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Saturday 24 May 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: The Tools of Ignorance, A Baseball Roleplaying Game

This is a review of the print version of Tools of Ignorance, a baseball RPG.  It is written by Clash Bowley, and published by Flying Mice games.  The print edition is a softcover, about 50 pages long.  The front cover features a ball and a catcher’s helmet.  I am informed that “tools of ignorance” is the term for a catcher’s equipment in baseball.

I’m not yet certain if making an rpg about a sport (that isn’t, say, gladiatorial dwarf-orc combat in a dark future ruled by brain-eating vampire illithids) is an act of lunacy or a work of genius.  It is definitely a labour of love, in this case.

The game is pretty much what it sounds like: you play a team of major league baseball players, with the goal being to get to and win the World Series. You start out by creating your team, which you can do by random rolls or optionally direct choice to determine the “type of team” you have, ranging from “hapless” or “struggling” to “top notch”; and varying by the size of market.  So a Top Notch team in a big market starts with 130 points, while a hapless team in a small market has only 70 points to work with.

You use these points to buy players, rated as rookies, veterans, prime, aging, declining, over-the-hill or “ancient”; and varying according to “standard”, “star”, or “superstar” qualities. These “star ratings” determine how much money the player is worth, and it is required in the game that the player accumulate enough “notice” (from successful games in a season) to maintain a player’s rating (or increase it).  If the player doesn’t earn sufficient notice, he will end up dropping to a lower rating. A player who can’t maintain even a standard rating is kicked off the team at the end of the year.
Notice is given in small amounts for things like nice plays or good attitude, and in greater amounts for important actions, like hitting a home run in a game against a rival team, completing a game, a shutout, a game-winning catch, stealing home in the playoffs, a no-hitter, etc.  Negative Notice can also be given as a penalty if a player expresses improper behavior.  Toadying to the press or undercutting rivals might also gain notice, but there is a fine-line in that between doing it well and ending up getting a bad reputation for it.

Managers are also statted, with three varieties: “boy genius”, veteran, or “crusty coot”. There are different styles of management, like “the Tactician”, “the Mastermind”, “the Accountant”, etc., who get different special edges they can use for managing.

The basic mechanic for resolving a regular game is a single-roll mechanic, where you compare team vs. team and roll to see who wins. That way you can get through an entire game with a single roll for any game that isn’t actually important or worth playing in the longer version. Optionally, in the one-roll game, each player can try a roll to see if they had any special personal “highlight” in the game, giving them a little Notice.

To actually create a Baseball Player PC, you will choose a professional template (based on the kind of player we’re talking about as mentioned above; ie. veteran, aging, etc.), and then a background template, like “moose”, “gorilla”, “monkey” (yes, all of these are named after animals).  The Background template gives the character his basic attributes, the Professional Template modifies these attributes.  Both give skills (of both the baseball variety, like “pitching”, “hitting”, etc; and the non-baseball variety, like “tactics”, “endear”, etc). Some of the templates provide edges (special abilities). You add together all the bonuses of both templates to get the basic character, and roll randomly to determine if you are a left or right handed hitter/pitcher.

The professional template is based on age.  Each season, your character ages a year; and when he hits the age of the next template up he would erase all his previous bonuses and add in the bonuses of his new template.  Thus, baseball skills can rise or fall in value over time; non-baseball skills only keep accumulating, however.

Non-baseball skills are used to create special effects either in or out of a game. The skill “deke”, for example, lets you attempt to physically deceive another player; “endear” lets you win people over, “overdo” lets you push through pain or fatigue.

Characters also have certain “traits”, like “hot-tempered”, “greedy”, “loyal”, “upright”, “practical”, “nefarious”, etc. Traits are refreshed each session, and allow a character to roll an extra die for each trait point used, as long as the descriptor of the trait is relevant to the task being attempted.  Characters get 7 points to put into their traits.

Now, on to task resolution; the first is hitting, and you have different mechanics to hit “for average” or to hit “for power”. The difference is the former uses the Coordination stat and the latter the Strength stat.  In both cases the checks are opposed checks to the pitcher. A table is provided giving the possible results; the system is a dice pool, so the more successes a hitter gets versus the pitcher, the better his result.  If he gets four or more successes above the pitcher’s successes, then he’s hit a homer.

Pitchers can likewise pitch “for power” or as “crafty pitchers” (using STR and COOR respectively).  Pitchers also have a fatigue mechanic, based on their Endurance, that determines how many innings they can play before getting tired. After that, they begin to suffer cumulative penalties to their play.
Players can also issue “challenges”, which are basically things like trying to steal 2nd or whatnot; the consequence of failure usually being getting “out”.  In turn, managers can make “maneuvers”, which require a tactics check, success giving certain bonuses to players in an ensuing play.

Players can get injured in-game if they botch an END check after using a trait.  There are random tables to determine where a hit or an out goes… the point here is that its all very thorough. I have no doubt that this system covers everything needed to actually play a drawn out baseball game in the actual RPG.
There are even rules for the use of performance enhancing drugs.  Which really is what makes it realistic in the context of modern professional baseball.

There are rules too, for troupe play, which I assume would really be the default here (and its “recommended” in the rules).  There is also a mechanic based on a pack of cards to create random events in “the media”, “romance/family”, “health” or “the team and teammates”.

You also get a long list of suggested team names, random opponent stat chart, a sample lineup for the “portland tradewinds”, and some reference and character sheets.

One thing this game DOESN’T have is any description of the rules of baseball itself.  I suppose this is OK, really, because who in their right mind would buy an RPG about baseball if they weren’t already enough a baseball fan to know how the game is played? It is amusing to me, though, in its absence.

Ultimately, what can I say about Tools of Ignorance? From what I can see, it would do an absolutely EXCELLENT job at what it set out to do: let you simulate an RPG version of the game of baseball, including certain off-field details.  It is a hyper-focused game, which probably would not be very heavy on the role-playing. Almost to the point where I have to ask myself if what I’m reading really is a roleplaying game, or something that uses roleplaying mechanics in a totally different way?  Its definitely not a story game, though. So there’s that at least.

Anyways, if you want an RPG baseball-simulator, this is THE game for you.  I’m fairly sure that there’s no other game out there that would cover this topic as well, or in fact, at all.


Currently Smoking: Ashton Old Church Rhodesian + Rattray’s Old Gowrie

(Originally posted May 18, 2011; reposted March 5, 2013, on the old blog)


  1. Wow. Love seeing games that aren't about elves and hobbits.

  2. Well, I guess this would certainly fit that bill...