Phantasmagoria #1 (DCC) (Priority Review)
The first installment of the Phantasmagoria zine clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 3 pages of free space for notes, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was requested via direct donation as a prioritized review, though said person has been very patient with me getting this done. Thank you.
My review is based on the pdf-version; I do not own the print version.
So, in order to get your apartment’s keys, you need to use your rat Blob with the couch, then lure the fellow back out with your purse using your snickers-bar…
…wait, sorry. Wrong Phantasmagoria. This zine is all about sword and planet options for the DCC game, and this review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review via donation.
This pdf contains a total of 5 new classes, so let’s start by examining these. The first one, the automaton, gets 1d10 hit points per level, and the automaton gets a weapon of their choice integrated into their chassis. They don’t wear armor and start off with Crit Die/Table 1d6/I; table remains the same, but crit die scales up to d16. Action die begins at 1d16, and scales up to 1d30, and is applied to attacks or skill checks. We have good Fortitude saves (bad Reflex and Will) and a ½ attack-progression. Automata get the sociopath restriction – Their Personality can’t exceed 15; they still list any score in excess of that in brackets, though – for the purpose of losing Personality, the value in brackets is used. Automata are modular, and as such, you get to roll 1d30 on every level attained, including first level.
So, what types of modularity can you get? Well, we have +1d4 hit points, +2 AC, moving ANY ranged attacks up one step in the die chain, or perfect recollection of any building the automaton’s been in before. There also is the option to “cast one first level spell with an effective caster level equal to one-half of their level.” Okay, from which list? Compare that with the ability to crush ten cubic feet of loosely packed matter into a 1’ cube. Okay, notice that they are a bit uneven. Being able to see in the dark, as a trained skill, might sound neat, but the pdf fails to specify the associated ability score. Compare with infravision, which is NOT defined as a skill, and instead is automatic. And yes, the pdf is not precise with any of the modularity options and their associated ability scores. Meh. There also is e.g. a means to project thoughts or holodisk contents on a flat surface – cool! Not so cool: No dimensions are provided. Can you become a cinema projector? Is there a range? No idea. Compare being able to create a nutritious sludge that resembles tea (ending world hunger?) and healing 1d6 hp per hour. These are not all issues of the table, just an excerpt, mind you.
Automata also suffer from malfunctions – on any action die roll with a natural 1, they roll on a 1d12 malfunction table. This table suffers from similar issues. So, you can catch fire. Got it. Guess what#s missing? Bingo, the customary Dc to extinguish the flames. One module may break. No rules are provided to repair it. (RAW this means you can literally permanently lose class features.) The automaton can have its memory banks wiped for 1d10 rounds. Okay, cool. How does that work? Can the automaton still defend itself? Is it standing around, stunned? Is there a default programming? No idea. “The automaton desperately needs an oil bath.” Okay, what effects does this have? How much time before something happens? Automatons add Luck modifier to all trained skills. All in all, I consider this class to be a weak take on the concepts; its randomness doesn’t make much sense, and the unique rules components are pretty sloppy in their details. There are plenty better automata-class options out there for DCC.
Let’s see if the second class, the captain, fares better. The captain is familiar with dagger, flintlock pistol, longsword, shortsword and usually only wear light armor. We get 1d6 hit points, ¾ attack-progression, good Will-saves, and crit die/table starting at 1d10/III; the crit table remains III, and the die scales up to 1d24; the class begins with 1d10 as the action die, and +1d4 is gained at 5th level, growing pretty rapidly, capping at 1d20+1d20+1d14. Wait…the third die starts off as 1d14? I am PRETTY SURE that the action die gained at 5th level should be 1d14, not 1d4, unless the design choice here is SUPER-WEIRD. Action dice may be used for attack rolls or skill checks. The class gets good Will-saves. While we’re talking about glitches in class tables: All class tables consistently are missing their plusses, which bugged the hell out of me. Captains apply their Luck modifier to attack rolls with swords, but this bonus does not increase or decrease with luck score, and remains static instead, as per the first level score.
Any allied creature with a Deed Die within 20 ft. of the captain move the Deed Die one step up the dice chain; allies without a Deed Die within 10 ft. instead move their primary action die one step up the dice chain. Captains excel at one-on-one combat, and as such, when facing a single opponent alone, they get +2 AC, but also take 1d4 additional damage from other foes attacking them. Additionally, the captain gets to choose one of 7 special abilities when in a duel with an enemy, which include disarming, disorientation, feinting, etc., with 4th and 8th level letting you choose another effect. These sometimes refer to the wrong class, namely, duelist instead of captain. This makes sense, as, when you’re familiar with PFRPG, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect here. This is a duelist/cavalier-y class; that’s not a bad thing per se, mind you, as the mechanics have been adapted to DCC well enough. Precise strike, for example, lets you decrease the attack one step on the dice chain, but also nets you an double damage die of the weapon used: 1d6+3 would become 2d6+3, for example.
The third class would be the gremlin, who gets 1d8 hit points, ¾ BAB-progression, good Ref-saves, and crit die starts at 1d6 and progresses to 1d16, with the crit table remaining II. The action die starts off at 1d20, with 1d14 gained at 5th level, and 10th level providing the third die, for a total of 1d20 + 1d20 +1d14. The gremlin is proficient with dagger, flintlock pistol, longsword, nuclear pistol, “short sword”[sic!] and light armor. The class doesn’t specify where the action dice may be used, and the gremlin gains a limited amount of spells (up to 6, with the table providing 12 first-level, 9 2nd-level and 4 3rd-level spells as choices. The class fails to specify how the gremlin casts spells/list. Gremlins are mechanically-inclined and can repair broken equipment and relics; they can also sabotage things, rolling 1d12 and adding Intelligence modifier, which is interesting, but it probably means that the small table’s lower entries will never come into play. Problem regarding internal consistency: Can a gremlin repair an automaton, and if so, how does that work? No idea. Luck applies where? No idea.
The jovians get 1d5 hit points, are trained with all melee weapons and do not wear armor. Jovians can use their Luck modifier for melee attack rolls, and have ¾ attack progression, good Reflex-progression; we have the same action die progression as with the last two classes, and use crit table III until 7th level, where that is upgraded to IV; crit die starts at 1d8, and improves that to 1d24 at 10th level. Jovians are bird-like people (that look nothing like birds) hailing from a high-gravity gas giant, and gains +2 to Strength, to a maximum of 18. They get a 40 foot movement rate and carry up to 1.5 times their body weight, which is somewhat weird in a game that literally makes fun of encumbrance rules in the core book’s chapter. Now, mind you, I *like* encumbrance rules, but in this instance, context would have been nice. Jovians can meditate for a minute to temporarily float slowly, with 5th, 7th and 9th level increasing the speed while floating.
The final class would be the star prince, who begins play at 6th level (being the scion of, well, stars) and 1d20 + 1d16 action dice, which follow the progression to 1d20 + 1d20 +1d14, and are applied for attacks; attack-progression adheres to a ¾-progression, and crit die starts at 1d24, improving to 2d20, with crit table V used. Star princes get 1d10 hit points per level, thus starting off at 6d10, and they are trained in all weapons, but wearing armor eliminates their abilities. They have good saving throw progression in all saves and apply their Luck modifier to them. Depending on what type of star they were, they get one of 4 types of unearthly aura, but the respective auras don’t really have effects. Metal melee weapons wielded by star princes inflict +1d4 damage, and prolonged contact similarly deals 1 damage. They have a 15 ft. fly speed, with every odd level increasing that by +5 ft.
After these classes, we get an array of new weapons, with some interesting ones included: chain swords, for example, have a 2d16L damage – you take 2d16, roll them, and use the lower. The text for the flamethrower contradicts the table – is its range 30 ft. or 40 ft.? How can the nuclear pistol have the same ranges as a nail gun (20/10/1930), and how come that the medium and maximum ranges are so utterly weird and nonsensical? How can a nuclear pistol have a longer range than a nuclear rifle? Why does a blunderbuss not require a frickin’ attack roll, which it most assuredly should? The consistency here is weird. This also applies in the sidebar regarding the weapons core classes are familiar with: Thieves, oddly, are not familiar with the concealed ring blaster RAW, even though it’s clearly a weapon most suitable for thieves.
The armors provided include fungal armor (decreasing AC, but can regenerate its AC bonus), nanofiber suits, power armor (+2 Strength, +1 to atk thanks to HUD, one-hand wielding two-handed weapons), carbon fiber vests, personal forcefields and graphene bodysuits. The fumble dice and speed modifications as well as their check penalties fall on the very low side of things when compared to the core book. Personal forcefields net, for example, +6 to AC, -2 to checks, -10 ft to speed (but you can move faster, losing the benefits until the start of the next round), d8 fumble die, 2k credits cost. Compared to the banded mail, this is vastly superior, and it loses the design paradigm of AC bonus = check penalty for armors beyond light category that DCC usually has. The balancing attempt employed seems to be the significantly higher prices, but considering how DCC usually operates in that regard, I’m not sure that this was a good call. A few pretty generic items are also included, like Forged I.D., telescreens, etc. – these are pretty…lackluster? They seem like an afterthought. I’d have preferred a more detailed (and interesting) chapter. The pdf then sports a 70-entry occupation table, with associated trained weapons and trade goods noted – I per se like this, but I don’t get why it didn’t go for the full 100 entries, considering it has quite a bit of blank space on the last page it’s featured on.
The pdf then proceeds to provide space ship rules: Space ships have 3 stats, which you determine via 3d6: Evasion is added to the pilot’s rolls to evade danger, AC and hit points; Luck can be burned on any roll pertaining ship or components thereof, and Targeting is added to all attack rolls. A ship’s Hit Points depend on make – escape pods have one, and you add Evasion modifier to all HD. The pdf presents 7 sample ships, with HD, # of weapons, # of passengers, cargo space and cost in credits noted. Ships may be powered by one of 8 engines, with solar sails, portal chains, magical siphons, spatial folders etc. included.
These are thematically cool, but little more than window-dressing as presented. Magic siphons can be powered by spell levels, cool. Portal chains can “teleport several light years at a time”—okay, how much? This is promising, but as provided little more than dressing. We get space ship weapons next. The pdf states that “damage against actual characters may be far higher” – okay, by how much? No clue. The weapons include Star Crash-style boarding tools, cannons, etc. Costs are actually pretty low here, and same goes for the ship armor (4 types provided). Armor for ships has a buffer value, and when hit, reduces damage by this amount, while decreasing by one whenever the ship takes damage in one hit that exceeds the buffer value. Seeing how the weapon damage seems to be pretty low, this checks out well. The pdf also explains how space ship armor is supposedly super-expensive. …it’s not that expensive in comparisons to other items. The best armor for regular dudes, the graphene bodysuit (AC +7, 0 check penalty, d6 fumble die) costs more than all but one of the space ship armors. The text also mentions repairs, but never specifies a cost or the like.
Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level, but not on a rules-language level; there are quite a lot of inconsistencies and hiccups here. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, with impressive and evocative original artworks by Jim Magnusson, Stefan Poag, Jeremy Hart, Penny Melgarejo – this is a beautiful booklet, also thanks to Glynn Seal’s expertly done layout. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Chance Phillips’ first Phantasmagoria-zine is an exercise in frustration for me. It *looks* like a high-quality supplement and is, time and again, very close to making its material work pretty well. However, once you start actually using the content, poking it and really checking its details, you’ll encounter these holes that should really have been caught. I mean, I didn’t even try to poke holes into the rules of the classes; this is DCC, not PFRPG after all—I don’t expect the same level of consistency or detailed definitions of design elements, but when the rules require essentially guesswork on part of the judge, things become problematic. And DCC *is* pretty well-codified in a LOT of its components. Take all issues I fielded and compare them against the core book’s materials, and you’ll see what I mean. The material herein has no justification for the holes it sports in the engine; there is no deliberate design behind these holes. This supplement is one critical dev/editing run away from being really, really good, but as provided, it is a deeply-flawed offering.
The setting hinted at is tantalizing, and the spaceship engine is promising, if a little barebones, considering that combat etc. isn’t actually defined and covered. It seems to be a teaser of a proper system, rather than a full system, if you get what I mean.
As a whole, I can’t rate this higher than 2.5 stars, and after some serious deliberation, I don’t feel I can round up for this. There are too many glitches affecting the mechanical integrity for that.
You can get this pdf here on OBS.
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