Thursday, 4 February 2016
RPGPundit Reviews: Walkure
This is a review of the Spanish-language RPG "Walkure", written by Pedro Gill and others, published by Aventureros Errantes de la Marca del Este. It is an astoundingly beautiful book, hardcover, 432 pages long, with a full color cover and full-color interior. The binding looks great, the interior pages are of a great quality to handle the color. The cover features a US space-ship, clearly military, orbiting earth past a space station with what looks like a space elevator.
The interior covers feature a map of the lunar surface, delineating territories under control of the Reich, the Empire of Japan, the United States and Allies, and the Soviet Union & China. The back interior cover features a similar map with zones of control on Mars.
(not my hand, this image found on google search)
Interior art is plentiful and extremely professional.
The production level of the book is, in other words, astoundingly good.
But what about the game itself?
Walkure is an alternate-history sci-fi RPG. The introduction starts off giving our own history and from what my read seems to get, the first deviation is that in WWII the Nazis crush the British at Dunkirk rather than giving the British a chance to evacuate. The next deviation (which I imagine would be of particular interest to Spanish readers) was that after failed negotiations to get Franco to have Spain join the Axis cause (these negotiations really happened in our timeline, and Franco drove Hitler up the wall with absurd demands), the Nazis arrange to have Franco die in an airplane "accident" and got his successor to agree to joining the Axis on Germany's terms. The section on Spain seems inordinately long to me, which I guess is reflective of both the origin of the book and Spaniards' inflated opinions of their own importance.
In any case, this leads to the Nazis taking Gibraltar. The next big change is that in this timeline the Nazis realize that the Enigma code is compromised, and switch to a new and more advanced code, called Walkure. With the Mediterranean in Nazi control, the war in North Africa obviously goes to pot for the British; and by 1941 the British are starting armistice negotiations with the Reich.
These changes end up leading to the election of Charles Lindbergh (republican) as president of the United States in the election of 1940. Historically, Lindbergh was a big campaigner for isolationism, but he had no chance of getting to the presidency. I'm not totally convinced that a more successful Nazi regime would actually have helped his case, but it's plausible, I suppose.
Once a treaty was achieved with the UK, Germany started on attacking the USSR. But even as the Germans are suffering the harsh 1941 winter in the fight with the Soviets, President Lindbergh gets himself assassinated by a Jewish radical in Detroit, and his successor Thomas Dewey is more determined to halt the Nazi advances. He pushes a lend-lease program with the USSR; and after years of brutal bloodshed between them, the Nazis and the USSR reach a peace accord in Damascus in 1944, ending World War II. Germany ends up keeping most of the territories it conquered (including Poland, Lithuania, part of the Ukraine including Odessa, Gibraltar, Malta, the Congo, Libya, Tunisia and the Suez Canal), France exists only as a Nazi satellite state in Vichy, and various other European nations (Luxembourg, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Holland, Norway, Belgium and Denmark) all become satellite states of a Nazi regime. Italy gets to keep Albania, Greece, Cyprus and Abyssinia. Syria and Lebanon become independent states as Nazi allies. The UK gets to keep the rest of Egypt, the channel Islands, Palestine, Iran, and Iraq. India declares independence and is partitioned like in our own history. Japan keeps almost all the British, French and Dutch colonies in Asia, Manchuria, Korea, and Formosa (Taiwan).
In essence, you get the cold war, but with three superpowers: the Reich (and its allies), the USSR, and the United States (with the remnants of the British Empire as its ally).
After this there's a relative peace for several decades. The 60s see a revolt/civil-war in Yugoslavia, which is eventually brutally repressed by the Reich.
There is no U.N. in this history, but the Movement of Non-aligned Nations starts up in the 60s and becomes more important than in our world. Eventually, this movement ends up making some treaties of importance in terms of the exploration and colonization of space.
What follows is an EXTREMELY detailed (55 page) chronology of events in the cold war, going from 1940 to 2075 (yes, this game takes place not just in an alternate universe, but in the future of an alternate universe). The chronology is so detailed that I think that a lot of readers would be likely to have their eyes gloss over, it was a bit much even for me. And remember, I did the super-detailed 1453-1485 timeline in Dark Albion!
Some events play out in ways similar to our own history, some change (for example, Nixon is President, Watergate happens, Ford replaces him, but then Ford is assassinated and Rockefeller becomes president, followed by Carter and Reagan; there's a military coup in Argentina in 1976 just like in our world, but its backed by the Reich instead of the United States). The Soviet Union never falls, however. Andropov is not succeeded by Gorbachev, and the USSR follows a course more similar to China's, of economic liberalization rather than political democratization.
Eventually, space exploration happens at a faster pace than it has or is likely to happen in our own timeline (ditto with technology in general, for example there are basic power-armor suits by 2002). By the end of the timeline, there's heavy warships in space, and the Germans have just built a massive space station, again called Walkure.
Next we get a fairly general overview of society and economics in the setting. We are informed that generally speaking, societies in the setting are how we would expect them to be. The USSR is a capitalist/communist state like China is today. Both the USSR and the Reich (as well as the whole "European Union", the Reich's term for its bloc of satellite states in Europe) are very politically repressive, and dissent is quashed. The Allies are democratic, with all the flaws that might imply, but also all the freedoms.
There are megacorporations in all three superpowers, because what would a near-future sci-fi game be without greedy megacorps?
Culturally, gay marriage (as well as 'other types of marriage') are common in all the allied states, whereas in the Reich anything outside of heterosexual relationships are strictly prohibited. In the USSR, homosexuality isn't illegal but it is very badly looked upon.
Militarization is higher in this setting than our world; the Reich and USSR both still have conscription, while most allied nations have volunteer armies. But since there's enormous cyberpunk-levels of social inequality, the army is a highly appealing choice for many of the lower classes.
In terms of technology, fusion power is common, and things like ionic impulse or antimatter motors are commonplace. Genetic modification is highly advanced (in no small part because of the ideologically-derived obsessions of Nazi scientists) and is universally used to select or modify all kinds of characteristics of infants. This includes genetic augmentation of various traits. One of the effects of this is enhanced lifespan, with average life expectancy in 2075 clocking in at 110. A variety of common diseases, including Cancer and HIV, have been eradicated. Cloning and cybernetics have advanced enormously as well. There are now also entirely artificially-engineered humans, called bioroids, the first line of which were the Reich's line of "Mengele" bioroids.
Computing is also quite advanced, featuring a kind of virtual reality internet. This is a major source of culture and entertainment in all the superpowers. Much of this web is controlled and restricted, but technological advances allow for illegal "Bandit" networks.
In terms of military technology, you have the aforementioned power armor (and giant robots and drones), huge starships, electromagnetic railguns, plasma torpedoes, high power laser cannons, magnetic shields, bioweapons, laser/plasma/pulse rifles.
Global warming was a problem in the early 21st century, but accords between the superpowers eventually halted global warming in the decades that followed. More recently, the scientific community has alerted the world to the apparent arrival of a new oncoming ice age.
The next section we get is on important nations of the setting; these detail in quite a few pages the major powers of the world. The entries on the German Reich, the United States, Italy, the Empire of Japan, Great Britain, the People's Republic of China, and the USSR. Each of these get several pages (with the Reich and the U.S. getting more page-count than the rest), which provides an overview of the nation and important places, places of strategic interest, military and intelligence organizations, secret locations, and a list of the "principal authorities". I find it generally good, but a bit amusing that the names of the authorities for the U.S. and U.K. are ridiculously stereotypical. The U.S. president is named James Monroe, the secretary of state is "Kerry Van Buren", and the other important listed authorities are Buchanan, Marshall, (Alexander) Haig, Pershing, and "Nelson Kissinger". The U.K. is ruled by Queen Victoria II, and its current authorities include Foreign Office Minister "Lord John Russell", "Andrew Bonar Law" and MI5 chief "Stanley Baldwin". It's a kind of "personality Engrish".
Smaller entries are given for Spain and France. Both of these, while still clearly in the Nazi sphere of influence, have gradually transitioned back into democracies with degrees of autonomy.
All of this setting background takes up the first 118 pages of the book. After that we get into character creation. The first stage involves determining the power level of the characters, the GM decides this. Power Level determines how many points you get to create the character, and characters range from 'mediocre' power level to 'superheroic' (with normal, great, and legendary in between).
After this, you select the era of play. This affects what 'abilities' (which are really more like skills; there are no attribute scores as such) begin with training. Eras include WWII, the Cold War, or the 21st Century (2075). It's pointed out that in some backward areas (rural China, for example) it's possible to find 21st century characters that will have earlier eras of training.
Then you choose a couple of aspects. These are things like "wants to be the next mayor", "remembers nothing about his past", "spent time in jail", stuff like that. FATE-style stuff. You spend "Destiny points" to invoke them (of course, they have to be applicable), and doing so gives you a +3 bonus to your check.
Then you choose character templates. These are a package of 'abilities' (skills) and talents (special feats, there's a long list with detailed mechanics for these) that a character starts with based on profession. There are templates for each era, and each has a different cost. A WWII secret agent costs 95 character points (mediocre characters only start with 75 points, while superheroic start with 300). A mechanic costs 35, a US Army soldier costs 65, etc. Similar careers in other areas have different costs; for example a 'secret agent' in the Cold War costs 150 (and naturally has different abilities and talents; a US army soldier in 2075 costs 69 points).
After this you can go on to spend remaining points to improve abilities and talents, and also buy "gifts" (which are special powers from biomods, implants, or technology - examples include "doesn't sleep", "accelerated movement", "super-resistant", "poisonous", etc; there's a long list with mechanical details). If you are over your limit in terms of points spent, you can get a limitation to balance it out. These include things like addiction, night blindness, space sickness, susceptible to disease, etc. As with the other details of character creation, there's a long list with specific descriptions of what each limitation does.
Finally you figure out some derived stats. Your combat ability is based on agility + attention + 2, for example. You also calculate damage bonuses, initiative, movement, damage resistance, and hit points (which are spread out by a table reference among different wound levels). There's also 'fatigue', which is calculated in a similar fashion.
Abilities are checked by rolling 2d6, adding the ability bonus, bonuses from any gifts, and modified by any aspects or limitations. These rolls can be opposed checks. There's a long list of different abilities, and in many cases their difficulty numbers for certain checks are listed; these generally range from dc 5 to dc 21. The section on task resolution has the usual expected suggestions and modifications, and a few special ones, like the tables for figuring out the DC for fixing/building/altering technological items.
"Destiny Points" are a typical new-school mechanic, where you start out with 3 of them, and they can be spent before or after a roll. If an aspect can be invoked, you get a +3 for every point spent. If you spend 2 destiny points, you can reroll entirely. If you invoke an aspect in a negative way, you get a new destiny point for future spending.
In other words, the authors here are following a tried and true Spanish tradition: blatant theft. Not that I mean that in any kind of bad way, mind you! All the greatest Spanish RPGs borrowed their mechanics from popular English-language RPGs that had reached Iberia: Aquelarre (Call of Cthulhu), Capitan Alatriste (GURPS), Fanpiro (Vampire, though in this case it's a parody game so totally understandable), and now Walkure is borrowing from FATE. The important thing is that each of these games (even Fanpiro!) offered something original and different from the games they borrowed from. You could say the Spaniards have been writing on OSR-principles since decades before there was an OSR.
There are also "humanity" and "stress" statistics; the former to note how human your PC continues to be, and the latter his mental health. With all these little substats, we're looking at a game that is rapidly becoming fairly rules-heavy.
In combat, initiative works in a regressive method where the Player spends action points to act, which in turn determines the next time he gets to act. This is somewhat similar to the system in Aces & Eights.
The rest of the combat rules are as detailed as you would expect in this fairly rules-heavy game. Lots of special details on all kinds of things: maneuvers, burst fire, cover, vehicle combat, etc.
There are a lot of guidelines, references, and such; so I want to clarify that it is a well-organized rules-heavy game. If you don't like rules-heavy, you may have a problem with it; but if the only thing you're worried about is organization, the book is fairly well organized.
There are of course other equally detailed rules on hazards; asfixiation, heat, electricity, cold, fire, gravity, etc. There's even rules for rain (and how it affects movement and visibility)!
The equipment section is absolute tech-porn for fans of military sci-fi and the likes; lots and lots of images and stats and tables of all kinds of different firearms, organized by type and nationality, plus armor, bionics, implants, and other high-tech equipment (military and civilian).
Vehicles get their own chapter, interrupted by a brief chapter on experience (where experience points function somewhat similarly to character-creation points, but some requirements are given regarding training and study). Guidelines are extensively provided for creating your own vehicles, along with lengthy gun-porn style statblocks for all varieties of vehicles, including mecha, robots, tanks and other land vehicles, aircraft and space vehicles.
The appendices at the end of the book provide details of a few significant NPCs (no stats, just their story); notes on the structures of the Nazi, US and Red Army, descriptions of different terrorist groups, and finally some fantastic maps. The latter consist of a map of European rail lines (in the 1940s, I think), a political map of Europe in 1945 (in this timeline, of course), another of Europe in 2050, Africa in 2050, and Asia in 2050. And finally the by-now-standard lists of thanks to contributors for crowdfunding, as well as character sheets.
What is my conclusion about Walkure? Well, the short answer is that it is yet another RPG that any English-speaker will probably kick himself for not being able to read. The production quality is through the roof. The game is highly complete.
The setting will be of interest to people who like this kind of thing; with alternate history, Nazis in space, mecha, military sci-fi stuff. Of course, if none of that appeals to you, maybe Walkure will be somewhat lower on your list of regrets.
The system itself is quite coherent and well organized, but I'd certainly define it as being rules-heavy. If you dig games on a complexity level a bit higher than D&D 5e, though maybe not quite as complicated as Shadowrun (certainly more elegant as a system), then you'd like Walkure. Again, if you could read it.
Anyways, given that Spanish games I've previously reviewed have ended up getting potential translation deals, there's always a chance that eventually you'll get to decide for yourself!
Currently Smoking: Neerup Egg + Image Perique