The Watchtower Report – A Review

The Watchtower Report on DriveThruRPG

I am a big fan of the Smallville Roleplaying Game. So, I’ve been waiting (somewhat) patiently for a couple months for this book to drop. It is well worth the wait.

The book is separated into chapters that deal with different parts of the game and characters and how to change those parts to suit a different feel that you may be wanting, or to add in some additional options to how those current mechanics work. I found some of the options more useful than others, but that’s not to say other people will be interested in the same options I am. I’m going to go through each chapter and briefly discuss what it does and what I really liked about it, as well as didn’t like.

EXPANDING ANTAGONISTS: I found that this chapter has some wonderful discussion on what a villain is, what their purpose in the story is and it also discussed some Villainous Archetypes that you can use to give more focus to your villains. The chapter then talks about how to have a villain played at the table as a Lead.

What I Liked: The Archetypes for the villains are really great. There are just enough options that you can cover quite a few villain types while not having so many that you feel overwhelmed. The discussion is such that, while they do have something of a mechanical implementation to the Archetypes, you don’t have to use them this way. Simply writing the Archetype down in your notes and keeping that in mind will help you give extra direction to your villain’s actions and goals.

What I Didn’t Like: The discussion on using a villain at the table as a Lead was good, but it had me scratching my head a little. I saw this potential in the game from the start and thought it was pretty well spelled out. There was some great tips for people who are playing villainous Leads at the table. This is not a bad part of the book, but it was rehashing ground I thought was pretty well understood in the first place.

¬†EXPANDING PATHWAYS: This chapter is absolute gold if you’re like me and want to hack this game to run a different story. It starts out discussing how to bring a new Lead into a story that’s already running. Then, it gets into the nuts and bolts of the Pathways system and how to change it up. The last part of the chapter has rules on creating quick Features and finished up with a list of Distinctions all noted with which book they’re in along with a page number.

What I Liked: The discussion on hacking up Pathways is gold. It actually goes deep into how it works, talking about total die steps given and when to give die steps. I found it much easier to understand how to hack it up once I had a greater understanding of how it worked. The example given is top notch and really showcases the flexibility that Pathways can give you.

What I Didn’t Like: Again, there’s not much to dislike about this chapter. The only thing I’d say is that the discussion for bringing in new Leads seemed a bit long for me. That may be because I’ve never really had to bring in a new Lead.

EXPANDING PLAY: This section has a lot of great advice for Watchtower, discussing what Watchtower’s role in gameplay is and gives some tips on how to properly push Leads to act. It touches on Watchtower’s toolbox and then goes into Sideline episodes.

What I Liked: The discussion on how to properly push Leads, when to keep pushing and when to stop pushing, is wonderful. Often times I find myself presenting a situation and hoping that the Leads pick up on it. This doesn’t always happen. Pushing that situation at them until it causes bickering between the Leads and finally leads to a Challenge is the right way to go about this, and this is presented in a quick and easy to read way in the book.

What I Didn’t Like: I’ve never really liked the idea of a Sideline episode. I’m not one of those players or GM s who enjoys taking a break from the groups characters to take a look at other characters in the world. Granted, Sidelines aren’t presented as something that must be done, and they do go through a good list of when they think a Sideline episode would be good. The rules for how to run a Sideline confuse me a bit, as well. There is no discussion that I saw on how long a Sideline episode should take.

EXPANDING DRIVES: The Drives section deals with the Values and Relationships that all Leads have in Smallville. In this section, they show how to use different Values and also how to change up the Value system to give your games a unique feel. They also provide a quick list of Values that they think would work as substitutes. For Relationships, they discuss having a Relationship with an Organization and also with a Title or Office. They also present a way for re-targeting your Relationships.

What I Liked: All the variations for the Values and Relationships are well thought out and presented. They all have their place in different types of games using the Smallville RPG. There’s nothing that really stands out as superb in this section, because everything is written with the same high quality.

What I Didn’t Like: Everything I saw in this section is wonderful.

EXANDING ASSETS: Assets are one of my favorite parts of the game. They are so simple, yet so powerful in giving your characters interesting and unique ways of interacting with the game world. So, naturally I was looking forward to this part of the book the most. And it delivers. It starts out with Distinctions and gives to new Benefits and two new Drawbacks: Grant, Use & Exacerbate, Shift. Then you get some new Distinctions, including specific fighting styles. Next, it looks at Abilities and some different ways to use them, including starting with more than a single Special Effect. Gear also gets the same treatment.

What I Liked: Everything in this section is superb, but I especially like the Integrated Gear option. This is a great way to build machines that are made up of several items of Gear and really add a different feel to how the gear is used. They give an example Combat Suit. Yes, it’s power armor! And it looks great and makes me want to run a futuristic military game.

What I Didn’t Like: This is another chapter that was all win for me.

EXPANDING RESOURCES: Resources in Smallville have always intrigued me, but I’ve never seen them used to great effect in the game. This section provides some great ways to use them differently, including Sacrificing them, changing their Specialties and Re-targeting them.

What I Liked: The Sacrifice mechanic is very interesting and I’m glad to see it. The fact that you can get rid of an Extra or Location that isn’t quite doing it’s job for you anymore is awesome.

What I Didn’t Like: I would have liked some more discussion on how to make Extras and Locations more applicable in gameplay. They’re always such an interesting part of character creation, but I’ve never seen them used to good effect during a game.

The last section of the book is EXPANDING THE STORY SO FAR, which adds and updates characters from the show for the game. As I’m not a fan of the show, this section held no interest for me. I skimmed through it anyway, and there are some interesting tidbits and plot ideas in the episode summaries that I may go back and yank for my own games.

There are also CASEFILES between every section of the book, detailing people and places of interest from the show. I also started reading these with little interest, but again I found great plot hooks and ideas that I can reskin and pull into my own games.

If you like the Smallville RPG and want to get more out of your game, I cannot recommend this book enough.

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