google-site-verification: googlee8ae134d89e446c0.html Playing Hero World: Bulletproof Blues Review

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Bulletproof Blues Review

http://playingheroworld.blogspot.com.br/2015/05/bulletproof-blues-review.html
Bulletproof Blues is here! Can this personal take of the Super Hero RPG genre touch your gaming heart? Let's find out together.


[DISCLAIMER: A review copy was provided by the publisher.]

For this post I will analyze the game “Bulletproof Blues”. I don’t really consider this post 'unique’ for there are many quick looks you can stumble over the internet already. Rather, this post will try to understand what the game is about, if it system is worth a look and if so, who is the target audience for it. Hopefully my insight can add any value for this write up.

The indie Super Hero rpg market is a bit crowded with several kickstarter releases and Bulletproof Blues (“BB” from now on) had it’s second edition funded by one, which to me tells me that the game managed to get a dedicated fan base or managed to get people interested enough to throw in some cash and see the project grow and flourish.
I am a Marvel Heroic Roleplaying widow. While I am open for trying new rpg games on this particular genre, I have several expectations to what I truly want from a Cape RPG game. What is the main difference from BB and other Super Hero games? Why does it exist? 

The author adresses this on the introduction section for the book:
“Why does Bulletproof Blues exist? That is an excellent question. The simple answer is
that we wanted to write the superhero game we wanted to play.”

The introduction goes own to say that the authors of the book wanted a more 'grey' tone for the book, inspired in modern comic books such as "The Authority".
So this is a personal take, a particular view on the Super Hero Genre of play. How does it stands up? Let’s find out together.

The Iconic Art

This is a great cover

The cover for BB is great. It doesn’t flat out sell it’s grey and “Authority”-like setting, but it reminds  me of Marvel Street Level – Which is ok. Honestly this is a great piece and what drawn me in to learn more about the game. Character art follows the same style as the cover. However, things get a bit funky for some interior art.

Great interior art! But does it fit?
This is some public domain art and normally I’d love that because public domain super heroes need to be seen and explored more, however it’s a dud because it doesn’t really fit into the setting and tone for BB. So I am thorn here. For one I enjoyed the layout and the art even if the layout is nothing fancy, on the other hand, part of the art sells me into something that BB isn’t about.
But what exactly is BB about?

Kalos Comics

The reason the authors of the book wanted to make a RPG game was also because they tried several other systems but none of them were able to do what they wanted to do, as in:
“We wanted a superhero game that was quick to learn, quick to play, and yet
reasonably complete. We also wanted a game that lent itself to more serious superhero
fiction, like Planetary and the first two years of The Authority. In addition to Mutants
And Masterminds and Wild Talents, we tried BASH, Capes, Cowls, And Villains Foul,
and Icons. These are all fine games, but not quite what we wanted. We found some
games too light, some games too heavy, and some games, well, just weren’t what we
were looking for.”
And indeed, the setting is front and center, even if it’s tucked away at the GM section and a smaller page count in comparison to the rules. From the publisher’s name to their wiki where they encourage players posting up their characters and adventurers, there this facade that this is a game about a comic book universe – Kalos Comics.

The multiverse
 And the setting is actually pretty grim. The basis of it is that World War 2 saw the formation of a “four color” super group that fought injustice called “The Justifiers” – These guys are the ‘Justice League’, the ‘Avengers’ of the setting yet their founder, Paragon, kills them all in a fit of rage.
Paragon them went into a rampage demolishing Atlanta and other cities in a fit of fury.
Pretty grim, eh? This is more "Irredeemable" that is “Authority” but the scale fits in nicely. The setting is of super heroes being mistrusted by the public and the grey tone that follows said mistrust is different from the base settings found in Icons or Mutants & Masterminds.
That said, the setting lists the possible origins for the Playing Characters (PCs) while also specifying they aren’t numerous at all, making PCs unique in comparison to other characters in the world.

In a strange decision was made of not specifying how magic works in the setting, giving DMs three possible choices for it.


The book does provide a context to how magic usually works so there’s that too.

The setting description then goes into details how the government is supposed to work over the Kalos universe and it’s a really specific and strict way of describing it.  And that is great. Because it takes the vague idea of a “grey Supers universe” and shapes it to be a tangible thing. Being a foreigner, this particular vision of government clashes with (parts) of my own, meaning if I was left to my own devices I would probably miss part of the nuance implied in the Kalos Comics setting. The portion that deals how government interacts with Post-Humans (what the Super types are called in the setting) is also a huge mark that makes the setting interesting, playable even.

The corporations in Kalos Comics remind me a lot from Mega Corporations from Shadowrun, or even Alchemax from Spider-man 2099. It fits with the overall theme for the setting like a glove.
Things get interesting again when BB describes their ‘Subversive Organizations’. They are the equivalent of “Super Groups”, from ASGARD a SHIELD equivalent to the Jade Moon Society, a unique faction that reminds me a bit about The Hand from the marvel universe. 
These groups are a highlight and elevate the setting into a more familiar ground to the Supers genre even if these associations are much darker than the stuff you’d found in a Mutants & Masterminds source book. And again, it’s all piece of the puzzle that sets Kalos Comics apart as it’s own thing.

The GM portion ends with examples of play as well structure for adventures, nothing out of the ordinary here up until you reach the Kishotenketsu bit. I am not sure why the author went with a Japanese/Chinese/Korean technique of narrative to describe structure for a game that is trying to evoke western media (“The Authority” for instance).

This Kishotenketsu consists of giving a character an introduction, development, a twist and a reconciliation as part of the story. As for the rest of the advice the book provides well… How about I just show you?

The facade of producing comics for a publisher that does not exist persists here, and as can be seen here the author has his own vision for what a BB session is all about. Character driven but plot based (super?) drama. In his examples, there isn’t much of a opening for exploration, 'dungeon' crawling or any freedom whatsoever. In fact, it’s encouraged that the GM pre-set the non-playable character’s motivations and drives to the plot. It’s almost setting up a play, but there is dice involved. The roles are shaped by the players, but who truly defines it is the GM. Is this bad? Good? I won’t be the judge of that. I will say it’s almost an antithesis to how I play Super Hero RPGs and what I usually look for an ideal game, to the point I even want to try it someday to see if I was wrong all that time or something. The author wasn’t kidding when he say he would create a system that is more personal to himself. It's important to note that the idea of setting character developtment is exclusive to NPCs, the PCs are free to develop as the plot goes along but if the GM is already setting certain elements doesn't this affects the PCs in a direct manner as well?

But what about the mechanics of the game? How does one becomes Bulletproof so he can have his Blues?

Creation Blues

This ain't like Authority
  The character creation of BB opens with this:

“Making up a Bulletproof Blues character should only take about 30 minutes, once you
are somewhat familiar with the process. The hardest part is thinking up a character
background and choosing what kind of character to play. In this chapter, we offer a
few suggestions to help you out, along with a checklist of the steps that you should
probably follow. However, just because we list them in this order doesn’t mean you
must. Jump around if it makes you happy: feel free to fill in what you know, and come
back to what you don’t.”
There is also an excel application that can help finalize a character sheet in even less than 30 minutes. But here is the thing: BB only provides a single method of character creation and it demands choices for their players without giving a guide how to make such choices. For instance, should my super strength character have several powers to emulate his super strength, or just a high enough “Strength” stat? As we are going to see, attributes do translate as powers when you get them high enough. But before a player is asked to come up with numbers, first he needs a concept.

The way of creating a character concept is as following:
             Sobriquet: what is the character’s core identity?
             Background: what is the character’s history and description?
             Origin: where did the character get their powers?
             Archetypes: what basic role or roles does the character fill?
             Motivations: why does the character use their power for good?
             Complications: what keeps the character from achieving her full potential?

BB provides extended examples for background, origins, Archetypes, Motivations and Complications and I’ll admit this makes crafting a character concept much easier, but I still miss the option of just rolling something. Most people in my play group started playing Super Hero games by rolling a character after all.
But this is just the beginning. Now that a player has a character concept and a point base depending on the level of the campaign the GM wishes to run, comes the crunchy part! Attributes, skills, advantages and powers is how you translate your character concept into BB’s ruleset. 
We will provide a quick overview:

Attributes are used in both tests combining with skills and sometimes in advantages to give the player character a basis for testing. There is a nice breakdown we will post further bellow, but for now keep in mind there are 8 (Eight!) attributes.
·         Brawn
·         Agility
·         Reason
·         Perception
·         Willpower
·         Prowess
·         Accuracy
·         Endurance

Endurance isn’t an actual attribute though, it functions more like “Health Points” in other games, making this 7 attributes that a player must spend his points on. I’d personally prefer if they were six, three mental and three physical instead of four physical and three mental but here you go.

After this the book brings out the rules for skills. And here is where things get funky again.
See, the backgrounds aren’t just cool concepts for your character, they also provide what skills your character should know on character creation. Which is fine, however in no moment in the entire chapter does the book tells the reader how to properly buy skills independent from the background skills. Using the excel application I was able to figure out how much ranks and expertise cost.
Speaking of which: Expertise!

Expertise is a flat +3 bonus a character gets in a specific thing about a skill. For instance there is a skill about “Investigation”, “Searching” would be an area of expertise for it. This makes skills easy to get over with and straight to the point. Next on the book, Advantages.

Advantages are like minor powers that aren’t super human at all. You cannot rank up advantages, they are a flat ‘thing’ you get to use. They are all exception based, meaning they do something very specific in the system. Speaking of exception based mechanics, this brings us to the Power section of the book.

Powers, like advantages, have their own set of rules and inner workings listed under their entries as well particular costs for each rank. It is also possible for a character to have ‘expertise’ with a power, meaning a flat +3 bonus for using the power. The powers all operate in their own set of rules, so much so advantages and disadvantages all exist but they are specific and tied down to some powers. Except there are “power modifiers” that can be applied to pretty much all powers and “power defects” that aren’t as specific or exception based at all; The book gives some examples and costs but it’s all very nebulous. I wouldn’t have so much trouble with this part if it didn't clash so much with the with the “modifiers” part and actually listed some exception based rules instead of asking the GMs and players to come with their own even if it’s simple enough to be done by them. Why this portion of the game with loose rules while all the others are so tight? Speaking of tight rules…

Bulletproof Rules

To make it short: The rules all follow the exception based philosophy that we saw in character creation, but they are kept simple. For instance the most basic mechanic of the game is rolling 2 six faced dies, adding the result with your base attributes/Expertise/Power ranks and comparing to a difficult either set by the GM or rolled up by the opposition.


It’s quite solid and the authors make no bones about how solid it is even providing with a math chart that makes understanding the math behind the system like a charm.

Difficulties are also listed here and several tables that define the numeric values to different qualities – The higher, the better/faster/hardier and so on. There is also a game mechanic that I wasn’t expecting here, Plot Points.
“Each player begins each game session with one plot point. A player gains a plot point
when they do something particularly entertaining or interesting, when one of their
character’s complications causes a serious problem for them during the game, or when
the GM overrides a roll of the dice to make things more difficult for the characters.
Plot points are spent to alter the game world, gain a skill bonus, or gain an advantage
in combat. “

So in layman terms if your character does something cool, he gets a point that he can later spend for something cooler. Or when the GM wants to do something mean to his character and he gives you candy so your character can fight back. Like everything else in the book, there are a list of exceptions that allow the player to spend said plot points into doing something or improving a roll and so on.
The rule section goes on to explain combat situations, when a GM should give out bonuses and minuses in particular rolls, there is even a very detailed “environments’” section that’s pretty great for what it is.

Conclusion

Bulletproof Blues is a super hero game with more than just vague hints for a setting. It’s there, on your face and is asking you as either a player or a GM to take part of it, to post your character sheet online, to make Kalos Comics your own while it is something bigger than just your gaming table.
But at the same time the game has a large focus on being a very specific thing. The powers can be used in a creative manner, and players can find new uses by spending plot points on them and all that, but the GM guidelines are more restricting. I can see a Sandbox game being played on this rule set but only by discarding most of the GM advice. It is by preparing a game a GM can lament the lack of a random character generation built in the system, because each bad guy would have to go through character creation. There are some antagonists and heroes sheets provided in the book though so it’s not all bad news.

What I loved about the game was the setting. It goes against he grain in the market and fans of modern comic books can easily appreciate it.
What I disliked was that power flaws do not follow the same solid set of rules for some reason.
What I hated was the use of public domain super hero art to sell a setting that is as far away from it as possible, but all the original art for the book was great.

But who should be playing Bulletproof Rules?

If your play group doesn’t mind the lengthy process of creating a character and a more straightforward plot development, then BB can be a great game to be played. I do not endorse it’s progression system though for I feel it lacks genre awareness so playing long campaigns with the same characters seem a bit pointless but at the same time the GM structure advice is great for developing a character through plot threads.

For new comers, I will say it again: beware the character creation process. If you and your group can pass through this, they will have a solid cape experience though.

For Cape genre veterans, this is a great alternative to Mutants & Masterminds Second Edition, lighter on the rules from the character creation point of view but with several rules for specific situations that usually come up a lot in games of said genre.

All in all the game has some strange issues, like for instance the art and making a wiki to expand a setting universe that is actually quite closed up and tight if you read the GM advice, but despite that it’s a system that any serious Caper shouldn’t miss on the fun.

As for me? I prefer more narrative approaches for my super heroes games like Icons and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, so this just isn’t for me. But this does not make it a lesser game in my eyes, just for a different type of audience. If you fit in, you will have a good time. It’s all a matter of finding the right group mentality for this particular game.
 
As an added bonus you can the authors made the rules following the Creative Commons license, so you can see them here.

If you got interested and wishes to purchase Bulletproof Blues, just click here.
If you wish to contact the author directly, you can go on this community.