Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fight! The Fighting Game RPG: A What the What? Review

What the What? Reviews offer a quick overview of various smaller, OOP, or Obscure RPGs.

PREMISE
An engine for emulating fighting video games such as Tekken, Dead or Alive, Battle Arena Toshinden, and King of Fighters.

WHAT DO THE CHARACTERS DO?
They fight. While there’s some room for character development and personality, the game focuses on conflict- especially physical conflict. It distances itself from manga and anime tropes which combine fighting with character relationships and interactions (Ikki Tousen, Kenichi). Characters have obtained superpowered abilities and fighting talents through some means. That has drawn them into a world of danger and competition. Fighting tournaments are an obvious campaign path, but the characters may also be fighting against an evil organization, investigating mysteries with their fists, trying to stop an apocalypse, and/or hell-bent on revenge.

Generally there will be a roster of colorful named opponents, often with a group or organization backing them up. Campaign focus on procedural and action beats, leading characters from one such scene to another. Most of the mechanics of the system support that. While some discussion is made of alternate fighting game settings (historical ones like Soul Calibur or the original Dynasty Warriors), the focus is on modern or near-future settings. Changing that isn’t that hard, but the core material focuses on that approach.

WHAT’S THE SYSTEM LIKE?
Characters are purchased with points, in a list-pick process. This means that points aren’t generic (like HERO or GURPS), but instead the player gains a certain amount to spend in each area. Each character has three basic attributes, called basic qualities- Strength, Speed, and Stamina rated from -1 to 2. Higher speed additionally has two aspects. Characters also pick four qualities; these would be called advantages or merits in other games. They can also choose weaknesses and quirks to gain more. Players also spend five points on the five combat skills; fifteen points on other skills; and ten points on special moves. Fight! is a level based game, with a cap of Power Level 8. Players gain Glory which advances them and offers additional benefits as they level up.

Basic resolution for skills uses 1d10 + Skill against a difficulty (with average difficulty being an 8!). Combat skills function differently. There’s an interesting metagame in these skills, with three of them defensive (Defense, Evasion, and Tactics); one of them purely for ranged effects (Ki), and one to determine how many attacks they can string together (Combo). There’s no attack value, instead the default assumption is that the challenge lies in not being hit, not in hitting. Combat and Moves takes up the bulk of the rules in the corebook from 94-190. Players have a vast number of options for building their special and super moves- adding elements and optionally adding liabilities to allow more elements. These are done beforehand, not on the fly. There’s a lot to deal with here. Combat mechanics use a die-step progression, with bonuses increasing the default die used. The other mechanics on offer in the system echoing a fighting game (range abstracted into 0-5 unit distances). Attacks require declaring a move with a value below their control roll for the turn. The attacker general rolls 1d6 plus accuracy, trying to beat the defender’s value. Within this, though, are many, many options- special complications, spending of Fighting Spirits and so on. The rules also include options for dealing with Thugs and for more dramatic combat which integrates more non-combat skills.

Bottom line: simple general resolution and complex combat resolution.

WHAT’S COOL AND UNCOOL ABOUT IT?
You have to admire the way this game focuses on emulating the genre. This isn’t just a martial arts game or a game with some fighting trappings. Instead it fully embraces all the weirdness of the source material and makes that a part of the mechanics. There’s an interesting mix of specifics and abstractions throughout as a result. It includes rules for handling the non-combat aspects of the game, but doesn’t belabor those. The concepts for building moves, while involved, offer players control and the chance to really build their favorite characters. One small detail I like is the idea of the fight countdown clock- with time ticking away. The players need to finish the fight before that ends or else bad things will happen. The mechanics are pretty straightforward, with little need for GM interpretation. Given that players will likely fight one another from time to time, that’s important. The material, while leaning towards a modern setting, remains open-ended enough to adapt to other eras and campaign concepts. The rules smartly offer several combat play examples.

On the other hand, the core book could really use an editor. Not for grammatical problems or typos, but more for clarity, presentation, and organization. It can be hard to grasp the basics of the system with a couple of readings. As an example, what would be called characteristics are Basic Qualities. But then we also have “Qualities” which operate in a completely different way. One of those concepts needs to be renamed. The same applies for Skills vs. Combat Skills. They work in quite differently, so the developer needs to break the association. Also, given their importance to the genre, I’d like to see more on tournaments and how to handle them in play. What are the challenges? How do you manage players who aren’t fighting at that moment? More concrete suggestions and advice here would be good. Related to that, a more fully fleshed sample campaign would be good. There’s “metaplot” presentation, but showing the reader the colorful possibilities of the game would help. We only get two sample characters- more would be better- especially with a demonstration of how a GM should build bad guys. An example roster of baddies would be good. As it stands, it looks like building NPCs in the game is a huge amount of work for the GM. Advice, short-cuts or a random generator would help. Finally, the game needs better and clearer reference charts. They have some, but these could be better focused to what’s needed in play and put on one or two pages.

WHAT’S THE CORE BOOK AND WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The core book for Fight! The Fighting Game RPG is a 247 page standard size book. It is available as a pdf or through Lulu’s print on demand services. This has everything you’ll need to play. The layout is simple, but clean. The interior artwork mostly has a manga or anime design, some of it quite good, but some looking old-school sketchy. The cover illustration’s quite good. It is clearly a first product from a young company. I wonder what a second edition with a hard-nosed read through from a professional editor might look like. There’s a single 128-page supplement, Fight! Round 2. This offers even more move options, new qualities, additional combat options, and so on.

WHO MIGHT LIKE IT?
  • Fans of Fighting Video games who want to emulate that experience on the tabletop, but only if they like complexity. 
  • Gamers who enjoy high-crunch combat systems with lots of tactical and character design options. 
  • GMs who like martial arts systems. The mechanics here offer ideas and resources which could be adapted elsewhere. We used an approach a little like this for our Wushu homebrew, White Mountain, Black River. Gamemasters who like getting under the hood and looking at systems will especially enjoy this. 
OVERALL
I love fighting games, though I suck at them. I’ve always wanted to be able to capture some of that energy for tabletop play. Fight! manages to echo many of those elements, but at a cost in complexity. For GMs not shy about that- comfortable with the details of more crunch games like D&D 4e, HERO, or GURPS- that may not be an obstacle.