The Psychotronic game of post-apocalyptic trash culture America.
Bad news everybody, the end of the world came. But the end of the world didn't mean the end of people, it more just meant things got a bit out of hand. Hop in your talking smart car with your luchador buddy and roam the remains of the US. Visit the glistening lights of Shangri-LA or Lost Vegas. Fight desert tribes and discover the submerged remains of the World's Biggest Ball of Yarn in the Big Empty. Win drag races, get lost in bat country, fight giant monsters on monster island and have thrilling one night stands with the werewolf women of the SS. Whatever happens, you're in for one hell of a wild ride.
OctaNe is a love letter to Psychotronic media. What is psychotronic, you might ask? Fortunately the book itself does a good job of explaining and so does this wiki page, but I'll help. It's a term coined by a dude called Michael J Weldon for trash culture, exploitation, low budget movies and has expanded into a generic use term for all aspects of culture associated with those films. Did you enjoy reading Tank Girl? Do you like movies like Grindhouse, Black Dynamite, Six String Samurai or Every Which Way but Loose? Do you have Devo, Southern Culture on the Skids, or White Zombie on your iPod? Do you think Lucha Libre is awesome? Then you're a fan of the psychotronic genre and you'll probably love OctaNe.
The game itself is very simple in regards to system and is the first 'narrative control' RPG I have covered, a game where a dice roll determines who decides what happens rather than attempting to perform a specific action as outlined by the rules.. Roll 3 six sided dice. Pick the highest die. Get a 5 or 6, you get total control over what happens. Roll a 4, you get partial control, meaning you can decide what happens with the GM adding a caveat. Roll a 2 or 3 and it's the opposite, the GM gets to decide with you adding a caveat. Finally, roll a 1 and you're at the GMs mercy. There are various ways in which you can roll more dice or where die rolls aren't counted which tinker with the basic mechanic.
The good thing is that a lot of the space is dedicated to helping GMs and players who are unfamiliar with this style of play figure it out. The rest of this slim little book is dedicated to the largely undefined but still awesome setting of 'The West', that being what remains of America. They won't tell you what caused the apocalypse, because that's largely unimportant. Instead, you learn the important locales (Lost Vegas! Monster Island! The sunken remains of Frisco! The Big Easy!), its inhabitants (Aliens! Sand Worms! Mutants! A monastery of intelligent Buddhist monkeys!) and suggestions of the kinds of adventures you might get up to. The glossary at the end for important slang terms is super cool as well.
If I have one criticism, it's the author's idea that nothing past the 1980s could qualify as psychotronic, particularly music. It's possible that he was joking here, though, since he mentions things like Southern Culture on the Skids in his musical inspirations.
Step 1) Imagine Your Character Soing Something Cool
Okay, I close my eyes (you're instructed to do this). First, the music starts playing. It's Johnny Guitar titular song of the 1954 movie of the same name. That's a pretty cool song, wonder if I can base a character off that. Oh hey, I can picture something. We have a desert scene. Mutants and thugs litter the ground, their blood spilled. In the middle is a woman, cleaning her katana, a guitar strapped to her back. She's staring off into the distance, the wind buffeting her hair while the music plays softly in the background. It's Six-String Samurai, but with a twist! She played the guitar, play it again....my Johnni. Johnni Guitar.
Step 2) Pick a Role
In OctaNe, character have a role, an archetype which describes what your character is, which determines which styles (the game's ability scores) you can pick, the kind of gear you have and at least some of your skills. There are 45 in the book, everything from Death Metal Siren to Mutant Trucker to Disco Robot Gigolo (no, really). There are also rules for making your own, if desired. I'm going to unsurprisingly pick the archetype my character is based off, the Six-String Samurai.
Step 3) Stomping Grounds
Now to pick where Johnni is from, largely important so that a group of players can establish a mutual origin or base of operations. According to the Role, I have a choice between Lost Vegas (post-apoc Vegas, controlled by the mob) and the Wastelands, your general desert wilderness. The initial image suggests that Johnni is a desert wanderer, so I'm going with Wastelands.
Step 4) Gear
I get to have one item that is super-important to Johnni. In this case, it will be her signed guitar. Who was it signed by? Only she knows. But if it's ever taken from her, she'll run a bloody warpath through whatever is in her way between her and it.
Step 5) Detailing
Here I note down three details of my character in terms of 'things people perceive her as', the idea being that we tend to boil characters down to a few traits rather than focusing on their height/weight/hair colour My details are the following:1) Carries signed Fender guitar. 2) Wears tattered cowboy outfit. 3) Incredibly short brown hair.
Step 6) Pick Your Styles
Oh look, mechanics! I have three points to spend in styles. Now, I was lying a bit about what styles do. Now, remember earlier when I said that there were ways you could roll more dice? The way you do that is by spending Plot Points., which let you roll an extra die for every point spent (but you have to explain how you're altering the scene in order to do so). The primary way you get these points is by rolling a 5 or a 6 when using the style, which gives you points equal to the style rating or points equal to the style rating+1 respectively. The styles are Daring (doing something dangerous), Craft (doing something involving vocational smarts) Ingenuity (SCIENCE!) and Charm (doing something smooth, persuasive or sexy). There are also two special styles, Magic (magic powers) and Might (other, non-magical powers like mutations or luchadore finishing moves), which require plot points to use and can reduce Hazard ratings, which is a numerical representation of shit being real and negates the highest die rolled per point in the rating.
I get three points to pt into styles, and at least one must go into one of the style's determined by my role. Since the only style determined by my role is daring, I guess I put a point in that. I'm going to put the two other points in charm. Johnni can both be super intimidating and also play incredibly mournful songs that will cause even Destructotron 3000, a robot engineered only to hate, burst into tears.
Step 6) Pick Your Skills
Unlike most games, I get to define three of my own skills, or at least I do after selecting four determined by my role. You either have a skill or you don't! Unfortunately, one criticism I have of OctaNe is that despite outlining this rule, most roles have less than four skills outlined. Anyway, the role-determined skills I'm picking for Johnni are Martial Arts, Rock n'Roll Lore, Guitar Playing and Quick Draw. The other three skills I will make up for her will be Staredown, Desert Survival and finally, Drink Anyone Under the Table.
Fun fact! You can add a skill at any time during play by spending a plot point, as long as you can justify why you have it. The exception is magical powers or might powers, which you can never learn.
Step 7) Soundtrack
This bit is more just to finalise a way of thinking about your character, the kind of music they would listen to, represents them or in my case, play. I figure that the soundtrack for Johnni, apart from her titular song, is basically anything and everything The Red Elvises (A Russian hybrid folk music/surf rock/rockabilly band. Look them up, they're great).
The Finished Product
Stomping Grounds: The Wasteland
Gear: Signed Fender guitar
Styles: Charm 2, Daring 1
Skills: Desert Survival, Drink Anyone Under the Table, Guitar Playing, Martial Arts, Quick Draw, Rock'n'Roll Lore, Staredown
How I Would Run It
I have one big high-concept idea for this one. It's a loose adaptation of Journey to the West. A young woman claims to be the heir to the legacy of Elvis and seeks to reclaim his throne in Lost Vegas from the mob. Her companions, a foul-mannered mutant pig trucker whose truck was repossessed by the mob, famed Lucha Libre star El Duna Diablo who was kicked out of the Squared Circle for refusing to throw a fight and finally a capuchin money from the monastery in Frisco, kicked out in disgust because he achieved enlightenment one day only to immediately go on a bender and forget it. It's a story of their wacky antics on the way to Vegas and their eventual showdown with the mafia.
Oh hey, if you're a fan of George R.R.Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, stay tuned, because coming next is a special 2 part Song of Ice and Fire RPG edition of Never See the Light of Play!