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octaNe rPg reviEw

Posted by Kyro Sk On 2009-08-12 5 comments

(note: I'm pretty sure capitalizing the "N" in the game title is just silly)

The Setup

This pocketbook style indie-RPG was recently gifted to me by a gaming aficionado close to me. Since I'm on vacation, and enjoying myself with a little reading, I decided to give this one a full read and post my thoughts about it hoping to spark a little discussion.

In keeping with this strange little RPG's setting mission statement: "Picture if you will the Old West.", I've decided to break my comments up as follows*:

* if you've never heard of the film of which I speak, stop reading this blog post right now and do one of two things: shoot yourself in the head or go rent the film and watch it

The Good

  • The "Whiff" - the most annoying part of 4e, is that crucial moment when you decide to use your dramatically appropriate daily ability only to have the d20 come up as a 2, and your ability to basically be a fizzle. octaNe has a mechanism to avoid this
  • Characters are highly 'stylized' as opposed to a collection of stats. Do octaNe characters have a Str, Dex, Int, Fort, PE, Comliness, etc... nope. Throw that 'bean counter' stuff away and instead have cool styles: Daring, Ingenuity, Craft and Charm. For those 'special abilities' toss in Might and Magic and voila! you have a bunch of vague categories to govern doing pretty much anything - none of which is particularily well described **
  • Flexible game mode - three interesting game modes are described to fit your play style and they are easy enough to understand and implement.
  • No complex polyhedrons required, the game uses a handful of d6s and in such a way that the action narrative should proceed swiftly enabling any gaming group to craft exciting plot driven stories that don't slow down to a crawl for combats.
  • Soundtrack - the game literally insists that you put together a mix of rock, metal, punk and classic to listen to while you play. Suggested artists include: Alien Sex Fiend, DEVO, Judas Priest, Parliment Funkadelic, Sex Pistols, and Rob/White Zombie. The author erroneously stipulates that you should NOT include any nu-metal (Linkin Park, et. al.) and he completely misses how appropriate most pre-futurist industrial would be (early Ministry, Nitzer Ebb, NIN's first album) - I would make sure that we include that in our gameplay soundtrack.
** see The Bad

The Bad
  • Remember that "Stylized stuff" from The Good, well, it's so different from your typical stats based RPG that players who really thrive on that sort of thing are going to feel awfully displaced. Game is really meant for: people who've played their fair share of conventional RPGs and are seriously looking to get outside of that box (or people who've never played and wouldn't know the diff). If your players really like the current set of "boxes", they are going to hate this game.
  • Success of this game depends on nobody taking advantage of it's narrative structure. If you have a power-gamer among you (aka "the munchkin"), the entire premise on which the game mechanic is based will completely fail.

The Ugly

For the most part I'm with game author Jared Sorensen... light-weight game mechanic? check; psychotronic White Zombie/Rob Zombie inspired mayhem? check; "Death-Rock Siren" character archtype? hells ya!; the statement that "anything can be made better by adding monkeys"? uh... wait a sec... ; the assertion that: "Babe 2: Pig in the City" is, and I quote: "one of the greatest fantasy movies of all time"?


wait for it...


Aside: I said I was on board here for the whole indie-RPG, but he is clearly fucking batshit crazy. Babe 2? Are you shitting me? You can check IMDB if you want, where you'll find that although it carries a 6.2/10 (in itself a very scary statistic), the public comments speak pretty clearly on how terrible the film was as it was intended: as a children's film.

... but I digress, I did want to go on a bit about some other ugly bits though, please read on
  • Character Sheet - not just an abysmal waste of ink on a page, it manages to simultaneously add nothing and clearly highlight how little game mechanic the game has to offer. I would have omitted it and let people figure out what they wanted to write down on their own. An individual certainly couldn't come up with something worse.

The Conclusion

Even with these complaints (and hey, my format did call for two sections of them, as opposed to a single section of good stuff), I'm really eager to take a stab at this game. The nature of this game favors those who fit into one or more of the following:
  1. don't normally play RPGs because there is too much stat/dice/crunchiness
  2. don't normally play RPGs because sword and sorcery (the 'standard fare') is for chumps
  3. play RPGs but have grown tired of the long combats associated with detailed combat systems/miniatures/grid maps/tactical blah blah blah
  4. play RPGs but hate "the whiff" (see above)
  5. play RPGs but wish there was a way to have more narrative control over what was happening beyond: "I hit with my sword"
If you can claim to fit into one or more of the above, and would enjoy a roller coaster ride through the trailer parks and strip malls of a post-apocalyptic, trash culture America filled with classic cars, aliens, monsters, biker-chicks, stripper-zombies and guns (all presented in RPG Glam-O-Vision) then lets get together and run a session of this baby.

If any game ever called for drinking Jack Daniels during play, this is it.