Thursday, June 18, 2015

Gaigaia's thoughts – Review of OVA rpg, the Revised edition

OVA - Open Versatile Anime rpg
Revised edition review

Since yesterday I've made an adaptation of Ryuko Matoi from Kill la Kill to OVA rpg, I thought that today I'd review the OVA revised edition.

0,) Introduction

OVA is an rpg made by Clay Gardner, from Wise Turtle, with the objective to emulate the anime/manga genre, capturing its fast pace, wacky hijinks and over-the-top action. It uses a customized dice pool mechanics using a number of d6s (normally around 5 to 10), rolling them together, and all adding together the dice that come up with the same number for the best result (rolling a 6, 6, 5, 5, 5 would result in a 15, for example). Its first edition dates from 2006, and, in 2013, it got its revised edition, which I participated in the kickstarter campaign and it is the one I'm reviewing today.

In this article, I will take a look into the game mechanics, the book's design, the clarity of text and my overall thoughs about the game.

1,) Rules (a view into the game mechanics)

Firstly, one interesting thing to note about OVA is that, although the basic mechanics of the game center around your common bombastic and overblown anime/manga series, the system is extremely maleable and easy to adapt to any anime genre you prefer – from romantic comedies to investigative horro, to even overpowered shonen series. With that first point noted, let's go into the main aspects of the system.

. Character Creation (Abilities and weakenesses): Character creation in OVA is done with the use of giving each character Abilities (ranging from +1 to +5) and Weaknesses (from -1 to -3). In basic character creation, the values must end in a zero sum (both abilities and weaknesses must be equal in total value). The system provides a very extensive list of abilities and weaknesses, many that are even similar in nature

Values are relative to the setting, and +0 does not mean that you are bad. In fact, +0 is the normal value of a common person. Having +1 in an attribute means that you trainned in the subject, while +3 means you are extremely talented and with +5 you are one of the best people in the whole world in that ability. It is somewhat similar to the FATE ladder (+1 average, +2 fair, +3 good, +4 great, +5 superb). The book states that no character should have more than +5 in an ability, or that it should be a very rare occurrence.

. Customization (Perks and Flaws): The main tool for customization is what the system calls 'perks' and 'flaws'. It basically is a mechanic that adds a cost for activating an ability in endurance points (the 'stamina' of the system) when you use that ability for an specific action. Perks add special benefits (like a paralysing move, a special effect, a bonus to the roll) while costing endurance, and flaws add penalties while reducing the endurance cost. No endurance cost may go below 0 (which means that the ability has no cost of activation).

This might be the strongest ascpet in the system, because it allows the player to create special attacks for its character in order to simulate anime special attacks and defences. For example, you may create an attack named 'Kamehameha', that has damage +3 for a total of 15 endurance points per activation. Or maybe say 'Focusing the mind's eye', giving +3 to a perception roll for the cost of 15 endurance. All this proccess is very easy and simple – you just have to add endurance costs following the list of Perks and Flaws.

. Conflict Resolution: As I said at the introduction, the system uses a d6 customized pool, where same numbers rolled are added together. Basically, you roll 2d6 as base, +1 per relevant Ability and -1 per relevant Weaknesses. So, if you want to drive a spaceship and you had Pilot +2, Knowledge: Spaceships +1 and Clumsy -2, you'd roll 3d6 (2 + 2 +1 – 2). After rolling, you compare the total with either a fixed difficult number or one opposed roll. If you roll higher, you succeed.

Combat uses the same mechanic. You add relevant combat abilities, deduce appliable weaknesses and, if your roll higher, you succeed hurting the adversary. For each point your attack goes over the enemy defence, you cause your Damage factor (Dx) to it. So, if your roll was 5,5, 3,2,6 (total of 10) vs 3,3,1 (total of 6), you cause 4 times your damage factor. The base damage factor is 1, and it is boosted by abilities (such as Strong and Attack) and with perks like extra damage. So, in the example from before, if you are attacking in melee and you have Strong +2, your Dx would be 3, and you'd cause 12 damage (4x3) in your opponent. Damage is deduced from the opponentes Health. If Health gets to 0, then damage starts chipping away out of Endurance. When Endurance is also 0, the character faints.

2,) Presentation (text layout, visuals, images and overall book aesthetics)

This is one beautiful rpg books, maybe one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. The text is easy to read, the tables are nice, the diagramation is on point. Text-wise layout, I have little to criticize. Well trimmed and well done. And, about the visuals, the art direction is outstanding. It encapsulates the 'spirit' of the game and what it intends on being – a campy, over-the-top anime style rpg in its core. I think that the only weak part I've seen in the book's presentation is its summary. Blend, not very descriptive and overall boring, it does not match the other exceptional art and layout of the rest of the book.

3,) Problems (the cons of the game)

. Too many dice: Rolling dice might become clumbersome when you have a few powered characters rolling for each attack and defence around 8+ dice. However, although bothersome, it is not as much as in other games, like D&D 4e or Pathfinder, where rolling dice even more time consuming.

. Lack of some key anime abilities: The book has no Elemental Control, Regeneration and Alternate Forms abilities. Although some of them you can emulate with perks (like Alternate Form could be a customized Transformation, and Regeneration could be a Heal that can only be used on yourself) it is lackluster that the game has no direct options for a 'pokemon trainner' character, a 'transformer' robot or an 'elemental bender' similar to Avatar (even though Avatar is 'not anime'). This is one of the greatest problems with the game, although they can be easily solved with extra material and expansions.

. Confusing text: The text is confusing in many aspects, specially in regards to how exactly Flaws and Weaknesses interact. Besides that, many abilities are very, very similar in nature and, although that is a design choice (the idea being that you are able to customize exactly how you imagine your character), it makes things confusing for a player in a mechanical point o view.

. Awkward power progression: Although the system have an option for escale, it is very lacking and it does not play well games where power surges abound. For example, playing something like a many layered 'super saiyan' transformations would not work well since the top ability level is +5. It is very easy to circumvent this by using houserulling. Just allow abilities beyond +5 and put a maximum cap of 10 dice, and every die beyond that add +2 to the roll. So, if you have a roll of 14 dice, you'd roll 10 and add +8 to the total. Nevertheles, as it's written, the rules cannot sustain games with much varied power level characters.

4,) Final saying (a quick recap of all the goods and cons of the game)

If you wish to play an anime game, I recommend OVA rpg 100%. Although its basic rules are geared towards a more tongue-in-cheek experience, it can easily be adapted to any anime genre without much problem. The dice mechanic is different, interesting and fun, even though sometimes too clustered. The strongest points in the system are character creation (the zero-sum allows for some very unique characters with many curious weaknesses) and the perks and flaws (which allow the creation of anime-like powers and special attacks on spot). Even though it may be lacking in some very pin-pointed aspects (power levels and lack of some very common anime And in fact, if you are wishing to play a supers game, OVA might be good for you too, although I'd say that I prefer Icons for such things.

And you, what do you think about OVA rpg? Do you think on playing it? I hope you folks liked this review.

Until next time,


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