Aces & Eights!

My copy of the Origins-award-winning Wild West game “Aces & Eights: Shattered Frontier,” from Kenzer & Co., finally came in! First impressions – man, it’s heavy! Faux leather cover, hardback, 400 glossy thick pages. It’s like a volume of the encyclopedia! (I got a great deal on it from USA Comic Books online, $42 with shipping – list price is $60!)

It seems very cool so far. As a “Deadwood” fan it’s nice to see a straight Western game (no supernatural or any of that). I’m dubious about the point of the ‘alternate history’ where the Confederates and Federals got into a stalemate though… Seems gratuitous and largely irrelevant to the play of the game. It has loads of info on Western campaign activities – town life, prospecting, cattle drives, juries, and more. This is awesome; to really make a Western game takes more than just some combat rules.

I have a soft spot for random character generation. In A&8, chargen is an odd mix of random, random but you can spend points to reroll, choose but it costs more, and choose. I’ll walk through the chargen and show you how quickly a fully fleshed out Western character appears!

“Hard” Pat Colby (yes, you can randomly roll names and nicknames!)

Str 10/89 Damage Mod: none, Lift 200 lbs, Carry 45 lbs, Drag 500 lbs.
Int 10/03 Acc Mod: non, BP Bonus: 0, Learn Mod: 0
Wis 12/35 Speed Mod: 1, BP bonus: 1, Learn Mod: 1
Dex 13/47 Speed Mod: 0, Acc/Hit Mod: 1
Con 7/17 HP Mod: -3
Looks 9/72 Cha Mod: -1, Rep Mod: -1, Fame Mod: -1
Cha 8/24 BP Bonus: 0, Learn Mod: -1, Max Compatriots 2, Rep Mod: -2

Stats are all randomly generated as 3d6 plus d100, where the d100 is “percentile” in the old AD&D 1e sense.

You start with 75 BPs, or “build points.” In many of the random roll situations they can be used to reroll, you can boost stats using them, etc. in addition to their normal use of buying skills and talents.

Character background is all randomizable! Let’s see what it gives us.

Pat hails from Montana. He’s 20 years old, 5’8″ tall, 159 lbs, and has $28 to his name. He’s coming west to build the railroad. Both his parents are living (and had him in wedlock). He’s the youngest of 4 siblings – 3 are living (1 brother he’s very close to, 2 sisters, one he gets along with OK and one he argues with), and one sister who died in an accident.
He was brought up in the city (the A&8 map doesn’t show any cities in Montana but a lil’ Net searching says Butte City might be good) by indifferent parents, getting him the Hardcase quirk, +2 BPs. They were Upper Lower Class (-1 Rep, -$10) and he’s a general laborer. Cool, I can get behind that!

This was all fun but the order was wonky at times and it was spread over several chapters. I’ll note that the organization of chargen is poor – most character rules are in Chapter 3.1 but the quirk/flaw, skill, and talent descriptions are in appendices 6.2,3, and 4, and parts of the random-roll background is in 6.5.

I rolled one Quirk:

Claustrophobic, for +25 BP.

Talents – you pick talents, not roll them. Why not supply a random scheme if you want? One of the things I like about random chargen is how easy it is to come up with a complex NPC totally randomly. So I made a random chart. I rolled “roll twice” and ended up with:

Rapid Reload (20 BP)
Fast Healer (10 BP)

Skills – this is really complicated. We have 72 BPs to spend, with one bonus BP for a Wisdom only skill. Skills are percentile and lower’s better. Let’s take one skill as an example (there appears to be 100 or so of them).

Riding – BP Cost 3, Stats DEX/WIS, Mastery Die 1d8, Universal Yes.

Since it’s a universal skill, Pat starts at 88% – that’s 100% minus the worst of his DEX and WIS scores (12, his WIS). To buy up the skill, Pat spends 2 BP for the first “tally” – 2 instead of 3 because his high Wis gives him a 1 Learning Modifier discount for any Wisdom based skill. Each “tally” you buy, you roll the mastery die to reduce your skill by it plus your worst relevant stat.  So he pays 2 BP to get 1d8 points down, plus the lowest of his Dex and Wis. I roll 7, so his new Riding skill is 88 – 7 – 12 = 69%. You buy more tallies to improve the skill more. But each time you buy a tally the cost increases by the BP cost yet again – the Learning Modifier comes off the top of each tally only once. So 3+3-1=5 BP for the second tally. Another d8, I roll 4 and so for a total of 7 BP his Riding is at 69 – 12 – 4 = 53%. And so on. This’ll take a while. My kingdom for a random buy or at least a simpler BRP-esque “buy points up” model. As play goes on it’ll be more manageable, but this is the wrinkle in up front chargen.

I think I’m doing this right but there’s an Excel character generator on their Downloads page, and its skill section, though I can’t figure out how to use it, appears to be somewhat different from this. Alas. And some of the skills are mighty cheap! Pick Pocket may be 9 BPs, but Art of Seduction is 1 BP, which means anyone can become a Bang Brother for a low investment. (Yeah, I went there.)

I’m not motivated enough to go through all the skill buy for this example, but the general shape of the character and their personality and background comes together quickly enough.

I’ll do a proper review of Aces & Eights eventually, but so far it is pretty cool!

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One response to “Aces & Eights!

  1. Neat system from what you read. Too bad it’s a Western and I’m stuck in the D&D ghetto :)

    If you came up with those backgrounds randomly, then that’s a very cool random chart they’ve got. Seems like Origins picked a winner.

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