Thursday, January 17, 2013

RPG Review: Primeval

My first exposure to the British television show Primeval actually came through my annual mini-convention EOW.  One of the GM ran a pseudo-Primeval adventure using EOW's homegrown system, then afterwards told us that he had gotten most of the plot from this tv series that was on at the time (it ran from 2007-2011).  I spotted Primeval recently on Netflix and was reminded of the EOW experience, and almost immediately afterwards spotted the Primeval RPG.  Since I was watching the series with my kids and they've been hassling me to run some kind of game for them, I spent the Amazon gift card my secretary gave me for my birthday (yes, I'm so well liked my staff gives me Christmas bonuses) on this game.

First, a word about the series.  Portals in time start opening up all over Great Britain (and I'm assuming the world, but there's little indication of this initially).  A paleontology professor, his assistant, and some young students get caught up locating and returning the prehistoric creatures now roaming the countryside.  What starts off as a cool semi-educational and fun concept unfortunately gets re-directed first into a X-Filesesque government conspiracy plot, then more towards an Action Man monster shoot-em-up.  The first season (which we all loved) got almost completely re-tooled in season two, and then there was massive cast changes around the start of season three.  After the third season the show was cancelled, then restarted for seasons four and five with again major cast changes.  Since that time there's also a Canadian spin-off, Primeval: New World.

The RPG focuses entirely on the first three seasons, which is fine with me.  Like many licensed products you have a pretty straightforward game system and a lot of series-related information.  It is the same system as the Doctor Who RPG, which isn't that surprising given the similarities between the two series.  Mechanics-wise, you have six Abilties: Awareness, Coordination, Ingenuity, Presence, Resolve, and Strength.  There's no straight "Intelligence" stat, because they want to create some distinction between innate cunning and education, which is reflected in skills.  There are 13 skills, further broken down by specialties.  In addition there are advantages and disadvantages that come into play either through direct effect to rolls or storyline.  The Abilities go from 1 to 6 (for humans), the skills have a slightly higher range, but roughly the same.  Roll 2d6, add the appropriate Ability and/or Skill and/or Second Ability, modify and try to hit a target number.  Pretty much the same mechanic as a lot of other games out there, and nothing too innovative or difficult.

Primeval, the RPG gives as its base campaign concept the notion that the PC work for the ARC, the secret British goverment organization introduced in Season 2, but also puts forward alternative campaign structures, for example the PC work for a private institution or are just novice monster hunters.  They even suggest some wacky alternatives like the PC's are displaced time travelers themselves stuck in the modern era.  My own kids came up with their own campaign concept: they are the cast of a Bigfoot-hunting reality television show who accidentally encounter a prehistoric creature from one of the time-warp anomalies instead.  My son wanted to play the scientist/tech guy (Connor, from the series) while my daughter wanted to play the rugged nature survivalist (Stephen).  The RPG, like the series writers, realized that the monster-of-the-week format would probably run a little dry quickly, so there is a whole section in the game regarding developing villains and conspiracies, and frankly this is where the RPG shines in terms of content and rules.

Like the show, the RPG reeks of light-hearted fun and would make a good beer-and-pretzels RPG for an adult group, or a great starter RPG for a younger audience.  As evidenced by the source material, you can take the concept in a lot of different directions, even in the midst of a single campaign.

Cost-wise, it retails for $40 for 256 pages.  The text is large and graphics-heavy, making the book seem a little light-weight for the cost--my biggest gripe overall.  I admittedly got it not at my FLGS, which didn't carry the game, but at Amazon for a pretty high discount, so that's ameliorated for me.

If you're looking for a fun, sci-fi game with dinosaurs, go pick it up.  If you want a good starter game for kids, this is a good option.  If you just want the rules for a whole different campaign, and you already own the RPG's for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Serenity (like I do) you can just save your money.

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