Monday, February 6, 2012

True20: A Short Review

In yet another effort to find a good cross-genre rpg system, I got a copy of True20 the other day. To be perfectly honest, I like GURPS but think it's way too heavy of a system. Same with HERO. Probably more to do with appearance than actual play, but whatever. I'm not really satisfied with either...maybe the lengthy character creation process is to blame. So back to True20. Essentially the newest version is a distillation of d20 into a quick system that abstracts a few things, making it good for more cinematic-type games. That's super generic, but from what I can tell by reading through the rules, the system lends itself to less deadly games, story-driven. That sort of thing. I wouldn't use it to run D&D, but space opera, yes.

As I've said about a billion times, the old West End Games d6 Star Wars is probably my favorite rpg. True20 reminds me of SW is more ways than one. In fact, besides the leveling system, if I didn't know any better I'd say True20 was d6 converted to d20. Not that it's a bad thing at all. One of the issues with d6 was that after a certain point, characters had ridiculous amounts of dice to roll versus increasingly high difficulty numbers. Rolling only one die is definitely easier than handfuls of d6s, but perhaps less satisfying. It's easier to understand the relationship between the difficult number and skill level in True20 than it is with d6. I blame people for lacking simple math skills. Still, the general mechanic is nice and quick; the major problem is of course the linear nature of rolling one die. It's much easier to get high rolls with a d20 than five d6. This essentially means if a task is possible for a character, they will always have a 5% chance to succeed. In d6 the possibility might be far less than 1%, even 1/100th of a percent for sufficiently difficult tasks. The best method is open for debate, but in play it probably doesn't matter. The way damage is handled in SW is through a "toughness" mechanic; there are no hit points, and characters generally cannot die randomly. True20 uses a similar mechanic, which is cool. In fact, it's almost identical so I wonder if the designers just copied it directly or what.

As True20 is a d20-derived game, this means there are things like feats. In play, feats just give you bonuses to rolls or abilities that affect combat or whatever. Not a big deal. The supernatural powers in True20 are just feats that fall outside the realm of "realistic", things that not everyone would be able to access. Martial weapon proficiency is a feat, elemental blast is a power. The binary nature of the feats/powers makes it super simple to add features to the game.

I'll point out that stats are ye olde D&D classics, but only the bonus is retained, just like the Silhouette system. You have a STR of 2, which is exactly the same as a STR of 14-15 in d20 but without an extra number that doesn't really mean anything. We're only worried about the modifier anyway. I'm somewhat neutral about this, but it's certainly easier to understand WTF is going on with a character sheet. I'm under the impression the True20 designers wanted to simplify everything, eliminating anything from the game that didn't have a direct use.

There is a bunch more stuff in the book that deals with genres...and my impression is, once again, that True20 can handle more cinematic genres. Gritty games, not so much. D&D-type dungeon crawls, no, specifically because of the way combat is handled. There are no save-or-die saving throws, no imminent death, etc. A lot of people hate these things, and they wouldn't be playing D&D anyway. Honestly, the system is easy to understand and looks useful as a generic system for a wide variety of games. You can give a new player a character sheet and they would be able to play the system within five minutes. But does anyone play this thing? Seems to have dropped off the map...