This is not a review, per se -- you probably won't get much out of Underkoffler's Overview if you haven't read the game. What you will get is my opinions on the Negative, the Positive, and the Verdict.
[ Underkoffler's Overviews Archive ]
Ninja Burger: the RPG (2nd Edition)
Written by Michael "Aeon" Fiegel / aeforge
Website: [ http://www.ninjaburger.com/ ]
Reviews: [ None as yet. ]
DISCLAIMER: I need to make a couple disclaimers before proceeding with this Overview.
First, this product licenses my PDQ system as its core mechanic; therefore I have a small critical and financial interest in this game. Second, I participated in the production of this game as a peer reviewer. If the Negatives listed below seem a bit mild or overly nitpicky, that's due to my major Negatives being discussed, explained, or resolved during game development.
- Page What? The Adobe pagination (note: not the pagination of the actual document that appears on the page, but what appears in Adobe Reader/Acrobat's toolbar) is a little screwy in the copy I have, listing the front cover as "i" and the back cover as "Sec1:617". I print my PDFs at home, usually, and need to manually duplex small page ranges, so a screwy pagination makes it a little tricky to do. (But if you can auto duplex, or just print the whole thing single-side, you should be fine.)
- Dropped Ball #1: There's no page reference for "The Role of the Dispatcher" textbox on p. 81 anywhere in the Dispatcher chapter (pp. 31-50); this is a minor but irritating oversight.
- Hubba What [-x]? There is a systemic modification found in a textbox of the "Fill Bill" adventure (p.85) that appears nowhere within the underlying PDQ system nor within the NB rules; that is, essentially a new, unsupported rule. This is a Rank below Poor [-2] is introduced: Pathetic [-4]. It appears only within that adventure, and only in that one reference. (Though it may also sort-of appear in Scene 5 on p. 86 as part of a Chase Scene.) If it'd been included in the NB system throughout, I wouldn't have much problem with it; as it is, it's a throwaway rule that can actually be covered by extant NB/PDQ rules (Downshifts, for example). A tiny thing, but new rules additions via modules has always kind of bugged me.
- Find Bill! (Are You Sure?) I'm not sure about the logic of some parts of the "Find Bill" introductory adventure. If NBHQ has the skinny on who Bill is and what he does (for them and also what's revealed in Scene 7), there's no reason after Scene 2 to send the PCs onto Scene 3. Either someone (possibly the Dispatcher) in Scene 2 is clueless or honestly wishes the PCs to be executed (since no other ninja have ever made it past the second part of Scene 5), but this isn't really dealt with.
Lastly, I would have preferred a more caper-esque intro adventure to fit the NB aesthetic. Instead of Kill Bill, Ocean's 11, The Great Train Robbery, or The Italian Job breaking and entering fantasies seem more apt as a base for the "deliver anywhere" NB concept than a chop-socky revenge blood opera.
- Bigger Beer & Colossal Pretzels: The second edition of NB is 108 pages compared to the first edition's 32. The expanded material is all great stuff, ranging from new NPC foes to a complete San Francisco sourcebook (fat-packed with gameable stuff, including different random encounters per neighborhood).
All this extra detail also helps enable extended NB campaigns. The game can can still be run as a one-shot, but now can support miniseries/module or ongoing NB play surprisingly well.
- Rated V+2R+2 ("Wuxia Bloodsport Loony Toony"); Genin Under 17 Not Admitted without Chunin: The VR Rating is a great little concept that helps players "tune" the Violence and Realism factors of the sort of NB campaign they want, and these VR Ratings can have mechanical effects down the road -- altering the amount or effect of damage taken in combat, for example. "Saturday Morning Cartoon" levels of violence and damage are much less than "Hollywood Action Film" or "Wuxia Bloodsport." A neat campaign-wide mechanic.
- Quick Pickin' & Grinnin': The Quick Picks suggestions (p. 15) really help retain the speedy beer & pretzels vibe during chargen of the first edition of the game -- we're talking bare minutes and a couple random rolls to have a playable NB character.
- It's an Honor: The Honor system of NB takes the place of other character-tweaking points sub-systems found in other PDQ games (like Soul Points, Mojo Points, or Hero Points), and has a number of additional twists and functions attached to them. . . like the character's chances of being forced to commit seppuku!
- Art-astic! While the art throughout is good (and much improved on the first edition, IMAO), the illustration on p. 19 displaying "The Five Levels of the Ninja Quality" is solid fricking gold. Indeed, I think it'd make a great ad for the game.
- The Dispatcher Knows: In NB, the GM takes the role of the Dispatcher, which has direct character correlation to a member of the PCs' crew. The Dispatcher is the ninja sitting back at HQ, directing the delivery remotely. (Think of Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond, Tank in The Matrix, or Lt. Gorman in Aliens.) Starting on p. 31, plenty of rules and advice for game-mastering/refereeing in this manner, including methods of running an NB game but still being surprised by plot twists and unexpected occurences (via random rolls on charts found on pp. 33 and 34, and elsewhere in the book). It's a really interesting idea, and one very worthy of being explored and expanded in other games. Kudos!
- It's (Ninja) Magic! [CENSORED] You! The Ninja Magic rules starting on p. 44 are fun, and the way that they can be played in two different styles -- Focus or Flashy -- and how magic connects to a character's Element, are extremely cool. A really flexible, useful, and just plain spiffy magic system.
- I Think I've Seen This Before. . .: One of the Appendices for NB is a list of Movies and TV Shows set in San Francisco, with their plots suitably tweaked for NB play. What really makes this shine is that the list has been set up for random rolling. . . So, if pressed for time or ideas, I can roll two dice and end up with the NB-ified version of A View to a Kill as a plot seed, and take it from there. Really handy for beer 'n pretzels play!
LI>PErsonal Note: Since NB now uses PDQ, it is an extremely good match for my current playstyle. Furthermore, seeing how someone else has interpreted the ruleset that I developed has been illuminating -- I've discovered new and fascinating takes on the way to view system elements.
This is not just a retread of Monkey, Ninja, Pirate, Robot: the RPG (though MNPR:RPG has been gratifyingly influential on this edition of NB), nor is it simply an update of the first edition: the new Ninja Burger is a fresh game, bursting with hybrid vigor.
- If you're into silly, rules-light, or beer 'n pretzel RPGs, I highly recommend checking out this game. While I was a bit dubious when Aeon approached me back in the day about using PDQ for NB (I could see that it'd work for the speedy, short play the first edition did, but I was unsure that the game could be made workable for ongoing play), I was pleasantly surprised, then greatly excited, by what the NB team was assembling. The result is a game that is easily not just replayable, but continually playable, in nice single session chunks that can standalone or be strung together into a series.
Check it out.