Thursday, January 14, 2021

New B/X Class, the Scumbag

Torture Bonus
1st+0+1+1+1Garrote 1, Lurk 1, Listen 1
3rd+2+2+2+2Garrote 2
5th+3+3+3+3Lurk 2
6th+4+3+3+3Garrote 3
7th+5+3+3+3Listen 2
9th+6+4+4+4Garrote 4, Lurk 3
12th+9+6+6+6Garrote 5
13th+9+6+6+6Lurk 4, Listen 3

Monday, December 28, 2020

Online Campaign Managers

 I have found myself crawling into an online campaign manager and am surprised how it has captured me completely, enthusiastically as the new way to chronicle my campaigns. If you would have asked me would I use a digital record for campaigns let alone think it could be used in session I would have said no. I would wax on how the physical journals with homespun maps and weird characters was all part of the creative process, blah, blah, blah. The fall was swift and rapid. I was looking for a way out of my three ring binders, that is for sure. But my quest had only progressed as far as trying different types of notebooks and drawing pads. Part of the quick commitment came from my noodling with Roll20. I hated it. I could not see how it was going to help me run the game I want to. So, when I started banging away on my new kanka account writing up session notes from the latest run I went fuuuuuuck. I am going to throw out a bunch of old thinking.

Specifically, being unwilling to see the benefit of online tools for my online games. Because I was not getting any with virtual tabletops. What I like about the campaign organizer, the campaign wiki I think it is called, I don’t have to search through a three-ring binder to find shit. Cause it piles up and the binder gets thick and becomes horribly inefficient in session. This is the virtual note board of interlocking world-building pieces and I’ve so far found a spot for everything. Cutting and pasting in stats and details from PDF content makes these things at my fingertips. Only redundant task I have found slightly wearisome is attaching pictures to entries, but I can not do it because the return on investment, the visual payoff is high.

So, I get all the things in the wiki set for the current session coming up and take a look. Start at the Dashboard and drill down into the data I am going to want in game. I like how it works. I see myself running a session from its screen. I think it is going to give me a bit more focus on the situation at hand and roleplay more before a calling of the die.

Oh, and now my game is on the cloud. I can pop in and tinker on the game wherever I am. So my favorite materials, maps and images are all at my beck and call when inspiration strikes!


Thursday, December 17, 2020

What makes Champions 3rd edition (cont.)

 By far the first reason I say this great book is the best version of the game is size. It is slim. Total content clocks in at 135 pages in a reliable perfect bound softcover. It deserves a hardcover treatment. In the forward the writers come out swinging with the games strongest pitch, create any power, any ability to build your unique superhero. And this is true. The point-buy system of Champions coupled with the “Special Effects” rule wrapping the whole powers concept championed by the authors has not been superseded by any other supers game I’ve tried. And this is no different through any of the editions of the game, from first to fifth. But I think Hero Games kind of missed the boat here. The Crystal Ship, the flashing gem which really shines through the third edition lens. Through those few pages. And treating the game like it should be: Old-School! What I am talking about and will eventually get to is the utility of the system's damage mechanic. 

Now I can swallow fourth edition, it is the last iteration of the Hero System as Supers-centric game system, and fifth is a travesty. Most of the additional pages in the fourth are sourcebook stuff which gives the Game Master some useful features to use again and again, like stats for regular folk. But the lower page count in the third does not water down the game system at all and is the perfect set of rules for the GM who needs no assistance in how to play superhero rpg’s.

Fifth edition is an endless swirling mess around all the basic mechanical features which make Champions a genius of a supers game. Here is my case: The game has for a basic resolution mechanic of 11 or less on 3d6 for success. It is like Classic Traveller in this regard. It uses 2d6 with an 8+ needed for success at anything you are trying. The 3d6 bell curve is sweet though. You get a little more granularity with a bigger spread and I have come to appreciate the difference between a 9 or less chance and a 7 or less chance with three die. But what I find intriguing most is the damage system. There isn’t anyone reading this who doesn’t know how damage is calculated in a Champions game, total on the die is total stun damage while the number on a dice determines whether it should be counted as 2 Body, 1 Body or Zero Body. I think this mechanic is sold short if only used to adjudicate damage. I try to sell it at the table as a means to resolve contested actions. Take the arm-wrestling example. Hero A has a Strength or 20, Villain B has a Strength of 20, who wins? I have the contestants roll their Strength “damage” and count the Body damage. Highest total wins. With both participants at a Strength of 20

There is a universality across the game system which needs to be taken advantage of for optimum play. And this is in how, no matter the power, effect, or type of attack the values and scale never change. This means a GM can make a “ruling not rules” decision on the fly and if using a “damage” result from the rolled ability a GM knows it is always to scale. Not only is it to scale (in other words, fair) it has built in variability. Using our arm-wrestling example above, either one of the contestants can roll a value from 0-8. Variability creates tension. This is good. It begs for a player to figure out how to stack the deck in a fair fight, how to get their roll to be less swingy. I’m the GM so I don’t have to worry about how that would be possible, only to rule on it😊

Works for characters of wildly different power scales in any particular contest. Sure the 60 STR brick should win against the 18 STR martial artists in an arm-wrestling contest, but it isn’t guaranteed. And the correct and fair chances of a surprise upset is built into the system. The uncertain future of any supers action is baked into the damage calc pie. If you want to add an additional variable you can count the Stun damage as well. No matter how you interpret the results you can’t come up with a bad interpretation, but you can have surprising results! This look reveals the transparency inherent in the system as well. I can match Ego vs. Dex, Energy Blast versus Presence, any crazy-ass thing. And it will still be at a correct scale that results will always be an exciting roll while at the same time no one participant getting nerfed.

Let me take this to my logical extreme, where regular Champions players cringe in horror. Initiative! The rules for initiative for action tracked on the Speed Chart are fairly standard. You will find this set up in many a ttrpg. That is, when opponents square off and they both get to take action the character with the higher DEX goes first. All-the-time. Chaosium’s BRP rules have a similar approach to initiative and is even less dynamic. At least in Champions you have the 12 segment Speed Chart which makes for unpredictable, yet trackable results and situations. My distaste here is the predictability of such an accounting in what should be the most unpredictable moment in an action-adventure game. Here is the set up to illustrate my point; Hero A and Villain B are going for the doomsday switch in the same segment. They both are equidistant and have the same SPD but the Hero has a DEX of 30 and the Villain has a 20 DEX. Per the rules as written the Hero is going to win that contest every time. Every-single-time. Yawn. A smart, clever and good-looking GM will call for a damage roll based on DEX. Most BODY damage gets to the doomsday switch first! Hero has a better chance of winning out then the Villain, but it isn’t 100%. Yes, exciting! I don’t consider this an approach to be used all the time. Only for really cinematic, pulse-pounding moments in the story. This makes for the elasticity of the system to really shine. Unfortunately, you will never get players to accept it. They will run to FRED faster than my Derby pick for the back of the pack. And that book is proof-positive you can take a great supers game and fuck it up three ways to Sunday. 

What makes Champions 3rd edition the best edition of Champions?


No, seriously, hear me out...

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Rafael Chandler's Space Ship Generator

 Going through my DriveThru library I came across a booklet from the great Rafael Chandler and seeing as I am chewing my nails as Denver may pull out a win at +660 (I have Denver +50, even money) I am whiling away the final moments by converting the paper tables to an instant generator.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Slaughter a Sacred Cow for Santa

 On this Thanksgiving eve I feel a bit reflective, philosophical and wish to hold court and slaughter some sacred cows for the fires of Tar-Aweil.

Classic Traveller’s adventure modules. I will spill this beast’s blood first. They are uninspired piles of  space dung. It is said H Beam Piper’s stories were a touchstone of inspiration for the original Traveller game and it is apparent in the official adventures. I have read H Beam Piper. It is awful. Not only do the Classic Traveller

adventures present as limp lines of text it ushered in the “official” Traveller Universe, the Third Imperium. Official settings appear to be inevitable with any successful roleplaying game and I have no interest in moaning the soul-killing beast official settings can be for cool games. Not now. I will probably get up into that though at some point before the holidays are over.

But for Traveller it was tepid adventures laid into a tepid game universe. The Pirates of Drinax have been hired by the King to…. Aaagh! Snoozefest. Science Fiction is wild. It is really fucked up shit smashing through the technical power of humanity as it marches through the stars, it is the unrelenting incomprehensibility of the cosmos which make a science fiction adventure good. The first few published adventures for the game quickly buried the genius of the tight game kit for referees and players for years to come. Just for the record, I love Classic Traveller rules. I dream of building and running a Dune-like campaign universe to sketch my roleplaying ambitions on and I would do it with Classic Traveller.

I know this probably comes across like I’m picking on the slow kid in school but let us now turn to the Palladium Setting books. System dreadful and convoluted but great setting books. Yin-Sloth, Western Empire, Timiro. A paragraph here and there around a made-up name a great setting book this does not make. The maps in these books shows what the creator thinks of fans and players, not much. Your campaign notebook has better maps then Palladium setting books.

The one for the north has this bad ass illo on the cover. Coyle witch doctor and undead crawling out of a frozen forest pond. Metal as shit. Take my word for. Just tear off the cover and throw the rest away. So the total amount of ink I find reviewing the Palladium canon is depressing in its sucky-ness.

Gurps source books are great! No they are not. They are a dagger into the heart of good fun and inspired adventure in many a naïve new roleplaying heart. Did you want to play a game in the Rome Imperium because you wanted to know the names of how they measured wheat. Or what they called their houses. No, you want to stick a short sword in a barbarian’s neck, race chariots recklessly and burn down cities! Many, many ttrpg setting books have sickened a dreamy mind dry. Inspiration, not accuracy is what players and referees need. Take for example B4 The Lost City by Tom Moldvy. There is a pretty complete adventure and sketched out city for a setting. Not much. All in thirty-two pages? Since I’ve played that module in high school I didn’t see a full-on setting book worth a shit until Yoon-Suin! You see, the value of a setting book is guiding one into genre-fidelity when spit-balling the moon, not in “accuracy”. 

My advice is steer clear of Gurps and Palladium setting books. Take what fires you up about an adventure setting. It is not in the setting details. There must be a sophisticated layering of useful bits which end up imparting flavor. Not facts. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Got Dune?

How would you do Dune?  

This is a regular on game boards. What game system would you use, what type of adventures would you run, where do the characters fit into the universe and their relative importance. Sometimes the talk turns to specifics, all system orientated, what would depict the psionic powers best, Sardukar, Fremen, Sandworms and spaceships. There are paragraphs written on how intrigue and interstellar politics are best adjudicated, what system will help you get it right. I fuss and fret over these things to when my mind drifts to Dune, the Moby Dick, of my gaming ambitions. When I see the same question (which interests me) being trucked out again and again, and the answers are all predictable I tell myself I and everyone else is looking at this ambitious goal, to game a Dune-inspired game worthy of the name fucking wrong! Okay, I will only include myself in this category. I am not here to bruise feelings. Unless you are a player in my game…

I start building a campaign world generally from this bas-ackward approach. Okay I want to do “this” and I should use “this” to pull it off. My latest approach to campaign and world building goes something like this, “What do you have that makes doing this worth it? How are you going to nail ‘It’?” When I consciously make these pivots, I have yielded impressive fruit. It more or less gets me to read the source material and reengage the artistic talent of the prose which first electrified me when I was a wee one reading comic books and Lovecraft and Howard and Moorcock. I started a Sword & Sorcery campaign years ago built on just reading the Conan novels and a generic minimalist system. I just kept breathing in that black lotus until my soul was dark and pitiless. Really, it is just paying attention to what and why a certain adventure was just awesome. You learn the pace of the campaign world from the source material, not the game mechanics. The language to, basic stuff. I’ve repeated this approach with the three other campaigns which have gotten significant milage here online since 2012 and it has always been successful. Like a sci-fi campaign. I always wanted to run one, but I haven’t done so because I don’t have a good, a great idea. I can’t answer that question in the affirmative, “What do you have that makes doing this worth it?” so I don’t move forward. Then one day I read an adventure module (doesn’t matter what genre, this occasion it was a fantasy adventure) and shouted eureka! I had a reason. I had a great opening adventure and it made all my spacey opera horror sci-fi dreams fall into place like instantly.

So the Dune situation is how do you duplicate the awesome presence the planet has in everything. For a Dune-esque game you need to create a massiveness, a galactic presence which must eclipse the entirety of cosmic civilization. In the source material the planet is irrefutable and overpowering. Its importance has hardened the universe into the few space-faring civilizations which can cope with this and exist. 

However one approaches creation of the campaign world reflection on how the one important planet turns the entire cosmos into fits has to be nailed down. Characters are always reflected in their relationship to the dominating planet in a Dune campaign. The effects, the literary devices used by the source material are well known and discussed ably all over the internet. The roleplayer’s task when they pick up the Dune Gauntlet is how to impart that massiveness into a gameable expression. And that is why I would use Classic Traveller cause I find a campaign of this "flavor" would take much thought to come up with something worth playing. A simple system for sci-adventure will be my enabler more than a detailed system, even one designed to be Dune! I don’t trust any commercial game designers to take this shit serious enough to get it right. I have made, and this is probably unnecessary and
misguided, a Dune-inspired campaign the elusive unicorn of my gaming ambitions. I wait for the day when the idea gels and I scream "I got it!" and start scribbling some notes. I mean, you gotta come up with something cooler than psychotic-narcotic spice which allows you to fold space and well, you get the picture. Tall order. Another place where I don't think a system is going to save you. It is going to take a lot of passion and vision from everyone at the table to not be lame. I’ll tell you when I figure it out.