Friday, April 17, 2015

[Fateful Fridays] Review: Venture City Stories by Brian Engard

I believe Venture City Stories was the first of the Fate Worlds and Adventures PDFs to be released, but don't quote me on that. The Fate Worlds and Adventures line is a series of ready-to-play settings and scenarios for Fate Core, funded via Evil Hat's Patreon page and released on a PWYW basis on DriveThruRPG. Venture City Stories is a superpowered near-future setting in which superpowers have become a commodity and superheroes are sponsored by corporations.

The Setting
The vibe I get from this is kind of like Robocop with a sprinkle of X-Men mixed in. The X-Men part is the emergence of powers as a result of a special gene sequence manifesting in the population. A major corporation unlocks the secret to activating or deactivating this gene sequence, and turns superpowers into a commodity. Several decades later, superheroes are sponsored by corporations; at least, those that are officially acknowledged as superheroes are. The rest are deemed criminals. Even normal law enforcement has become privatised and only the rich and powerful, or those who work for them, can really afford protection. Normal citizens have to fend for themselves in areas of the city where crime runs out of control. The poorer areas might have unsponsored heroes looking out for them, but they need to keep a low profile to avoid the corporations' attention.

The book calls itself an adventure toolkit, and that's definitely an apt description. The setting here is very loosely defined. You get an overview of the setting, suggestions of Issues (game aspects) to represent the setting's themes and struggles within the city, descriptions and stats for the major factions in the setting and important NPCs representing those factions. You also get the basic skeleton of a starting scenario, and some customisable pregen characters to use. It's all just enough to get you started playing in Venture City, but leaves enough room for you to expand the setting and make it your own. To my mind, this is the best way to deal with setting books, especially for a system like Fate Core, in which not only the GM, but the players are encouraged to bring their own elements to the setting (usually in the form of their characters' aspects).

Mechanics
Since this is a setting book about superpowers, the game includes guidelines at the back of the book for designing superpowers during character creation. The solution is a pretty simple and effective expansion of stunts from Fate Core, with the addition of some special effects (which allow characters to accomplish certain feats when succeeding with style or by spending fate points on normal successes) and an extra negative aspect to reflect a drawback of the character's superpower (like, for example, a superstrong bruiser with anger management issues).

The only thing I'm not 100% certain about are the Collatoral Damage Clauses. I like the idea behind them - superheroes cutting loose and unleashing powerful effects at significant cost to their surroundings - but I'm not sure about how loosely defined they are. The way they're written, it seems like they don't even require a roll, they just happen if the controlling player decides to unleash them. Sure, doing so has consequences, but the consequences don't always seem strong enough to justify an automatic success. For example, the NPC shapeshifter who can take a person's entire identity (memories, personality and all) as long as she's willing to kill them. Should she still have to engage some sort of conflict to do the actual killing, or is this an automatic death touch type of deal? Some clarification on this point might be helpful. As it stands, individual gaming groups will need to decide for themselves whether a roll or conflict is called for to activate Collateral Damage Clauses where the consequence seems weak on its own.

Conclusion
All in all, this is a good starter kit for a dark superpowered campaign or even just a one-shot. It also includes a decent method for handling superpowers in the Fate Core setting, with only one flaw that I can see, but that can be probably be worked around with group consensus. Still, it's decent content for a pound or two.

Undecim Rating: +3 (Pretty good / cult classic)

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