Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Infected Dead (free abridged edition) - A Review

So this will probably be the quickest turnaround of a review I’ve ever done. Also, hey! Not dead yet. Just lazy.

I was at IPMS Avon in Thornbury last Sunday (still not too sure what IPMS stands for) helping with the B&B run by Lincombe Barn Wargaming Society. Wandering the halls I discovered Black Ronin Games and their display for their upcoming release The Infected Dead. Slightly tautological name aside, the creator sold me when he said it was a hybrid RPG/wargame.

I’ve always wanted to inject more RPG into my table top, and while it looks like my Post-Apocalyptic Adventures are moving that way, it’s nice to have a solid, simple ruleset to do it with, short of actually playing d20Modern on a 6 by 4.

The slimmed down free sample rules came out yesterday and it looks good.

It’s got issues but most of them stem (presumably) from this being an abridged edition. Note that this was not promoted as a beta so I’m not giving it any slack. Little issues like typos, duplicated modifiers and inconsistent rules as well as entirely missing rules (e.g. +3 for a headshot, but no description of what a headshot actually does, the behaviour of zombies, increased difficulty to hit if target is moving quickly or running but no indication of what constitutes either) provide a constant niggle but I have faith that they will be rectified in the full release.

The artwork’s consistently good, if a bit grungy and busy for my tastes. Readability is good, assisted by a clear, printer friendly layout.

So this must be a solid little system right, with a definite recommendation behind it, right?

Well there is the small matter of the gaping hole in the core mechanic…

It’s broken is such a way that I think either something was excised from the abridged rules, or not enough thought was put into the core mechanic.

TID uses a rather seductively elegant mechanic. A character’s abilities are determined by their attributes Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma Strength, Prowess, Endurance, Awareness, Wits and Charisma (incidentally ardour is not a synonym for endurance, neither prowess for reflexes…) and related skills such as Edged Weapon, First Aid, etc.

If you use a skill untrained, the example given is of swinging an axe without prior experience then you roll (a d10. Yay for d10!) using you attribute against a base difficulty of 12 getting your attribute as a bonus (so STR X+d10 vs. 12). If you use a trained ability you roll a number of dice equal to your ranks (up to 5) choose the highest and add your ranks (So Edged Weapons X roll Xd10 pick the highest + X). The game also features exploding dice, and a fumble system (1’s cancel out successes)

It all appears pretty nice and elegant until you really think about.

There are no rules for character creation but the average stat of the pre-gens supplied with the rules is 5 with a distribution of 3 to 8.

My suspicions were confirmed when I got home and did some maths. If you have an attribute, buying a single point of a related skill actually makes it harder for you to do anything. This is self-evident for first rank skills. Why would you want to roll d10+1 against a 10 rather than d10+(3-8) against a 12? An attribute of 3 gives you the same odds and anything higher gives you better odds. By buying that skill, you’ve actually made things harder for yourself. Obviously this becomes more complicated at higher levels.

Here’s the maths

Let us regard the chances of hitting and killing a zombie and hitting and killing a zombie using a headshot (again no rules, but my discussion with the creator indicated that a headshot is the only way to permanently stop them – good man) using both attributes and skills, all other things being equal.

When using skills:

P(kill) = 1 - P(survive)^n

P(kill) is the probability of a kill
P(survive) is the probability of surviving a single shot
n is the number of ranks

We get the following chances to hit:

1 Rank
2 Ranks
3 Ranks
4 Ranks
5 Ranks
Base (10)
Base +3 (Headshot)

Using attributes is obviously simpler, giving the following chances to hit:

Base (12)
Base +3 (Headshot)

As we can see, buying a single rank in any skill makes at best, no difference to your performance, and at worst, actually significantly worse at performing a given task. Even someone with an average attribute of 5 has to buy 2 ranks before they pay off. Meanwhile, “Dead-eye Mike Jones, one of the supplied pre-gens with the maximum prowess of 8 is going to be hamstrung making headshots, with a 3 rank skill check, compared to his chance of hitting using his raw attribute.

The problem seems to be that there is no link between attributes and skills, unlike say, d20, where ‘attributes’ give a bonus to skill checks. Here you could be the most dexterous person in the world, but as soon as you put some training into firearms, blam! your chance of actually hitting something plunges right down.

In the end the problem is easy enough to work around, just be careful where your putting your skill points. In fact, it might be worth making your high attributes the ones you use the least, like Charisma, keeping your combat attributes low, and spending as many skill on them as possible, thus meaning your chances in combat are the best possible, while still being able to talk your way out of a tight spot.

I hope there’s something missing from the rules, or I’ve misunderstood something, because otherwise this system seems great, and I’m still going to invest when the full edition comes out.

N.B. The diplomacy skill seems rather niche. It’s used to mediate between two parties, not directly interact with anyone. The only skill for directly influencing others is Charm, which is explicitly stated to be the ability to use flirting and seduction…