Game: 1st Appearance: T.O.M.C.A.T.S
Publisher: Blue Devil Games
Series: Mutants and Masterminds
Review Dated: 27th, November 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 3.50
Just by doing TOMCATS Blue Devil Games have done themselves proud. Their first product, Poisoncraft: The Dark Art is a solid expansion for a traditional D&D d20 game. 1st Appearance: T.O.M.C.A.T.S. isn’t. This PDF is a Mutants and Masterminds Superlink.
I still remember my scepticism when M&M titled itself as “The World’s Greatest Superhero RPG!” … but, as it happens, that superhero RPG has a damn good attempt at actually living up to that title.
1st Appearance: TOMCATS has a similar risky claim. The 1st Appearance series name relates to the wow factor of having the first appearance of a great character in the comic. Imagine having Superman’s first appearance – or what about Wolverine’s first appearance in the Xmen? Blue Devil Games tells us that 1st Appearance is so-called because it will introduce something new to the M&M world which we’ve never seen before. Ooh. In take of breath! Something new? In the superhero genre? That’s sacrilege, isn’t it? Is it even possible? I suppose the ‘technical point’ is whether we’re seeing something never yet seen in mechanics for Mutants and Masterminds or something entirely new.
T.O.M.C.A.T.S. falls in that ‘technical point’ grey area. Cybernetics is not new to me. It doesn’t have the wow factor. That said; this type of Cybernetics is new to M&M. What we have here is Modular Cybernetics; enhancements which can be applied to parts or all of the body and which can be changed around. As the authors put it; if a Black and Decker drill has 27 interchangeable heads… then surely a cyborg has some flexibility too.
Flexibility for cyborgs almost always equates to complex rules. That’s not quite the case here – hurrah! Modular Cybernetics is a single new power (cost 7) and it’s pretty much akin to Sorcery. It unfolds into a set of options. Blue Devil Games describes Modular Cybernetics as complex themselves; they warn against min-maxing, but I suspect this is more a case of “more complex than they would like”. I really doubt the mechanics of Modular Cybernetics will confuse many people. It only gets tricky when players start to try and adopt it beyond what’s covered in the rules already; can I plug my BlackBerry PDA into my cybernetic arm? I saw Russian exploding tank armour on Discovery last night and I was wondering whether I could have that as an upgrade for my knee?
TOMCATS is very much a superhero RPG supplement rather than a d20 supplement (there’s no new prestige class, for example!). After the introduction to 1st Appearance, Modular Cybernetics and Blue Devil Games (Justin D. Jacobson is an attorney by day) we dive straight into the history of the TOMCATS project. This is the TacOps Modular Cybernetics Assault Team. The team begins, unusually for superheroes but common enough for cyborgs, the genius (and predictably eccentric) scientists who first gave birth to the concept and then created the team. Typically the lead scientist is currently mysteriously missing. So whereas modular cybernetics is new for Mutants and Masterminds we quickly find ourselves in very familiar comic book territory. Note, though, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s the usual way to present a hero RPG supplement. Blue Devil Games just made it awkward for themselves.
There are three superhero core team members; Knockout, Steadfast and Electrilad. The trio range from PL 11 to 9. Sometimes it’s the little things which appeal to me and in this instance I like the fact that the original TOMCATS aren’t entirely a balanced group. Too often that’s something supplements to, but it’s unlikely to happen (suspension of disbelief) and is in fact entirely boring too. It’s much better to have a dynamic group. Here we have conflict and stabilising influences together. In fact this works a treat; The TOMCATS are a great group. I honestly don’t know if there are actually TOMCATS comics (I don’t think there are) but having references to certain events (Redblade’s apparent defection, for example) really helps to conjure up the feeling there’s a health of background and depth here.
The artwork is good in TOMCATS. The pair of artists Yildiray Cinar and Danilo Moretti do stand up job at maintaining the illustration style of comic book heroes throughout the supplement. Mutants and Masterminds spoils us though and although you can barely go a page without an illustration, I still found myself wanting more. I’m not quite won over by the photographs in the supplement. I get the military intelligence angle but I don’t like it mixed with comic foo. It’s a tough demand but illustrations of the cybernetics would have been nice too.
The second section of the supplement contains the crunchy bits. We have the Modular Cybernetics power plus a small sampling of new feats. One of the new feats is “super hero” – how foolish of M&M to have left that one out. Here, when you do something heroic, it’s very heroic. Let’s hope no one rights the rules for the “Barbarian” feat. The two new weaknesses are interesting – zealot and mentally unstable. I think mentally unstable makes for a great superhero quirk but perhaps a roleplay challenge to do right and still keep it fun.
The last of the three sections is in the added extra category. We’ve got a quick run through of an adventure and some more adventure seeds.
1st Appearance: T.O.M.C.A.T.S. is certainly a supplement for Mutants and Mastermind fans. The Modular Cybernetics power works very well. If you like M&M and are planning to have (or might need) cybernetics then TOMCATS is a strong buy. If you’re not a fan of cyborgs then there’s nothing in TOMCATs that’ll get you to change your mind and, in fact, it’ll the supplement will probably remind you why you don’t like the super science.
I think TOMCATS is a success. This is a tough call to make as I think the single most important success a supplement should be able to claim is “it does what it sets out to do”. Is TOMCATS something new? I think we’ll call it a score draw on that one and tip the balance in favour of success due to the supplements other advantages (notably the decent mechanics, art and interesting NPC team).