Guest Author - Jay Shaffstall
I was introduced to Silvervine Games at a local gaming convention, Con on the Cob. I like to play systems I don't know at cons, especially when they're being run by someone official. You get a quick intro to the system, and experience it the way it's meant to be played.
The focus of Silvervine Games is to let you play whatever sort of character you want. During the character creation session I sat in on, the GM said something along the lines of, “Pick a character concept you've always wanted to play, but haven't been able to in other systems”.
Character creation is a point-based buying system. You have a certain number of points to spend on key attributes, such as Strength, Reflexes, Perception, Knowledge, Spirit, Toughness, and Presence. You have an initial amount of experience points to use for buying skills, focuses, extra hit points, etc.
Creating a character in the system reminded me a bit of creating a superhero character in the Hero System. Not that it's as complicated, but you need to have your character concept in good shape before you started assigning attributes or spending experience. I came up with a list of skills and focuses that were way too much for a starting character to afford, and cut it down to just the essence of the character concept. Then I cut it a little more to be able to afford extra hit points.
Skills in the system represent your character having expertise in a particular area. That could be agriculture, architecture, long blades, short blades, bows, hand guns, acting, etc. Skills deal with having learned how to perform tasks well. A skill of 3 is very good.
Focuses are special abilities your character has. Magic powers, technological abilities, superpowers, whatever you want to call them. If your character can leap from wall to wall up a 10 story building, that's a focus. If they can sense magic, that's a focus.
Like most point based character creation systems, expect to take some time perfecting your character. It took me about 45 minutes, I think, to create my fox-blooded ex-circus performer vagabond adventurer.
All actions your character performs key off two of these attributes, with the total of the attributes giving your base dice pool (of d10 dice) for the action. In this it feels similar to World of Darkness. Other factors can give more dice to the pool, such as your character's profession, circumstantial bonuses, etc.
A die shows a success if it rolled an 8, 9, or 10. You need a certain number of successes to perform any action. Easy actions might be 1 or 2 successes, harder actions need more. Opposed actions mean you need to beat your opponent's number of successes. Hitting an opponent means beating their target number in successes.
Here's where skills come into play. A skill doesn't add more dice, it reduces the value needed for a die to count as a success. So a skill of 3 would mean a die is a success on a 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10. You take the base 8, and subtract the skill level to get the lowest value that counts as a success.
Obviously, your character will succeed more often at what they're skilled in doing. That makes sense, and in practice the system works out very well.
The flexibility of the system is also a plus. The example given by the GM is a character trying to intimidate another character. What attributes you use to form the dice pool depend on how your character goes about the intimidation.
If they just try to strong-arm the other character, you'd use Presence and Strength. If they tried to overawe the other character with an exhibit of knife juggling, you'd use Presence and Reflexes (and knife skill). If your character knew something about the other character, you could use Presence and Knowledge. Presence is the primary attribute for an intimidation attempt, but you can join it with any secondary attribute that makes sense based on what your character is trying to do.
The Silvervine Game system has a base world created for it, a fantasy-anime-steampunk world called Cyrus. You can play intelligent animals, or anthropomorphic animals (such as my fox-blooded character), humans, elves, dwarves, mechanoids, etc. The dwarves do have a motorcycle corps, and the ogres are philosophers, but most of the races will be pretty much what you expect.
Style of Play
The scenario I played in the world had a party of three PCs, a goat-blooded farmer, a cat-blooded ninja, and a dwarven-built mechanoid.
The style of play focuses on cinematic actions. A character could certainly fail at an action, by not rolling the required number of successes, but they weren't limited by issues of realism in what they could attempt. Our cat-blooded ninja jumped her way up to the head of a 70-foot tall giant by bouncing between the giant and a building next to it (using her step jump focus). The goat-blooded farmer and the mechanoid were both able to do massive amounts of damage thanks to focuses that allowed them to ignore most of the giant's armor. While the players were thinking there way no way the characters could defeat the giant, the characters themselves did it handily.
The best thing about the system is its ability to resolve any action by combining two attributes to form a dice pool. The above combat with the giant was the only combat in the scenario I played.
You could run a totally non-combat character, and get along very well. This is definitely not a system that degenerates into combat every five minutes...on the other hand, if that's the sort of system you enjoy, there's no reason you can't run Silvervine Games that way.
I'd highly recommend the game for anyone who currently plays World of Darkness, and loves the system but is ready for a more fantastical setting and cinematic style of play. The system isn't out yet, but should be shortly.
In the meantime, you can look at their web site to get a Silvervine Games character creation guide that will give you a good feel for the process.