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TOKYO N◎VA: The Axleration
FarEast Amusement Research

Year of Release: 2013
Designer: Suzufuki Tarou

Die Rolls: Card-based. Each player and the GM has a hand of 4 cards which they play to try to beat each other. Attacker wins ties against passive opposition, defender wins when against active opposition.
Classes: Characters can choose 3 of 22 Styles based upon the Major Arcana in a tarot deck. The first expansion book adds 5 extra Styles.
Time System: Round-robin. Characters can take more than one turn per round in certain circumstances, but these are rare.
Distance System: Range bands.
Meta-Currency: Sort of. Each character can play their "Trump Card" as an ace in the hole once per session, and they also have three Miracles, allowing them to break the rules in one particular way (which way this is depends upon their chosen Styles.)
Non-Combat Options: Robust. The focus of the game is combat, but there are detailed rules for a variety of non-combat situations, and some abilities and Miracles that either enable or are exclusively useful for pure roleplay.



Setting

TOKYO N◎VA takes place over a century after a series of devastating natural disasters known as the "Hazards" struck the Earth, most notably tilting its axis (the north pole is now near Jerusalem, Europe and Africa are arctic regions, and Antarctica has a pleasant equatorial climate,) lowering the sea level, and decreasing the global temperature significantly. Plagues also devastated the human race, destroying civilization as we knew it.

Only one nation survived the Hazards more or less intact - Japan. Primarily spared as a result of its most affluent citizens fleeting to orbital habitats, those Japanese people who remained on the surface closed the national borders, retreating to their historical policy of fierce isolationism. However, Japanese corporations recognized the profit to be made from disaster, and established arcologies throughout the world, using them to rebuild civilization in their own image: as a futuristic yet feudal world order ruled by unimaginably powerful megacorporations.

In the present day, highly populated "megaplexes" have sprung up among many of these arcologies, including a few special regions on the Japanese ex-islands that Japan has begrudgingly surrendered control of for the sake of profit. The largest of these is the titular TOKYO N◎VA. While supposedly ruled by the all-powerful Administrator, Inagaki Kouhei, and kept in order by the Japanese Army and a variety of public and private security services, many parts of TOKYO N◎VA are lawless slums inhabited by street samurai, organized crime, traditional magicians, mutants, creatures of the night, and more.

TOKYO N◎VA is described not as a "cyberpunk" game, but a "cyber action" game. Though it can handle cerebral sci-fi in the vein of Ghost in the Shell, what it's really meant to evoke is the high-octane action of things like AKIRA. There's also a not-inconsiderable amount of influence from Shadowrun with the presence of magic and fantasy creatures in the setting (though not elves and orcs per se.)


System

Character Creation

TOKYO N◎VA is not a lightweight system, though it has gotten simpler since its genesis in the 1990s, and its character creation process is somewhat involved - though this is usually more of a burden on GMs than players, as most enemies need to be created in the same way as PCs are.

Creating a character starts with the choice of three Styles, out of the 27 available. One can also pick the same Style more than once, which will make them potentially more powerful, but less versatile. The huge variety of Styles and the versatility of the system make just about every character concept possible to realize within the game system, from a police robot with a talent for elemental magic to a suave vampire that's a master of both seduction and gun fu.

One's choice of Styles determines which Miracles they can use. Our police robot would be able to declare someone persona non grata with their badge, bring down the house with their destructive magic, or do a variety of things depending on their robotic form (robots are special that way.) The vampire can make a single request of anyone that they cannot refuse, kill them instantly with a lethal gunshot, or dissolve into mist or bats to escape any situation.

After having chosen their Styles, a character can calculate their attributes. There are four attributes: Reason, Passion, Life, and Mundane. These correspond to intellect and composure, charisma and emotional fervor, physical prowess, and financial resources. They also correspond to the suits of playing cards; Spades, Clubs, Hearts and Diamonds respectively. Starting attributes are influenced mostly by the choice of one's styles.

Next up are skills. TOKYO N◎VA has common skills, which are what this forum calls skills, and special skills, which are more like what this forum calls abilities. All characters get each common skill with its default suit (more on that in the Checks section) However, in contrast to some other games, the two are treated in largely the same way, and your initial skill picks (eight in total) can be used to either take special skills, or get extra levels of common skills.

Characters also get two levels of secret skills, which are a rarer level of skill; you can take at most two of them from each of your Styles. There's one higher level of skill, Ultimate Skills; you can only pick one of these from each of your Styles. But these can't be taken at character creation using the default character creation method.

There are also Knowledge Skills. These are Common Skills written in the format "Art: Dance", "Society: TOKYO N◎VA" or "Contact: Inagaki Kouhei" that represent either specialized knowledge or connections. Every character starts knowing their way around TOKYO N◎VA, and can get two other levels of Knowledge Skills for free. If the lifepath system is used, it awards some additional freebies to represent, for example, the character's history with the yakuza.

Last, but not least, characters have 20 XP to spend on starting equipment (Like many SRS-esque games, TOKYO N◎VA uses a system where XP is spent to 'permanently' buy items, which are replaced in the next session if they are broken, lost or used.) This is more generous than the average game system's starting equipment allotment and allows players to usually start with at least one one powerful asset, such as a big gun, cyberware, or even a combat mecha.

Then there's the usual bevy of choices that end up not having much significance outside roleplay - not that roleplay itself isn't significant. But to find out about those, you can check out the fan translation.


Character Advancement

After each game session, the GM in TOKYO N◎VA awards the players XP. Like in most Japanese TRPGs, they're supposed to tick checkboxes when the players do certain things (help move the session along, provide a space for it to happen in, etc.) and use those to determine how much XP each player gets. Also like in most Japanese TRPGs, the GM gets some XP of their own, so it's easy to switch GMs without anyone's character falling behind the power curve.

XP can be spent on leveling up attributes, leveling up or acquiring new skills of any type, and buying items.


Checks

TOKYO N◎VA is a unique game in that it doesn't use dice to determine success or failure, but instead playing cards. Each player and the GM always has a hand of four (sometimes five, but that's granted only by rare abilities) cards. When making a check, you need to meet or beat the target number, using the value of your card (2-10 are as you'd expect, royals are worth ten, and aces can either be worth 11 or simply set your result to 21) plus the matching character attribute. If it's an opposed check, you need to beat your opponent's (typically the GM's) card and attribute.

But the suit of the card is just as critical as its value, if not more so. Skill levels in TOKYO N◎VA are indicated by suits of cards (i.e. a level 1 skill might be just hearts, a level 2 skill might be hearts and diamonds, and a level 4 skill will cover every suit.)  These represent which suits of cards you can play to even attempt the check. If the skill can only be done with Hearts, you can't play the Ace of Spades for it, as nice as it would be.

If you have no card that could possibly be used to succeed at a check, you can trust in the luck of the draw and draw straight from the deck. This is quite risky; if you draw a suit you can't use, you'll fail the check, and if you draw a royal of any suit, you'll fumble and your card will be worth zero. Once per session, you can also use your Trump Card (this is usually represented by the tarot card corresponding to your 'main' Style) as if it were any other card (probably an ace in the right suit.)


Combat

As is befitting of its self-description as a "cyber action" game, TOKYO N◎VA has an abundance of rules for causing mayhem with guns, swords, and hoverbikes. But like with all things, it puts its own twist on them and allows for far more than just straightforward destruction.

The first thing to mention about TOKYO N◎VA's combat is its positioning system, in which every character is at an abstract 'range' from every other character or important object in the vicinity. These ranges go from "Close" (within punching range) to "Extreme" (out of range of just about anything but a sniper rifle.) While abstract systems like this can lead to absurd and impossible situations, TOKYO N◎VA's distance system is functional and adapts well to both theater-of-the-mind gameplay or a zone system if you like to draw maps. It can also handle an essential of any cop drama or AKIRA-inspired cyberpunk game; chase scenes.

TOKYO N◎VA has three types of attacks; Physical, Mental and Social. Physical Attacks are exactly like you'd expect. Mental Attacks are the dominion of charismatic voices of authority, as well as psychic magicians. Handled in much the same way as Physical Attacks, though obviously weapons and armor of the usual sort don't apply, they can be just as effective as a bullet to the head; while it's pretty over the top, a devastating insult can render anyone temporarily unconscious or even permanently catatonic.

Social Attacks are a bit different. Rather than happening upon the battlefield, they usually take place 'backstage', which is the term TOKYO N◎VA uses for things that are assumed to happen offscreen without actually being roleplayed out. They're slightly less devastating than other attacks in that they can't actually kill you outright, only result in you being declared a non-person and stripped of every social privilege you have. That doesn't make them much less effective.

TOKYO N◎VA doesn't have any concept analogous to hit points or sanity points. Instead, attack damage (which is determined by a card played by the attacker after confirming that their attack hits; the suit is unimportant) directly inflicts a 'wound,' which, unless it's very light, is associated with a certain condition. This can range from being unable to use an arm from a Physical Wound, to being so upset by the lies being spread about you that it impairs all your Checks from a Social Wound, to having your mind crushed and becoming catatonic from a Mental Wound. In this high-stakes world, one unlucky blow is all it takes to end your life as you know it.

Almost, anyway. Because there are Miracles.


Non-Combat

Let's elaborate upon Miracles a bit. Many Miracles are directly tied to combat, like the Kabutowari Style's Coup de Grace, which can kill anyone instantly. No ifs, ands, or buts. Unless their target is near a friendly Kabuto that uses their Invulnerable miracle. As the name would suggest, Invulnerable negates any one attack. They might also be a Chakra, in which case they can use Phoenix to recover from even a lethal wound. Or a Kuromaku that reveals that it was actually their Right Hand, loyal unto death, who took that bullet.

Miracles are pretty overpowered, aren't they? Luckily, you can only use each one once per scenario, and usually a scenario lasts a couple of game sessions.

As you might guess from this being under the Non-Combat header, not all Miracles are about killing people or saving them from death. There are miracles like the Fate Style's Truth, which allows them to force someone to answer a single question truthfully. Highlander's Nemesis, which calls upon a mysterious benefactor in orbit to grant any wish they might have. Neuro's Deus Ex Machina, which allows them to accomplish just about any imaginable feat that a master hacker would be capable of.

These ones are for the born roleplayers.

And that's not the only thing TOKYO N◎VA gives them. While certain Miracles are probably the only aspect of the system that's an open invitation to roleplay, there are a multitude of other options for the GM to provide roleplaying hooks and the players to bite on them. Characters can gather information by meeting a friend in high places, by hacking the Web, or by buying it from a broker with cold hard cash. Or they can infiltrate a secure arcology by sneaking in physically, hacking in digitally, or sweet-talking their way in. Knowledge Skills ensure that each character has their own unique specialties; even the assassin who lives for combat may have better luck gathering the word on the street than the corporate exec for whom social skills are their forte.

This isn't just about skill checks. A character with the Fate Style (flavoring them as either a private detective or someone very passionate about the truth) can take the 'Sherlock Holmes' ability, letting them request that the GM allow them to deduce something from their surroundings or the information they've already learned. A powerful Charisma (a Style theming the character as a persuasive politician or leader) can brainwash another character, turning them into a willing servant. Almost every Style has an ability they can take to make themselves capable of something novel and interesting even off the battlefield, though TOKYO N◎VA is a bit less well-rounded in this regard than games that explicitly grant characters unique roleplay abilities for practically free, like DoubleCross.

TOKYO N◎VA is a very satisfying game by the standards of Japanese TRPGs for anyone looking for a system with as much room for creativity as it has for combat, though avoiding combat entirely might leave it a bit lackluster.




Personal Opinions
Quote:I let enough of my own glowing opinion slip into the summary above that writing this part seems a bit superfluous, but needless to say, I really like TOKYO N◎VA.
   
If I were to complain about its flaws, as I usually do in this part of the post, I'd complain that "instant kill" and "negate attack" Miracles cancel each other out, yet the latter are absolutely necessary to defend against the former (or just against crazy attack combos that can OHKO anyone.) Someone who decides to grab all the roleplaying-friendly Miracles I mentioned is inevitably going to feel like less of a team player than the triple Kabuto or triple Chakra.
   
I'm also not a big fan of vehicles, which can provide absurd mobility, devastating weapons and tons of armor while having very few downsides, other than that they can get broken. Making the GM flip an off switch on a vehicle-specialized character's fun to keep them from dominating the battlefield is not a good design choice.

All in all, though, TOKYO N◎VA is a wholly unique and reasonably well-tuned system that I can recommend to everyone, for every type of campaign from action-packed one-shots to epic sagas of social intrigue and manipulation.
- Anzelotte


In Summary

Pros:
  • Unique card-based system that makes the game about tactical resource management rather than just hoping for good rolls
  • Well-developed setting with just enough twists to set itself from the cyberpunk milieu
  • An abundance of engaging non-combat options for gameplay

Cons:
  • Character creation is fairly complex and can easily lead to choice paralysis
  • Creating combat encounters is nontrivial and can't be done on the fly
  • Some parts of the system, such as vehicles and Miracles, are poorly balanced



Links

Official:

Fan-made: