The boardgaming website Shut Up & Sit Down has an excellent, if slightly long, article on explaining the rules, and some of the hazards of being the explainer of rules. It ties in nicely with some of the things I’ve written here about running games at conventions and in other situations where players aren’t familiar with the rules in use.
The comments on the article have some useful followup and additional points, too.
No, not rules for Frodo sneaking up on Smaug with that useful ring of his (although possibly related), but the trick of having good rules that you know moderately well become invisible in play, so that you concentrate on gameplay and tactics rather than the minutiae of the rules.
This was prompted by something Sean, our newbie Through the Mud & the Blood player, said right at the end of last Sunday’s M&B-powered Russian Civil War game. I’m paraphrasing slightly, but he said something to the effect of, “I liked that the rules got out of the way and let you just play the game, rather than having to stop every two minutes to look up some special rule or try to interpret something out of a Codex that seems to contradict what’s in the main rulebook.”
This struck me as a useful expansion on something I’ve mentioned here before and long held as a personal tenant, that you should value flow of the game and fun value over nitpicking details of the rules you’re using. The additional thought is that good rules will assist with this process rather than hinder it. This might seem obvious, but it bears pointing out.
I posted this to the TooFatLardies mailing list, and Richard Clarke, the author of the Mud & Blood rules, replied, “Music to my ears. I keep banging on about how rules should be as “invisible” as possible, so it’s good to hear stories like that one.”
Any set of rules, even the most complex RPG rules, can become relatively invisible if enough people in the group know them well enough, but elegantly written rules let you pull the trick off faster. Off the top of my head, two other rules systems that become nearly invisible in play and are also personal favourites are the old fantasy battle game Hordes of the Things (a variant of the famous DBA) and the fantasy skirmish system Songs of Blades & Heroes from Ganesha Games. It’s also one of the attractions of playing an unfamiliar set of rules at a convention, where the details of the rules are the referee’s problem and you can concentrate on getting your troops to do things and rolling the dice when the ref tells you to.
Anyone got any other “invisible” rules to recommend, ones that get out of your way and let you concentrate on tactics and flow instead of the rules?
Rattrap Productions released the much-anticipated 2nd Edition of their .45 Adventures pulp adventure rules a few weeks ago, I received my copy of the full rules last week, and I’ve already run one convention game and several small private test games with the demo rules before even getting the full rules.
The PDF version should be out shortly too, as Rattrap generally releases the PDF version about a month after the initial print release. (Edit to add: the PDF version is out today.)
This review is mostly aimed at folks who have some familiarity with the 1st Edition of 45A, but it should be general enough to give those of you with no experience at all with the system an idea of how it works. Note that throughout this review I’ve used “45A1e” and “45A2e” for 1st & 2nd Edition respectively; this is a bit of a D&D-ism but useful shorthand!
So What’s Changed?
The most obvious change from 45A1e to 45A2e is the “fistfuls of d10” change. Instead of the previous version’s “1d10 + Stat +/- modifiers”, 2e is almost always “1d10 + stat +/- extra d10s depending on skills or circumstance”. You pick the best of the rolls if you’re rolling multiple d10. In practice, this seems to work out at around 3d10 per attack roll and 1d10 or 2d10 for the defender most of the time, so while you might need a few extra d10 for larger games, just to keep things moving, it’s not a really serious “fistfuls of dice” game the way Full Thrust or some of the GW games are!
Almost all the rules from 45A1e now in the one new 45A2e book. Basic gangsters, cops, crime-fighters, military, super science & robots, safari characters, all in one cover, along with all the skills. This alone makes character creation much easier, as the archetypes, skills and special rules aren’t spread over half a dozen books anymore! The campaign rules and New Commerce City background material have been rolled into the main rulebook as well.
Character creation is also massively streamlined. Rather than lists of specific skills available to specific archetypes, the archetypes have different numbers of skills they can take per skill category, and all the skills are now slotted into one of these 11 categories. This will also make integrating future supplements and releases easier!
Weapons are no longer purchased as part of a character’s basic build. Instead, they’re purchased per-scenario using Equipment Points. This means, among other things, that Grade 1 & 2 characters can often take more Special Abilities than before, as they’re not having a significant part of their available Special Ability count taken up with weaponry. (Giving a Grade 1 flunky a tommy gun used to soak up 3 of their 4 available Ability slots in 45A1e, now a Grade 1 can actually have four skills and the gun!)
What’s Brand New?
The whole Occult section is new, with rules for various Cthulhu-esque creatures, cultists and goings on, spells, artifacts and such. I haven’t had a chance to use these in play yet, but they look entertaining.
The entire Special Abilities/Skills list has been rewritten and consolidated. There’s a bunch of new or replacement skills, some duplicated stuff removed, and a rather elegant hierarchy of skills has been implemented for a few areas.
A couple of my favourite archetypes from 45A1e didn’t make it into 45A2e, namely the Foreign Agent & Professor archetypes. On the other tentacle, the G-Man archetype should encompass the old Foreign Agent one quite well, and there is now an archetype creation formula so you can roll your own if you really want to.
The archetype creation rules were much requested for 45A1e, so it’s great to see them included with 2e. I haven’t really played with them yet, but a read-through and examination of how the included archetypes are assembled lead me to think the creation rules should work just fine. (the stock archetypes included in the rules appear to have been built using the actual archetype creation rules as presented, which is always a good sign!)
Weaponry, as mentioned above, is no longer bought as part of a character’s build process, but instead it’s done using Equipment Points which can change on a per-scenario basis. This gives players and GMs greater flexibility – you can restrict weapons in a scenario without players feeling like they’ve “wasted” a lot of a character’s build options, control the amount of firepower on the table, etc. The Equipment List also encompasses a lot of non-weaponry equipment, too, things that might be useful in certain scenarios like flashlights, ropes or even multi-language translating dictionaries.
The Super Science & Occult equipment is controlled the same way, with seperate Super Science & Occult Equipment Points. Certain archetypes give bonuses to various of these Equipment Points totals – the Military Officer gets +10 Equipment Points, the Witch Doctor +10 Occult Points, for example.
A Few Issues
Typos and grammar errors! There’s a typo in the Table of Contents (“Resaerch” instead of “Research”) that should have been caught by a simple spellchecker (not the only time I noticed this in the book) and a few grammar glitches (its/it’s, that sort of thing) recurring. None of them that I’ve noticed so far occur where they’d cause rules ambiguity or misinterpretation, at least.
(Corey’s interjection: Amongst the many jobs I do, I am a part-time writer and copy-editor, so the mistakes in the book, especially with regards to the lack of a style guide, really bug me, to the point where I had to put down the book and walk away at one point. Sorry Rich. )(Brian’s re-interjection: Unless you’re a hardass about editing, the concerns I noted in the previous paragraph really aren’t showstoppers…)
There are a number of layout glitches that make some things hard to read than they should be, especially when searching quickly for a specific rule or skill. One example is the lack of differentiation between sub-section headings (just made using bold text) and some lists, some of which use bold to make their titles stand out and some of which don’t. The Special Abilities Lists are easy to read, but the similar Robot Upgrades List re-uses bold text for two different things (sub-section headers and upgrade titles). A second style for those sub-section headers would make some sections of the book much easier to scan, especially in mid-game when you’ve had to pause the action to clarify a rule.
Beyond layout and grammar, as I said above, some of the old 45A1e archetypes haven’t made the cut. There’s also a few toys and weapons missing, but for ordinary games that’s not going to be a huge concern, as the most notable missing weapons are the Light & Medium Machine Guns from the Amazing War Stories military supplement, hardly common weapons in typical 45A games!
These are all very minor issues, though. The new character stat/wound boxes are far more compact than the old ones, so it should be possible to get more characters onto less paper now – and less paper in front of players during a game is rarely a bad thing!
The new “fistfuls of d10” combat/skills system runs faster on the table. Characters move faster, Grade Ones (the mooks, thugs, extras, Privates and redshirts of the factions) die quicker while Grade Threes (the Stars!) are a bit tougher but not hugely so. It’s entirely in keeping with the heroic/cinematic traditions of pulp that major characters should be able to plow through crowds of extras, anyway!
So, the final verdict? .45 Adventures 2nd Edition is just as detailed, playable and flavourful as the old, but the new system is faster, leaner and pulpier.
Streamlined, in fact. Very pulp-era thing to do, actually!
There’s a 22 page set of demo rules which include the full movement, combat, wound, vehicle, explosive and flying rules, as well as enough Archetypes to build some characters and teams to test the new shiny out.
There’s also a draft copy of the 2nd Edition Special Abilities PDF, with a good selection of the skills & special abilities that’ll be available in 2nd Ed.
More later perhaps when I’ve had a chance to look it over properly and build a character or two! Short version is that I like what I see, lots of streamlining and good tweaks to an already great system.
Full release of the rules is pencilled in for mid-March, apparently.