A review of Neoclassical Geek Revival


Author: Zzarchov

Default Genre: Fantasy

Minimum number of books needed to play: 1

Dice used: d20, d12, d10, d8, d6 and d4.

Learning Curve*: Medium

Available as: PDF, Print of Demand Paperback, and Leatherbound Hardback

Retailer: RPGNow

Supplements/Modules/Adventures available: Several

*Learning Curve is my estimate of how hard it might be to learn the system, assuming you started with D&D, Pathfinder, or one of its clones. Levels include Easy, Medium, Hard and Existential Insane-o.

Stabbed with the silver tongue in the eye

Some of us believe that a magnum opus of a campaign will not have shed a drop of blood, but will have felled whole empires. Some of us believe that such tongue trickery is the valley of human existence, ever in the shadow of those willing to strive physically for their goals.


Some people like talking, others like stabbing.

Stabbing people has always had lots of nice rules to arbitrate how its supposed to resolve. But, eternally it has been a question for me: how do you simulate a social conflict? How do you develop rules for an argument, or for when you want to “put someone in their place” or hurt their feelings?

Most games I have read have urged me to include non-sword, non-gun, non-explosion related conflict. I adore that conflict at times, but often there were few rules to frame it. Not that that bothers me always, me the Naked DM, but sometimes its interesting to give the control up to the Demons of Instant Character Endangerment (D.I.C.E).

For DM's that like to have rules to arbitrate the randomness of a social conflict, I think NGR offers an incredibly novel solution.

Not to give too much away, but NGR has three kinds of conflict: Combat, Social, and Stealth. In each, opponents use opposed rolls to figure out whether someone has been hit, influenced, or suspected, and how much damage they incurred, whether it be bodily damage, or how much they had been "influenced" to agree with the arguer, or how much an observer suspects they are there.

NGR uses the same dice set as D20 games, but beyond that, similarities die and are never heard from again. Much of the D20 system seems to be bent, admirably, towards creating a balanced but realistic tactical experience. NGR, on the other hand, is bent much more towards simulating cinematic action.

For example, in all conflicts, you can spend two actions on hitting, argueing, or hiding , rather than one: this is called "Doubling Down". Doubling Down on a stealth roll is represented by A Dramatic Pause: the same kind of pause you would see in a movie. In NGR, the opportunity to do flashy, big-damn-heroes kind of work trumps realism. This is of course not to say that realism is bad, but if you are tired of actually dying when that seems like the most logical consequence of running into a burning building, NGR might be for you.

This is a Dramatic Pause, as interpreted through NGR. 

Bringing a laser katana to a fashion showdown

NGR is also wonderful in the fact that it so tightly meshes together all manner of conflicts, even the often segregated social conflicts and combat.

In many game systems, social conflicts and combats do not have anything to do with each other. I especially think of Classic World of Darkness, one of my favorites (that's why I bitch about it so much). The writers, having to deal primarly with combat heavy D&D gamers, remind you continually that their game is not only about smashing vampires in the face, and that very often you will be punished by the vampire world at large for being violent. Ironically, it is usually said that you will be punished with, well, violence from a much older vampire, or his minions.

This admonition was intended to show gamers that they can have great drama and fun just with fancy words, lies, betrayals, and plottings, not just swords and treasure. However, such admonishments also create an impression that their is an incompatibility with social conflict and combat.

NGR helps break up this Berlin Wall by introducing real consequences to social conflict, that are very clever in their own right. When characters win an argument the loser does not immediately become a brain slave to the winner. The loser can claim "Stubborn Refusal", which means they will continue to act as they did prior to the argument.

But deep, deep down, they know they are wrong. This inner doubt gnaws at them, and prevents them from gaining experience and using several "luck point" type mechanics. Thus, if a hero or villain is convinced they are wrong prior to a fight, they will be physically weakened, in a potentially major way, turning the tide of the conflict.

This mechanic also leads to my favorite line in the whole book. In a social conflict, you can also inflict Stress damage on an opponent, representing hurt feelings, self doubt, anger, etc. This is, however, the same damage that affects a wizard’s chance of spell failure.

"This means it is perfectly acceptable for someone to make an appeal against an opposing wizard by shouting random numbers and astrological signs to try to disrupt their spell by sheer force of jackassery."

(Magicka(r) concept art) 

This intersection with words and swords leads to opportunities to hit on some hard roleplaying opportunities, like betrayal, learning to let go, the revelation of the fatal flaw, and healing, in between gun shots (or in NGR's case, sword blows).

NGR's mechanics are simple, but there is a bit of a learning curve. Many of the things you do in Pathfinder and Friends are simply not there, other than the very basic d20 checks. 

However, it is a very stylish, over-the-top experience. There are a lot of rules that show up only in unique, but fairly common, situations, like when you roll one of your lucky numbers. These special situations create the effect of a number of lucky breaks. In NGR, the tables turn faster than Jason's chainsaw on certain Fridays. But, it seems that the tables turn mostly in the favor of the players, unless their opponents have the same builds.

So do I freaking buy it or not?

In conclusion, If you want to simulate some of your favorite fantasy movies, with moments of great tension, sudden twists of fate, and a fresh take on the rules, then I would definitely recommend NGR. Hell, I intend on giving this game a very personal test drive in the future with some of my friends. It can't be that bad!

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