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Reviews - Solid!
 
by Justin Mohareb


Solid! cover Solid! The d20 Blaxploitation Experience
Published by Wingnut Games for d20 Modern
Written by Hyrum Savage and Dave Webb
64 pages, hardcover
$17.99

It's like The Phantom Menace all over again, but without the initial high of "Hey, look, Jedi!"

When I heard about Solid!, I was very enthusiastic. I've seen a few films in the Blaxploitation genre, and had developed a love for the genre by reading Badazz Mofo magazine (consider that a plug, by the way). So when I heard about Solid!, I was looking forward to it, much like Tolkien fans look forward to every iteration of an RPG adaptation of the Lord of the Rings.

I wonder if they are as disappointed by every RPG adaptation of The Lord of the Rings?

A Look Inside
Solid!'s biggest danger sign is the font. It is too big, and obviously is meant to pad out the book, a trick most writers will discard near the end of high school. There isn't a lot here for 64 pages. Seriously, what sort of circumstances require an OGL license to be two pages?

The book starts out with a historical précis of the Blaxploitation genre. It's fairly brief, referencing general info on the beginnings of the genre, including some less than totally relevant information on Black cinema from the late '80s forward. There's also a short discussion of The Cosby Show.

There's a filmography and a slightly embarrassing discography; the latter will surely rank up there with Rob Hatch's Goth-Metal fest in the first Vampire Storyteller's Handbook in the annals of RPG history.

The next chapter gives some guidelines for playing in a Blaxploitation environment, including the four "Sacred Rules of Funk". These are amusing, because they betray a strange understanding of the genre. The first one, for example, ends by saying "Shaft never called for reinforcements", even though Shaft actually did call for reinforcements in his first film. The other three rules do seem more valid, dealing with music (I think it's suggesting player characters have their own theme music), sex (uhh... have some, I guess) and big hair (have a large afro, and a flashy wardrobe).

There's a Jive dictionary that comes across as useful, and is followed by a selection of GM tips that are mostly generic, and not of much specific use to someone running a game in the Blaxploitation genre.

Rules Texture: Crunchy, or Soft?
The Crunch chapter has a new rule, OG points, which are similar to the Drama points in Eden's Unisystem. You can use them to get an auto-critical or get an auto 20 on a skill roll, reduce damage taken, attack with "great vengeance and furious anger", or come back from the dead. The damage reduction mechanic, in this case, works poorly compared to its Unisystem counterpart. In Buffy and Angel games, a character can take a turn to reduce the total damage they've taken by half; Solid! only allows a character to halve the damage taken that turn. That means you have to track how much damage you've taken that turn, and it doesn't state when you would use it (at the end of the turn, presumably, though it's never made explicit).

The new Feats are an interesting selection, although you have to really wonder if there's a feat needed for a white guy to get along with black people ("Blue Eyed Soul Brother"). The Street Cred (+4 to Rep within the ghetto) and Fast Talkin' feats seem reasonably well constructed, but some of the other ones seem rather unnecessary. The best example of this is Booty Slide, which lets you move up to your maximum movement as a move action. This would be useful, except you can already move your maximum movement as a move action; why would you take a feat to be able to do that?

Some feats seem overpowered compared to standard equivalents. Poppin' A Cap in Dat Ass, for example, gives PCs a +2 to all attacks made with pistols. I don't think I've seen any other d20 feats that give such a broad bonus to attack; even Weapon Focus only provides +1 to one specific weapon. Makin' The Connection provides a general +2 to all checks involved in acquiring drugs and illicit items, which is a bit broad, since I can see clever PCs making almost any task required relate to acquiring drugs and illicit items. Street Fightin' Man provides lethal unarmed damage for d8, which combines the best aspects of two feats, Combat Martial Arts and Improved Brawl. Since there's no base attack bonus requirement, it can even be taken at first level.

Looking at the equipment section, it's interesting how a Solid! leather jacket is twice as protective as the standard leather jacket, which in turn offers the same protection as a denim suit. The vehicles are superfly, since they carry more people than any other comparable vehicles, go faster, and provide an Equipment bonus to Drive, although I thought that was generally reflected in the vehicle's Maneuver bonus.

Some equipment seems kind of silly. Sunglasses provide a bonus to ranged attacks during the day. Shouldn't they just cancel out a glare penalty? A Belt of Blackness gives a bonus to attack and damage to any character with Martial Arts feats, which increases when fighting Tools of the Man. Is this bonus magical? Brass Knuckles of Ass Whoopin' apparently are a mastercraft item of some kind, since they provide +2 to hit and damage. If Solid! used a homegrown system that was more cinematic, these would probably fit right in; in a d20 book, they leave some things to be desired.

Tables summarizing new items and Feats would have been useful, and would have taken up space, allowing them to shrink the text a little.

Advanced Classes range in quality. The Black Belt is a name changed Martial Artist from the d20 Core Rules, with one more skill point per level. The Hoodlum, Police Detective and Private Dick all seem appropriate for standard gaming enjoyment, although the last two are close to each other in ability, and both of them are retooled versions of the standard Investigator.

Another chapter on Blaxploitation follows that promises information on running Blaxploitation games, but it's in vain. What we get instead are more discussions about the genre that focus on the historical aspects, as opposed to the dramatic elements of it. There's a short section on Blaxploitation horror films, as well as a sample campaign that seems to be part generic horror setting, part Ghostbusters (right down to the equipment listings), and part Blaxploitation.

A pair of Prestige Classes round out the chapter: the Badass and the Chosen. Amusingly enough, they're both 10 level PrCs (guess the creators didn't hear that d20 Modern PrCs are generally 5 levels). The Badass Prestige Class has a strange ability to take out a "mook" with a move action. d20 Modern does not have a mook rule; in fact, the presence of such a rule would probably muck up the encounter generation rules and experience that are central to the d20 system.

The second of them, the Chosen, is closer to a regular advanced class than a Prestige Class.

One item that's definitely missing from the book: Sweet Lovin'. There's discussions of seduction and romance and "it's your duty to please that booty," but this is a d20 supplement. Just a throwaway line about which skill to use for seduction would be good. How else is your Hustler PC supposed to mack his hos? You even get a bonus to "get (your) Mojo workin'" from a bed full of pillows. What you do with that bonus will, we suppose, remain a mystery. We didn't need a recreation of the Book of Erotic Fantasy, but Blaxploitation was heavy on the sex and violence, and the core book sure as hell covers the violence.

Visually, Solid! is a mess. Borders are ugly (is that supposed to be film stock?), illustrations range from dark and muddy to ugly (what the hell is the guy on page 27 supposed to be?), the video box covers that are scattered around the book look like they were scanned in using a roll over scanner, and the layout is horrendous, even discounting the giant type. Editing errors are scattered around like pebbles on a beach.

Conclusions
Solid! is disappointing. The book has elements of Blaxploitation in it, but lacks the spark to inspire GMs to run, and players to play in, a game in that genre. It's a shame, because Solid! shows a strong foundation (some of the items show where they may have been going to), but fails to deliver a solid product to capitalize on that enthusiasm.

The game ends up a weak summary of the Blaxploitation genre, and a weak d20 Modern supplement. There's too much missing. There aren't enough details (please, tell us something about a '70s ghetto), and not enough information. And the book feels like a d20 book that doesn't want to use the d20 System, or doesn't know how to.


 

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