Wednesday, 8 June 2016
RPGPundit Reviews: Barbarians versus Vile Reptile Invaders From Outer Space
This is a review of an odd little game called "Barbarians versus Vile Reptile Invaders from Outer Space", published by Precis Intermedia, written by Nathan J. Hill. This is the second edition of the game, and it comes in a small 68-page softcover volume (this being a review of the print edition, as all my reviews are). The cover is full color, featuring a well-drawn scene of (you guessed it) barbarians fighting with reptile space invaders. The interior is black and white, and has only a couple of pieces of art, all of which are just barbarian warriors in different poses.
Once again I feel I must note for the record that I have a business relationship with the publisher (Precis), in that I am the author of two of their products (Gnomemurdered and Lords of Olympus). I do not feel this will affect my ability to review the product, but in the interest of transparency I wanted to be sure to mention it.
The book starts with some in-game fiction, which I routinely ignore. In any case, this game is a bit of no-brainer: you have a group of barbarian viking-types, out raiding, when they run into an expedition of alien creatures.
The game setting is also generally quite vague, leaving it to the DM just how much detail he wants to impose. The only real landmarks are "the north" (where it is cold and harsh and is where our pseudo-vikings come from), "the south" (which is full of civilized people ripe for plundering), and "the grey peaks" (which are the mountain range that divide north and south). Within the North there's the ancestral lands of the barbarians, and the city of Dak-Gul, which is their capital. In the South there's lands like Folstia (which has valleys and farms, artworks, and some mystics), Graensk (which has some battle-hardened folk who have built up defenses against the barbarians) and Dalnan (which is the fallen former empire of the region, and now a favored plum for barbarian pickings). In part, and maybe this is just the history fanatic in me talking, I don't really see why the game couldn't have just been set in historical Earth (or at least a cinematic version of it).
The process of character creation is outlined. First you choose a name; which would have been a great place for a big silly random table, but in this case what we got was just a list of sample names. Then you choose a clan; again some sample clans are provided. Then you define your attributes by dividing 20 points between five scores: smash, throw, feet, craftiness, and contemplation. You get another 20 points to spread between 'abilities' and 'items'. There's a list of abilities, which act as special maneuvers (characters who don't choose a given ability do not get to make said maneuvers); the list includes things like "instant kill", "double damage", "double down", "arcane comprehension" (which lets a particularly clever barbarian figure out how to use alien tech), "tough skin", and "surprise attack". Each ability costs 5 points to buy. Items are not given a set list; instead you can spend between 1-5 points per item (but only one 5-point item is allowed). Each given item will grant that point value in "bonus dice" for attempting actions applicable to the item in question. Items could be weapons, armor, tools (like magic torches or such) or apparently just about anything else the GM would allow.
Then there's a couple of derived attributes: "Guts" are basically hit points, while "Grit" is a pool of bonus dice which can be used to enhance attempted actions.
If a character's Guts score gets to zero, he's dead (after an optional dying speech).
Characters will also have one particular motivation, which drives him (and grants 2 bonus dice in situations where the motivation applies), and a specific weakness (which grants 2 penalty dice).
These are determined by choice, and while some broad examples are provided there's no definitive list.
Lastly, the Barbarian PC gets a "war cry", a particular slogan that he can cry out once per day, which when shouted out will double the number of dice rolled to attempt a single action. This doubling includes bonus dice, but the penalty dice are not doubled.
There are some additional optional character creation details a GM may wish to utilize: these include having a signature weapon, modifying stats based on the chosen age of the barbarian, choosing a (suitably barbaric) occupation which the PC will then have special skill with, and finally some guidelines for the GM to create new abilities (or to rule on new abilities proposed by a player).
Task resolution is done by choosing the attribute relevant to the task, and rolling a number of dice (d10s) equal to the attribute. You may end up having situational modifiers providing bonus dice or penalty dice; these are simply added or subtracted from the dice rolled. When you have the final total of the dice to roll, you roll them and add their values up to give you the result, which is compared to the 'target number' to determine if you succeeded or failed. In many cases, the difference between the TN and your roll will determine how well you succeeded (which is called the "outcome"). There's also opposed checks.
So character creation is a type of point-buy; and task resolution is based on a dice-pool system. Both of these are pet peeves of mine; but in this case the overall system is simple enough that, while I'd never say this is my preference for design, there's nothing particularly hard or bad about it either. It's the least bad form of both mechanics.
Combat is handled in turns, with initiative determined by the order of the highest to lowest "feet" attribute rating. Combat rolls are done in the form of opposed checks, with the attack done with the "smash" or "throw" attribute, and defending done with the "feet" attribute. Damage is measured by the outcome-rating of the roll. Guidelines are provided for trying to grapple, disarm, called shot, maneuvering to gain a better position, and fleeing and pursuit.
There's also a rule for creating "epic actions", where in the middle of the action a player can recount a great deed that one of his forefathers claimed to have accomplished; the PC can then try to emulate that same deed, gaining a doubling of his dice pool. This strikes me as slightly storygamey, but at least it's fairly emulative of the 'viking'-style genre.
There are four different 'experience' type stats: fame, fortune, legend, and learning. They are gained by different means, at the end of each session. Fame and Fortune are used to generate Legend, which, if it reaches a certain level, retires the character to the status of a victorious clan chief. They also generate learning, which can be spent to purchase new attributes, abilities, grit, or items.
Next we get some very amusing drinking rules. Contrary to the typical for a game, but very much in keeping with genre, barbarians who end up drunk get a bonus to any courageous actions while drunk! It can (optionally) be relatively easier or harder to get drunk depending on a number of situational modifiers; for example, if a close friend died you need to drink more, while if it's a full moon you need less drink to get smashed.
The GM chapter begins with some general advice about how to handle things, nothing very special. Then we get into the section on the alien invaders, which are known as "Brugs". These aliens are created with the same point-buy method as the PCs, which I personally find quite annoying (it would be a hassle for the GM to have to do that repeatedly); but fortunately some basic sample templates are provided (for warriors, elite warriors, and engineers) that can be used in most circumstances. Some material is provided on Brug ships, weapons, and droids. We're also given the motivation for the aliens' presence: they're seeking to steal the world's precious minerals, and they plan to enslave humanity to mine them.
After this, the chapter provides some sample plots, and some locations (the locations getting a description and a suggestion of possible 'cool scenes' to play out in them).
After this we finally get to a set of random tables! In this case, we're talking about 'random loot' tables. There's six tables, one of which is the master table and the rest are subtables, for generating a variety of treasures the PCs could obtain.
The next chapter provides the outline for a couple of other potential scenarios for the game, instead of aliens. These have the barbarians facing off against Dwarves or Zombies, rather than the Brugs. This is followed by a four-page introductory adventure called 'the black pit'.
At the tail end of the book you get a set of sample barbarians for use in one-shots or the like, and at the back of the book a character sheet.
So, Barbarians vs. Vile Reptilian Invaders from Outer Space has turned out to be a fun little book, packing a lot of material for such a small size and relatively limited thematic scope. Now, while I guess in theory one could play a really long campaign with this game, it's clearly going to be most functional for one-shots and short campaigns. In the long run, that 'limited scope' is pretty likely to make it a bit too narrow.
Even so, if you are looking for a fun and interesting game to run for an evening's entertainment or for a few sessions, you're likely to find this game a worthwhile purchase.
Currently Smoking: Italian Redbark + Argento Latakia