The Awesome System is an universal system by the new game publishing outfit Sharkpunch Studios. Sharkpunch Studios, based on the spellings of Defence and Armour and such in the text, are a UK outfit. This universal system is not generic however; it is designed to handle ‘80s style over-the-top B movie, Midnight Drive-in, Cult Classic, and Grindhouse action with a touch of gonzo craziness. Think of over the top action flicks like Riki Oh: The Story of Riki, Nemesis, They Live, Band of the Hand, The Hidden, I Come in Peace, Galaxy of Terror, Zombie Doom, Shaw Brothers Kung-Fu films, El Santo Flicks, Sho Kosogi Ninja flicks, even MegaForce (That’s right Flying Motorcycles with mini-missiles and spandex body suits would totally fit right in this game.) The thrust of the system became apparent to me when I saw the full-page art after the Table of Contents, a Mexican Wrestler landing a flying guillotine on a Hammer Horror style elegant vampire. The thrust of the system is for the characters to wade through mooks and chew through scenery, as they rush-headlong toward climatic set-pieces of sheer awesome, and save the day along the way. Though the system has echoes of a heartbreaker by mention classes and levels and making snarky asides about other RPG’s character creation, it does have a unique voice . The rules imply a semi-antagonistic free-wheeling beer and pretzel play style, the system encourages players to make your character more awesome than the rest of the party. There is definitely a tongue-in-cheek, THIS IS AWESOME, aesthetic to the game.
The PDF is 138 pages, including front and back covers , with a Full-color cover, in mostly muted grays and blues, and a B&W interior. The front cover is of a Full-Borg-Conversion Elven Rockerboy wailing on an all-chrome guitar, which I consider to be an attractive piece– if not the best cover art evar. It conveys the aesthetic of the game well. The art is split between sketchy/smudgy colored line art and some really nice clean line art pieces reminiscent of pieces in the old Cyberpunk 2020 game. I like it. I particularly like the full-page piece on page 38.
The rules are written in an over-the-top hyped up writing style, reminiscent of Savage Worlds, but with more “DudeBro” breathlessness and Cracked style snark. The rules are actually well-written and well-edited, I noticed very few typos in my reading. I enjoyed the writing style, which is consistent throughout the rules, though it may grate on some. The rules are made up of thirteen chapters, from the Table of Awesome, Introduction! (Yes it has an exclamation point), Character Creation!, Props!, The Rules!, The Fight!, Maneuvers!, Metal Men!, Tempests!, Movie Magic!, Rocking Out!, Game Mastering!, Adventures!, and Bestiary!.
The rules system is a d6 based dice pool system with a few twists. You roll a number of dice equal to stat plus skill levels (We are talking high-power Shadowrun levels of dice here,) and take highest. Individual 6s rolled on the dice explode, with individual dice adding up to singular higher totals. Finally, you add any Skill Bonuses you have to the highest individual die result. The second major type of roll is Stunts, in which, instead of taking highest, you add up all the dice in the roll.
Characters can only Stunt under special circumstances, such as during combat or when using a Hero Skill. The stunting system is tied to the combat initiative system such that if you end up with additional actions on a round, you take a single action that counts as a stunt, or double stunt, or triple stunt, or even quadruple stunt instead. Thus whatever action you take will produce a very high result. Multiplied Stunts apply their Stunt Multiplier to any Awesome Points spent, adding extra dice to your roll, for which you add up all the dice, equal to the Action Points times the Stunt Multiplier. What are Awesome Points you say? Awesome Points are the games “Hero Points” currency, allowing you alter the way the rules affect your character. For instance, you can do a Deathbed Monologue and ignore hit points lost from bleeding out, Grit Your Teeth and ignore pain penalties for one turn, use Handling allowing you to manipulate your action dice & gain Stunt multipliers, be Light as Feather and take half falling damage, or Speed Up and gain an extra speed die at the start of combat.
The combat is system is fairly standard blow-by-blow system. The initiative system is unique and ties into the ‘Stunt’ system, as mentioned earlier. Your Speed score gives you the number of D6 you roll to determine in which of the 6 rounds during a turn you can act. If more than one of your Speed Die comes up for the same round, your action that turn becomes a Stunt, Double Stunt, Triple Stunt, or Quadruple Stunt and so on, for rolling 2,3, or 4 speed dice with that number for a round. Weapons have a Handling rating that, with an expenditure of an action or awesome point, lets your character manipulate his actions during the turn up to the handling rating. Thus being able to go sooner in the turn, or combine actions in a round to get a Stunt action. You can either spend an action or an Awesome Point to use defenses, such as Dodge or block. The to-hit roll is simply your relevant weapon or attack skill versus the target’s defense stat. Damage is a number of dice based on weapon (and Brawn for melee) and the amount by which you beat the to-hit roll, and are added together to get the damage. Damage totals are large in this game, with average characters having double digit or larger hit point totals.
The character creation is a points based system. Under the system, the GM sets initial allotment based on the ‘power level’ of the campaign, players can then bargain for more. Better fleshed out characters gain a few bonus points. “A well-thought out character is a strong character,” states the text. The text recommends characters be specialized and work together by filling ‘roles/niches’ in party. The rules include point advice and optimization advice in the character creation rules. The game uses five base stats, Brawn, Brains, Flow (DEX/AGILITY), Soul, and Speed, reminding of Savage Worlds a bit. Skills are rated by Levels/Bonus. Skill Levels are a more variable quantity adding an extra die to roll when performing an action, which affects stunt rules/range of results. A Skill Bonus is flat add, making the skill more reliable. Skills are associated with a Stat, with the skills being mostly focused on the Brains or Flow stats.
Character creation also includes options for Powers and Weaknesses (Powers = advantages/Perks in this case). Next are options for Weird Powers/Weaknesses, which are super powers and more esoteric/impossible abilities, Weaknesses are vulnerabilities and such. The Special Moves options are Combat Techniques, similar to HERO martial arts maneuvers and some D&D Feats. Characters are also defined by derived stats, of which there are many. First is Armour, which is done as damage resistance reducing damage you take. Then there is Awesome, Awesome determines how much your character can ignore the laws of physics in the name of totally rocking out. A Cash stat, which does what it sounds like. A Defence stat, did I mention these guys are British?, which gives you your target number for being hit. Then there are Hero Skills, which are skills you can spend Awesome Points on to stunt up. Another derived stat is your Hit Points, which are equal to (20+(Brawnx20)) making for large values, around 100 or so is a common amount of hit points. Next you have your Movement and Speed Dice Stats, which are used as part of initiative/action system. They determine on which rounds within the 6 part turn you have action ‘phases’. Last is Props, which is your character’s gear and equipment.
CHAPTER 6: MANEUVERS
This chapter includes rules for your character doing fancy attacks and awesome maneuvers. These maneuvers range from the common Called Shots and Disarm maneuvers to more radical fisticuffs such as Giant Slaying (running up a gigantic enemy to deliver your devastating attacks), Ricochets (Yes you can Richochet off of water, cause it’s god damn awesome that’s why), Rocket Jumping (Just like Doom), and the most detailed Shark Wrestling rules I have ever seen in the over 100 RPG’s I have read. Detailed vehicle action rules are also included in this chapter.
CHAPTER 7: METAL MEN
This chapter has rules on making automaton and robot characters. I will let the authors speak to the intent of the rules for metal men. “Our use of the KILLER ROBOT as a metaphor and as a channel for Storytelling may not be misconstrued. TO be clear, KILLER ROBOTS are not real. The extent TO WHICH THEY MAY BE SAID TO *KILL PUNY HUMANS* is revealed only in WHAT THEY CAN TEACH US of the HUMAN CONDITION and of THE FRAGILITY AND SPLENDOUR which we call YOUR *PATHETIC MEATBAG LIFE*”
CHAPTER 8: TEMPESTS
This chapter includes rules for elemental kung-fu styled power users, called Tempests. The elements include Chi, Decay, Divine, Fire, Rock (killer tunes, not lame Earth magic – Brutal), Void, and Slime. These Tempest disciplines include a set of interesting powers such as Decay Tempests’, Some Kind of Skull magic, Rock Tempests’ Power of Sound, and Slime Tempests’ Tentacles ability. The chapter also includes rules for making your own Tempest style.
CHAPTER 9: MOVIE MAGIC
This is a fun chapter, offering rules in the spirit of Feng Shui’s stunt rules. The chapter informs you that by buying this set of ‘Move Magic’ powers, your character can pull off the ridiculous stunts of the most over-the-top action movies. Once you buy the Lights power, you can be a Movie Magician, or Director for short. Being a Director gives you access to Powers such as Blockbuster, in which all inanimate objects take multiplied damage, allowing for massive collateral damage featured in summer blockbusters, or Challenge, which causes all other combatants to quit fighting while you mano-y-mano with the bad guys lieutenant or other tough underlings.
CHAPTER 10: ROCKING OUT
From the text, “In the Awesome System, Music more than just a hobby: It’s the rhythm to which life, love and awesomeness are conducted. Most people can go through life without even being aware of this eternal reverberation while other’s ride it.” That’s right, characters in the awesome system can wield the awesome power of rock, like KISS in that KISS Movie from the 70’s (Which I thought was pretty damn awesome as like an 8 year old), or DethKlok in Metalocalypse. This is accomplished by taking the Rock Star power. True to the Metalocalypse feel, you can summon the Powers of Ragnarock, which for the Metal Rock Star, includes the power to bring on Brutal Suffering Blacker than the Blackest Night. The result of using the Brutal Suffering Blacker than the Blackest Night power is that the Gods of Metal awaken from their eternal slumber and engulf the earth. Once awakened, they kill 5 out of every 6 people, and enslave the rest. It’s not all bad though, because the song totally owned. This chapter would be good to use to play Magical Girl Baby Metal Doom Metal Savior Super, or something.
The book rounds out with a chapter on Gamemastering, with running advice devoted to producing the insane movie style action that is the thrust of the game. Next is a chapter featuring two introductory adventures, Attack of the Death Sharks and The Skeleton King. Attack of the Death Sharks is the archetypal, classic Awesome System adventure, featuring the Shark King. It sounds … wait for it… Jawesome!
Ok, so bottom line, I think the Awesome system is far from a Universal Heartbreaker; The system is not the least bit generic, but rather focuses on producing crazy b-grade movie action. It features a solid core system and workable rules; Rules that are presented in a consistently entertaining writing style, with an unusual focus, kind of like a Universal Feng Shui with more ‘80s action movie gonzo loving. If your looking for a fun one-off or filler game for a break from your regular game, grab this and some beer and pretzels, preferably in combination with a B-movie night. I recommend Riki Oh: The Story of Riki, and The Awesome System.