Tuesday, January 31, 2017

RPG Review: Feed

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Disclosure: Links to product pages in this review, include my DriveThruRPG.com affiliate identification. I receive token % in compensation if you purchase something on the landing page. This review is property of Kenzer and Company, republished here with permission, and may have been modified by the author. The PDF of Feed was purchased for the purpose of this review.

Feed

Title: Feed
By: Kris Newton
Published By: Whistlepunk Games
Scouted By: J.L. Duncan

Welcome to a review of Feed, a vampire themed RPG that certainly presents some interesting ideas to the genre. Take or leave it, Feed is a sandbox and in this reviewer’s opinion, a game with a bit more sand than box. Personally, I like my sand with a game or two of beach volleyball, and three or four martini's, but to each their own. What the vampire characters will be; the setting they roam and even the disposition of the game is determined throughout a very involving process. So put those fang files away for the time being and let’s begin.
The game starts with the players getting together and crafting a story profile by the Collaborative Method, which is at its essence sitting down, sharing ideas and taking notes. Alternatively, a Game Master can opt for the GM Method which is exactly that, with the GM deciding on the setting and scope of the game. The beginning of the story profile is defined by three key questions: Who are the main protagonists? What is the story’s setting? What is game play going to involve?

I’ll leave you to your thoughts…
A specific Strain of vampirism is communally decided. In short, one possibility is to gather all the vampire movies, books and any other media you can think of and cherry pick what you liked best. My words, not the authors and you’ll have to decide the game context later, so stick those ideas in your pocket for the time being, as we move to the next section and read the Two Commandments:

Vampires Feed & Vampiric Nature Opposes Some Other Nature: The first one is a given-the second however, is both the strength and weakness of this RPG. The Vampiric Nature in Feed opposes human nature-so I was unclear about the author’s choice to word it this way.
Next the Basic Elements are decided on. These elements will define the characters more specifically such as, Aging, Appearance, Cure, Feeding, Physiology and Transmission. Each of the Basic Elements has a rating of strong, neutral or weak. Though they’re no rules to apply or implement balance based on rating. The GM and the players decide as they see fit, though there are options that more than two Stains of Vampirism is possible.

As suggested by the game, a GM who is tasked with creating something like an opposing group of NPC vampires and does not want to implement the same Strain, might consider balancing the two against each other. Each of the basic elements has four general suggestions but the players can invent (pull those ideas from earlier out as well as for the next sections) their own ideas as well.

Gifts & Weaknesses are presented (special abilities/disabilities) of which there are a five and four respectively. The Gifts are Personality, Physical Perfection, Regeneration, Spirit and Success. The Weaknesses are Compulsions, Tells, Vulnerabilities and Wards.
What is presented for these is a very basic outline. For instance, a character might have the Gift of Physical Perfection but the Gift isn’t specific as to what Physical Perfection entails, beyond a die roll bonus and the gaining of a (which comes later) Hunger Trait. Interestingly, Gifts & Weaknesses are not; or seemingly not written as opposable. The fluffs for these, as well as most of everything else are left to the player group to fill in.

Next is developing a Strain, which is a Special Rules section which gives examples of special circumstances that players and GMs may decide to award dice bonuses, such as specific tweaks in regards to action as well as for dramatic flavor.
Last for Strain is the Vampiric Trait Section which mentions a vampire’s addiction to blood and addiction is mentioned throughout (examples) and is a core mechanic of the game. As blood is usually considered subsistence rather than addictive in regards to vampires, it took me awhile to get past this concept and understand that it is the most important mechanic of the game. Addicted to blood? Feed assumes it so.

The Vampiric Trait Section, at best it feels incomplete. The heading “Trait List” is a section with two paragraphs about how you might develop some traits based on the theme of the game and most notably… No list! No love for shapeshifting or enhanced senses, which could have been written here or under Gifts and Weaknesses. What could have been an awesome section of the book falls flat on its spine. It would seem appropriate that a section titled “Trait List”-should, or at least it might be prudent to have an actual list of traits… “Just-sayin.”
With the Strain developed we move to Character Creation and I already know I’m running out of space to cover it appropriately… (Note: for a published article anyway)

The short of it is that for Character Creation, players pitch character ideas to the group and when all are approved-sixteen questions are answered to the individual player’s liking for character development. The answers clue key personal traits (human traits) in regards to the characters before they became a vampire. Human Traits are segregated equally into four categories; Personal, Physical, Spiritual and Public. Each of these human traits is assigned a sliding scale die pool by player preference, which exhibits strengths and weaknesses in ability.   
Characters are then… (Deep breathe…) Degenerated; which entails swapping human traits with vampire traits. Characters may start with as many as seven but each brings with it an Addiction Point which we shall cover the basics of in a moment…

A session of Feed relies on three key events Anchoring, Compulsion and Temptation. Behind this are the ideas that blood is addicting to vampires, Vampire Traits and Human Traits are in conflict, and that Hunger (technically a trait) is something to be resisted.
Before we get into this and without specifically going into dice pools, Feed is a game without typical hit points; instead characters take Trait Damage. A weakened trait can be attacked by a fellow player or GM; a failure by the target of this attack indicates that the trait is swapped with a vampire trait. This is called Compulsion. Feed is much more of a story building game than you might think a more typical RPG, as players are not necessarily opponents but in a situation such as this roll against each other.

Anchoring allows characters to go off scene to renew one Human Trait. Anchoring lowers hunger and in essence helps the character to maintain their Addiction at a manageable level. Temptation works as a dynamic for a GM to plan a future Compulsion, against a player character’s weakened human traits (remember traits can be damaged).
The more Vampiric traits inhibit a character, the less “in-control,” that character is of both the Addiction and Hunger. This key is how conflicts will be resolved, though it’s an implied understanding, because if it’s written within the book-I missed it.

Does the last six paragraphs sound complicated?

Good, because it is. And a game that attempts to toolbox the setting and from a certain perspective the game mechanics, will be…   

I place a high value on originality and for that alone, Feed is one of the most original RPGs I’ve seen in a long time. Certainly their are elements of world of darkness (Vampire Etc.), however this game occupies a strange space, while in concept being utterly brilliant-the game is totally blind to itself.
The game concept is interesting but the tone and theme of the game is depressing. You’re addicted to blood but if you give in, you’ll become a monster. Think of yourself as Louis at the beginning of Interview with a Vampire, but to a certain degree you’ll never get past being him. As brilliant and original with how the game mechanics actually come into play, the scope of how this plays out is in part limited to, “bad things.”

A vampire game which assumes you don’t want to be a monster. So, if you don’t want to be a monster… Why play Feed? The answer is (and not my personal bread & butter for gaming) to create vampire stories with a unique approach to toolbox play.
In Feed the mechanics are designed to drive the story more so than other RPGs. Most importantly the mechanics change the characters. Other games have this as an interesting option or limited feature but Feed pushes the concept to the foreground. Interesting to say the least, but this also impedes the scope somewhat and is counterintuitive to toolbox play.

In regards to content, the writing suffers a bit from a couple of pitfalls; sentences that run on unnecessarily as well as key sections that reference page numbers (to other sections) instead of explaining how something should work within the section it’s most relevant. Using the PDF I didn’t find this appealing. Though the writing is decent, the book isn’t well organized or easy to comprehend. There is also no example of gameplay, which would have gone a long way to making this a better RPG. The cover is beautiful in that it fits the mood of the game perfectly and the interior art ranges from mundane to spectacular.
 
Feed is no ordinary game. Its toolbox and its mechanics aren’t typical. The game suffers from overwritten sections that essentially say, “hey, your group can make up anything you want and apply it here,” while sections that could have/ should have been detailed were apparently eaten by the hounds of hell. This is game that is more of a story engine toolbox than an RPG, but the game may appeal to some, and to those it does (and quite literally so) more power to you.
Now if you’ll excuse me, thumb-keying this review has put me in the mood to hack something…

Used for this review is the PDF version of the book which is available on drivethrurpg.com, at the suggested price of $10.00 with the Pay What You Want program. However, the game is also available on Amazon in full color (softcover) print if you’d prefer a dead tree version.