Without further ado, Chapter 1: The Basics launches into explaining that Bounty Head Bebop is all about fast-paced anime-style solar-system-hopping bounty hunters, and before you've got your breath back details the 'inverted D20' game mechanic used. This is designed to be fast and simple, yet able to deliver action both cinematic and gritty. Basically, you roll under a target number on a D20, with some harder tasks requiring that you also exceed a minimum target number as well; with an additional twist that you can use - when appropriate - the 'unit' number of the roll to calculate damage thus eliminating the need for a second die roll. And so - still on the first page! - to character creation, with six abilities that reflect the character's physical and mental prowess. Characters also have skills, edges and flaws, saves, vitality, and so on; and may have psychic powers or develop Feng Shui mastery as well. Despite the breakneck speed at which everything is addressed, it's explained clearly and is easy to follow. The chapter ends with experience, and how to use it... so even before your character starts, you have some idea of how you can develop him.
Chapter 2: Skills goes through the skills in detail. There are four types: general, combat, specialty and advanced. Anyone can have general skills, and most people can make an attempt at performing them even if their level is low. Specialty skills general require training of some kind before yo can use them, while advanced skills involve high levels of education. There follows comprehensive listings, explaining the skills available, what they let the character do and, from the game mechanics point of view, how to apply them. There's also a list of commonly-spoken languages, and where in the solar system you are likely to hear them.
And so, on to Chapter 3: Edges and Flaws. Many of these will be innate to the character, but some can be trained for (or out of) by spending experience points and perhaps a bit of role-playing later on. Combat edges can usually be acquired by training, but general ones are less likely to be got after initial character creation. Flaws are, as you'd imagine, potentially disadvantageous, but can lead to some good role-playing, and some can be overcome by a combination of role-playing and experience point expenditure.
Next, Chapter 4: Feng-Shui Powers explores the 'magic equivalent' of this system. Having taken the Feng-Shui Master edge, characters then have to learn (spend experience points on) the various powers in strict order, as well as acquire a lopan (traditional feng-shui dial). The powers are quite simple, but applied with cunning will prove useful to the character choosing to take this path. Chapter 5: Psychic Powers follows, these are more diverse powers of the mind which are divided into seven spheres - the character must choose one and all his psychic powers fall into that one. Again, powers must be gained in a strict order. Some quite dramatic and handy effects can be produced by the skilled practitioner... but there's a downside, the character risks losing his sanity as soon as he begins to develop his psychic powers - and has to roll EVERY time he uses one to avoid some nasty effect. The more powers he knows, the greater the chance of a problem.
That's character generation out of the way. Next comes Chapter 6: Money & Equipment, probably one of the first things this new-minted character's going to be interested in. However, the chapter begins by discussing money as plot device. In a cinematic game, you don't want to account for every last detail, so it can be assumed that the characters generally have sufficient for day-to-day living - but for those special purchases, even if you have the money, is it available? What you're after may be rare or illegal... so you have to find a supplier and strike a deal. Next comes some weapons lists. There's a fair range of items, although they are generic - this is not a list for the gun-bunny. There are also lists for clothing and assorted equipment, including medical costs and the scale of charges for hiring a specialist, along with vehicles including spacecraft.
Although the rule mechanics have been explained as appropriate in the above chapters, Chapter 7: Doing Things brings it all together and lays out all the detail. Primed with this information, Chapter 8: Combat looks at the one area where formal task resolution is always necessary. It's pretty straightforward, beginning with a single initiative roll for the whole combat and proceeding round by round thereafter, everyone acting in turn (although there are mechanisms for pushing ahead or falling back in the order if desired). For those who like added detail, there is plenty of scope for area effects, modifiers for just about any situation and so forth. Naturally, the next bit is all about injuries and healing. There is also a section on vehicle and starship combat, with again pretty much all you need to know laid out clearly. Indeed, an impressive amount of information is packed into this chapter, well organised and clear to use.
Up til now, what we have is a slick cinematic near-future game which could be used for, well, just about any near-future adventure. Chapter 9: Setting Notes is designed to set the rules into the context of the Bounty Head Bebop setting, laying out what is going on in and providing the background for our adventures. The year is 2073AD, and the whole solar system has been altered by a stray comet which shattered Earth's moon into little bits. While hiding from the inevitable rocks hitting Earth it was discovered that they had strange powers, including the ability to form a wormhole to anywhere else in the solar system, so exploration began and most of the habitable bits were visited and settled. It's a wild and lawless setting, with underworld organisations and corporations vying for control and the Solar System Policing Bureau (SSPB) fighting a losing battle against crime and corruption. There's a summary of what the inhabited places are like to visit, along with the hazards to be found there. And the characters? Well, the SSPB is bogged down in its own bureaucracy, corruption and jurisdictional squabbles, so someone has to catch criminals and bring them to justice - hence the need for bounty hunters.
Next, Appendices demonstrate the character generation process, provide more information on awarding and spending experience, present a character sheet and round up with a comprehensive index. All done? Not quite...
There is an introductory adventure called "Small Fry" to get you started in your bounty hunting ways, a quest for a fellow who stole some milk homogenizing equipment... or was it? The clue trail to enable the neophyte hunters to discover the truth and the thief is quite neatly laid out, both the GM and the characters should be able to cope. It's a nice example of this kind of detective adventure layout, with clear indications of options of places to look, what you might find and the possibilities for follow-up and developing that line of investigation.
Overall, this is a well-developed game with plenty of potential, whether you want to stick to bounty hunting or develop into a more general near-future game.
Return to Bounty Head Bebop RPG page.
Reviewed: 15 July 2009