A BADASS Review
Badass is a game by Jay Steven Anyong released free through DriveThruRPG. You can also check out Life and Times of a Philippine Gamer where he has posted some supplementary material – like a character sheet – for use with the game.
General Impressions and Making a BADASS
BADASS sets out to emulate the “Action Movie Genre” in a rules-light system with ridiculousness the order of the day. It was interesting to me to note the bibliography at the back of the book cited such sources as American Ninja and Naked Weapon. While these are certainly valid enough, while I was reading I kept thinking about some more modern movies, like Kill Bill and Sucker Punch as well as a classic like Commando.
For what BADASS sets out to do, my estimate is that the game succeeds very well. The mechanics are very light, with character creation really only involving a decision about what kind of Badass your PC is and then a selection of “flavas.” These being backgrounds, ideas, templates, or whatever you’d call them. Ultimately, being human is the norm, but being other things (like a dinosaur or a robot) is certainly encouraged. The flavas all provide a benefit of some sort to reflect your character’s abilities.
The rest of character creation is fluff. Once you know how you are a BADASS (and the “defining moment” that turned you into one) then you are ready to start playing. The ease of this process should not discourage though. The flava options are cleverly written, mechanically interesting, and varied enough to make a player wish they could start with more than two! Mr. Anyong even breaks the fourth wall and offers flavas which allow the player to bend (or outright ignore) the game rules in a few truly awesome ways.
The system is likewise simple, with 2d6 determining success rolls, modified by flavas, gear, and other modifiers. At the heart of the system are “Badass Points.” This pool of points works as your PCs hit points, experience points, and measure of badass potential. Badass points can be used to modify rolls, to bid for initiative (and change initiative during combat), and to pay for some of the benefits of the flavas. PCs lose Badass Points when they take damage and once they reach 0, the PC is in real danger. Which is interesting because PCs can also lose Badass Points for being lame. If you stop being awesome you pay for it by losing BP. The ebb and flow of BP is at the heart of the system – and the genre emulation elements involved in gaining new BP really set up player expectation and reinforce the feeling of being in an action movie. Ideas like the “training montage” and “flashbacks” are awesome elements worked into a simply system in an elegant and very functional way. The whole time I was reading the game I kept thinking about how well everything fit together – and how the pieces were useful for encouraging roleplaying and player involvement while at the same time retaining a useful amount of GM oversight. The balance is very nicely struck.
Badass Points also act as your experience points because when players spend BP to do awesome things, these convert to Awesomeness. When you amass enough Awesomeness you can gain new flavas or buy contacts. This is one of my favorite parts of the system. I was reminded of the WEG D6 Star Wars system. Character points in that system acted both as roll-modifiers and XP. The problem was, it became a constant source of frustration – should I spend the extra points to do something cool but lose out on advancement later, or not? BADASS solves this problem by making the cool stuff you do be what makes you better! To be fair, the explanation of how to spend BP is a little awkward (by my reading) as in one place the game discusses different ways that Awesomeness can be used to get new flavas, contacts, etc. but on the Awesomeness chart it ignores other options and only shows a running total of Awesomeness and new flavas gained. A quick clean up here to clarify the process would be welcome.
One final aspect of the BP system that I found fascinating is the Setback/Comeback system. Setbacks can be declared by the GM or the Player and basically allow for banking Badass Points in the present – and risking running out – in exchange for having a reserve to use later. It’s a little more complex than that, but the mechanic (and how it fits with the sensibilities of the game) is really fun – and if you want to know more, I did mention the game is free, right?
The rest of the system discusses chase scenes, combat scenes, and downtime. These work as you’d expect them to and don’t really need much explanation. Actions use the basic 2d6 + modifiers format no matter what you are doing.
Layout and Production
Surprisingly, all the awesomeness of this game fits into 28 pages, including a front and back cover. Despite the low page count, the writing is consistently interesting and examples of the different types of actions are liberally used to make sure that the text is making sense.
The pages are done in a landscape format and the PDF is really easy to read on my laptop screen, something that is sometimes are real problem for me with gaming PDFs. Art is used appropriately and if the art isn’t necessarily “jump off the page spectacular” it is still well-done for a free game and does match up well to the subject material – presenting a variety of badasses doing badass things. I’m particularly fond of the page 10 picture of a girl who looks like Sailor V dropping a serious mook.
Pretty much my only negative comment (and even this negative is limited) is editing. The game is well-written and edited for the most part, but there are just enough places where I had to go back and reread something because of wording, or a missing word in a sentence, that it dragged me out of the BADASS frame of mind and made me, you know, figure out what happened. Don’t take this too seriously though – the editing is still better than some professionally produced books I paid a lot more than “free” for. So, ultimately, just a tiny bit of polish and I’d almost declare BADASS to be perfect.
The game includes a solid section on “Being a BADASS GM,” and offers up advice and suggestions for making the game go, variations for other genres (like fantasy or 70s) and an explanation of using Mooks and Villains. There are a couple of pages devoted to some sample NPCs and a sample BADASS city. As I was reading the sample city setting I kept flashing back to my Sega Genesis and playing the various Streets of Rage games. And how much would I love to play a Streets of Rage RPG? Oh yeah.
Great writing coupled with a simple, clever system makes BADASS a winner. Mechanically, it does what it sets out to do – and does it very well. The inspirations are clear and its usefulness as a one-shot, pick-up game is high. It might be difficult to convince players that BADASS could be good for sustained play, and the game doesn’t set out with this as an explicit goal but it still provides the tools so that the game could easily last through a short campaign and remain compelling. I’d give BADASS a solid 9 out of 10 and I’m really looking forward to a chance to play it.
If you’ve made it to this point in the review, thanks for reading, but honestly – this game is FREE! Reviews are lame, the game is BADASS – go get it!