Review: Larger Than Life

Posted: 9 December 2015 in Reviews

While I’ve been playing LTL on and off for a while, I never got around to reviewing the earlier version; this review is about the Director’s Cut, which is the current incarnation and brings the game up to the current level of the rules.

In a Nutshell: The Chain Reaction rules applied to the pulp genre. 102 page PDF from Two Hour Wargames.

CONTENTS

Character creation allows for Stars (i.e. PCs) and Extras (NPC mooks) as normal, but also introduces Co-Stars (not quite as good as Stars but better than Extras), Love Interests (who exist mainly to be kidnapped, but may also be Co-Stars ), the Big Bad (equivalent to an evil Co-Star) and the Femme Fatale (basically an evil Love Interest, known as a Cad if male). Many of these have packages of special abilities, while Stars and Co-Stars have "star power" which allows them to soak damage, and stars have free will, meaning they can choose their reactions in some cases rather than trusting to the dice. Your Star can begin with as many followers as his Rep, but Co-Stars or Femme Fatales count for two each – yes, you can play as the Big Bad if you like.

Characters are also grouped into five Circles (which you’ll see in Urban Renewal as well when I get to that): Movers, Shakers, Exotics, Civilians and the Criminal Element. Each character has a profession which defines both its Circle and the reaction tables it uses in combat.

As with most current generation THW games, gear is listed in terms of Items, which can be whatever you want so long as they don’t require changes to the game rules, and there are tables of pre-generated NPCs. Unlike most other current rules from this stable, there are no skills, just Rep, which is a single numerical indicator of how good the character is, notably in combat.

Combat rules are derived from Chain Reaction, with the notable exception that nobody dies in the pulps, so the worst outcome you can get is to be retired, which in terms of game mechanics is much the same thing. Other changes include the addition of magic spells, which can inflict damage on the target (and caster, if they are unlucky) or cause confusion amongst the enemy; unoccupied section movement, which speeds up movement through board sections where there is no possibility of encountering an enemy – I’m not sure how that will work in play, I’ll have to try it; oh, and PEFs don’t move in this game – as I normally forget to move them anyway that won’t cause me any problems.

However, as with most THW games, the main area in which LTL differs from the free Chain Reaction rules is in the campaign generator, and LTL is my favourite for this. You start by figuring out who the Big Bad is and what he wants, then the star gets involved somehow, and play proceeds in alternating Advancing the Story and Travel scenes. Each Advancing the Story scene gives the player the chance to solve one or more clues by finding objects or questioning NPCs, and may or may not include setting off a trap or a fight played out on the tabletop; when he has solved enough clues, the star advances to the final scene of the story, which is a confrontation with the Big Bad. In between Advancing scenes are Travel scenes, which take the star to a new locale.

Locales may be Metropolis (big city), Exotic (smaller, older city), Jungle (any sort of wilderness) or Lost World (what it says on the tin). Each has its own map composed of six Areas, numbered 1-6; you enter the Locale at area 1, and proceed to a random area for the next Advancing scene, possibly with encounters along the way. The generic locale maps show how many encounters there would be in each area depending on the time of day, and which types of buildings and Circles of NPCs you might find there.

CHANGES FROM THE PREVIOUS VERSION

I never actually reviewed the first edition (oops), but the principal changes I noticed are:

  • The complex and clunky system of skills is gone, replaced by Rep alone. This is the biggest improvement in the new edition, and also makes it easier to mash up with other games.
  • The wide range of creatures and dinosaurs has gone. I suspect they have moved into other products, but I miss the dinosaurs.
  • Magic-users can’t summon demons any more. You could always describe the remaining spells as the effects of demon summoning.
  • Big Bads are now stereotyped by type (Business Magnate, say, or Military Officer) rather than by nationality (say, French or Japanese). There seems not to be such a wide range of them either.
  • Most of the illustrations are gone, including all the artwork except the cover. I am generally a content guy rather than a format guy so I’m cool with this.
  • Each locale now has a map of six areas. I really like this and consider it a solid improvement.

FORMAT

As usual for THW, crisp, clear, two column black on white with lots of tables and next to no pictures of any kind. Really easy on your printer and your eyes.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

It looks like the suggestions I would make are already covered by companion products;  bring back the dinosaurs (Adventures in the Lost Lands), give me a pregenerated setting (Colonial Lemuria, Mission St Mary).

CONCLUSIONS

I find this an extremely flexible and fast GM emulator for solo play using other games, as well as being fun in its own right.  Although it’s designed for 1930s pulp adventures – the Shadow, Indiana Jones, and so on – I find it easy to reskin on the fly for fantasy, science fiction, and so on.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5, because I was using this within two days of buying it.

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