Thursday, March 7, 2013

RPG review - The Ultimate Vehicle

The Ultimate Vehicle

Game Type:  Roleplaying Game
Author:  Bob Greenwade & Steve Long
Publisher:  DOJ dba Hero Games
Medium:  8.5” x 11” paperback, 230 pages
Price:  $24.99

The Ultimate Vehicle is Hero Games fourth printed publication in the Ultimate line-up, though it is the second for Hero 5th Edition.  The first foray was The Ultimate Martial Artist for Hero 4th Edition.  The second publication was The Ultimate Mentalist, again for Hero 4th Edition.  Third was The Ultimate Super-Mage, a pdf only sourcebook, and once again, written for Hero 4th Edition.  I loved the books for Hero 4th Edition, still actually having my copies on my bookshelf (even the copy of The Ultimate Super-Mage I printed on my home printer).  When Hero 5th Edition came out, I eagerly anticipated the return of the Ultimate books.  After the publication of The Ultimate Martial Artist for Hero 5th Edition, I was ecstatic.  The martial arts and combat system for Hero has always been one of my favorite bits, so the return of The Ultimate Martial Artist was a godsend.  When I heard the next book in the Ultimate line-up was going to be The Ultimate Vehicle (hereafter referred to as UV), I was baffled.  Why do a book on vehicles when so many areas could use it more?
After getting into UV, my understanding was broadened as to why.  The 4th Edition books focused more on the super-hero genre, largely due to the fact that the driving genre behind Hero 4th Edition was Champions, the superhero setting.  While Champions is still a large factor for Hero 5th Edition, the current approach to the game appears to be trying to reach a broader spectrum.  And this is one area where UV shines.
So what is The Ultimate Vehicle?  Is it a guide to building vehicles in Hero 5th Edition in any genre?  Yes, and more.  The Ultimate Vehicle gives you rules, guidelines, and concepts for building vehicles that range from bicycles to living spaceships, from jets to cars, from boats to Mechs.  In addition to the guidelines for construction, The Ultimate Vehicle also gives additional rules for dog-fighting and car chases.  While the book does include new rules, these rules are designed to fit in with the standard Hero 5Th Edition rules.  They integrate, rather than separate into a different rules set.
Chapter 1 is a 28 page discussion of general vehicle creation rules for Hero.  The discussion covers whether or not a vehicle is a vehicle or a character, what kinds of skills, characteristics, talents, powers, power advantages and power limitations.   The chapter discusses some disadvantages for vehicles as well.  Included is an expanded size table covers all the way up to monstrosity-sized vehicles.  All in all, this is a very crunchy chapter.
Chapters 2 through 6 cover different types of vehicles over a total of 76 pages.  Chapter 2 covers ground vehicles, 3 is water vehicles, 4 is air vehicles, 5 is space vehicles, and 6 is mechs.  Each chapter begins with a discussion of different types of locomotion used for the vehicles, along with factors of real world physics and other vehicle basics.  The discussion includes different components of the vehicles, such as engines & engine types, rudders, sails, wheels, and so forth.  Each chapter ends with a sampling of vehicles for that ground type.
Here is a brief idea of what kinds of vehicles are given in the samples for each chapter.  Chapter 2 gives write-ups for 16 vehicles, ranging from ancient chariots to modern-day sports cars to sci-fi cybertanks.  Chapter 3 gives write-ups for 10 watercraft, ranging from a rowboat to an aircraft carrier to a nuclear submarine.  Chapter 4 gives write-ups for 12 aircraft, ranging from a flying carpet to an Apache attack helicopter to a flying powered armor suit.  Chapter 5 gives write-ups for 8 space vehicles, ranging from a space yacht to a military space cruiser to a time machine.  Chapter 6 gives write-ups for 4 different mechs; a small sleek mech, to an animal mech, to a transforming mech, to a combining mech.
Chapter 7, in a fashion similar to the Until Powers Database, provides 52 pages of discussion on vehicle equipment along with pre-made equipment write-ups for vehicles.  The chapter begins with a general discussion on vehicle equipment.  The meat of the chapter is the equipment, which is broken down into sections and subsections, with each subsection giving a discussion of the particular type of item.  The major sections are weapons, defenses, movement systems, personnel systems, power systems, sensors/communications, and miscellaneous equipment.
To get an idea of what kind of equipment is provided, here are some samples of the subsections from the major sections of Chapter 7.  Weapons discusses beam weapons, anti-personnel weapons, bombs, cannons, electronic warfare, guns, incendiary weapons, mech weapons, rockets, torpedoes, and more.  Defenses discusses armor, disguise systems, electronic counter-measures, force fields, point defense systems, security systems (including a brig), smoke, stealth, protections for individual subsystems, and more.  Movement systems covers things such as autopilot systems, improved fuels, offroad suspensions, and more.  Personnel systems include life support, medical, gravity, teleporters (transporters anyone), and more.  Power systems discuss external power sources (such as carts being pulled by horses), using END reserves, and other real-world and sci-fi or fantasy power supplies.  Sensors/Communications discusses various sensor-related systems such as 360 degree sensors, bug sweepers (to detect homing devices), computers, radar, probes, global positioning systems, sonar, and more.  Items covered in miscellaneous equipment are things such as ejection seats, laboratories, signaling devices, elevators, and more.
Chapter 8, covering combat and other activities, is the second longest chapter in the book at 48 pages.  This chapter provides some new rules which integrate into the existing Hero 5th Edition rules.  There is much discussion given to showing how vehicles are handled in the existing rules, only adding new rules to provide additional nuances and flavor.  Essentially, combat treats the vehicles as characters, with the limitations that vehicles have.  An example of a new rule is the character damage table, a tool used to add a cinematic feel to a game, adding a risk of minimal injury to a character to help emulate the risks of being in a vehicle during combat.
There are quite a few pages in Chapter 8 dedicated to hit location and damage effect tables. Not every vehicle type gets a damage effect table, but they all get a hit location table.  Some types get more than one.  The hit location tables provided are for aircraft, cars, boats, buses, motorcycles, helicopters, mechs, naval ships, starships, submarines, and tanks.  Each of these has a different hit location table.  Damage effects on vehicle powers, such as movement rates and such, is also discussed.  Rules for chases are given as well.  While these are designed primarily for vehicle chases, they could also be used for non-vehicular chases.  One bit from the chase section that will make it into many other games I run are the random event, the random road generator table, and the random hazard/obstacle table.  Further discussion includes such things as non-mapped vehicular combat, stunts, and dog-fighting.
Chapter 9 is the shortest chapter weighing in at 8 pages. This chapter discusses creating characters based around vehicles, in regard to skills, talents, perquisites, and even buying a vehicle. While this chapter is only 8 pages, it is also the one which is most pertinent to the players of a Hero System game.
Hero Games continues the tradition they are setting in their new releases with a thorough Table of Contents and an extensive Index in the back.  Since the rebirth of Hero Games, they have truly been outdoing the rest of the industry with their reference sections.
Overall, the art is average.  This is, of course, extremely subjective.  What is not subjective is that the art throughout the book is pertinent to the discussion at hand.  While I am not a fan of some of the pieces, they do fit in with the section being discussed at hand.
Though I really like this book, there are a few small issues I have.  First is a clumsy cludging together of a concept and a word in the ground, air, and water craft sections.  The section titles are [type] Vehicle Everyvehicle Equipment.  While this is a play on the concept of Everyman skills, the phrasing of Air Vehicle Everyvehicle Equipment is awkward.  The second issue is the references to other sourcebooks.  For example, in Chapter 1, in the discussion of living vehicles, you are referred to a section in Star Hero or the Bestiary for rules on large characters.  This information was printed in two other books, so it would seem that reprinting it here would not be a problem.  Since I have both other books, this isn’t a problem for me, but it could be for others.  Again, these are small issues.
I really like this book, but feel it is more of a GM book than something players would use.  This is not intended as a negative statement against the book.  The book feels like it is geared more toward a heroic level game rather than a superheroic game.  In my experience, the equipment in heroic level games is normally built by the GM rather than players.   As such, if you are a player in a heroic level game, definitely check with your GM about whether you are allowed to scratch build the vehicles for your characters.  However, I feel it is a great tool for a GM if you plan to have much vehicular activity in your games.

Playability: **** (very easy to pull in and use in a game)
Game Mechanics: ***** (does not introduce new mechanics, but uses Hero mechanics well)
Character Creation & Advancement: *** (creation focuses on vehicles, but covers it well)
Presentation: **** (entertaining to read, well laid-out, excellent reference sections)

Originally written 6/26/2003

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