Eric Metcalf's The Foundation - A World In Black & White
The Foundation from Nightshift Games is the first of many RPGs that will use the d20 System of mechanics that powers the new third edition D&D from Wizards of the Coast. This makes it our first look at a d20 game that does not come from WotC and our chance to see how the d20 system works in a genre other than high fantasy.
The Foundation claims to be a d20 game of Superheroics, providing a setting - including the background and its heroes and villains, the rules for super-powered d20 and a novella detailing the origins of the setting. This setting is adapted from a series of short stories by the author, Eric Metcalf, about a team called the Guardians. These can be found at the author's website (http://members.tripod.com/Eric_metcalf). Much of the book is devoted to the background and the thirty or so heroes and villains. To be honest, the setting is somewhat run of the mill, and there is little here to grab the imagination in comparison with other superhero RPGs such as Aberrant or Brave New World.
Gamers coming to The Foundation after seeing the crisp layout and art of the third edition D&D books will be in for a disappointment. The layout appears rushed and slipshod, with many silly errors. The contents are done in grey tones, and lie behind a black and white, and colour cover, which garishly depicts four characters from the book in un-dynamic poses. The internal artwork serves to showcase numerous characters again in un-dynamic poses, and is nothing to write home about. What few pieces of art that show the characters doing anything other than posing, such as fight scenes, are muddy and indistinct. None of the art invokes any sense of The Foundation's setting and again, there is little here to grab the imagination.
The roster of characters does actually serve to showcase how a d20 superhero game could work - far better than the actual rules as written. The thirteen pages of new mechanics are actually the best thing in the book, although still flawed. Players create their superhero characters by choosing from one of three races, then selecting a class (The Foundation is like D&D, a class and level game), powers, feats and skills, just as they do using the Player's Handbook. The races are ordinary humans, which get an extra feat; meta-humans, which have 1-4 powers; and aliens. This latter race is actually a catchall, as The Foundation details no new races, but suggests that the GM and player agree upon the nature of the race the player wishes to have. Aliens receive one or more innate powers, which must be agreed upon during character generation.
The Foundation takes the staple character types of Superhero comics and employs them as classes, both old and new. The new classes are Brick, Energy Projector, Gadgeteer and Mentalist. The Combat Artist replaces D&D's Fighter and the Martial Artist replaces the Monk, but the Rogue, Sorcerer and Wizard classes are ported over from D&D without any change. Powers in The Foundation work as a sub-class of Feats, and the game gives a list of forty Superpowers and nine Mental Powers. All of the Powers are given a simple description, and many of them work exactly some of the spells in the PHB. There are new Feats and skills to reflect the modern setting of the game, as well up-dates of existing Feats to reflect this. Unlike many other superhero RPGs, there are no disadvantages or modifications given that be applied to characters, and to my mind this reflects poorly upon the genre that The Foundation is trying to model. Finally, the book gives an example of a starting character for each class.
Character generation is relatively easy, but you need constant reference to the PHB, as the book contains no guidelines whatsoever on how to create a character. Nor is an example of character generation given. A simple list would have sufficed, but is wholly absent. It may now be found on Nightshift's website (http://www.teamfrog.com/oglsupers.htm), but the fact that it is not in the book is inexplicable. Also absent are any rules on running the game from scene to scene, on running superhero combat, awarding experience points suitable to the genre or a list of modern equipment (one NPC is equipped with an SMG, so where are the stats for it?). Considering that the actual rules as described only take up thirteen pages of this 128 page, what is in the rest of The Foundation?
There are five pages of advice for the GM on running the setting of The Foundation and writing adventures for it. It is decent if scant material. This is followed by two short adventures. The first, 'Breakout At Para-Max One!' has the players dealing with a breakout at the prison where all the supervillains are incarcerated, and is just an excuse for a fight. The second, 'Arcanus Strikes Back - Again!' has the players facing the game's major mystic villain. It is a little more involved, requiring some investigation and role-playing. Whilst Arcanus' details can be found elsewhere in The Foundation, his henchman left for the Gm to create, but again there are no suggestions given for this.
Pretty well much of the rest of this book consists of a roster of the heroes and villains. These do show how a d20 system can model such characters, but I'm not sure that it was necessary for either a player or a GM to know what the vital statistics are for some of the more buxom female characters. Personally I found the inclusion of these details quite tasteless. This also reflects a problem I have with the novella at the back of the book, which take up a whole 30% of the contents of The Foundation. Not only can this novella be found on the author's website, but it deals with adult themes as well. On the website, there is an over 18s only warning, but this is absent in the book. The fiction as written also fails to inspire, and considering that I can download for free from the Internet, I do feel that I am being shortchanged here.
I'm not someone who likes to be wholly critical of a new book, but over all, I am stunned by the mediocrity of The Foundation. It feels rushed and very undeveloped. It devotes the majority of its contents to an uninteresting setting, where it should have been developing the rules and helping both player and GM get the feel of the genre. It does none of that. Yet at the core of The Foundation are thirteen pages of rules with which an experienced GM could run, not a d20 superhero game, but a D&D game in the superhero genre, as it relies upon both the classes and spells to be found in the PHB. Further, this not a game as it describes itself, but a superhero supplement for D&D, and a poor one at that.
Should anyone be buying The Foundation? If you like Eric Metcalf's fiction, or really (and I mean really) want to have a D&D superhero game right this minute, then this book might be of interest to you. Otherwise, I can honestly recommend that you steer clear of The Foundation and wait for WotC to publish their own superhero d20 RPG. Personally, I think I'd like my money back.Style: 2 (Needs Work)
Substance: 2 (Sparse)