Farflung Sci-Fi RPG, Part 2

Last time I wrote about Farflung I went over all the basics of the game: the attributes, character elements, indices, and common moves. Today I’m going to look at the biggest element of the game, the playbooks!

As with games Powered by the Apocalypse, playbooks give a customizable template from which you can craft your character. They are at once strongly flavored and highly adaptable, a mix that a lot of people seem to really love these days. I wouldn’t normally be into this approach to character generation since the narrow focus of a playbook seems like it limits the types of player characters you can have in a game.

However, Farflung has so many playbooks that it would be next to impossible to exhaust this supply in a normal course of play. There are two dozen playbooks listed in the book and each of them have four sets of attributes so there are lots of different options. Not quite the blank-slate approach of games like Call of Cthulhu or Eclipse Phase but there’s certainly a ton of options here. So much so that we’re only going to get through the first half today. Let’s go through them one by one.

Archie

Farflung - Schmooze
Image © Sanguine Productions Ltd.

The Archie (short for “archivist”) is an interesting playbook that is more than just a know-it-all book-smarts type. My favorite part right off the bat is how they form connections with other players: you ask a trivia question and when the first other player answers it you get +1 Connection to their character.

This is an awesome supportive role and one that addresses some of the problems of playing a bookish, cerebral character. One thing that annoys me when playing a scholar is when you try to act smart and fall on your face. This playbook fixes that with the Autodidact move which could make a task easier or harder but either way you build up your study pool. That pool is a building resource for the whole party to do things within your purview so you can nerd out with your character and the other players don’t feel like you’re messing tactics up.

Celebrity

Celebrities have a fame pool which is a double-edged sword. They get fame points by Spotlight (making a scene) or, more helpfully in my opinion, by adding Grandstand to any other move and adding an ante of Future points. If you make the roll you build your fame pool and if you fail you lose it. This is a surprisingly straightforward and open-ended playbook and your fame pool can add to nearly anything so you’ll be good at most things.

Clockworker

Since it’s not immediately obvious, I’ll just state explicitly what the clockworker is: a freakin’ time traveler. This type of character always attracts a certain kind of player and is usually the bane of GMs because of the utter shambles that time travel normally leaves plots in. This is an interesting take on things since the paradox that builds (another pool) isn’t always a bad thing for the player but generally heightens the problems for the GM. All of the clockworker’s abilities have to do with alternate-timeline versions of the PC jumping in to help, or sending advice in, or looping back to retcon things. This seems like such a wildcard and I can definitely see it going off the rails without a lot of trust between player and GM.

Displaced

Another time traveler, this is someone who has arrived in this future from a past era. It’s a character concept that seems rife with ideas but is too passive for my taste. Harmless and the fluke pool let you avoid getting attacked while Motivate lets other characters do stuff. The longest move description is for Luck which just seems like the move to have “something” happen. It’s fine mechanically and has plenty of applications but it is just the definition of open-ended.

Empath

Farflung - Inspiration
Image © Sanguine Productions Ltd.

The classic telepath in a sci-fi, the empath also has a great way to establish connections during character generation. Other players tell you how their characters are feeling and you pick your connection based on their answers. You have +2 Connection with that character and +1 with all the others so this makes the empath a natural hub for the rest of the party.

Interestingly, empaths only have one ability: Telepathy. There are different rules for willing targets and unwilling targets but either way a successful roll builds up your rapport pool. This pool is the real focus of the playbook, allowing you to spend rapport to do things like read other people’s minds, dominate them, erase memories, or plant a hypnotic suggestion. This seems like the Farflung equivalent of Magic of Incarnum… or psionics which should have been my obvious go-to. Basically, it’s a little subgame that you can play with yourself and the GM while the rest of the party does their thing.

Energy Being

If you think being a time traveler is disruptive, how about a creature made of pure energy? Actually, this isn’t such a derailer as the clockworker since the effects it creates are more strategic. Sure, the ability to phase through matter, ignore gravity, or drain energy from a device or weapon will short out some of the GM’s plans but at least they know what’s coming up. Like the archie, I think it’s awesome that the energy being’s big powers of Transcendence and Cosmic Senses work all the time but they just work better when you roll well. Oh yeah, plus there’s a freaking energy blast power that can tear the face from a target if you roll well. Very strong.

Explorer

Somewhat mundane after the star-spangled, void-loving energy being, the explorer is actually surprising in its utility. Thematically, the explorer is all about trying new things and pushing boundaries which is very cleverly reflected in the mechanics. First of all they are heavily skewed to Future over History, which allows them to try new and interesting things more easily than planning carefully. Likewise, their Caution and Diplomacy abilities make it much easier to throw caution to the wind and jump head-first into a situation without ruining the game for everyone else by screwing things up. Also they have Versatility which lets them spend Future points to automatically succeed on things. This seems maybe overpowered especially since they can give this to other characters too. Jeez.

promotional-farflung-8-feb-2017
Image © Sanguine Press

Executioner

If you want to get a sense of how powerful this playbook is, consider that the list of sample names includes Shiva, Tiamat, and effing Azathoth. So… there’s that. I’m not sure exactly how this playbook balances so there will need to be some testing there but I think you basically have terrible attributes in exchange for being able to destroy everything! There are two power-up moves, Might and Destruction, that let you just shrug off most things that come your way and burn enemies to the ground. I’m sure it’s not as horrific as it reads but I’m not sure I’d be alright with this in my campaign.

Flora

Feel like playing Groot? Me too! The flora is your typical plant-based strangeness with moves to “rapidly grow into a plant monster” and use your flowery pollens and such to gain a number of different effects such as enthralling an NPC or covering an area in fungus or leaves. The first power (imaginatively called “Growth”) is a great “power-up” ability and has all the hallmarks that I felt were missing for the executioner: there are clear uses spelled out and multiple ways it can become useful.

Freebooter

Farflung - Order
Image © Sanguine Productions Ltd.

Ah, here we are on the other side of the universal spectrum. The freebooter is your typical space cowboy, smarmy criminal, and/or bebop lover which makes him much more mundane than most of the playbooks in this list. The smart alec flair definitely extends to the mechanics as well. I particularly love the method of establishing connections: you think of a number and ask everyone at the table to guess and then you pick someone, not necessarily the person who guesses it or who gets closest and don’t tell anyone. From square one you’re a smartass.

The moves for the freebooter are about controlling the situation and talking your way out of problems. This is definitely a social playbook, which is missing the normal combat proficiency that the playbook’s inspirations come from. In fact, three out of four of the attribute packages for the freebooter have negative Strange modifiers so they’re not great at Assault and their deflection option for avoiding damage essentially amounts to running away. So, expect to have the smarmy grin of Malcolm Reynolds but not the fast-draw.

Futsie

I think the advice line says it all: “Play a Futsie if you want to solve problems with brutal violence or addle-headed insights.” This is the playbook for your Chaotic Neutral players who answer everything with a blaster and to me it’s the more functional version of the executioner. The playbook’s signature move is Atrocity (see what I mean?) which is a powerful attack that damages opponents even when you fail. It also has an awesome power called Prophecy that is, surprisingly, a support move to provide a prophecy pool for your allies that they can use for future rolls (with your permission!).

Gestalt

The last playbook we’ll be talking about today is actually several… No, not really but this is the playbook for a creature that is distributed throughout multiple bodies. Appropriately, it involves managing two different pools: one called multiplicity and the other called dwindling. The tactic here seems to be alternating between the two by spending one round using your multiple bodies to control an area or help out your allies and then the next round rolling to restore your health pools because of all the damage you’re (presumably) taking. The limitation on this is that you have to use up Future points to power your moves so keep an eye on those and use lots of Inspire since that lets you move History to Future.

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