Thursday, May 28, 2020

Hero System as a Gaming Engine

Been playing a lot of Star Hero, and with some other new Hero System campaigns potentially spinning out of that regular play -- it's time to capture some thoughts about the system.

We're fond of playing in a mixture of roleplaying scenes and some hardcore, dangerous combat situations -- currently under the flavor of a principled, militarily influential, star nation in another galaxy.

The Hero System is really something akin to a computer game's physics engine. Not only does it handle a lot of environmental effects with internal consistency, it also allows you to model almost any effect you want (given its roots in a system that attempted to simulate the bonkers physics of a super-heroic universe). And like any toolkit, there's usually more than one way to build something.

We've used it to create a reality where more militaristic, but no less powerful "jedi" run through the battlefield wielding beam sabers (Old Imperial tech). Their weapons do massive damage, and make for interesting combat against hordes of crazed HTH aliens AND impossibly powerful powered armor suits with area effect weaponry.

Multi-armed aliens with infantry training wield squad support weapons and HTH weapons when fighting off crazed hive-mind drones. Crystal-shaped telepaths (with telekinetically controlled 'hands') wield standard issue military rifles.

Drones zip ahead of the squads, and the team's combat armor allows for active sensor arrays to gather intelligence on their opponents -- who may just have the right combat tech to counter ours.

So, I suppose I'll be generating a series of posts that highlight some combat tactics that we like to follow (based on our training packages and our equipment) to showcase the capabilities of the Hero System -- to reward combat tactics with more than just simple bonuses to hit or cover. It really has a depth that rewards teamwork, planning, using the environment to your advantage, and so on, without abstracting to a simple advantage or disadvantage to a roll.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

A Month of Online RPGaming

Due to a cinematic inciting incident (a pandemic) that has become a grim reality, I have surprisingly found myself logging more RPG playtime than I have in a while. Gametime has been split between two systems and settings:

Star Hero: Tales of the Confederation Starfleet (Hero System 5E)

The last time I played in this campaign was decades ago, one with lensmen, clan sentinels (think slightly more militant, and more combat savvy jedi), and a host of different military branches of the principled Confederation, carrying out missions in an intrigue-ridden galaxy populated by the the profit-motivated Alliance, the expansionist Second Empire, the militant religious Unity, and other stellar nations.

Our recent adventures have taken us on a variety of missions, including:
  • stopping a reactivated 20 mile long, 5 mile wide colony ship from impacting on a inhabited world;
  • enforcing a quarantine on the aforementioned world, where a bio-engineered plague that irreversibly converts victims into powerful, fast, and deadly units of a hive mind;
  • traveling to an ice planet within New Imperial territory where a number of Alliance companies have apparently carried out similar biological experiments with the plague;
  • using a surprising cache of Old Imperial technology, gating to a planet deep within Alliance territory to escape the tactical nuclear detonation in booby-trapped underwater research base;
  • surviving on an Alliance hunting preserve with some of the galaxy's deadliest creatures long enough for a secretly chartered vessel to rescue them;
  • surviving a short-lived battle against an Imperial Admiral in powered armor, in order to negotiate an information-sharing agreement regarding the bioplague;
  • investigating a low-tech, feral planet for the source of the bioplague's key components to help in combating its use in future warfare.
Seems like we were making up for lost time!

Challengers of the Lost Mine (D&D 5E on Roll20)

Because some old classmates wanted to try out D&D gaming (some with their kids), I volunteered to DM for them the intro module to D&D: Lost Mine of Phandelver.

Only two sessions so far, with most of them playing D&D for the first time (all of them playing 5E for the first time). As for me, it's been my first time running a game on Roll 20 (and Zoom for the audio), so I've been learning quite a lot about the features of Roll 20, and the special customizations for D&D 5E. And trying to get my player acclimated to playing with both D&D and Roll20.

However, it's been a lot of fun as I try to impart the fun of TTRPG play and maximize the digital toolsets to tell the story and impact the tactical challenges of the adventure. Added challenge: some of the players are limited by devices and bandwidth when playing.


So, it 's been great being able to reconnect with very old friends, and meeting the kids of my former classmates. Here's to maintaining this brave new world of gaming behavior as we emerge from the pandemic and adjust to our new lives under its influence.



  

Monday, April 20, 2020

DriveThruDeals: Dream Pod 9 discounts

Date: Apr 20, 2020 (included because these deals may expire)
Discounted Cost: Various

Type: Discounts

I was browsing through DriveThruRPG looking for some deals that might get me through the ECQ-related stress and boredom, when I stumbled upon Dream Pod 9's page, and noticed that all the Hottest Titles are heavily discounted (66% discount or more, if I'm eyeballing it).

Now, I'm a big fan of their work, so I dove right in. Here are a few you might want to pick up and complete your digital collection, while they're on sale -- or perhaps get ready for some online gaming!

JOVIAN CHRONICLES

Of course I'd mention this first, as I've been a fan of the setting from the days when it was a Mekton supplement!

In addition to the artwork and mecha designs (including all the different ships, not just the powered armor suits), the setting made a decision to go semi-hard SF in terms of space travel: no hyperspeed, and no artificial gravity.

It makes for an interesting juxtaposition against the fantastic spectacle of humanoid-looking ships fighting one another, but it feels true to some of the original anime inspiration as well.

You may even wish to pick up the Jovian Wars Beta Playtest Rules Package while you're at it!


 ALTERNATE REALITY CYBERPUNK

I was a big Cyberpunk fan back in the day; picked it up when it came in a box and hand three separate books and dice. So when Cyberpunk 2020 came out, you bet I picked it up again! And it looks like I'll be welcoming the return of Johnny Silverhand when the videogame comes out too!

You may not know this, but Dream Pod 9 came out with an Alternate Reality Night City setting for Cyberpunk.

Here, you can run into vampires (and perhaps other creatures of the night) that can give a change of pace from the monsters that you normally run into when Running the Bleeding Edge.

Perhaps you'll hunt them, perhaps you'll become them. Either way, Night City'll never be the same...


Are you a Heavy Gear fan (it had a TV show, you know)? Or perhaps, like me, you used to collect MechaPress -- their old magazine dedicated to mecha of all types? Those are on sale too!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

DriveThru Deals: the Fat Rite Genius Adventures Mega-Bundle

Date: Apr 18, 2020 (included because some of these deals expire)
Normal Cost: $ 846.37

Discounted Cost: $34.70


Type: Bundle

So there's a bunch of gaming material from AAW Games, Fat Goblin Games, Rite Publishing, and Rogue Genius Games that's super-discounted that you may want if you need stuff for the ff. games:

  • D&D 5th Edition
  • Pathfinder
  • 13th Age
  • Starfinder
  • any games with a need for fantasy maps & fold-and-play sets for figures
Also, there's a rules-light western RPG thrown in for those who'd like to try Fat Goblin Games' Difference Engine RPG system. I encourage you to take a look at the full list of items in the bundle to see if there's something worthwhile for you in it. But here are some things that may be of interest to you:
  1. Five (5) books with 101 spells, from 1st to 5th level.
  2. Five (5) Codex Draconis books, which help flesh out how you can integrate the different types of dragons in Pathfinder for your campaign.
  3. One (1) book with six shiny new alternative Icons for the 13th Age RPG.
  4. Six (6) books for Starfinder detailing different types of equipment (and mechanical companions) for the Science Fiction adventurer.
  5. Three (3) books for 8-bit adventuring -- if you've ever wanted to have a SF or Fantasy RPG inspired by old 8-bit games, check these out.
Which of the items in the bundle caught your fancy? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Roll20, Star Hero, and the Return of the Confederation's Finest


I mentioned in a prior post that we had returned to a decades old campaign through the magic of Roll20, teleconferencing, and a hunger for some old school science fiction gaming.

The Setup: In the world of the Shattered Empire, a squad of Confederation Starfleet marines, along with a handful of warriors from other Starfleet military branches, are called to investigate an anomalous object threatening an unaligned planet along the Confederation-Alliance border. It seems a once-innocuous object in this lightly explored area of the galaxy has suddenly begun moving outside normal parameters -- changing course and moving at relativistic speeds towards the unaligned, inhabited planet. The object is a cylinder roughly 20 miles in length and 5 miles wide. Lifesigns have been detected on it.

The Mission: send a team in to take control of the cylinder's engines, and save the lives of the inhabitants of the imperiled planet -- and the lives of those on the cylinder itself!

Current Situation: Much as already happened, but more is still to be revealed. Above is a screenshot from the last encounter of the last session. At the bottom of the map, we see the three members of the Starfleet team who were invited to meet with the leaders of one of the towns inside the cylinder -- hoping to find out more clues about who has been controlling the engines. However, the three members, separated from the main group at the top of the map, are suddenly ambushed by the security droids that had been dogging their every attempt to take control of the cylinder (they were waiting on the roofs and jumped down when the trio reached the intersection). Close combat brawlers, they've already KOd one of us, and stunned (but didn't KO) my character. Only one character, the Clan Sentinel, was able to wipe the floor with all of them (whew).

Reference Post: About the Fading Suns Kickstarter


So, as a Fading Suns fan, I wanted to create a bunch of references for people trying to keep updated on it. Aside from the Kickstarter page, you can check out some other resources about this latest edition:

Videos on YouTube

The Fading Suns Q&A


Robert Adducci interviews Bill Bridges about Fading Suns, and the Kickstarter in particular. There's a good rundown of the setting, system, and Kickstarter.

Heretical Musings


Heretical Musings 1
(After the opening animation from Emperor of the Fading Suns,
and some minor technical issues, Bill Bridges & Andrew Greenberg --
creators of the Fading Suns RPG, chat about the game, the setting, and the Kickstarter!
)


Heretical Musings 2
(Another great session, wherein Bill Bridges & Andrewgreenberg dive into
the Known Worlds of the Fading Suns!
)

Follow all the newest Fading Suns Blog Entries

The Ulisses Spiel website for the U.S. has all the latest blog entries for Bill Bridges here. Check out some designer posts, and how they're doing with the Kickstarter!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Rising from the Ashes: A Fading Suns Kickstarter!

There's a Kickstarter for Fading Suns!



Yes, Fading Suns fans! At long last, we have a chance at seeing a new version of one of our favorite Science Fantasy settings and games.

Updates from Ulisses Spielehttps://www.ulisses-us.com/games/fading-suns/

Here's what you can get if you back at the Digital Apprentice level (50 Euros or about 55 USD):

  • The Universe Book (112 pages) presents the setting for Fading Suns: its history, society, and astro-geography. Herein you will encounter nobles, priests, guilders, aliens, psychics, cyborgs, and more.
  • The Character Book (272 pages) presents the game system and player characters for Fading Suns. This book includes character creation rules for all the major factions, as well as technological equipment, starships, psychic powers, and theurgic rites.
  • The Gamemaster Book (96 pages) presents people, places, and plots for Fading Suns. Herein are guidelines for creating dramas for the player troupe and how to populate them with all manner of non-player-character allies, rivals, and foils. An example drama is included, as well as a roll-by-roll description of play.
  • plus, any applicable stretch goals.
How do you feel about this Kickstarter? Will you be backing it?

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A return to Star Hero, at long last

So, the last time I actually played with my old Hero Systems gaming group was in the late 1990's.

Very early this Sunday morning, fifteen gamers finally played together again after a long time via a combination of technologies (Zoom, and Roll20).

The game: Star Hero, in a home brew setting.
The setup: On a slow boat to somewhere, a team of Marines and a handful of Confederation Starfleet military types from various races and branches are called into sudden active operations, as they're the only ones near enough to respond. A huge cylindrical object, suspected to be an O'Neill colony, once in stable orbit is suddenly kicked into relativistic speeds towards an unaligned planet along the Confederation / Alliance border. Life signs have been detected on board, so it's up to the hastily assembled crew to save the lives of  those on the cylinder and the planet!

It's really amazing how in-sync everyone still is after all these years. Despite the size of the group, folks took efforts to avoid talking over each other, procedures for communicating over the channels were proposed, refined, and implemented. And we had a blast.

Looking forward to the next one.



Thursday, March 19, 2020

Mid-March and Enhanced Quarantine Protocols (FATE Accelerated, Champions, and Gumshoe)

With covid-19 doing its number on the world, and on my country in particular, it looks like I'll be staying at home for a while. That means less time in traffic, and more time for some lapsed hobbies -- including gaming!

So here's my March 2020 gaming update.

Gaming with my boy

It's Pay-What-You-Want.
Go get it now!
We've returned to gaming, and are now setting time aside each night to play. Since he's shifted fandom camps away from the Power Puff Girls and has landed on Sonic the Hedgehog, we've now begun playing a dimension-hopping game with Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and his character -- Lector the Ultimate Green Fighting Cyborg (based on MegaMan). It all starts with an emerald pyramid in the middle of a forest on Planet Moebius -- one that's bigger on the inside, filled with shifting platforms, ladders, and doorways.

Our system is currently Fate Accelerated because (1) I could't find any Hero System stats for these characters; (2) I'm out of practice building in Hero; and (3) benchmarking the abilities of these characters is way more than I'm willing to do at this point.

So far, he's enjoying it immensely.

I am using it also to try to force him to imagine things more, and to understand things from a single character perspective. He gets to order the other three character around, but they won't necessarily always do what he says. Especially if there are ways to activate their Trouble Aspects.

A Return To Hero

My fave cover.
George Perez rules!
That being said, I plan on taking some time to go on a character building binge. Not super-heroes, just Heroic characters for now. All Hero 5th Edition with some house rules -- because this is what my old gaming group, based in the U.S., uses for their Science Fiction gaming.

I need to get back into it anyway, and I've not gamed for any substantial amount of time with the Champions 6th Edition rules, so 4th through 5th rules are top of mind when I start rummaging through my remembered rules.

It's important, as I hope to begin writing for DriveThruRPG's community program for the system. I had some initial spadework done, but it was swallowed up by a ton of work and travel time. Need to revisit my initial ideas on these, and check up on what's already out there in the online realm.

Go, Go, Gumshoe Gaming!

Long Kiss Goodnight meets
Dracula: Dead & Loving It? We'll see.
Lastly, I hope to try out some one-on-one gaming with my wife as well. This time, I'm looking at Gumshoe and Night's Black Agents: Solo Ops in particular. Particularly appropriate, given the inspiration for this Superspy meets Vampire Conspiracy RPG (Jason Bourne vs. Dracula), that a solo super agent tangles with the blood-sucking freaks hiding in the shadows of history.

I've been wanting to taking the system out for a spin for a while, but with the One-on-One Gumshoe take, I'm even more intrigued!

Moreso, for now, than the apparent community content being developed for other flavors of Gumshoe. But I shall look into those as well. I've been wanting to do a Tintin / Secret Seven / Fabulous Five / Johnny Crossbones / Detective Pikachu type of campaign using the Bubblegumshoe system -- but I'm not comfortable with playing the system at all.

Let's see how the rest of March treats us.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

At the End of January 2020

January sure went by quick. And 2020 was certainly eventful for the Philippines (Taal Volcano eruption, fear of the coronavirus from Wuhan spreading).

In my gaming world, I've tried to put together something for my son that helps with his reading (hopefully) by bringing him into the world of gamebooks. Thanks to Project Aon, if he catches the Lone Wolf bug, he can play all of them on line.

He's definitely got the collector bug from me (he collects a lot of Geronimo Stilton books), and he has a tendency to go really in-depth in terms of knowledge for things he's fascinated with as a fan. Perhaps this can be a start. I remember these gamebooks as being a bit more forgiving than the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.

At the same time, I'm wondering if his interest in science might make an SF-oriented game be more appropriate. Perhaps the RPG for The Expanse? Or one of the Powered-by-the-Apocalypse ones for a more narrative approach?

Friday, October 11, 2019

Things I Learned from Champions: A Consolidated Listing


I decided to consolidate all of the posts that I've done under the subtitle: Things I Learned from Champions:
I've been adding to the list, piecemeal, over the years, because I do love the system (and the games I've played in it), and am trying to put it into words -- to express why.

I will continue to post new articles -- especially now that I'm running games for my son -- as I want to see how I can help re-create that experience for him as we play.

At the same time, there's just something about the players of this game that, despite variances in preferences and play styles, seem to demonstrate that the style of play supported by this system is one that is enjoyed.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Jumpstart for Cyberpunk RED

Everything old is new again. The marketing machine for the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 video game is revving up, which is good news for us TTRPGers -- because it means a new Cyberpunk game from R. Talsorian.

I picked up the first Cyberpunk RPG when it first came up (this one was the boxed set with the 3 books, including Friday Night Firefight), and I continued collecting well into the Cyberpunk 2020 setting as well.

My preference was always for straight Cyberpunk with occasional forays into dark fantasy elements somehow interwoven into the techno-freakish future of Night City. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed playing Shadowrun a lot. However, the cyberpunk feel was always strongest for me in the world of Arasaka, Militech, and Trauma Team.

Also, I'm also tickled to see what's happened to some of the characters featured in the various iterations of the setting (Johnny Silverhand, Alt, Rache Bartmoss, etc.) as they've aged into this future.

Still reading through the Jumpstart Kit, but it's definitely bringing back that initial excitement of the first set of Cyberpunk.

UPDATE: Unboxing Video

Want to see what comes in the Jumpstart Kit? Check out the video below, from R. Talsorian:

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Campaign Frame: Future Earth-641 (part 01)

My past posts regarding Earth-641 were various pieces of an aggregate world that tried to pull together two major comic book universes (DC & Marvel) along with bits of others into a single kitchen sink setting.

However, the recent news concerning the Legion of Super-Heroes and the future of DC Comics has begun my creative wheels spinning for the setting in a new direction.

Future Earth-641

Directly inspired by the reports and press releases regarding the (as of this post date) upcoming Legion of Super-Heroes: Millenium, I've turned my thoughts toward the idea of creating a similar future of Earth-641 for the kind of galaxy-spanning super-heroic adventure that I like.
 
At the center of the campaign would be an organization not unlike the LSH, or perhaps a future incarnation of the Justice League, that would grant opportunities for super-heroic gaming like:
  • a high-tech home base
  • interstellar legitimacy as a legal entity
  • organization-wide gear and vehicles
  • coordination with interstellar peacekeeping organizations
  • reasons to have characters with a variety of powers and backgrounds
  • reasons to break into teams and follow different plots and plot threads
  • options to play multiple characters as those threads unfold
  • lots of myriad corners of the galaxy to explore -- with different challenges and antagonists to encounter and overcome
Furthermore, the planned storyline seems to allow for the various futures of DC to be unified, meaning it could be mined to allow for the ff. to all exist in the same 'verse:
  • OMAC
  • Batman Beyond
  • Kamandi
  • Tommy Tomorrow
To which I would gleefully add in my version:
So, those are the broad strokes. Let's see if I can figure out more ways into the setting and the overall campaign frame to flesh it out.

Monday, August 12, 2019

In Search Of... My Ideal Super-hero RPG (Part 01)

Despite my clear preference for various editions of Champions / Hero System for super-heroic gaming, I've never really stopped looking for several ideal systems. It's a big topic, and I've not mind-mapped this all out, so if this seems a bit scatterbrained, bear with me.

Why I like Champions

1. I like granularity of the system.

While DC Heroes / MEGS is a fine system, especially with the logarithmic progression of the APs and the use of benchmarks to help streamline play, I always felt that it needed a smidge more granularity to address issues like Batman's strength on the lower end, and the huge ranges that begin appearing beyond the double-digit values.

I also enjoy having a wide variety of skills, especially Professional Skills and Knowledge Skills, that can cover very specific skill-sets. Penalty Skill Levels that allow you to ignore very specific (character history-based) penalties.

I also love being able to create one-shot powers (important to character concept) that may be extremely cheap, and almost never used -- but do add the overall concept just by their presence.

2. I like the flexibility of the system.

I've written about how you can build "exactly the character you want" in the past, and it's one of the things that are regularly commented on about the system.

In particular, the highlights include:

  • being able to load up on a variety of Professional Skills and Knowledge Skill Levels (so you're familiar with theoretical and practical aspects of something you purport to be an expert on); 
  • playing with special effects and power advantages like (variable special effect, variable limitation, and variable advantage) to milk the utility of a certain kind of defined power;
  • covering science fiction, fantasy, and super-heroic tropes with a single, unified powers and skills system

3. I like the open-endedness of the system

While you can gauge power levels based on the active points, real points, and total points in powers, characteristics, and abilities, there's no real limit on them (except for arbitrary, and usually negotiable ones, based on the campaign).

I don't really like the idea of having a fixed range of power ranks (which is where clever systems like Mutants & Masterminds and even the classic TSR MSH RPG get docked some points in my mental tallies), and like being able to have someone (hero or villain) occasionally become more powerful/more skillful than the most powerful/skillful hero or villain in the course of the story.


4. I like having more than one way to achieve a specific end goal

More than a statement on how a given special effect can be build using the powers system in a variety of ways -- this refers to the various options for tactics, maneuvers, and teamwork can help a super-heroic group take down (or at the very least, thwart) a super-villain team. Power levels aren't the only thing to keep in mind when approaching challenges: creativity and working together cleverly can often defeat the most powerful villain, or stop their current plans for world domination / destruction.

The new breed of games

That being said, there are a variety of game systems out there that are certainly advancing the 'tech' of super-heroic RPGing, and it's time to take a look at them to see how they're addressing not just the simulation of the physics engine of the setting, but also the story-telling tropes that are prevalent in the genre.

That being said, I'll also look at ways to tweak these -- as was done in Fuzion, with dials and switches, to fine-tune the flavor of super-heroic genre being emulated.

Next: I'll start off with two of the games that I've been reading off-and-on over the past decade: Mutants & Masterminds, and Icons!


Friday, June 28, 2019

Brick & Mortar: Stratagemma (Florence, Italy)

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Italy with my family and some friends. As is my habit, when visiting any new country, I try to find a local gaming store and check out the scene.

For Italy, it was Stratagemma (located in Florence, walking distance from the hotel we were staying at -- and very close to the Duomo, apparently). The visit really drove home several things to me:


  1. the web and its tools make finding such places, and managing your expectations, so much easier than in the past. I was able to find the location via Google Search, got directions to it via Google Maps, and was even able to enjoy online virtual tours of the locale.
  2. getting new blood into the hobby / hobbies is important for any store (and any hobby). They were having some kind of Pokemon card game introductory tournament when we dropped by, and boy was my son excited! He started chattering animatedly at the boys (roughly his age) who were playing. They politely listened, but perhaps understood as little about what he was saying as my son did about what they were saying. But the enthusiasm was reciprocated until I stepped in to let them continue with their tournament.
  3. different locales have different preferences. I had no real understanding about what was popular in Italy, much less in this particular corner of it, but I was surprised by some things nevertheless: a Cyberpunk 2020 RPG (reprint) prominently displayed in the window, and apparently a call for players on the bulletin board; the absence of Pathfinder and the dominance of D&D 5th Edition; some local RPGs in Italian, but also some international RPGs in English on the shelves.
I would've loved to stay to discover more about the sub-culture, but museums, sights, and food were calling us to other parts of Italy.

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