Amazing Pulp Adventures: First Impressions

Last week, I started playing a game called Davey Beauchamp’s Amazing Pulp Adventures-Role Playing Game (APA) on IRC. For those of you who don’t know, IRC is sort of the rotary phone of internet chat. It’s a place where people gather in user created “channels” (think chat rooms) and argue with each other in real-time, instead of the forum-based arguing that many of us are more familiar with.

Anyway, APA is based on the “Bare Bones Beyond” (B3) dice mechanic from Scaldcrow Games. The publisher describes the system thusly: “…a RPG mechanic that utilizes one success table and a two-six sided dice mechanic to resolve all ability, combat, and damage rolls. The system is deceptively simple.” More about this later.

First off, I really like the setting. What I’ve seen so far of it is nice and pulpy (At the start of our first session, several other characters and myself were aboard a flaming zeppelin, fighting an Aztec mummy and his minions for control of an occult artifact. If that isn’t pulpy, then I don’t know what is.). The character archetypes presented in the rules do a good job of covering the type of heroes one can imagine as part of the genre. There are Tough Detectives, Bare-Knuckled Battlers, Treasure Hunters, and Shadows of Justice, to name just a few of the eighteen archetypes available. Also, it seems like it would be fairly easy to throw something of your own together if you thought it was necessary.

Secondly, I like that character creation is nice and simple. After choosing an archetype, the rest of the character creation is just assigning points to attributes and conditions. Attributes are a combination of skill-like abilities, such as marksmanship, survival luck, and occult lore, as well as abilities more traditionally associated with the term “attributes,” like agility, might, and toughness. Conditions are more like aspects of your character’s personality and/or game relevant issues your character has to deal with. Things like risk taker, underworld enemies, and haunted past are all conditions. It didn’t come up in our short session, but I’ve been led to understand that these work sort of like aspects in FATE, in that they can be compelled by the game master to add complications to your character’s life.

Each archetype comes with a generic package of conditions and abilities that serve as a template for that sort of hero, and you have the option of increasing these rankings and/or adding your own abilities. The game comes stock with a pretty exhaustive list of conditions and abilities, but you are also free to create your own. Overall, the character creation process was quick, easy, and intuitive. The one issue I have with the process is that I feel like the archetypes may be too narrowly defined by default. For instance, I decided to make a treasure hunter, and the default attributes for this archetype include fairly high rankings in hunting and marksmanship and nothing at all that would be useful for socking people in the jaw. Since I wanted my character to be competent at fisticuffs, I used most of my character points to make my guy good at boxing, by acquiring things like the sweet science attribute. I envisioned my guy as more of a punch people in the face rather than a shoot people in the face kind of guy, and I wish the starting packages wouldn’t have made so many assumptions about that. I think a few less starting attributes and a few more starting character points would be better. This isn’t a huge issue, since that’s the sort of thing that’s pretty easy to “house rule.”

More concerning to me at this point is the B3 dice mechanic. I’m going to reserve final judgement on this until I have some more experience with the game, but my first impressions are not great. Basically, each of your attributes is ranked on a scale from 1 to 10 (higher rankings are possible, “shifting” the attribute into a higher category, effectively making it a superpower. We won’t worry about this right now though) and you accomplish things in the game by rolling 2d6 and comparing your die roll and attribute ranking on a chart to see how many successes you achieved.

What I don’t like about this is that your chance to succeed or fail isn’t dependent on the task in any way.  For example, my character has a ranking of 6 in sweet science, which means he always fails to generate even a single success on a roll of 5 or less. This means that almost 28% of the time my guy just misses when he tries to hit something, whether that something is a little old lady or Superman. I feel like there should be something mechanical that takes what you are trying to hit into consideration, but there isn’t. This static success/failure threshold feels unrealistic in situations where you are facing active opposition. For instance, in our first session my treasure hunter just flat-out unheroically missed a lowly goon, without that guy even having to roll to dodge. I realize my guy isn’t going to hit all the time, but I feel like my failure to hit should be based in some way on my targets success at avoiding the blow. Our game master is going to allow us to tweak our characters before the next session, so I think I’m going to have to lower some other skill and raise sweet science, giving me a better chance of at least forcing someone to have to dodge my punches rather than me just missing them because I’m incompetent.

So, that’s what I don’t like about the system. What I do like is that in any given situation, you may be able to generate successes using multiple attributes, if each of them makes sense to use. Provided you don’t fail right out with the first attribute you roll against, you can keep those successes and roll another attribute, stacking any successes from that roll with the first. So in the case of my treasure hunter, if I generate at least one success with sweet science, I could make another attribute roll against my “signature move” attribute, wicked right-cross. If I had other skills that were relevant, like maybe something to do with agility or concentration depending on the circumstance, I could keep rolling dice and attempting to generate successes. I like this because it causes you to think creatively about your attributes and ways you can justify stacking rolls, and it makes your character’s attributes feel like more of an interlaced list of competencies rather than a bunch of stand alone components. Again, seeing how this worked in play makes me want to go back to the drawing board with my character and do some tweaking before the next game.

Well, this has already went on longer than I intended, so that’s it for now. I’m looking forward to future play sessions with this system, and I will probably post some session notes once there is a bit more of a story to tell.

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