Sunday, July 5, 2020


After an unintended hiatus due to computer issues, your humble host is back.  Before we were so rudely interrupted, we were discussing the two 'tabloid journalism' role-playing games from the early 90s.  TSR's contribution to the genre – the aptly named Tabloid! – was the last Universe Book for the AMAZING ENGINE® system.  Therefore, we must understand the AMAZING ENGINE in order to understand Tabloid!  According to the System Guide :
          ...the AMAZING ENGINE system consists of two parts.  The first part is this book, the System Guide.  Here one finds the basic rules for creating player characters and having those characters use skills, fight, and move.  These rules and procedures are found in all AMAZING ENGINE settings...
          The second part of the AMAZING ENGINE system are the different settings to play in.  Each setting is called a universe and is described in its own book, naturally called Universe Books.  Each Universe Book is a complete role-playing game and only requires the System Guide to play.  It is not necessary to buy every Universe Book in order to play in the AMAZING ENGINE system...
Obviously, a Universe Book cannot be a “complete” role-playing game if it requires something else in order to play.  The System Guide – credited to David “Zeb” Cook – provided the essential mechanics of a role-playing system but required a Universe Book to flesh out the rules for any given setting.  Eventually, such as in the case of Tabloid!, the System Guide material was included in the Universe Books.  While the System Guide as a distinct product was 32 pages, in Tabloid! the material takes up 16 pages.  This is can be attributed to a small font and a lack of illustrations.

In the AMAZING ENGINE system, player characters are primarily defined by four ability pools of two attributes each.
  • Physique:  Fitness (“bodily strength”) and Reflexes (“reaction speed and hand-eye coordination”)
  • Intellect:  Learning (“knowledge in areas requiring long training and study”) and Intuition (“ability to remember random trivia, innate wit, street smarts, comprehension, and worldliness”)
  • Spirit:  Psyche (“potential to perceive and manipulate the spiritual and metaphysical world”) and Willpower (“mental fortitude”)
  • Influence:  Charm (“rates the characters' personalities and the way others are disposed toward them”) and Position (“a rough rank for characters on the ladder of social advancement”)
When a player first generates a character he or she assigns a rank to each ability pool; Rank 1 being the most favored pool and Rank 4 being the least favored.  The player then selects four attributes to receive 4d10 each; the remaining four attributes receive 3d10 each.  For each attribute, the player rolls the set number of dice and records the total.  The player the allocates fifteen points between the two Rank 1 attributes, ten between the Rank 2 attributes, and five between the Rank 3 attributes.  The result is the basis of not only the player character, but also the “player core” (infrequently referred to as “character core”).

The concept of the player core is the AMAZING ENGINE's claim to fame (such as it is).  A player can use the player core as the basis of subsequent player characters in other AMAZING ENGINE campaigns, or even the same campaign universe with the Gamemaster's approval and “only if the previous character is dead or permanently retired.”  Experience earned by one character can be transferred to a new character based on the same player core.  Specifically, when a character earns experience, the player “must immediately assign the xps to either [the] current player character (the one who earned the xps) or to the player core from which that character was created.”

Aside from experience, a player core consists of the original Rank scheme and, for each ability pool, a dice rating.  To determine the dice rating for an ability pool, add the values of the constituent attributes, divide by ten, and round up.  This is the number of dice that the player can allocate among the two attributes when generating a new character.  For example, a first – or “prime” – character with a Learning of 23 and an Intuition of 28, would mean the player core would have an Intellect dice pool of six.  ( [23 + 28] / 10 = 5.1)  New characters based on a player core receive seven “free” dice to allocate among the eight attributes.

The maximum ability value for a beginning character is 50, even after allocation points from the ability pool's Rank.  As such, no more than five dice can be assigned to a given attribute and an ability's dice pool cannot exceed ten.  Different settings may allow for a base adjustment for ability pools or specific attribute.  Such adjustments can cause an attribute's starting value to increase beyond 50.  In Tabloid!, “All player characters...add +30 to their attribute scores.”

To determine if an action (such as skill use) is successful, percentile dice are rolled.  A result equal to or less than the applicable attribute value indicates success.  Depending upon circumstances, an attribute's value may be modified, making success more or less likely.  “A skill check always fails on a roll of 95–00,” we read, “but there is no corresponding chance for automatic success.”

The AMAZING ENGINE system also incorporates the notion of margin ratings.  There are success margin ratings (“noted as S#: S2, S5, etc.”) and failure margin ratings (“noted as F #: F8, F7, etc.”).  If a skill roll is successful and the one's digit of the percentile result is less than or equal to the success margin rating, the result is a critical success.  Similarly, if a roll is failed, and the one's digit equals or exceeds the failure margin, the result is a critical failure.

For player characters (as opposed to player cores), experience can be used to permanently increase a player character's attribute value.  The experience points necessary to increase an attribute value by one point varies from setting to setting.  Regardless, no attribute can be increased beyond a value of 90.  Experience points can be used to purchase new skills for a character, also at a rate depending upon setting.  Finally, experience can be used to 'tax' an attribute, a temporary increase for the purpose of a single roll in a dire situation.  In multiples of five, a player may increase the value of an attribute to a maximum of half of the attribute's normal value.  The decision to tax, and the number of experience points to expend, must be determined before the roll is made.

Karen S. Boomgarden, credited with AMAZING ENGINE “Project Management, System Guide development and editing,” contributed an article to Dragon #195 (July 1993), “The little engine that could: the AMAZING ENGINE™ story.”  Most of the article is about For Faerie, Queen, & Country, the first AMAZING ENGINE Universe Book; however, it begins thus:
          When the members of my product group first suggested the concept of the AMAZING ENGINE™ system, I was skeptical.  A stand-alone rules set, usable with any kind of fantasy or science-fiction setting we could dream up?  Complete basic rules in only 32 pages?  Whole game settings (with attendant rules modifications and specifics) in only 128 pages?  Sure.  Right.  Oh, and one more thing:  The players earn the experience points, not the characters, and they can take those experience points along to other game settings within the system.
          It'll never work, I thought.
It turns out that her initial assumption was correct.  TSR supported the AMAZING ENGINE product line for about a year before giving up on it.  The world wasn't ready for such a concept and I guess it still isn't.  Nonetheless, the System Guide and the various Universe Book are available at Drive Thru RPG.

No comments:

Post a Comment