First of all, why was I so stoked about Apes Victorious? I've been planning/dreaming to run games set on "a planet ruled by apes" for quite a long time, quite possibly using Mutant Future as the backbones, but I always had the problem of having to spend a lot of time and effort statting up various simians and mutants and stuff. Apes Victorious takes this burden straight off my shoulder and presents me with an opportunity to run such a game out-of-the-box.
In this post I will sum up my first impressions as I read the book.
("We shared your ancestors, you kept us caged like monsters...")
The Foreword set the nostalgic tone of the whole enterprise. I like the personal tone Dan Proctor takes here. Also - RIP, Steve Zieser...
Sections 1 introduces the post-retro-futuristic setting - briefly and to the point.
Section 2 is about character creation, and it's a gold mine. As I've mentioned in one of my previous posts, I thought Apes Victorious would be for Mutant Future. Instead, it's modeled after Starships & Spacemen, a game republished (reanimated!) by Goblinoid Game. I think this is a good choice: Mutant Future (Gamma World) is more on the vibrant gonzo science fantasy side, while Starships & Spacemen if a better fit for the bleak, dystopian sci-fi of Planet of the Apes.
The main game mode is a reproduction of the movies and focuses on astronauts accidentally returning to an Ape-dominated planet. Playing as apes and mutants is an option as well.
Astronauts are well-rounded characters, with additional knowledge in various scientific areas. The Astronaut class covers also the humans who never got off the planet, but instead went into cryogenic sleep and wake up in the world of tomorrow!!! Then we are onto them dirty apes! The strict caste system of Planet of the Apes lends itself very well to conversion into RPG classes. Bonobo Agents are the sneaky / diplomatic ones, Chimpanzee Scholars are the scientists exemplified by Dr. Zira and Dr. Cornelius (obviously, there are also the not-so-humanistic researchers!), who specialize in one or another branch of ape science. Gorilla Soldiers are the leather-clad brutes riding horses and wielding whips and rifles... Fearsome foes, but also an interesting opportunity to play as a character... So are Orangutan Politicians, with their insider knowledge and intrigues.
Humanoids are the "natives", the devolved humans - low on intelligence, but true instinctive survivors. Then there are the Underdwellers, the psionic mutants from Beneath the Planet of the Apes. They also have access to special futuristic pieces of equipment, like powerful energy weapons.
Overall, this is all great stuff! The options presented here allow you to explore basically any facet of the franchise. For example, I'd love to play a game about simian intelligentsia, taking cues from Soviet history, with dissidents and conformists and closed science cities.
|"I'm just a humble ape, please, leave my family alone."|
I think it might also be interesting to mix different types of characters in the party. Astronauts and Humanoids go together well, and any renegade Simian can join them as well. Loyal Apes are harder to mix with non-loyals, but these unlikely mixes give us interesting opportunities as well. I think I will make a table of various options...
Section 3 describes the various Psi Powers. I'm not familiar with Starships & Spacemen, but I suspect this section mostly overlaps with it. It's the tried & trusted fare of ESP, telekinesis, brain drain stuff, 12 powers in total. Not much, but it covers most things, and, frankly, coming up with new ones would take it too much towards "magic spells", and ruin the atmosphere of the game.
I've only skimmed Section 4, Adventure Rules. Good to see it has mechanics for "Nets in Combat" and mounted apes -- those pesky humanoids don't stand a chance!!
Section 5 describes creatures you encounter on the planet. These are mostly more dangerous and lethal versions of real world animals. It's interesting to see that there are "wild", semi-evolved versions of apes included. If "the Ape Master wants to add a more fantastical element to the campaign", she can turn to the Forbidden Zone: simian cyborgs, heavily mutated flora & fauna.
Section 6 is a write-up of Ape Society. Just a few pages, which I find great. Pulling from various sources of the franchise, Proctor presents a quite concise view of the Ape Society, describes their science, religion, tech (remember, chimps, no electricity!). I think this is the best way to do it - without going into superfluous detail. Section 7 goes underground and describes the Underdweller society in the same manner, with a heavier emphasis on technological gizmos and just a few words on the ideology.
Section 8 is for the Ape Master. First and foremost Proctor addresses the problem of the narrow scope of Ape Victorious.
"After all, as the Ape Master, how many times can you start the game by saying, “You are stranded astronauts, having just awoken from cryogenic slumber...”?" (p. 88)This is just the kind of intelligent, self-reflective approach I wanted to find in this game! Proctor, once again, briefly, but in clear wording, talks about the influence of the late 1960s-1970s on the aesthetic and the atmosphere of this game. There are quite a few scenario ideas, handy tools like random generators for locations, names, encounters; some commentary on "mixed groups"... Section 9 implements these ideas and is an introductory/sample adventure. Section 10 is conversion options.
This write-up almost turned into a review, so it's time to summarize my thoughts.
I can say that Apes Victorious definitely lived up to my expectations! It has everything I wanted to see in it, it all seems practical and highly usable; a stand-alone niche game for people who love Planet of the Apes. And I think it has the potential to appeal to non-die-hard fans as well.
The writing is top-notch. Brief, to the point, yet personal. Formatting and layout is clean and readable. There aren't many illustrations (maybe 15 pictures for 120 pages?), all done by Mark Allen. This isn't eye candy... but it's easy on the eye. I think the book could have taken more pictures, and maybe included other artist (not that I have any problem with Allen's style - and it's a good fit for the theme). But it's a conscious laconic approach.
Well done, everybody! Can't wait to try this game in action.