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Reviews - BASH! Ultimate Edition
 
by Andy Vetromile


BASH! Ultimate Edition cover

Basic Action Super Heroes! Ultimate Edition Role Playing Game

Published by Basic Action Games
Written by Chris Rutkowsky
Artwork by Danilo Moretti and Thom Chiaramonte
Edited by Michael Taylor, John Parker, Justin Peters, Amy Jine, and Michael Mikulis
137-page full-color PDF
$15 (PDF) or $25 (print version with free copy of PDF)

Comic books aren't getting any less popular at the theater, so don't expect the RPG industry to stop coming up with new stuff either. Basic Action Super Heroes! Ultimate Edition, or BASH, is Basic Action Games' stab at this comic-based corner of the marketplace.

The Makings of a Hero
Characters are created using points and the Game Master (called the Narrator) decides how many to use and in what proportions. For mystery men stories of the pulp era, for example, the writers recommend 20 points, with 12 of those going to Stats and the rest to Powers. Cosmic entities go up to 60+, but more than half of that goes to the Powers. The three Stats are Brawn, Agility, and Mind, which are rated from 0 to 5 and cost two points per level. Most Powers range from 1 to 5 and cost one point per level, but these may also require extra points to get ranged effects and so on. Some abilities establish a difficulty through level: Immobilize keeps victims trapped until overpowered through Brawn, with 10 points of difficulty for every point of Power.

Skills are mental or physical, based on Mind or Agility. The Stat determines the "slots" available – Agility 3 means there are three slots for physical skills. That Stat is also the skill's multiplier (see below), but assigning more slots increases it. Continuing this example, Athletics would go from ×3 to ×4 if the player dedicated two of his three Agility slots to Athletics instead of just one.

Most Heroes take a Weakness for added color (something that causes the Hero extra Damage), but Heroes and Villains alike are required to take a Mental Malfunction. This is usually whatever hang-up put them on a crime-fighter's (or criminal's) path to begin with, and represents an Achilles Heel their opponents can exploit. They may also take Advantages and Disadvantages, but these are always paired – taking the one pays for the other. The Hero may work with a Sidekick or use Gadgeteer to hammer out new toys, but have an Arch-Enemy or uncontrollably turn into a rampaging goliath to balance these out. If a PC costs too much or too little, "debt" becomes Setbacks while unspent points become Hero Points. The latter improve dice rolls or can be turned in for Hero Dice. These dice are powerful, allowing characters a second wind or to assist allies in dire straits. Setbacks are the opposite of Hero Points, and they become Villain Dice. They work similarly for the bad guys' benefit, so you get the "No one could survive that" trick for later in the campaign.

The Justice System
The basic mechanic is straightforward: Roll two six-sided dice and multiply the result by the associated Stat. Doubles "explode", meaning another die is thrown and, if it comes up the same as the first two, roll again. Heroes can thereby rack up real numbers and do amazing things. If the PC beats a difficulty when trying some feat (climbing a wall, say) or the Narrator's opposed roll (if characters compete with each other), he wins his task.

Since it's a superhero game, this is also how people beat the cheese out of their enemies. In combat attacks are opposed by Defense rolls – success means the attacker uses that same roll to determine the Damage (this is one of those games that capitalize a lot of favored terms). Multipliers may come from different Stats, like using Agility to hit but Brawn to do Damage. His target rolls to "soak" this Damage, and the difference is the number of Hits that get through. Super combatants get 100 Hits while Minions (everyone else in the game, good or evil) get less. Superpowers may boost or replace these numbers. Armor, for example, makes soak rolls more effective, but an energy beam attack replaces the traditional thrown punch. The system uses comic-book language to manage the flow of action. A superhero does something on his "panel"; when everyone has taken their turn, that's a "page." It's a bit cute, but it works and it's easy to understand.

Good vs. Evil
The graphic design is really appealing, with plenty of clean space, nice type, and fun artwork. Anyone who has seen the character work on recent comic-book cartoons like The Spectacular Spider-Man or Justice League Unlimited will recognize the influences. Neither artist signs his work, but the buyer is still the beneficiary of this fine display of four-color sensibilities.

One of the book's big drawbacks is bad editing. Some games do a less-than-stellar job of proofing that creeps up on the reader, but it may disappear into the background. Here it's an absolute distraction. Since this game incorporates new material and the first, arguably core, portion of the book doesn't display this issue as badly, it looks like the added pages went into this volume without sufficient checking.

Alas, it's not the only problem. The arrangement and language of some of the character options is worse. The stated goal here is a quick and playable super-system that doesn't bog down in details. The good news is that it meets this requirement. The bad news is most of the headaches are dealt with during the creation process. The system is versatile, to be sure, and dispenses with needless cruft, but one cannot simply buy, say, an energy beam. He has to purchase a Special Attack and add range. Such systems are hardly unique, but it means page flipping (or, in the case of the PDF, clicking and skimming). An ongoing example of character creation would have helped, or perhaps a whole lot of page references (and to be fair it already has its share of those).

Points are spent at creation to get that range, and those are added to the "1 to 5" you spent on the Power itself. When reading the range entry, though, it sounds as though points are "taken away" from the Power to get the range... technically true, but confusing. Then in the entry for Nullification (a Power-canceling Power), this odd reading is reinforced by the statement "Your remaining levels in this power (after Range, Area, and Enhancements are figured) are your 'Nullification Factor.'" Again, true but made to sound like there's another step.

Smaller issues abound. Rather than a central equipment list in an appendix, each campaign framework lists appropriate gear. Same with NPCs, and, worse, character options like Advantages and Power Limitations. The index only offers the main headings, not these orphaned items, and in fact many campaigns aren't found there either. There's an increasing and distracting use of italics near the end. The Narrator's section jumps right in with no intro, and the organization seems slapdash. This settles down once it proposes its campaign format (tropes, recommended reading, etc.), but even then it starts with Modern Age as a "sample setting" – and its Tropes entry says it's hard to define. Some worlds get little attention, others get a whole lot.

The World Is Not Enough
Case in point: You've got to hand it to anyone who actually tries to create a cosmic-scale system, but will this one work for most folks? It's like a whole other sourcebook complete with its own set of Powers. Scales change, not just points-wise but for the action. Squares for miniatures become grids for planets. The World War II setting talks about super serum; this one maintains moving planets depends on their density. It elaborates on Pushing heavenly bodies and Scanning entire galaxies, then claims the Stretching Power would be "unusual and awkward." They manage time travel by making a billion-year trip easy while establishing a trip of a few seconds at a roll of Beyond Imagination (their terminology).

Debates are a natural part of any super system, and this one has its share of oddities. Characters have Earth-shaking abilities but still need the Security Clearance Advantage to justify grabbing energy weapons (henchmen do this routinely). Clones created with Duplication all move but only one may actually act. In Ghost Form one cannot interact with the physical world; he may sink into the Earth but not float above it – that's level 3. At level 4 you become astral, which doesn't explicitly offer more abilities, it just endangers the physical body left behind. Growing makes you a bigger, more formidable opponent – if it's always on, it's called Size but the price doesn't change; call it Density Increase and you're human-sized, lose the movement benefit, damage floors, and pay more. And the cosmic alien intelligence template has Freak as a potential disadvantage, damaging its social standing.

Conclusions
What does Basic Action Super Heroes! do well? Aside from its core system, there are intuitively pleasant ideas like cooperative clue finding. Even without a sample character to highlight the creation system, there are plenty of examples to clear up important points. The Shape-Shift rules are clever, concise but expansive. It's suggested each Hero have one super, one personal, and one professional subplot for the Narrator to use. Though another mention of this in the character creation section would be good, it's the kind of oh-so-obvious-after-the-fact insight that makes the game a formidable entry into role-playing in general and superheroics specifically.

Even though it offers more options for combat action than just endless attack vs. Defense rolls, the core system section recognizes that it shouldn't stray far from its establishing idea of simple rolls that cover a variety of situations. BASH is good, it works and it does so on the levels the designers intended, but they should quit while they're ahead. The writers should heed their own advice: less is more. A company willing to offer that "more" is great, but adding a whole new system more than midway through the book instead of melding it seamlessly into existing material indicates the need for greater organization. Move the rules for cosmic action and Powers to an appropriate section, issue a wholly separate volume, or give all settings in the campaign section the same loving attention. It seems odd to chastise a book for its excesses, but for such an undemanding system the reader has a lot of work to do to make use of its virtues.

   
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