Helix: The Post Apocalypse, High-Tech, Fantasy, Western Role Playing Game
Authors: Adam J. Weber, Gloria Weber, William Parker
Reviewed by: Jim Yee
Have you ever wanted to write your own role playing game? I'm sure many of us have sat down and talked around table how we could make a better game, one that others would pay to play and would make us famous in the gaming world. Some may have even gone so far as to write down some notes and ideas for this game so that they'd have a jump start on the project when they finally "got around to it."
Unfortunately for "Helix: The Post-Apocalypse, High Tech, Fantasy, Western, Role Playing Game" it feels like they never got very far beyond these notes and idea section of the process.
Now to be fair there are some good ideas and systems in this game, but they are quickly buried under amateur presentation, poor and distracting art, and uneven quality of ideas and concepts. I honestly went into this review hoping for something new and exciting, but from the cover page's paintball/airsoft gun toting photograph and far too long title/subtitle I knew I was in for a bumpy ride.
The introduction gives a quick, one page timeline of the world showing how we go from our modern times to a post apocalyptic western style of setting. There are lots of little teasers to get you interested in this section, but unfortunately when you get to the chapter called Setting you don't really get any expansion on this brief intro. This to me is the biggest shame to this whole game. You've got a solid, if done before, concept to start with, but no real work expanding and explaining this world.
Besides the usual mutations and scavenger settings the game sets-up an interesting version of magic called The Code. While bits of it scream of The Matrix, by and large it's a combination of a Decker from Shadowrun and a standard wizard in any other magic game. There are also Cyber Mystics who are even more closely connected to The Code that train and help others become Code Slingers. They are also the best creators of cybernetics for the denizens of the game world.
Again, even though the running story that opens every chapter gives you a nice tease at life in the world of Helix: The Post-Apocalypse, High Tech, Fantasy, Western, Role Playing Game, there isn't any more depth here but details on individual archetypes, beasties, and some generic gangs. No details on how the world got the way it did, no real reason to want to do anything but survival, and "Umbrea Corp. is bad." While there are lots of detailed descriptions of individual monsters and critters, the overall world is left amazingly blank. No maps, no real descriptions of any of the city states except a name here or there, and outside of the one page timeline, nothing on the rest of the world. While this leaves plenty of room for GMs and future expansions, I feel it's a woeful waste of an idea that has real potential.
The game mechanics are simple and straightforward. Featuring a roll and then point-based character creation system, everything is laid out fairly well and straightforward. You have 4 attributes with any value from 2-12, and then skills based off of those attributes that can't be more than half of the attribute value. So, you have a Physical attribute and Physical skills, again very simple and straightforward.
Skill resolution is also rather clean with only 1D12 and 1D6 needed for game play, though for damage, more D6s are always welcome. Rolling below the skill or attribute number on a D6 for skills and a D12 for attributes makes things simple.
The only snag I saw in the system was the Code Slingers section. There were a few details like rewriting spells on a digital system that I would have liked to have more details and answers to. Other than that it was a clean and serviceable system.
You shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in this case it's hard not to. As I mentioned before from the photographic cover to the okay to horrendous interior art, the presentation of this game makes it hard to get into it. I'd almost go so far as to ask for a text only version to make this game stand up or fail more on the merits of the game system and setting than the poor presentation.
The entire PDF is in black and white, which is okay, but only seems to add to the feel of "hey my friend made this" to the whole experience. Every chapter starts off with a large watermarked page with nothing but the chapter title on it and another paragraph or two of running story. This fits in well with a GURPS world book format I've enjoyed for years, but on the other hand the GURPS books always had a nice themed picture instead of blank or watermarked page. It almost makes me think they wanted to put a picture there and just left the watermark there as filler.
I've mentioned this several times before, but I can't point out enough how silly/annoying/distracting (take your pick) it is to see Helix: The Post Apocalypse, High-Tech, Fantasy, Western Role Playing Game at the bottom of every other page. I'm sure we understand the genre. I think it looks tacky and amateurish to list that all the time. Either call the game Helix and be done with it, or if you insist on having the subtitle, leave it on the cover. I hope the file name for the release version isn't the same as the one I received, because having the file name be: ebookhelixthepostapocalypsehightechfantasywesternrpg.pdf just adds to the feeling of amateur night.
Finally, the art, oh the art! I know it seems odd to complain about the art in a game where player drawn art is normally the best we see, but in a book that we're expected to pay for, I do believe it needs to be discussed. To say the art contained in this book is the same as sketchbook art is to put down sketchbook art. Some of it is rather decent, fully inked and cleaned up, others look liked they were scanned from pencil sketches with smudges and all. I can accept varying quality and different artists in a single pay product, but to have the range go so wildly, with almost no apparent regard to quality smacks, again "my friend made this."
In the end this is a product I wouldn't pay more than $5 for, and in its current state I would be tempted to ask for a refund. I've seen higher quality and more original work from independent publishers before, and would recommend others look elsewhere for their taste of post apocalyptic western fantasy adventurers.
1.5 out of 5.