Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Some impressions of Skulduggery

A short while ago, I got an email from the excellent service Loot. That means I get some sweet deals and need to decide at once of I want to buy it. This time it was a rpg from Pelgrane Press, designed by Robin D. Laws. I will post another time on my feelings on those names. I had not heard of the game, but it was enticing enough and I bought it. The game was called Skulduggery.

The game is supposed to be a game where witticisms and verbal fencing is a core feature, and inter player conflicts are not only common, but fun. I liked the idea. Now I have read most of it, and I have some impressions to share.

First off, this quote is very telling and summarize much of what the game is about:
"A character who knocks out another and then tried to kill him is invariably interrupted by a surprising event that places him at a sudden disadvantage. While the attacker deals with the troubling plot twist, the intended victim wakes up, unharmed."
Got that? This is a game where everyone is expected to abide by the social contract, and enter the game ready to do this one thing. It's a game about this setup, something with a special feeling and modes of behaviour. Let's delve into some details.

Generating character is a very quick procedure. Every setting is both a scenario with a setup, relevant NPCs and pre generated characters with personal goals and abilities. You spread out the cards, pick one at random and you are done! I wish it was that quick generating characters in all kind of games! There are no other way to generate character in the rules. In this game the character will need to be tightly coupled to each other and the game setting.

The game system is quite simple in the basics. You roll a die and if you 4+ you succeed. The traits you have are pool points you can spend on re-rolls, until you get a satisfactory result. Naturally, there are additional details. Some of those are the qualifiers you get to your abilities. For example, your Persuade ability is tagged with a word showing how you persuade. Some of those trumps or are trumped by other styles. Quite a neat idea. It is indeed a game of fencing, where you jab and riposte with those re-roll spends. The verbal power struggles are at the core of it all.

The bad thing about this game, which to begin with seem so simple, is that you get bonuses, penalties and state in a myriad of different combinations and permutation. Well, maybe not a myriad, but it is complex. There's no way you run this game without a cheat sheet. All those things almost demand you to have chips or tokens and some kind of play area or similar to pile those status indicators on.

While I have yet to actually play the game, it feels surprisingly fiddly for being such a simple game. Actually, many procedures feels slightly odd until you read a side bar or another chapter of the rules. It's a bit like the game could have used another shake through for reorganization and the fiddly bits maybe had been presented somewhat clearer. Now there are hidden some suggestions in the depth of one chapter some costs for point spends in certain situations which then are not part of the combat example. It feels, sadly, like a lot of first editions do in our hobby.

All in all, it's an interesting game. Very much like the Forge style games, it is narrow in focus. But, that makes it piercing to the point of the core game experience it is trying to create. This reinforce Pelgrane Press as a publisher that dares to go out on a limb.

Would I recommend the game? Well, I would like to play it before I deliver the final verdict, but it is a game that suffer from being less clear than it could be. The set up is really cool, though.
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