Monday, September 24, 2012

Nova Praxis Review - Characters & Gear

Nova Praxis art by Andree Wallin

This is the final part of our three-part review of Mike McConnell and Void Star Games' forthcoming transhumanist SF RPG Nova Praxis,

You can see the first part of my review here, and the second part here.

I also published some further reflections on hacking the game system for running other SF settings like Battlestar Galactica here.

Today we are going to complete our review of Nova Praxis by looking at characters and gear. The first step in character generation is selecting Aspects. Each character gets to choose 6 of these. Unlike many FATE games, Nova Praxis does not require collaborative Aspect generation. Instead, you create six Aspects for your character that are coded A-F by theme:
  • Approach - how you overcome obstacles
  • Belief - philosophy or beliefs that guide your actions
  • Connection - people, places, things that define you
  • Desire - your characters goals and ambitions, and what drives him/her to adventure in the first place
  • Experience -  defining event that shaped who you are as a person
  • Flaw - that is pretty self-explanatory!
I really like this system for generating Aspects, which pioneered in Strands of Fate. While traditional FATE Aspect generation produces very cohesive parties and cooperative play groups, this the A-F schema is a great way to get a game started faster and is probably a smoother point of entry for traditional gamers who are not yet familiar with FATE

For the reader's convenience, I am repeating some information below that comes from my post last Wednesday, describing the next two steps in character generation. 

In step two of character generation, you decide what kind of character you will play. You have three choices:
  • 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. 
The transhumanist options are the SIM and Sleeved. If you want to manipulate Augmented Reality (the partial virtual reality overlays projected onto realspace that can be seen using special glasses or contact lenses - players of Shadowrun 4th Edition will be familiar with this kind of technology), or use the Mesh (essentially cyberspace) to manipulate information, pilot drones, invade other networks, or launch cyber-attacks on other SIMS or Sleeved, your best bet is to start with one of these two latter options.

The Pure aren't necessarily reactionaries, however. The majority of people living in Coalition space aren't SIMS or Sleeved; they are still Pure aka normal humans. Becoming a SIM or one of the Sleeved is expensive. It is also something of a leap of faith towards new technologies with the potential to undermine our notions of the body and individual identity

In step three, you choose Skills. 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:
  • Assets: a general measure of wealth, whether financial wealth or other assets such as a habitat or vehicle
  • 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
  • Quality: a sleeve's processing power, control of software, power regulation and storage, and resistance to tampering
  • SINC: the ability to write and use the source code for Savant programs (see the Advantages in step four for more on Savant programs)
Keep in mind that SIMs do not get physical skills, such as Athletics, Endurance, Perception and Quality. Only the Pure or characters who are Sleeved get those - SIMs don't have a body! 

Once you have selected Skills, you select four Advantages for your character. These are similar to Stunts in traditional FATE. Many but by no means all confer specific combat advantages A couple of them are broadly useful in the context of the game setting:
  • Exceptional Facility boosts the Assets skill by giving you access/control of higher quality, special facilities such as workshops and labs
  • Licensed gives you access to technologies that are restricted including almost all weapons
  • Savant is an advantage that gives you the ability to modify the source code for SIMs and sleeves, and unlocks a host of other abilities. This one is pretty critical if you want to do anything that involves information manipulation, piloting drones, or carrying out direct attacks on other SIMs. You will want to invest in the SINC skill if you have this Advantage
  • SIM State advantage is what allows SIMs to exist as a virtuality inside a machine, create a virtual home in cyberspace, and communicate with others using Augmented Reality and the Mesh.
In step five you calculate the four Stress Tracks - Physical, Mental, Social, and System. Unlike most FATE games, the number of stress boxes in each track is directly determined by combining specific skills. For example, the number of boxes in your Social Stress Track is determined by adding your skill score in Assets + Diplomacy. No flipping around the skills pages to find the skill-specific adds to Stress Tracks as in a number of other FATE games.

Step six is calculating your Rep-Rating, a metric for your popularity, social standing, and ability to leverage favors. Recall from the second part of our review that Rep-Rating is a wheel + hub track in which temporary increases and decreases in your palanca are checked off on the wheel, with a complete rotation clockwise increasing your Rep-Rating by +1, and a complete counterclockwise rotation reducing it by -1. Your overall Rep-Rating is tracked using the number in the hub of the wheel. At the start of the game, the number is the highest of your two possible Networking skills +2.

The final step is selecting your Gear. In the draft of the rules which I am reading, there is a very extensive Gear section. Gear includes weapons and armor, as well as different kinds of equipment, technology, clothing, access to medical care including resurrection, and insurance (with different levels of resurrection-related insurance available - and some of these can lead to scenarios!). All Gear have a Value rating, and your PC will start with one item equal in Value to your Rep-Rating +1 and another item equal to your Rep-Rating. Items with a Value lower than your Rep-Rating are free. You can also use your Assets rating to acquire a number of restricted items (such as weapons).

What can I tell you about Gear? There's a ton of it. It includes: 
  • Sleeves: biosleeves and cybersleeves - both base models that can be customized, as well as already off the rack, already customized sleeves 
  • Augmentations: cybernetic implants, genengineering, nanotech, and more
  • Savant Programs: which can do everything from rifle though other SIMs memories, to manipulate Augmented Reality to create hallucinations, to controlling a cloud of nanomachines, to piloting drones, to invading secured systems
Technically all of the above items are still in the Characters chapter. I think that is because they are an intrinsic part of the character - a part of either their body (if they have one), their sleeve, or their mind. 

The Gear chapter includes a lot more items - all extrinsic to the character - including weapons, armor, various kinds of equipment, and services (medical, resurrection-related insurance). A lot of the weapons here are quite deadly. I am particularly fond of the Particle Acceleration Guns (or "PAc Guns") which disrupt the target's atomic structure, causing heat to be released. A lot of it. This is very reminiscent of Catherine Asaro's "Jumblers" (my all-time favorite name for a military sidearm!) in her Skolian Empire series.

The PDF draft that I reviewed did not have stats for vehicles (including spacecraft). But author Mike McConnell assures me that spacecraft and other vehicles will be in the final draft. The draft concludes with sample NPCs and character sheets.

In summary, this is shaping up to be another great FATE SF game! I am planning to take it for a test drive with my gaming group some time in the next few weeks!

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