Monthly Archives: July 2018

[Let’s Study Genesys] Part 7: Review

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I’ve always had a thing for generic RPGs. I dabbled in GURPS, fell in love with HERO, and checked out OVA for anime shenanigans.

And now Genesys shows up, the new hotness, with promises of Narrative gaming and excitement. With fancy colorful dice and symbols, and a resume that boasts of being the engine behind the popular new Star Wars RPG, it certainly makes a powerful first impression.

So how does it hold up?

Mechanics

The base mechanics behind Genesys might appear gimmicky, but looking past the fancy dice lies a solid rules system. Gameplay is fluid and the thrill of rolling dice pools is given new depth with the varied outcomes for each die.

There’s something visceral about rolling your own difficulty, a sense of ownership as your GM hands you the extra difficulty dice with a grin, knowing that your character’s chances are all in your hands.

Campaigns. Your Way.

As a Generic RPG, Genesys is judged not just by it’s rules, but by how well it can facilitate a GM’s vision. A third of the game is dedicated to being able to craft a setting of your own. Alternate rules are pre-built options that you can weld into the original framework to twist gameplay towards your desired odds, and the discussion on Tones and Settings help in giving it the feel you need.

Building a campaign in Genesys should be a game in itself, honestly. It feels like putting together a project car, with a standard build, that you then personalize with Customized Rules, tweak with Alternate Rules, then spray on a fresh paint job with the Tones.

And it does it all without the burden of points juggling and math.

Conclusion

Genesys is quick. There’s obviously a lot of design thought that went into it, and a lingering sense that all the designers wanted to do was to add just one more little bit into it. Sometimes that leaves us pining for what could have been, like a more extensive section on Superhero gaming, but that’s just us being greedy.

For those with a preference for rules-medium gaming, Genesys fits in perfectly well as a contender against Savage Worlds for fast, furious, fun. While it doesn’t have the intense library of GURPS or the near insane modularity of HERO, Genesys knows how to present a lean generic ruleset that can power almost any genre.

Overall, Genesys is a must have, not only because of its versatility, but also because it forms the bedrock of a lot of products in the future. Alternate rules are a sneak peek into the future, and I expect that with products like Realms of Terrinoth, we’ll be seeing even more ways to make the system sing.

If you’d like to read along, you can get a PDF of the Genesys corebook from DriveThruRPG for only $19.95!

[Let’s Study Genesys] Part 6: GM’s Toolkit

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The GM’s Toolkit is a major section of the  book, but one that probably holds the most interest to me. I wanted to see just how well Genesys could flex towards various preferences of different GMs.

This section is broken down into 4 major chapters: Customizing Rules, Alternate Rules, Build an Adventure and Tones.

Customizing Rules

This chapter busies itself with discussing the rules elements that are part of the base game and how to create new ones to augment the current list. Included are mechanics for creating custom Skills, Species, Talents, Items and Adversaries.

I appreciated the fact that the book really took the time to go over the design thinking behind each of these aspects. Guidelines and things to watch out when designing for a campaign are called out too, which is a feature that I greatly approve of. After all, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Alternate Rules

So you’ve had a taste of power in Customizing Rules. Now let’s really get elbows-deep into the wet, warm guts of the Genesys Ruleset. This section presents rules that can be grafted onto the existing ruleset, changing gameplay significantly. It’s a grab-bag of options and tweaks that can be fun or frustrating depending on the group.

Again, Genesys shows surprising care for the GM as each tweak has an explanation of what effects the alternate rule bring to the table, both good and bad. Not just mechanically, but in terms of the experience of the game.

One the first tweaks (and a personal favorite) is the Nemesis Extra Activation Rules. This one allows Nemeses to roll Initiative twice, with both becoming NPC Initiative Slots, where the nemesis can act two turns. It is a break for the standard rules, but for really impressive combats, I imagine this can be a way to make a fight really memorable.

In addition to these, more specialized rulesets are presented. Magic, Hacking, Vehicles and Scale rules are all tackled here as well. Each one is presented as a potential “spotlight” of a campaign, say like how Hacking would be a Big Deal(tm) in a campaign of Android.

Build an Adventure

This is a chapter that I felt would have fit better in the Game Mastery section. That said, aside from odd placement, I have nothing to complain about with regards to the content.

The basics are covered here, with picking out a conflict, stories and goals, identifying locations and designing encounters are detailed in a way that can guide a new GM to creating something that is truly theirs.

Tones

This section covers the mood and feel of the campaign. The section concerns itself with rules and storytelling advice to maintain the feel of particular kinds of games, and provides solid help for: Horror, Intrigue, Mystery, Pulp, Romance and Drama, and Superheroes.

These Tones (like the Settings) aren’t exclusive, and so it’s possible to Frankenstein a campaign that mixes Horror and Intrigue in a Modern Day setting like Delta Green or perhaps Pulp Superheroes in Space to pull off a Guardians of the Galaxy-inspired game!

If you’d like to read along, you can get a PDF of the Genesys corebook from DriveThruRPG for only $19.95!

[Let’s Study Genesys] Part 5: Game Mastery and Settings

captureToday we’ll be taking a quick look at the Game Mastery chapter and the outline of the Settings packaged with Genesys.

Game Mastery

As with every good RPG, Genesys has a solid Game Mastery section. Starting off with what a Game Master is supposed to do, the chapter gives solid advice on how to get a group off to a good start. Important elements like the social contract and setting expectations are discussed.

Character creation and how to run a game is detailed as well, with a focus on going over the Game Master’s primary resources in making an interesting game.

Finally, the chapter rounds off with rules on handling adversaries. This introduces a tiered approach to adversaries ranging from minions to rivals to nemeses as well as how to use them properly when setting up combat against your player characters.

It’s a solid chapter that covers all the bases, and as a core product, I’m glad that it has enough advice to impart confidence to a newbie Game Master.

Settings

The next chunk of the book is devoted towards Settings. The Core has rules and ideas for six big genres: Fantasy, Steampunk, Weird War, Modern Day, Science Fiction and Space Opera. These are perhaps the most popular, and have tie-ins with famous Fantasy Flight Games settings you may be familiar with from their extensive boardgame line.

The chapter opens with a worksheet that will help the Game Master put together the setting that they want to. It looks like a tax form, but it really does help in flesh out exactly what a setting should have. I’m actually quite happy with this and can use it in other games, as it guides the thinking of a GM in coming up with a custom setting.

Each genre is presented as a chapter that opens up with a discussion of the popular tropes that define it. The GM is then open to accept, subvert or exclude them to his tastes.

An example of the setting follows, which is often a short blurb about a Fantasy Flight property like Runebound or Android. It’s then followed by Character Options, Setting Specific Gear and Adversaries for that setting.

My only regret is that they could have done more with this as each example had a fairly restricted pagecount to work with. As such, you could run with it, but it certainly feels like a taste of what a full game would be like.

(I for one am eagerly awaiting the arrival of Android as an RPG setting!)

Next entry we’ll be taking a gander at the Game Master’s Toolkit, the heart of what makes a Generic System in my eyes. The fun in generic games is being able to really make something from the ground up. Some systems do this by giving pre-built modules like GURPS, while others go whole hog and ask you to build every tiny detail yourself, like HERO.

Where will Genesys fall under?

If you’d like to read along, you can get a PDF of the Genesys corebook from DriveThruRPG for only $19.95!

[Let’s Study Genesys] Part 4: Social Encounters

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“Social combat” mechanics have become rather ubiquitous in the modern rpg landscape and Genesys is no exception to this rule.

That said, I’m glad to see that the chapter opens up with a quick discussion on exactly when to apply the Social Encounter mechanics. Which is: Not all the damn time.

I find that rules like these are best used sparingly, and in situations where there’s dramatic tension to be milked for a situation. Thankfully they’re also rather simple. When beginning a Social Encounter, we need to establish the following:

  • What is the goal of this encounter? – Social Encounters need to be framed properly or else it might meander into an empty scene.
  • Where do we start and end the encounter? – Knowing when to stop and transition to the next scene is important to stop things from drawing on too long.
  • How do you manage Timing and Abilities? – Given that we don’t normally use turns in Narrative Scenes, the GM has to make calls on how often abilities are used within the duration of the Social Encounter.

Skill Checks

Making skill checks on individuals is a standard contested roll in Genesys. But if you’re trying to affect a group of individuals, then the system provides a table that increases difficulties depending on the scope being affected.

Winning Social Encounters

Social encounters can be “won” through three means:

  • Achieve a mutually agreeable outcome – Though “win” might be too strong a word for this one, it’s one way to establish that the encounter is resolved.
  • Succeed in an opposed roll – This is good for smaller, less complicated social encounters like haggling with a merchant.
  • Targeting the opponent’s Strain Threshold – This is the good stuff. In targeting an opponent’s Strain Threshold the idea is to stress / pressure them enough (through a variety of approaches) to get them to capitulate to your request. Of course, in this form, your opponent is likely to be trying to do the same to you as well.

Motivations

One of the most interesting details in the Genesys Social Encounters system is how characters can leverage Motivations to help get what they want.

If a character is able to propose an action that is in line with the target’s Strength, Flaw, Weakness or Desire, they benefit from additional dice for the roll. However the opposite is also true, engaging with the opponent in a fashion that works against their Motivations results in a much more difficult roll.

This means that understanding your opponent is crucial if you really want an edge. Much like in real life, knowing more about your target is key if you want to convince them of a course of action.

In some ways I’m relieved that the Social Encounters rules of Genesys is simple but covers all the bases. Experienced GMs will have no difficulty adapting these into their playstyle without struggling with cumbersome mechanics that cause the narrative tension of a moment to fizzle.

Next up, we’ll take a look at the GMing Advice, and the structure of the sample settings provided in the Genesys corebook!

If you’d like to read along, you can get a PDF of the Genesys corebook from DriveThruRPG for only $19.95!

[Let’s Study Genesys] Part 3: Combat Encounters

Genesys Fight

We’ll be taking a look at combat in Genesys. Given how the Narrative Dice Mechanics work, I imagine that combat in Genesys is meant to be a more streamlined, “cinematic” experience than those of other games.

But before that, I apparently overlooked a vital mechanic in the rules:

Story Points

In the game, there are two pools of Story Points. At the start of the session players add 1 Story Point to the player pool, and the GM adds 1 Story Point to the GM Pool.

Story Points are spent to gain a host of benefits, after which they are then transferred to the opposite pool. So if players spend a Story Point, it goes to the GM’s pool, and if  a GM spends their Story Point, it goes to the Player Pool.

Story Points are used to:

  • Upgrade an ability die to a proficiency die for a skill check
  • Upgrade a difficulty die to a challenge die for an NPC’s skill check
  • Trigger special abilities and talents
  • Introduce facts and additional context into the narrative

It’s a neat mechanic that reminds me a lot of the Doom and Momentum Pools of the 2d20 system in Conan, though without the flip-flopping aspect to it.

Anyway, back to the combat rules! First off, let’s look at the general turn order:

Step 1: Determine Initiative

Initiative in Genesys can use 2 skills: Cool and Vigilance. Cool is used when characters are expecting combat, while Vigilance is used when the characters are thrown into an unexpected combat situation.

To determine initiative each character rolls and ranks them in order of from highest number of success outcomes.

Step 2: Assign Initiative Slots

Once initiative order is determined, the GM notes which results are for the PCs and which are for NPCs. These become player character Initiative Slots and NPC Initiative Slots respectively.

Step 3: Participants Take Turns

Here’s when things get funky. Imagine that we have a strip of initiative slots based on the initiative rolls in Step 2. Starting from the top, players and GMs fill each slot one at a time with a character turn.

What this means that if the active slot is a player character Initiative Slot, the players decide among themselves who gets to act among those who haven’t taken an action yet this round.

Step 4: Round Ends

After all participants have taken an action the Round Ends, and effects that last until “end of round” might expire.

Step 5: Encounter Ends

If the conflict is resolved then the encounter ends, and abilities that reset or expire at the end of an encounter take place.

Actions

Each character gets one turn to act in a round, during their turn, they can perform:

  • Incidentals – activities that do not require complex focus and can often be done reflexively like speaking or dropping an item
  • Manuevers – less complex activities that do not merit a skill check like moving and aiming
  • Actions – important activities that merit attention and focus and require a skill check like attacking something, or hacking a computer

Range Bands

Genesys sticks to the quick-and-cinematic formula by keeping the Ranges simple by using the concept of range bands rather than precise measurements.

Resolving An Attack

Attacks in Genesys are a standard skill check vs a set difficulty based on whether it’s melee or ranged. On a successful attack, each Success symbol rolled adds +1 Damage to the attack.

After checking for Successes, the player may then resolve any Advantage and Triumph symbols rolled in the attack. This can be used to alter a few circumstances.

The GM then resolves any Threat and Despair symbols to swing things in the Opponents favor, or cancelling out benefits that the player spent on in the prior step.

Damage

Finally damage is reduced by the target’s Soak value, and damage left over applied to the wound threshold. If the wound threshold is overcome, then the character is knocked out and incapacitated. They also immediately suffer one Critical Injury.

Critical Injuries are lasting forms of damage that can range from a temporary discomfort like being bowled over, to more dangerous situations like being crippled… or worse!

This is a basic rundown of the mechanics for Genesys in combat, of course there are a host of other smaller rules from Environmental Effects and additional combat modifiers but I didn’t want to spoil everything in the process of reviewing the book.

That said, the combat rules share some similarity with the 2d20 system used in Conan and Infinity, both of which I’ve reviewed on this blog before. This is a good thing in my mind, as my experience running those has given me some measure of confidence that Genesys can deliver on the promise of action.

One thing I’m not too keen on would be the initiative system. I’ll run it as is on my first run through but I wouldn’t hesitate to just ditch the rolls and go directly to the 2d20 route of “All the players go in whatever order they decide, then the NPCs go.” just to cut down on bookkeeping.

The damage seems to be appropriate for pulp / action games where characters have a lot of luck on their side to stay among the living.

Overall, it looks like a clean and polished combat system with a host of options in a fight to give it just enough of a tactical crunch to satisfy those looking for it.

Next up, we’ll be taking a look at Social Encounters!

If you’d like to read along, you can get a PDF of the Genesys corebook from DriveThruRPG for only $19.95!

[Let’s Study Genesys] Part 2: Character Creation

Alright, we’re moving on to cover Genesys Character Creation with a try at making a version of a character that some of you may recognize: Sombra from Overwatch.

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Sombra artwork by Sakimi Chan

We won’t be gunning for 100% accuracy here, but as a Generic system, let’s run Genesys through the paces.

Step 1: Determine Background

This is the basic “define concept” stage. It sound elementary but it’s vital for a lot of Generic systems to have this so that you can focus your character creation efforts. Sombra is a Latina hacker with combat skills and a lot of stolen tech.

Step 2: Select an Archetype or Species

Given that we’re operating with humans for now, let’s pick an Archetype, in this case: the Average Human. This gives us our basic template:

Abilities:

  • 2 Brawn
  • 2 Agility
  • 2 Intellect
  • 2 Cunning
  • 2 Willpower
  • 2 Presence

Starting Wound Threshold: 10+Brawn
Starting Strain Threshold: 10+Willpower
Starting Experience: 110
Starting Skills:

  • One Rank in 2 different non-career skills at character creation. They obtain this rank before spending experience points, and these skills may not be raised beyond rank 2 during character creation.

    In this case I’m going for Athletics 1, Ranged (Light) 1

Ready for Anything: Once per session as an out-of-turn
incidental, you may move one Story Point from the Game Master’s pool to the players’ pool.

Step 3: Choose a Career

This step applies another template over the Archetype, this time filling out career skills. In Sombra’s case we’ll go for Hacker.

Career Skills: Computers, Discipline, Knowledge, Mechanics, Perception, Piloting, Streetwise, and Vigilance.

Before spending experience during character creation, a Hacker may choose four of their career skills and gain one rank in each of them.

Given that the next step involves investing Experience points already, I’ll go for the following Skills: Computers 1, Perception 1, Streetwise 1, Vigilance 1

Step 4: Invest Experience Points

Experience points can be spent in order to improve Abilities, Skills and buy Talents. I’ve decided to spend my Experience Point budget of 110 on:

  • Ability: Agility 3 – 30 pts
  • Ability: Intellect 3 – 30 pts
  • Skill: Computers 2 – 10 pts
  • Skill: Ranged (light) 2 – 10 pts
  • Talent: Defensive Sysops – 5 pts
  • Talent: Knack for It (Computers) – 5 pts
  • Talent: Swift – 5 pts
  • Talent: Distinctive Style – 15 pts

Step 5: Determine Derived Attributes

This is a straightforward calculation resulting in:

Wound Threshold: 12
Strain Threshold: 12
Defense: 0
Soak: 2

Step 6: Determine Character Motivation

Character motivation in Genesys takes on several aspects. These are: Desires, Strengths, Fears and Flaws. The book gives several examples of these, as well as a table you can roll on if you like randomness. But since we have a solid concept already, let’s go with:

  • Desire: Wealth
  • Strength: Adaptable
  • Fear: Humiliation
  • Flaw: Pride

Step 7: Choose Gear, Determine Appearance and Personality

At this point we’re pretty much done. We just have to pick out some gear and fill out notes on what she looks like and her personality. Checking the Modern Day rules chapter I find a submachine gun entry that works for me, so I’ll pick that.

I’ve also found stuff about a Cyberjack and a Personal Access Device that could mimic her abilities as a hacker so adding those as well.

Overall character creation in Genesys is very easy and very quick. Sombra was put together in less than 15 minutes of thought, and some minor page flipping for gear and talents.

That said, is it satisfying?

That largely depends on what you’re looking for. If you need a low-fidelity, easy-to-run, cinematic game, then this might be up your alley. You get to make the broad strokes, then pick stuff out from a list for everything else.

But if you’re here to define every aspect of your character, down to their special gear and weapons configuration and special powers, then Genesys might not scratch your itch. You’re still confined to the pre-generated weapons listings and descriptions of gear in the game.

Next up: we’ll be taking a look at the genesys combat rules!

If you’d like to read along, you can get a PDF of the Genesys corebook from DriveThruRPG for only $19.95!

[Let’s Study Genesys] Part 1: Narrative Dice & Basic Rules

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If you haven’t heard of Genesys, you’ve probably been living under a rock. Genesys is the new generic ruleset from Fantasy Flight Games. Sharing it’s DNA from Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars RPGs, Genesys is widely known for it’s use of fancy narrative dice that use symbols as opposed to numbers and the way the system encourages interesting story results with a single roll.

Given that this is a generic system with no full setting material, we’ll be diving straight into the mechanics of the game!

Of Dice and Men

Let me get this out of the way: I don’t mind the fancy dice. I know this can be a dealbreaker for some (and they’ve been very vocal about it) but I feel that there’s certainly design space around this approach that they’re using.

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Narrative Play

Speaking of design space, this is the angle that Genesys brings to the table. While still being a dice pool mechanic, the way the dice are read does not only serve as an indicator of success or failure, but also able to determine if further beneficial (or harmful) things happen along the way.

This initially struck me as a bit rather non-intuitive. After all, success should always be good, right? But eventually after considering the Star Wars films as a source, sometimes bad things happen anyway even if you succeed, or something goes your way even as you fail.

It’s not indicative of how life works, but rather more of an indicator that “Hey, something interesting is going to happen!”

Once I was able to set aside the expectation of the mechanics as a simulation, everything became easier to comprehend.

Rolling the Bones

To resolve an action in the Genesys system, the player has to assemble a dice pool. This dice pool consists of two halves: Positive Dice, and Negative Dice. Positive dice reflect a character’s abilities, training, and advantages. Negative dice represent the difficult of the task as well as complications and other risks to the task.

In essence, you’re rolling not only dice to represent your character’s ability, but also for the difficulty of the task as well.

The tricky part of this comes in the interpretation. The dice have symbols for the following outcomes: Success, Advantage, Triumph, Failure, Threat and Despair. As you can probably see, we’ve got three contrasted pairings. During the interpretation of the roll, we compare each in turn.

Success vs Failure

This is the most straightforward one. If there are enough Failure outcomes to cancel all the Success outcomes, then the skill check fails. Otherwise, the attempt is successful.

Advantage vs Threat

If there are more Advantages than Threat outcomes rolled, then the Player has an opportunity to spend these Advantages on further benefits like triggering special weapon qualities that run off these Advantages. However, if there are more Threats, then the GM has an opportunity to make the attempt more costly, by perhaps applying Strain or some other complication to the situation.

Triumph vs Despair

These symbols are special in that they each count as being a Success and Failure while also being an indicator of a greater boon or bane. The Success or Failure aspect of these outcomes can be cancelled out by the appropriate symbols, but the “good” and “bad” outcomes of these two symbols will take place regardless.

Overall the core mechanic takes a bit of getting used to, but is easy enough to pick up. The idea of a multi-dimensional dice roll (like the One Roll Engine) is neat, and the use of symbols certainly helps the math-adverse.

That said, I do see myself having to spend some time to get used to it. Maybe with enough practice, I’ll be able to manage it without too much trouble.

Next up, we’ll be taking a look at character creation, as I attempt to build a Hacker from Overwatch!

If you’d like to read along, you can get a PDF of the Genesys corebook from DriveThruRPG for only $19.95!

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