Saturday, September 19, 2020

ESPRE Essential Players Guide

 Where to Get It: Creator's Google Drive

Generic systems pose a bit of a problem. I don't particularly enjoy reading them, but that's a perverse metric. The enjoyable part of a generic system is not how it reads, but how it plays.  That's a difficult thing to eyeball.

So maybe I should just go with a description.

ESPRE is an effects-based superhero system with a rigorous keyword system built atop a streamlined version of d20. You're given a fixed number of Template Points to design your character's power suite, but the actual strength of your powers are based on your Combat level. Ultimately, it's a tug-of-war between the notorious imbalance of effects-based point-buy and the efforts of the level math to pummel that into something notionally playable. Whether the proper balance is achieved is not something I can judge just from a single read-through.

The biggest barrier to enjoying ESPRE has got to be its layout. Especially in the long, dry powers section, I often had trouble seeing where one topic ended and the next began. It wasn't until the sample characters at the end of the chapter that I could even piece together how character creation was supposed to work. A jargon-heavy approach to power construction didn't help matters, though I expect that once you start getting into the game, the precision of its language will pay dividends. 

That being said, if you can make it through character creation, ESPRE has a lot to offer. It pulls together a number of important threads of superhero rpg design - elaborate power suites, fast easy-to-resolve combat, late d20-inspired hedges against save-or-die effects, and a narrative currency that is earned by respecting the genre contract and is spent on both mechanical boosts and limited dramatic editing - and if it doesn't always read as elegantly as I'd like, it also doesn't get lost in the spectacle of superpowers. There's no way a starting character can blow up the Earth, unlike certain other generic supers rpgs I could name.

The thing I'm going to remember most about ESPRE is the way it stats out typical human movement, senses, and metabolism as templated superpowers. Technically, you have to spend points to be able to see visible light, walk across the room without stumbling over your own feet, and not be magnetic. And I can't be entirely sure, but it seems like if you read the rules literally, robot characters are by default damaged by efforts to repair them. It's not as bad as it could be, because the packages are already pre-bundled and factored into the cost of your Template, but it's such an odd bit of minutiae. I guess the upside to this is that it's trivial to make weird alien creatures and beings of fantasy, but it would be nice if ESPRE had enough of a setting to demonstrate the payoff to that design choice.

Overall, I'd say that this game is clearly a labor of love, and it would be worth checking out for that reason alone. System-wise, it compares favorably to Aberrant and Wild Talents, but that's a low bar to clear. My gut tells me that this is a system that will feel rewarding to experts, but alienate newbies with its lack of compromises.

Ukss Contribution: As a generic system, there's very little for me to work with, but I liked the power that let you create boxes around people. That could be a neat inspiration for a wand.

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