Alright, today, we put the rules of Cactus Solo to the ultimate test and see how fun it plays in a session. I already have a plot to play out in my mind. As an added challenge, I will try my hardest not to use any engine or driver. I will use one Story Cube as my last possible resort if I draw a blank. But I can only use each side once. After that, I’m left to my own wits. My prediction will be that the game will be enjoyable.
So, let’s begin with my character. Mike Folley is a spy. He is a mercenary for hire when the kingdom needs someone to, while not necessarily do the dirty work, snoop around, and garner clues about possible treasoners. Think of him like the Secret Police. Recently there has been some politicians turning up dead via a poison and the king’s men have hired Mike to find out who killed them and why.
The first place he’ll check out is the black market. I’m gonna roll against my Knowhow to see just where exactly would be the best place to look. I have to roll 2d6 under my score of 7. However, I could also pick a number to roll under.
Holy crap I crited on the first roll. This is good. I’ll say that I came across my old Contact, Zay-J, who tells me flat out that the poison being used to kill these politicians is a special mixture made from Oszipium Leaf. He can get the address of where they’re being sold and Mike will go from there.
So he goes over to an old woman’s hideout. He’s gonna have to stealth in via his Willpower.
He fails sneaking into the house (his Willpower was 7) and is caught by her guard dog. So now, we will get into combat. Initiative is easy. Just roll a D6. Lowest goes first.
- Dog: 3
- Me: 5
Alright, so the dog’s gonna try and hit me. In order to do so, it must roll under its Willpower with three dice… Yeah, apparently that’s how to do combat, not what I had said before.
And the dog misses. Five was what it was supposed to hit. I attack exactly the same way, though I hit under seven.
[Roll: 14 again]
Hm… You might start to see a problem with this.
Okay, that last roll was close. Now let’s try one more time.
… Alright. Time for me to lay the basics. With the way the statistics show, you will, on average, roll a 10 or an 11. A six is considered average for the game. If what I’m reading is true and I have to roll 3d6 for each attack, with the intent of being able to roll under my score, I’d need to have a result that – at most – happens four percent of the time.
Even worse when you consider that the stats are randomly generated. You could end up with a piss poor Willpower of 3, meaning that you can never hit anything to save your life unless throwing crits is your specialty or end up with a Willpower of 10 and find almost no problem rolling 3d6. I’ve gone so far as to simulate a hundred dice rolls for the Dog’s attack.
Only 3 of the hundred managed to hit the target of five. Another simulation happened with Mike, though he seemed luckier, averaging out to around 15%. The maximum stat of 10 manages to hit its target half the time. I can’t believe I’m going into a critical review of this, but I am.
I tried reading the rules over and over, thinking that I occasionally roll 3d6 or that I have to roll under in order to . But no. It seems very insistent that I roll 3d6 for attacking. Especially since some of the enemies have stuff past 12, meaning that rolling 2d6 to attack won’t fly, even if they mention that one point that you can, though I think that one was a typo. Not only that, but this also means that rolling under to not get attacked means that said enemies will never be hit ever, since they need to critically fail in order to get hit. Okay, let’s compare to the classic Armor Class system, shall we?
Your character has a number determined by what armor he wears, how fast he is and usually other modifiers such as size and if any magic is involved. This is a number that your opponent has to meet or exceed in order to hit you with only one die, albeit with modifiers and the die being of many sides.
In Solo Gaming Rules? No such thing. You have to roll and pray. It’s easier with the higher amount of Willpower points you have, but good luck. So, I decided to simply roll with it (pun intended) but in doing so, simplify combat. I do ten rolls for each fighter. In those ten rolls, I’ll deal out the damage. If one exceeds their Kill Points, they’re dead.
Alright, let’s do this.
[Roll-a-thon: Dog has hit 0 times, Mike has hit 2 times.]
The weapons have a fixed damage, so the dog gets four damage, as my dagger deals two. I need three more points to kill it.
[Roll-a-thon: The dog and Mike hit once.]
The dog hits me and I’m at 12 health, but I now need one hit to kill the dog.
[Roll-a-thon: Dog doesn’t hit, and Mike overkills the dog with four hits.]
And the dog is ded. Now, I’ll roll the lady’s Willpower to see if she hears the fight.
She fails her roll, which means I’ll be able to sneak in with ease. You can, instead of rolling against your stat, roll against a set DC. In this case, we’ll set it to Easy, which is 10.
And so he sneaks in. Now I have the jump on a sleeping old woman. This gives me the excuse to roll for surprise. See if I get the drop on her.
And I completely surprise the old woman. I’m simply gonna knock her out. Initiative time.
- Me: 5
- Old Lady: 3
Alright, sensible enough. Same as before, but this time I’m rolling with -3 to my roll, as I have surprised her and I can add a -3 to any action with said surprised person. So, naturally I’m gonna roll my first attack on her with this surprise.
The one time I roll low too! So I hit and deal two damage to her. She’s a pretty beefy person though, having 11 health. The dirk takes her down to nine and she’ll attack me.
She misses, as her willpower is 6. My turn next, and I assume I lose the element of surprise.
I figured I’d miss. Well, time for her to cast a spell on me. She casts Piercing Projectiles at me. It’s here that I realize… there’s no rules to see how a spell hits. At all. Now, Piercing Projectiles might be a bit like Magic Missile where it auto hits, but it doesn’t explain other spells like Electrical Shock (Shocking Grasp), Flaming Hand (Burning Hands), and other spells.
I assume the rules just state: Yeah. They just hit. No saving throws. You just get hit. Now, yeah, Flaming Hand/Freezing Palm (Freezing Palm is just Flaming Hand but ice-themed, obviously) deal simply five damage, but Piercing Projectiles’ is five single projectiles that hit for six damage each round. The most Kill Points anyone can have is nineteen. Translation: this spell will kill you, but they will have enough spare projectiles left to kill anyone weaker. I can only take two before dropping.
And these. Auto. Hit.
[UPDATE, 2/18/2016: Actually, there is a to hit roll for the projectiles, but rolling Knowhow instead of Willpower. It’s been a while since I played the game, but assuming she has a Knowhow of 6 (which is above average), she would have a 4.5% chance of hitting, which I won’t fault, as Piercing Projectiles are pretty OP. Unfortunately, I learned this seven months too late, and so, watch me fail as I get my character killed.
Jury’s out on the other spells though, but knowing that, I can assume they either auto hit still or they go on the same rules as Projectiles.]
I’m dead. There’s no other way around it. I’m just… flat out… dead. So, I’m just gonna house rule that I have to make reflex saves. Let’s see how many I’m dodging (I’m rolling 2d6 vs. 6)
[Roll-a-thon: I successfully dodged three bolts, but I couldn’t dodge against two bolts and I am killed]
I rolled two 10s, so even if the difficulty was 7, my Willpower stat that I’d roll against for skill checks normally, I still would have died. So, that’s how Mike Folley died. To Magic freaking Missile.
Moral of the story: Don’t mess with elders. One thing I noticed though as I’m reading through the rest of the PDF is that there’s a 5 in 12 chance that I’d get a Psionic power. So let’s see if I do.
Well, just my luck. Shame too, since some of these powers are amazing. They can do stuff like control animals, cure insanity, see the future, and watch the past/future. There’s also magic items in the game, like a brooch that allows you to pass without trace and even Dwarven Arm… or…
Crap! I’m back in the game! I totally forgot that armor in this game absorb damage! Though it wouldn’t have helped me if I didn’t do the saving throws thing and if we’re being fair, I could have spent my luck points, which can save me from death, but I can only use them once and never again. But anyways, my armor saved me.
See, Mike’s armor soaked up whatever damage they did. And my Kevlar can take twelve damage before it’s destroyed, which is exactly how much damage the projectiles cause. The Kevlar easily eats the projectiles! YEAH! Alright, old lady! You’re history!
[Roll-a-thon: I hit three times, she has hit twice]
So now she’s down to 3 and I’m down to 10. I’ll hit again.
O_O Crap. Well, now it’s the old lady’s turn. She’s gonna try and hypnotize my character now. This is actually one of few powers that actually states a saving throw stat. In this case, we roll against our Knowhow of 7.
Which I easily succeed. I’m gonna non-lethally damage the elder in the next round.
[Roll-a-Thon: I hit once, she hits none]
[Roll-a-Thon: She hits once, I hit… Fource?]
So I knock her out. When she comes to, I’ll roll against my charisma (a 4) to see if I can ask her about the poison she mixes and who she’s selling them to.
Didn’t think so. She spits in my face and tells me that she won’t tell someone who serves the high king. She then laughs and says that even if she told him, she just made the last batch she made and sold it to a person she refuses to tell. I’m gonna try and detect poison.
Given how my poison detecting skill is so low, I need a crit, I’m not surprised that Mike noticed that the last mix she made was for herself a little too late when she succumbed. So, I guess now I have to continue looking for the mysterious poisoner. I’ll roll my Knowhow and see where he’d strike.
I fail to know and so I return home to make my report that the person who was selling the poisons died and that I could make no more leads. It’s here that I read on the healing section and find it interesting. If I don’t do any activity for 24 hours after I have been damaged, I get healed for half my stat. Doesn’t say rounded up or down though. Also, there are minuses that can be applied to combat… though I’m a little weird at it, since most of these are negative modifiers, which given the roll under nature is a good thing.
But… see, some things make sense for minuses. Repeated shooting, for instance, shows that the person is firing at the same place to ensure a hit. However, there are some stuff, like shooting in the dark, which gives you a -4, even though minuses are good for you hitting. There’s a lot to be desired in this PDF. It’s… alright, but there are some clear flaws to fix, flaws that I’m not sure are addressed in the updated PDF.
Don’t get me wrong, this RPG has some merit to it. It looks at the game play differently enough for me to gauge interest in, but there’s a couple of flaws to it, like the aforementioned combat and magic. I only survived the encounter with the poison maker because of my armor. And while I’d use my luck, it’s gone forever if I do use them. There are other flaws too. While I enjoy random character creation, the mandatory nature of it could mean that, while extremely rare, your character could wind up with only 3 Willpower, which as per combat rules, means that your character will never be effective in combat.
I wanna say I like this game, but in truth, I like some of the mechanics. The game in general… works, but not in a smooth degree. Did I have fun though? Yeah! I did. It was good in that degree despite its flaws. If this game interests you or you want a cheap game, the $2.50/$3.25 price tag (first number USD, second number CAD) might be welcoming enough for you to give it a try.
To end things, let’s use that one cube thing that I never tried out.
As it turns out, the poison was actually purchased by a druid who wanted to kill an ogre that’s been tearing up the land. He succeeds with it. Well, that’s Cactus Solo. Bon voyage, gamers!