Thursday, May 10, 2018

All Under Hero: BECMI D&D To Hit progression

Karameikos has always been the starting point of my understanding of Mystara; the first Gazetteer was my first realization that it was its own setting.

And since the Gazetteer states that Karameikos was designed as being designed to accommodate the rulebook classes, I've decided to assume that the D&D cyclopedia classes and levels are sort of 'rules of thumb' to build Mystaran characters -- and even to use as NPC templates for customization in the course of play.

So -- let's look at the To Hit tables for the classes (which include demi-humans)!

Progression Insights

According to this table, we can see that:
  • Character classes are a cut above normal humans (even magic users), with a +1 to their To Hits at 1st level. 
  • Fighters improve their To Hit chances by +2 every 3 levels.
  • Clerics, Thieves, and Druids improve their To Hit Chances by +2 every 4 levels.
  • Magic Users improve their To Hit Chances by +2 every 5 levels.
  • Demi-humans progress a little bit differently (see the letters).
This can easily be done in HERO with equivalent bonuses to the PC's OCV per level.

Why not make these straightforward Skill Level purchases? Well, there are a couple of things that might complicate matters:
  • reflecting hit points: rather than a straighforward boost to BODY, STUN, or PD / ED, allowing a bonus to CV instead of just OCV could reflect how higher level characters are just better at combat in general (as a guideline).
  • weapon mastery rules: these also have an effect of boosting your skills, and any characters with this should have these reflected as skill levels with their chosen weapons; implementing with skill levels instead of a straight OCV bonus might confuse matters.
So, I'll proceed on this basis for now.

Friday, May 4, 2018

All Under Hero: HEROic D&D

Mystara has been a setting that fascinates me, due to the long-lingering influence of the Gazetteers on my fantasy gaming life. One of the reasons I attempted, years ago, to do a "HEROic" conversion of D&D (see the following old links), was partially due to the setting.

HEROic D&D - Part 1
HEROic D&D - Part 2
HEROic D&D - Part 3
HEROic D&D - Part 4
HEROic D&D - Part 5

Someone asked my why I would attempt such a thing, given how well HERO does fantasy, and the fact that I was obviously a HERO fan, and knew Fantasy Hero. I answered the following:

"to convert various NPCs, PCs and monsters into HERO characters and then play straight using HERO rules. 
It's not REALLY a system re-creation, but two things:
(1) primarily a way to rationalize in my head how these conversions would be done;
(2) very secondarily, a way to explore how HERO deviated from the original ruleset -- as I think I've hinted at here by how I handled stats."

Looking back, I would have to say that it was probably more of a combination of the first sentence, and #2 of the last paragraph.

To be honest, it seems to me that #2 of the last paragraph was a major part of it -- I wanted to explore why the ruleset of HERO resonated so strongly with my own mental model of how the world works, as opposed to my occasional hesitations when remembering the abstraction choices made in D&D rules (like the abstract Armor Class approach, which combines difficulty in hitting someone with the ability to penetrate armor / do damage).

At the same time, I also felt that Mystara had hidden depths that I could best express in HERO system (which I think echoes in my own explorations of magic systems elsewhere on this blog). I wanted to have a depth and breadth of fighting builds for characters, and a way to express how different magical / mystical systems could be realized in the world -- and why those differences matter when recognized by players.

That being the case, I'm returning to this project with a different perspective, perhaps to ground my explorations more. I'm going to begin building components for the Mystara / Enigmundia world in HERO to see where they bring me in terms of the ideas for the setting.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

On the Radar: Dawn of the Emperors is out!

So, for those Mystara-philes out there, here's something of interest:

The classic Gazetteer boxed set, Dawn of the Emperors: Thyatis and Alphatia, is now in available on DriveThruRPG.

I haven't picked it up yet, mostly because I've yet to run any kind of D&D game again, let alone in my "Dark Corners" version of Mystara.

But I do have fond memories of flipping through the pages and reading through the maps -- and thinking about how I would go about tweaking it for my game.

Apparently, the instructions given to the late Aaron Allston for this set were "to make Thyatis a country that specialized in the concerns of the fighter class, while Alphatia would be a magocracy." Of course, given the linear progression of power for fighters, and the exponential progression of power for mages, it makes sense that Thyatis would have spellcasters with a martial bent, while Alphatia would have fighters (treated as second class citizens, however).

To my mind, Thyatis really draws on historical Rome / Byzantine Empire, which has a different set of cultural touchstones in the wake of TV series like Rome, Spartacus, and so on. Alphatia is a bit of a mystery to me -- this is a culture that has access to great magical power, and is actively engaged in research, but is also of a chaotic bent. Since, according to canon, "Alphatia, a land of magicians, was itself colonized by people from another world", the argument can be made that perhaps it is meant to be a very alien culture that has grown into an Empire.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Things I Learned From Champions: There Are Always Possibilities

In retrospect, one of the things that made Champions (and the Hero System) stand out for me, compared to most of the other RPGs that I'd been playing at the time, was a sense of almost limitless possibilities.

Of course, that was more of a dawning realization rather than a sudden flash of life-changing insight. It arose after getting over the hurdle of reading the rulebook, building a character or two, and talking to the Champions group that seemed to be a very regular pillar of the Beresford Rec Center initiative in the late 80s.

Let me explain.

Exactly the character you want -- revisited

As I mentioned in my now-ancient post "Exactly The Character You Want", I felt a sense of freedom when released from the level-progression approach of D&D when exposed to a point-based system. Furthermore, the "effects cost point, special effects are free" really opened up what was possible in terms of building a character; no longer consciously or subconsciously shackled to the 'character class' concept, there was a tendency to go wild with character concepts.

When I began introducing this to others, many began often started by building a character that was either a clever implementation of a set of rules, or building a character that would be impossible in another system -- rather than building a character that you wanted to play for a sustained period of time.

But I suppose that's part of the charm. The 'old school' mentality sort of bled into Champions campaigns -- the GM was responsible for a sort of living continuity of the Superheroic campaign, and was expected to allow players to switch between different characters. As a result:
  • all players had at least one favored character that they would often play, and would be requested by the GM when pursuing particular storylines;
  • some players actively built new characters on a regular basis (with one friend holding the record for most PCs with game experience);
  • some players had a stable of characters that they kept re-tooling as they gained experience (in-game, and meta-gaming wise);
  • most players would attempt building experimental characters and try them out to gain better familiarity with some rules, some tactics, and character builds -- no shortage of one-trick ponies or novelty characters;
  • all players would occasionally do a 'stump the builders' sort of question, citing a character concept from comics, movies, books, TV or their own imagination that would require a tricky build -- and the gaming group always threw out several ways to do it;
  • at least one person would always be negotiating to go beyond a certain point limit or cap on a characteristic value or combat value or damage class, in exchange for some crippling deficiency in some other part of the character (Captain Glass Cannon, at your service).
This culture of experimentation -- and occasional lack of mercy for players when the dice rolls definitively indicate maiming or death -- really drove home the point that you really could build the character you wanted, and have him/her as powerful and competent as you imagined, so long as the GM (and to some extent, other players) agree to play along with you.

Surviving Contact With The Enemy

Another thing that I enjoyed was the variety of combat options available. It wasn't necessarily simply building a character and pounding away at an opponent until one of you dropped. There were combat maneuvers available for a tough brick to take out one of those pesky, hard-to-hit martial artists (area effect attacks by picking up vehicles and attacking the hexes they're in); or for martial artists to do enough damage to stun those tough bricks (like targeting vital hit locations).

Depending on the flexibility of your character build, you could shift around skill levels (if you bought enough of the right ones) to improve your accuracy, your damage, your ability to avoid attacks. You could sacrifice the damage of an energy blast to affect a larger area. You could risk your endurance and even STUN by pushing your abilities beyond their normal limits for extra dice of damage or effect.

And there was always the opportunity for teamwork -- the right set of skills, abilities, and tactics could often allow a lower-powered team to take out more powerful opponents.

Beyond the Borders of the Map

In most games, you were sort of limited to a map. Whether the campaign map made of hexes, beyond the borders of which -- here be dragons. On a smaller scale, you were often limited by the areas defined by a dungeon map -- going through walls that were often solid rock, tended to severely limit your encounters into specific approaches. Which, to be fair, is kind of the point of the dungeon -- city adventures are very different.

But access to the various powers led to regular map border breaking. Speedsters could race across the country in a matter of minutes. Teleporters could bypass sealed off areas. Desolid characters could walk through walls. Flying characters could visit the tops of unscalable peaks. And the damage from super-strong tanks to metal-melting energy projectors could power through otherwise impregnable barriers.

In summary, the genre -- and the ruleset of Hero -- encouraged out-of-the-box thinking for the players, and therefore by necessity, the GM.

Friday, March 16, 2018

On the Radar: Jovian Chronicles in a Bundle of Holding

 And, as if in answer to my plan of ships in the same fleet having different tech levels, there's a Bundle of Holding for Jovian Chronicles!

The bundle covers the following books:
  • Silhouette CORE Deluxe Edition
  • Jovian Chronicles Player's Handbook 2E
  • Mechanical Catalogs 1-2
  • Spacer's Guide
  • Space Equipment Handbook
  • Earth Sourcebook
  • CISLunar Space
  • Jovian Chronicles Companion
  • Four Jovian Planet Sourcebooks
  • Ships of the Fleet 1-3
  • The Chaos Principle
  • Jovian Chronicles GM Handbook

This will give a comprehensive set of materials for the rules and the setting, one that's surprisingly hard SF, despite the presence of humanoid mecha used as fighters.

Also, since the human homeworld is lost to the rest of the world in Stars Without Number, it's not much of a problem to set up a different solar system with the same setting elements. And I would do that, because the setting building is so well done -- it feels like a very well thought out set of interlocking political, economic, and social factions, along with the aforementioned hard SF approach. It's nice to have a semi-stable "home base" for the campaign that characters can refer to in their backgrounds, or return to from the front lines.

Of particular interest to me are the different ship designs for the setting. I like the designs for the Jovian ships, and I'm always interested in the Tender-class ships of any given setting. They'll form the regular ships of the fleet, with the ability to use jumpgates. This is unlike the Star Trek-inspired starships that will have Warp capability.

Not sure where to start aside from trying to build an idea of how many fleets there are, and what ship composition each would have.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Cubicle 7 and Call of Cthulhu part ways (Old News)

They say any news you haven't heard is new news. However, since the announcement came out in December of last year, and it's already March 2018, it still feels a bit old. But no less shocking.

Three Call of Cthulhu-powered settings from Cubicle 7 have lost the license to the system, and must now retool their material for a new (unnamed system). That's The Laundry (which I collected), World War Cthulhu, and Cthulhu Britannica. Official statement from the Forums of Cubicle 7:

Cubicle 7’s Call of Cthulhu license expires at the end of the year and by mutual agreement with Chaosium it is not going to be renewed. There are no hard feelings on either side, and we are still on great terms - these things happen. Call of Cthulhu is Chaosium’s baby and we wish them all the best. 
We’ve enjoyed working with Call of Cthulhu and Chaosium, but we’re also looking forward to the challenge of designing our own game systems for Cthulhu Britannica, World War Cthulhu and The Laundry. Putting together games that really showcase the themes of their setting is what we do best, after all! Keep an eye on the newsletter for more information in due course.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Ships Without Number: Artificial Gravity and the Post-Scream Universe

The Stars Without Number universe has a lot of variance in tech levels, enough to make the expeditionary fleet I've been thinking of interesting.

While many of the newer ships would be more akin to the designs of Jovian Chronicles (no artificial gravity, rotational sections, and constant 1G thrust) and similar settings, there would be some space for Star Trek-inspired ships.

The idea is that, with the current level of technology (and psychic construction) they can only achieve Star Trek: TOS levels of starships. And with the limited number of psychics, there are limits to how many can be produced in a solar cycle.

The fleet will therefore have a mix of mostly lower tech ships (which will be higher tech in some areas of non-psychic technology), and a small cluster of slowly growing artificial gravity, transporter-capable ships.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

On The Radar: Go go, Glorantha!

Glorantha-philes rejoice. Two books are out, and available for devouring!

One of them is 13th Age Glorantha by Chaosium (developed by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet). You'll still need a copy of 13th Age to play though.

Here's some of the promotional blurbage:

For Game Masters, 13th Age Glorantha includes:
  • More than 80 pages of monsters and enemies fully compatible with any 13th Age campaign, including Chaos priests, dragonsnails, scorpionmen, Crater Makers who call down the Moon, and the awesome Chaos demon known as the Crimson Bat.
  • More than 60 pages of ready-to-run adventures and heroquests—venture into myth to refight the battles of the gods and gain their cosmic powers!
  • A distinctive setting that will entertain longtime fans but is aimed at gamers who've never heard of Glorantha.

For Players, 13th Age Glorantha includes:
  • 5 new classes, including the hell mother who summons Darkness spirits and giant spiders; the swordmaster Humakti who wields Death; and the trickster who (in theory!) funnels your bad luck onto your enemies.
  • 5 new class variants, including the wind lord, a fighter with magical storm-related exploits; and the rebel, a rogue with the supernatural ability to get where he’s not supposed to be.
  • 2 new PC races, the trolls and ducks, plus Gloranthan humans with new cultural traits.

The other book, also from Chaosium, is The Glorantha Sourcebook. As you might guess from the title -- it's a rich sourcebook about Glorantha, but don't take my word for it, check out the blurbs:
The Glorantha Sourcebook is an essential resource for Greg Stafford’s world of Glorantha, one of the most extensively developed and renowned fantasy settings of all time. A world of mythology, gods, and heroes, Glorantha has inspired roleplaying games, board games, computer games, comics, fiction, and more, a setting beloved and revered worldwide. 
An invaluable resource for gamemasters, players, and readers of fantasy worlds, this sourcebook is gorgeously illustrated and filled with informative maps and diagrams. Drawn from a variety of out-of-print and rare sources, this material has been dramatically revised, updated, and expanded. Alongside this foundational material are new essays, insights, and extrapolations on the world and its incredible denizens. 
Inside this sourcebook, you’ll learn about the creation of the world; the main ages of its past; the history of Dragon Pass and its people; the pantheons of the gods, including the Lightbringer and Lunar pantheons; the Coming of Argrath; Elder Races such as the Elves, Dragonewts, Dwarves, and Trolls; genealogies of the major royal dynasties; legends and lore of the various tribes and peoples inhabiting Glorantha; the fundaments of Gloranthan magic and the Runes that shape the world; the history and gods of the mighty Lunar Empire; and finally, the Hero Wars!

Monday, February 12, 2018

On the Radar: D&D Cyclopedia and New Styles of Play

You may not have heard yet, but at the end of January 2018, the D&D Cyclopedia went up for sale on DriveThruRPG. Apparently, it's possible to order printed versions of this, but I'm sorely tempted to get the PDF version, for archival purposes -- because it's only $9.99 at the time of this writing.

Now while, this was available before, they now also offer a softcover and hardcover version (POD, I believe). I own the hardcover, but the concept of a softcover version blows my mind!

Story Games & Indie Games in Mystara

The setting of Mystara is a such an easy go-to for me, especially when I have to force myself to read through new material these days (it used to be so easy to read and retain stuff) that I've been looking at how to build characters using the old system here -- then just use mechanics from a variety of sources to add a different sheen or style of play for a night or two, before going back to the old rules. What rules sets are these?

Retro-clones and Neo-clones

I won't go through the list, especially since you can find it online -- more than one, actually. But it's a trivial matter to go through this list to see what particular aspect of play might be spiced up by the emphasis of a given ruleset. In fact, that may be part of a future series of posts.

D&D 5th Edition

Given the system's construction, it's pretty easy to just use characters built from the Cyclopedia and then apply a handful of rules from 5th edition (Advantage / Disadvantage, hit points and death) and so on to get the modern feel without doing a full on conversion.

Special Plug-ins

If you want to handle something like investigations in the world of Mystara (there's been a multiple murder -- of the same guy, and he wants you to find out who's been killing him over and over), you may want to pick up something like Gumshoe (especially their rules-lite version Pocket Gumshoe), and pop it into place to handle some Manhunter of Mystara adventures in the Known World.

There's also the possibility of taking from the page of FATE, and similar and similar aspect-oriented games, to create an aspect or two for your character, which allows you to trigger a special Advantages / Disadvantages when you can invoke it them game -- due to circumstances -- in order to further cement your character's uniqueness in the world. They can be serious ("Not on my watch!") to silly ("Kobolds must but saved"), but do add a twist to the traditional gameplay in the setting.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Time Tunnel Thursday: Armchair Reviews... er, Review (Expanded)

I've done this before -- should probably make this a standard page and put the link in one of the sidebars. Also: some of the products reviewed area apparently no longer available...

 DOCTOR WHO: Adventures In Time And Space

Night's Black Agents

The Laundry RPG

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

  • Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game
  • MHR - Civil War Event
  • MHR - Civil War (50 State Initiative)

Various RPGs

  • Runequest 6th Edition
  • Leverage the RPG [Cortex System]
  • Mystic Empyrean RPG
  • Eldritch Skies [Unisystem]
  • Yggdrasil
  • The Rocket Age [Vortex System]
  • Fading Suns Player's Guide (Revised Edition)
  • Clockwork & Chivalry
  • Devil's Gulch [BRP System]

 Various RPG Sourcebooks

  • The Book of the Empress [Champions / Hero System]
  • NeoExodus [Setting for Pathfinder]
  • Asuang: Shapechanging Horrors [D&D 4E]
  • Cursed Chateau [1st edition, OSR adventure]
  • Carcosa [OSR setting]
  • Isle of the Unknown [OSR setting]
  • The RetConQuest [ICONS adventure]
  • Weird Adventures [system-agnostic setting]
  • The War of Horus & Set [general info, system agnostic]
  • The Nazi Occult [general info, system agnostic]

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