Friday, December 1, 2017

octaNe: the FUN apocalypse

octaNe is an RPG about the fun side of the apocalypse. Don’t worry about starvation, radiation poisoning and the collapse of civilization. Just crank up the eight track and get ready to party with mutant truckers, Elvis impersonators and masked luchadores. 

One of the ways I personally measure RPGs is how much fun they are to read and octaNe score high on that category. It is a total hoot to read. 

The game is a campy love letter to wacky science fiction movies of the 70s and 80s. In a world where anything east of the Mississippi doesn’t exist, where road warriors cruise the desert, masked Mexican wrestlers fight for justice and dinosaurs are back in South America, you know it’s going to be crazy. This is a rules-light system where the rule of cool trumps any worries about physics and realism. 

Okay, I’m going to write one paragraph about the play mode section, one paragraph on mechanics and maybe one or two  paragraphs about settings. Then I’m going to say what I like and dislike about the game.

The game has five suggested plays modes. From out-and-out wacky to serious they are: psychotronic, grindhouse, arthouse, and Cinema Verite. Honestly, I don’t see any reason to play anything but psychotronic. But having the modes laid out helps everyone understand what kind of story you are telling.

The game uses a simple dice pool mechanic to resolve conflict. You roll three dice and use the highest die to determine who controls the resolution. You can spend plot points to add more dice and the GM can use hazards to reduce die rolls. Your styles, the equivalent of stats, don’t add dice. They help you earn plot points. It’s a little more complicated than that but that’s the thumbnail.

Okay, let’s do another paragraph. High rolls and low rolls don’t determine success or failure. They determine who narrates the rest of the scene. Which does help break up the role of GM and player but there are other games that do that better.

The setting. Oh man, the setting. Take everything silly and cool and wacky from the cheap science fiction movies from the 70s, jam them into a cocktail shaker, shake them up and pour out a tall drink of crazy. This is the real selling point of octaNe. If you don’t want to embrace free-wheeling honky tonk kitsch and coolness, you don’t want to play this game.

I have heard it said that the setting is what you fall in love with in RPGs. And octaNe is a love letter to this setting. You’re not going to play octaNe to explore narrative dynamics. You play it to get funky.

However, I do have some concerns about the system. As simple as it is, there seem to be some potential issues. One roll can potentially resolve a scene, which is fine if there’s just one player is making the call. But if several players are vying for control, things could get awkward. There’s a hierarchy of styles (Indiana Jones gets preference over Doctor Strange :P) but it could still be an real issue.

I also have specific concerns for the two special styles players can take, Might (basically super powers) and Magic. They have a bonus effect to reduce hazards and let players do the impossible. But they are fueled by plot points, making them expensive, less mathematically effective and able to be burned out. Which wouldn’t be so unreasonable, given the whole do the impossible bit. Except that, given the flexibility of the system and the rule of cool, any of the styles can kind of do that.

I also think there are systems that do some of what octaNe does better. As far as sharing the GM’s narrative role with the players, I think games like Trollbabe and InSpectres do it much better. And if I want an apocalypse game that is anything other than whole hog honky tonk, I’d reach for Apocalypse World.

All that said, I wouldn’t pass up a chance to try octaNe. Because, mechanical quibbles to one side, playing in this setting sounds like it would be a total blast.

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