Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Villains and Vigilantes - Always Outnumbered

***This review of an RPG adventure is for GMs’ eyes only***

Continuing the not exactly proud tradition of Alone Into the Night and The Power of One, Always Outnumbered is another collection of mini-adventures for one player and a GM. Personally I’ve never been in a situation where these might have been used as intended; generally if only a single player or two can make it, the thinking usually seems to be “why don’t I save on gas and read Appointment with F.E.A.R. instead?” Still, for somebody looking to learn how the game works without getting in the way of the fun for a more experienced group, the adventures herein work well enough, and explore some pretty interesting story ideas too. Satter seems to be hitting his stride after his previous fun, but not terribly remarkable adventures.

The first mini-adventure’s mostly interesting because of the NPC’s involved and the emphasis being more on the interactions between them and the player rather than simply stopping the bad guys. Who, it should be noted, are a fairly comical pair, and it’s nice to see more villains like that. Saving the world from Satan and Dr. Apocalypse is nice and all, but shouldn’t putting on tights and shooting energy bolts be fun, after all? And the goofy villains, with the push to get the player to interact with some fairly vivid civilian NPC’s (even if they aren’t the type to show up more than this once), add up to an adventure that I at least would probably have fun playing. If I felt like burning the gas to make it to such a tiny game session, that is.

The second one’s a little more generic, revolving around a hunt for a murderous monster on a golf course. It does show an encouraging behavior with the author that I noted liking about Ken Cliffe’s work too; linking his different releases. The monster being a soldier from his module Escape From the Micro Universe, you see, who tried to go back in time to alter history to get rid of his people’s enemies and ended up on Earth somehow. It’s kind of a shame that the text states he’s from somewhere too far away for the success of his mission to make any difference on running that module, although that’s probably just because of space limitations in this module. I suppose the real hook of the module is having a super-powered merc trying to take advantage of the panic caused by an alien attacking a golf course to make a name for herself by defeating it (and the player, too, if she gets the chance). Not bad, but nothing to write home about.

The last adventure proper (and the most interesting), takes an idea I’ve seen done a few times, but makes a fun-seeming adventure out of it. That idea being the superhero who’s actually a covert criminal, acting as a smokescreen for other villains and helping them escape custody for a modest fee. And because he’s got the cooperation of the villains he’s supposedly clashing with, probably starts earning more accolades than legit heroes. It’s a nice idea especially suited to lighting a fire under a player to find out the story behind a new foe, particularly because at the same time he can’t just fly up to this guy and start pounding the bejeebers out of him if the player cares anything about his reputation.

In addition to the three main adventures there’s a fourth loose encounter contained within that can be easily worked into any of the others. The antagonist is kind of a villain, kind of, although really he’s just a super-powered troll, content to use his powers to jerk with people he doesn’t like rather than try to beat them into the ground. Although he does have schizophrenic episodes where he becomes a proper villain, which seems included to justify the player beating the snot out of him at some point. Which would probably be satisfying to the player, but I felt it cheapened an interesting character.

To talk about one last thing, while the villains in Satter’s early stuff, Enter the Gene Pool and Escape From the Microverse were good if not particularly outstanding, the ones in Always Outnumbered just seem kind of…off. Maybe it’s because I just don’t get how the name connects to the concept. I don’t see where “Pioneer” comes from, or why a villain who can turn himself into an 8-foot juggernaut calls himself “Scrimmage.” You probably think he fights like a football player or something, right? Except doing so cuts into his agility so much he does it mainly to be able to carry more loot and soak more damage, and relies on non-physical attacks. And speaking as a pompous English major, “Magnanimous” is a huge stretch for a villain with magnetic powers.

While the villains may not be interesting enough to make into my players’ version of the Crushers, the scenario ideas are good. And at the end of the day, that’s probably more important.

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