Friday, 9 October 2015

Checking out Chthonian Highways part 1

Here's their website: http://ironspine.com/wp/en/rpgs/chthonian-highways/
Here's the free alpha 0.3 release: http://www.ironspine.com/ch/downloads/CH-0_3-alpha.pdf

Because I am busy at the moment, I won't read the whole file. It's 63 pages (including the covers) and that's too much at the moment. I just check it out and comment what I see! This is a free pdf, so you should check it out yourself!

ATTENTION! I did write this p/review while reading the file, so here are some mistakes about the rules. I didn't quite get every concept how things work. This review is my opinion of the game and doesn't tell is the game good or not. Only you can tell it! I do think this is going to be a good thing, for people who like mechanics like this. Johnny blaze in his review (link) wrote: "More than FATE, less than D&D".

Hans Zenjuga is good artist. It's all his work in this product.
Chthonian Highways is a post-apocalyptic setting with Cthulhu Mythos. Sounds good, doesn't it? For me the setting is interesting enough to rip for other games, if the rules of this suck. But if the rules are good (well, You like them), you can probably ignore the setting. I am most interested in vehicle rules.

There's an one-page short story, I didn't read. There's information of the world, I didn't read either. But I think they are cool read, as they are quite broad. Not exhaustingly long this-and-that I don't like at all. Of course this is a demo, so it's hard to say how detailed the world description and the history part are going to be.

I do approve long world descriptions, if the necessary information is easy and quick to read to get a good idea of the world. The history part is usually quite boring for me, because I focus on what will happen, and not what happened. Naturally it's nice to know how the hell we and up here and why things are like they are, but I don't enjoy reading pages after pages of that kind of information. Easily skipped and as I said, I don't know what these parts are going to be in the final product. This was just an opinion of world and history texts in general in gaming products.

Ironcore Engine is the system used in this game. It is similar to d20 system (Pathfinder, D&D 3E) and Cypher System (Numenera, Strange). I am not familiar with Cypher, but being compatible with 3E style games means, it can also be quite easily compatible with old-school rules (OSR, yo!). HD, AC, that's basically what you need for stats, amirite?

System is easy enough; d20 + Skill + mods versus Challenge Level (CL). Edge and handicap work just like D&D 5E dis/advanteges; roll 2d20, keep other.

Special rules and whatnot: With pushing action you can add Fatigue points to your Ability. Some might like this, but I find it unnecessary addition. Stunt effects you get when you get 5 or better result against the CL. These are kinda like criticals. There's a list of effects like bonus to initiative or better/quicker result of an action. Velocity points you get from extraordinary successes and failures, and can be used to things like re-rolls and boosts. Strain is different kinds of damage, a penalty to your ability. Strained abilities can lead to exhaustion and exhausted abilities cannot be pushed.

My opinion on the rules? D20/3E is easy, if you keep it easy. 3E without feats and shit is quite simple to learn. Roll d20 and add stuff. In Chthonian Highways the core is that simple, but I don't quite like pushing, stunts, strain etc. They feel like a gimmick and extra things you have to keep track of. Maybe for more modern players (I was a modern player, got exhausted, began enjoying old-school) these are normal things to include and keep track of, but I am perfectly happy without stuff like this. I mean, Game Master and players can (and are encouraged to) describe stuff like this and apply rules as needed.

But the real question is, whether I like the rules or don't, are they good? I'd say the rules are quite solid. D20 (3E) has been, and still is extremely popular and familiar. People like 5E dis/advantage system. All the additional stuff more modern players might enjoy getting some moving parts to just rollin the d20. What's best, the rules are easy to strip!

Road warriors, the characters have an ability range of 1 to 20, but normal people's abilities are 3-5. Quite-a-range! Skills range is 1 to 10. Each skill is connected to an ability, what means which ability is used when the skill is pushed. It would be more interesting, if the skills-ability-connection wasn't determined, but could be fit for different situations. This way players are encouraged to use their character stats in a creative way. Easy fix, just decide it and nothing is broken.

Character creations has three familiar methods, using 2d6 instead of 3d6: divide points, roll 5 sets, discard lowest, and 2d6 in order for "hardcore players". Does Cypher use 2d6 and why doesn't Chthonian Highways use 3d6 is a mystery to me. But yeah, me likes.

Different roles give you different skills, starting gear and money (Barter Bitz). The character roles are broad archtypes which cover everything needed in my opinion.

I thought "choose a drive" meant this!
When reading "choose a drive" I was all fuck yeah! But it is actually your character's passion, motive, or reason. What the heck, I want to drive around and blow shit up, with a real drive made of metal and stuff, that's my drive. Whenever my drive relates the situation I get Velocity. Not for me. Yet another thing you have to keep track of (and remember) what actually doesn't improve anything in my opinion. Then you choose a vice, your dark side.

Skill list isn't bloated, what is a good thing. I hate long skill lists, because they don't add anything. I appreciate this. 20 points can be used to skills. Max 4, except class skills 6.

Experience points are not only to make your character better, but are also used to remove some ill effects like recovering or removing a point of Madness. I am not quite sure I like how your achievements are used to keep your character in order - but in the other hand, it's not that bad meta-game resource at all. Experience points keep you going, what fits the post-apocalyptic-mythos-world.

Junk section has stuff you can get. Weapons first. Weapons have traits like area of effect, automatic, blunt, difficult, entangle, heavy, impact, long, long reload, loud, pierce, pistol, quick, range, rending, scatter, single use, stun, thrown, and two-handed. These are basically special rules and descriptions of the weapon in question. Knife is quick what means "a character wielding a Quick weapon can attack the same target with an Edge if he used his Reaction in addition to the Action." Blunt weapons "cannot be used for cutting. They have Damage Handicap against Hard armors, but Damage Edge against Light armors." I see what they do there, but the implementation is a bit clumsy. OR it's just me being grumpy.

There's plenty of other stuff to get you in the mood. Nice list.

Combat: There's plenty of little things in combat, and most of it I'd ignore. I can make up stuff on the fly depending on the situations. I just need a core system to run some dice. Bonus thing is, though, if you appreciate things you got lots of topics covered here, so you don't have to guess things. Problem is, more things are covered in a rulebook more you have to rely on the book and that makes game slower. Unless you know the rules well, though.
More is less here, because you can always strip the stuff you don't need, so different things covered is not a bad thing at all.
Armors  have Armor Value what is damage reduce. You don't attack against AC, but 10 (small 5, lare 15) + athletics + mods. If and when you hit and roll damage, then armor reduces it this and that much. I am okay with this, even though I want games to work the way when you hit, you hit. No extras after hitting, it's straight damage. In Vampire: the Masquerade soaking sucked the fun out of everything. You hit well, but deal ridiculously low damage. Same problem here, you might end up hitting your opponent for 1 damage with each hit, making things boring. Well, in those cases when your opponent is too well armored, you need to figure another way to conquer him.
In D&D style games Armor Class as to-hit-target versus Armor Class as damage reduce has been debated a lot. For firearms this might be better, though. I mean you shoot someone, you hit, you better have that vest to stop the bullet, right?

Wheels, this is the chapter I am most anticipated of! This is the chapter I am going to read very well, and cover in part 2. This is the chapter I am most likely to use in other games (Mutant Future, I am looking at you, why didn't you include damn vehicle rules).

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Conclusion: A solid game, but there is too much stuff for me. It is familiar with some core mechanics from 3E with added modernisations. I like stripped down version of 3E, or old-school style rules. So basically this game, in rules, doesn't give me anything I needed to use or anything that I cannot do already with my favorite systems. Except possibly vehicle rules I am very excited of!

The setting is interesting (what little I shuffled it) and easily used in any system.

It looks good. Layout is very Finnish. It's good, but looks very... this! Illustration is very, very good. I've seen old works of the artist, Hans Zenjuga, and he's come a long way to this.

Can I recommend this? Absolutely. Why? Three simple reasons:

  1. The beta is free, so you lose nothing if you check it out and make your own opinions.
  2. Post-apocalyptic road warriors and Cthulhu Mythos? Hell yeah!
  3. Rules are quite simple and don't try too much. They take the popular format and add stuff they like. Not a single thing there which removing would cripple the system.
My objective evaluation of a product that is not directed rules-wise for me ends here, and continues with part 2 covering vehicles and vehicle rules.