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Brave New World
Average Rating:4.3 / 5
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Brave New World
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Brave New World
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/07/2016 18:35:45

Because of its recent inclusion in a Bundle of Holding, it seems an apropos time to talk about Brave New World, perhaps the first RPG ever to be unfairly scuttled by the Internet.

BNW eschewed the "everything and the kitchen sink" approach of prior superhero RPGs, most of which were aping the bizarre, unplanned conglomerations called the Marvel and DC universes. Just thinking through how the Marvel and DC universes happened (mergers! soft reboots! hard reboots! office coups! lawsuits!) should have been a huge warning sign to RPGs that maybe this was not the needle we wanted to try to thread. But okay, we wanted to know whether Superman or the Hulk was the strongest, and hadn't noticed that the answer to that question depended on the dramatic needs of the comic book creators instead of a beep boop computer analysis of how many pascals are exerted by a Hulk punch. The result was Champions and its successors, which I regard with the kind of reverence reserved only for the accomplishments of mad geniuses.

But even the independent superhero RPGs, for the most part, didn't pursue an independent setting capable of standing on their own two feet. Instead, they leaned on existing comics and tried to pursue their aesthetics instead of their own. The exceptions started to hit at the end of the late 90s. In 1999 we got two big ones: Aberrant, White Wolf's deconstruction of superheroes, starring superpowered wrestlers, religious figures, and superspies, all with lovingly detailed haircuts and sunglasses, and Brave New World. I'll defend White Wolf stuff all day and all night but in this matchup, Brave New World wins walking away.

The premise of Brave New World, as implied by its literary-reference name, is that America (and much of the rest of the world) exists in an alternate 1999 as a totalitarian police state. A great deal of effort is put into grounding this in reality; how do people live in such circumstances? How do they accommodate themselves mentally to it? How do people come to support a police state in large or small ways? And how do they resist, in large or small ways? The need for the police state, naturally, is the emergence of superpowered beings, extremely powerful in the WW2 generation, and somewhat less so by 1999. Some of these beings are more or less leashed thugs working for the government; others are rebels trying to expose the truth and tear it down. Propaganda urges non-powered people to hate and fear powered people, and they do. The X-Men rarely gave us this kind of detail even when they remembered that humans hated mutants (which they often forgot).

There were two elements of the game that the Internet (at the time, primarily Usenet), responded to negatively. Bizarrely, they identified two of the best elements of the game as deal-breaking flaws.

First, in Brave New World, you can't just be any sort of superhero you want. Character - both player characters and non-player characters - powers fit into established categories. The super-strong person, the super-fast person, the psychic, and so on. This has numerous advantages: it makes character creation faster and easier, it makes tactical decisionmaking in fights faster and more reliable ("that guy's super strong, therefore I don't have to worry that he's going to take over my mind") and it encourages players to come up with new cool ways to use an established power versus ceding the field to someone who happened to toss a few points into the right ability, or feeling that because they didn't, they can't. The fact that the system smoothly utilizes power stunts within the options for using these limited powers multiplies this advantage - you can see how to make a power stunt and what they should be like.

The Internet absolutely freaked about this. After so many years of being told "you can do whateeeeever you waaaaant" without noticing that this produced a ton of shitty, boring character building before you got good at it, and impeded quickly getting into play, the idea that you couldn't be Dr. Strange with Weirdly Undefined Abilities was just beyond their comprehension. "Incomplete" was a word thrown around. Ugh.

The second thing that BNW did well that the Internet freaked about was not say anything about the "origins" of the superpowers that spread across the world. There was some implication they would be handled in later supplements. but of course by 1999 we had all forgotten what the word "supplement" meant and assumed that if something was bad in a supplement that it would be bad in all games around the world forever. In practice, BNW's decision to withhold this information worked because everyone assumed the evil government had it in a computer somewhere, or that they were undertaking evil experiments to GET it in a computer that had to be stopped. It became actionable primarily in response to villainous undertakings, which of course, is what superheroism actually is.

It seems like when we talk about our RPGs, we often measure them by what we already think a RPG should be, instead of what the RPG actually is. We take our prior experience as the center of RPG play and regard games that don't support that experience as deviations from the norm. Perhaps the better way to handle ourselves is to try to take each RPG from zero. Brave New World can't "do" the X-Men - christ, about 73 percent of the time, Marvel Comics can't. But that's not what Brave New World is. It's not a comic book, nor a simulator of a comic book world - it's a superhero RPG, and a damn good one.

All in all, Brave New World was a tremendous experience. The high stakes of being a superpowered rebel and trying to keep your identity secret created a heightened environment for throwing a car at a guy shooting lasers. It is one of my all time favorite superhero RPGs and I'm psyched that the Bundle of Holding might bring it to a new audience. I definitely encourage picking it up!

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Brave New World
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/23/2014 08:23:20

The book opens with a comic strip showing a young girl, newly into 'delta' powers, fleeing pursuit and being rescued, a process that rapidly descends into a brawl in which she's by no means sure who is on her side - aptly setting the scene for a game which melds alternate history and comic book superheroics into a fascinating if grim reality in which America is no longer the 'Land of the Free'... at least, not if you have superpowers.

Still in character, this moves on to facsimile web pages of an underground site called DeltaTimes, a place for those superpowered individuals who do not wish to cooperate with a fascist state to hang out. Taking the premise that the readers are newly come into their superpowers and are trying to figure everything out, the articles here give a lowdown (accurate as far as the game goes, if anarchistic in approach) about what it means to be a 'delta' or superpowered individual in this setting. So an excellent and immersive introduction to an alternate history that begins with the first delta arising on the battlefields of the First World War, superheroes flourishing during the interwar years, World War 2 being quite different with superhero involvement from the get-go, McCarthy chasing deltas as avidly as he did Communists, and finally a new twist on the 1963 Kennedy assassination where JFK survived but his wife did not, leading to repressive laws requiring deltas to register and cooperate with government... and worse, as subsequently Kennedy declared martial rule and continued to govern as a dictator to the present day.

Chapter 1: What You Need to Know cracks the fourth wall with the usual information about what a role-playing game is and how you play one. It's written in a casual style that explains the basics without sounding patronising. It also covers the roles of playing and Guide (the Game Master ) and says that only d6s are used... but a whole bunch of them.

Next comes Chapter 2: What It Takes to be a Hero. This deals with character creation, and takes you through the process in a logical manner, highlighting the need to know who your character is and what makes him tick as he is more than numbers on a page... but those numbers are important so it explains what they all are by reference to the character sheet. Characters are described in game mechanical terms by traits, skills, quirks and powers. Traits are the basic statistics of smarts, speed, spirit and strength. Human average in these is 2, but as you can imagine deltas often exceed that... the number assigned is the number of dice you roll when using that trait. Each trait has a number of skills - things you've actually learned or been trained in - associated with them. Quirks are the little things that bring a character to life, and powers are - as you might imagine - whatever superpowers your character has. OK, all that explained we then get down to the fine detail of how you actually make a character. Two options are presented: use an archetype or build one from scratch. If you are new to the game or in a rush, using an archetype gets you started with a minimum of fuss as all the number-crunching and selections have been done for you. Building one from scratch lets you have a delta that's really yours, even if it takes longer.

If you are building your own character, you start by distributing Trait Points as you please between the four traits. You have 12 to play with, enough to have an above-average 3 in each... or you may wish to boost one or more at the expense of the others. For every point assigned to a trait, you have 3 points to spend on skills associated with that trait. Quirks can be positive or negative: a positive one costs you points you might have spent on skills whilst a negative one gives you extra points... or you may prefer to balance out positive and negative quirks instead. There's a limit of 10 points-worth of negative quirks for playability reasons, but you can have as many positive ones as you are prepared to pay for! Next you pick superpowers which are organised in bundles called packages to give some coherence, rather than just selecting a random assortment of cool powers that do not really fit together. This all explained, there's a two-page quick reference guide to the process. A blank character sheet and a selection of archetypes are followed by several chapters that present skills, quirks, powers and tricks - signature knacks your character has - in great detail.

Next, Chapter 3: The Basic Mechanic, lays out in detail the core game mechanics. Task resolution is based around a single roll, the number of dice used being based on character capabilities, against a target number set by the Guide or an opponent as applicable. The target number gets higher the harder the task is deemed to be to accomplish. It's all quite straightforward, although it places a lot of responsibility on the Guide to set realistic yet achievable targets in order to present sufficient challenge yet keep the story rolling.

The next chapter goes into considerable detail about the skills available, including how to use them and likely target numbers for common uses of each skill. This is followed by a chapter on quirks and how to use them to present a well-rounded character - there's plenty of material here to empower good role-play, although contributions to game mechanics are also signposted clearly.

Then Chapter 6: The Big Throwdown takes a look at combat within the game. It's interesting that this comes before superpowers, but this section looks at the mechanics of brawling - initiatives, combat rounds, actions and so on - rather than every last thing that you might do during a fight, so if you pick a power package that has elements which are useful for brawling (or even designed for doing harm) you will be able to see how and when you will be able to use them within the context of the combat mechanics. Other ways to get hurt and healing are also covered here.

This is followed by Chapter 7: Tricks of the Trade, which explores a wide array of tricks - special things that you can do if you get a LOT of successes on your roll, well in excess of the target number you were aiming at. Here's the opportunity to be spectacular and cinematic. Characters start out knowing three tricks, and can acquire more later on in the game. Most tricks are related to a particular skill, so can only be used when you have that skill and are doing something which utilises it, but there are others which are more general in application as well as ones which, although associated with a particular skill, can be taken and used even if you have not been trained in that skill.

And now at last we get to the really important bit - Chapter 8: What Makes a Delta a Delta. Here superpowers are discussed, and you get to find out what power packages are available. Up til now, everything can be applied equally to a regular human being as to a superpowered one, which is good on two points. Firstly, it shows that deltas are no different from anyone else except as regards their powers, and secondly it ensures that all characters are well-rounded PEOPLE, not a set of powers with a mere glimmering of personality tacked on! It also makes it easy, if you wanted to, to play a regular human - perhaps one which might develop powers later in the game or who works with deltas helping to keep them safe from malign forces in government or elsewhere. There are notes on how to develop your own power packages and the promise that there will be more available in supplements, but the main thrust here is a detailed analysis of the options available.

We're almost ready to go, but Chapter 9: Things Every Hero Needs ensures that characters have all the equipment and other possessions that they need. Costs are based on real-world prices for everything that actually exists, which makes it easy if your character wants something not listed here.

The final part of the player section is Chapter 10: Liberty or Death. This is concerned with the setting and how it relates to characters who are deltas. Scene set, we move on to GM territory, taking the view that people will only ever play or GM this game. Obviously you can only do one at a time, but in many groups people take turns to run the next game so it is difficult to be hard and fast about GM knowledge. This section, however, covers how to organise and run your game rather than revealing any dark secrets, although the next two chapters do reveal things that characters would not know (at least, not when they start out...). The main secret's a biggie... but you'll have to find it out for yourself! There's also some bad guys and other NPCs to round things off.

Overall, it's a fascinating premise repleat with potential, setting and mechanics rolled up into a tidy package that is well suited to those who would like a superhero game with a difference, a core purpose beyond beating up on any passing supervillain.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Brave New World
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Antonio M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 08:18:29

Overall, I'd have to say this is a pretty well made game. The system isn't the greatest I've seen and definitely not the most "statistically accurate" if you can call a system that. Basically, it's a pretty simple system resulting in a simple game. The reason this game stands a head above a lot of other games is simply because of the setting. This game is worth the money just for the first about 50 - 100 pages where it describes the setting, characters, and how everything happened. Also the last few pages deal with what is not revealed in the beginning, the secrets and is only for the GM to read. What makes this game great since the system is so simple, you could actual integrate your favorite system into this pretty flawlessly. All you'd have to do really is change a few feats around and the stats and your good to go. All in all, this game is worth the money just because the setting alone. It's a simple system which is fun, but also allows for an easy integration of another system with one of the best settings I've ever read.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Brave New World
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Michael T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/15/2011 09:02:03

Quick, what superhero setting features JFK, nascent superheroes just discovering their powers, and the mutant struggle for equality juxtaposed over American civil rights? No, not X-Men: First Class…Brave New World! No, not the novel by Aldous Huxley…the role-playing game by Matt Forbeck!

Brave New World features a superhero-infested America gone mad. When an evil mutant organization fails to assassinate John F. Kennedy, he transforms the United States into a fascist dictatorship under military rule where every mutant must be registered. If this sounds familiar, it's because the X-Men comics featured mutant oppression in 1984 when Senator Kelly passed the Mutant Registration Act. Brave New World takes this conflict between the superpowered and the government to its logical conclusion – the act grows in scope until it comes to define world policy: mutants change the outcome of wars, destroy entire cities, and usher in a new age with Kennedy extending his term as president indefinitely. It takes over 20 pages to outline this background, which is summarized just as effectively on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brave_New_World_%28role-playing_game%29#Alternate_history

Brave New World is the last gasp of old school design, complete with "how to role-play," random full color plates, and long dramatic fiction introducing the setting. Throughout, what would normally be color glossy pictures are converted here in black-and-white for economic printing purposes. Sans color, much of the artwork is considerably less impressive.

In Brave New World superheroes are "Deltas" either for or against this new world order, a tool of the Man or a desperate fugitive using their powers for justice. Complicating matters is the disappearance of the ultra-powerful superheroes known as Alphas. In this world, nobody is multi-classed or high-level.

And that's the problem. Brave New World is obsessed with creating a superhero genre that's sharply defined by its world, which by its very nature means the heroes can't be so powerful that they can trounce government agents. Players can choose only from 10 archetypes: bargainer, blaster, bouncer, flyer, gadgeteer, goliath, gunner, healer, scrapper, and speedster. They can be slightly customized, but their powers, skills, and attributes are predefined. This is a role-playing game where "role" is something of a straitjacket.

The narrow focus applies to the game master too. Forbeck is uninterested in providing much of a toolkit for game mastering the campaign. Throughout the book, any information that would further the campaign (Where are the alphas? How does one become an alpha? What's up with JFK?) are deferred to other supplements. In essence, if you want to know more you have to pay up for future supplements…and since Brave New World came out in 1999 we now know that some of the books were never published. In short, even if you were to buy into what amounts to over a hundred dollars in books, you still wouldn't have the complete setting.

Brave New World does one thing very well: low-level class-based underdog superheroes battling against the government and each other. In that regard it has much in common with the Basic Dungeons & Dragons set. The superhero role-playing game in particular has been changed forever by Champions; players expect to be able to create whatever character they want. That's more a comment on the evolution of game design than Brave New World. It might surprise modern players expecting a more flexible system, but for gamers who want to recapture the feel of X-Men: First Class, Brave New World might be just what they're looking for.

[3 of 5 Stars!]
Brave New World
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Devon K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2011 16:36:01

I purchased the hardcover print edition of this book. In regards to the printing, the pages seemed a little thin for my liking, but the cover was very nice and the book was very well bound. I have no complaints there.

As far as the game goes, the setting is phenomenal! It stimulates my imagination as I read through the book and myriads of stories and scenes pop into my head, just waiting to be seen in a game! If only for the setting, alone, this book is way worth getting.

The system leaves much to be desired. It appears to be a version of Savage Worlds, but without the good things I love about SW. The character generation options are confusing and the rules are a bit more complex that I feel they need to be. The char gen options are also rather limited. I'm sure there are people who will love the system, but I'm not one of them.

All in all, this book is worth it! If you want to play in a world of dark heroes, where the criminals are the good-guys and the superheroes are on the run, this is the game for you!

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Brave New World
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Paul S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/04/2011 16:59:21

Brave New World is a simple, elegant system. The d6 dice pool mechanic works well and drives the combat forward quickly so players can get back to the really juicy stuff...the narrative. Brave New World's setting is an ever expanding collection of mysteries and moral ambiguities that are just plain fun to read, let alone play. Matt Forbeck's style is more like an entertaining history read rather than plowing through a straight rulebook. Makes getting through the rules that much easier as you really want to get to the revealed mysteries in the back of each book. Great stuff.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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