Inside Pulse 12

Tabletop Review: Seeker: the Role Playing Game

Seeker: the Role Playing Game
Publisher: Vajra Enterprises
Authors: Brian St. Claire-King
Page Count: 188
Release Date: 02/19/2012
Cost: $22.95 (PDF)
Get it here: DriveThruRPG (PDF)

Seeker is an independent role-playing game about characters who are finding their own way in the world, without clinging to any one ideology or religion. In this game, your characters generally try put themselves in situations to gain trust, do something to further good and/or knowledge, and perhaps be some sort of enigmatic spiritual force. The game uses the ORC-L (Organic Rule Components – Lite) system, which I am not familiar with, but is supposedly a system that allows for an easier character creation and less menial stuff for a player to keep track of (like basic equipment).

Character Creation

Character creation is, for a game claiming to use a “Lite” system, rather cumbersome. This is how I see the problem: Seeker is trying to be a different kind of game, perhaps simpler and more abstracted, but then uses a character creation system that is burdened with all of the trappings of any traditional system. For example: attributes are assigned via a point-buy system, which is great (although in the case of this game, die rolls may have been in line with the theme). However, there are eight different attributes; admittedly, each of them has a purpose, but for a game that has a whole page dedicated to how it is different from “Standard RPGs” it is already showing itself to be remarkably similar.

I would like to point out one error here on the attribute page as well, and that is there is no description of what having four points in an attribute does. The page indicates that if you have a “1” in an attribute, you are just above being disabled in that area, however if you have a “2-3″, you are average. Then, if you have a “5” (the highest) you are considered approaching superhuman in that area. There is no description for attribute level 4, maybe there is no level 4 in ORC-L?

Ok, so I don’t want to harp on that area too much. After attributes you move on to buying skills and skill levels, which has its own interesting issues with the distribution of costs. Basically, some broad skill areas like “Labor” cost 1 point per level, others like “Combat” cost 4, and I am having a hard time imagining the rationale behind that. For my 10 points (every character gets 10 points to spend) I can spend only half and be a champion laborer, but if I spend ALL my points I can be only so-so at combat. This may be to steer players away from combat-oriented characters, since the game stresses that situations can be resolved through non-combat means, and seems to prefer that. However, what if I want an ex-military character? What if my character was overseas and then left when his contract was up to become a Seeker? I feel like he would be crippled from the get-go just because I would choose combat skill levels to represent his training but then be unable to choose any other skills!

Next you choose a path, and that is what I think is the coolest part about the game. In a sort of Jungian way you choose a mode of being for your character, which are basically two sides for each of four different coins (my own analogy, there is no mention of coins in this section). For example, there are “-Harmony” and “+Harmony” paths, the first being one that is disharmonious and distant with the rest of society, the second one that involves being involved in society and beneficial projects in general. There are three other aspects like that to choose from, each with a plus and minus side. These are essentially the classes of this system.

Equipment, advantages, and disadvantages purchases follow… sound familiar? GURPS? A little traditional perhaps? Wait, you are not done yet! Next you decide “Eccentricities” which are exactly like Quirks in GURPS: little things to define your character’s personality.

As a side note, I don’t care if the system uses things that are similar to other systems. I am just pointing things out because this RPG tries to stress (albeit for only a little bit) that it is different from a “Traditional RPG” and I am not seeing it in character creation. I found character creation to be tedious and stale, couldn’t this non-standard RPG have something interesting to offer in that area?

System Mechanics

Basically, tests are decided by what are called “50/50s”, where the player or GM uses a random method of determination like rolling a die or drawing a card (or ro-sham-bo), ignoring ties. The idea is that each time you roll or draw, you have about a 50% chance of succeeding. This is fine with me, I like simple, alternative resolution systems. You succeed or fail by winning or losing a certain number of these tests, which is dependent on either a player’s “Action Value” ( a sum of up to 4 different values. Again, pretty traditional), or an object’s difficulty (set by the GM), or some aspect of an object like a drug that might make you addicted.

Combat is kind of interesting; you can choose from four different methods of defeating your opponent, each with its specific way of either dealing or protecting from damage. An attack with “Control” might give you a hold on your opponent, while “Kill” is all about doing the most damage possible. People only have 10 hit points, so combat can generally be expected to be short with few combatants.

The Other Parts of the Book and Junk

Ok, listen. If you are into this game, the roughly 130 pages following the combat rules are going to provide you with lots of valuable information on who Seekers are, what they do, what the various traditions (what this book sees as the ideologies of the world) are, what each path means in depth, different types of Seekers, and what an adventure looks like. Personally, it was very hard for me to read because I did not enjoy the voice of the writing; also the character creation makes little sense in the context of this game and the basic mechanics, let’s be honest here, leave something to be desired.

I found the material to be generally contradictory and preachy. Seekers are apparently supposed to be some sort of person that is both lowly and above everyone else, both clueless and imminently purposeful, unwanted but necessary, irresponsible but somehow the keeper of higher things, non-violent but fine with using violence against the right people, seeking their own way but also the good of everyone. Just reading the book made me feel like I was taking part in some idealistic nonsense. Throughout the book Seekers are portrayed as being more enlightened, more authentic, more aware, more whatever in relation to other people in the world who are “normals”. Seekers go around helping out these “normals” who are in some distress or other and generally incapable of helping themselves. Here’s a quote from the Introduction section: “Their skills and understanding make them very capable in a wide range of situations. In most arenas they can compete with a highly trained and well equipped professional: solving mysteries as well as top FBI investigators, infiltrating hostile turf as well as Navy Seals, treating illnesses as well as doctors, etc. Yet because they are not specialists and their powers are subtle, they are often underestimated.” I mean, this is some Saturday-morning bullcrap right here, reminiscent of the most campy teen adventure movies where a group of ragtag kids put one over on the fuddy-duddy adults.

Here is another quote from the Introduction: “Part of the design of Seeker was to create a space for performing thought experiments on the efficacy of various -isms and -ologies. Imagine a practitioner of one of these disciplines, one who can spend every waking hour on the discipline, and imagine how that practitioner would use the skills or wisdom gained to deal with various real-life problems and dilemmas. In this game you can have Nietzsche, or his modern equivalent, fight a bear and see what would happen.” Now that is actually interesting. However, the rest of the book betrays a game that isn’t actually about these thought experiments, but it seems like it is about playing a cast of open-hearted Lifetime movie characters or self-serving, hedonistic elitists. Some of the vignettes and examples of play situations in the book depict characters being downright overbearing and condescending, and this would be fine if it were an example of the character personality quirk or something, but in the context it is presented as the modus operandi of a Seeker. In any standard RPG you might have characters that are arrogant, but playing a role in Seeker seems like it is actually about arrogance.

On the plus side, they put some really beautiful artwork into this game. The cover is magnificent (however, the cover was not included in my PDF copy … buyer beware?).

What Do I Think?

If you boil it down, this game is basically about what any traditional RPG is going to be about: beating the bad guys and doing good stuff, but with this extra idea (supposedly) of the character discovering him or herself along the way and seeking out the “great truths” that somehow no one else can know or will bother to find out about. My major gripes: character creation is boring and doesn’t mesh with the theme, and the ideas behind the game seem more conceptual than practical; I have no idea how I am supposed to play this game, or who would be interested in playing it with me, If I did play it, I would have to do so tongue-in-cheek because I couldn’t take it seriously; some parts of the book are interesting, others are full of nonsense and contradictions, and there are plenty of the latter two.

Look, this might be the right game for someone. Even disregarding the theme and the book’s atmosphere of condescension, the mechanics are mismatched: simple action resolution tied to a fiddly modifier-based equation and transcendence-bound characters tied to tedious character creation. If you asked me, I would tell you to either avoid this game or get it, read it, and then use the ideas with another system of character creation and mechanics.