Monday, August 31, 2015

Doctor Who: Farewell to Time & Space?

Well this is a short one. The new 'edition' of the Doctor Who RPG, formerly known as Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space (DWAITAS) --

is now known as --

-- Doctor Who Roleplaying Game. I guess enough time has passed since the FASA one, but I do wonder at the change. Was it because of the sheer length of the old name (despite the neat acronym), or because of some legal issues?

In any case, I do enjoy the look of the new book. Darker, somehow drawing from a shadowy yet still science fiction-y feel. The wild eyed, grey-haired look of the Doctor also somehow adds to the subtle shift in feel, though it's still the same system (Vortex) as before. A regeneration, as it were.

However, with the change in the status quo of the Doctor Who universe, is it finally time to clock in some gaming hours for this? Only time will tell.

Mining Chi: Kung Fu Killer

Having recently received my digital copy of the 2nd Edition of the Feng Shui RPG (and a real world copy of 1st Edition Feng Shui from a friend), I've been boning up on recent martial arts source material. [ SPOILERS -- can't mine things without discussing details ]

On of these sources is a film: Kung Fu Killer.

In it, an incarcerated martial artist (played by Donnie Yen), sees on the news that a high level martial artist has been killed and intuits that there is a serial killer after a number of martial arts masters. Furthermore, he knows the likely sequence that they'll be attacked and manages to convince the police to release him and aid in capturing him.

This seemingly stellar leap in logic is substantiated later in the film through flashbacks -- he was actually approached by the killer as a visitor in jail and challenged to a duel (threatening his loved one if he doesn't manage to get out and agree to the duel). A nice approach, because while you don't doubt the protagonist's innocence (he was in jail) you do find his motivations and his offer suspicious, and than tension is sustained through the early parts of the film.

The other martial arts duels are also a delight to watch, as the killer takes on masters of different disciplines (master of grappling, master of weapons, master of kicking, etc.) in different locations (on a film set, in an apartment, in the middle of traffic).

I also liked the attempt to mix the "hunt for a serial killer" genre with the "martial arts duel" genre -- and the tensions between the maverick/lone wolf/wandering martial artist archetype with the competent by-the-book police officer. However, as would be expected in a movie titled Kung Fu Killer, the kung fu aspect tended to overshadow the killer aspect.

Key Takeaways:

  • hearkens back to the days of the AD&D monk progression, wherein an aspirant to the next level must defeat the master immediately above him/her;
  • variety in combat location and combat styles does add to the spice of the combat;
  • once-sympathetic antagonists turned irredeemable villains are a great addition to the tension of the storyline -- especially if throughout the storyline you feel that you can reach them, until that last clue shows that they've gone over the edge forever.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

DC New: A Team Of Sidekicks

Among the many experiments of DC, includes a curious title: We Are Robin.

It's very instructional as to how to construct new paradigms beyond the hero-sidekick dynamic. It feels like a mix between Global Frequency and a typical superhero team. However, this team is comprised of those inspired by a singular super-hero.

It also opens up the doors for a more diverse cast, beyond the typically predominant white male template -- and allows mucking about with the key elements of the original super-heroic mythos as a specific past, but with an opportunity to update and modify things.

Perhaps new equipment? New crimefighting approaches? New motivations? And the ability to go on different adventures!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

DC New: From Ring to Glove (or is it a Lens?)

There are many interesting experiments that DC is taking these days. Some of which are quite instructive when ruminating upon the recreation of the DC & Marvel Universes into a semi-coherent multiverse.

One of thing things that caught my eye was Green Lantern #041:

Apparently, Hal Jordan no longer sports a mask, nor a uniform, nor a ring. He's on the run, and he uses a gauntlet (apparently a prototype of the power ring).

However, it triggered some thoughts -- the evolution of the device that shapes willpower into energy constructs -- makes me think of the inspiration of the power rings (and the rest of the Corps): the Lensmen.

Perhaps in Earth-641, the lenses and the Lensman Corps fragmented in the ancient days and took new forms. Ties in nicely into might thoughts on the Ultraman Corps.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Classic Enemies Cavalcade!

Theron "My Dice Are Older Than You" Bretz has written a series of reviews / rumination on the various teams and solo villains if this classic Champions supplement -- one that provided many a GM with powerful opposition (and the occasional useful mort) to bedevil his players.

Here's my reaction to one of my faves in his series of posts:

The Ultimates!

While it's true that Binder, Plasmoid, Blackstar, Slick, and Charger offer varying degrees of well-roundedness, lameness, and complexity in build -- I think that when they worked together as a team, they were pretty devastating.

Binder (with his various glue gun attacks), along with Slick (and his friction-reduction attacks) tended to hamstring the heavy hitters of the hero team. With their mobility, they can stay out of reach while their teammates run interference and take out the immobilised heroes.

There's a pretty tough physical attacker in Blackstar, a pretty dangerous ranged attacker in Charger, and a devastating area effect / energy projector in Plasmoid.

If the Ultimates have their teamwork down, they have a rough fight ahead of them.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Earth-642: Keeping Metahumanity in Check

On Earth 641, a place where DC & Marvel superhuman populations have been combined, there are things that will keep their numbers in check (and thus avoid a very dangerous future for normal people).

What are the options?

Several come to mind (spoilers for those unfamiliar with old and not-so-old comics history):

  • The Sentinels -- for comics readers of my generation, these were THE anti-mutant bogeymen. They were self-replicating, constantly adapting robots with a  mandate to capture and/or kill any mutants. As reflected in the "Days of Future Past" storyline in Uncanny X-men (the basis of the movie), the Sentinels eventually extend their mandate to all superhumans, and then to all humans. These are great for opponents when you've earning some kind of government enmity in your campaign. Or perhaps as a 3rd party foil when trying to capture some metahumans on the grey side of the law.
  • The OMAC Project -- in one of the many iterations of the mainstream DC Universe, Batman built a machine called Brother Eye. This machine, meant to watch over the metahuman population (because Batman didn't trust members of the Justice League -- some might say with good reason -- after revelations made during Identity Crisis), was subverted by Maxwell Lord along with some pretty powerful nanotechnology that can turn human sleeper agents into powerful robotic creatures capable of taking out most metahumans.
  • Aliens -- no, seriously. From the DC Universe Dominators, who've always shown interest in the meta-gene, to the Kree Supreme Intelligence looking to humanity as an inspiration for the next step in Kree evolution, there's always the potential for some alien race (or set of races, as in DC's Invasion! crossover arc) that decides that Earth is a danger to their continued dominance or existence.
What are your favorite choices or excuses for keeping metahuman numbers in check in comics?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fun With The Hero System: Tricks You Can Do With ENDurance

Folks unfamiliar with the Hero System might not know the purpose of a (formerly) figured characteristic known as Endurance (END).

In the Hero System, END is based on your CONstitution, and is a measure of how much personal energy. Your personal END reserve enables you to

  • exert your STRength in useful ways like lifting a car over your head or punching the baddie into next Wednesday;
  • use active Powers like Energy Blast or Killing Attack (depending on how you build them, of course);
  • other active heroic stuff.
Here's a short explanation from +Ron Edwards 's Doctor Xaos blog:

"Which brings me to Champions the role-playing game, first published in 1981, and examining a crucial rules change for its 1989 fourth edition, written by a different set of authors.

In the earlier editions (1-3), the rule is that for every 5 points of strength or power used, you lose 1 point of Endurance. Granted, that value starts pretty high – typically 40 or more – but consider that one is typically slamming away with 50 or 60 point powers, or as a strength-based fighter, an equivalent amount. Just hammering away like that can drain you, and at 0 Endurance, further effort comes off your more crucial reserves and can knock you right out. There’s a periodic recovery during fights, and one can use actions to do it too, based on a value called Recovery, sensibly enough. In a relatively standard Champions fight of the early days, heroes had to strategize their heaviest hits against their energy reserves, ducking to recover every so often."

Of course, doing all this stuff means your spend your END like a resource. When you're down to zero, you can still exert yourself, but now it starts doing STUN damage to you, meaning you can knock yourself out by overexerting yourself.

The obvious downside to this kind of simulationist (or whatever) modeling of getting tired is the extra bookkeeping -- which is made even more fun with rules that deal with Recovery (I'll tackle that in other post).

However, there are a few reasons -- off the top of my head -- that my friends I used to put up with this extra in-game work (which becomes second nature after a while, anyway):

  1. Pushing: There's this rule that you can push STR or any Power that Costs END up to 10 points maximum, but you have to spend extra END in addition to the normal exertion. That means that you can get extra damage or extra movement, but trade in rapid exhaustion (or even knock yourself out) redlining your abilities. Very comic book-y.
  2. Pushing Stats: Did you know you can buy up abilities like INTelligence or COMliness with the limitation Costs END? Then means that if you choose to use these stats at a higher level, you gotta spend END to do it (special effects: activating alien secondary brain and sucking in your gut, respectively). But, because the rules say you can only push powers or abilities that cost END -- you can effectively burn END to become hyperintelligent or incredibly good looking for as long as you can pay the END (or endure the STUN damage once you've run out).
  3. "Free" Cost Discount: the END cost of a power used to be Active Points / 5. When 4th edition came about, this rule was revised to END cost = Active Points / 10. This halved the END cost, and immediately prompted my group to buy all their powers at 2x END cost, because they were already used to the spending of END at the old rate; instant reduction in power costs!
  4. Power Batteries: It's a nice way to model things like a battery of some kind: by creating something called an END battery (sort of an external END stat) that gets used up faster if you use it at full power.
  5. Nova Blasts: There are certain types of powers that will wipe you out if you use them -- maybe even cause you damage. Sort of like a wave motion gun for a super-hero, you can't use most of your powers after doing it. In HERO, you can buy that 'beyond normal campaign limits' power at 10x END cost or something similar (making sure that using it doesn't inadvertently kill you when you use it) -- it helps convince the GM that you won't use it that often.
  6. Temporary END Boosts: sometimes powers of heroes, villains, or the environment in a super-hero setting can boost your total END reserve, or increase your rate of END recovery. This means that you can operate at a higher power level for a short while (taking advantage of things like #1, #2, #4, and #5 as needed), but within certain limits. 
But that's just me, and what I remember us doing -- what about the other HERO mechanics out there? What builds have you put together?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Things I Learned From Champions: A 500 pt. Character is different from a 250 pt. + 250 XP character

I think that most point-build veterans know what I'm talking about here; they've had first hand experience.

But first, a little background.

The Hero System Context

In many systems, experience points allow you to improve your character -- but not all systems use experience the same.

D&D, of course, keeps track of your total experience points. Making it to certain tiers of experience qualifies you to a new batch of capabilities.

In other games, you can use experience points (XP) as a currency. You spend XP (usually with some kind of exchange rate) to buy things that you were able to buy with initial character build points. The exchange rate varies -- but it's usually more expensive to buy up Stats or Skills or Abilities with XP than with initial character build points.

The Hero System is different there: 1 Experience Point = 1 Character Build Point.

This means that if you started off as a 400 pt. character, and you got 100 XP (that you spend to improve your character), you are now effectively a 500 pt. character.

Or are you?

Lump Sum vs. Downpayment + Small Installments

I liken what happens to the difference in behavior of most people when they get a huge sum of money all at once, vs. getting a downpayment, followed by small installments:

  • in the case of the former, you tend to spend on several big things all at once;
  • in the case of the latter, you tend to spend on good quality essentials and then either (a) make refinements with subsequent installments; or (b) save up for that big item you've decided you really need.

Experienced Hero System folks can usually tell by looking at a build which of the two your character falls into (without looking at the Experience Points box first, of course), because they're familiar with these spending patterns in the game.

While it is possible to have a lean, efficiently-built character with little nuances and splashes of characterization right off the bat, most of the time there is a sort of roughness to an initial build of a character, and it's not just evidence of ruthless point-shaving evident in some of the power builds -- there are some powers or abilities that don't gel with the others, or there are some actual redundancies, or some things that don't quite go with the character concept after all.

The experienced character builds are a bit more refined, with tighter character concepts, and more seemingly redundant or extravagant purchases that actually round out the character or solidify the concept.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Plot Points takes on Champions

I listened to a Plot Points podcast on a Champions adventure -- an old one -- titled Day of the Destroyer. I was surprised that I had so many reactions to something so old and that I'd written about so often.

Here's the link to the podcast. And the link to the podcast on iTunes.

And here are my reactions (which I e-mailed to them, of course):

Response to Plot Points (Champions - Genre Podcast)

I listen to your podcast selectively; because of the review format of the show, there are certain things I'm not really curious about and therefore skip. The rest, I do listen to -- but the recent episodes about the adventure module "Day of the Destroyer" and a discussion about Champions (and the Hero System) spurred to write to you.

Short background: I've been interested in RPGs since the early 80s but only really started playing regularly in 1986. During my time in the U.S. (I'm back in my homeland of the Philippines now), I was based in the San Francisco Bay Area and played a fair amount of Champions there back in the day. I've been interested in it ever since, even though time and availability of interested gamers has waned.

The podcast was entertaining, though I found it odd that sometimes there were some instances of "talking over" one another, which kind of confuses or disrupts the flow of your discussion (sometimes with Sarah, other times with Torii). Is this a matter of the delay in transmission of the online chat / telecon?

It was also very engaging, as I found myself shouting responses to some of the topics or questions answered. This, as you might have guessed, is the reason I'm writing you.

For ease of reading / skipping over, I've put Topic Headings for your convenience. And I swear, I won't tell you about my Champions character.

Champions Gives A Lot Of Power To The Players

I felt that this wasn't quite tackled or explained as clearly as Torii clearly wanted to. Okay, let's be honest: it wasn't explained as clearly as I wanted it to be. So here's a stab at it --

Champions (and the HERO System) allows your to create exactly the character that you want. Any Champions player worth his salt will be nodding up & down at that last phrase: "exactly the character you want".

While almost any RPG allows you to create your own character, few out there allow you to create "exactly the character you want". There's a level of customization in the Hero System that allows to realize your character concept to a great degree, restricted only by the point limit.

In fact, one of the great pastimes of Hero System afficionados is to find a way (preferrably more than one) to create characters that are hard to build in other systems without some hand-waving.

I suspect that this is partially because Champions is early enough in the RPG history that it was in some ways a reaction against the "GM is a God" and the "adversarial GM and Player" dynamic. It may have even been necessary, given the nature of the genre: a slugfest is a very regular occurence -- sometimes between fellow heroes. But I digress.

Okay, so how does it give a lot of power to the players?

Well, first off: the player gets to set the special effect of his / her character's powers. Also known as: Game effects cost points, special effects are free.

What does this mean? My favorite example of this is a power called Instant Change.

Game Effect: your hero can change into his super-hero form (or back to his normal form) without expending an "action". Cost: 10 points.

Possible Special Effects:
(a) there's a flash of light, and you're now in your supersuit;
(b) you change at superspeed, and you're now in your superset;
(c) the planets align, a bolt of pure etheric energy streams from the heart of the Milky Way galaxy into our solar system, and shatters each one of the planets from within, and triggers the Sun to go supernova, destroying everything around it for light years -- then it all reverses, everything goes back to normal just before the planets aligned, and now you're in your supersuit. Cost: FREE.

Sure, the GM still has to allow it into the game (as with any game), but this uncoupling of the game effect from the special effect allowed many a player to break out of any pre-existing classes or templates of the time.

But the uncoupling had a other ramifications, such as being able to craft different ways of achieving the same special effect.

Special Effect: I run so fast, I can run up the sides of buildings OR across the surface of water.

Game Effect:
(a) Buy Running + Clinging (with limitation: only when running); Buy swimming (with limitation: only on the surface of water)
(b) Buy Flight (with Limitation: only to move on surfaces)

These examples, and many more, show how -- as a player, you're granted more options in character creation than most other RPGs.

All Math Is Frontloaded

Well, to some extent it is; the rest of it isn't. But the act of building your character makes you familiar enough with the system that the rest of the math is usually easy enough.

If, that is, you're obsessive when building the character I suppose.

If You Don't Have A Skill, You Can't Do It

Technically true, though the concept of Everyman Skills was introduced into the campaign. And occasionally, the GM can grant a rare bending of the rules based on background or special effect.

Other super-hero games

If you want an exhaustive list of Super-Hero RPGs, go to Lowell Francis's blog:

He has multiple blog posts on the many RPGs released in this genre across the years.

And I hope that puts things at rest.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Worldwatch Wednesday: Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense

The Bureau of Paranormal of Research & Defense is a organization that was founded in 1944 by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm to combat various occult threats uncovered in operations against Nazi Germany.

By 1948, the Bureau was based in a facility in Fairfield, Connecticut, retaining links to various branches of the United States Armed Forces that it had built up during the war.

A private organization that receives funding from several major governments, it had numerous human agents, in addition to some unusually talented or noteworthy agent. Of course, the B.P.R.D. also has had paranormal agents such as Liz Sherman, Abraham Sapien, Johann Krauss, Ben Daimio, and -- of course -- their most famous agent: Hellboy.

Campaign Use

The B.P.R.D. (or something very much like it) is a useful organization in a campaign because it has several attributes that help flesh out the setting and perform some useful game functions:
  • We've been around since the War. -- As an organization with a relatively long history has many secrets, many past employees and agents, and many past cases (and possibly artifacts) and ongoing experiments and files;
  • Those don't grow on trees, you know -- Government funding isn't always (surprise!) extravagant, or predictable. Some pet projects get the money, while others end up shelved and some things wind up pushed back or short of resources. Until it's an emergency, of course.
  • Dark corners of the world -- Adventures for the B.P.R.D. agents take them all around the world, into all the dark places that they must walk.
  • The Abyss also gazes -- While some agents' lives are short, others transition through many phases across many major and minor (traumatic?) cases, and developments in their own lives due to exposure to the occult or the use of their own powers. Seldom for the better.
  • We've lost track of it -- Part of the reason that the B.P.R.D. tries to keep tabs on personalities and artifacts of interest is that there's always someone (or something) that has an agenda for the world.
  • Beyond the Bureau -- Another aspect of the B.P.R.D. is that each agent has ties, alliances, and enemies beyond the Bureau. And sometimes those lead into stories and adventures beyond the current agency mission list.

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