Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Slightly Later Impressions of Accursed


Returning to my examination of the preview Accursed Player’s Guide, we find ourselves at Hindrances.  Anemic, Bloodthirsty, Obese, and Outsider are removed.  I get Bloodthirsty – I doubt anyone’s going to be very shocked about not taking prisoners when you fight the Witches’ banes – but I’m a bit surprised by the others; I guess the special qualities of the Witchbreed make being Anemic or Obese physically impossible.  The “new” Hindrances are primarily drawn from other sources.  Jingoistic is accidentally merged with Glass Jaw.

There aren’t any restrictions on existing Edges the way there are for Hindrances, except for Arcane Backgrounds.  (I do feel I should point out to would-be vargr that there is no reason to take Berserk; you’re much better off waiting to Veteran and taking The Wilding).  There are nineteen new Edges available in this section, which means that with the racial edges included there are a bit shy of fifty new Edges in the game.  I’m not a big fan of piling on new Edges – Savage Worlds PCs only have nineteen chances to advance before things slow down at Legendary rank – but the new Edges in Accursed don’t feel as intrusive as in some other settings.

Many of the new Edges are for very specific character concepts; Enochian means you’ve chosen to be a priest, Grand Coven Veteran and Officer of the Alliance assume you want to concentrate on your character’s war-time experiences during play, Knight of the Redhawks requires you to be a Knight of the Redhawks, etc.  Admittedly, additional Edges are also referenced from the Savage Worlds Horror Companion, but there aren’t any overly-specific weapon specialization Edges and for that I’m grateful.

I am a bit surprised that Arcane Backgrounds are restricted to the setting-specific Alchemy and Witchcraft.  Given the emphasis on the role of the Enochian Church and the overt presence of mad scientists in the setting, it seems like AB: Miracles and AB: Weird Science should be allowed.  There doesn’t seem to be any indication of benevolent supernatural entities in the setting (except for the ambiguous, now-vanished Seelie fae), so I’ll concede Miracles, but Weird Science seems like a missed opportunity.  Maybe there are plans for a mad science Witch.

“Chapter 3: Unholy Powers” is a short examination of how the Arcane Backgrounds allowed in Accursed work.  The actual Powers for Alchemy and Witchcraft are refreshingly flavorful; they really suit their Arcane Backgrounds.  Electrolytic Transferal, Liquefy Object, and Transmute Weapon are the highlights in Alchemy; Circle of Thorns, Squall, and Transmogrify are my favorites for Witchcraft.  I’m happy to see the inclusion of some subtler “utility spells” amongst the more obvious combat Powers.

“Chapter 4: Tools and Gear” is my surprise favorite.  The “Personal Resource Die” mechanic they’ve borrowed from Sean Patrick Fannon makes perfect sense in a setting where the emphasis is on self-sacrifice for the greater good rather than raiding labyrinths for fun and profit; I might need to borrow it for The King is Dead or the Regency project.  The available gear itself helps to define the feel of the setting in ways I feel the setting history muddied; paper cartridges, reinforced greatcoats, bullseye lanterns, and dark glasses give me a concrete sense of place and time.

I begin to suspect that simply having more art in the book will go a long way toward relieving the dissonance I feel between reading about noble kings and knights riding off to battle the Grand Coven and the frock coats I see in all the extant illustrations.  Perhaps I should imagine the knights more as 19th century cuirassiers rather than wearing heavy plate.  Do the Redhawks of Valkenholm dress like the Polish hussars?  The extensive section on field artillery certainly suggests it was used during the war, so it’s reasonable to assume the final battle looked more like Waterloo than Agincourt.  In any case, raising money to buy more art is a big part of why the Accursed Kickstarter is running in the first place and I think that will help clarify the world tremendously.

Is this what the Army of Light looked like?
“Chapter 5: Witchmarks” adds something I often feel is lacking in Savage Worlds: holistic advancement.  In a class and level RPG, every time you advance to the next rank you get multiple benefits – hit points, improved saving throws, crazy-ass class benefits, etc.; your character advances in a holistic manner.  In a point build game like Savage Worlds, the Storyteller System, or Unisystem, you only get that one thing you buy – an Attribute, an Edge, or maybe two Skill points; you only improve by increments.  Sometimes it really bugs me how Savage Worlds characters stagger from advancement to advancement; sometimes it forces them to be even more specialized specialists than you get from D&D character classes.

The Witchmarks add a small but helpful touch of holistic advancement to Accursed.  The marks are “brands” the Witches set in the flesh of their victims that grow in size and power as the characters advance in Rank.  At Novice, the Accursed can sense others created by her Witch within 25 feet and feels disturbances in the Force that lead her to those in need; at Seasoned, the character can communicate through “spoken telepathy” with other Accursed within one mile; at Veteran, the character essentially gets Danger Sense for free; at Heroic, the Accursed gets a boost to the sensory powers from Novice; and at Legendary, she can choose to increase an Attribute for free or get a bonus to Toughness.  It’s not a lot, but it’s at least something to help smooth the jagged edges of Savage Worlds character progression.

The chapter then progresses into the Fate Track.  This will feel familiar to World of Darkness gamers; it tracks a character’s acceptance or defiance of her monstrous heritage and grants bonuses and penalties as she progresses along it.  The important thing to note is that there are bonuses and penalties for going either direction; Accursed does not assume that your character is determined to win back her humanity.  If a character accepts being a monster, she gains additional powers but also gains more of her archetype’s vulnerabilities (a dhampir gets boosts in Agility and Parry but also finds herself unable to enter a home without invitation, etc.); if she denies her Witchmark, then she loses her powers and becomes more human (this is accompanied by an increase in starting Bennies for most Witchbreed).

Like the Witchmarks, this is a holistic character advancement that I like in theory.  My gut instinct is that it’s imbalanced in practice, but I may not be looking at the big picture.  Dhampir, for example, seem to have smaller-scale effects than the other Witchbreed – but at the same time, they’re not nearly as shackled by their curse as the other Witchbreed in the first place.  That said, the vargr definitely get the best effects at either end of the scale; if they accept their curse their claws do aggravated damage to all supernatural creatures, while if they reject it they get to keep the curse as a wolf companion. 

The appendix contains some additional material on the setting and a few leftover racial Edges.  I really think the vargr are becoming my favorites.

I like Accursed; I really do.  I’m not completely sold on every aspect of the setting or every Witchbreed, but the description of the player’s guide as a playtest document promises that all is not set in stone.  I suspect I’ll never want to play a mongrel or a mummy, but that’s just my taste; I’m actually coming to like the revenants more and more and hope to get a better idea of what the cauldron-born are like soon (I’m beginning to imagine Cairn Kainen as the Appalachians with a twisted fairy forest dropped into it rather than a pseudo-Arthurian Celtic highlands). 

I wish the team at Melior Via the best of luck with the Kickstarter and look forward to when they start polling for feedback on the setting.  Now I just need to win the lottery so I can pledge a thousand dollars to design one of the missing Witches…

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