Yo, JOE! Wave 2
In Which We Finally Get Back To This After Six Months
I Have No Idea Where I Left Off
I started this back in October 2022, and then faced a combination of deciding to do a walkthrough of the old Spellcaster’s Bible, regaining inspiration for Earth Delta, and suffering a general ennui and malaise, so, here I am, finally. Now I have to re-read what I wrote.
(BTW, if you’re not an action figure nerd — figures are often released in ‘waves’, hence, the name.)
In the meanwhile, I did finally pick up the Transformers book, which uses the same system. This is good and bad. Good, because it’s easy to mix and match. Bad, because it means human-scale weapons and gear work as well on Cybertronians as on humans, which really strains my suspension of disbelief. But that’s an issue for another time.
Coastie, Complete With Backflip!
As you may recall (I sure didn’t, I had to reread it), I have created Coastie, an ex-Coast Guard sailor who got tired of saving dumb civilians and joined GI Joe, as a marine search-and-rescue specialist. He comes with a dolphin (Backflip), and also with a speargun… or a S.P.E.A.R: Sharp Penetration Equipment And Rope, thanks to the suggestion by faithful (possibly only) reader Alexander Moonbeam.
Coastie’s “Essences” (see previous article) are:
Now, we see what comes next. (Lunch, and the season finale of Ghosts, as my wife will be back from church soon.) But next after that, or before, depending on how late she stays and if her mom drags her off an errands, is… uh…. dammit, the rulebook is here somewhere. Ah, here it is, under Timewatch, an apparently rare first printing of Worldbook of Khaas, the C&S European Folklore Bestiary I helped kickstart, a Munchkin WH 40K box, and BESM 4e. Yoink!
(A clean desk is the sign of an empty mind. And, yes, my gaming collection is ‘eclectic’. Also, ‘large’. Very large. As in, ‘it fills most of the bookcases over three rooms’. There’s an irony that the only way I can afford a house large enough for all my crap is to live in rural KY, where there’s no one to game with. So it goes. Where was I? Oh yes. Next up in chargen.)
Becoming An Influencer
Wait, I Mean, Picking Influences
Influences are essentially backgrounds. You must pick one; you can pick up to three, but each additional one gives you Hang-Ups (disadvantages). They can represent your youth, previous jobs, or pre-game GI Joe experiences. Each provides some useful perk, and a selection of “Bonds”, which are character hooks or ideas. You can roll or pick. As far as I can tell at this stage, bonds do not provide mechanical benefits or penalties, but enhance roleplaying. This is a good way to give a player a quick personality hook.
There’s 12 influences provided (I suspect, if there’s a supplements, there will be more), and they cover a decent selection of archetypes: Adventurer, Checkered Past, Gearhead, Nomad, and so on. I’ll start with Specialist, since that’s what I see him as: Among the best there is at what he does. This gives me an idea for a personality, building on my previous idea of someone who joined the Joes because he was tired of dealing with idiots: Coastie is, to put it bluntly, a bit of an arrogant jerk; he’s kept around because he is almost as good as he thinks he is. And right there on the Bonds table is “I enjoy proving my superiority to others in this subject as often as I can.”
This gives me a Perk: I choose a skill I have a Specialization in. Out of combat, once per encounter, I get an Edge with that skill. As it’s my first Influence, I do not get a Hang-Up.
But for fun, let’s take a second Influence: Small-Town Roots. In Coastie’s case, it was a small fishing village in Maine, which probably didn’t have fishmen. Probably. Anyway, he grew up around people who knew and respected the sea and its dangers, and acted properly, feeding his disdain for those who ignore basic safety procedures and then expect others to risk their lives to save them from their own stupidity. This gives him the Perk of being able to ask the GM for guidance between options, once per session (that’s a damn good Perk, frankly), and the Hang-Up of giving me a Snag on social skills when I first meet someone who doesn’t share an Influence with me. (I come off as kind of a hick.)
After being bitten by a radioactive dolphin, he… wait, I did that joke last time.
Origins are “the middle section of your character’s journey”… it’s how you got noticed by, and recruited into, the Joes. They grant notably more mechanical benefits than Influences, as is fitting and logical. I already have a strong concept for my Origin, now, we get to see if the rules support it.
(Another of my interminable digressions on RPG game design: An RPG’s core rules should support most, if not all, of the fundamental character concepts of its genre/setting. I don’t expect Traveller or Chivalry & Sorcery to support “orphaned human raised by apes”, but a game promising to capture the spirit of the pulps should. A generic supers1 game should support almost any conceivable origin, while one set in a more tightly-defined universe (such as Wild Cards) doesn’t need to.)
The “Navy” origin includes the Coast Guard, something the actual Coast Guard people I know might take issue with. This allows me to increase my Strength or Smarts essence by 1. I’ll go with Strength, reinforcing the idea he came from a small town and is not overly educated, though by no means stupid. He’s narrowly focused, and doesn’t have a lot of knowledge outside his specialty. I can then pick a skill from a small list, that must belong to that Essence. I choose Athletics, with the specialization Swimming.
My starting health is 2, and my ground speed and swim speed are both 30.
Ah, but wait. As I read on, I learn I can choose a different Origin and still say “I was in the Coast Guard”. The origin I just described is actually the Sailor origin. I’m fine with it. But if I wish, I can take the First Responder Origin, which is called out for Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers, “arguably the toughest group of emergency responders in any military force”. (I’m just quoting the book, here, if you’ve got issue, take ’em up with the writers.) Let’s take a look at that.
The differences are: I have a slightly faster ground speed, but no swim speed, and gain the benefit “Skilled Under Pressure”, which lets me reroll a “1” on a Skill test or Attack roll. I like that better than the Sailor benefit, Sea Legs, which gives me an Edge on Athletics checks to avoid losing my balance. But how well do I swim without that as an explicit benefit? Time to start flipping through the (as previously mentioned) delightfully thick and hefty book. (I like my core rules like I like my women: Thick and full of information.) After a little digging, I find that unless otherwise noted, Swimming speed is half movement, which doesn’t fit with the character concept. So I will stick with Navy (Sailor).
So my Essences now stand at:
And we’re ready for Role!
Well, Role Picking
As previously noted, I’ve already decided on the Ranger Role with the Beastmaster specialty. Let’s see what this actually gives me, mechanically.
Environment Expertise 1: I get to pick an environment to be expert in. That’ll be Sea, of course. I ignore Rough Terrain in that environment, I gain an Edge on non-combat skills, and my attacks are considered Specialized.
Guide: A can spend a Story Point to allow my allies to ignore penalties for Rough Terrain in my environment of expertise for 1 minute.
Yo, Joe!: All roles get this. I am qualified on standard equipment and vehicles, gain a +1 health, and gain Battle Cry – if my first action in the first round of combat is a Move, I gain +10 feet. (In combination with my Origin swim speed, this is a 40 foot swim, compared to about 15-20 feet for most people, guaranteed to take an enemy by surprise.)
Focus: Beastmaster, as discussed. This increases my Social Essence by 1, and lets me take a Limited pet. Not sure what that means right now.
Training: I can increase my Speed and Smarts by 1, and due to Beastmaster, my Social by 1, which must go to Animal Handling. I also pick two skills which fit under those Essences. I choose Targeting (Speed) and Survival (Smarts).
I’m not going to delve into the higher-level abilities, as they are fairly typical for class/level games: More environments, higher bonuses, special abilities (mostly granting improvements to skills without directly increasing their rank), etc.
I Had To
So, your “Essence” is the sum of you skill ranks for the skills covered by that Essence. So far, I’ve only been forced to pick 3 skills, so I have a lot more to go. Here’s the current standing:
Animal Handling +1d2
So, I still have 4 points of Strength to spend. Each point either gives me a new skill at 1d2, increases a skill one step, or adds a specialization.
Let’s increase Athletics to d6 (2 points), and add Swimming as a Specialization (1 point), and pick Conditioning (+1 Health, so my Health is now 4, with my last point)
For Speed, (3 points left) I add Initiative (so I gain +1d2 when rolling initiative, 1 point), Driving +1d2 (1 point), and raise Targeting to d4 (1 point).
For Smarts, (3 points left) I pick Alertness and raise it to d4 (2 points), and likewise raise my Survival to d4 (1 point).
For Social (2 points left), I put in 1 to raise Animal Handling to d4, and 1 to specialize in my pet.
Speaking of pets, I am allowed a “Limited” pet, already named Backflip, and that’s covered in chapter 8.
(Flip., flip, flip)
OK, they don’t have an animal list, but let you pick from a list of abilities, that come in Standard, Limited, and Restricted. At a higher level, I can upgrade my pet in a several ways, but for now, it’s limited to Limited. Let’s see what we can do:
Form: This determines movement, giving Sea 30ft, Ground 30ft. While this doesn’t make too much sense for a dolphin, Joe-tech is surely good enough to give Backflip an exosuit to let him help on land.
Size: I choose common (roughly human size), which for a Limited Pet gives +2 Toughness.
Function: He’s an attack pet, giving him 2 Strength and Speed, 1 Smarts and Social, and I can command Backflip to attack as a Move, rather than Standard, action. As he is a limited pet, he gains an additional 2 Essence (let’s go for Strength and Speed), and +1 Health.
Senses: Backflip gains two picks of Acute Senses, a General Perk. (cough feat cough) I pick Hearing and Smell.
Attack: He attacks as a close combat bludgeon.
As I have 3 total ranks in animal handling, Backflip gains 3 animal perks.
Basic Armor Training — this accounts for the proposed exo-suit.
Agreeable — reduces the difficulty of commanding Backflip from 10 to 5, useful since I’ve only got a d4 bonus. (With my specialization, though, I roll a d4 and a d2, then pick the highest).
Always Alert — Backflip has an Edge when rolling for Initiative, and can’t be surprised if conscious.
Phew! I think that’s it!
And In Conclusion…
Overall, I’m pretty impressed with the system. Given the chance to produce a simplistic system riding on the strength of the IP, or to limit player creativity (this was a real issue w/the licensed Indiana Jones and first edition of Marvel Super Heroes for TSR, the rights holders really didn’t want people to use non-official characters for some reason that only made sense to lawyers), they did not, but instead produced a solid game system with some real heft to it and a lot of flexibility, even for a starting character — there’s a lot more choices here than in certain fifth editions of certain roleplaying games involving caverns and creatures, for example.
If someone offered to run this (or better yet, Transformers) in an online session (as noted, I’m in the ass end of nowhere), I’d be very eager to play.
1: Lizard’s Axiom of Supers Gaming: Any truly complete 4-color superhero RPG is, in itself, a complete generic RPG.