November 5, 2012

[Review] 6d6 Core + Outbreak!

This is the joined review of the 6d6 Core and of the adventure Outbreak! by Chris Tregenza. I review them as a single product because I brought them together in a bundle and Outbreak! is the introductory adventure normally you will use to learn the system. Also because I love zombies.
Right now there's a kickstarter to help Chris and 6d6 fireball to release the second edition of the 6d6 Core and a lot of stuff in the upcoming year(s).
You can find the kickstarter here.

The 6d6 Core is a traditional RPG with somewhat GM/players roles with no setting (like, for instance, GURPS) that you can use to run adventures in any settings you can imagine. Western? Check. Horror? Check. Sci-fi? Check.
Outbreak! is an horror adventure in a zombie apocalypse world, for 3 to 6 players + one GM.

The 6d6 Core bases his system on cards that replace the traditional character sheet. Every player uses a deck of cards to know what his character can do and how well. The system is a task resolution system and every time you do something you activate every card you can and want and roll the sum of dice listed on them against a target number or another roll in case of an opposed action. Every card you use can have a value between 1d6 and 1d6+6.
Availability of cards is regulated by two factors: Potential and Flow.
In this system you can't use all your advantages and powers in a single action but you must use just what you put your mind on in a given moment; potential is the number of cards you can have ready all at once (normally 4). Flow is the ability to refresh or replenish cards in your potential pool (normally 2/round). If you do the math if you go all out with cards in a given round, the next your potential will be very limited, simulating the need to get your shit together sometimes. Combat, with the same principles, becomes really interesting as a resource balance exercise, because if you spend lot of cards on defending, you will have less cards to attack with (or to defend with).
There are exceptions to this basic, like cards who doesn't get spent using them or cards who don't use flow to be readied again, but basically it works like that.
Cards will determine also how much you can withstand pain: if you get hurt you discard Life Cards; the more you have, the harder to kill you are.
Given that combining cards is a creative process and there is no right way (or wrong way) to do it, the authority to decide if something is possible or not is handled in a somewhat peculiar way: the GM (here called Game Leader) is not the unquestionable judge of the game. The group, including the GM, is supposed to decide if something is viable in a particular situation. The GM is there just to avoid the game stalling for too long.

In the system lies the best and the worst of this game. For players everything is easy and immediate: the game borrows mechanics from card games and makes them plausible for an RPG. Explain this game to a new player is fast and easy and that's the gold at the bottom of the barrel. On the surface (of said barrel) GM is prospected with a ton of work for every session he wants to run. Cards must be made, monsters must be assembled, plots must be written, maps must be drawn. If this isn't enough, you must be prepared to have serious physical space issues, considering every monster will require part of your playing area to be laid down. Cards, remember?

To generate a character the GL puts on the table the cards available for the setting and you get some points that you can spend on buying cards. Each card can be brought at different levels, form a value of 1d6 to a value of 1d6+6. You can buy a lot of weak cards or just a bunch of really strong ones, choosing how much you want to sacrifice versatility to specialisation.

The 6d6 Core is a game that gives his best with players: create characters is easy and fun and make you do the minimal math possible. I like that in this game.

As said before, the 6d6 Core is an engine you can use to play in any setting you want, so there is no setting at all in the book.
Outbreak! is a modern zombie story, so the setting is implicit (cars, cellphones, shotguns, no spaceships and so on)

The GM chapters are focused on the creation card process, given that for every setting you must provide the cards available, but even on that aspect the help isn't much.

I can't stop stressing game publishers that we need help running your games if you don't want we run them like D&D. This is really a big issue in this book, given that all the shared authority thing is just sketched and feels like something added later in the game.

Outbreak! is an adventure where you try to survive from zombies and reach safety before it's too late. Like any good horror story you run from zombies in the beginning, you get to a safe heaven, you discover the safe heaven isn't safe and isn't heaven, you run some more with the time running out, you have a big final fight while trying to escape. PCs are fixed and distributed at the beginning of the session. That's all.

Outbreak! is the main reason I buyed this game and was a major disappointment. Simply it feels like something written in '95, with players struggling to figure out what's the "right ting to do" for the GM. There is no sign of the shared authority promised in the core book.

THE JUDGEMENT (obviously an opinion)
I'll cut the chase: in my opinion the 6d6 system is a quick and fun game made for demos and conventions that requires an hard working GM. Outbreak! is just a bad adventure, made to show how the system works.Don't get me wrong, I like the immediateness of the system for players, the nice idea that you can focus just on some of the things you know how to do in a single round. I even like the covers of the books (mixed opinions about them on the Internet). If this is'n enough, with the Living Document Promise, you get all the updates of what you buy for free, forever. And this includes any future edition, no matter what radical the changes will be. That should be a standard! On the other side the you-must-do-the-right-thing-to-go-on approach of the Outbreak! adventure is killing me and the amount of work you need to create cards for everything is overwhelming. It's a game probably I will not refuse to play, but never volunteer to GM.