Game: The Algernon Files
Publisher: Blackwyrm Games
Series: Mutants and Masterminds
Review Dated: 30th, November 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
It’s virtually impossible (and probably unwise) to take a pre-packed collection of NPCs and plot ideas and import them straight into your game. We’re reminded of this in The Algernon Files. BlackWyrm Games joke with us, they promise not to send the gaming police around if we do tinker with this supplement. They don’t have time. They’re too busy. Hmm. The thing is… I hope they are. It would be a shame for BlackWyrm Games caught our attention with a 128-paged, hardbound, well illustrated and carefully planned product. I don’t think we’ve really seen them blip the radar much after The Algernon Files.
Algernon is a virtual butler, an advanced artificial intelligence, an aid and member of the Sentinels and would-be tour guide for the book. The Algernon Files is a superlink product for Mutants and Masterminds.
First off, I think superlink is working well. Green Ronin allow other third party publishers produce supplements for their excellent superhero d20 game. Mutants and Masterminds is d20 but isn’t D&D. It’s very different. Superlink seems to be chugging along nicely because it’s attracting the right quality of publishers, good ideas and Green Ronin are managing well (at least as far as we, the punters, are concerned).
I think we’re a bit spoiled now; especially with the wonder which is Mutants and Masterminds. I saw the hardback book and just assumed it was full colour product. It’s not. I shouldn’t be disappointed but I am. That said the illustrations we do have are good. More importantly for a superhero product we have all the illustrations we need.
The fantasy RPG equivalent would be a world supplement plus bestiary. The Algernon Files portrays a collection of heroes, villains and mercenaries. The majority of the super powered NPCs in the book belong to organisations. Think Justice League. Think X-Men. This works quite well because it offers bundles of NPCs at roughly the same power level and this makes it easier for the GM to find suitable matches (as enemies or allies) for their party of characters. Chapter Nine, though, lists about a dozen “independents”.
Just how much detail do we get? In hero games I really do think the devil in the detail and in The Algernon Files I think we do pretty well; for some of the heroes we’ve two whole pages of facts and figures and for most we have one page. It’s an easy info grab; the character sheet blocks are clear but not obtrusive, the column of stats and in a nice touch there’s a sample character sheet on page four with a legend. You know just what everything is. Perfect. There’s a bit of a twist in the tail here. Mutants and Masterminds is a wonderfully straight forward game. The mechanics aren’t tricky. The character sheets don’t take that much effort. We don’t save ourselves all that much time by having someone else do the stats.
I guess the more important details – and certainly the most interesting details – are the super NPC backgrounds. Why is it that so many fantasy (or even sci-fi) NPC backgrounds from published books are so dire? The Ranger NPC has his village attacked by orc raiders, when he was a kid and his parents killed. Yawn. Cliché! If a hero gains his powers in a freak lab accident then that’s a classic and accepted hero origin story. Different genre, different rules, I guess. I don’t suppose it matters, the fact is that when the very first hero in the book uses the lab accident with a twist I don’t even miss a step. The backgrounds and stories in The Algernon Files are fairly compelling. The heroes they create are interesting. The relationships between groups are there. Heroes quit one group to join another. People die. Heroes become mercenaries. Master villains are responsible for the creation of other super villains and heroes.
It’s an important point; I think you really feel as if you know the heroes and villains after reading The Algernon Files and know them well enough to portray them as convincing NPCs. That’s one key success for the book.
On a similar note the hero groups are believable too. The Aerie have that bird theme going on. The Black Knights really are scary. The biggest “risk” are the Hell’s Belles; a sort of gothic-punk Jose and the Pussycats. This could have gone badly wrong and perhaps for some people it just doesn’t work but after some initial reluctance I was won over. Sure, let’s have a sexy and chaotic band with a couldn’t careless attitude and super powers.
A common problem in hero comics and therefore hero RPGs is the vomit factor. Never heard of the vomit factor? It only bothers some of the world. There’s only so much American flag waving you can take without getting queasy (if you’re not American, that is, probably). Unfortunately The Arsenal is packed with this; from Anthem to American Dream and then to Miss Liberty. Miss Liberty is especially annoying, a growth-mutant “Statue of Liberty” shtick. She should be French but in this she’s Puerto Rican. American flag waving isn’t uncommon in comics, after all, most comics are American and as the cultural tide ebbs and flows we see a rise or fall in this style of heroes. All the characters in The Arsenal can be converted. It’s just a shame that the hero US Steel doesn’t have a magic shield called “Subsidies”. Oh no! a political joke in a RPG review! Boo! Hiss! There are multi-cultural and “foreign” heroes and villains in the book. There are aliens in the supplement too!
There are a few pages of appendices in here too. New feats? Of course! This may be a superlink book but there’s still that d20 heritage to respect. I especially like the Improved Teamwork Feat. It’s handy when mechanics naturally encourage group play. There’s the Nauseate power and some extras on Dimension Travel, Telekinesis, Telepathy and Teleportation.
I like The Algernon Files. It’s a fun read. The heroes and villains are entertaining. The main con with the book is quite serious. A big question is; “Why would you buy it?” Gosh. I’d buy The Algernon Files to get a host of interesting heroes and villains numbered, drawn and written up for me. Hmm. The problem here is that creating the heroes and villains to use in a Mutants and Masterminds is one of highlights of being the GM. It’s fun to create the NPCs. I don’t want to have that taken a way from me. This reduces The Algernon Files to being an “oh crap, I need a hero now” resource and that doesn’t seem fair. It’s also only right to point out that supplements like The Algernon Files, books of heroes and villains, are staple in the hero market and so more regular hero gamers than myself may well be more comfortable in using the resource.