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Thinking Out Loud

Thursday, August 17, 2006

XCrawl >> First Impressions

Wow, I read a good chunk of the core XCrawl RPG book (from Pandahead Games, now picked up and distributed by Goodman Games) and skimmed the 5 supplements I got for it at GenCon. And I must say, I am very impressed. It's a d20-based game set in a dystopian future where technology and magic mesh, but not quite in the classic Shadowrun sort of way.

It's such a neat setup, basically putting the characters in the role of up and coming sports celebrity in front of a ravenous television audience. The players are athletes competing in live dungeon crawl events for the amusement of the general public. It's the big sport of the future, complete with team sponsorships, fan clubs, trading cards -- the whole shtick. The "Gladiator Games" setup works incredibly well, and allows for a lot of creativity and imagination for putting together dungeon crawls, as well as creative in-game applications.

Some of my favorite elements include:

- Team Mojo: Mini rewards for good roleplaying, clever ideas and the like. You have a pool of Mojo Points that anyone from the team can borrow from to add a bonus to any d20 die roll. If you roll a natural one, you lose extra Mojo. If you roll a natural 20, you only spend part of the Mojo. But it works out kinda' like action dice letting you add emphasis to really important rolls.

- Quasi Dark-futuristic: There is the television spectacle of it all, and the dungeons are built with television monitors and video cameras everywhere, so the audience can see the action -- but sometimes clues and warnings can be flashed onto the screen, adding an interesting DM "Deus Ex Machina" to work with that's already built into the game.

- Scoring: Kind of like the Dungeon Crawl Classic tournaments, the XCrawl modules are "scored" based on accomplishing certain goals. Your rewards and pay can be influenced by your score. Your score and success/failure also determines how quickly you advance through the ranks to larger, national tournaments and XCrawls to compete for better prizes and renown. There are standings and other teams to compete with in an odd sports like way.

- Fame: Lots of games have a Fame mechanic, but I like how it's represented in XCrawl, as you can "spend' your Fame points to purchase special perks in the down-time between XCrawls, like better accomodations, access to certain gear, making celebrity appearances at special events and so on.

- Signature Moves: Players can earn Fame and Mojo in game by creating Signature Moves, which are special 3 Round Actions that follow a certain sequence -- Opening Move, Action 1, Action 2. They are long and drawn out sequences, but when you pull one off, you can earn some major bonuses to other rolls and quickly become a crowd favorite. For example, you could create a Signature Move called the "Big Bad Blitz" which starts with Opening Move (flourish that let's the crowd know what you're about to do), Charge Attack (Action 1 in the second round) and finish it off with a Bull Rush (Action 2, completed in the third round).

In this case, if you pull off the Charge Attack, you'd get a bonus to the Bull Rush. And if the Bull Rush succeeds, you'd get a bonus to your Crowd Reaction check. And even bigger bonuses and rewards can be gained by having teams pull off multiple-person combos (like my Signature Move ends by pushing the guy right into the start of your Signature Move).

- TV Time Outs: Since this is all televised, there are some interesting elements the DM and players can take advantage off to gloss over boring bits. Just win a big battle and earn a chest full of 10,000 gold? Don't worry, during the next commercial break, the grounds crew will cart that off stage and have it waiting in your dressing room after the event. Or did someone pull off a restricted action or spell? A referee may blow the whistle and warn or disqualify a player or monster based on the infraction.

- Quirky: That's probably the term that sums it up best.Very quirky. And very cool. And it's episodice, sports-like nature would scale incredibly well for a group that has players who come and go and may miss a session here and there. I really, really think my main group would enjoy it. I'm hoping there's a dead spot in the schedule some time later this summer or in the fall. I'd love to give it a shot and see what everyone thinks.


  • Shades of a game I remember we played a couple times in college. "The Arena," or something similar? Improvised weapons (except lawn darts; they're illegal), bonus points for cheesy one-liners, etc.

    InSpectres plays with the "televised" format as well, as "confessionals" are built into the mechanics. Little breaks in the action with a character babbling about whatever at the camera, a la every episode of Cops ever made. ("Things were looking pretty grim, but we have the training and the tools for emergency field surgery. It's amazing what you can do with superglue and duct tape.")

    By Blogger Gar, at 9:37 AM  

  • Yes, it is fairly similar to The Hunt... A favorite of mine back in college.

    I dig the confessional element of InSpectres, and XCrawl allows for things like that via the TV time outs or player interviews -- a way to moderate the flow of time as well as offer spotlights to each player.

    By Blogger Jason Little, at 12:24 PM  

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