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Brave New World

Reviewed by Nicholas HM Caldwell

Brave New World is a modern-day superheroes game, written and designed by Matt Forbeck and initially published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. It is a 224-page hardback volume, lavishly illustrated with full-color and black and white "comic book" artwork.

Now comic books and graphic novels don't hold any great appeal for me, and I've never before been tempted into the superhero role-playing genre, so I found Brave New World to be a very pleasant surprise. The world is the key hook.

This "brave new world" is a mirror of our own which diverged during the First World War when an American soldier discovered his superpowers on the battlefields of Flanders. During the 1920s and 1930s, more "deltas" (superpowered humans) appeared, both heroes and villains. The Second World War involved combat between deltas on a grand scale, and the first "alpha" (or delta's delta) was created in the hell of Auschwitz. Hitler was personally killed by an alpha. History then continues with some subtle twists until 1963 when a band of superpowered terrorists kill First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and injure President John F Kennedy. JFK's reaction is a declaration of martial law and the "Delta Registration Act", which compels all people with delta and alpha powers to be registered. Failure to register is a crime punishable by imprisonment in a delta-proof high security prison. Registered deltas are liable to be conscripted at any time to perform missions for Delta Prime, a government agency with dubious motives and unpleasant methods. Life for deltas just goes downhill from then on to the present day. Only one hope remains for the home of the free - Defiance, a motley collection of underground and on-the-run deltas dedicated to the removal of JFK from his permanent Presidency and restoring the American dream. The history and the outlook for deltas in present-day America is all narrated from the perspective of a hunted delta in a racy, gripping journalistic style.

Mechanics-wise, characters in Brave New World have Traits, Skills, Quirks, a Power Package and Tricks. There are only four Traits - Smarts, Speed, Spirit, and Strength - but as each Trait is associated with a substantial number of skills, Trait scores must be assigned with care. The number of points assigned to a Trait determines the number of skill points available for purchasing skills in that group. Tricks are perhaps the most interesting facet of the skill system - starting characters can buy up to three tricks, which may be for superpowers, skill tricks, or combat tricks. When a character succeeds in making an attack by more than the required amount, for instance, a combat trick such as Ricochet can be used to bounce a ranged attack from one target to another. Quirks can be both positive and negative, representing status, contacts, physical and mental (dis)advantages, duties, and so on.

A superheroes game is nothing without superpowers. Each character can choose one and only one power package. Each power package is bought as a unit and comprises several related powers. In other superhero role-playing games, the superpowers for a character are put together by the player - Brave New World favors an "off-the-shelf" approach which is arguably much less prone to the munchkinism which can plague the other games. There are ten power packages presented, ranging from the Bouncer through the Flyer and Gadgeteer to Healer and Speedster - more are promised in the supplements. Each of the power packages are balanced with respect to the others. By cleverly requiring that Gadgeteers must maintain their outr eacute; devices as opposed to just being able to build them, the game cannot be dominated by weird gizmos. For a quick start to the game, ten ready-made characters are presented.

The basic game mechanic in Brave New World is the "dice pool" using six-sided dice. Roll a set of six-sided dice, and pick the highest result. If a six is rolled, keep the six and roll again adding the new result. The aim is always to beat a target number. Beating the target number by five or more allows a trick to be activated. Failure is more difficult to recognize as it requires the majority of the dice to be "ones" and overrides any "sixes" that have been rolled. This is the only bit of the base mechanics that jars with me; the rest is fine.

Combat is an important aspect of Brave New World. Rounds last five seconds with initiative determined by the characters' Speed traits, and the Speed score determining how many actions a combatant can perform in a given round. Shooting an enemy is simple, just beat the target number. Want to shoot a foe with burst fire? Just add another die for every extra bullet, and deliver an extra hit for each success above the target number. Want a called shot to your opponent's head or his guns?  Just increase the target number. Want to dodge out of the way of a speeding bullet? Use up a held action or forfeit a later action. Finding out the location of a successful hit and determining the damage are a couple of easy dice rolls. Working out what that damage means in terms of wounds is a little more involved in that the character's size determines how many wounds actually result. Armour can both deflect damage and absorb wounds. If the armour absorbs too many wounds, it is destroyed. If the character takes too many wounds in a given location, unconsciousness, maiming or death can result. A few practice runs are needed to get this process down pat. Characters can die in this game, so take care.

The last section of Brave New World is the Guide's Handbook with the mandatory guidelines on how to gamemaster a Brave New World campaign, help the players to create a team of delta heroes, and tips on how to handle "Extras" (NPCs) of both minor and major importance. Various secret behind-the-scenes knowledge, concerning political events and the true state of affairs in the world, are revealed here. It is hinted that future supplements will reveal further secrets, but the degree of concealment is neither as widespread nor as overt as 7th Sea, say. To help with scenario building, a short selection of the "Usual Suspects" is provided. They are typical foes with typical statistics, including the water-breathing Aquarians, the armoured troopers of Delta Prime, and modern-day Vampires.

Brave New World combines sensible, lightweight mechanics with a familiar, yet subtly exotic world. The setting is imbued with sufficient conflict to draw any group of player-characters into a suitably heroic campaign, and it need not be a straight fight between JFK's government and the Defiance, either. Supplements have already been published or are in the pipeline for the world perspective (Ravaged Planet), the Defiance movement (Defiants), Delta Prime, Triumph Inc. (a corporation of deltas), and Evil Unlimited (an underworld organization dedicated to supplying the tools of destruction). If you're looking for a superhero role-playing game with sound rules and a ready-made world, pay a visit to Brave New World!

Editor's Note: Brave New World is published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. Their contact details are as follows:
Pinnacle Entertainment Group
P.O. Box 10908
Blacksburg, VA 24062-0908
Web: http://www.peginc.com/

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