Brave New World

Originally written September 1999

Pinnacle Entertainment Group, best known for their award winning Deadlands and Hell on Earth games, tosses their own take of the Superhero genre into the ring with Brave New World.

The genre has had a resurgence recently. White Wolf‘s Aberrant showed up early this summer, and there are reportedly one or two other superhero games that are in the pipe for other companies.

This is the core rulebook for the game. It is a hard-cover book with high quality paper, and a large number of glossy, full-color pages. This book looks slick. The production values for PEG are up to their usual standards, and the layout is in a clear, easy to read format. The art is clean and well done throughout, and captures the comic book style fairly well.

The material is presented in a fashion similar to the Deadlands games. There is a seven page comic followed by a thirty-five page general overview of the setting, and what it means to be a “Delta” (the term used to describe superheroes in Brave New World. This is followed by the requisite chapter on What You Need to Know (including the requisite “What is an RPG” blurb).

The rest of the rulebook covers the rules — aside from the opening, and a few secrets that are revealed in the Gamemaster section at the back of the book, there isn’t much that allows you to dive right into the setting of Brave New World. This isn’t really a problem, however, because the information that is presented is sufficient for a reasonably experienced GM to hit the ground running. Plus, the companion volume (Ravaged Planet) is available as well, which contains a huge amount of information on the setting.

The setting is modern-day America, but with a few twists. Several major historical events were changed because of the presence of Deltas. The most significant is that the assassination of JFK in 1963 was perpetrated by a group of villainous Deltas who blew the motorcade all to hell. Kennedy survived the attack, but the first lady was killed. As a result, it was not long before Kennedy was able to declare martial law, force the “Delta Registration Act” through Congress, and still be in power in 1999.

This puts a very dystopian cast on things. The player characters are generally assumed to be part of the “Defiance Movement” — Deltas who are opposed to the unjust oppression of the Kennedy Regime.

It is an interesting setting, and loaded with a large number of surprises and twists. This was the case with Deadlands and it looks like Pinnacle is continuing the tradition. More secrets will be revealed as more source material is released.

There is one problem I have with this approach, however. I felt that the developers were so in love with the story they were telling in Deadlands that there wasn’t as much room for my own ideas to take hold. When a supplement that is released next month may reveal some major secret or twist that severely changes the nature of the world, it becomes harder for the GM to feel that the setting is his own to do with as he sees fit (regardless of what they may say in the sourcebooks). Still, it is an interesting setting with a lot of secrets to be revealed.

Now for the mechanics. They use a stripped down, simplified version of the system they use in Deadlands. Only six-sided dice are used, there are only four attributes (Smarts, Speed, Spirit and Strength) and skill ratings add to the die roll rather than determining the number of dice. Dice are still open ended, and you still take the single highest result and compare it to the target number to determine success.

In combat, initiative is simplified. Each character starts with one action then rolls Speed. Just as in Deadlands, every full five points is an extra success (and thus an extra action). However, instead of cards determining the order actions are taken, the highest Speed total goes first, followed by the next lowest, and so forth. After every character has taken an action, then those who have actions remaining take their second, starting with the highest Speed total and working down (this is, incidentally, similar to the new initiative mechanic in FASA‘s Shadowrun, Third Edition).

Instead of Fate Chips, each character is granted three Delta Points at the start of a session. These points can be used to roll another die and add it to his current total, and can also be used to cancel a wound. Unlike in Deadlands, you can’t save them up over several sessions — use ’em or lose ’em. They are also not exchanged for experience points.

I think the new mechanic is an improvement. While Deadlands did capture some of the flavor of the Old West with the cards and poker chips, it always felt to me like the designers tried to fit too much stuff into it. It worked, but a lot of it felt superfluous. The system in Brave New World keeps a lot of the better ideas from Deadlands without requiring you to carry a suitcase full of props for your game.

The one disappointment in this game may be the way Delta powers are handled. As opposed to Aberrant which pretty much allowed you to mix and match powers to custom create the hero you wanted, Brave New World limits your choices to ten “packages” that fit many basic superhero types. There’s are Flyers, Blasters, Speedsters, and so forth.

You can customize your hero by picking up tricks, little quirks or knacks that allow you to use your powers in certain ways. his allows for some customization, but certainly not to the extent in Aberrant.

In all fairness, Ravaged Planet presents ten more packages, and according to the promotional blurb, the upcoming Defiants sourcebook will add half a dozen more. I can also understand this approach — it can be daunting to create a superhero character from scratch when you have a huge list of possible powers. Packages simplify the character creation process, and allow you to start playing sooner — always a plus in my book. This makes Brave New World more accessible to the novice player, especially with the stripped down mechanics of the system.

It is also mentioned that you can develop your own power packages, but the “rules” for it are pretty scarce — there isn’t a clear point system or anything like that. Once again, I find this a trifle disappointing because the great thing about Superhero games has always been the ability to create your own heroes, rather than clones of ones that exist in current comic books.

All in all, however, I think this is a successful effort, and a worthy addition to the genre. If you’re an experienced gamer with a penchant for full-blown customization, you will probably find this lacking. But if you just want some fun, hit-the-ground-running four-color superhero action, this may be just the train ride you’re looking for.

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