Posted on June 26, 2009 by spikexan
Game books devoted entirely to the Art of Death, Destruction, and Detective Lieutenant John McClane rarely win me over. It’s a personal taste because I fully know that a handful of the players in my gaming group deeply appreciates the details that good combat manuals can offer. I assumed when diving into this book that it would be an updated version of the Combat book White Wolf released with their original run in the World of Darkness. That book always struck me as too much comic book and too little horror. Even the front and back covers had artwork that never matched anything else in any of the other lines. I must admit there were some flinchingly horrific pieces of art in that book that I’ll call Things You Don’t Want to Happen to You. Even with those minor high points, I felt cheated by that book.
That was then . . .
Armory Reloaded gets away from White Wolf’s Street Fighter RPG rules and tries to remain attached to the grit and horror of the setting. In the introduction, readers are told that “Combat is Horror.” The writers of this book don’t want to make the same mistake the miserable Combat made. The development of this project backs the statement through both its writing and artwork. Some questions arise at the end of the day though: Is the meatier (195 pages and one ad) look at vampire on werewolf violence (or Mage on Hunter) any better than its predecessor?
Does a focus on horror make this work any better? Let’s start with the look of the book.
White Wolf’s developers continue to reimagine their various lines while maintaining a certain look to each of them. On my first read-through of the book, I liked the bordering and watercolors throughout the bulk of the bulk; however, I hated the choices for the fiction sections (repeating images of a handgun, clip, and the word “gun). As I swung through the book a second time, these choices bothered me less. I do like the use of shell casings as breaks in the fiction, bullets if you will. It’s just the background that irks me no matter how many times I want to like it. It feels like the watermark to a brochure on the dangers of gangs and guns in urban America.
Printers are going to hate this book’s layout choices and I am fairly sure a printer-friendly version isn’t tagged along. One other point to make on the layout. The PDF’s bookmarks put the table of contents (pg 5) before the prologue (pg 4). If this is the non-annoying way to layout the book, why not actually layout the book that way?
The artwork of Armory Reloaded stands far above my expectations. Jim Pavelec’s cover art set me up to not like the book’s interior, not because it’s a bad piece rather the mood the art emitted. What the cover shows is a duo of soldiers facing off against something from one of Clive Barker’s nightmares (and may be a hint to what the major fiction in the book is about).
The chapter lead-in artwork proves excellent as well. Each picture in this book just seemed to belong, which is something I don’t believe I’ve ever said before. Even the art on page 151 of a broken arm, which I considered to be kinda silly, belonged (but I would have preferred one of those rare photographs for the pure shock value). Perhaps the stable of artists who provided such solid work to this were equally sickened by Combat’s Todd McFarlanesque nonsense. Whatever the reason, the mix of supernatural and realism works for me.
I normally find myself annoyed that White Wolf feels the need to put fifteen pages of fiction before the credits and table of contents; furthermore, I usually feel the fiction isn’t worth that attention. I truly like Hagen’s story in the prologue and epilogue. Also, I love how the fiction in the books now regularly ties directly into the gaming material. What Hagen finds in his twenty or so page adventure is a nasty, nasty little thing (which oddly ties to another recent White Wolf release as well. Nice.). The only thing worse than this weapon is what he finds in the epilogue, but that’s for you to read.
Chapter One, entitled “Storied Weapons,” let me know that this was not going to be the typical “gun locker” rulebook. The chapter is forty-two pages of stories about weapons. Here you find the history of the weapons, its stats, several plot hooks, and sometimes a picture (all of the weapons are also scored together on a handy graph). The weapons range from the expected (guns) to strange (strangling cords). Hands down, this is my favorite chapter in the book and fundamentally the most effective.
Next, Chapter Two details various “Fighting Styles.” This chapter echoes most closely to what I feared this book would be about; on the other hand, it evolves past those reservations quickly by offering just as many histories and ideas as the first chapter did. A layman’s understanding of various international fighting styles is detailed in tight writing. Of all the chapters, this one surprised me the most because I expected the least from it.
Chapter Three “Future Weapons” kicks off with artwork that could have made the cover of Macho Women With Guns. Readers are treated to the future in weaponry (future can mean a month from now). I personally liked the inspirations for this chapter (the Aliens and Terminator movies, First Person Shooters, and others) because it gives a clear idea of how useful (and useless) heavy weaponry can play into a game of intimate horror. Much of this chapter discusses how to get players into storylines involving sci-fi weaponry and there are some classic no-brainers and fresh tidbits. Most of the chapter though reveals nasty, nasty weaponry to introduce into World of Darkness games. They are the kinds of weapons that would make a rookie look at a pack of rabid lupines and say “I can do this.” Much like the Discovery Channel (another inspiration behind this chapter), you’ll learn something about weaponry after reading it.
The final chapter “Combat Hacks” gives players and Storytellers the means to make the rules system a little less forgiving or a little more Hollywood. Some of the rules allow for near instant kills while others permit infinite ammo. It’s a matter of seasoning for various gaming groups. “Hidden Health” is a personal favorite of mine. Don’t you just hate it when players crunch their health score before each round of a fight just to see how much they can push it?
Well, “Hidden Health” fixes that boo-boo right up. With names like “Meat Shield” and “Knife to a Fistfight,” you’re going to have fun reading this.
And that’s really the recurring theme here. You’re going to have fun reading this. The mission for White Wolf wasn’t to reinvent the wheel. It was to polish it. And they did a damn good job. Go sell your copy of Combat at your local game store and use the money to pick up this book. My scores for Armory Reloaded are:
Layout: Three out of Five Dice (just some questions with the bookmarking and backgrounds)
Artwork: Five out of Five Dice (one of my favorite collections in one book)
Writing: Five out of Five Dice (so far beyond what I expected with this book. Easy to
Overall: Four out of Five Dice (again, easy to overlook)
Review by Todd Cash
Tags | world-of-darkness