Corporation from Brutal Games

Quite by accident I ended up spending all my free time last week reading the Corporation Core Rules. This is a free PDF so you can grab what a copy if you are curious. This is not a new game having been released in 2009 but it is still actively in development. It is a popular game, Gold best seller on Drivethru and Silver on RPGnow, and that is just from the hard copy sales, the free pdf downloads do not count toward metal ratings.

So What is Corporation About?

This is a sci-fi RPG that to me just screams Blade Runner and The Matrix. It has that cool Japanese brooding and brutal violence but with tech, cybernetics (including that matrixesque back of the skull up-link), telepathy, Terminator style AI and so much more.

The publisher, Brutal Games, have a rich vein of supplements and adventures that expand on the setting and the dark powers running the world and the all powerful corporations in the games title. The PCs are agents of those corporations and the game is very much mission based. Think of the possibilities of playing Agent Smith rather than Neo!

This is an extremely cool game. Anything that comes with a playlist of suggested music to set the scene, a watchlist of movies and TV to inspire and games that capture the vision behind the game is doing the right thing. These external references show you the potential of the system and I imagine they will make you want to play out some of the classic scenes with your players. The core rules are so feature rich that you leave out the bits that do not fit your imagined world but you are probably better off leaving them in and using the published setting adventures.

Mechanically the game has a lot going for it. I will say up front that it has one deal breaking mechanic that I don’t like and that is hit points. I simply do not like them as a only real method of managing wounds and damage. If you don’t mind hit points then all the better.

So characters are built by assigning points to their stats, which I like as no one gets penalised by a disparity between great stats vs poor stats. Following that you assign points to skills and there are A LOT of skills. You pick the corporation you work for and so on. Everything is choices. Some can be guided by the GM. If he or she needs you to be or not be part of a specific corporation for plot reasons, the so be it. How much tech, cybernetics and telepathics you get your hands on are all choices you make at character creation time.

What I like is that the game is ‘classless’, anyone can really do anything. It is also levelless, experience works by improving the skills you have and advancement is more about gaining promotion within your corporation, and avoiding demotions for failure, rather than levelled advancement.

Another sweet mechanic is the way that critical successes and failures are handled. The basic skill resolution is roll 2d10 to give a 2-20 result. You add your stat+skill to get your target number to roll under. Just as we all get excited about rolling a natural 20 or in my world an ‘open ended’ roll; in corporation rolling doubles is a good or bad thing. 1/1 is a critical success, 10/10 is a critical failure. Poor quality kit may have a critical failure range of 9/9 and 10/10 or even more ‘doubles’. Superior kit may critical on double 1s, double 2s and so on. I think these magic numbers add a bit of excitement for the players, you don’t want to just hit, you really want to hit AND roll a good double.

Damage is handled by using polyhedral dice, the standard issue pistol does a d8 so you get to play with your polyhedral dice. I think games that use d4s are simply dangerous and in corporation a katana does 2d4 plus the characters strength. Stepping on the d4s is probably similar in pain to being hit by the real weapon in my opinion, but I digress! You can see from the example katana that your characters stats are playing a part in not only skill successes but the actual resulting action. All the skills work this way where the stat can have a direct bearing. In other skills if there are graduation of success then the more you roll under your target number the greater the level of success.

The really big guns and heavy weapons can do damage in the realms of 6d6, 6d8 or 6d10. this gives the same sort of buzz as when you got to cast your first fireball in D&D (5d6?). All this says to me that Corporation was built to be played by the players. Increases in ability can be frequent yet incremental so you always feel like you are improving, you get to play the character you imagined not one proscribed by good or bad dice rolls. Those dice rolls have a hit of excitement added to them via the doubles rules and that potential to sometimes, just sometimes get to roll a whole bucket of dice for your damage.

Corporation is a game to be run by the GM. By that I mean there is infinite scope for machinations behind the scenes, plots that exist to manipulate the player characters or to pit them against forces that are just as ‘right’ as the heroes all exist a plenty. Corporation is a game where 99% of the time the only person who knows what is actually going on is the GM and the game is none the worse for it.

When I downloaded Corporation I had no idea what to expect and I was very pleasantly surprised! Good Game!

Rise of the Eurogame

I read an article this week about the rising popularity of European and particularly German board games, the so-called Eurogame.

The core difference apparently between American and German games in the past 50 years has been that American games have been centred on conflict, think RiskAxis & Allies, Star Fleet Battles, and Victory in the Pacific. Germany for obvious reasons was not so big on these conflict-centric games but favoured games based around construction and building things up like communities (Settlers of Catan), farms (Agricola) or businesses (Power Grid).

So this article, linked below, was interesting but it also struck a bell with other things I have been reading. Fria Ligan are Swedish but there is much  emphasis in Mutant:Year Zero on the collaborative building of the Ark.

Another Euro/American difference is that American games tend to eliminate players as the game progresses but Eurogames keep people involved right to the end. Tales from the Loop is build from the ground up with the presumption that the kids will not stand and fight, and die, but run away and find a different route or solution.

It may be just my perception but start up times seem to be faster in the European games. The original Iron Crown Enterprises (Rolemaster/MERP) was an American publisher and Rolemaster must have one of the most complex character creation processes known to man. In contrast the Fria Ligan way is very fast and light but at the same time construct characters using a detailed skill system created by player choice.

Maybe it is just my perception but is there a move towards role playing games being more accessible and less confrontational? Mind you, the high lights of my gaming life at totally hack and slash so who am I to tell?

Here is the original article, which is very interesting.

Are you sitting comfortably?

I think I mentioned this before but when my group get together and game it happens two or three times a year. We rent a house, the one we have used for the past few years happens to be called Rivendell which is quite fitting, and we game all weekend. While we game we each have a sofa or armchair, when I GM I have a small side table for books and dice and it is pretty relaxed.

It sounds cool and it is but it also makes a lot of choices for us. For a start using minis is a real problem. We are all so far apart that no one would be able to see any real tactical detail we are all too lazy to get up and have a look. So that means that battle maps are out as well.

The games I was looking at last year had features like a momentum dice and counters. Well without a table to put them on these are not going to work.

Michael was the first person I saw that showcased the index card role playing game in this post. Although I really liked the concept it was going to be a non-starter for us because we are too far apart for that sort of interplay.

We are no longer the Knights of the Dinner Table, we are more like sofa sorcerers.

Being a sofa sorcerer means that you end up more organised. The rulebook you need could be right on the far side of the room and sofas are harder to get out of than dining room chairs (that sounds lame but it is true!). So when I am plotting an adventure I copy and paste the rules for specific situations right into my notes. If there is a chance of drowning then I have the drowning rules to hand. Each character has all their spells and the spell descriptions copied and attached to their character sheet, or playbook is a better phrase. So now there is no bottleneck while all the spell casters need to check which spell to cast or whether they think it will work or not. My current party has 5 PCs and they are all spell casters to a lesser or greater extent.

I don’t have a GMs screen but I have created a simple PDF of just the rules or tables I need and I keep this on a 10″ tablet. It is only about 8 pages so flicking back and forth is quick and easy. So I have pretty much ‘organised the books out of the game’. I still have them because there is nothing to stop the PCs from going completely off piste if that is how they decide to go. I certainly do not railroad my players even if I have prepared an adventure.

Because we only play a few times a year our games gravitate more towards hack and slash. This is not my first choice but with months between sessions remembering subtle clues is simply not going to happen. Unless I arrange a mystery that is all wrapped up in a weekend of gaming clue based adventures are not likely to work. You can forget political plots completely.

Another reason for not needed a GMs screen is that none of us have the eyesight anymore to read the GMs notes upside down anyway.

So are there any advantages to this laid back gaming style?

Firstly, you can game for many hours more when you are comfortable than sat on a hard dining room chair. People seem to take less breaks and we can go on for 15 to 18 hours on continuously being in character baring food breaks. The most likely cause for the session to end is when the dwarf starts snoring and even that could be in character.

When you give your players space I have noticed that the characters develop mannerism. The players start to create mannerisms, gestures and all sorts of non-verbal elements to their characters. I used to work in an office where I was the only man, my colleagues would chair dance when certain songs came on the radio. My players have started to act out their characters especially discussions within the party because they have the space to do so.

Another quirk of this style of play is that with the diminished amount of books needed we have been known to relocate outside to a garden table. You cannot see the tablet in this photo but the little pile at the end of the table is the sum total of all my campaign notes and rulebooks for the weekend.
In contrast, these are the rulebooks for a single afternoon session for a friend that GMs me occasionally.

So what is the point of this post?

I think the point is that where we each come from informs our choices and opinions. I felt I was quite down on some aspects of the games I looked at and aspects that I didn’t much like were the use of counters or visual aids like the momentum dice. You can see from this why it would not work for my hardcore laid back Rolemaster players.

It also colours my desire for rules light games. I can make just about anything rules light. Rolemaster has a reputation for being rules heavy but looking at my GM setup and you can see that it doesn’t have to be. In fact, I can run an ultralight game with all necessary rules on one piece of paper, although I do need to use both sides. That, though, is a post for another day.

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