Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In Review: Neoclassical Geek Revival

Neoclassical Geek Revival (NGR). Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it's a plug-and-play RPG! What does plug and play mean, exactly?  It means, gentle reader, that the game can be run as-is (Though, as it's created in the vein of an RPG of yesteryear there's a good bit of rulings in place of rules references), or as a series of house rules to lift and socket into your existing RPG of choice. Does NGR achieve its goal? Read on to find out!

In a move that's somewhat unusual for me, I'm going to post the things I dislike about the book first. It should be noted that the game's creator (who bears the impressive and ominous name of Zzarchov) was kind enough to provide me with a complimentary PDF, so my review will be centered around the PDF itself, not the lovely  hardbound copy with the embossed title.

That said... on to the unhappy bits. There's only a few, but I felt that they should be put forth and acknowledged before I dive into the many (many) good bits.

First and foremost is the formatting. While the book is laid out in a two column format with a nice, solid font, the gutter between the columns is painfully tight. This could be alleviated by increasing the gutter a fraction of the inch, and doing so would fail to increase the page count by any significant number while making the text far easier to read.

Speaking of the text, as I read, I noticed typos here and there. NGR is obviously a labor of love, and I'm all too familiar with familiarity causing a person to miss errors in their text (I'm looking at you, Swordsong Chronicles, with your nasty 1d100 damage... sword), however,  another pass or two is definitely needed, both to correct errors, and to clarify a few of the examples (Conflict springs to mind, where it references a Dragon and a Pixie's size categories without explaining WHY the Pixie takes the penalties it does (it states the pixie takes the 'worst result' of dice rolls, without ever specifying why.). A guideline on what sizes apply to what races would be nice, as well.

Finally, a minor quibble, and purely a matter of taste. In several instances, the book reads in a very tongue-in-cheek, conversational tone. This is something a lot of people have no problem with. For me, however, it feels jarring. Again, personal preference, not a flaw with the document itself.

Now, on to the good bits.  What stands out about NGR?  Everything.

Taken at face value, NGR is an RPG that will instantly hit the nostalgia button for folks who grew up playing the first few incarnations of the World's Most Popular Role Playing Game. The eight attributes are instantly familiar, while the mechanics attached (1 being human imperfection, as opposed to sub-animal levels, a dedicated dice step for a specific value that's applied to mechanical checks). The races (Human, Elf, Dwarf) each have strengths and weaknesses which affect how attributes are generated, and in an interesting twist, characters are not generated before play begins, but as the first session plays out.

This strikes me as a design choice that's more enjoyable than Dungeon Crawl Classic's method of "Make a bunch of NPCs, the one  that survives if your PC", and definitely one that plays out quicker (less work for me or my players, yay!).

Party dynamics have been given a mechanical incentive (nothing major, but definitely flavorful enough to defeat the 'inn' trope of tabletop gaming.), and classes operate under a 'rank' system that's a bit different than levels. It reminds me, in some ways, of Legend's Track and Circle method, allowing a more customized character with little backend work on the part of player or GM. Skills are, in a manner similar to D&D Next, arbitrarily determined though they get broken down into three broad categories. A simple mechanic, and one that works.   Feat-like perks known as 'traits' make an appearance, each modifying how characters perform in some small way, without being as restrictive or mandatory as feats themselves are.

Magic caught my eye, as Divine and Arcane arts each operate a bit differently. Arcane Magic performs similarly to Talislanta (State Intent, pick a spell type, apply spell level and modifiers, roll), whereas Divine Magic involves an immediate investment of piety. 

A note here. While I have no problem with piety as presented in the table 'gaining piety', most of the options will require quite a bit of downtime on the Cleric's part. I don't see this as a bad decision, per-se, but if you're playing a warrior of the gods, be prepared to do the work of the gods.

Several other options jump out at me, too many to name. From my own perspective, I don't see NGR as a whole coming to my table, but a good portion of its rules will see themselves trickle down to my table in the form of additions to my Great Big Little Pamphlet o' House Rules.

So, is NGR worth the price? At $4 CAD for a PDF, you get a good little game, and could  definitely find worse ways to spend your money.  Buy this game, give it a read, and lift the parts you find absolutely snazzy, I know I will.

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