17 March 2007

Beast Hunters by Christian and Lisa Griffen

I just pre-ordered this game, and got a pdf download to read while waiting for the printed version to be finished and mailed out.

It's got a few really interesting things going on, mainly that it's a two-player roleplaying game. The intention is that you take turns playing your hunter characters while the other player creates challenges for you. There are rules in there for play with more people, too, but it reads like it wouldn't work so well as with two.

The setting is a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. The big crash left a lot of dangerous magical creatures around, and the player characters are Beast Hunters for a tribal nation - responsible for defending their people from these nasties. The setting details are evocative without being restrictive, throwing you a bunch of peoples and describing various areas. All are given some cool stuff but left open to each game filling in the rest.

Character generation is well done. You build up the character as you invent different stages/areas of their lives - parents, tribe, enemies and finally your beast hunter training. At each stage you give yourself some traits and resources related to that part of your life. You give each a description and category (physical, mental or social) as you go, then allocate numbers to each at the end.

When you begin a session, you set up an adventure. The hunter player (in discussion with the challenger) determines: the goal of the adventure ("slay such and such a beast" or "make peace with an enemy tribe", etc). Then pick the adversity pool and limit. The challenger spends this pool in challenges to make things tough for the hunter, and the limit is how much they can spend at one time. So the hunter decides how long and hard an adventure they want, basically.

Play begins and ends with a salute, and this is explained as a nigh-mandatory feature, likened to a salute or bow at the beginning of a martial arts bout. The idea is that in-game the players should be working hard to challenge each other, just like sparring.

Then you begin roleplaying freely. This continues until the challenger decides that you have reached a point where the obstacle ahead is interesting enough to go into a full challenge, rather than be played through by negotiation. Their limited budget also affects this decision, of course. Hunters can also ask for a challenge if they want one.

Going into a challenge, there is an initial negotiation phase after the stakes are worked out but before the dice come out.

  1. Solution: The challenger describes the situation, and specifies the domain (mental, physical or social). The hunter then describes their plan to deal with the situation. The challenger can then give in (if the plan was really cool), elaborate the situation, or go directly to dice-based conflict resolution.
  2. Elaboration: The challenger asks questions about the plans, points out flaws and asks how the hunter will deal with them. The hunter explains and specifies a trait they are using (this is an advantage later in conflict resolution). The challenger again can give, move to the next stage, or go direct to conflict resolution.
  3. Complication: The challenger throws unexpected complication(s) into the mix, messing up the hunter's plan. The hunter reacts and explains how they will deal with the new situation. The challenger then decides whether to give or move to conflict resolution.
The challenger's decisions are also complicated by the fact that it's more costly in adversity to move to conflict resolution early. On the other hand, the hunter gets more the further you move through the phases. It seems like the intention is that almost all conflicts should move through all three, and moving to conflict resolution is really for when the challenger is stumped for ways to break the hunter's plan. Giving up, in contrast, is a recognition that the hunter has covered everything so well that you think they deserve to beat the challenge.

The dice based conflict resolution system is pretty cool. To start with, the challenger buys stats for the challenge (traits, resources, and damage boxes/hit points). The conflict system involves taking turns, each side picking a maneuver every round. The maneuvers look to offer some interesting tactical options - taking a turn to activate a trait for advantage later versus denying use of a resource to the opponent versus causing damage versus maneuver for advantage versus cause a special side effect to the main stakes. Plenty to do, and it should all give a lot of stuff to make cool narration from - especially taking into account the different fields of conflict. It also looks like it will give a cool build-up of maneuvers and activating traits leading into a climactic flurry of action as the conflict goes on. Awesome.

Character development occurs in two ways.

Firstly, you get reward points for beating challenges that can be spent to build up your normal stats.

Secondly, and more cool, is the reward for beating beasts when you go hunting them. When you first beat a particular type of beast, the Beast Hunter elders give the hunter a magical tattoo using the beast's blood. This gives the beast hunter a special ability or extra always-on bonus, setting them apart from normal people and more as a Buffy-like superhero/defender. The tougher the beast, the more powerful the tattoo.

There's a section for how to be a good hunter player, how to be a good challenger and how to set up adventures. The advice here all looks solid. There's also some special rules for beast hunts and a big section on the various nasty beasts that are out there. They're all interesting - not quite traditional monsters, and they have various tricky special powers for hunters to deal with.

How the game plays is a little difficult for me to imagine from just reading the text, so I'm not exactly sure how my impressions from reading it will map to actual play. Quite possibly the things that are most striking in the text will not be the same as the most striking parts of play. I have a feeling the conflict resolution stuff will be really awesome once you internalize all the options, for example. It just feels like there's more there than you can pick up from a single reading. There's a long example of play at the end, which covers three different challenges and shows a few different ways to play them out.

Lastly, the art, layout and general feel of the book is great. The text is sprinkled with the tribal-style beast tattoos and primitivist style pictures of the world of the beast hunters. The titles are in a matching style font, but the text is clean, bold and very readable in the pdf.

3 comments:

xenopulse said...

Michael,

Thank you so much for your review! I'm glad you found so many things to like about the game. I agree that several aspects only really come out in play, and I can't wait to hear your experiences in that regard.

Thanks again,

- Christian

The Gamester At Large said...

Yes, I'm really looking forward to playing it as well. Reading the text really whetted my appetite for play.

Luke said...

Hey Mike

I picked this up on Friday too. I agree it looks fun. The coolest part of the game for me is who it is designed to two player (something I have been looking for for a while). I am going to post on gametime about it.