Monday, May 1, 2017

RPG Review: Luchador

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Cover

Luchador, Way of the Mask
Written By: Gabe Ivan
Published By: Spartacus Publishing
Publisher's Website: spartacuspublishing.com
Review By: J.L. Duncan


Welcome to a review of Luchador, Way of the Mask. This review, concerns the portable document format (PDF), which is available at drivethrurpg.com and rpgnow.com. Those who might prefer an actual dead tree version can get their hands on one by ordering direct from the Spartacus Publishing website at: spartacuspublishing.com, or just click the link above. Mash some buttons and it can be yours.

Let’s begin by letting the game speak for itself…

“Players take on the roles of luchadors pitting their high-flying talents against international criminals, secret spy enclaves, evil cults, mad scientists, and other luchadors. Sometimes they will even get to wrestle each other (this is a great way to teach players the rules). Throughout it all, the characters should embody the flamboyant excitement and code of honor that all luchadors revere. This is not a game for cautious schemers and meticulous tacticians. This is a game for swashbuckling daredevils who know every adventure should end in a free-for-all battle royale.” (PG 4)

For context, a Luchador is a professional Mexican wrestler.
The premise of Luchador is undoubtedly unique. I would say that the setting is unique, but beyond the above quoted paragraph and a few tidbits sprinkled in for flavor Luchador doesn’t focus too much on setting beyond its own game elements. The game elements are the setting.

Luchador also doesn’t take itself too seriously or most notably, zero in on the cultural significance of the sport. Though I’d have liked to seen something in this regard, I’ve decided not to hold this fact against it.
Back to elements: Luchador’s main bad guys are worth note and a bit outside the box for what one would intuitively conceive in regards to a wrestling RPG. I imagine a lot of fun hi-jinx should come with the package. While I wouldn’t call Luchador a monster mash, the mix of Harry Dresden meets James Bond type villain tropes is an aspect which creates an interesting dynamic.

Featured is the Umbral Accord; an evil network of criminals, spies, scientists and general no-do-gooders. If a government fails, the Umbral Accord is likely responsible. If your cat gets stuck high in a tree-and you record the tortured meows and play them back later at one third speed in reverse you will hear, “The Umbral Accord is responsible.”
Creepy huh?-yes that last one was my feeble attempt at humor.

Besides other Luchadores, the big heavies our heroes might face include a laundry list of evil creatures. Just to name a few there’s vampire women, zombies, chupacabra and Aztec mummies. Okay, Luchador is a bit of monster mash…     
A certain familiarity with professional wrestling couldn’t hurt, but there is enough covered within this book that even a fleeting awareness of the sport, should get you started. If you don’t have that, there are lots and lots of illustrations. As per usual let’s start with making a character.

Creating a character in Luchador requires a little calculation as well as some roll-drama and is finished up in four steps. The first step is choosing a class, of which there are four possibilities. Character Classes are the Aerialist, Technico, Gimmico and Bruiser. Each has strengths relative to their name, which is reflected in their individual (attributes) Stat-Lines. As well, each character class has its own black and white illustration which helps a player get the basic of idea of the “type,” of Luchador they’re about to select.
Interior Art
The next two steps are generating the Primary as well as Secondary or Figured Statistics and spending Skillpoints. The Primary Statistics are Strength, Agility, Conditioning, Presence, Wits and Determination, these being the raw physical attributes of the character. The Secondary or Figured statistics are Initiative, Fatigue, Resilience and Vitality. Figured Statistics are the sum of two primary statistics. For instance, the Resilience score is cumulated from strength and conditioning.
Each new character receives fifteen Skillpoints to spend with generation, but may have also acquired a few more points if the rolls concerning the primary statistics were below adequate. Skills in Luchador fall under four categories but are essentially either, “in the ring” or “out of the ring,” skills. Out of the ring skills are mostly left to the group to create, with a few examples to show the way. Since this is a wrestling game as you might guess, most skills in Luchador are combat based and most fall into the category of wrestling moves. Each skill and their relative costs are expensive compared to the amount of skillpoints to start. Newly rolled characters won’t begin with more than a handful.    
The fourth and last step is Paint and Finish which is a short section of ideas about how players can add some details to their characters.

Overall, creating a character in Luchador is a bit more involving than it first seems. The section requires a bit of page scrolling (for good grasp) and additional mouse clicking, but putting it all together it takes a bit more time than I initially expected.
The process is inlaid with a few carefully placed checks and balances. Character classes do not begin with a set amount of skills but points to spend, while each skill is catered to work with a specific primary statistic. Choices-choices… Character Mini-maxing is impossible. Gamers who prefer balance with character generation will find Luchador more than passable.

A key specific to characters is how they progress. Luchador doesn’t have character levels in the classical sense. Instead, players will be able to purchase new skills, increased stats etc., with the experience points they earn. This is a point buy system. Luchador’s experience point system, much like character generation, doesn’t just lean toward balance-it encompasses it. Advancing a skill or stat becomes increasingly expensive the higher the number or the more proficient the character becomes.
The mechanics of Luchador is named the DEG System and involves the exclusive use of a twenty sided dice. DEG isn’t innovative by any stretch, but it gets points for being original and for the most part serviceable. DEG is for the most part a medium crunch system. By my assessment, the more familiar you are the lighter the system will be. This will take a few sessions however so the learning curve is a bit sharp. Combat which is a feature of this game, such as it should be, is a bit on the heavy side. This is mostly due to how much data will need to be tracked by players during physical confrontations.   

The basics of DEG in regards to checks and game rolls, are that the GM utilizes a level (or target number) of difficulty, while this number will be subtracted from the characters rating based on skill or statistic (character attribute) for a specific task. DEG encourages the GM to present story elements based on the margin of success (MOS) or failure, be it some extra flavor text via epic success/failure.  
There is a bit more to these checks but I thought they fit together well-given the nature of the game and how this is encouraged to work in consideration with margin of success/failure. I did find myself with a few questions after reading though the intricacies of DEG. For instance, the Taking Damage section feels a bit taxing towards combat, but there didn’t seem to be any major problems or at least nothing exploitable.

Luchador also has some unique game elements which lead it towards the more theatrical nature of what you might find with wrestling on television. First among these is that the game provides a basic framework which allows players to create signature moves for their characters. After all what would a Luchador be without some signature moves? I thought this was nice addition to the ruleset, and while different examples of play can be found throughout, I thought a signature move example-could have clarified this a bit more.
Luchador also incorporates components of Fame and in game karma coined: Heat, which a luchador can accumulate and burn during a game session. Heat works very much like luck or tokens in other game systems; allowing a character to acquire and use it within a session for a special feat beyond game rolls.

Conclusion?
There are defiantly a few rough spots with Luchador, but overall I had a favorable impression. I really enjoyed the concept of the Luchadores as the heroes, and opposing an evil spy network and a bunch of classic monsters actually fits better than you would think.  

The writing is decent save a few minor errors, while the overall layout and organization is very well done. The book itself is only a bit more than sixty pages and it reads a lot bigger than it is. The table of contents serves its purpose, though with how chapters and sections are marked, the table functions as an index of sorts. Black and white illustrations are plentiful and decent. Character creation and progression is more balanced than you will find in most games.
Is Luchador a niche game? Unequivocally, yes. Though unlike most niche games you’d be inclined to pass on, the game has some additional charm that might just grow on you if you let it.

Note: This review is property of Kenzer and Company published here with expressed permission. Luchador was provided by the publisher free of charge for the purpose of review.

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