Wednesday, October 31

USRPS/Champions Superhero Mash Up Conclusion

As I mentioned in the initial post regarding using USR to role play a supers campaign, I am going to use the Champions books Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth and Millennium City to create the starting campaign setting. Armed with some highlighters I skimmed STST looking for the adventure's important points.

Dr. Timothy Blank, the Viper scientist, was pretty necessary as his diabolical plans drive the plot. His desire to unleash a virus in a major metropolitan city after leaving the Viper Nest in the deserts of New Mexico helps establish Millennium City as our convenient home base for PC's.

The initial ghost town amusement park as cover for the Viper Nest hidden in the desert did not appeal to me. The thought of having the deranged mad scientist completely absent from the Nest in the opening acts seemed too much of a plot weakness for me as well. So I jettisoned both. However the PC's are "hooked" into being in the vicinity of Snake Gulch it will be at the same time Dr. Blank is making his explosive escape from the Nest with his breakthrough discovery: the Coil Gene. There is plenty of good info on the tension between the Nest Leader and Dr. Blank for a GM to fashion dramatic scenes of double crossing agents, compromised villains, and buffaloed heroes.

The aftermath of the first scenario can have PC heroes following leads back to Millennium City or returning to the city to lick their wounds.

With my initial PC's I created and their intertwined back story's it was a cinch to establish a time traveling accident in the desert, a Viper Nest confrontation, and return to the city in search of answers and aid.

Millennium City provides plenty of locations to play out the next chapters in the adventure as well as supporting NPC's fair and foul. Dr. Silverback is an obvious choice and Signal Ghost provides a good inside Viper agent who would be able to find common cause with the heroes at the height of the plague.

So what about all those PD's and ED's and Combat Skill levels and ???d6 damage dice used to resolve action in Hero Game System?

Just jettison them all.

Your Unbelievably Simple Role Playing System mechanics doesn't need them. Our character with the power of time travel was taken as an Action specialism. The +2 given his action rolls will suffice for his bonuses to attack and dodge. The time traveling agent would logically have some advanced armor characteristics to cushion physical and energy attacks. Any disadvantages and power limitations which would come into play will rely on the shared story created by the PC's and GM. Viper agents have blasters. Good, better avoid getting shot because blasters leave big holes in soft human flesh. If you chose to play a "Brick" type superhero with incredible physical toughness then those same blasters won't hurt so much.

My initial character choices are what I would consider enhanced normals. While some abilities are enhanced in extremely powerful ways (traveling through time in a controlled manner), they still can be harmed by normal physical means. If your genre book is a good one you can pluck all the mood and meta-genre information you need for creative guidelines for your campaign and the characters your players chose to play. Relying on my Champions genre sourcebook from my dusty shelves I find the Drama Campaign has many useful bits I would mention with my players while crafting the PC's back story's. The implications of time paradoxes, and the distortions possible with existing relations, the judgement of the Time Corps, etc...

Good character concept generated with the input of the GM and the other players at the beginning of play will allow you to use USR to game any genre effectively. For superhero role playing I just need to wring out all the essential elements of my existing sourcebooks and leave the number crunching aside.

As I mentioned earlier, I would read the Fiasco rulebook for inspiration on how to distill story lines down to their essential elements regardless of system. It will go a long way in maximizing your role playing pleasure with USRPS and other game mechanics which trend towards lite.

Tuesday, October 30

USRPS Mash Up cont.

I am using Scott Malthouse's Unbelievably Simple Role Playing System to create PC's for superhero role playing, and now wish to begin creation of the second player character, a Time "Agent" who now is stuck in the campaign's time period.

Her equipment has been damaged by unanticipated temporal interference and has effectively cut her off from returning to her space/time origin. This interference is manifest in some action by the first PC and his use of untried time traveling abilities.

A trouble shooter of cosmic conflict, our time agent has access to advanced equipment and training. Until now. Being stranded in the past she has lost the ability to replace damaged or lost equipment. A highly skilled human, she may have a list of "specialisms" as such;

Detective Work +2, Wit
Ranged Weapons +2, Action
Combat Driver +2, Action

I could have chosen to give her some electrical or technical specialism as fitting to a future tech setting, but then why go through the trouble of wrecking her transport equipment?

The importance of a "hooky" character role to play for the PC is important with the USRPS. The lack of a lengthy rule set (the core is a mere seven pages of text) will require increased table talk for all involved. Players as well as GM's.

If someone wants to play the stranded time agent, the background story should give enough information of their nature to help players chose a character they would enjoy playing in the campaign setting. If players wish to create their own PC, the pre generated characters provide good examples of great archetypes to play.

Her specialisms make her a clear action oriented  superhero. With the powerful tools available from the unimaginable future she can more than take care of herself. I break her attributes down this way;

d8 Action
d10 Wit
d6 Ego
Rolled 9 for Hits

That's it for the bones of the character. The rest is to be fleshed out in descriptive terms with the GM. Good character concept questions worth discussing would be what type of equipment does she find herself with, why was she being sent back in time for to begin with, what was the nature the temporal disturbance and its relationship to our first character?

None of these character concept questions need a lot of detail. I like to look to Fiasco from Bully Pulpit Games and the game's set up rules for guidance. Their thoughts on how a good background story for a player character is done is essential reading for a game like USRPS.

Gone are the piles of stats, attributes, powers, endurance points, stun points, speed points... a Champions character creation process could take two hours, or more!

Next we will take a look at these two quick superheroes and how they interact with the Champions Universe and plot an adventure with some of Champions own sourcebooks.

Sunday, October 28

A USRPS/Champions Superhero Mash Up

USR by Scott Malthouse looks to have drawn sizable buzz in the geek community and I threw the system at my Champions adventure books to see what became of the mash up.

The superhero genre was one I first embraced with gusto after the D&D glowing fan boy attraction began to dim under the games disappointing role play mechanics. 

I was choosing between Villains &Vigilantes from Fantasy Games Unlimited and Champions from Hero Games. I ordered a back issue of some gaming magazine which gave a review of the different systems. It could have been in Dragon Magazine, I don’t know. 

While I was attracted to the wide open system of character generation, Champions turned out to be a cruel joke in state of the art game design. Math and dice heavy, the game rules were another product which helped hide the potential inherent in role playing games behind a voluminous rule set. It was another case of players not being placed front and center of the story. At least for me. Maybe others had better success with complicated rules when they were thirteen, but for me dense rules hindered more than helped. Not that I would have been aware of this back then. Besides, Champions was the only thing on the shelf at Toy City in Fort Eddy Plaza when I managed to gather enough bread for purchase. 

So maybe “Unbelievably Simple Role-Playing” would be the trick to tame the hundreds of dollars of Hero products which once dotted my dusty bookshelves. I am down to a few items left so I pulled out the campaign sourcebook “Millennium City” and the adventure sourcebook “Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth”.

 With only seven pages of text USR puts all the creative elements in the players and GM’s hands.

Your starting character is created with three attributes and three “specialisms”.

Assigning your attributes is simple. 

Really think about your specialisms though. Besides adding a +2 for your attribute skill rolls, which is how you resolve everything, it is the three defining elements of your character. 

The premise of the system is these three freely chosen game elements, these specialisms, give you all you need to flesh out your characters strengths, powers, and abilities. Let us see how such premise holds up against a wild card character as a player character superhero. 

The two initial characters I came up with are;

a gifted scientist from Millennium City who has discovered the ability to time travel, and

a time travel agent from the far off future.  

A superhero is nothing if not the story behind his origin. Spiderman was created through the bite of a radioactive spider, Batman from the terror of violence, and Superman by the color of Earth’s sun. Our intrepid scientist has created a machine which he believes will allow movement back and forth through time. On his first experiment he succeeds, but with some ramifications. He is not sure where he has been and he is not sure what happened to him on the trip. All he is sure of is the journey has fried his experimental equipment and by the mere thought of a past event he finds himself at that place in time. Travel back to his last recalled present moment is possible as well, but conceiving himself in any future which has not occurred yet does not result in a time “jump”.

I wrap this unique ability around the specialism “Enhanced Movement, Time Travel +2 Action”. In the spirit of an Unbelievable Simple Role-Playing I am capturing the entirety of this character’s time travel superhero ability in this one specialism. The fact that it gives a +2 to his Action attribute roll will aid in many tasks including combat.

The next specialism is easy to conceive, “Theoretical Physics +2 Wit” is a nice tag for a comprehensive knowledge of the latest scientific thought.

A third specialism is causing me some consternation, but I finally settle on “Persuasion +2 Ego” to simulate the characters ability to convince others of the soundness of his science, to secure research grants to fund his experiments, and his expertise in navigating the competitive world of scientific research found at most prestigious schools of learning.

So the three attributes are simply selected per the rules and now I have three abilities (a power and two skills), this character has started to take shape. All that is now required, and insisted on by the rules set, is a background story.

While I let this new superhero's back story percolate I'll move on to the "Time Agent" character concept...

OpenQuest Character Creation; Searching Sailor

My OpenQuest Fantasy Adventure #2 is a dark fantasy setting. Unlike Adventure #1 which has all the trappings of "classical" fantasy, #2 requires the players to create human characters in a world where life is cheap and integrity is a liability. Much in the spirit of the great gaming blog Tales of the Grotesque and the Dungeonesque or the horrible fantasy books The Game of Thrones, everyone is out for themselves.

I find these type of settings where the world is a swirl of grey instead of black and white suite good character development. In fact, rely on it. Since everyone is a turd what sort of polish can you bring?

OpenQuest is great for allowing a player to create a character quickly with much depth of character.

I also am not above providing pre-generated characters for a new group to chose from. Since I am still attempting to accomplish the blog's main goal of regularly playing role playing games with other people in the wilderness, immediate gaming with minimal prep is essential.

I also aim to give the players opportunities to organically foster group relations with "believable" hooks, themes, and plots. A well appointed list of character backgrounds with just enough detail to make the character interesting to play, fight and die can only help deliver a dynamic player group from the outset! This means you will want to offer your players many different character choices. Pick a system which allows you to generate characters quickly!

Starting the campaign in a city offers legitimate reasons for characters of diverse races and backgrounds to be found together, and with intriguing character descriptions it makes it even easier to start table dialogue.

One such character I can offer as an example is The Searching Sailor. Here are the background notes which were the springboard for quantifying the character's abilities;

Washed up on the shores as a child, superstitious peasants took you in as a gift from the sea gods. Much to their disappointment you only found happiness on the tips of the waves and the edge of the wind. Soon you left your poor village behind without a second glance and became a daring sailor on the open sea. Your quest to find your true origins has led to family secrets steeped in darkness. Do you pursue these tantalizing clues further? Or do leave them, like the miserable village of your childhood, in the misty fog of past days?

Any player with salt will have no trouble fashioning your traditional sailor skill set; navigation, swimming, cutlass and some other skills of personal preference will get the usual character creation work completed. Where OpenQuest aids in satisfying depth of character, your character concept, is the addition of the Battle Magic school of magic required to complete the character creation process.

My thoughts on Magic in OpenQuest for Non Magic Users comes into play here. For this sailor character I create an Enchanted Item and devise an Elemental Talent to spend the required magic points on.

I call the enchanted item the Brace of Burk, a leather embossed wrist guard. It can predict approaching storms two days out and detect land up to twenty miles away. Yes, I know the OpenQuest does not include these specific effects in any of the listed spells, but if you get anything from the OpenQuest it should be you can make it up. So, predicting weather and detecting land seem to be mundane powers in which Battle Magic would seem to thrive.

The elemental talent is restricted to the realm of Battle Magic if nothing else but to avoid taking on another school of magic such as Divine Magic or Sorcery. The character's latent elemental talent was first awakened when the brace was first donned as a piece of armor. So far it has given the Searching Sailor the ability to communicate with Air Elementals.

Friday, October 5

Dr. Who Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead (2008)

I might be stretching the definition of "movie" here, but at just about 2 hours I challenge you to find something more frightening than the Vashta Nerada aka "The Shadows that Melt Flesh".

We have mysterious deaths, a monster that hides in the shadows that can strip your flesh bare in seconds AND then use your bones and space suit as a means to walk around.  This is the scariest monster in the Doctor Who universe.  Daleks, aim for the eyestalk. Sontaran, back of the neck.  Cybermen, gold in their chest plate.  Vashta Nerada, just run.

Doctor: "Almost every species in the universe has an irrational fear of the dark, but they’re wrong, because it’s not irrational. It’s Vashta Nerada."

All against the man that monsters have nightmares about;
The Doctor.  When they come after him this is the exchange.

Doctor: Don't play games with me! You just killed someone I like, that is not a safe place to stand! I'm the Doctor, and you're in the biggest library in the Universe. Look me up.
The monsters move  back.

This is a pitch perfect horror episode and no one comes out of it scarred.  I think this quote near the end sums it up.

Donna: How about you, are you alright?
The Doctor: Oh, I'm always all right.
Donna: Is "All right" special time-lord code for... not really all right at all?
The Doctor: Why?
Donna Noble: Because I'm alright too.

Plus not only did this give us one of the scariest monsters for a show known to send kids hiding behind the sofa. It also gave us River Song who might be one of the most interesting characters in the history of Doctor Who.

"When you run with the Doctor, it feels like it'll never end. But however hard you try you can't run forever. Everybody knows that everybody dies and nobody knows it like the Doctor. But I do think that all the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark if he ever for one moment, accepts it. Everybody knows that everybody dies. But not every day. Not today. Some days are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all. Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call everybody lives."
- River Song.

Thursday, October 4

Puck the Wood Elf and Divine Magic in OpenQuest

Fitting out the triad of new characters for my traditional fantasy campaign using OpenQuest by Newt Newport is Puck the Wood Elf. As a warden of the Vlaymoor who worships the Lady of the Forest this gave me the chance to test the third school of magic found in OpenQuest; Divine Magic!

Unlike Jongo and Xvorgast, Puck is to be the "fighter" of the group. He will have good (53%) starting combat skills and better (49%) Natural Lore skill then the thieving gnome and magic using dwarf in the party.

But this does not mean we are going to neglect using the open nature of OpenQuest to craft the exact character we have in mind.

Some Battle Magic spells are too important to pass up for our deadly woodland guerrilla fighter. Enhanced Perception and Deception will be attributed to racial abilities while the Enhanced Close Combat, and Ranged Combat skills are part of the training each warden in the service of the Lady receives.

The true Divine magic spells, or "Gifts of the Lady", will be Call(animal) and Illusion. A warden is never considered more than an initiate until he is able to establish a relation with a "totem" animal. For most this is one of the great wolves which prowl the Vlaymoor. To be a wolf rider in the forest is to be a recognized as a fierce warrior and to be feared. The bond established between warden and totem animal is strong, and to willingly put such a gift from the Lady in careless jeopardy risks her wrath. The ability to call down the power of Illusion is directly tied into the wardens preference for surprise and subterfuge when confronting traditional enemies of the forest; goblins and men! Each one of these spells was taken at one point of magnitude so Puck has a total of six different magical abilities in which he needs some improvement at.

It also indicates in the rules, from one short example, that it is appropriate to give up to a +25 point bonus as it relates to the characters choice of deity. Perhaps to offset the implied restrictions which come from following ritualistic dogma over the free flowing manipulation found in straight Battle Magic and Sorcery? Therefore I bestow Puck with an additional 25 points to Natural Lore skill when withing the bounds of the Vlaymoor Forest. He may be young (225 years of age) for a warden, but it is his home!

Xvorgast the Mighty's Sorcery for OpenQuest

The second character I generated for my traditional fantasy campaign using OpenQuest is a dwarven sorcerer.

Like Jongo the Gnome, the choice of attribute scores, and skill package was fairly straight forward as pertains to creating a dwarf. After playing fantasy rpg's for many years I kind of know what to pack into a standard dwarf character.  Since I am creating a magic user I make sure Xvorgast has a decent Academic Lore skill. This should help lead him in the direction of obscure texts riddled with ancient spells of power!

This exercise in character creation is to test the "openness" of Newt Newport's OpenQuest system itself, and a typical fantasy trope as a magic wielding dwarf should be fairly easily created. And it was. With six points of spell magnitude to spend creating a starting magic user is incredibly easy with OpenQuest.

My character concept for Xvorgast the Mighty is a reclusive dwarf pouring over ancient tomes in attempt to tap into the old power of the dwarves long forbidden, neglected, and shunned. Xvorgast will have left the academic halls of established magic disgusted with the "theoretical" magical studies offered and return to the dark ruins of the Iron Flow Hills to brood upon the powers which once were...

So this means at least one point spent on the Battle Magic spell Read Language. This will be all the practical magic our dwarven wizard will have left the respected halls of learning with. Using this simple spell he has teased out the elemental lore hinted at in the standard texts. For after all, isn't the ancient power of the dwarves rooted in these primordial powers? Therefore I bestow on Xvorgast the Sorcery spell Wall of Fire at 2 points and Animate Substance(stone) the remaining 3.

This gives our young (113 years) dwarf magic user with three spells total. Xvorgast will have to get out and put that Read Language talent to the test if he wants to build on his elemental spell list!