Friday, May 28, 2021

ARC Quickstart

 Where to get it: Dedicated website

I know the whole purpose of a Quickstart is to act as a preview for a full rpg, but it nonetheless irritated me to see gaps in the text that more or less said "for the full details about this thing, consult the main text." I feel like I could, at least, have been trusted with the cooperation rules. I guess I'll just have to back the upcoming kickstarter.

And maybe it seems overly combative to set the tone of the post with a complaint, but honestly, it's my only complaint - this Quickstart is only useful for a relatively simple game and if I want to do more than that I need the full product. Which suggests that maybe I don't quite understand the point of Quickstarts after all.

However, with the caveat that I'm going to keep perversely thinking of this as a complete game, despite the text's admonishment that I don't do that, how does it stack up?

I kind of like it.

It does that rules-light thing where the only real mechanic for task resolution is a die roll that points to an outcome matrix, leaving it up to you to decide the difference between a "success" vs "a success with consequence" or "failure" vs "failure with opportunity." And that's really all you need, despite the literally dozens of thick corebooks I own that say otherwise.

I do like that its stripped down roll-under system uses Approaches rather than Attributes (traits range from 1-3 and you add together your Approach rating and your Skill rating to roll under on a d6, task difficulty can modify the final target number). Characters can specialize in being Creative, Careful, or Concerted, though it's unclear to me how penalized over-specialization is supposed to be. The GM can, for example, call for a Creative roll if a character is trying to write a poem, but most of the time, the players choose their approach and narrate appropriately.

It's a neat way to get players thinking about how their characters interact with the world, but so far, it's pretty standard "19-page rules light-internet rpg" stuff. ARC's real innovation, and the reason you might actually be tempted to back the kickstarter, is its use of real-time as a mechanic. 

Tying your short and long rests to actual, real-world breaks in the game strikes me as impractical. Rests are used to heal up and resupply your characters and seem to me as likely to come when your players are deeply invested in advancing the story as when they need to take five for snacks and the bathroom.

However, the other use of real-time, the one at the core of the game, makes up for this by being positively brilliant. Basically, ARC games have a theme - it's not just a generic rules-light rpg, it's a rules-light rpg specifically about the coming apocalypse.  There's a mechanic called "the Doomsday Counter" which has between 6-12 slots, and when all the slots are filled, the world ends. The way it fills up is that every so often, you make a roll based on the number of currently unresolved Omens (sidequests, basically) and add 1 or more marks based on the result of the roll. The great part of this mechanic is that for short (one-shot) and medium-length (2-3 session) games, this roll happens after a set period of real time. It's been a half-hour and you still haven't defeated that cult? Add an extra die to the roll so see if Cthulhu awakens.

I wouldn't actually recommend using the rules for long (4+ sessions) games, because that changes the Doomsday roll to a per-session event, which just seems to me to bypass the best part of the game - the chaotic scramble as you get close to the deadline and realize that there's been entirely too much fucking around.

It strikes me for the first time that maybe the real-time rest rules are meant to wind down the tension. If the Doomsday clock stops during rests, then that would be a much-needed break for the players. However, the text does not make this clear.

The last thing to note is that this Quickstart has some slick production values. It is easy on the eyes, though I'm not sure why they went with the landscape format. The illustration of the Noblin, a cute, spear-wielding bunny person, made me smile.

I can't say whether I'll back the kickstarter or not, but that's most because I just recently spent entirely too much money on old Dark Sun supplements (I finally accepted that the Tr-Kreen book was never coming down in price). Still, assuming that the full core expands the rules in some fruitful directions, I could see ARC becoming a "between campaigns" staple.

Ukss Contribution: Not a lot of setting here, probably because ARC wants to be a setting-agnostic apocalypse game, but I did like the example pitch of "world-ending earthquake brought by a goddess' approaching death." I think I could work that into one Ukss' less -developed regions (I've been looking for plots for the Dragontail Mountains for awhile now - phytomining wasn't cutting it.)

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