Homebrew Review: Genius the Transgression
Duck and Roll games is kicking of item month in a big way, but if you thought the fun was going to be limited to pathfinder, you were dead wrong. Presenting a most unusual Homebrew review: Genius the Transgression. Genius was written by the phenomenally talented Kyle Marquis, author of Empyrean.
Most often Duck and Roll reviews 3.5 and Pathfinder homebrews, but Genius is a World of Darkness creation, and an amazing one at that. Genius is designed to let you add your favourite mad scientists into world of Darkness, from Bond villains, to Dr.Frankensteins, to Lex Luthers and Dr.Dooms and far more.
First and foremost Genius is an entire finished world of Darkness Add on. It has everything that any of the official core books, and in many respects more than some of the others. It lets you play as a Genius, gives you Genius society, Genius threats and enemies, Genius history, the genius cosmology, genius abilities, Genius factions, Genius inspirations, and even those lovely fluffy story bits that other World of Darkness books have. With a bit more editing, and a little bit more unnecessary art and design touch ups this book wouldn't only be indistinguishable from real core WOD, but it might actually be better in many ways. This review is going to cover the major pieces, but there is so much more than everything below.
Anyone who has ever cracked a World of Darkness book, of any edition, can tell you that the focus is on esthetic design, and invoking the feeling of the books contents. Everything else, balanced mechanics, thorough explanations, easy to read text, any form of organisation, comes far beyond drawing you into the feeling and the lore and the immersive story driven depths that the system is known for. In an all too fitting change of pace, Genius is written to be functional and effective and shows an almost comical disdain for frivolous graphic design. That's not to say it has no flavour mind you, the mechanics do more to convey the feeling of the game than the wording does, although every bit of the lore and example text is absolute gold. This focus on form makes the book a much easier read, which is important because it is, again appropriately, more mechanically focused than other WoD systems.
In Genius you play as a mad inventor, capable of building impossible inventions called "Wonders". These devices are the vast majority of your ability and replace the disciplines spells and gifts that other creature's possess. But as with everything in world of Darkness, nothing comes for free. These inventions lock up the limited power that a Genius uses to actually activate them, and the more powerful an invention, the more energy it locks up. Given the sheer number of amazing intentions this ensure that you never really feel like you have enough power for everything. However one can reduce or even eliminate this cost by using "Larvae" Special ingredients obtained by doing horrific things, which create a reward for risking or lowering your morality, building in a great temptation that every genius could benefit from. On the topic of Morality, the Genius' not only have to maintain their "Obligation" their sense of actually using their wonders to benefit someone, but they also have to avoid becoming an Unmada, a Genius who is incapable of accepting the ideas of others. But one risks becoming an Unmada, and the worse for, an illuminated, just by going overboard on doing too much science, and if you've been paying attention you'll note that going overboard on science is kind of their thing.
Vampires all pinky swear not to tell anyone about their powers, andwerewolves kind of no better, and their full wolf form is kinda forgettable, but Geniuses have a really damn good explanation for secrecy. They can't prove their abilities to normal humans. A wonder that's examined or even touched by a human is likely to breakdown, malfunction, or even go completely insane. This makes it very hard, and dangerous, to use most of their gadgets around or on regular humans, but half the fun is figuring out ways around that limit, and then watching them go terribly wrong. Combined with this the Genius suffers from the "Jabir" which tragically makes them sounds like lunatics when talking science with normal human scientists. This system creates fantastic options for Geniuses, forcing them to choose if they're trying to overcome these limits, or allow them to get shut off from humanity. The conflict if compounded by the fact that wonders aren't cheap, so a genius is going to need to either be exceptionally wealthy, have a sponsor, or find some way to pay bills AND buy plutonium....or perhaps they can find someone to borrow it from...
There's no doubt that the wonders are the main attraction, and they are functionally limitless. Borrowing ideas from Mage, Geniuses' have many different "Axioms" which they buy dots in, and each dot comes with new themes and abilities they can use in their inventions, and like their power source, Mania, you will never feel like you have enough Axioms. This is because of two main reasons. The first is that many of the details of your inventions are yours to decide. Maybe your super weapon is a silver sword, maybe it's a flamethrower, maybe its a sonic gun, maybe it's a physical embodiment of Occam's razor. They might have the same statistics, but they say a lot about the inventor, and you might even want more than one of those. The other reason you want as many as possible is because multiple axioms can be combined to build better inventions. Want a suit of Ironman armor? You're gonna need "Prostasia" for it to protect you. Oh, and "Skafoi", at least two dots if it can fly. Repulsors are going to need at least one dot of "Katastrofi", maybe more if you want them to be deadly. Then there's the sensors, the super strength, and the A.I, each of which need even more dots of other axioms, and you start with 3 dots. However, if you know another genius you could both work on it....but then who gets to wear it? And from there you'd still have to explain the armor, power it, and make sure humans never touch it. This system is a far cry from a homebrew power grab, but it also doesn't fall flat next to other systems. It is perfectly along that WoD spectrum of "Powerful, but you're gonna work for it".
Along with all of that there are tons of beautiful little touches. From a world history and cosmology of Geniuses, to the power to tie people up and tell them your evil plan to regain energy, to having mentally broken lab assistants, creating other geniuses, and even adopting living failed experiments like pets, this book is riddled with amazing flourishes that help give you countless options. I don't always use vampires, I don't always use werewolves, but I always use Genius, it is in truth, my favourite world of Darkness System and I highly recommend it.