Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Nova Praxis Review - Mechanics and Chargen

Nova Praxis Art by Andree Wallin
Are you ready to rrrrummmble?  On Monday, we reviewed the setting of Mike McConnell and Void Star Games' new transhuman SF RPG, Nova Praxis. The game is powered by the Strands of Fate iteration of the FATE system. A couple of years ago, Mike McConnell developed Strands of Fate as a more universal FATE engine/toolkit.

I think that game was driven by a desire to clarify and systematize how FATE works. Thar design carries over well to Nova Praxis, so the game should resonate well with traditional gamers seeking a rigorous system  as well as with indie RPG fans who already love FATE.

The mechanics chapter of Nova Praxis doesn't turn FATE into HERO System 5th Edition, Revised either! It's only about 58 pages in total, and the core of that chapter is significantly less, since the mechanics section also covers many special cases (e.g., chases, falls, poison, diseases), the totality of which probably won't come up in play every single session.

I'll try to focus on what is distinctive to Nova Praxis and Strands, and then take a peek under the hood at character generation.

First things first: Nova Praxis uses a 1d6-1d6 dice mechanic rather than 4DF, which produces a slightly wider range of results: -5 to +5. Fans of Starblazer Adventures and Legends of Anglerre will be familiar with this variation on FATE.

Secondly, Nova Praxis reframes the traditional FATE ladder of Effort as a Difficulty scale. Again, not an earthshaking change.How well you do on an action is determined by rolling:

1d6-1d6 + Skill Rank + Modifiers vs. Difficulty

The total net result compared against the Difficulty is called Effort. A variety of  modifiers can contribute to the Effort score, representing such things as environmental conditions, help from people with similar skills, or good equipment. The Difficulty scale provides you with benchmarks for relative success. For example, you will need an Effort of 2 to get a Moderate success with an action.

This is likely to appeal to players and GMs who like traditional target number/difficulty systems and "shift" systems. Other than that, the "hows" of of skill use are pretty similar to other FATE games. Combat, for example, is resolved by a skill vs. skill type roll between attacker and defender. There are four kinds of Stress: Physical, Mental, Social, and System. System stress is important for individuals who are either SIMS (essentially human minds that have been converted into software and uploaded to live on a network) and or such minds when they have been sleeved into artificial bodies known as cybersleeves  and biosleeves.

Consequences come in four sizes: Minor, Major, Severe, and Extreme. There are very clear examples of each level of Consequence for each of the four types of Stress. Mechanically, there is also an important difference between Severe and Extreme Consequences,  and Minor and Major ones. The former two are Persistent Aspects which are easier to Compel. A PC must always pay a FP to avoid a Compel to a Persistent Aspect. This is good mechanically since it creates a bit of a death spiral in which a defender with Persistent Aspects will be more likely to run out of FPs - they will be pushed to make a Concession to end the conflict. There are also very clear rules for healing from Stress and the four different levels of Consequences.

Resources and reputation derived from social status/social networks can be managed using a cool wheel and hub track system for Rep-Ratings. The hub of the wheel is your overall score. Around the rim is a series of boxes like stress track boxes in many fate games.  Bumps (or increases) in Rep-Rating are filled in clockwise. When you have accumulated sufficient bumps to reach the 12 O'Clock position, your overall score goes up by one. Hits (i.e., damage) to your reputation works in the exact opposite way: bumps are erased in counterclockwise direction until you reach 12 O'Clock. Then your rating in the hub goes down by one.

Your Rep-Rating can be useful in many different ways, including acquiring resources and equipment without spending money (this is equivalent to all the gift bags and swag which celebrities receive for free), or leveraging other kinds of favors from people in your social network (for example, getting a higher status community gatekeeper to make a social connection for you). It looks like a cool mechanic that could be adapted for other FATE RPGs. It really emulates quite handily the media-immersed social environment of this world, and some others I can think of like Trinity and Aberrant.

No less importantly in a transhuman RPG the mechanics cover things like resleeving (i..e., downloading your mind into a new cybersleeve or biosleeve), forking (the odd situation in which two copies of mind simultaneously exist in different bodies, and merging (in which forked selves are re-integrated into a single mind). Each of these experiences can cause trauma (i.e., Stress), which is experienced as a mental attack.

On Friday we'll take a detailed look at the character generation system. To give you just a taste today, with Nova Praxis you can create three types of characters:

  • A Pure, a relatively normal human; 
  • An uploaded SIM that lives on the network (and which can interact with the world though pervasive Augmented Reality systems and drones); or 
  • A Sleeved, a mind that has been downloaded into a cybersleeve or biosleeve. 

There are three strategies for allocating skills. You can create a Specialist, an Expert, or a Generalist, which is the gradient from having a highly specialized skill set to having a relatively broad, generalist skill set. Some of the skills are similar or common to other FATE systems, while others are rather unique. A few examples of new or variant skills include:
  • Cohesion: mental stability and sense of self. This helps you deal with psychological trauma such as that associated with resleeving. (And yes, this is kind of Resolve-y, but a much more genre-appropriate skill name)
  • Networking: which comes in two flavors, one representing the media-dense, highly networked culture of the Houses (megacorporations) and one representing the more libertarian culture of the Apostates
  • Engineering: which comes in both Hardware and Software types
  • Guile: just what it sounds like!
  • Mnemonics: which covers understanding and treating software minds, and operating resleeving facilities
Next are Advantages, which covers special abilities and special applications of Skills. More on all of this and Gear next time! 

2 comments:

  1. Hi, I've just bought and read the fantastic NP!
    Just a question: you wrote it's "1d6-1d6", but in fact it is 4DF ....was your review based on a Beta version?
    - GRAAK -

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    1. Yes my review was based on the beta.

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