Monday, August 5, 2013

Review of the Paragon RPG Part 1

A few days back, +Robert C Kalajian Jr came and asked if I would consider doing a review of the Paragon RPG. Of course, I love RPGs. I love reading them and it always seems I’m looking for the next blog topic. So, while I decide what I want to do with the Numenera review and I take a brief pause from Pathfinder, let me have a look at Paragon.

I have heard of the game before, but I really have no clue what the game is about. This is the brief synopsis of the game from DriveThru RPG:

This update to the HDL Universal Tactical Role-Playing Game revises and expands upon the quick, realistic rules based on the Half Die Level system. The rules are still just as fast-paced, adaptable and deadly; class- and level-free, the possibilities for character evolution and adventures are unlimited. The new expanded rules improve overall customization with even more Backgrounds and Weaknesses, optional rules and clarifications.
 Paragon introduces the Active Delay combat system, which departs from the turn-based combat of many RPGs for a more fluid and engaging experience. Now, combat flows organically, with each action taken having its own delay in time rather than arbitrary turns.
 ESPers, Cyborgs, Sorcerers and Dragons

Brand new chapters include dozens of unique, mind-blowing psychic abilities, integrated and revised cybernetics rules, and an all-new magic system complete with more than 380 spells. The added bestiary is rife with real-world and fantastic creatures including dragons, vampires and werewolves, as well as detailed rules for creating new creatures.

First thing I notice is that the PDF page count is at 329 pages. That most likely means I won’t be making it through the whole book in one sitting. It’s a good sized table of contents, spread out over two pages. Right off the bat, I feel I am about to dive into a tome not too far different in nature from Palladium or a d20 styled game.

There is talk about this being a second edition of an HDL system. I haven’t run across HDL before, but I suppose it really isn’t too important here. The introduction talks about how the game is more than a mere revision, but has completely redesigned.

Also, from the introduction:

The Paragon system is intended to be a realistic, quick-paced role-playing system. The goal here is not hack-and-slash, drawn out combat or collecting endless treasure. There are no character classes, levels, or hit points. Our goal is to provide a comprehensive, adaptable, lifelike game aimed at role-playing opportunities, while not letting the system get bogged down in extensive rules.

Admittedly, I’m a bit skeptical of this statement. As I mentioned earlier, there are 329 pages in this PDF. It appears, based on the table of contents, that these are all rules, no setting. I’m not baring judgment, though, as I enjoy a width variety of role playing games. From Fate and Numenera to Palladium and Pathfinder. I just think the statement and the current evidence fail to support one another, but let’s have a look.

The game calls for one 4-sided die, one 6-sided die, two 8-sided dice, two 10-sided dice, and one 12 sided die. There is also Paragon cards that are apparently necessary for the game, although I am not sure how yet. The narrator needs a deck that can be shared amongst the play group.

Next, we dive right into character creation.

Then, there are 13 stats to represent the character numerically. This statement is immediately followed by a two column table that is confusing, because it is full of—as of yet—undefined abbreviations. Stats are rated from 1 to 10. No starting character can have any more than one stat at 1 and one stat at 10. The stats are Strength, Endurance, Constitution, Reflexes, Coordination, Manipulation, Looks, Reason, Knowledge, Resolve, Insight, Personality, and Luck. Then, there are a host of derived stats: Passive Dodge, Active Dodge, Perception, Initiative, Size and Defense Threat Rating, Health-Lethal, Lethal Wound Penalty Rate, GONE, Non-Lethal Health, Non-lethal Wound Penalty Rate, Delay Active, Delay Reactive, Speed, Fatigue Penalty Rate, and Energy. Whoa boy! That’s a lot of stats and calculations right up front.

However, like I said with Pathfinder, there can be a bunch of rules that are going to take practice in order to master. That can be part of the fun for people with the right mindset. With these stats and numbers alone, I am already seeing character creation is going to be an investment in time. A lot of players—players like me—enjoy that.

Next, characters get to choose Backgrounds. Backgrounds in Paragon are kind of like Merits from World of Darkness, Edges from Shadowrun, or a variety of other similar (bonus) mechanics for RPG characters. They also have weaknesses, which will grant extra background points, and are essentially the opposite of a Background—a negative option for characters. I count 73 of each.

Trying to get through the section on backgrounds, I almost skipped right past the next. A more distinctive header style would be helpful. Next, it talks about background cards, with the narrator will have. They’re to help give ideas for a backstory, but do not grant mechanical benefit.  Next, we consider age, lifespan, and blood type. There is an optional quirk system which, mind you, is right here in the character creation chapter rather than with an entire chapter dedicated to optional rules. These are just that, quirks. For example, sneezing 1d10 rounds after combat.

Next, skills are covered, which includes the basic purchase cost and rules for skills. The skills cost a number of points equal to the rank of the skill. Skills are rated from 0 to 10, although newly created characters should not have skills higher than 8. Characters start with 75 points to spend on skills. There are a wide variety of skills to be chosen. Here, again, it makes a statement about combat not being a primary focus, even though there are skills for it. However, I look back at the stats and wonder if the final product supports that goal. The rules provide for hobbies, skill families, and skill specialization, which are not too unfamiliar for people who play a variety of other RPGs. I count 230 skills—everything from handgun skill to skill in crafting blunt weapons and computer programming.

An optional rule for occupation is provided here, although it appears only to be a series of guidelines to suggest what rules would be useful for character who would be good at a certain line of work.

The next chapter covers the game mechanics, wherein the secret of the HDL abbreviation is also revealed.