mystery that functions on the internet to bring people with similar political causes together in an apparent effort to try to get them to be more involved in activism), and your standard fluff about how to run the game.
Included in this section are some "adventure seeds", suggesting some of the kinds of activist adventures you can have with this system.  Possible ideas include trying to deal with asian gang violence in urban centers, trying to help get food to a famine-wracked country in Africa, and trying to cut off the water supply to Las Vegas for 48 hours to teach the Las Vegasites a lesson about conservation (?!).

Next, by page 23 we get to the game system.  The system is a dice pool system, supposedly inspired by the White Wolf system but using D6s rather than D10s and trying to make it more efficient and streamlined than WW's monstrosity.  In this, I would say that the author has succeeded. The system is relatively straightforward, where your skill level determines the number of dice you roll and the target number on the dice that indicates success. You get to reroll any successes (but only once), and if you roll all 1s you have a critical failure on your hands. You generally need only one success to actually perform an action, but the more you get the better you do at the success in question.
Modifiers can reduce or increase your target number.

There are a couple of unusual details to the system that are worth noting: first, there is no "experience" system. Characters do not improve mechanically at skills or abilities as time goes by; though they may "improve" in other ways as determined by the GM. I don't think there's anything wrong with this setup, though anytime you have an "experienceless" system its important to express very clearly to the GM that he should then put the emphasis on other ways to advance, improve, or change your character, or else players can get bored pretty fast.

The other significant rule is that a player can choose at any time to guarantee success in an action by sacrificing his life to do it. On the surface, this is a neat idea, and ties in well with the "activism" theme. However, in execution I could see it running into a couple of problems: first off, sometimes it might be difficult to justify in-game just how your character would die, and why his death would guarantee the success of his cause (I guess its meant to represent the impact martyrs can have on a cause, but sometimes it just seems like it would be pretty strained for an explanation). Second, this feature combined with the lack of experience rules would lead, I suspect, to a strong feeling of "disposable characters", where players would be too willing to let their characters die, since they really aren't going to get much better at anything anyways, and its just the same to start with a new character as to continue with the existing one.

Character creation is pretty solid and complete in the game, with your standard range of attributes, skills, merits and flaws, etc.

The next thing I find very odd about this game, however, is that pages 32 to 37 are dedicated to the combat system, and pgs 38 to 39 are dedicated to vehicle rules. Pg. 40 is an equiptment list, with most of the equiptment being weapons, armour, and vehicles.  There's nothing per se wrong with this, and the combat system itself is a pretty solid dice-pool system that is about on par with Shadowrun 4e's system (and better than White Wolf's system by far), but it seems a strange emphasis to dedicate 20% of the book to combat/action related stuff when the supposed theme of the game is political activism.  The message it seems to be sending is that most of the "activism" in question will be of the heavily violent variety with lots of explosions and car chases.

The author implies that the game system is being used in this book for the first time, and will be used in other products of his in the future (and expanded upon; he implies, for example, that other games that use this system will have an experience mechanic).  That probably explains the excessive(?) emphasis on combat in a game that would strike me at first glance at not being quite so combat-oriented.

In conclusion, my feeling is that the theme of this game is of relatively limited appeal; but if this sort of thing is of interest to you, you will find that the system itself is relatively solid.  You may actually end up feeling that the book is wanting for more setting detail/gameplay ideas, and has a little too much personal dialogue on the author's part. It probably could have used quite a few more pages on ideas of how to run the game and what to do with the concept behind the game. There is an overall smattering of pretentiousness in the writing, but without going completely into the college-boy-liberal swinedom I expected from it at first; nevertheless, in the end I find myself asking whether anyone would really be interested in running a game like this, and whether anyone who is wouldn't be better served by spending their time actually trying to do something in the REAL world about famine in africa or conservation issues...
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