Sunday, 11 October 2020

The Roleplayer's Guide to Heists (San Jenaro Co-Op)

Disclaimer: I backed this collection of 35 Heist scenario seeds published by San Jenaro Co-Op on Kickstarter, to PDF level. I've no other connection with the product or the Co-Op.

OK, first things first: is it brilliant? God no. Is it good? Yes. Is it good enough for you & your game?

In any collection of 35 scenario seeds, no matter what the theme, there are going to be some you think are great, some utter garbage, and the rest doable with a little effort. Speaking personally I disliked a few, the one with the dead God floating in the sky reminded me of those old 1970s-ish trippy flying ship posters students buy for their dorm rooms, and some I want to run. Especially the haunted ships Piracy scenario, which sounds like an excellent way to spend Halloween. I'm not sorry I backed it - now there's a glowing endorsement!

San Jenaro, for those who aren't familiar, is a US-based 100% creator owned profit-sharing group. The writers on this particular product are Liam Ginty, Olivia Hill, Kate Jeanne, J.R. Zambrano, Keith Evans, Ren Ginty, JW van Heerden, Chris Falco, Heather Rusk, Amanda Allen, Alvhild Sand, Jon Garrad, K. Rountree, Jay Henningsen, and Heather Rusk. Artists are Dyer Rose, Hector Rodriguez, Daniel Walthall, Brian York, Donald Kirby, Galen Evans, and Federico Sohns.

Each seed in this collection contains the basic outline of a heist scenario of one type or another. The majority are set in the US in the modern day, with a couple fantasy and sci-fi heists thrown in. Though intended for any RPG most are fairly standard urban fantasy stuff whose appeal will greatly depend on whether or not you like the source material. If you're not a Harry Potter fan, for example, the Harry Potter theme scenario will not appeal to you. If you don't really get on with Judge Dredd or Harry Dresden then the sci-fi scenario set in an arcology will not appeal, and so on. 

That's inevitable. Let's not talk about the inevitable. Let's talk about the meat.

The format for each scenario is broadly the same. Introduction (plus image & teasers). The Site/Building. The Score. Security. Getaway. Descriptive text as per normal, important stuff in bold. Each is about four pages long. It's all stat-free and since this is meant to be improv none of the scenarios give you more than the basics. No detailed maps, no list of important NPCs (with some exceptions), no in-depth 'this is how you're supposed to crack the vault' box. You do you. 

This is one of those emergency collections Dungeon Masters buy as insurance against that fatal day when you realize you haven't got anything planned for tonight's session and are feeling just a wee bit desperate. There's just enough meat on the bones you won't feel lost, and not so much detail you feel as though you have to slavishly follow what's on the page. 

It has problems. One or two writers, naming no names, need a placard next to their monitor: Omit Needless Words. Either that or tattoo it onto their pet's shaved backsides, whichever works. Kill Your Adverbs is also good advice. Some of the collection's four essays feel tacked-on; two are wanted posters, and while I liked the idea once I saw the first one I was expecting more than just two. The tables (fantasy loot, different locks or lockboxes, security systems and so on) were a good idea but some of them (Mooks in particular) needed more work. 

Its biggest issue is that it feels very lopsided. Of the 35 scenarios, one is set in the US in the 1890s, thirteen in modern day US (mostly California), two on islands in the modern day, seven in modern day locations elsewhere in the world, seven fantasy, five sci fi, and of the sci fi locations one's in New York and another a NASA base. 

So if you're, say, a fantasy or sci-fi Keeper looking for inspiration, you're going to feel left out. Ditto if you're a gamer looking for material set anywhere other than North America in the 2000s, really. The problem's fixable - change up some names, fiddle with the locations. Still, with about 40% of the scenarios set in the US or a US-centric location, mostly modern day, the collection feels unbalanced. 

That might be a Me problem. I don't live in the US, and as I live on a small island I have to look outside for inspiration. If I only wrote about Bermuda I'd quickly run out of source material - or at least, source material anyone wants to read. So I'm happy to research locations I've never lived in or experienced first hand, and alternate time periods. Whereas if I lived in California, which is larger than Bermuda, perhaps I'd think that California was the center of the universe and everyone wants to hear about California. 

 Enough teasing. The verdict:

This is a well-thought-out product currently selling for $20 at DriveThru, and if you want a closer look without shelling out dosh there is a free preview. If you run a game set in the modern day - Nights Black Agents, say, Vampire: the Requiem, or Esoterrorists - you will probably be able to harvest three or four of these straight away and another ten or so with a little work. Exactly which ones will depend on you and your group. Alternatively if you just want something you can run as a one-off any of them can be slotted in for a night's worth of fun. In fact some of them can really only be run as one-offs; I can't see the Kraken scenario as anything other than a one-off, for instance, unless there's someone out there running campaigns of Toon

It could work really well with modernish games that have a tinge of strangeness or sci-fi, so something like Troubleshooters or The Strange. I don't play The Strange often enough to make a judgment call, but several of the scenarios seem well suited to its lets-change-up-the-setting gimmick. The Troubleshooters is eagerly awaited ... [gnashing of teeth.]

It's less useful to any Keeper playing in a time period other than the 2000s, so Call of Cthulhu, Trail, Bookhounds, Dreamhounds, and similar. The McGuffins are often very modern, or the situation/setting and adversaries are similarly unusable outside a game set in the present. Also, those of you hoping for material for your swords & sorcery or sci-fi setting might be disappointed. There'll be something here for you, but it's a small something in comparison with the material in the rest of the book. 


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