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The Game: Apocalypse Prevention, Inc.
The Publisher: Third Eye Games
Degree of Familiarity: None; I got the corebook in a DRTPG charity bundle
Books Required: Just the corebook

API bills itself as an action-horror game with a slice of humour. I call it a bit of a mess. It’s a toybox game, where magic, demons, monsters, and cybernetics go hand in hand—though so far, no apocalypse. The setting’s drawn in broad strokes, but they end up going too broad. Once you’ve read a basic description of a place or a group, the rest of the section’s reduced to something that’s already been defined (though that could be the mathematician in me coming to the fore), and lots of information that I’d think to be quite important is glossed over.

The “slice of humour” mentioned above seems to be code for “a chance to be a juvenile dick about sex, sexuality, racism, and violence”, starting with a massively patronising description of sexuality and gender issues, and then on to a section on racial prejudice. These are the first two things in the character creation section. Why is it there? Sure, it crops up in the game, but mostly in massive examples of Doing It Wrong. If every female NPC is a “strong, sexual woman”, you’re projecting. If you suggest that the offer of sexual favours will give a bonus on a haggling check? That’s really worrying. This first section reads like a bunch of straight white folks dribbling on describing people who aren’t straight and white. Which is more than a bit disappointing.

Also, the writing style loves the passive voice. The passive voice makes me want to stab my eyes out with rusty knives, because it’s a horrible voice for a roleplaying game about action (or anything else). If you’re making an RPG and depending on the passive voice, you’re doing it wrong. Even when that’s not the most glaring thing wrong with the writing, it’s just plain boring to read. Just trying to make a character nearly sent me to sleep on multiple occasions. The mechanics are reasonable, though someone’s tried blending the resource management of Æternal Legends or The Secret of Zir’an with Exalted’s Tick system, and it isn’t a full success. Pick one, damnit. The magic is… well, it’s present and functional, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “good”. Though it works with the cybertech to make a functional but bland toybox game, that allows for some chimping.

Okay. That’s my initial impressions from skimming over the book. To prevent the end of the world, a corporation that dates from the Black Plague employs people (including humans, fire-demons, changelings, fish-demons, ghosts, vampires, and werewoles) to shoot people. All of the mad bits like demons, magic, and cybertech exist in some sort of ill-defined “underworld”. I can’t tell if it wants the more comic-book feel of WildCATS 2/3.0 or the campy Men in Black movies. Most of the book seems to lean towards the latter. If you’re wanting more description of the world, it ain’t there in the corebook. This is what I mean about the broad strokes.

Step One
So. Making an agent of a group that’s decided that a secret corporate oligarchy is the only way to stop the end of the world.

I’m sorry, I just had to listen to a Milton Jones radio programme to stop my brain atrophying. Right now, I cannot think of a single character concept that I actually would want to play in this game. Between some really bad writing—seriously, folks got paid for this crap?—and the beige setting, API is actively killing any ideas I might have had.

Eh, I’ll see if I can come up with something later.

Passions draw from a list similar to the old Nature/Demeanour from the World of Darkness games. Here, they give bonus XP and occasional positive modifiers.  I’m going for Warrior. So our character is looking for big things to fight. Oh, yeah, should note: the general bullshit sexism throughout makes me want to create a female character.

Next, we choose a race. If the writers insist on getting preachy about real-world racism (and they do), why not then use a different term for character types to avoid an obvious mix up? Or are ten-foot-tall fish-men the targets of institutional prejudice as a result of hundreds of years of oppression in this world? (Here’s a hint: No.)

I flip through the options. The fish-men (“Lochs”) and fire-demons (“Burners”) fill the bruiser and glass-ninja slots. Spectrals (ghosts), “Taylari” (a riff on Marvel’s Morbius the Living Vampire) and Wolf People (guess) show up as refugees from a WoD-heartbreaker. Changelings are shapeshifting demons that get along just fine on Earth, mostly because they’re all stupid. Seriously, out of all of the stories of shapeshifters, not one of the Changelings has bothered to do anything fun or interesting—say, replacing the President.

Since the races fundamentally bore the piss out of me, I’ll stick with Human. This gives me some bonus points, because humans are “highly skilled and creative”. Wouldn’t have fucking guessed it with only this book as evidence.

Step Two
Thirty points. Six attributes, which are just the D&D Six with poncy synonyms. Come to think of it, “the D&D Six” sounds far too much like a group of people arrested when playing D&D, but the polis charged them with terrorist offences and locked up these innocent nerds for fourteen years after torturing a confession out of them. A bit like the Guildford Four. Given the Metropolitan Polis, I wouldn’t put it past them.

Anyway. As anyone with a fleeting familiarity with maths will tell you, a balanced character has all attributes start out at five, a rating that’s also noted as being on the high end of “average”. Great. I don’t like that; give me an amount that’s not easily divisible and force me to make a character stronger in some areas than others. Also, make human average low-down in your rating, not the midpoint. That way you can model a hell of a lot more of the interesting bits that are above the abilities of Joe Six-Pack, rather than spending just as long dealing with people worse than him. Because people like that are boring.

Anyway. I should have a concept. Howabout “Cyborg Badass”. Typical rebuilt soldier. Three points into Charm (Charisma) and Intellect (Intelligence). Insight (Willpower) gets five points because it’s got perception in with the willpower and intuition. Agility and Vigor (Dex and Con) get six points each, and Power (Strength) gets seven.

Step Three
We have 33 points of Skills to spend. Now. Our unnamed cyborg was a good soldier, originally infantry, then later on covert operations. This gives me an excuse to drop six points into Fighting Style: Firearms, Stealth, and Perception. She’s used to taking hits (four points in Fortitude) and dishing it out (Fighting Style: Hard Martial Arts 4). I also drop two points into Discipline—you don’t survive in the field without keeping control of yourself—Intimidation, and Survival. With the one remaining point, I raise Firearms to 7. I get a technique for FS: Hard at rank 4, so I get Boxer’s Hands for +2 Base Damage.

Specialties come at 4, 7, and 10. Stealth gets “Concealment”, Perception has “Search”, and Fortitude has “Resist Shock”.

Step Four
I start with 16 Bonus Points, as a human. Oh goodie. I know that I need to blow 3 points on Combat Training: Hard in exchange for its delicious bonuses. Lots of BP will also go on cybernetic enhancements, so I’d better take some Drawbacks. I can get up to ten extra BP from these, because the idea of flaws only benefiting the character when they are actually flaws is far too modern.

Addiction (Smoking). Seriously. This shit gives you four points, as much as your whole country hating you. Any games that include an addiction flaw should moderate it based on how it impacts your ability to function, not the fact that you may one day want to quit or be deprived. Still. Free fucking points.

Disfigured works as well, though its effects actually mean something. If we assume that our Cyborg Badass was involved in a black op, and didn’t get out of a burning building in time, she’s still burned all to hell. Another four points.

Finally, Shy. Not because she’s actually shy, but between cutting-edge cyberwear and spending too long on military assignments she’s just plain not well adjusted to dealing with groups of normal people. If she hadn’t been caught in that explosion,s he’d have shipped back to the US just long enough to realise that she has nothing in common with normal people.

API agents can just pay the Bonus Point cost for cybernetics, which is good because I’ve no fucking idea what wealth scores are or why I should give a shit. Seriously, is it too much to ask that a game doesn’t jump about during chargen? Oh. On later reading, you actually need to take the Wealth Gift in order to afford, well, anything. Eh.

Two Bionic Arms costs 6BP. The left arm has a mini-missile launcher implanted, the right a submachine gun. Two Bionic Legs as well, with Speed Bonus on each, come to another 6BP. Fifteen of twenty-six down. Bionic Eyes cost another 3BP, and one has infrared sight. The other can be removed to hover as a scout drone.

Do I go for the robot torso? Is a bear the Pope? It’s only another four points, and comes with two enhancements—chest guns and pop-up missile launchers—along with bonus health and bonuses against poison, drugs, and disease. This is getting silly. I’m also choosing to believe that the Firearms weapon style bonuses add to cyborg implant guns. It’s not outright stated as prohibited, so I’m going for it.

That’s twenty-two points spent of twenty-six. What to do with the remaining four? Well, three of them go on Ambidexterity, because otherwise I’d take a –4 hit for using the left arm’s missile launcher and I’m not having that. I drop the remaining point into Tough, for a little extra health.

Step Five
And now we calculate all of the sub-attribute stuff. Health’s first up. VIGx3+10, +3 for Tough, +6 from the bionic torso, +4 from Fighting Style: Hard, +4 from Fortitude. VIGx3+27, in other words. 45 points of Health to start with is nice.

Initiative is AGY + IQ, +2 from fighting styles. 11. Move speed is POW + AGY, or 13. Now, under Bionic Leg it does say that the move speed bonus comes from each leg, so with the Move Speed package on two Bionic Legs, that’s +18, for a total of 31, and she can run at 620 yards per minute (21 mph) without getting tired. Stamina is our physical and mental endurance, and gets +2 from Hard MA. 35 in total.

A lot of these totals are only noted under the Attributes in question, so I’ll run through them quickly now. Carry weight is 35lbs x POW, or 245lbs. Lift weight is double that, or nearly five hundred pounds, and Base Damage is +6 from POW and our martial arts. We have two actions per round from Agility, plus one from Hard MA. She can hold her breath for three minutes, and disease/poison/drug resistance is 15, but only 10 for Shock, Death, and KO. But wait! Shock is our specialty for Fortitude, so it’s actually 12. Fear, Pain and Insanity have a resistance of 7. First Impressions are automatically failed, thanks to Disfigured. Memorise/Recall is 5, and Magic Resist is 2.

On to combat bonuses. Strike is 5 Melee, 6 Ranged. Dodge is cumulative between fighting styles, and comes out to 7. Parry, Roll, and Grapple are all 3. I make a quick note of the other effects of the bionics and fighting styles.

And only now do I realise that I’ve really been making Maxine Manchester/Ladytron from WildCATS. Y’know what? Fuckit. That’s a fantastic idea for a boozed up campy game.

Maxine Manchester, Cyborg Badass
Passion: Community
POW 7 AGY 6 VIG 6 IQ 3 INS 5 CHM 3
Skills: Discipline 2, Fortitude (Resist Shock) 4, Intimidation 2, Perception (Search) 6, Stealth (Concealment) 6, Survival 2, Fighting Style: Hard 4, Fighting Style: Firearms 7
Gifts: Ambidexterity, Combat Training: Hard, Tough (1)
Drawbacks: Addiction (Tobacco), Disfigured, Shy
Equipment: 2x Bionic Arms (left arm: mini-missiles, right arm: SMG), 2x Bionic Leg (Speed Bonus x2), Optical Implants (Infrared, Hover-Eye), Bionic Torso (Chest guns, Missile launchers)
Health: 47
Initiative: 11
Movement: 31 (run 620 for 0 Stamina)
Stamina: 35
Carry/Lift: 245/490
Hold Breath: 3 mins.
Resist Disease/Poison/Drugs: 15
Resist Shock: 12
Resist Death/KO: 10
Resist Fear/Pain/Insanity: 7
Memorise/Recall: 5
Magic Resist: 2
First Impression: Auto-fail
Base Damage: +6
Actions: 3
Strike: 5/6 (melee/ranged)
Dodge: 7
Parry: 3 (can parry bare-handed)
Roll: 3
Grapple: 3
Armour: 2/2
Misc: +2 damage to Rush attacks, –2 RS for firearms, Aim Action gives +5 Strike, +1 damage with firearms.

Mini Missiles (Speed 7, Stamina 2, 11(L), Range 40/80/120, Payload 5, RS3)
Implant SMG (Speed 4, Stamina 6, 7(L), Range 20/40/60, Payload 75, RS2, autofire)
Chest Guns (Speed 4, Stamina 2, 8(L), Range 20/40/60, Payload 100, RS 0, autofire)
Shoulder Missiles (Speed 7, Stamina 3, 13(L), Range 40/80/120, Payload 5, RS 3)