Sunday, December 2, 2012

Kitchen Sink Games

A number of games in the past have been declared to be “kitchen sink” style games.  If you haven’t heard this term before, please allow me to define:
A kitchen sink game is a game which includes damn near everything.  It has swords, sorcery, psionics, futuristic tech, cavemen, zombies, ninjas, intergalactic travel, small villages possessed by demons, and darn near anything else your fevered imagination can come up with.  Kitchen sink style games run on the premise that if there are cool things, then putting cool things together make things even cooler.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they fail miserably.

In this article, I’ll review what have been a few of my very favorite kitchen sink style games to experience, because even when the game is horrible, it still tends to be damn fun.

First off is my very first experience with a Kitchen Sink game.  It is, also, the worst on the list.  It also has the most incredibly awesome retro name ever… like something out of the 50s, almost.  I introduce to you, fellow gamers, BattleLords of the Twenty-Third Century.
I’ll just give you a moment to revel in the awesome.  Kinda Buck Rodgers-esque, almost.

See? I wasn't joking.

Lets just step back and take a look, shall we?   What do we have here… we have a human in the upper right with some sort of explosive doodads.  We have a massive lizardman with a lazer gun on the upper right.  Smack dab in the center is a gigantor freighter/war thingy of space chasing some poor schmuck in a pleasure yacht past some moons.  In the lower left there’s some creepy half-face guy with a lazer sword.  On the lower right… uh, I don’t know what that is, but it’s pretty messed up.  I sure wouldn’t want to meet it in a dark alley.  Then at the very bottom there’s a psionic big-head-alien type guy with a finger full of light.  Up at the very tippy top, right under the title of the game, is an Evil Menace With Glowing Eyes (EMWGE) as required by law. Oh, and there’s another spaceship wedged in there in the lower left, you know, because it wasn’t ‘futuristicy’ enough for them.

Wow… that’s a lot.  And the thing is that all this stuff is in the actual game.  The humans, of course, are humans.  The big lizard guy is called a Ram Python, and they come from a very backwaters and barbaric swamp world.  They’re basically hand picked from the best and then taken to a more civilized reach, because if you gave these guys  guns they’d eradicate the entire world without thinking about it first.  Spaceships are, well, you know, spaceships.  They come in all sizes, and we won’t go into that right now.

Now, the guy in the lower left, he’s pretty cool.  He’s an Eridani SwordSaint.  Yeah, that’s not like the title of his caste or anything, that’s what they call the entire freakin race.  A WHOLE WORLD of people who worship the sword, in all of its myriad forms.  Even laser swords, which, IMHO, is cheating… but I’m not a swordsaint, so what the hell do I know?  The whole race is very bushido, and they’re all built like action stars. Ironically, they since they ALL worship swords (every last one of them), there’s no florists, or cobblers, or bakers or anything.  Just swords, I imagine.  Never mentions anything about The Sacred Blade Bakery in the book, so I just imagine that they don’t exist.

I could go on and on about the races, but instead, I’ll just sum up.  Here’s the “quick list” on the types of races you can play:
Human – Everyday Joe Human, very versatile.
Gen-Human – Genetically Modified Human.  Roy Batty+
Orion Rogue
Python Lizard
Ram Python
Chatilian Empath
Zin Rigeln
And then there’s the Aeodronian, Andromeni, Ashanti, Fott, Gemini, Goola Goola, I-Bot, Ikrini Geomancer, Jezzadeic Priest, Kizanti, Misha, and Tanndai Techknight. And that’s just the stuff that your GM doesn’t make up on the fly one night when half drunk and realizing he doesn’t have anything planned for game in 2 hours.

One of the things I do remember liking very much about the game is something that completely threw most of the rest of my gaming crew for a loop:  It is classless and levelfree.  Everything is based on earned skills and stats.  Stats are strength, manual dexterity, IQ, agility, constitution, intuition, charisma, and my personal favorite: aggression.  SECONDARY stats (because 8 is not enough) are Tec Knowledge, Military Leadership, Persuasion, and Bargaining.  Each stat and skill is run on a percentile system, and it is possible to go above 100 percent.

What makes the game truly and gloriously kitchen sink is the ability to have the game run in any setting on any world type you desire… as is common for many intergalactic games.  TYPICALLY the game is much like ShadowRun.  You are hired by an intergalactic megacorp to go do some sort of deed somewhere.  You are some sort of a merc or other form of ‘deniable asset’ to help them complete a goal, and you should expect that they’ll try to screw you over in the end.  However, it’s very easy to stray from this… one of my favorite games involved us starting as veteran characters who had been stranded after a crash landing on a jungle world.  No comm net, limited power, and only as much ammo as we’d brought with us on the ship… which was rapidly depleted due to the amount of indiginous, player-eating wildlife we encountered in the first four hours of the game.  I think we lasted a total of maybe six hours before the last brain was eaten.  Total Party Kills are the best!
As for system… it’s clunky, but effective.  The matrix (that’s the combo of magic/psionics in the game) is tough to understand at first, and combat can span lengthy minutes with each combat round if players aren’t up to par on the rule set.  Overall, it’s a great game in concept, and admittedly I haven’t played it since the first edition rolled out… it is my highest hope that they’ve revamped the system itself to a point where it is far more fluid.  My hopes are mildly dashed though, by taking a look at the character sheet, and seeing pretty much the same thing I saw years ago.
On a d20 scale, this game rates about an 11.

NEXT we have one of the most expansive Kitchen Sink Games ever.  This game came out in 1990, the brainchild of a man known as Kevin Siembieda.  It has, quite literally, everything.
It’s a little game known as Rifts, and it’s got about 60 expansion books detailing alien races, orbital colonies, every continent ever known by man and then some that aren’t, dragons, ninjas, cybertechnology, mutant dogs trained to drive power armor, floating prison cities, and about 90 bajillion other things that I can’t list off of the top of my head.

Of all of the Kitchen Sink Games, Rifts stands at the top of the heap for having EVERYTHING.  It even has Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
It is very popular in Japan.

As with most Paladium games, everything skill based is run on percentile.  There are levels, and clas… no, that’s not being fair.  There’s so many gorram classes and races that they actually had to change how classes and races were done.  There are OCCs, RCCs and PCCs.  OCC stands for Occupational Character Class.  This is what you and I would have, as humans.  We are humans, and as such, we’re versatile enough to be mechanics, scholars, scientists, snipers, lawmen, porn stars, and anything else we really want to be.  On the other side of the coin are the RCCs, which stands for Racial Character Class.  RCCs tend to be OBNOXIOUSLY powerful, due to the fact that they’re a stop-gap measure against having a dragon uber sniper who wears glitterboy power armor… which is still something you can do if you’re smart about it (all you really have to do is shapeshift, but I digress).  PCC stands for Psychic Character Class.  PCC doesn’t -technically- exist in Rifts, as it is a hold over from other Palladium games, but it tends to help draw an easier-to-understand line in the sand which can save some new players from utter madness.

To give you an idea of how many different things you can play in Rifts, here’s a small rundown:
OCCs:  There are over 255 Occupational Character Classes for Rifts, including City Rat (basic lives-in-the-city criminal), Warlock (casts spells, uses the undead), Shifter (magician who hops dimensions), Saloon Girl (self explanatory), Juicer (someone who has an implanted drug factory that shortens their life span but gives them near supernatual physical ability), and 4 varieties of Ninja (no, I’m not making that up.)

RCCs:  There are over 150 Racial Character Classes for Rifts, including Dragon (6 kinds), Godling, Tritonian Sea-Wolf, Anti-Monster, Dog-Boy, Gargoyle, Lycanthrope, Oni, Tengu, and Valkyrie.  Some of the RCCs are so sickeningly powerful that they can realistically take on an army by themselves and come out slightly scathed.

PCCs:  Psychics are more limited in scope, having about 30 to 40 types, but having some of the darn coolest names in the game, including Shifter (dimensional hopping mage), Mind-Melter (uber offensive psychic), Blaster (blows things up with her mind), Freezer, Zapper and Nega-Psychic.
Am I forgetting something… OH YEAH, actual freakin races.  These are races that tend towards the more-potent-than-humans side of the equation.  Asgardian elves, goblins, giants, scorpion men, lions, tigers and bears. OM(G)!

The beautiful thing about Rifts is also the most terrifying.  The game is DEEP, with a lot of commentary on social mores, racism, and other such actual topics that make a game truly enjoyable.  It includes every level of technology, from stone age wooden clubs to self-tracking limited yield nuclear MIRVs that can phase into and out of existence.  The precise problem is that, eventually, damn near every game of Rifts ever played devolves into a shoot-em-up, with the biggest guns left standing.  It usually starts innocently enough… a group of friends get together, someone plays the ex coalition officer, another plays a rogue scientist, maybe one or two people have some power armor and a laser weapon.  Soon enough, the GM makes a mistake and wipes out 3 people with one grenade… because they’re all ’soft’ characters.  Now, by then, the remaining members have levelled and gained some serious gear, which means the new gen characters either have some serious catching up to do, or they start off ‘buffed.’  And if they’re going to be buffed (which is usually the option chosen), then why not allow someone to play a young adult dragon as an RCC?  This offsets everything, and leads to a rapid escalation of armament akin to the US/Soviet cold war.  Before you know it, your PCs are hunting down phasewalkers and Splugorth slaving rigs, and all sorts of other wonders of the world with guns that can quite literally destroy small towns with an errant shot.
Rifts is a truly glorious game, if the GM can keep things in check… unfortunately, it is very common that in order to keep things in check, he or she has to wipe out PCs or figure out some clever way to strip away a ton of gear and several powers… and even that tends not to work.  The majority of Rifts games I’ve been a member of, and run, have ended with either a TPK (Total Party Kill), or with the GM attempting a TPK (as they don’t know what else to do because things are so wildly out of hand) and then throwing their hands into the air in frustration after the third army gets decimated by the player characters.

Rifts, as a basic concept, is beautiful.  The world has endless possibility.  The whole backstory is incredible… it takes events through the world, both human successes and failures, and gives birth to a reason for having massive amounts of psychic energy unleashed due to mayhem and death which end up ripping open interdimensional rifts.  Through these rifts returns magick, dragons, demons and alien explorers looking to both help and exploit the human race.  If you can strip out all the uber powerful crap, Rifts becomes a game of high adventure in which the broken spirit of the world struggles onward against impossible odds.   The problem is that all that uber powerful crap is REALLY well written, and is very enticing for both players and GMs alike.

The system runs like a dream, with the former caveat.  Palladium games have always been pretty slick systemed… but Rifts can bog down when you have uber powerful characters.  For example, if you want to snipe someone who’s normal, you roll to hit, and if you hit, you roll damage.  That’s it.  However, if you have an uber sniper who’s sniping someone uber powerful, you have the roll to brace and set up your sniper shot, then you have 8 modifiers to the ‘to hit’ roll.  After you roll it, the target can potentially get a chance to notice the shot coming.  If they do notice it, they can potentially auto-dodge the shot, and if that misses, they have a chance to auto-parry the shot with whatever weapon or power they currently have active.  After that, if they take the hit, certain RCCs and OCCs have the potential to ‘roll with the punch’ of the sniper bullet… if it makes it past the phase or other style of energy shield that the uber character is most likely employing. That’s as far down the rabbit hole as I’m going with this particular example, because I don’t want to get any deeper.  To sum up, it can get pretty disgustingly complex.

Rifts is not a bad game, mind you, in fact it’s probably one of my favorite games ever… easily within the top five at least.  But only if the GM is able to keep a proper grasp of the game, and guide it with a loving and firm hand.  The first time the players get access to a Naruni market, or other ‘high end’ seller of goods the game goes down the toilet if the GM budges on what they can and can not buy.
All in all, it’s about a 14 on a d20. Badly run Rifts average about a 5 on a d20.

Which brings me on to my next review.  This game started, in concept, in 1987 as a companion to WarHammer Fantasy Battle.  WarHammer 40k is world renown as one of the best sold table-top wargames of all time.  In 2008, Black Industries and Fantasy Flight Games got together and released the RPG version of this incredibly well fleshed game.
Dark Heresy was the first section, which details the life and struggles of up-and-coming Acolytes who are working for an Imperial Inquisitor to stop the incursions of the aliens, the heretics, and the mutants.

Why yes, Ma'am, I am completely badass. Thankyou very much.

Rogue Trader is the second section of the game, which is a bit higher power.  In Rogue Trader, you take on members of a crew to a Lord Captain, a man or woman who owns their own starship and is working to profit off of the frontiers of man in any way possible.  Ironically, with most Rogue Trader PCs, if they ever met the counterparts run in Dark Heresy, a mighty gun battle would ensue.  While Dark Heresy focuses on keeping everyone in line and purging the unclean, Rogue Trader focuses on skirting the rules and morals of a dystopian society in order to turn the largest profit possible.  Having played both of these systems, I must say that Rogue Trader is by far my favorite, as it seems to have more character freedom than the earlier counterpart.

What makes this a kitchen sink game is much the same as my first example, with BattleLords.  DH/RT (Dark Heresy/Rogue Trader) takes place in the mighty Empire of Man, which spans a large portion of interstellar space.  Through this venue, you can have ship-based games, corporate style games, military campaigns, explorations of deep nether reaches of space or in fact other dimensions, or on-the-ground-in-the-mud primitive style games.  One of the backgrounds for PCs is to come from a Feral World, and it’s long been my intention to entice one of my GMs into running a game that begins with all the PCs living on a Feral World and rising to the top.  Through our heroic acts we would, of course, eventually be noticed by the Empire of Man, and brought up to train our skills for the good of mankind… but again, I digress.

Classes in DH/RT are very similar to WarHammer 40k, but allow you to get much deeper into the mindset of some of the singularly odd unit types that you see within the table top tactical assault game.  In DH, common classes are Arbiter (lawman), Assassin, Inquisitor, Cleric, Tech-Priest, Guardsman, Imperial Psyker, Adept (smart guy) and Scum.  In RT, the more advanced requirements of the game put you at a higher starting standpoint than in DH.  For example, the Tech Priest in DH is someone who is learning the mysteries of the Omnissiah, where as in RT the Tech Priest becomes the Explorator, which is a fully indoctrined Tech Priest who has made the great pilgramage to Mars and has welcomed the machine spirit into his or her very body.  Starting play as an Explorator gives you access to servoskulls (human skulls which are filled with a small engine, sensor arrays, and typically small arms to help the PC in tasks), servitors (basically a servoskull that is a whole human instead of just a skull… a cybernetic slave), and a mechadendrite (a massive machine arm that comes out of your back that can be fit with damn near any device the player desires.)  Despite the power level difference, both games are exquisitely written, with massive amounts of trivia and knowledge for old fans as well as new.

This guy is an engineer. Not a warrior. A damn mechanic.

Systemically, both games are brilliant.  Running off of d10s exclusively, skills are easy to understand and use by a new player, with character advancement being a bit more in depth.  Each skill and stat can only be raised a set number of times, so having a good set of opening stats is very important.  Both games are easily as deadly as they are beautiful as well.  Technology is highly advanced, but the human body is pretty much the same on a basic level.  Laser guns are potent enough to scorch stone at 200 yards, which means if the PC gets hit in an unarmored location, it is very likely the last scream they will ever emit.  Healing arts are equally advanced, but the first requirement to healing is survival, which can prove to be quite the chore in the wrong situation.

Whether you want to play a low born feral worlder, a member of a hive planet (a world so civilized it has no wilderness left), a politically oriented void born (born in space), or a noble with a knack for assassination… or any of a thousand other concepts, these games are for you.  They are glorious pieces of roleplay engineering who should be experienced by all.  Even if you don’t intend to play, the knowledge and concepts alone are exceptional, and the art is top notch.

Any stalwart fan of WarHammer 40k will probably be screaming “But Space Marines?!  WHERE ARE THE SPACE MARINES?!”  Don’t worry your pretty little head, darlin… Deathwatch is here.

A game about Space Marines.  Cybernetically and genetically enhanced demigods who wrap themselves in a tank shaped like plate mail that can survive orbital re-entry.  They wield chainswords, power axes, lightning claws, plasma blasters and scream bloody warcries into the faces of the alien savages and heretical demon worshippers who they tirelessly kill.  
Oddly enough, even though I'm a huge Space Marine fan, this was the edition that I had the least fun with.  There's just not enough roleplay complexity to it.  The system is primarily geared for combat, mostly because that's what these dudes are made to do.  They aren't created to hang out in bars and hobnob with the nobles or sleaze past doorguards.  These guys arrive in crashes of fire and steel as drop pods still cooling from orbit create an earthquake as a doorknock on the world they're kicking in.  They run out screaming, firing at anything that isn't human, chopping up anything that gets too close, and they do so until there's either nothing left or they fall down.  

Is there capacity for roleplay?  Absolutely.  Does it require you to understand 800 books worth of nuances between 1000 different Space Marine chapters and how the progenitors of each chapter used to fight amongst themselves?  Yeah.  Pretty much.

Still, if you're looking for a massive smash-em-up RPG with tons of wicked squad-based tweaks for combat and awesome modifications, powers, and weapons... this may very well be your cup of tea.  Not that a Space Marine would ever drink tea, mind you.

Across the board, these games get a 15 of d20, losing points for the somewhat clunky advancement practices, which do take some getting used to.
Thanks for reading!

Do you have a favorite kitchen sink game that I've missed?  Feel free to leave it in a comment below!

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