29 October 2015

It's October - Let's Talk About Beyond the Supernatural

29 October - just a couple more days until my favorite holiday, Halloween.  Time to talk about Beyond the Supernatural.
another one of my favorite RPGs, which sadly is on my long list of games I'd love to play but can't find time or player buy-in.  This is Palladium Books 1988 offering

Before anyone berates me for being a Palladium fan, I am well aware of the warts of the system.  I still love this game in spite of that for two reasons.  First, the first RPG I purchased with my own money was Palladium's Robotech.  I also got heavily into TMNT, Ninjas & Superspies and Beyond the Supernatural.  I have nostalgia on my side, plus the Palladium game system is actually perfectly serviceable for games that lack Mega Damage structures.  I found Palladium Fantasy a much more straightforward system than my beloved AD&D.  Yes, things got complicated with MDC in Robotech and Rifts, but that's not what we're here to talk about... this time.

BTS.  Why do I love it?  Well... I grew up on a television series called In Search Of... hosted by Leonard Nimoy.  The series covered all manner of mysterious things, from ghosts to the Bermuda Triangle to UFOs and more.  From a very young age I devoured books on these subjects, a particular two books that I got from a Scholastic book fair in 1981 creeping me the hell out as a first grader. I was absolutely fascinated by the paranormal.  That fascination continues to this day.  I approached the paranormal from the investigative, scientific point of view based on my childhood perception of In Search Of... My first horror RPG was, as is the case with many other players, The Call of Cthulhu.  The problem was I was not yet familiar with H.P. Lovecraft's works when I played, and our GM was also 13 years old and not really experienced enough to get the feel of the genre right.  I decided to go back to fantasy and sci-fi.

My next trip to King's Hobby Shop I saw Beyond the Supernatural on the rack next to the other Palladium games I loved.  I picked it up and started to page through it and found precisely what my view of the paranormal and horror gaming was looking for in a game.  BTS introduces the character of Victor Lazlo, a paranormal investigator whose writings explain the underpinnings of how the supernatural functions within the game world.  This scientific approach to the paranormal caught my attention in a big way.  Ley lines.  Places of Power.  Ancient civilizations.  All of it linked by a coherent scientific theory of psychic energy.  Holy Time-Life Books!  This was just the right approach to make my imagination explode.

Then there was the character classes.  The Arcanist was up first, someone who spent their time and energy poring over ancient tomes and learning the secrets of magic.  That had possibilities.  It was a pretty cool idea, and certainly a handy person to have around if you are part of a paranormal investigative group.  The Latent Psychic works GREAT for a modern kind of campaign where most of the protagonists are normal humans. Someone with psychic ability who is slowly learning how to use their power.  The Natural/Genius is an interesting take on psychic ability- rather than something overtly psychic, these characters are just REALLY GOOD at something, which is how their paranormal abilities expressed themselves.  The Nega-Psychic is the Dana Scully character class, and I'll talk more about it later.  The Parapsychologist is the class I always wanted to play if I wasn't being the Game Master.  A scientist, rooted in paranormal research yet with a willingness to admit that, as Winston Zeddemore said: "These things are real."  Physical psychics are very much what Shadowrun would later call Adepts, expressing their psychic potential in a physical manner.  The Psi-Mechanic can create paranormal devices powered by their own innate psychic abilities- the forerunner of the Rifts techno-wizard.  The Psychic Healer and Psychic Sensative are just what they sound like, and all these options are followed up with perhaps the most interesting of all - Ordinary People.

 The ability to have ordinary paranormal investigators as well as mixing in the GMs preference of actual psychic characters is a sandbox primed for many sorts of investigative horror adventures.  You could limit classes to just the parapsychologist and ordinary people, you could allow one psychic sensitive or latent psychic, you could go all-out and allow all the classes for a game with a higher supernatural level.  Personally, I find the limited approach a little more interesting- when the PCs possess too much paranormal ability in and of themselves, investigating the unknown doesn't seem as dangerous or as mysterious.

  Now, I have to talk about the Nega-Psychic for a moment.  This class was my absolute bane as a GM for BTS.  The Nega-Psychic doesn't believe in the paranormal.  In fact, this character has significant paranormal abilities but never realizes it because those abilities serve to suppress all other paranormal activity in their vicinity and make the character highly resistant to paranormal effects.  So, if there's a haunted house situation once the Nega-Psychic enters the home the paranormal activity will stop.  It will not resume until the Nega-Psychic has left.  This causes a lot of narrative problems over a longer campaign.  It's interesting, even humorous the first couple of times.  Then it becomes frustrating and tiresome.  Unless you have an angle, I'd highly advise against allowing this type of character into the game.

  So, there's  a small but interesting section of equipment based on the finest investigative gear the 1980s had to offer.  There's a fairly big section on monsters and creatures, and the aforementioned sections on places of power, the paranormal in general, and the rules of psychic energy.  Roll all that together with the extremely neat character classes and you're ready for a potentially brilliant supernatural investigation game.  Now, this game is more or less compatible with all the Palladium games that are not MDC worlds, like Ninjas & Superspies or Mystic China.  Mixing and matching things from these games or others can be a lot of fun.  The Boxed Nightmares supplement, the only supplement for BTS, also includes a system for point-buy creation of a supernatural investigation organization for your players to be a part of.  This can be a lot of fun to play with as well, especially if the players want to talk out how best to spend their points.  "Hey, does this pole still work?"

  Beyond The Supernatural is currently in its second edition, but curiously the revised core book leaves out magic and magic-using classes.  These were supposed to be added later, but the second edition core book came out in 2005...  So...  I'm going to recommend the original.  It can be purchased quite reasonably in the aftermarket, and it can be purchased in PDF from DriveThru RPG.

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