Spirit of the Century RPG Cover
I got to play in a great pulp RPG at the Conquest Sacramento gaming covention. The system was Spirit of the Century, a new RPG from last fall, by Evil Hat Productions & was run by Ryan Macklin, a local RPGer. This was definately a storytelling game. It's based on the Fudge RPG system, with some exentions from that. I'd never used Fudge so it was interesting. Instead of numbers for stats, your character had 5 expertise levels running from Average up through Superb. There were 5 more levels below Average & 3 more above Surperb for non-character activies. For anything you try to do, you always roll 4 Fudge dice. The Fudge dice have + on 2 sides, - on 2 sides & 2 sides blank, so 1/3 chance on each die for each result. + & - cancel each other out, so you get a range of +4 to -4 a roll. The amount of the + or - shifts your skill up or down to give the final level of your skill attempt. A task has a difficulty assigned to it, so your final skill score has to equal or beat the task's difficutly level. If you're interacting with a sentient being, they have their own skill level & roll the 4 Fudge dice & get their own final skill level. You have to beat their final skill level to success. Another interesting part of the game are the Fate Points that players use to affect the storyline. The players can spend a point to either add 2 levels of success to a skill attempt, or allow you to reroll. But, the character creation/management is the best part of the game. You basically end up writing the back cover blurbs for novels about your character's life. These blurbs & the story behind them give you Aspects. The Aspects are what really make this game fun. Aspects are descriptive things about your character, like skills, objects, quirks, etc. Aspects can also be descriptive things about any part of the game.
I played Liam MacGregor, the Flying Scotsman. In my background novels, I was given an experimental jetpack. So the jetpack was one of the descriptive things about my character, & therefore was an Aspect. I of course used it to rocket all over the place. I also had a variety of other action type Aspects: "I'll take you all on", Toughest Boxer in all of Glasgow, "It's just a scratch", Natural Aviator, An Enemy in every Port, Seat of my Pants, "Don't Worry, we don't need that part", 2-Fisted Drunk & "I can fly anything". As you can tell, he was a belligerant Rocketeer type.
In addition to using Fate points to affect your roll, you can also spend a point to active one of these Aspects to affect the story. Again, you have to come up with a good explanation of what's happening. The opening sequence had us fighting clockwork ninjas. I, of course, jumped into the fight & paid a Fate point to trigger my "I'll take them all on" Aspect, allowing me to get more attacks than normal. In addition to paying Fate points to activate an Aspect, the GM can also allow you to earch a Fate point back by using one of your Aspects to compel you do to something. We had a French Lady's Man type character with the Aspect of "Love in every Port". The GM used that Aspect to compel the Frenchman to go off with a lady & leave the rest of the party behind. I don't think a player is required to accept this "compelling", but it is the only way to get Fate points back during the game. So compelling Aspects allows the GM to steer the storyline back under his control if he needs to or ensure certain key plot points get hit.
Another interesting mechanic is that you can pay to create Aspects for the environment. When we were on an airship, the GM created the Aspects of "Airship on Fire". Both the players & opponents can use the Aspect. The 1st use of an environmental Aspect is free, you don't have to pay a Fate point for it, but it does cost 1 pt after that. I used the Aspect to say the control room of the airship was full of smoke so the Gorilla Guards I was fighting couldn't see me well. But I had the skill of "Fly By Night" allowing me to fly through any weather, dark, etc. So, I got a bonus to my roll since I could fly & attack the guards without being hindered by the smoke.
Another enviromental Aspect used was "Look out for the Cliffs" when we were running from T-Rexes. A player paid a Fate point to create the Aspect (effectively requiring the GM to add cliffs to the landscape ahead of us), & then we lured the T-Rexes to fall over the cliff. This kind of interactive give & take between the GM & the players, where the players can help shape the adventure as much as the GM, is why I said earlier this was definately a storytelling RPG.
Another benefit to Aspects is that you can pay to trigger one of your Aspects to benefit another player. My biggest moment in the game was when the scientific genius in our party failed a critical roll to prevent a time erasing device from wiping us out from history. I paid a Fate point to use my Aspect of "Dont worry, we dont need that part" to allow the genius to reroll. & because it was such a perfect Aspect to use, I think the GM also allowed a bonus to the reroll too. We ended up not getting erased & saving all of Earth's timeline from being controlled by the evil mastermind.
I really like the Aspects & character management systems. Allowing the players complete control over their character creation (as opposed to dice rolls) & the requirement for the storytelling to start in character creation is great. & the way the players can collaborate in the storytelling by triggering their Aspects is cool too. I know I don't much about the different Pulp RPGs, but it would be tough to convince me there was something better for what I'd like in a game. The one thing that didn't quite sit well with me was that since there were no character classes/levels or numeric stats, it seemed like there wouldn't be much character advancement. Not that I'm a power-gamer, but the thought of playing the same character over & over again, with nothing different about him, does seem to make it lean towards becoming stale sooner. I didn't ask about it or look through the book, so maybe it is part of the game. But, the way the system is set up, it didn't seem to lend itself to advancement.
Evil Hat Logo
NOTE: Spirit of the Century RPG cover, Evil Hat Logo and all other original artwork used in this post is copyrighted by Evil Hat Productions and used with their permission.