The Game: a/state
The Publisher: Contested Ground Studios
Degree of Familiarity: I've read the game, and read about and around the game a whole lot, but I've never actually got a chance to play it (the case for a fair chunk of my collection).
Books Required: Corebook alone.
a/state is one of those games. The ones with the idiosyncratic setting and weird stuff that'll either draw you in or turn you right off. The games that defy easy explanation, because it doesn't matter how much you try to condense the setting, you'll ram up against ideas that you didnt' have time to include in that condensation. Like other games of that ilk (Contimuum, The Secret of Zir'an, and the great grand-daddy of the kind that is Mechanical Dream), you have to read the corebook pretty much cover to cover to see if you grok it.
Though I love the depth of detail in a good complex setting, I don't think it makes for the best roleplaying games. Every good game has a concept that you can write on the back of an empty packet of Regal King Size0. And if you keep that hook in mind, then you can't go wrong.
Let's play a quick game: I name the fag-packet pitch, you name the game (they're all games I've done an entry for). In this game, you play:
- Fantasy people who kill things and take their stuff
- People in the modern world who have to hurt people to live
- Cowboys, hucksters, and mad scientists in a fucked-up version of the Wild West
- Magically empowered heroes who live and quest in the modern world
- A dragon in the mythic age, and his reincarnation in the modern world
- A selection of driven people in the world, in the weirdest place on—or off—Earth
Dan Davenport probably described a/state the best in his RPG.net review:
perhaps the best comparison to the plight of the typical a/state PC might be to the muck-spattered protagonists of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay… except [...] the oppressive noble class is playing Warhammer 40K.
The world is the City. The rich work for the ultracorps, who make everything in the city. For the rich, genetic augmentation and hypertech equipment is the norm. The poor do whatever they can to survive. For them, a stinking and filthy fish dinner and a roof that doesn't leak too bad are the best they can expect. It's a bit like a set of stories I wrote back around the move up here. But the City has a few weird bits going on as well, what with everyone who tries visiting the Outlands vanishing in a puff of light, war between the Corps, and a whole bunch of gribbly supernatural stuff going on.
One suggestion I've seen a lot for a/state is making sure that you know what sort of feel you're going for: one rich Corp slumming it (or on the run) or a single local acting as guide to a much richer and better equipped party. With that in mind, my first step is to figure a general wealth level. I'm thinking of a game set among the factories of Burningfell, a place where almost everyone works in factories that belch smoke, and the only actual law is enforced by private security firms. It's pretty much the epitome of "poor industrial hell", and makes a hell of a place for a game.
Even an industrial hellhole can't survive on factories alone. People who live in the zone need to eat and sleep and entertainment and everything else. These people for communities. Said communities need people to keep them running, whether on the surface or beneath most people's notice. I like the idea of the Lostfinder, a person who finds what's lost in exchange for a meal or a bed for a night.
Idealists don't tend to become Lostfinders, because most idealists like being able to eat from day to day. Instead, I think Lucas was kidnapped as a child, maybe by a mob boss who wanted to extort something bad from his parents. Rather than returning their child, the boss dumped him. His mother had asked a Lostfinder for help, and through the kindness of that woman he was reunited with his parents. Said parents were factory workers, but died a while back. Lucas wasn't there. In thanks to the woman who saved his life, he set out to give something back in return for a life he sometimes wonders if he deserves. Yeah, he's got a fair depressive streak, but he's not about to give up just yet. Fate always ensures that there's one last thing he needs to do.
2) Advantages and Disadvantages
Rather than doing stats first, we do everything else and finally buy up stats and skills.
Right now, I figure Lucas is in his early thirties, maybe 32 years old. That gives him 360 by way of Attributes and 500 in Skills. This is useful because advantages and disadvantages cost or contribute to those pools.
I want a couple of Contacts. I think one's the guy who runs his usual bar, and one's runs the fish stall he tends to eat at. Five points each, one from AP and one from SP. Mental Advantage (Perceptive) costs 10AP, but it's worth it.
345/495 after buying those.
Turning to disadvantages, I think that the mob would still count as enemies, meaning Lucas is always looking over his shoulder. As a moderate enemy, he gets me 10SP. Mental Disadvantage (Depression) at a Moderate level is 10AP. I figure Lucas hits the sauce more than most, but not yet to the point that it's really fucking up his life. Physical Disadvantage (Addiction) at Minor is 5AP. I could add a couple more Enemies but I think I'm sorted for now.
360/505 to spend.
Lucas' parents were made Redundant shortly after he was recovered (the joys of the mob's interference). I get +10 Awareness, and 40 points to split between Origin skills. I go for 10 points of Unarmed Combat, 10 of Folklore, and 20 of Foraging.
Upbringing is much like Origin without the free stat boost. They're available depending on Origin. I like the look of Dangerous, and drop 10 points into Pistol, 10 into Unarmed Combat, and 20 into Tracking.
360 points to spend between eight skills. I turn to physical first. Agility and Dexterity both get 50 points, as he's got great control over what his body is doing. Living in Burningfell means surviving no matter what, which gives me an excuse to drop 45 points into Health. Strength gets an average 40.
Mentally, I put 50 points into Awareness, which gets boosted by the bonus from Origin up to 60. 45 points into Intelligence; he's smart but more instinctive. 50 points in Perception, as there's not many details he notices. Unfortunately, I pay for all this: Lucas' Willpower is a mere 30, which explains why he's sinking back into a bottle again and again.
I check the character types and note that a Lostfinder has Investigation, Law, Diplomacy, Negotiation, Shadow, Forensics, and Criminal Culture as recommended skills. In addition to the points I've already got, I now have 505 points to blow.
Negotiation is a big one, as that covers taking people round. That'd be 50 points. Investigation at 80 actually costs 90 points. Lockpick and Shadow at 50 points each, I think. Criminal Culture at 40 points will help. 30 into Foraging because he has to remain alive. 40 points into Forensics as well.
Now, however, I'm looking at four columns in small type trying to decipher which would make good sense. Twenty points each into Tracking and Unarmed Combat will raise those up. 30 in Drinking makes sense, 30 in Sneak, and 25 into Pistol. 30 into Folklore as well. I've spent 415 points so far. Criminal Culture gets another 20, as do Shadow and Lockpick. 475. Forensics picks up 10, and the last 20 points go into Sneak. I should probably grab more skills, but frankly I hate these long skill lists because I've no idea what I'm supposed to go for. Same problem as I had with SLA Industries.
Oh, and I get Common (Speak) at 68 as a free skill, and a bonus of 9 points to Folklore from my Origin. Worth noting that I get 10% of the linked attribute as a bonus to the skill.
7) Finishing Touches
Starting Wealth is 2. I use Random.org and roll a 4, which gives me £4 in his pocket. Reaction is the average of Awr, Int, and Agl, or 52. Resilience s a tenth of Health, which rounds to 5. Encumbrance is half Strength, or 20. Punch Damage is a twentieth of Str, so 2, and Kick Damage is a fifteenth of Str, which rounds to 3.
I want a Dogskin Greatcoat and general crappy clothing. Apart from that, a sparklock pistol, and... crap. Lucas can't actually read or write.
10 points off Criminal Culture, Drinking, and Folklore, and 20 off Lockpick lets me buy Common (read/write) for 50 points. A notebook and pencil rounds things off.
Awareness (bonus) 60
Punch Damage 2
Kick Damage 3
Contact (Bar owner) Min 5SP
Contact (Food stall owner) Min 5AP
Mental Advantage (Perceptive) 10AP
Enemy (Mob Boss) Mod 10SP
Mental Disadvantage (Depression) Mod 10AP
Physical Disadvantage (Addiction) Min 5AP
Common (read/write) 50
Common (Speak) 68
Criminal Culture (Awr) 56
Drinking (Hlt) 25
Folklore (Int) 44
Foraging (Awr) 56
Forensics (Int) 45
Investigation (Int) 85
Lockpick (Dex) 55
Negotiation (Per) 55
Pistol (Agl) 40
Shadow (Dex) 75
Sneak (Dex) 55
Tracking (Awr) 46
Unarmed Combat (Agl) 45
Dirty old clothing
Notebook and pencil