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Ascendant: physics applied to storytelling | Preview

Ascendant

Ascendant is a superhero roleplaying game about to triumphantly conclude a Kickstarter campaign that has raised over € 20,000, more than double the funding threshold.

On the other hand, the projects proposed by Autarch LLC have always convinced hundreds of supporters and obtained excellent feedbacks , such as their flagship product, Adventurer Conqueror King System, which has earned the platinum seller award on DriveThruRPG.

This time they left their comfort zone of classic fantasy to devote themselves to superheroes. I’ve always considered very difficult to make a good roleplaying game of this genre. A balance must be found between system and effetcs, it must be scalable to various levels of superpowers while maintaining proportionality and the ability to manage everything within the oxymoron of controlled omnipotence.

The declared offer for Ascendant

Ascendant looks full of strengths and possibilities for players. It’s an elegant system that intends to replicate an alternative world, as the one presented in comics. With easy references and simple tables you can role superheroes of any kind and power, generating all sorts of original ones or recreating your existing favorites. The powers are innumerable, easy to manage and there are rules for every need. From investigation to how to manage geniuses, from emergencies of all kinds to the automatic creation of missions. All of them have many pre-generated characters, a ready-made setting and spectacular illustrations.

This product aims to be an alternative to the two classic types of superhero roleplaying game. On one hand there are games based more on the effects and less on the mechanics, on the other hand the opposite. Each of them has its strengths and weaknesses, but Ascendant points to another vision. It wants to be a physics-based game, therefore trying to use mechanics to differentiate and regulate powers without harnessing them in a too tight system. This is because the rules are not based on the powers but on the physical effects of them, therefore these effects can be used with imagination and not be limited by the rules.

Is this really so? Let’s analyze the material released so far to find it out. There are two previews, one about first chapters and one about the setting.

Let’s start from the core

The core of the mechanic of Ascendant are the Supermetric Points or SPs, the basic unit of a system aimed at standardizing a whole series of parameters in a single score.

How does it work? It starts from a measurement for each parameter, which is equivalent to 0 SP. 5 feet, 3.5 seconds, 1 cent, 25 fans. Yes, SPs really measure everything. Distances, time, informations, popularity and so on. For each SP the previous value is doubled. Therefore if 0 time SPs are 3.5 seconds, 1 SP will be 7 seconds, 2 SPs will be 14 seconds and so on. With this first step, a common language has been created. It allows to correlate different quantities and parameters in a single system. For example, a character with 9 SP of Might can lift objects up to 9 SP of weight (6 tons).

Then through two types of tables, one with values ​​and another with benchmarks, it is possible to transform any physical measurement into SP in order to easily understand the possibilities and limits of superheroes who interact with the world and its natural laws. Obviously there will be approximations, but afterall this system must be used to create stories, not engineering calculations.

Let’s move on to the characters of Ascendant


To better understand Ascendant let’s follow the advice of the Kickstarter page and analyze the characters. They are defined first by the Character Points or CPs. A normal human being settles around 200 CP and every 80 CP the skills tend to double their effectiveness. Then you can classify each character based on this value, going to understand its potential impact in the story and in the world. A second parameter is the Power Limit which, as it increases, takes the place of the level up, allowing more and more Power in a given area. Finally, the Challenge Rating is a number that equals how many soldiers can be defeated at the same time. In addition to being original, it gives an idea of ​the ​power and potential danger even of the kindest superhero.

The normal attributes of a character follow, from the primary ones (Might, Agility etc etc), expressed in SP, to the secondary ones (Initiative, Perception, Reputation, etc etc). Skills, perks and drawbacks cannot be missing. Among the perks there are the Combat Maneuvers given the clear propensity for confrontation of superhero stories. Variable attributes are related to the physical and mental endurance of the characters, respectively called Health and Determination.

What is missing? Obviously the Powers! There are still not many explanations, if not the example of the character examined in the preview and on the Kickstarter page. There seem to be many variables and a lot of choices, in addition of course to the ability to create power from scratch. Powers have their numeric variables that interface with the world through SPs, but also space for personalization and narrative use. This is what it looks like and it is certainly promising. Obviously, a superhero game is largely based on functioning, balance and variety of powers. The premises are good, but it must be clear in mind that the real core of Ascendant will be found out only with the finished product.

Let’s end with the actions

The system allows you to play any level of power, even simple 200 CP humans. The method is quite simple. You take the character’s Active Value and subtract the Difficult Value from it. What you get represents the row of the table you are going to look at. The higher the number, the more you are potentially effective. Then a d100 is rolled which determines the result of the action by placing it in one of the 5 colors present: white, green, yellow, orange and red. White represents failure, while from green to red there is success with various degrees.

Obviously there are many other rules, which involve automatic successes, more difficult tests, damage, protections and so on. Time in combat is divided into pages and for each page the individual hero has his panel to perform his actions. This generic part of the rules is intuitive, well explained. Thanks to the SP, their exponential increase in the measures that represent, the differences in the values ​​are felt at the narrative and effects level.

The Ascendant offer for the setting

This game is suitable for any idea of storytelling the master may have in mind but, if desired, it can be based on the authors’ proposal. The inspiration of their setting, by their own admission, draws from masterpieces such as Watchmen, The Boys, Squadron Supreme, The Authority and Invincible. In every aspect, the world is the same as ours until 2012 and the first superheroes manifest themselves in public in 2018, in what is remembered as the Battle of Atlanta.

I appreciated that the setting preview is full of interesting ideas and tells the arrival of the superheroes and the awareness of their existence by the world through a series of articles, news reports, information from social networks, documents, conversations, newspaper covers and much more. I recommend you to download the preview and take a look. There are variety and precision and this is also a good premise thinking about how the finished work could be.

Art and layout

The graphics maintain the good level of quality of Ascendant: the preview illustrations are limited in number. But there is quality and the style is the full glossy superhero comic standard. I would have preferred a dirtier variant, more like The Boys, but it’s my personal taste. These images do their job very well and the abundance of colors, even in the tables (and in the system itself), shows a roleplaying game that wants to emulate comic stories.

The layout in the previews is a single column, with a thick but clear text. The presentation of the setting is made with great attention to detail and this is an extremely positive sign of a publishing house that takes good care of the details.

It’s time to decide!

While I’m writing, the end of the Kickstarter campaign is getting nearer. Ascendant book will be 350 color pages, a nice tome. The main pledge levels are from €20 for the PDF, €40 for the physical reward with softcover through POD on DriveThruRPG and €60 for the hardcover. The physical rewards also include the PDF. To get the stretch goals, which are and probably will remain the master’s screen and a gauge to measure distances and speeds, you need to spend €90. Shipping costs are not included.

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