Tuesday, August 11, 2009

GI Joe Action - Savage Worlds Style (Part 1)

Like I said before, the new GI Joe movie came out recently, so I'm reviewing not one, but two RPGs for Savage Worlds that were inspired by the cartoon. Each of them are different in their own ways. Both of them do add something new to the table, but which one gives a more authentic GI Joe experience? By that, I mean which one feels more like the cartoon and not just another military RPG?

Starting off, we have Strike Force 7, published by Super Genius Games, who also make supplements for the Call of Cthulu RPG. Before we get into the meat of the system, lets talk about how pretty it dresses. The book certainly does have a well put together and professional layout, and the cover art is pretty good, but there is a severe lack of interior artwork. The only art inside the pages is a snippet from the front cover transposed onto the border lining of each page. While this isn't such a big deal, it does feel like there should be something there to give a visual for some of the vehicles and armor suits that are featured in the book.

Anyway, onto the content. Strike Force 7 starts by asking what kind of person do you want your character to be, from their childhood to why they joined an elite group of commandos. Thankfully, that section doesn't take up too much space as to be too extraneous and only helps you create a concept of your character. After that, you're asked to pick a team affiliation within the organization. Some examples of teams are Military Operations, Counter-Terrorist, and Media Relations...

Wait, Media Relations?

Are you serious? I mean, the other teams make sense, but Media Relations seems kinda... Well, let's just say you won't find Duke or Flint holding a press conference (It would be funny to watch Snake Eyes try to hold one, though)

I guess that's for games that want a more realistic or political bent. To be honest, the game does kind of have a realistic angle on US politics. I mean the author mentions the 9-11 terrorist attacks and even includes the team foiling an assassination attempt on Senator John McCain. While that's fine, it does kind of taint the Saturday Morning Cartoon feel. I mean, you don't often see actual political figures, with the exception of presidents from days long ago (such as Washington), in fictional media – not just in cartoons, but in other TV programs and movies, as well.

Not only that, but it also includes a deep conspiracy, involving inter-department espionage, psychic spies, assassination, and cover ups, which makes it significantly darker than your “Real American Hero.”

Okay, so if this is supposed to be a darker, somewhat realistic campaign, you wouldn't know it from the antagonists of the game. Though the terrorist organization known as Skorpion does have a deep, political origin and background, it definitely feels like an organization that could hold it's ground with Cobra in terms of techno-wizardry and silly code names. This makes an odd counterpoint to the semi-serious Strike Force 7 team.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. After choosing your team, you, of course go through the usual drill of picking Attributes, Skills, Edges, and Hindrances. And, of course, there are new Edges and Hindrances, but some of them are a bit confusing or unnecessary (and I say this as constructive criticism).

First off is Cart Away, which allows you to grapple an opponent from behind if you have surprise (SWEX p. 61) against him. This allows you to cover his mouth and get a +2 to grapple checks against the opponent. The opponent can only speak if he breaks from the grapple. Truth is, you don't need this Edge. I would rule that any character who grapples a surprised opponent has “the drop” on them (SWEX p. 68) and would get a +4 to any grapple check (since a grapple is a Fighting check – I would even go so far as to add it to the Strength/Agility check to hold onto the victim. Gagging him would just be gravy on top of that.

One group of Edges that confused me are Dodging Tumble/Bullet Dance. It says that you can add 2 to the TN of attack(s) with a rate of fire greater than 1 (Dodging Tumble affects only one attack, while Bullet Dance affects multiple ones). It lists the conditions as “When targeted by a strafe attack or the free attack from failing to take cover from suppressive fire.” What is that supposed to mean? I've looked in my rulebook and on Savagepedia and I've heard nothing about a “strafe” attack. And what's this about a “free attack from failing to take cover from suppressive fire?” Are they talking about opponents who succeed their Spirit checks against the suppressive fire? They don't get a free attack. They just don't get shaken from failing their roll. And the person using suppressive fire doesn't get a free attack against those who succeed against their Spirit roll, either. This edge makes no sense.

Then there's “rate of fire greater than 1.” Double barrel shotguns can have a rate of fire of 2 and I don't think that this Edge would cover against shotgun fire. All of the guns that can be used for suppressive fire have at least a 3 in rate of fire, so it should really say any weapon with a rate of fire of 3 or greater. Despite some broken Edges, though, there are some good ones that can be used in a military game (or some other types of game).

After that, there's a section on equipment, mostly cutting edge stuff for Strike Force 7 and sci-fi technology for Skorpion.

The next chapter covers the complex backstory that, while it makes for some good military espionage, just doesn't seem to fit the whole GI Joe mold. Then the obligatory GM's section, which allows GMs to tailor the campaign to fit any style of play, from gritty and realistic, to high tech super soldiers, to, of course, the “Saturday Morning Cartoon” variety.

Even with the variety of ways to play, doing a cartoonish style with the storyline may require some work. Like I said, this feels more at home with a kind of black ops/super soldier type game, what with the psychic operatives, political undermining, and conspiracies. If you're looking for something more along the lines of that, then this game will work great for you.

Well, it looks like this review took too long already and I still have one game left to review. Tune in tomorrow as we “G.E.T. Into Action!”

Kaiser out

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