Nefertiti Overdrive

Nefertiti Overdrive Review

Billed as high octane action in Ancient Egypt, Nefertiti Overdrive is by Fraser Ronald of Sword’s Edge Publishing and had it’s successful KickStarter in February 2015.

Content

Nefertiti Overdrive is not a setting book.  Beyond a few paragraphs setting events as happening during the Assyrian invasion that overthrew the 25th Dynasty, little attention is paid to world building or cultural details.  Instead the players are encouraged to take a cinematic approach to historical accuracy and adopt a stereotype of Ancient Egypt suitable for a Hollywood action film.  The game is focused on telling cool stories rather than character drama.

The core of the book is the adventure called Get Netiqret.  It’s about a princess trying to rescue another minor royal (Netiqret) left behind amid the evacuation of Thebes.  The other player characters join the story through their relationship to the Princess or are compelled to assist by heroic tendencies.  Each character comes with a long paragraph of backstory but in most cases it falls short of explaining how the characters came to be in Thebes and serving the 25th Dynasts. Each character has a small amount of important information about the scenario, mostly little tips in case the party has trouble deducing where they should head next. Mechanically the supplied characters are combat orientated with a selection of social skills to support conversation scenes.

The adventure is presented as a series of discrete scenes.  Each scene comes with a wealth of information about the likelihood of combat, the purpose of the scene, who the key player characters are for the scene and what character story arc progression can be expected.  This is on top of the usual scene description and details.  Unfortunately, scene content and commentary are mixed together, preventing easy identification of what is key during play.  It would be worth going through with a highlighter pen before running the adventure.  Get Netiqret is a solid linear adventure with plenty of chances for the characters to act in cinematic and cool ways, achieving the goal of the game.

You can get a good few hours of play from just Get Netiqret.  The book provides two options for continuing.  For those looking for a shorter and more directed campaign, three more adventures are provided as a sequence that continues on from Get Netiqret’s ending.  These are presented in less mechanical detail than Get Netiqret’s scenes but are full stories of similar length.  Alternatively, each of the supplied characters has two NPCs to function as a nemesis of future stories.  A significant level of detail is provided for these and, when combined with the guidance for expanding on the underwritten setting, should give GMs and players all the prompts they need for further fun.

There’s a great deal of heart in the writing.  The author is clearly passionate about their subject matter, be it setting, game mechanics, GM advice or examples that use The Lord of The Rings.  The tone is informal and personal, like a conversation rather than a lecture of facts. Unfortunately, conversations are messy things, which leads us to…

Layout

I have a problem with how the book is organised.  To exaggerate, It’s like a blender containing a list of the content was thrown at an angry herbivore. Character creation and game mechanics are mashed together and interweaved.  For example, Qualities (character descriptors used to access better dice) are presented first, before Attributes (which define the Qualities).  Between sits information about the dice the game uses.  The reader then must read fourteen pages of game mechanics before the rest of character creation is explained.  I guess the author started writing out the mechanics, realised they needed these key terms defined and slotted them as needed, rather than grouping related topics together.  In another example, we’re told that you can combine dice to get dice with more sides, but not immediately told why. This is revealed five pages later. Forward referencing like this is unfortunately common.  This is a shame as Nefertiti Overdrive is one of those few games where you could definitely say that you need not know the resolution mechanics before character creation, solving the problem of which to present first.

The book doesn’t have chapters or sections, in line with its conversational style.  It’s a discourse of sub-sections that either flow onto the next without a breath or interrupt themselves to bring up a nearly unrelated topic.  A higher heading level could have been used to give the book a better framework that would likely have encouraged a better topic order.  Some of the sub-section names themselves aren’t helpful.  Headings such as You Know What I Mean, The Rant and Stories don’t enlighten as to what’s in the sub-section.  The sample characters are given out twice, once with the two sentences of important adventure specific knowledge and once without.  This puzzling addition of seventeen pages is made worse by there being two versions of each character.  The only differences are changes to backstories to accommodate for gender.  Whilst I approve of offering players more choice, using gender neutral terms and backstories would have the same effect of letting players decide gender and reduce page count.

Organisation aside, the book does a lot of the basics well.  The game mechanics are presented with two fully worked examples and a multi-page play example.  The thirty four pages of GM advice and guidance includes information on the adventure, creating your own campaigns and setting development.  A lot of the advice could be considered generic for improvisational games.  Only a few sample challenges are given rather than a bigger database to help stuck GM’s quickly build encounters.  As the challenge stat blocks are small more could have been easily included.  The back of the book has a bibliography and a list of suggested reading for those wanting a bit more actual Egyptian history in their game.  Tables of Egyptian names and quick reference rules are supplied.

The good quality artwork is a mix of commissioned black and white character pieces and coloured maps.  The book is filled out with public domain paintings but these, like nearly all the rest of the artwork, aren’t presented with specific attribution.  It’s a minor quibble but I like to see artists getting clear credit for their work.  The cover makes good use of a pair of stock images, combining them into a graphic that invokes both Ancient Egypt and Action Movie themes.  The text layout is a single column of black text on a white background that’s readable but interesting.  There’s no index but as the book is mostly GM advice and adventure it’s not missed.

Mechanics

As a narrative and cinematic game, the mechanics of Nefertiti Overdrive are about enabling ideas rather than choosing from a list of approved actions.  This starts with the characters which are defined by eight qualities, two for each of the four attributes – concept, elements, traits and drivers. Concepts are the role the character plays in both game and story.  Elements are important skills or features of a character.  Traits are “foundational descriptors” and are two picked from physical, mental and social which “represent your character’s advantages”.  Lastly drivers are the character’s motivations.  Of these attributes, drivers are the most clear and easily written.  The definitions provided for concepts and elements offer little guidance as to what differentiates them, a confusion not helped by the sample characters which have elements I would classify as concepts.  The traits seem particularly incongruous as rather than give the player’s free rein to cinematically describe qualities (as in the other three cases) a choice of three terms is given.  Even if the players could choose, the guidance as quoted above offers little clue as to what would be suitable. Despite this opacity, character creation is simple, allowing plenty of space for innovation and creativity.

When resolving a challenge, the players take turns at the Test.  Each character gathers four dice, one for each attribute.  If no qualities are relevant then the dice is only a d4. If there is a relevant quality then the dice is a d6.  If the player takes the time to cinematically describe how a quality fits into the action, the dice is a d8.  Once dice sides are decide, all four dice are rolled against four dice of the GMs.  Should any dice score it’s maximum result, another dice of the same size is added and rolled. The GM then goes first and selects a dice result to apply to their initiative.  The player has to beat this value with one of their own dice to become the active character in the test and narrate the action.  The passive character sets the next value, the target.  The active player scores a triumph by beating this value with higher differences yielding more triumphs.  If not enough triumphs have been scored then the test passes to the next player character to attempt.

The final part of the test is effect.  It’s not clearly stated who sets the first dice for this part of the test.  The party that has the dice with the highest number of sides assigned to effect get to apply a condition to the other person. This condition is a dice the same size as the difference between the effect dice sides.  The next time the afflicted rolls dice in the test, their opponent add the condition dice to their roll.  It’s slightly odd that the condition is phrased narratively as a negative (sand in face, surprised) but acts mechanically to give a bonus die.  There’s no concept of damage in the game. Instead if a player character loses initiative and loses target they take stress.  Accumulate four stress and a character is forced from the scene.

The writer has made a significant effort to create a universal resolution mechanic.  They’ve been successful in this.  Placing the focus on justified application of adjectives means that a test can be used for any challenge, be it combat, gymnastics or persuasion.  My primary concerns are with length and complexity.  Resolving a test is slowed by the players continuously justifying all their higher dice sides.  As a test focuses on one player at a time, the other players at the table are going to have to wait a while before it gets to their turn.  Play is slowed further by the decision making required after the dice have been rolled. This slow resolution doesn’t fit with cinematic and fast paced style of play the game intends to encourage.

Conclusion

Nefertiti Overdrive reads like someone had a really good convention game, got excited, typed up all the ideas they had into a document and then hit publish. The writing is enthusiastic but there is an absence of planning and polish to the book’s organisation that makes it unnecessarily difficult to understand. There are some worthwhile ideas in here, but I would recommend waiting for a revised edition.

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