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Thread: The Algernon Files
Monday, 7th June, 2004, 05:00 AM #1
Lama (Lvl 13)
The Algernon Files is a M&M Superlink product. This is an NPC book that includes heroes and villains for the GM to incorporate into his own campaign. Itís both a good and bad thing to see a third party product with new characters to incorporate into your campaign but it does present its own problems.
In my Hero years, I loved their Enemy books. Each one built upon the previous one and other products that had come out in the meanwhile like adventures or area sourcebooks. A third party book like this canít do that. It has its own universe that bleeds through the background of the characters. For the most part, thatís not a problem but it does present certain challenges when trying to craft your campaign as a whole.
Another problem that stems for me from my Hero years is that I could see how the characters were created on a point-by-point basis. Due to the character sheets that Mutants & Masterminds use, I canít do that. How many points are paid for in stats? How many for attack and defense? How many for skills and feats? Only the powers have a point and thatís only a point by level basis. The game mechanic in me is disappointed by this because unless I playtest everything extensively, I donít know if these characters actually balance out by their points totals which I have to assume are minimum for their power level and not just below the next power level.
The book is broken up into four chapters and an appendix with several options for a campaign. The chapters are broken up into different sections. For example, the first chapter is broken up into different hero groups, each one with a different section, and a separate chapter for independent heroes.
The character write-ups for the most part are an interesting read. They include game stats, physical stats, quote, public knowledge DC checks, and type. For example, Technomancer is listed as ďUltimate CybergeekĒ with a power level of 11. The art for most of the characters is fair. Most of the illustrations give an indication of the characterís physical size as well but some like Stilstkin couldíve probably been larger. All of them do suffer from the standing in the void syndrome, as there is no background to any of the characters. Those with internet access should check out the companyís web site and view them in full color where you can get a better effect.
The bad thing is that the authors didnít take a few extra steps to increase the utility of the characters. For example, I know many Game Masters donít want any heroes in their book while others like to see how others construct different types of characters regardless of the type. To satisfy both audiences there should be a section under each character that provides some options for using said character as a villain. There should be some options for adventure seeds to further increase the utility of the characters. Last, there should be some combat tactics for these characters.
Most of the characters uses are fairly self-obvious to any GM reading it. Some have too many links to other characters requiring the GM to rework them. For example, the Crone. This wouldíve been a perfect opportunity to showcase how a creature from myth and legend, Baba Yaga, could fit into a modern game setting with supers. Instead she focuses her hatred and power on Troll, a super hero whose family labored under the curse that turned him into a super powered monster. Useful if this was a full fledged comic but as a game sourcebook, highly limited.
If youíre new to the game and are looking at how the character is made, thatís one thing. If youíre new to the GMís seat and donít know how to run a character and say forget that Mean Machine has Power Attack and Dodge, youíre not going to be using the character to his full potential, perhaps making his overall power level weaker than the indicated 15.
For example, Speed Demon is described as a flirt. How about an adventure seed where she falls for a bad boy and must be rescued by the players? How about an option where she grows tired of the press and its relentless portrayal of her and becomes rogue? Little things like that increase the utility of a book like this immensely.
In addition to the game write ups, most of the teams include maps of their homes. These maps are missing a scale so Iím assuming the scale is either one square equals ten feet or more likely, five feet. The maps are crisp and clean. The maps of the vehicles, such as the Kestrel and Destriers for the super group the Sentinels, are very well done.
This is not to say that the book isnít useful by any means. For example, if you need a brick with a little variety to it, Magog, an exiled alien warrior with some superstrength and natural weaponry is a good choice. If you want to add some heroes to your campaign to insure that the campaign survives while the heroes are off in space, then having individuals like Horus, Son of Ra, around, help insure that the campaign isnít derailed. Heck, they make good scapegoats to kill when you want to showcase how dangerous an enemy is. ďThey killed Sabbath? These demons must be powerful indeed!Ē
New options in the appendix include feats, powers, extras and options. This isnít a massive section, but rather one with a few options like Resounding Blow, a super feat that doubles the knock back distance you do. The one new power, Nauseate, causes a target to become ill. The extras include things like Mind Scan where you locate one mind among many while others like Teleportation have Insertion Attack, a two extra cost that lets you teleport small objects into your enemies body.
What would make this a better book? Hereís my advice for anyone wanting to make a M&M Superlink product of characters. One, keep Ďem separated. The only time heroes should be in a book is in a campaign book or if itís a book of allies. Two, keep them as campaign neutral as possible. Leave the GM numerous hooks to add his playerís characters to the brew. Three, when updating mythical figures, donít assume everyone knows about the character but elaborate on them. Four, provide alternative ideas and adventure seeds for the characters. Imagine that youíre running a futuristic campaign where technology is king. Do you want characters that have a mystical background? Most of these rules are followed to a tee in Green Roninís Crooks book and Five, include how to use the character and donít skimp on the tactics. Even if the character is a loner by nature, make sure to include what the character does when working with a group. Many villainous organizations are often nothing more than a group of mercenaries brought together for one quick take.
In terms of price, at 128 black and white pages in a sturdy hardcover, $24.95 isnít bad at all. Hopefully future books will feature less campaign setting and more advice on campaign integration. For those looking for more characters, both good and bad, The Algernon Files provides a width berth of power levels and options to select from.
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Monday, 7th June, 2004, 12:24 PM #2
The Algernon Files
The Algernon Files is a compilation of heroic and villainous NPCs designed to give a GM and his players additional resources for the Mutants & Masterminds game. It includes over 100 write-ups for NPCs of varying power levels, as well as maps, new rules, new powers, and new feats. It introduces the hero teams, The Sentinels, The Aerie, and The Covenant, as well as solo heroes. The book also introduces the villainous teams The Black Knights, The Prometheans, and The Sinister Circle, as well as heavy hitters such as Praetorian and The Serpent Queen, followed by other villains and potential sparring partners of different types, power models, and general effectiveness.
Saturday, 24th July, 2004, 05:00 AM #3
Scout (Lvl 6)
The Algernon Files
The Algernon Files is a sourcebook of super-powered heroes and villains by BlackWyrm games, utilizing the M&M Superlink license and the Mutants & Mastermind system. The book is written by Aaron Sullivan, Dave Mattingly, Leigh Brandon, and Ryan Wolf.
A First Look
The Algernon Files is a 128 page hardcover book priced at $24.95.
The front cover of the book depicts an island sanctuary of one of the groups detailed within, in a crosshairs/heads up-style display. The back details an orb shaped vehicle. The cover art is by Eric Rademaker and Ryan Wolfe.
The interior is black and white, featuring art by Derrick Thomas, Brad Parnell, and Eric Rademaker with colors and maps by Ryan Wolfe. The artwork is black and white and of generally high quality. Most of the character illustrations are simple poses with the character only, though there are also group and location pictures. The maps are all have grids, but have minimal interior details.
A Deeper Look
The Algernon Files is, essentially, the heroes and villains of a homebrew supers world. The supers have a golden age flavor, with strong thematic links, not unlike the way the Champions Universe characters were designed.
After a short introductory section, the books major content is split into two major chapters, Allies (heroes) and Enemies (villains). Each of these chapters are further subdivided into groups, plus a section devoted to independents of each type.
The heroes and villains use a consistent and easy-to-use format. Along the side closes to the spine are blocks with Mutants & Maserminds game rules. A block along the outside of the page includes "softer" details like physical characteristics (height, weight, etc.), DCs are results for knowledge checks, and a quote from the character. The middle section contains a description and background of the character. In most cases, each character takes up a single page, though some more detailed characters have more, and supporting characters have less.
Many of the groups have headquarters and vehicles for them, complete with brief descriptions and maps.
The book features 4 hero groups and 4 villain groups. Only one of the hero groups has PLs close enough that they could be used as a PC group unless the GM is unconcerned about the divergence of Pls. This means they are mostly relegated to use as NPCs, which means they will often be just supporting characters. That being the case, despite a generally strong selection of characters, this chapter may be a little underused unless you relish running a lot of "fellow heroes" in your games. In my experience, such instances are usually cameos. But it may spare you the sort of curiosity you feel in other settings when they talk about unstatted "off screen" heroes.
Hero groups kick off with The Sentinels, a group with heritage dating back to the WWII era, led by a physically enhanced super scientist Doc Steel and served by the titular Algernon, a supercomputer with an hologramic "butler" presence that does not look unlike Jarvis of the Avengers.
Other superhero groups include the avian-themed Aerie, the (US) patriotically-themed Arsenal, and the secret brotherhood style Covenant. Independants include the Egyptian god Horus, much in the same style as god-turned-superhero Thor.
The first villain group isn't a group at all. The Heavy Hitters section describes a few of the high-end villains of the setting. Praetorian is a Roman-themed time travelling conqueror with robotic lackeys. Sepulchre is a former member of the covenant, a disenchanted former hero with sorcerous abilities and artifacts, including Typhon's Teeth, magical armor that gives him bone-tentacles that make for a certain creepy Doc Oc or Spawn-like look. And the Serpent Queen is a foe of Horus, a divine avatar with a snakelike kaiju form. Other villain groups include the high priced mercenaries and mutual protection society The Black Knights; the female rock-band themed Hell's Belles (okay, award a bonus point for a cute play on words); the Promethians, a group composed of the genetic scientist Dr. Prometheus and some of his creations; and media-titled Sinister Circle. Finally, the book provides a good ration of independent villains.
Finally, a brief appendix details new feats (such as mastermind, which increases a villains headquarters or vehicle PL allowence), powers (nauseate), extras (for dimension travel, telekinesis, telepathy, and teleprtation), and a rule to incread the frequency of knockbacks.
The Algernon Files is a nicely illustrated and conceived set of characters. The characters are general enough that they can be added easily to most settings, such as Green Ronin's Meta-4 or Freedom City settings. Mechanically, the book is fairly solid. A few values don't add up right and a few treatments don't look right at first glance, but most of these instances are easily corrected or explained by errata.
I was not as enamored with this book as I was Green Ronin's NPC sourcebook Crooks!. Though certainly useful, they don't have the same level of hook-laden writeups that invite you to use them as Crooks! villains do.
Overall Grade: B+
-Alan D. Kohler
Friday, 3rd December, 2004, 05:00 AM #4
Wow. If this reviewer spent more time talking about the product and less time about the state of the Superlink, the superhero genre, or his dislike of American patriotism....this review might have been useful.
Friday, 3rd December, 2004, 05:00 AM #5
Novice (Lvl 1)
Depends what you want from a review. Plenty of other people will give you an extended tour of the Contents. That's one good way to write a review. I'd rather know how the reviewer felt about the supplement, what thoughts and ideas it put into his head, whether it seemed to match the flavour of the RPG, whether he felt the line was dying, dead, growing or well supported. That's why that's the style of review I prefer writing.
I knew comments about American patriotism would be controversial. It's valid issue "over here" though. When someone says they're running a heroes game they're likely to be asked "Where is it set?" within minutes. If you want to run an European hero game and a supplement can't help you with that then it needs noting.
Each to their own. The day I write a review which is useful for every reader will be the day we all become clones.
Friday, 3rd December, 2004, 05:00 AM #6
Scout (Lvl 6)
"A big question is; "Why would you buy it?" Gosh. I'd buy The Algernon Files to get a host of interesting heroes and villains numbered, drawn and written up for me."
This may be a slight difference is scoring philosophies, and I'll admit I don't think scores are too elucidative. But at one time, someone commented that I "liked dungeon crawls better than the other reviewers do."
Which is funny, because I find them at odds with my gaming style and rarely use them.
But if I am going to review a dungeon crawl, I am really past the point of wondering why I would buy it. I assume that a prosepective reader is after a dungeon crawl, and I consider how that book would fare as a dungeon crawl.
I *personally* don't think it's a scorable point to consider why you would want a character point. I would rather consider how it fares AS A CHARACTER BOOK.
Friday, 3rd December, 2004, 05:00 AM #7
Novice (Lvl 1)
Yeah, that's a pretty good point Psion. As a core rule I go by the 'rule' of; "What is this product trying to do? How well does it do it".
Perhaps I let that slide a little here but I'm not sure. I think the "why would you want this?" question has to be there to some degree otherwise you'd end up giving 10/10 to "The d20 guide to glass blowing and botany" which gave you 400 well written pages of leaf trimming feats and pipe skills for a mere $25. I probably shouldn't have concluded on the point as it does seem as if I gave the consideration more weight than I ment.
Friday, 3rd December, 2004, 05:00 AM #8
If you had said that it was less useful to europeans because its not european-based, well who would argue with that? Saying that American patriotism causes a vomit factor isn't doing anyone any good. Was the whole book about American-related characters, or just one group out of many? You say that its important to know whether the book can help for european games, but then say nothing about the "multi-cultural and foreign" characters in the book. But you had plenty of space, apparently, to bad mouth the american-based characters.
Shouldn't politics be as taboo in reviews as it is in the forums?
Thats only a part of of the problem i have with your review, though. More than have of the review has nothing to do with the actual book or its contents. Like you say, to each his own style.
Friday, 3rd December, 2004, 05:00 AM #9
Novice (Lvl 1)
It's virtually impossible (and probably unwise) to take a pre-packed collection of NPCs and plot ideas and import them straight into your game. We're reminded of this in The Algernon Files. BlackWyrm Games joke with us, they promise not to send the gaming police around if we do tinker with this supplement. They don't have time. They're too busy. Hmm. The thing is... I hope they are. It would be a shame for BlackWyrm Games caught our attention with a 128-paged, hardbound, well illustrated and carefully planned product. I don't think we've really seen them blip the radar much after The Algernon Files.
Algernon is a virtual butler, an advanced artificial intelligence, an aid and member of the Sentinels and would-be tour guide for the book. The Algernon Files is a superlink product for Mutants and Masterminds.
First off, I think superlink is working well. Green Ronin allow other third party publishers produce supplements for their excellent superhero d20 game. Mutants and Masterminds is d20 but isn't D&D. It's very different. Superlink seems to be chugging along nicely because it's attracting the right quality of publishers, good ideas and Green Ronin are managing well (at least as far as we, the punters, are concerned).
I think we're a bit spoiled now; especially with the wonder which is Mutants and Masterminds. I saw the hardback book and just assumed it was full colour product. It's not. I shouldn't be disappointed but I am. That said the illustrations we do have are good. More importantly for a superhero product we have all the illustrations we need.
The fantasy RPG equivalent would be a world supplement plus bestiary. The Algernon Files portrays a collection of heroes, villains and mercenaries. The majority of the super powered NPCs in the book belong to organisations. Think Justice League. Think X-Men. This works quite well because it offers bundles of NPCs at roughly the same power level and this makes it easier for the GM to find suitable matches (as enemies or allies) for their party of characters. Chapter Nine, though, lists about a dozen "independents".
Just how much detail do we get? In hero games I really do think the devil in the detail and in The Algernon Files I think we do pretty well; for some of the heroes we've two whole pages of facts and figures and for most we have one page. It's an easy info grab; the character sheet blocks are clear but not obtrusive, the column of stats and in a nice touch there's a sample character sheet on page four with a legend. You know just what everything is. Perfect. There's a bit of a twist in the tail here. Mutants and Masterminds is a wonderfully straight forward game. The mechanics aren't tricky. The character sheets don't take that much effort. We don't save ourselves all that much time by having someone else do the stats.
I guess the more important details - and certainly the most interesting details - are the super NPC backgrounds. Why is it that so many fantasy (or even sci-fi) NPC backgrounds from published books are so dire? The Ranger NPC has his village attacked by orc raiders, when he was a kid and his parents killed. Yawn. Clichť! If a hero gains his powers in a freak lab accident then that's a classic and accepted hero origin story. Different genre, different rules, I guess. I don't suppose it matters, the fact is that when the very first hero in the book uses the lab accident with a twist I don't even miss a step. The backgrounds and stories in The Algernon Files are fairly compelling. The heroes they create are interesting. The relationships between groups are there. Heroes quit one group to join another. People die. Heroes become mercenaries. Master villains are responsible for the creation of other super villains and heroes.
It's an important point; I think you really feel as if you know the heroes and villains after reading The Algernon Files and know them well enough to portray them as convincing NPCs. That's one key success for the book.
On a similar note the hero groups are believable too. The Aerie have that bird theme going on. The Black Knights really are scary. The biggest "risk" are the Hell's Belles; a sort of gothic-punk Jose and the Pussycats. This could have gone badly wrong and perhaps for some people it just doesn't work but after some initial reluctance I was won over. Sure, let's have a sexy and chaotic band with a couldn't careless attitude and super powers.
A common problem in hero comics and therefore hero RPGs is the vomit factor. Never heard of the vomit factor? It only bothers some of the world. There's only so much American flag waving you can take without getting queasy (if you're not American, that is, probably). Unfortunately The Arsenal is packed with this; from Anthem to American Dream and then to Miss Liberty. Miss Liberty is especially annoying, a growth-mutant "Statue of Liberty" shtick. She should be French but in this she's Puerto Rican. American flag waving isn't uncommon in comics, after all, most comics are American and as the cultural tide ebbs and flows we see a rise or fall in this style of heroes. All the characters in The Arsenal can be converted. It's just a shame that the hero US Steel doesn't have a magic shield called "Subsidies". Oh no! a political joke in a RPG review! Boo! Hiss! There are multi-cultural and "foreign" heroes and villains in the book. There are aliens in the supplement too!
There are a few pages of appendices in here too. New feats? Of course! This may be a superlink book but there's still that d20 heritage to respect. I especially like the Improved Teamwork Feat. It's handy when mechanics naturally encourage group play. There's the Nauseate power and some extras on Dimension Travel, Telekinesis, Telepathy and Teleportation.
I like The Algernon Files. It's a fun read. The heroes and villains are entertaining. The main con with the book is quite serious. A big question is; "Why would you buy it?" Gosh. I'd buy The Algernon Files to get a host of interesting heroes and villains numbered, drawn and written up for me. Hmm. The problem here is that creating the heroes and villains to use in a Mutants and Masterminds is one of highlights of being the GM. It's fun to create the NPCs. I don't want to have that taken a way from me. This reduces The Algernon Files to being an "oh crap, I need a hero now" resource and that doesn't seem fair. It's also only right to point out that supplements like The Algernon Files, books of heroes and villains, are staple in the hero market and so more regular hero gamers than myself may well be more comfortable in using the resource.
* This The Algernon Files review was first published on GameWyrd.
Saturday, 4th December, 2004, 05:00 AM #10
Hydra (Lvl 25)
OK, folks! Let's try and keep politics out of this, shall we?
I can see both points of view. The comments in question amount to only one paragraph of the review, and they have been commented on adequately. We'll not turn EN World into a venue for political discussion; the original comment was made, it has been pointed out and responded to. There's no need to go any further with it.
Feel free to discuss any other aspects of the review as usual, however.