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.

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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