GenCon Findings — 2011

This past weekend I attended GenCon, the major gaming convention in the US. As usual, I am looking for interesting and unusual roleplaying games, especially ones that have elements of hypnosis or mind control as part of the character designs or in the opposition. This year, I found three such games.

Agents of S.W.I.N.G.

This was a very interesting find. Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is a "Spy-Fi" RPG that draws upon the 60's spy craze and TV series like "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and "The Avengers", not to mention a number of more obscure series like "Sapphire and Steel" and "The Champions". (It should noted that all of the series mentioned included stories involving some form of hypnotic mind control.) The game involves characters working for S.W.I.N.G., the Supreme World Intelligence Network Group, which was created in 1967 ("The Summer of Love") as a clearing house and center for espionage actions against a variety of international criminal and political organizations that threaten world peace.

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Now, I am of an age that I watched these programs when they first aired, and I have a fine appreciation for the genre and era represented. That alone prompted my interest, but I also discovered the game includes a number of psychic abilities (the lead characters in "The Champions" had psychic and paranormal abilities, for one) and the character "Stunt" labelled Mesmerist. Of course I had to get the book, and since I was at the time financially able, I did so. Then, as I was starting to write these descriptions, I figured the best way to represent these would be to create a character. Therefore, I present Jasmine Jade, Agent of S.W.I.N.G.

Jasmine Jade is the Eurasian daughter of Doctor Jade, the infamous Tibetan mastermind, who used his advanced scientific and mystical knowledge to attempt to control the Earth. He raised his daughter to be his hypnotically seductive assistant, and for many decades she did so, having access to her father's immortality serum, but she eventually adopted the concept of women's liberation in the mid-60's and has since followed her own path, trying to find her own destiny. She joined S.W.I.N.G. when her father was apparently killed by British security forces in 1966 and was assigned to Section Eight : Uncanny Affairs, because of her knowledge of esoteric Tibetan disciplines. She now travels the world as a wealthy jet-setter with a mysterious past and a well-known interest in the uncanny and unusual. S.W.I.N.G., however, does not fully trust her because of rumors that her father may still be alive.

Concept: Mysterious / Mystical Femme Fatale
Section: Section Eight (Uncanny Affairs)

Section: I'd Tell You But Then I'd Have to Make You Forget It
Past: My Father Taught Me Everything I Know
Cover: Things Men Were Not Meant To Know Means Women Should Know Them
Other: The Eyes See All and Tell All, I'm Older Than I Look, Aura of Mystery Like a Scent of Fine Perfume, Mysterious and Possibly Illegal Source of Income

Skills: Groovy +5: Empathy, Mysteries. Neat +4: Contacts. Solid +3: Deceit, Rapport.

Stunts:
Psychic Telepathy: May read minds and communicate telepathically
Mesmerist: Able to hypnotize a subject.
Shaken, Not Stirred: May regenerate a single point of stress through an esoteric tantric ritual. 
Black Widow: Bonus to seduction attempts

Gadgets: Hypno-Disk

Recommendation: I recommend the game, because of its unique setting and flavour. I especially like the skill ranking system, starting from Bummer on the negative end, up through Cool, Hip and Solid and beyond to Groovy, Fab and Far Out at the positive end. Its also amusing to read the collection of sample characters and figure out who they are supposed to be: the major players from British (but not American) television are all there, like Jack Chevalier (Simon Templar of "The Saint") or James Ride (John Steed of "The Avengers").

However, I do have a few quibbles about the occasional and sometimes inconsistent production values, such as font use (Courier font? Yeesh!) and differences, non-justified paragraphs and uneven whitespace on pages, all of which gives the book an undesirable semi-professional appearance. Also, the character vignette artwork is just a little out of proportion (and a few are just ugly) and therefore a little jarring to look at. This, however, may be the first edition and such things may have been corrected in the newer editions.

Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is by Postmortem Studios. Hard copies of the game are available at Lulu. A digital copy can be purchased through Steve Jackson Games here.

Cosmic Patrol

Cosmic Patrol is based on the "space opera" stories from the SF pulp era of the 30's and 40's as described by such writers as E. E. "Doc" Smith and Edmond Hamilton. The Cosmic Patrol is the Solar System's protector in space, uniting the inhabitants of the Earth, Mars and Venus against such enemies as the rapacious Uth lizardmen, the enigmatic Moon Men, the mysterious Cometarians and the dreaded Eiger Empire.

Here, the game system is pretty open-ended, as the character generation system is based around elements called "Tags", "Cues" and "Disposition" with some dice rolling added for contest resolution. That means characters can be created with psychic powers (like the "Lensmen" series) but there are no fixed rules allowing or prohibiting them: as this is pre-release version of the game, I expect this may change in the future, possibly with supplements.

However, there is Keal, a sample character with super-psychic powers, a member of the enigmatic Moon Men who "observes" the Cosmic Patrol but does not interfere with the Patrol's affairs (at least, as far as they know.) He has "Cues" such as 'I'm not the being you're looking for.' and 'You don't remember how that works.' (Think an obnoxious, smugly superior Jedi.) He is presented as a possible player character (or character pattern) although the backstory of the Moon Men don't seem to allow for them to be used as characters. (It would be like having a (telepathically enslaving) Neptunian Mind Plant as a player character.)

However, to follow the above pattern, I present Vira, a Moon Men scientist and physician / geneticist

Dice: Brawn: D4 Brains: D12 Charisma: D6 Combat: D4 Mind Manipulation: D12 (special)

Tags: Moon Men > Mysterious > Mind Powers > Curious > Dispassionate > Sanctimonious > Obsessed

Cues:

  • Forget I was ever here.
  • I am your most trusted friend and confidant.
  • You want to assist me.
  • You look very, very sleepy.
  • Rule the Cosmos? Better to rule yourself.
  • Your most powerful weapons are nothing compared to the awesome power of the mind.
  • Robots? I don't deal with robots.
  • Your insignificant intellect cannot begin to comprehend the magnitude of the problem.
  • Venusian intellect was overrated even at its height.
  • The Zorm? A box hiding a coward.
  • You can't steal knowledge.
  • True wisdom is as far from you as the furthest star.

Disposition:

  • Humans may be the solution to the doom that faces us, so I must learn as much as I can about them.
  • The fate of a few humans is nothing compared to the fate of an entire race.
  • The future of my people may rest in what I discover.
  • We will not go the way of the Zorm: we will fight to survive and remain as we are.

The aristocratic but enlightened Moon Men care little about gender, only ability, and Vira is highly competent and among the most powerful psychic scientists and a researcher into the cause of the Moon Men's declining population. She has a theory that the Moon Men race has become too isolated to maintain its genetic diversity which is causing the increasing infertility, which could be saved by interbreeding with selected humans to re-invigorate the race, and so is investigating the members of the Patrol as possible gene pool selections. To that end she is tolerated by the governing Council yet not entirely trusted, feeling she could become overly enamoured with the outside races.

Recommendation: I would like to see what the final product is like before recommending it, as this was the GenCon Special Edition of the rules. However, I am hopeful.

Cosmic Patrol is published by Catalyst Game Labs and has its own support website. Copies of the special ediition or the final production can be ordered here.

Two-Fisted Tales

The Dangers and Excitement of Magic, Martial Arts, Hypnotism, Gadgets, and Two-Fisted Duels Await …

Enter the Thrilling World of Pulp Action!

This is a pulp-era roleplaying game, where a game can recreate the two-fisted action stories like those of such heroes as The Shadow or Doc Savage. Actually, the pulps covered a wide range of genres, from crime fiction to science fiction to horror and occult to fantasy to westerns, and this game is capable of reproducing them all. What got my attention, though, was that it had a complete chapter on Hypnotism skills, just as there is one for Mad Science, Martial Arts or Magic.

The rule system is pretty standard, with several parimary characteristics (Brains, Luck, Mind, Muscles, Reflex, Savvy, Status and Weird) and some secondary characteristics like Wealth and Reputation. Players are provided a wide range of abilities and skills to create their characters, and character templates are provided to assist. However, the character creation system is limited by the limited description and lack of significant, detailed examples of character creation. That's why the characters below are a bit spotty and probably even unbalanced.

Doctor Devious (aka Doctor Devan DeVours)

A blank stare. A missing hour. A suspicious 'accident'. All signs of the work of the notorious Doctor Devious, the hypnotist whose legion of mesmerized minions can produce a wave of sabotage at his broadcast command. All it takes is a single phone call: a famous radio announcer will then say a particular coded phrase on the air, which triggers dozens of unsuspecting minions. His campaign of terror and blackmail has paralyzed city after city until he is near the top of the FBI's Special Most Wanted List. And that's only the surface: only the strongest willed of opponents can approach Doctor Devious or else they, too, will fall under the sway of his mesmeric powers, which is why Inspector Dan Double of the FBI, the "man with two minds" has been assigned to the case.

Doctor Devious uses the Magician template, which I won't go in to at this time. In order to have the skills necessary for the description, Doctor Devious is at least a Fantastic character, giving him 25 hero points with which to purchase the following Hypnotism schticks: Hypnotic Agent, Hypnotic Suggestion, Mind Reading, Mindwipe and Sleep for 21 points, putting the rest into boosting his stats. He also has the Specialty: Medicine (Psychology).

Inspector Dan Double

The son of a prominent surgeon, Dan Double as a young man suffered a serious accident with severe head trauma. His father performed the surgery, using a newly developed technique. When Dan awoke from surgery, he felt as though there was a second voice in his head. That voice, he discovered, was from the unused 90% of his brain. Somehow, it was awakened by his father's surgical technique. As a result, Dan Double's IQ doubled almost immediately, giving the A student a super-intellect. Further, it renders him immune to hypnotic influences.

Dan Double uses the G-Man template. Since he is of equal ability to Doctor Devious, he is also a Fantastic character. However, his abilities stem from his enhanced intellect, so he starts out by adding +8 to his Brains, +6 to his Mind and +5 to his Weird stats, then takes the Eidetic Memory Schtick for 1 point and All-Around Sight for 5 points. That gives him 18 Brains, 20 Mind and 15 Weird. He also has the Specialty: Mental Defense.

Recommendation: I do recommend it, but only barely. It has most of the things needed but what the book really needs is a really detailed character creation section, with multiple examples and even sample characters. Character templates don't quite cut it. I"m not terrible fond of the interior artwork, which includes a few images that are taken directly from old pulp covers, but the vast majority, especially the character templates, have perspective and proportion problems.

Two Fisted Tales is published by Pregis Intermedia

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