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Base Raiders: Superpowered Dungeon Crawling Paperback – September 1, 2013
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A good read with good crunch and a great set of rules. I've gotten a stack of Fate system books, and this is one of the best (though Atomic Robo is better).
Base Raiders includes a complete set of rules nearly identical to the Strange Fate system found in Kerberos Club, though this new version is tweaked a bit to make it better fit a modern setting. To be absolutely clear, you don’t need to buy any other game or supplement in order to play Base Raiders. While I considered describing and reviewing Strange Fate here, I’ve decided not to do so. I understand the rules as they relate to superpowers pretty well, but my more general knowledge of Fate isn’t as strong, so I’d prefer to not make that my review’s focus. It would also make this review far too long. If you want to know how Strange Fate works, at least one in-depth review on RPG.Net analyzes the rules of this narrative system. If you don’t know anything at all about Strange Fate and want a one sentence description, the rules for skills and super powers are a flexible, relatively simple, fairly low crunch, effects-based, point-buy system.
Base Raider begins with a quirky, entertaining forward and introduction that lead into chapters describing a brief history of supers and an in-depth treatment of how government and society in general have reacted to their existence. This backstory is a good read and helps lend the setting verisimilitude. Some RPG sourcebooks are painfully U.S.-centric, but Base Raiders shines some light on what has occurred in other parts of the world, particularly in the context of international conflicts like World War Two and the Cold War.
Base Raiders then discusses the Underground, a loose network of aliens, robots, ghosts, vampires, monstrous mutants, and other non-humans and freakish creatures that live in the shadows and apart from the law. Some members deal in the sort of tech and magic that successful base raiders recover and that many people who want powers seek to buy. This isn’t a united organization, but includes various factions which are likely to come into conflict. For example, one major sub-group wants to infiltrate governments and other levers of power so that they can assume dominion over all humankind while another faction works towards the goal of peaceful coexistence with humans. Some members are magic-based, but others are super-scientists or refugees from ultra-tech societies who strongly distrust anything supernatural. A campaign in which the PCs are all members of the Underground has a lot of potential for intrigue and great roleplaying.
Besides base raiding and/or being part of the Underground, another campaign idea involves the PCs being the ones to lead the charge as the first in a new wave of heroes. With the old guard gone, crime rates have skyrocketed and there is much to do for new champions. But how will they do it? Will the next generation not kill, like most of the old guard? Or will they be the sort who’d put a permanent end to relentlessly homicidal villains like the Joker? Will they use their powers for financial gain, perhaps as celebrities working for a super-corporation or a powered-up non-profit? Might they ignore the classic mission of foiling muggers and bank robbers to instead focus on bringing down crooked politicians or corrupt business executives? Maybe they’ll even drop the whole tradition of wearing costumes. What new conventions will they establish for supers? And how will they sell their new approach to the public and to the authorities? In such a campaign, PCs can establish their new normal for being a superhero through good roleplaying and setting and fulfilling Goals.
This sourcebook also describes how to create and find and raid a base. Being Fate, the rules encourage players to cooperate in narrative fashion to brainstorm the “base-ic” facts about the super lair such as its general location, original owner, intended purpose, current inhabitants, contents, defenses, and history. The GM formulates the details, which as they say, is where the Devil can be found. As a GM, I look forward to seeing how my players will react to what I’ve done with their ideas. Listening to Bayou Beatdown on the RPPR Actual Play Podcast is what sold me on Base Raiders. The podcast players had a blast coming up with general facts about of the base which they’d explore, then the GM ran with their ball and took it to great places, and the session was exceptional. I’ve never been motivated to buy a game because of an actual play podcast, but this one finally did it. By the way, there are also other RPPR Base Raider podcasts to enjoy.
PC will likely be supers, though a game in which PCs start of as normals and become supers sometime during play is an interesting option. Typical base raiding characters will probably be somewhat lower-powered, though still impressive to mere mortals. During their expeditions, successful base raiders will eventually find tech or magic that can boost their abilities, and there are rules for how to do this. Old powers can interact with new power sources in unpredictable ways though, and if the PCs don’t have enough experience points to buy new powers outright there can be unexpected - and usually bad - side effects when they mix. I suspect that such rules are in part included for game balance purposes, so some sneaky PC won’t down all half-dozen of the assorted supersoldier serums that he and his buddies found in some abandoned bio-lab and turn himself into some game-breaking monstrosity. Base Raiders provides rules about the essential nature of superpowers and what happens when they mix.
Also found are directions for character creation, buying and using skills, and how to build your own custom super powers. While I won’t elaborate on how they work, I like Strange Fate’s approach to skills and to super powers. There’s also a section on creating character Goals and using them in play. Goals are personalized, in-campaign long-term missions that can include such things as finding a long-lost relative, taking down a powerful gang, returning some or all of the missing superhuman to earth, upgrading all humanity with nanotech, or destroying a star. Goals are meant to help PCs influence a campaign’s long-term development. I suspect that they’d do a very good job at this. Also included are several supers who can be used in a campaign and an example base to raid, and many useful suggestions for running the game.
Base Raiders has some flaws. First, there’s no index. There is also a scattering of typos – for example, in this version of Strange Fate, the old Hide and Skulk skills from Kerberos Club have been combined and are now covered by the new Stealth skill, a good decision, but a few of the “how to design powers” examples still feature Hide for some reason. There are also at least a couple of “see page X” comments in which the page referred to is wrong. There are also no examples of normal weapons that PCs will encounter in the hands of human-level foes. What effect does an assault rifle or a grenade or a LAWs rocket have in modern-day Strange Fate? What about a tank or jet fighter? I really would like to have seen some examples of modern equipment. This would be helpful to prospective GMs like myself who are not at all confident of their mastery of Fate, and badly needed by players as yet unfamiliar with the system.
Unlike either the One Roll Engine or Fate versions of the excellent Kerberos Club, both of which provided numerous useful examples of normal, non-powered NPCs, Base Raiders doesn’t. It does show you how to create groups of minions of various power levels to fight PCs, but not individual FBI agents or beat cops or investigative reporters or local drug kingpins. If you have a solid grasp of the system, you probably know how to do this already, but I don’t, and those who are totally new to the system could definitely use such examples.
Some animal write-ups would’ve been welcome. PCs – or vulnerable NPCs – will inevitably encounter guard dogs, dinosaurs, sharks – with or without lasers on their heads - or other hostile beasts. It would’ve been a good idea to include such write-ups. GMs could riff off of such examples to build their own, had they been included. My criticisms so far are meant as minor ones. After all, Kerberos Club, which includes all of what I mentioned, costs 10 dollars more than Base Raiders and one shouldn’t expect the same content for less money. Still, I wish that I had access to a parallel world’s Internet through which I could order the $39.99 version of Base Raiders that also included this very useful content.
As mentioned before, bad things can happen when a super acquires new powers. I found the rules that cover such situations somewhat unclear. One section related to this topic features advanced power interaction rules. I didn’t see any basic power interaction rules anywhere. Do these exist? If not, why are the existing rules characterized as “advanced?” The game also refers to a miscibility table that relates to the acquisition of powers. I didn’t see such a table, though I did see a miscibility consequences section in the text. Are these supposed to be the same thing? Also, there should’ve been at least one example that walks the reader through the process of gaining new powers, showing exactly how it affects a character. There’s a really fine example of how to build a super and an excellent one that details how Goals are designed. One that illustrates for new players the difficulties involved when new powers are acquired really should have been here. As doing so during the course of the game is a very likely and very important occurrence, it is vital that how this works be extremely clear. Sadly, it isn’t.
On the other hand, there are good, clear rules for super-scientist characters to create super-soldier serums, cybernetics, and other individual bits of super-tech, mostly where the skill Craft+ is defined. These rules can also be used for mages who specialize in creating useful artifacts. I wasn’t at all sure about how to go about mass-producing these sorts of things after I read the skill description though. Eventually, I found an example in the Goals section that helps with this, in a different part of the book. Otherwise, most of the rules in Base Raiders seem pretty well-organized.
I also really have to discuss the artwork in Base Raiders. Art has long been especially important in Superhero RPGs. Such gaming is heavily inspired by the very visual medium of comics and the right art can really set a mood and inspire potential players. Villains and Vigilantes featured dynamic images that grabbed the eye and fanned gamers’ enthusiasm. Hero Games launched Champions with a solid house art style that helped shape every readers’ sense of what the game was about. Godlike had inspired visuals that supported its Second World War setting perfectly. I could go on, but Base Raiders doesn’t feature the sort of art that a supers game really should have. The cover art is pretty good. The depictions of most individual NPCs ranges from good to quite good. The rest of the art varies in quality – and a few images are pretty bad. For example, the picture of an army of supers flying into battle should be inspiring, but it looks so bad that it made me grimace the first time that I saw it. If I handed any number of other supers games to one of my players, the illustrations would be likely to stimulate interest in the game. I can’t see the art in Base Raiders doing that.
So, bottom line, is Base Raiders worth buying? Well, while I’ve expressed some criticisms, the answer is definitely “yes,” as its merits certainly outweigh its flaws. I want to try the game out with my Sunday group, once my current Delta Green campaign wraps up. While it would’ve been better if there had been example equipment and normal NPCs to fill out the book, and while the rules are unclear in one or two places, Base Raiders was a good purchase. Anyone who finds the premise of Base Raiders interesting or who likes point-buy supers systems or Fate should strongly consider picking it up. Oh, and if you are a fan of Wild Talents, Mutants and Masterminds 3E or Savage Worlds, there are free hacks available for these games at baseraiders.com, as well as a few inexpensive, interesting products for Base Raiders.