I’ve been sick the last week and had some extra time to devote to Action X. Even though the game is based, at least loosely, on the Modern SRD, it’s been tough going. Blood & Treasure was actually pretty easy, since it was essentially a tribute to various versions of D&D that have been published over the year. I wasn’t attempting to re-think the game – if D&D had rangers at some point, B&T was going to have rangers.
Action X, on the other hand, isn’t really based on a game with much history. d20 Modern wasn’t a terribly successful system, in part, I think, because it didn’t have much spirit. Charismatic Heroes and Strong Heroes might be a rational way to design character classes, but they aren’t exactly concepts to conjure with, and the special abilities read more like a technical read-out than something plucked from fiction or movies – lots of skill bonuses or spending action points. As such, most of my labor so far has gone into making Action X something that might spark a person’s imagination as well as being something easy to play and run.
In the past week, I’ve put most of my efforts into the Character Creation chapter, and in particular character classes. At this point, I’ve actually strained the character classes into only four classes, though a couple of those classes have what I call “sub-classes”. These aren’t sub-classes in the sense of 1st edition AD&D, but rather a choice of special abilities made by a member of the class. The current classes are as follows:
Adept – This is the spell casting class. The adept can use occult rituals (take some time and involve arcane tools) and psychic phenomena (only require some sort of focus and concentration). The adept starts with a few rituals or powers in their repertoire, and adds additional powers at every level. To use these rituals and powers, the adept has to make what is essentially a skill check, with various consequences for failure. In essence, I’ll be using a modified version of the system in Pars Fortuna for this. Vancian magic would have been easier, but I don’t think it fits well with how the supernatural is usually portrayed in modern films and books. Adepts roll d6 for hit points (with firearms in the game, it makes sense to allow for more hit points for characters), has one good save (Will), crappy attack rolls, two skills and four knacks and two starting weapon proficiencies.
Expert – The expert is the skill class. All experts have something called “skill mastery” – this allows them to pick one of their skills and, when rolling task checks, roll two d20, taking the better of the two rolls. There are three expert sub-classes – the daredevil can use adrenaline surges, the face can fascinate crowds (somewhat like a bard) and the infiltrator can make sneak attacks (i.e. back stab). The expert rolls d8 for hit points, has three good saves, mediocre attack rolls, six skills and four knacks and four starting weapon proficiencies.
Mastermind – Best described as a MacGyver or as the Professor from Gilligan’s Island, the mastermind is the go-to guy or gal for answering all sorts of questions, souping up devices and building machines, electronics or brewing up chemical formulas. The Game Master can decide how far out these devices and formula can be. Masterminds roll d6 for hit points, have one good saving throw (Will), crappy attack rolls, four skills and four knacks and two starting weapon proficiencies.
Warrior – These are the front line fighters of the game. They all gain multiple attacks as they rise in level (as the fighter in B&T). There are four warrior sub-classes in the game – the bruiser can go into a frenzy (like a B&T barbarian), the gunslinger can sacrifice attacks for extra damage, the martial artist gets some monk-style abilities and the soldier can improve the performance of other combatants (think Captain America barking out orders to his crew). The warriors rolls d10 for hit points, has one good saving throw (Fort), good attack rolls, two skills and four knacks and eight starting weapon proficiencies.
Characters can be further modified with feats, the kinds of weapons they become proficient with and, of course, by giving them personalities. Alignments at the moment are pretty simple – Hero, Anti-Hero and Villain – but do have an impact on the game. In place of experience points, characters advance by completing missions successfully. This made sense to me since Action X isn’t really an exploration-plunder sort of game like Blood & Treasure. A hero is your typical white hat. Anti-heroes are like neutrals – they are focused on doing what’s best for themselves, but not to the point of robbing or committing murder. Most film noir protagonists would be considered anti-heroes. Villains are not typically appropriate as characters, though a villain-based game is not out of the question. Heroes have to watch their p’s and q’s, but the bonus they get is that they can consider a mission completed successfully if they manage to protect or save innocent people during the mission, even if their main goal in the mission is not accomplished.
Now that I have the classes more or less figured out, I can focus on the task checks, combat (especially gun combat) and then put some work into the adventure chapter, which will cover a few potential eras of game play – Victorian, Pulp, Cold War and Modern – adding little sub-rules where necessary, throwing in some fun random charts, talking about some “famous villains” of the era, and equipment available in the era.
It will still take a long while to get the game finished – maybe middle of 2013 if I’m lucky – but at least I’ve made some progress.