Awhile back, I reviewed the SPN: Role Playing Game “core book”. As is always the case, the publishers keep putting out more and more goodies, prying your hard earned money from your tightly clenched fist so you have to go without food for another week. Almost always these books are unnecessary, dull and pointless.
Too bad this book isn’t. Dammit.
The more famous RPG has been splitting their “core” into 3 books for years now. SPN’s version took a different track, cramming players, monsters and the GM all in one book. So what is this supplement?
Actually, it’s one of the best GM books I’ve ever seen.
Officially it is just 5 premade adventures, ready for you to unpack and roll with dreamed up by 5 different authors. Every one of these stories is great on their own (though the last involves an Iraq War 2 vet so it might step onto some political toes – I was in too much of a good mood from the others to let it bother me) and I read them almost like any SPN paperback, sometimes even picturing what I would do in these stories. Even knowing the ending I kind of wish I could play some of these.
But what makes this book truly great is that it gives one probably some of the best guidelines for being a GM for this game. After reading through all of these, I had a pretty good idea how to run a game of my own design – far better than I had reading the GM section of the core book. The game isn’t one of legalese, but of keeping the story going and the game fun, which sometimes gets confusing, especially when you’re coming from some stricter games. For example, telling your players “make a spot check” lets them know something’s up, even if they fail (meaning the characters will act differently then they would otherwise, you don’t really get the feel for a mystery). However, SPN is an RPG that revolves around solving mysteries. How do you get your players to find clues without telling them “there’s clues around here”? With this guide, you get a pretty good idea. One of my favorite technique, there’s a scale of success – EASY, MEDIUM, HARD, EXTRAORDINARY, etc – which should be common knowledge among the gamers. So if your players are in an area where they know clues should be (which is easy, such as site of a ghost attack) you can have them roll and then give them clues based on where on the scale they fell. Properly done, players should start getting paranoid about clues they missed but can’t keep searching for (the DnD’s infamous “take a 20”) because time is running out.
What usually kept me from enjoying other RPGs were that they were scarcely more than MMOs on paper (and really, why wouldn’t I just let the computer do all the math in that case?). There wasn’t much role playing, just going from one destination to another, fighting things that got in the way. In SPN, not only are you expected to actually care about the NPCs (seriously, has that ever been done before?) but the idea is that you have to go looking for the fight, it’s not coming to you. Something so rarely done (that I’ve seen) in RPGs requires such unique thinking, these five examples really help you shift your paradigm. Indeed, sometimes the fight almost seems to be more of a reward at the end of the quest than any loot.
Of course, there isn’t really any loot in this game. Your gear and money are more abstract concepts than anything. No, what’s important are “plot points”, those little quantifiable tastes of GM power. But… well how exactly do you really award those? Oh hey, these examples give you helpful tallies (+1 for each life saved, +1 for each clue found, etc) with each quest having its own standard. In fact, you can use this as another way of messing with your players, giving them high plot point rewards early in the quest, almost as a taunt that what they’re hunting is one bad mofo…
As far as the book physically, it’s not as colorful as the core but keeps a lot of the same look and feel. I understand inflation and all that and it does seem like the publishing company tried to keep this thing as low priced as possible but $25 still comes off as kind of high to me. If you’re wondering about whether the SPN:RPG is right for you, this would make a good preview (to purchase or borrow from a friend) to see if it’s style really appeals to you before fully committing. I also like that it kind of “standardizes” adventures make up so that players can more easily exchange adventures across the internet. Hopefully, instead of coming out with new editions of the core set every decade (yes I’m looking at you DnD) they just release new adventure editions to keep the game going indefinitely (of course, if you have players, you can always keep an RPG going indefinitely). Also, some new abilities are invented whole cloth in this book, giving you some ideas on how you can add your own flair to future games.
Grading this book is tricky. Although meant to be played with the RPG, it works pretty well for getting your SPN story fix if the show is currently unavailable. But it is a supplement which means it shouldn’t rank as high as the source it relies upon.
4 shells, another great release from Margaret Weis productions. You don’t have to get this book… but there’s no reason not to either.
Hunt well, and may your dice never roll ones.