Call to Arms: Fantastic Technology
This installment of Fat Goblin Games’ Call to Arms-series clocks in at a massive 46 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 39 pages of content so let’s take a look!
Now this book, obviously, expands on the content of the Technology Guide, so I expect familiarity with that material in this review.
This supplement begins with a piece of adept prose and recap on the significant influence technology has had on the development of our very society and there is a reason for that: Before we can take a look at how technology works in game, we have to imho consider the implications of the addition of technology – namely why and how it found its way into a given game world. If you are like me and consider the internal consistency of a given game world to be of tantamount importance, you probably have sneered at quite a few explanations for the existence of technology in a given fantasy context – and thus, this book presents us with a plethora of options that explain the rise or prevalence of technology, including rationalizations for the potential of a limited prominence amid cultures. The intriguing component of these basic concepts that range from divine inspiration (see Zobeck’s gear goddess) to the gifts of the precursors, would be that the respective rules by which technology operates in a fantastic context necessarily ought to change – and the results should not be ignored. If technology is, for example, granted by a divine mandate, it should come as no surprise that adversaries of the doctrine will have a more nature-bound, savage mindset – and vice versa. The inclusion of such ideas and adventure hooks renders this section a useful tool for most DMs who do not want to provide a static backdrop for technology that is relegated to a limited area.
Now here, things become pretty intriguing, at least to me: One of the basic and utterly jarring components of the basic Kingdom-building rules, even when supplemented by Legendary Games’ superb expansions, would be the absence of a true means of properly advancing your kingdom. Sure, you can improve infrastructure etc., but you won’t be able to create a bastion of enlightened scholars amid the savages, a kind of Neo-Atlantis/Azlant/Ankheshel. Indeed, the kingdom-building rules, by virtue of their origin, assume a medieval backdrop. If your campaign has a different scope, perhaps even spanning the lifetimes of multiple characters, then this will be a full-blown example in awesomeness: What am I talking about? Technology-levels for kingdom-building with concise definitions of which goods and buildings become available, which sciences are taught, etc. And yes, the respective technology tiers do sport rules-relevant benefits for the kingdoms that achieve them and bonuses for researching all technologies. I absolutely adore this chapter since, to me, it completely came out of left field – and yes, there is a huge array of new buildings to create, including android factories and orbital space stations. That’s awesome. i mean, who wouldn’t want to go all JLA on the bad guys? At the same time, there is one tiny component the system imho ought to have covered in a slightly different manner: Tier-advancement. As provided, the guidelines assume essentially a list of prerequisites that must be met regarding buildings and technology, but personally, I would have enjoyed a cost to upgrade once all the prerequisites are met – essentially a conscious push to move into the next age. It should be noted, however, that this very much represents a personal preference and thus does not negatively influence my verdict – plus, one can always include such an obstacle.
Okay, after this not only extremely useful, but also surprisingly inspired chapter, we finally move to what I thought this book was all about when I first laid eyes on it: Technological items. Though, once again, this claim just now would be ultimately just as reductive as my previous conception of what this contains. Let me elaborate: The very inclusion of the material plastic with concise stats is pretty much a “Why has no one done this before?” facepalm-moment – and I mean that in the most flattering way: With decreased weight and electricity resistance, plastic is an interesting material indeed. At the same time, though, it does receive vulnerability to fire, which results in a somewhat wonky interaction: Energy damage to objects is usually halved and ignores hardness – so am I correct in the assumption that this halving does not occur for fire damage? It would only make sense, but ultimately, this constitutes a pretty minor issue.
Beyond plastics, there is a further component that has galled me about the implementation of technology in most given rules-contexts: The assumption of total functionality vs. being broken – the totality of both conditions is a component, wherein not only the internal game world’s consistency slightly suffers, but also a crucial deviation from the super-science/pulp/science-fantasy tropes the very rules are supposed to provide for. Ultimately, I can get behind class-specific technology that only works for one type of character the same way I can accept psionics and magic, but once you render this an item-class, this assumption fell away and the exclusivity-clause was removed. Enter this book.
The basic concept is absolutely iconic and genius and perfectly encapsulated in the term “augmentations” – these can be added to a given piece of equipment by characters sporting the Craft Technological Arms and Armor feat akin to how magic works, with a base price of magnitude squared times an amount of gold and magnitude also governing the Craft DC. Now annoyingly, formatting has botched in the bullet point-list that contains these rules – while not rendering the rules opaque in any way, the glitch is so obvious that even casual glimpses should have caught it. But I’ll set that aside to talk about what can be done: From radioactive to monofilament enhancements in different degrees of efficiency, the augmentations are awesome and pretty much represent the fulfillment of my craving for orcs that tack barely understood chainsaws to their axes. And yes, I came to roleplaying games over Warhammer. From graviton hammers to chainsaw swords to plasma-axe muskets, the items herein, some of which receive lavish full-color artworks, uniformly deserve praise on a conceptual level. Interesting here would be that, while there are very minor hiccups here and there, the rules-language, traditionally not exactly the strongest forte of Fat Goblin Games, is up to a pretty high standard and supplements the logical consistency of the items provided – chain-blades, once activated, for example penalize Stealth heavily.
When technology becomes more relevant in warfare, it’ll be only a matter of time before espionage and sabotage become a threat – and thus, the new cause for glitches gremlinite should be considered a further and potentially narratively rewarding addition to the glitch-rules. Beyond these, there is a pretty basic and wide-spread trope of certain items with an ingrained personality – whether it’s a quantum processor-powered AI, a ghost in the shell or a HAL 9000 – AIs are inextricably linked to scifi and fantastic technology. Thus, the rules for actually creating AIs is simple – and the sample item “possessed” by this AI is also rather interesting. Now if that were not enough, what about adding a slew of mythic into the fray, providing new legendary item abilities that most certainly will see use by the Genius, Futurist and Stranger paths, should they feature in your game -what about e.g. overclocking beams to make them AoE? Yeah, ouch! What about an absolutely inspired and unwieldy artifact that can make a high-level dungeon indeed rather strategic? New vehicle propulsion options, from combustion engines to fusion?
The pdf closes with 4 feats that allow you to create Robots, scavenge parts of technological items for your crafting or make AIs. And there is a feat that lets you unarmed punch empty items to get one final charge out of them – thankfully with a cap to prevent abuse.
Editing and formatting are a mixed bag – on the one hand, the rules-language is much more precise than I expected it to be, to the point where actually, I don’t have any proper complaints that would truly detract from this book -so kudos to editor Lucus Palosaari! On the other hand, there are some obviously rushed glitches regarding formatting that annoyed me to no end -though it should be noted, that for most people out there, the amount of glitches will not be within annoyance parameters. The pdf does sport a beautiful 2-column full-color standard with quite a few nice, original full-color pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, though the bookmarks do sport a couple of wonderful names like”h.izabluogbq3a” before providing the proper (and correctly named) bookmarks – so yes, existent, but you should scroll down – and another example of the avoidable glitches that haunt this pdf.
When this landed on my pile to review, I was admittedly less than excited – Fat Goblin Games has a track record with me of having interesting concepts (and since John Bennett took the reins as line-developer, an actually great horror setting!), but issues with the finer rules-interactions. So analyzing a 40+ page book of rules was not exactly my definition of a good time. At this point, I wish to sincerely apologize for this obviously less than flattering preconception. Fat Goblin Games and author Garrett Guillotte have delivered a massive supplemental book that is so much better than I ever anticipated it would be. I expected a somewhat reductive and repetitive accumulation of Technological items herein – what I instead got can be considered the massive appendix for the Technology rules.
In some of my previous reviews pertaining subsystems generated by Paizo, I lamented the lack of synergy and further support for systems once established, while at the same time pointing out that this is pretty much where 3pps can take control and deliver. This book makes perfect use of this thesis – not only do we get some material for mythic fans, the kingdom-building component essentially provides the backdrop for campaigns to take a whole new scope: Instead of just focusing on one age or dynasty, one can utilize these to essentially make kingdom-building, Sid Meier’s Civilization-edition. Indeed, a capable GM can just slot more tiers in between for a finer gradient between tiers and expand the concept further, allowing you to potentially tell stories of truly epic scope and breadth. If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ll note that this simple fact is something I value over almost anything else – beyond the mechanics of augmentations, the new items and AI-rules, it is the rules-framework to tell a *NEW* type of story that was previously not supported by a given system that ultimately makes me grin, makes me happy, makes me cherish a product.
And sometimes, I get lucky – first Alexander Augunas’ Microsized Adventures, now this book – and two whole new inspiring ideas take form: When combining the two, you could conceivably play characters shrunken to enter an organism and fight diseases with their nanite “subjects” while kingdom-building the immune system. Yes, I’m actually going to run this for my group.
What I’m trying to say here is: This book ranks among the few truly inspired crunch book that manage to be innovative. At the same time, I do have a criticism of this book and that ultimately boils down to scope: Whether it’s AIs, augmentations, tiers – I found myself ultimately wishing each of the cool components herein had seen more support and yes, I’d definitely would be very interested in a sequel – the ideas featured herein are so good, I actually would have loved to see them expanded beyond their page-count. Now for the amount of content provided, this is an inexpensive pdf and I wholeheartedly encourage you all to check this out – I don’t mention books of the superb quality of Microsized Adventures lightly in the context of other books.
At the same time, though, the (kind of) professional reviewer has to grit his teeth and point out that this pdf is not perfect; it does have flaws and I wished the glitches I noted weren’t there. If this were either more focused or longer or had no glitches, we’d have a definite candidate for my Top ten of 2015 here. It’s that good. Alas, there are some hiccups in presentation and some concepts that could imho have benefited from more space to render them clearer. So no, I can’t rate this the full 5 stars – I should probably round down. But know what? that would be a disservice to the book and ultimately, you, my readers. This book is inspiring and I always have and always will prefer innovation and inspiration over bland mechanical perfection – and here, this book delivers in spades. hence my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5, and yes, this book gets my seal of approval – it is simply too much fun, too inspired to be bogged down by the glitches, though the more nitpicky among you should remember that they’re here and probably rather round down.