[This is my second review in the Game Review Round Robin group organized by Eleri Hamilton.]
Many generic game systems, particularly the ones that are in widespread use these days, grew organically from the mechanics of a specific game. Savage Worlds grew out of Deadlands, the Cypher System grew out of Numenera, Fate (in its modern form) grew out of Spirit of the Century and the Dresden Files. If Cortex Plus succeeds as a generic system, it will largely be because of Leverage and Marvel Heroic.
The late 80s and early 90s were the heyday of generic systems created from the beginning to be generic, but that doesn’t happen as much anymore. (And yes, people still play GURPS, but it’s much harder to establish a new generic system in the modern market.) With this in mind, I have to give props to William Altman for even attempting it. So let’s dig into his generic system, Krendel Core.
The first thing I want to say is the first thing you’ll probably notice when you start digging into the game, which is that it is incredibly thorough. And not just thorough in terms of rules and options – though it certainly is that – but also thorough in terms of the consideration it gives towards explaining how to play and how to think about playing a roleplaying game. The first several pages offer very detailed advice about every aspect of what it means to participate in an RPG, and more bits of advice crop up periodically throughout the book.
However, this is not what I would call a story game. The rules are too specific and clear-cut to be narrative freeform. There are dozens of pages (and tables) of skills, actions, powers, and equipment. In many ways, this seems like the sort of system you would offer to a long-time GURPS player to gradually transition them towards a more narrative style of play. But it might be a little much for people coming from the other direction.
The core mechanic is simple enough to pick up quickly. It involves rolling equal to or under a target number on a d10. Your relevant skill (and modifiers) can adjust the target number up, which allows more leeway for success. In addition, the actual number on the die (if it hits the target) provides the degree of success. The number you roll is the number of successes that you can then spend on narrative and mechanical effects, somewhat like advantages in FFG’s Star Wars games. This also means that higher skill makes you more likely to have multiple successes to spend on effects.
The strength of Krendel Core is largely wrapped up in this system. It makes every roll dual-purpose, something that can be hard to do with a single d10. The skills and actions reinforce this mechanic and use it well. The book provides so many direct applications of the success system that it’s very clear that this is the key to the game.
The game runs into some difficulty where it gets away from this core mechanic. For instance, characters have a strength stat (the only such attribute) primarily to manage how they interact with equipment. However, proficiency with gear might have been better handled by simply tying it to skills (much like powers), and I’m never sure that encumbrance really needs to be particularly granular. In this case, strength is fine as a solution to keeping things explicit in such a detail-oriented game, but there are just a couple places like this where I was hoping for something more closely tied to the skill system.
Krendel Core does include a very detailed power system that is tied to skills, even more so than most other magic/feat/advantage systems. And it really encompasses all of those things – building specialized abilities off of your character’s existing skills specializations. The game offers some pretty ingenious ways to tie a wide variety of effects together into a single coherent mechanical system.
But the descriptions of some of the powers imply a setting that isn’t actually provided within the book. The bestiary also suggests a world behind the game that isn’t otherwise provided. Based on the powers and creatures, it’s a world that has me very curious, so I hope that Altman will write it up at some point.
I feel that the one thing that would make this game more approachable would be to have a Quick Start version of the rules that just covered the basic mechanics of tasks, character creation, and character progression. The Core book is very dense, and that can be intimidating to people just checking it out. A simplified version would be very useful for starting players. It’s hard to recommend breaking up the Core book itself, because ultimately these additional sections do make the book more complete. But it would be nice to be able to break off just the most basic pieces you need to play for those who want to try it out.
And people should try it out. Because the thing is, the math for this game is rock-solid. It’s clear that a lot of careful thought and work went into the mechanics for Krendel Core. And if you like reading a very complete system with more options than you could ever possibly use, then it’s even better!
Krendel Core and its expansion, Krendel Powers, are available on DriveThruRPG right now. Both are currently free while the author is serving in the Peace Corps, which should be reason enough to support the game.