In Which We Walkthrough A GenCon Purchase
I Wanted Transformers More, But All They Had In Stock Was This And Power Rangers
I buy a lot of games at GenCon, and usually work through reading them randomly, picking one or two a week to store in the, ahem, reading room. I grabbed the GI Joe RPG from Renegade Game Studios, and after a few days of casual perusing, decided it was a surprisingly solid effort. Really solid. As in, “It’s a 350 page hardcover and it doesn’t have three-inch margins and a 16 point “body” typeface. It’s not Chivalry & Sorcery 1e level density, mind you, but in this day and age when people sell a 36 page pamphlet with maybe 100 words per page and call it a core book (and someone inevitably complains “It’s too complicated!”), I’m quite pleased.
Fine, so it seems good while reading it during, ah, “personal time”. How does it play?
Well, Ghu know when I’ll ever get to play anything ever again, but at least I can generate a character! Which is what I’m gonna do! And you get to watch! Well, read. Eventually. When I post this.
You’re In The Army Now!
Or the Air Force, the Marines, the Navy, the Space Force, or even a civilian! That’s all of ’em, right? Doesn’t the US have some other branch of the military, something guarding coasts or whatever? Eh, I’m probably confusing it with another country. Anyway, Joes (which includes Janes, and I assume non-binary Jays) come from a range of backgrounds, but they’re all the best of the etc. in their fields, and usually have a single strong personality quirk that the writers can use if Hasbro says to feature that character in an episode because they’re this month’s new toy release. Hey, don’t knock it. Given one hook to start with, you can do a lot. But where was I? The Guardians of the Coast? No, Coast Guard! That’s it!
The first step in Character Creation is “Discuss with your GM and other players”. Well, I can ask my cats, none of whom are here at the moment, as they prefer to show up and demand attention only when I’m in an important meeting or doing a job interview. To avoid further delays, I’ll just imagine I talked to Rocket about what kind of character to play. He suggested “Meow?”, so I asked Booster, who suggested he hasn’t been fed in his entire life, and finally Lady Jane Grey, who looked at me disdainfully and then went to purr all over my wife, never mind I’m the one who rescued her. Is this going anywhere? No. Concept, concept… hmmm. I remember reading a Duffelblog article about the Coast Guard rescuing stupid civilians. Let’s build on that a little bit, make a Joe whose specialty is aquatic search and rescue… perfect for going after scientists being held captive at an undersea Cobra base, which I recall is the sort of thing Cobra did.
Just The Essence-tials
GI Joe uses “Essences” instead of “Attributes”, and it’s a little confusing at first. Based on my readings thus far, an “Essence” isn’t a value in itself, but it’s a measure of how many skills (and how good you are with them) you have that are based on it. (Each point in an Essence = a new skill or an upgrade in a skill.) This is why (I think) there’s no real definition of what an Essence value means directly. Rather, someone with a Strength Essence 1 is someone with one rank in one Strength-based skill. A value of 1 is the minimum; if something directly attacks an Essence and reduces it to 0, you’re basically unable to function in that area.
You have 12 Essence Points to assign at level 1. (Did I mention this is a
class role/level system with a D20 resolution? I didn’t? But it’s also not a D20 system game — no Open Game Content here! And the resolution isn’t quite the standard D20 type, but the mechanics are clearly designed so that a 5e player (which is most of ’em, these days, except me, apparently) will be comfortable.) (Given that Hasbro owns WOTC and GI Joe, I’m not sure why this wasn’t produced by WOTC as a 5e game. Maybe they wanted it to be difficult to make third party supplements (under the OGL) that avoided direct trademark references? (“For use with any D20 RPG about elite government agents, wink wink”))
The Essences are Strength, Speed (Dex), Smarts, and Social. They can range from 1 up to 20, and possibly higher, for the biggest of the big bads.(The Baroness has Smarts 30(!))
Before I start dividing up, I do need to think more about my concept. And since the Essences include which classes.. sorry, Roles… they’re most useful for, I need to look at those, too.
Hey, that what they called the chapter! Don’t blame me!
It is perhaps a trifle irksome that the first step is to assign Essences, each of which benefits specific Roles, when picking a Role is several steps further on. This might make sense in a system where your stats are random and then you see which class best fits what you’ve got, but when the system lacks random elements and is fully choice-based, you probably want to see which
class role appeals to you before splitting them up.
The roles are:
- Commando: Basically, rogues. Infiltration, deception, slitting throats…
- Infantry: Regular soldier, standard Government Issue Joes.
- Officer: Leader, commanders, people who get fragged by the infantry when they refuse to retreat.
- Ranger: Rough, tough, outdoorsmen who will protect the nation’s picnic baskets from ursine depredations.
- Renegade: Misfits, rebels, loners, other type who have it made until they’re turned in for a bounty.
- Technician: Hey, someone’s gotta know how all this stuff works!
- Vanguard: Stays behind to make sure no one swipes the car. Van Guard, get it? Get it? Sigh. A genius is never appreciated in his own time. Heavily armored front-line combatants.
Let’s look at the Ranger
cla…y’know, I’m tired of that joke. (“So is everyone else!”) role. Their first, and most important, skill is dealing with errant ursines. To this end, they have many abilities to outwit, outflank, and outmatch even bears notably above the median intellect of their kind, and… eh? Not only is that joke also worn out, it’s also over the heads of those goddam kids these days, as they have no proper cultural knowledge? Well, fine! I guess I’ll use Aragorn jokes instead! Whaddya mean they only know about Drizzt? Bah!
Rangers are wilderness experts. They (like all other roles) have three foci:
- Beastmaster: You can star in cheesy 80s fantasy films.
- Predator: You can star in cheesy 80s *action* films.
- Scout: You are always prepared and good at tying knots, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more.
Having decided I’m aiming at Ranger, I can gets back to the first part of character creation, which is Essences. I have 12 points to spend, and I will divvy them up as follows:
Now that that’s done, I can go back to the rest of character creation… later. In another post. Character creation is background-heavy, and follows a lifepath-ish progression: You begin with Essences, which are, erm, essentially your innate aptitudes. Then Influences, which are hobbies, passions, culture, and so on. (These may also come with Hang-Ups, which I’m guessing are the equivalent of flaws/disads). Next you choose an Origin, such as Mutant, Lab Accident, Alien, or Found A Stick In A Cave. (OK, fine, “Origin” is your pre-Joe job. Sheesh, do I have to explain every joke? “You wouldn’t have to, if any of them were funny!” “Shut up, Inner Peanut Gallery!”) And only when all that is done do you pick your Role.
Pending my actually working through it and nitpicking every little bit, I like this style, and it somewhat mitigates my earlier whine about “Whyfor am pick essences which am for role when no know role yet??? Whhhyyyyyy???”. While the game doesn’t quite pound you on the head with the fact character creation works from the general to the specific, from innate/cultural aspects to specific choices your character made, it is pretty obvious that’s how it works when you stop to think about it, instead of recording your extemporaneous thoughts as you flip pages, which is what I’m doing here.
Before I leave, though, I should pick a GI Joe codename… I’ll pick his real name when I’ve done more background on him. As “Coastie” is a nickname for a Coast Guard member, I think that works for now, modulus something coming up as I flesh him out more. “Coastie And Backflip, complete with SPEAR-gun!”, available for $5.99 at Toys-R-Us in 1986. (I dunno what “SPEAR” stands for yet, but I did see, while reading earlier, there’s an extensive set of rules for creating custom weapon modifications, which is very genre-appropriate.)
Tune in next time for “Lizard Probably Finishes This Up, Or Maybe This’ll Be a Three Parter, Who The Hell Knows”. “Next Time” might be a week, a month, or more. Remember my unofficial motto: “Free And Worth It!”