Monday, January 31, 2011

New Fading Suns Blog Post: Skills and Synergy

I'm guessing you found out
about this blog through an
image search for Fading
Suns and were curious.
Or am I wrong?

In this latest post, we learn more about Skill, Benefits (Benefices?) and Afflictions in the upcoming 3rd Edition of Fading Suns.

The proposed Skill Synergy mechanic is interesting in conjunction with the Languages and Technical skills, but I suppose I'll have to see how it plays before I pass any verdict. A two-tier view of skills emerges with "primary skills" (my term) used to handle majority of skill checks, that are supported by secondary skills / areas of knowledge or specialization (also my terms).

So your linguist may be able to do translation work over time, but -- without the appropriate culture skill or specialization -- will not be able to hold up a conversation with the diplomatic ambassador from Kurgan space.

Or perhaps your ship's engineer may be a wizard at fixing anything remotely related to ship subsystems, but will be struggling to understand the workings of a terrarforming World Engine -- much less Vau Tech!

It is also my hope, however, that we avoid some of the game system problems of the past directly related to the resolution system. I basically ditched the d20 for a 3d6 bell curve and used the rest of the system more or less as is in my initial passes -- for a more heroic game. I hated the 10% chance for failure, 5% for a fumble in the old system and had mad visions of what mass combat must have been like in the universe: a guaranteed 5% casualty rate in any engagement...

Also there seems to be some clean up work in the Benefits / Afflictions area where there is some discouragement of min/maxing. While I like a good min/max myself if that's what the game group enjoys, I often found myself ditching it for Fading Suns in prior editions. Maybe because I didn't really like the +2 / -2 approach to some of the advantages and disadvantages, and felt that some of the point values were measured against differing scales (some too fine, some too coarse). As a fan of the Hero System and Fuzion and DC Heroes, the character kept pushing me toward that direction instead of back towards the more broadly-grouped approach of White Wolf games.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Piecemeal System Review: Damage in Fuzion

Rules Pedigree

Fuzion Core Rules (at least, the last official version of the rules, which was 5.02), inherited rules from two sources: the Hero System (by Hero Games), and the Interlock System (by R. Talsorian). This ruleset owes much to both, and there was even a conversion system with some designer's comments on the rules decisions.

And I was a fan of both. Interestingly, I was more of a Hero System fan than an Interlock System fan BUT, I loved the settings that R. Talsorian came up with. The parallels between the systems were interesting, but I found that the most interesting things for me in the system were some of the ways they handled damage.

Basics

As far as damage is concerned, it's split into two types of "hit points": Stun and Hits.

Stun is the amount of stunning damage you can take before being knocked unconscious.
Hits are the amount of killing damage you can take before you start dying.

Both are x5 multiplier on another Primary Stat, quite different from another lesser "damage stat" called Resistance which is based on a x3 multiplier.

Aside from that, on the basic level, it's not much different from hit points mechanics-wise.

Why do I like it? Well, I've always liked this damage philosophy from the early Champions / Hero System days, because at some point I became dissatisfied with hit points and some different mechanic for handling knocking someone out (Gasp! Blasphemy!) and the whole percentile system for assassination.

I realized at that age I was looking for a game system that somehow hewed closer to my limited understanding of combat physics. Now while I couldn't really handle Phoenix Command / Living Steel / Stalking The Night Fantastic rules (too complicated), the AD&D and then AD&D 2nd Ed rules abstractions seemed to run counter to my tastes.

Complications

Fuzion follows the philosophy that armor should reduce damage, as well as the philosophy that there is inherent toughness that reduces damage -- as opposed to the D&D philosophy that it be bundled with the To Hit resolution.

Stun Defense reduces stun damage. Formula is Stun damage minus Stun Defense equals Stun taken.
Killing Defense reduces killing damage. Formula is Killing damage minus Killing Defense equals Hits taken (well, they didn't use Kills because that's reserved for high level megadamage as per Mekton -- an Interlock game for giant robots).

I also like this, because I appreciate the way you can differentiate creatures that can be super-tough vs. punches and kicks yet totally defenseless against guns -- while other creatures can bounce bullets but not rocket launchers and so on.

Fuzion also brings in the concept of damage statuses from Hero:

  • take more than 1/2 Stun from a single attack, and you're Stunned -- lose your next Action;
  • take more than 1/2 Hits, and you're Impaired -- take a penalty to your Primary Attributes.

And there's the concept of damage rollover from each type of damage into the other:

  • for every 5 points of Stun taken, take 1 point of Hits damage;
  • for every 5 points of Hits taken, take 1 point of Stun damage.
The logic is plausible, and is a bit more simplified than same concept in the Hero System.

I also enjoy these in the game, because they add some interesting combat texture and tactical concerns for the  player. Plus the plausibility helps reinforce that sort of "action movie" logic for an RPG.

Overall, I liked these rules elements, though I feel that the rules could have been written more consistently and clearly.

Isle Imperium: Episode 1.04

Playing Ossis Potior at basic
levels was originally because
I needed to round out our
"cleric" abilities in the party,
but was risky -- I didn't know
how prevalent undead were
going to be this early in the
game. Fortunately, it paid off.
Wight Night

MANTIUS awakens in the middle of the night with the dreadful certainty that undead are upon them. Unable to wake his companions due to some glittering motes and the low hissing sound that fills the air of the cave, he faces off alone against three Chainers—which are apparently responsible for whatever sleep spell is active—managing to dispatch them and awaken his friends in time to hear a crackling noise of lightning from outside.

The party rushes out to see DUMAS, the factor from the traveling circus, battling several more Chainers and losing, despite the lightning magic he evidently wields. The group springs into action to aid him, with ARCTURUS taking the undead down. Dumas tells the party that he has been traveling alone since Shardfall, chancing upon five shards in the course of his desperate search for his ward, the fourteen year old Alina.

VARIAN and MARTA both assert that they have seen Alina within the nearby town. Upon discussion, the party agrees that the most fruitful course for all concerned is to try and defeat the Wight within the mausoleum, thereby alleviating the most pressing danger to the town and hopefully smoothing the way for recovering Alina and potentially allowing Marta to return home.

Leaving Marta the Proeliator Lamniar shard in order for her to guard their supplies within Finger Cave, the party hies off to the mausoleum, where they are soon stymied when they reach a dead end not far inside from the entrance. Varian determines how to manipulate the figures of Pluto on the wall, however, thus opening the door and allowing them entry into the deeper reaches, where Arc again quickly dispatches some Chainers seeking to block their passage.

Two left forks further into the catacombs, they defeat one Skull Spider and are nearly decimated when they decide to attack a second one, which extrudes a ball of toxin that poisons, paralyzes, and renders everyone but ALECTO unconscious. She is able to fend the thing off and, through Varian’s help or under their own steam, the other members of the party eventually manage to recover, with CATALINA finishing off the spider and everyone working together to destroy its clutch of eggs.

Going back and taking the second right hand fork this time, the party hears the disembodied voice of the Wight, giving them the option to turn and leave. They refuse once—consequently needing to defeat some Chainers again—and upon the second refusal are trapped within the Chamber of Bone, where they are successively attacked by Frostlings, Haunts, and Puppeteers.

Working together, they manage to survive and defeat each of these opponents, finally coming face to face with the Wight himself in his most fearsome guise. Running low on both life and mana, they nevertheless manage to overcome even him, most notably through Dumas’s clever stratagem of dying in order to trigger his reaction as Scintillamagus.

As they prepare to leave the mausoleum, a door opens on the far side of the bone chamber, through which they see two human men leading a bound human girl. The men hastily retreat, but not before Aly’s shout and the girl’s startled reaction confirms that she is Bartomeo’s missing daughter, RIMA.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mining Mystara #3: Glantri

So. The Principalities of Glantri.

I like the Gazetteer, and the insight that they give on spellcraft and wizardly culture, despite their distance from my preferred core location (Karameikos). I doubt I'd let people travel there in-game, but would allow flashbacks for any spellcasters who might've chosen to originate from that land.

The reasons I'd use them for a campaign are:

Mad Science / Mad Wizards

It's a wonderful place for strange Magic McGuffins. All sorts of brand-spanking new spells and magic items (that don't quite work that well) could potentially be offloaded to NPCs or PCs. Rumors that the way that most people understand magic aren't really how it works can be based on this land -- kind of like how cutting-edge research people would look at mere technicians and end-users of technological products.

Playing God With The World

In fact, some of these research efforts may have uncovered some sources of power that weren't really meant to be in mortal hands. Gateways into other realms, imprisoned evils unleashed, potentially catastrophic magical fallout -- many things that adventure hooks and interesting dungeon-delving locations can be based on.

You and what army?


In addition, they reinforce the feel that Mystara isn't necessarily a totally stable geopolitical environment. Glantri is a major political power who doesn't have 'politically correct views' and in fact has very hostile attitudes to most character classes (clerics are criminals, Halflings and Dwarves are potential experimental subjects, Elves could be spies, and all non-mages = second class citizens). Should be a blast if a liberally-minded party ever meets a delegation from there.

The Radiance
The Radiance is a mega-macguffin for the campaign, especially if you plan on using the "Wrath of the Immortals" storyline.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Telling Details: Cultural Texture in the Fading Suns

I've mentioned elsewhere that I was struck by the parallels between the Fading Suns and the Philippine political structure (despite our government being based on the U.S. Federal model), and I wanted to see how mining Philippine news and history would translate into Fading Suns game material.

At the same time, I'm constantly looking for ways to make the Fading Suns universe both stranger and more familiar to the players by adding in little bits of texture -- throwaway details that reflect a different culture from our own but somehow ring true in terms of human nature and plausibility.

Here are a few examples:

Chapels in or near the Agora
In the Known Worlds, the Universal Church of the Pancreator has great influence and importance in everyone's life (for good or for ill). When planning the map for a location's Agora (the central shopping district or open-air mall), make sure that a chapel or church of some kind is present in that location, with regular service times. If you have time, detail the volunteer staff and regular patrons of that chapel or church. It allows shoppers and stall owners the convenience of worshipping without substantial travel time added to their daily schedules.

Basis: In the Philippines, many malls and shopping centers in Metro Manila have this. SM Mega Mall has a big "chapel" on the top (5th) floor -- bigger than many churches in the city -- centered between the mall's two shopping wings. The Greenbelt ring of malls in Makati has a circular chapel located at the park-like center of the shopping area, and many people listen to the various Sunday masses inside the chapel, or outside if it's full, before returning to their shopping.

Messaging Services at Starports
Not all travelers are guaranteed rapid transport to and from starports, and sometimes there are situations that need to be relayed to travelers as soon as they arrive. Likewise, last minute messages and instructions sometimes need to be sent when these same travelers are waiting for their ship to depart. Enter the starport messaging services! For a monthly fee, these message centers can receive and send messages to the various approved locations on the planet utilizing Guild technologies and personnel. For added privacy and secrecy, special rates apply.

Basis: the messaging services and extra benefits provided by the hotel concierges worldwide, mixed in with door-to-door delivery services -- slightly adjusted for the strange mix of old and new technologies in the Fading Suns milieu.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

C&C Character Conversion Dilemma: Elves

Oh pooh. I was doing so well.

So far it's been very easy to convert from Labyrinth Lord to Castles & Crusades. All the humans are easy -- even had an option for one of LL Thieves becoming an assassin. No dwarves, but that'd have been a fighter or barbarian class anyway. I looked at the abilities of the halflings and they're essentially Halfling/Rangers in Castles & Crusades.

But the elf. It's a multi-class solution -- has to be. Argh. The multi-classing options in the back of the book must now be read...

... and an idea forms. I'll build him as a second level multi-classed elf fighter / wizard, a just start the experience at zero -- ignoring the first "level up," so to speak.

UPDATE: But wait, according to the C&C Player's Handbook I don't have to do that. Multi-classes are treated as new classes under their rules and get full benefit of the individual classes with some restrictions! Haha, cool.

Isle Imperium: Episode 1.01 to 1.03

Surprise! I actually do play in games on a regular basis. It's a homebrew setting using a homebrew system (several, actually) that sometimes goes systemless depending on the "season".

Here's the game summary for Season 1, Episodes 1,2, and 3 of Isle Imperium (actually Season VIII of the entire Isle campaign).

Shardfall (Parts 1, 2, and 3)

In the beginning there was only one great key. But chaos came and the key shattered into three great fragments—one that retained the starfield-like appearance of the original, one distinguished by a gray hue, and one bearing the likeness of obsidian—which separated from each other across the void, creating galaxies, planets, and eventually life in their wake. The three large fragments shattered as well into smaller pieces, one of the larger of which—a portion of the obsidian key—formed and acted as a sort of second sun to the world of the Imperium.

On this world, in the township of Koros, the citizens and some snowbound members of a traveling circus are amazed one day to see the sun blaze to a suddenly unbearable intensity of light (though not heat), to the extent that all eventually lose consciousness. Some time later, ARCTURUS, VARIAN, CATALINA, ALECTO, and MANTIUS awaken separately to find themselves in a devastated landscape, as the town and its environs have apparently been flattened by some sort of tremendous impact.

Coming together as evidently the only human survivors of the catastrophe, they go to what once was the center of town to investigate. There, they find a curious stone which breaks apart under cautious prodding into seven shards. Each taking a shard or two, they quickly discover that the shards miraculously confer certain extraordinary abilities upon their bearers, specific to the particular shard borne.


After scavenging what provisions are to be had among the ruins, the group decides to journey to the nearest town, braving a landscape now made more hazardous than ever by the constant precipitation of harmful acidic ash and wild animals apparently made extraordinary as well by either the ashfall or the shardfall.

They quickly become lost, since the great road system and most landmarks have all but been erased by the heavy blanket of ash covering the ground. Along the way, they encounter normal and infested wolves, malignant trees called warped wood, and suicide ferrets, in the possession of which Catalina spies another stone that likewise shatters into several shards, which the group promptly collects. It is through use of the various shards that they are able to defend themselves and cross the perilous desolation.

They are soon joined by Alecto’s former pet tiger, BAKLAVA, who unfortunately has also been affected by the chaos that has twisted the wildlife and is eventually deemed too dangerous to take along with them. Varian makes friends with an unusual and possibly uninfested ferret, but it is unfortunately devoured by Baklava.
It's hard convincing regular folk
that you mean well when you're
wearing bone armor and weapons.

Finally spotting what looks like a town after traveling some distance, the group heads for it, but first happens upon a graveyard, with a mausoleum apparently guarded by a wight, some bone shades, and skeletons known as black bones. They manage to fight their way free and proceed to the town, where they are attacked and driven off by the inhabitants, who brand Varian and Alecto as undead due to the bizarre accoutrements granted them by their shards.

Retreating to the nearby Finger Cave, a cave opening in finger-like protrusions from a steep mountain face (in which they have found some supplies as well as evidence of several couples trysting or at least meeting in secret at the spot in the past), Varian and Aly decide to remove their shards and approach the town thus unprotected, in hope of purchasing food, weapons, and sundry. So doing, they return to a belligerent welcome, but a welcome nonetheless, from the surly ARIUS and the generous BRIANNA, who appear to be in charge of the town’s defense.

Within, they discover that the tarp-protected town is evidently digging down into the earth, presumably with the intention of relocating to greater safety. They make the acquaintance of the shopkeepers MARTA (who tells them about her missing [?] husband) and BARTOMEO (who has a missing daughter, Rima), and are able to purchase some few items of food, clothing, weaponry, and gear.

Reunited afterwards, the group examines the purchases, among which they find a note from Marta imploring Aly and Varian to help her. Together, they deduce that the townsfolk have perhaps made some sort of bargain with the undead in which they surrender a citizen nightly in exchange for the safety of the greater populace. The group travels to the environs of the town once more, whereupon they find their suspicions dismayingly confirmed, and quickly go into action to rescue Marta from the company of undead into which she has been delivered, which is led by the wight they encountered earlier.

After a pitched battle, they are able to recover the terrified Marta and defeat—though again, not destroy—the wight.

Monday, January 24, 2011

C&C Character Sheet: Boris Dmitrov

This is an attempted conversion from the original Labyrinth Lord character sheet to a Castles & Crusades one for one of the PCs in my stalled online Play-by-Post game called "Shadows Over Mystara": Boris Dmitrov lives!

This is an image capture from a PDF dump from an Excel Sheet (for those who care about such things).


I've color-coded the Primary Attributes as dark red, for easy visual cues. It may make the Challenge Base values redundant, but since I'm teaching folks who don't know the rules it should be a good reminder. Wait, I'm still learning the rules too -- it's a good reminder for me!

(Updated Jan 29, 2011) Changed to have a Melee and Ranged To Hit line item and the formula for the Challenge Class.

Green Ronin Games: A Word from the Boss

The big boss at Green Ronin Games (Chris Pramas) has posted what 2011 will look like on their blog.

Want a quick summary?

Mutants & Masterminds
They're going to release a new city for the official setting of M&M 3rd Edition: Emerald City. This is going to be a West Coast fictional city that is going to be slowly revealed in the following manner:
  1. Threat Reports -- an ongoing PDF series that introduces various antagonists from the city (already available in RPGNow);
  2. Heroes Journey: Emerald Knights -- a six-part PDF series meant to introduce players to the city, which will start some time in Feb 2011;
  3. The Emerald City Sourcebook -- which you're going to have to wait for GenCon to see.
In other M&M 3rd Edition news, they're coming out with two GM-related books -- the GM's Guide (which seems to be more genre and source material-oriented) and the GM's Kit (which includes useful tools like a GM's screen and a quick, balanced, random (!) character creation system).

DC Adventures
Closely related to M&M 3rd Edition, the remainder of the three book RPG deal with DC Comics should be fulfilled this year. Expect two villains-oriented books and one book about the DC Universe.

Awesome.

Dragon Age
A game I largely ignored as an MMORPG-tie in property suddenly leaped to the forefront of my gaming awareness when I found out that a fan-made PDF for Mystara using Dragon Age rules exists. I downloaded the sucker and it is a gorgeously laid out PDF 110-pager.

So I guess I'll be looking for Dragon Age Set 1 (levels 1-5), Set 2 (levels 6-10) and Set 3 (levels 11-20) as they come out this year. Well, Set 1 is already out, but I don't have it yet.

Freeport
I was a fan of their Freeport stuff back in the D&D 3E era. Never got to run it, but they sure look nice and read nicer. They're not doing much for it now, but apparently they're watching sales of their Freeport Companion for Pathfinder to see if they'll come out with more for that system. I wonder if I should pick up the Castles and Crusades version to vote with my wallet for that one?

Dang, they gots several flavors of that book for different systems!

I've got to save up
Damn you Green Ronin for making me want to spend so early in the year! 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Quick NPCs in Castles & Crusades

Excerpt from the AD&D DMG tables for
randomly generated NPC traits -- one of many!
One of the reasons for my post on a shift to Castles & Crusades is because of "on the fly" NPCs.

Obviously not as much concern in well-stocked dungeons, in the cities, towns, and villages -- it is a concern, particularly if players do the old "I look around for someone interesting to talk to" or "I ask the nearest person walking by for information."

Now, assuming you've allowed some measure of plausibility (like making sure that the first few people they stop know nothing about what they're talking about unless it's pretty common knowledge, and eventually referring some expert), you know have to come up with one!

Determine the NPC type

The first thing to do is think about the purpose of this NPC. For more old school styles of play, I structure a mental table of NPC types based on plausibility and PC relevance. For example:
  • Highly plausible, Highly relevant NPC 
  • Moderately plausible, Highly relevant NPC
  • Implausible, Highly relevant NPC
  • Highly plausible, irrelevant NPC 
  • Moderately plausible, irrelevant NPC
  • Implausible, irrelevant NPC
Plausibility
A highly plausible character is usually a commoner or some type of professional that is quite numerous in the given setting. In a city, this could be a shopkeeper, a barmaid, a craftsman, and so on.

A moderately plausible character is a more specialized individual, including former adventurers, commoners with hidden pasts and interesting secrets, and transient NPCs that frequent this location -- other adventurers, travelers, traders.

An implausible character (which should be quite rare, obviously) is meant to add color to whatever setting you're adventuring in -- possibly showing PCs that while they may be of some importance, they're not the only game in town. High level adventurers, villainous lieutenants, monsters in disguise, incognito nobility, and gods walking the earth fall into this category.

When statting out these characters...
  • highly plausible characters should have at most only one attribute giving a +1 bonus, and perhaps one attribute giving a penalty, with their primary attribute quite possibly being the one with the bonus OR one of the average ones;
  • moderately plausible characters should have one attribute with a +2 bonus (probably the primary), and one attribute with a +1 bonus -- attributes with penalties are optional;
  • implausible characters can have at least one attribute with a +3 bonus (definitely the primary), an appropriate class and level for their background, and some reasonable excuse as to why the PCs will be unable to use them as a source for XP (they are in a discussion with the law of the town, they are heavily armed and just recently fully healed, they are ridiculously powerful and show it, they have hastily prepared exits, etc.) 
Relevance
If all NPCs were relevant, plots would be more or less straightforward and quite boring. In the old school or simulationist schools, they tend to be relevant if you were strategic or logical in finding them. I mean, remember those early computer RPGs where you talked to EVERYONE? I mean, if you were on a secret quest, you'd be as popular as Norm in Cheers if you did that every time you went into a new location.

So, if the NPC is relevant you can further break that down to these options:
  • relevant to the PC party's current purpose
  • relevant to the PC party's long-term purpose
  • relevant to the PC's current purpose (which can be different from the party's) 
  • relevant to the PC's long-term purpose (which can be different from the party's)
  • relevant to the PC's subplot (if you do those things)
  • relevant to another PC's subplot (warning: derail possibility here, but fun to roleplay in objective-driven groups)
  • relevant to the PCs because they inadvertently drop partially or totally true information that forces them to rethink what they consider as true (your current patron died a long time ago, nobody goes to that dungeon because there are doppelgangers there, small outpost -- don't you mean the headquarters of the kobold army?) -- but his can be difficult to pull off well
If the NPC is irrelevant, he or she (or it) is irrelevant ONLY to the PCs right now. The irrelevant NPC can be:
  • an information device / expositionary character about life in the current location
  • an information device / expositionary character about future adventure hooks
  • an information device / expositionary character with hints in their stories about future dangers
  • an information device / expositionary character about life in other parts of the setting 
  • a potential ally (patron, someone with a common goal, a potential mentor) who eventually becomes interested in the PCs
  • a potential enemy (rival, spy, criminal) who eventually must deal with the PCs
With these as a framework, it's easy to come up with quick NPCs in more urban settings. I strongly recommend that you prepare these lists and tailor them to your needs (dice rolling optional) prior to each adventure. Name lists are also often quite useful.

How do you prep for emergency NPCs in your games?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Piecemeal System Review: Sanity in Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu

Everyone knows that in the Call of Cthulhu RPG, when you see something sanity-blasting: a murder, a giant severed head falling down from the heavens, a fairy, or even Great Cthulhu himself, you lose sanity from your Sanity stat. When you drop down to zero, you go insane. Kind of like hit points, right?

Not quite.

Starting Sanity and Hit Points
While Sanity and Hit Points operate largely the same (you can pretty much operate at full capacity while you have some points in either). However starting values are different. In the RPG, your hit points are based on the average between two stats -- which normally top out at 18, while your Sanity is based on a single stat (POW) multiplied by 5. In general, you have way more Sanity Points than Hit Points but jumping to the conclusion that it's easier to die than go insane is misleading; there are extra rules governing one's sanity.

When you take physical damage, you roll the damage dice, total it up, and subtract it from your current hit points. If you have any left, you're alive and can keep on keepin' on.

The first Call of Cthulhu
book I ever owned 
When you see something sanity-threatening, you're asked to make a percentile roll against your current sanity value. If you make it, you lose sanity equal to the lower sanity loss dice of whatever you saw. If you don't make it, you lose sanity equal to the higher sanity loss dice of whatever you saw.

For example, if you saw something truly nasty, the ratings are (1D10/1D100) Sanity loss. Make the sanity check, and you only lose a maximum of 10 sanity from your total. Blow the sanity check, and you could lose 100 sanity. That's bad because...

Permanent Insanity and Temporary Insanity
The maximum possible value for your sanity is 99 (more on why later). Lose 100 sanity points means instant permanent insanity and NPC-dom for your former Player Character.

But even if you do make your Sanity roll, and lose only 10 Sanity... there a chance you could go temporarily insane. You compare your total Sanity loss in a short time period against one of your stats (which doesn't go higher in normal characters than either 18 or 21 -- I forget which -- and averages around the 10 to 12 range) and if it exceeds... you must check if can FAIL an Idea roll.

An Idea roll is an interesting old school mechanic meant to reflect that while the Player may not be able to think of something, his or her smarter character might. If after losing too much Sanity a PC FAILS the Idea roll, he or she does NOT understand the full import of what was seen and is okay. If the PC succeeds the Ideal roll, the he or she does and goes temporarily insane.

In other words, remaining sane in this game is not only a mixture of prudence and cunning game play, it's also a matter of luck and some timely (or inherent) character stupidity.

Maximum Sanity
The maximum possible Sanity for a PC is 99 minus the amount of Cthulhu Mythos knowledge the character has. This means that the more a character learns about the secrets of the mythos, the less likely he or she is to be sane. To be an expert in Cthulhu Mythos is to threaten one's sanity.

I bring this up, not only because I'm fascinated how the mechanics have been able to echo the logic seen in the stories, and how being too smart and too brave and too knowledgeable in the game can threaten one's character. All these things are important to successful completions of adventures, but in a game where you really can die quite easily, there's a mechanic that makes you question whether or not you really do need more information, and whether or not you can handle it -- or if some other character should shoulder the burden for at least a little while.

Mining Mystara #2: the Hin

Okay, first off I hated the portrayal of the Hin (halflings in Mystara) -- the roly-poly to fat halflings who loved all the comforts of home with a little bit of skill in the use of slings and ability to disappear into the brush. A somewhat three-note view of the Tolkien original, I'll admit, but not a very satisfying portrayal for me.

However, I've mentioned before (in my post Halflings are hard-core!) that the Jeff Dee image of the halfling was also rough and tumble, sneaky, and good to have on your side in a fight. So I wanted the Five Shires (in GAZ8 The Five Shires) to work.

Things I Like
I like the concept of high-level adventurers retiring in the shires. I like the possibility of sending PCs into the place to find old adventurers with secrets to dungeons and ancient kingdoms and coming away with new knowledge, some low-level magic items, and perhaps a handful of halfling adventurers in tow. I also like their bravery against raids from the Black Eagle Barony.

And I like having different communities comprising this nation, giving the potential for more variety to the stereotypes of halfling communities -- such as a coastal town or city populated mostly with halflings.

Things I Don't Like
I was underwhelmed by the "denial" ability of the Hin, and the Black Flame abilities, and the creeping senses of sameness and blandness that the Gazetteer eventually left me with. I feel that there's a lot of potential there without giving strange communal mystical powers to the Hin, and finding reasons why halflings (and halfing communities) are constantly underestimated.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Piecemeal System Reviews: Guidelines

Well, my tendency is to want to do a page-by-page reviews of RPGs and sourcebooks and I get bogged down by going through things in sequence. And I get bored and stop.

So I want to just point out little things that I love in those same books and hope to encourage and see more of and affirm and whatnot.

This by the way was spurred on by my going through all of the books remaining in my collection and realizing how some books had some real gems that were in a not-so-engaging package and how little love these things get (and may get lost as newer gamer generations pile up).

Some things I can think of and want to bring up in the future (all apparently related to damage rules):
  • BTRC's original TimeLords RPG's complicated but enlightening damage rules
  • The ill-fated Fuzion RPG rules from Hero Games and R. Talsorian
  • Call of Cthulhu's not-so-simple sanity rules
  • Mekton's non-random damage rules
  • Top Secret / SI's damage location rules

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Another Fading Suns Blog: 3rd Edition System Teasers

Apparently there a juicy tidbits available on another Redbrick blog about Fading Suns in The Reborn Sun.

So what neat things can we find out in this blog regarding the overhauled game system?
  1. Fewer attributes to confuse character creation:

    While I liked the idea of the opposed attributes, in practice they just didn't work very well. They caused confusion, both in how the pairings worked and in what some of the attributes actually stood for. Really, they had to go, but some aspects were still useful and relevant to the game.

    The solution was to do away with all the old attributes and instate a set of new ones. We chose 6 attributes: 2 physical (Dexterity & Vigor), 2 mental (Wits & Will), and 2 social (Intuition & Presence). These are rated on the standard 1 to 10 scale, but may exceed these limits with racial modifiers, cybernetics, or theurgic influences, etc.

  2. Physical, Mental, and Social health:

    We also expanded the Vitality health track, dividing it into Vitality, Resolve, and Reputation, and essentially providing 'hit points' for the areas of physical, mental and social conflict. In addition, these health tracks are considered 'ablative' or non-life threatening -- only when the track is completely depleted do characters suffer real injuries and risk death.
  3. Unified conflict resolution mechanic:

    Initially, we had a system for combat and a system for social conflict, but that really grated on me. These are both conflict situations; why do they use different mechanics? In the end, we developed a universal conflict mechanic that can be utilized to resolve any type of conflict, be it physical, mental or social.
All of this sounds interesting in theory -- I do not hold the prior game system as sacrosanct and am guilty in fact of making some similar tweaks to the system as denoted above. But then, this is just the begining. What happens when using this to pilot ships, or perform theurgy? I suppose we'll have to wait and see.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Shifting to Castles & Crusades

Or am I?

Actually, I did like the Labyrinth Lord approach -- but at some point I realized I preferred ascending Armor Class rules and a more unified resolution approach (fie on thee percentile skills for thieves). At the same time, I'm not much for the separation of races and classes in Castles & Crusades and prefer the more simplistic race is class approach especially for an online Play-by-Post game which I plan on using it for. But we'll see if that's more trouble than it's worth.

My original Play-by-Post game was blown out of the water by a sudden increase in workload and responsibility last year. I plan to return to it this month, but I also hope to make combats run themselves (sorta) by posting the NPCs and PCs in a single table that shows all the ACs stats and initiatives in one table and just have people declare and roll dice and call their successes or failures as they fall.

As for setting -- still my version of Mystara. We'll see if we keep them in the same dungeon or flash forward a few days into a fresh start. I guess it depends on how many original players jump back on.

For now, I plan on 'converting' each of the characters and see where that brings me.

RPG Now Releases of Interest: Week of Jan 17, 2011

I go to RPGnow every so often to torture myself with RPG systems and settings that I'll never get to play.

HARP SF looks interesting. Aside from the attention-grabbing cover, HARP has been of interest to me as a possible alternative to the Fading Suns system or to the native Rolemaster system of Shadow World. With the addition of Science Fiction rules, it may indeed be my go-to system of choice for Fading Suns (or some other Science Fantasy setting should the system for Fading Suns 3rd Edition pique my interest).

A bit of the marketing copy has me worried though:

This first volume of HARP SF includes:
· Character creation rules for human and alien characters
· 11 professions
· 6 alien species
· 9 cultures
I'm a bit worried that perhaps the rules are too tied to the setting, but I suppose we'll find out soon enough. If the quality of the layout is anything like the Shadow World Player's Guide, this may be a strong seller for HARP fanatics and curious SF gamers alike.

Kobold Quarterly Magazine #16 is also out, with the launch of the Midgard setting that Open Design has been working on for a while. I've been thinking of becoming a patron for a while now, just to get some insight into the game design world. I'm thinking of picking up this issue as well -- because I just don't have enough settings that I'll never get to play in. Midgard looks like a worthy addition to the list.

The rest of the magazine may not be that useful for me however, as I'm not an adherent to the 4th Edition D&D rules, nor am I a Pathfinder user. And even if it is relatively easy to convert Pathfinder stuff into Castles and Crusades rules, I think that I've got TONS of 3rd Edition, B/X, BECMI, AD&D, AD&D 2nd Edition source material already in my collection -- and that's not counting all the tons of stuff already available from the OSR movement too. Guess I'm just not the target market for this magazine. Not yet anyway.

In other magazines, Signs and Portents #88 is available for free, as usual. I'm probably going to download this for the following items:
  • more coverage on the new Noble Armada rules (using the A Call To Arms engine that used to be for the B5 ship miniatures);
  • the excerpt on the new Cathay book for Earthdawn;
  • the Paranoia adventure;
  • the Lone Wolf adventure; and
  • the preview of the new Runequest setting.
And I guess that's it from this corner of cyberspace, anchored in the Pearl of the Orient (the Philippines, or so our national anthem says).

Are there any news items of note from you neck of the woods? Leave a comment below and let me know about it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fading Suns: Campaign Premises (Part I)

Because of the Alustro Chronicles, the "noble's entourage" type of campaign premise is well-cemented in the minds of Fading Suns gamers. But what other types of campaign premises exist in this kitchen sink setting? Obviously, given the science fiction / fantasy / horror genre elements present in the setting, many, many are possible and liftable from other RPGs.

Let's take a look at some campaign premises native to other RPGs and translate them into Fading Suns.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeoncrawlers and Catacombers

On various worlds -- lost and known -- there are hidden complexes warped by the secrets and sins of the Second Republic. In those complexes reside treasures that can change the Empire for good or ill.

The unlocking and extraction of those treasures requires specialists: fighters and engineers, priests and scravers, nobles and aliens. The dangers they face: strange creatures and twisted remnants of the Second Republic's former glory, glittering treasures and arcane knowledge, mad world engine keepers and blasphemous priests of forgotten gods and demons.

Enter the elite Dungeoncrawlers and Catacombers of the Merchant's Guild!

Call of Cthulhu: Investigators by Circumstance

Some came to help a friend, some were lured by forbidden knowledge, others were just in the wrong place at the wrong time -- and were initiated into the terrifying secrets of mad and terrible intelligences lurking at the edge of our reality.

Using their own resources, struggling to hold on to life and sanity, they battle cultists and servitors to delay the inevitable return of these abominations into our worlds.

How long can they hold out against forces more powerful, more cunning, and more strange than anything they've encountered? How long will their activities remain unnoticed by the local agents of the Nobles, Guild, and Church? How long can they hold back the tide of foul corruption that threatens their world?

Jovian Chronicles: A Ship in the Space Navy

Was this what you signed on for? Becoming one of the pilots for newly discovered fighter golems tied to an ambitious al-Malik noble's capital ship, being sent on secret missions of vital military importance or public missions of diplomatic import, getting embroiled in scrapes against other major and minor powers in the Known World as they flex their own military might?

And what of the wild rumors of the Decados and their own experimental ships that ran afoul of some giant Space Kraken threatening a jumpgate only two jumps away?

By the Pancreator, bring them on! Bring them all on! This is exactly what you signed up for!

All Flesh Must Be Eaten: Survivors of the Husk Apocalypse

It all happened last night. The arrest and burning of that strange heretic who'd been worshipping his strange gods in the public square (Pancreator preserve us!), the strange black rain, the strange shambling shadows from the cemetery, the sudden screams of terror and pain, the walking the dead that hungered for living flesh, and the bites that took your friends and loved one from you.

Now, you and a rag-tag band of desperate survivors from all walks of life -- noblewomen and cutthroats, reeves and heyschasts, chainers and serfs -- must put aside your differences and fears to make your way to the space port and get off this planet somehow while the Church, and the Guilds, and the Nobles find some way to end this madness once and for all...


Well, that's all we have for today for campaign premises. We'll dip once again into the vast collection of RPGs out there that we can repurpose for a Fading Suns mini-campaign next time.

I wonder if there'll be easier conversions from these games into the new 3rd Edition ruleset. Guess we'll have to see.

In Part II, we can look forward to:
  • Earthdawn: Explorers of Lost Realms
  • Code Black: Warders of Old and Terrible Evils
  • Traveller: Mercenaries and Traders
  • Mutant City Blues: Policing the Changed

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tactician, eh? The deuce you say...

Tried out this fun little online Robin Laws Game Style Quiz (really? Robin Laws?):


You Scored as Tactician

You're probably a military buff who wants to have the chance to think through complex problems. You want the rules, and your GM's interpretation of them, to match up what happens in the real world or at least be consistant. You want challenging yet logical obstacles to overcome.


Tactician
67%
Storyteller
58%
Method Actor
58%
Specialist
50%
Power Gamer
42%
Butt-Kicker
33%
Casual Gamer
25%

Thursday, January 13, 2011

RPG Nostalgia (Part II): I was a TSR Zombie

The TSR Monopoly on RPGs

Because TSR was responsible for D&D (Basic, Expert, Advanced), I was fairly certain they were the only company putting this stuff out. But thank goodness they were covering various genres (a word that I didn't even comprehend at that age). Shopping at such magical -- and difficult to get to places (again: Grade School, Kid, Philippines, 1970s) -- like Nova Fontana, Gold Crest, Lil's Hobby Shop, and Squadron Shoppe, and National Book Store (okay, there were many of these, but not all of them carried D&D) I eventually discovered two other RPGs: Top Secret and Star Frontiers.

Top Secret was my first non-D&D purchase, as a classmate had already purchased Star Frontiers. Why waste the money? Eventually, after exhausting the limited genre fiction understandable and available to a grade school student growing up in Martial Law Philippines, I began expanding the boundaries of an ongoing hobby: reading RPGs. I picked up Alpha Dawn, and began collecting whatever available modules there were for my three RPG rulesets.

The obsession never left me. Even when I failed to run those rare game sessions properly. Even when I was waylaid by various gamebook series (Choose Your Own Adventure, Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks back when only Warlock of Firetop Mountain was out, and Be An Interplanetary Spy!).

When I got to high school, I heard rumors about a non-TSR RPG about superheroes. Champions, it was called. I was intrigued, but never actually got to see it (except as an ad in someone's oh-so-rare Dragon magazine) until I got to the U.S.

Of course by then it was Champions 3rd Edition, since I fell in with other gaming groups with other preferences. I often wonder what my reaction would have been if I'd been able to experience a 1st Edition Champions game in the Philippines in  my formative gaming years.

But that's okay. I learned about gods from various pantheons, practiced pronouncing words like Yazirian, Vrusk, and Dralasite, and became familiar with the game superiority of a 9mm Browning High-Powered Self-Load pistol.

RPG Nostalgia (Part I): Dungeons, Dragons, Modules, and Rules

Am helping out in a project. RPG.net's Shannon Appelcline is working on a history of RPGs and needs covers -- which is why I'm scanning in books from my collection piecemeal and e-mailing them off.

In the process, I find myself being taken down my gaming memory lane in not-so-sequenctial order. The experience is making me wonder how I got drawn into this hobby and what kind of RPG elements interest me. Let me post some of these covers and share my thoughts an memories with you.

Module T1 -- The Village of Hommlet
Ah, my first RPG purchase. Or rather, the first RPG purchase that I asked my grandmother (God rest her soul) to purchase for me.

I was a young boy studying Karate at a friend's house and encountered them playing a game that I would later discover was AD&D (after much wheedling and whining). Since this was the Philippines during the 70s, I faced three obstacles: availability of the source material, occasional "news stories" on the 700 Club telling me and my family how demonic it was, and a lack of understanding about the actual concept of RPGs!

I didn't read it closely enough, and probably wouldn't have understood why you needed to buy another rules set to use this so-called module anyway. All I saw was the "introductory module" bought, and the cool Jeff Dee art, and I was hooked. By the way, there were other modules there at National Book Store where I picked this sucker up -- classics like the Slave Lord series, the Tamoachan module, and the Vault of the Drow -- if only I'd known what those things were!

My first attempt at gaming was therefore stymied by a lack of a ruleset, but I set about rectifying that by trying to find the Dungeons & Dragons rules that I could use to play this module --

Dungeons & Dragons Basic and Expert Sets (D&D B/X)

-- But I bought these instead. Bummer.

Don't get me wrong, I loved this ruleset. Even today, I'm impressed by the organization, the layout and the art (though I may be biased by nostalgia) and how it all pulled together to draw me into this other fantasy realm and communicated very clearly how that could be done. And the list of books in the back sent me on a hunting frenzy at the local bookstores.

Unfortunately, I was of the mind that you needed the AD&D ruleset to use an AD&D module, so I was a bit perturbed. Thank goodness for the Keep on the Borderlands and Isle of Dread modules that came in these boxed sets.

A couple of years later, I did eventually pick up the AD&D ruleset and while I was relieved to finally lay my hands on the proper set of rules to use my modules with, I must say that this rulebook did a better job in communicating the 'otherworldliness' and sense of wonder in a more consistent manner. AD&D had too many in-jokes and 'break the fourth wall' humor to sustain that epic feel -- though it did exceed the D&D B/X rulesets in key areas (the "Paladin in Hell" image comes to mind). This was my go-to ruleset for that "sense of wonder" fix.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Learned something new today: Fantasy Heartbreakers

I didn't know the term as it was used in a thread of RPG.net and so -- after wading through several links offered up by Google -- I asked for a definition.

I was directed to a couple of articles by Ron Edwards on The Forge.

Interesting. I hadn't really thought about this being a sub-genre of fantasy RPGs, these "fantasy heartbreakers".

There's something about them and their progenitor D&D that makes me stop and ponder about the drive to create these labors of love. They are doomed, it seems, by trying to fix the rules problems that old D&D had in spades and adding their own spin (perhaps from personal gaming experiences) to the crunch that drives adventures in their fluff. They are also doomed, it seems, for putting to paper material that will probably not sell in the expanding and extremely competitive RPG market.

Are they naive? Are they blinded by their love for their hobby and their creation? How can they not see that they're doomed to fail?

Who knows? I only hope they don't lose too much money (or too many friendships) as they watch their dreams of an RPG-based empire bleed slowly away -- and that they learn from the experience and try again, and again, and again. And that they take advantage of the community of gamers online, and the wealth of information and examples and opinions already out there to make their next effort a much, much better one.

Folks who get it all right the first time are usually lucky (though some of them are just plain geniuses). Folks who can consistently turn out gems are skilled craftsmen -- and isn't that something to aspire to?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cyberpunk 2020

As part of the RPG history project mentioned on RPG.net, I began scanning in the covers of some of my RPG collection, beginning with my Cyberpunk 2020 books. Let me share them with you:

Cyberpunk 2020 was the main rulebook. It was an upgraded system and updated setting, essentially requiring the players of the original game -- Cyberpunk -- to buy the latest and greatest version of the game. Oddly enough, this did dovetail into the proposed cyberpunk ethos of style over substance and jumping headfirst into the latest developments ready to ride out any difficulties that might come up.

To be fair, it was a sight better than the Cyberpunk boxed set's rulebooks (certainly dated by today's standards), and the modifications to the system did speed up combat. Building a character was often a pain, though, because in addition to buying gear, you also had the option to buy cybernetics -- taking care not to use up your humanity and go cyberpsycho of course.

In addition to the core rulebook, R.Talsorian came out with new equipment and cybernetics in the form of the Chromebooks -- gear books with pictures for each of the items listed. Not satisfied with this revolutionary bit of sourcebook detail, they also came up with a rationale for it: these are the catalogs of the latest gear that people would order in game (ignoring all the game stats, of course).

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Gaming Plans for the New Year

One of the reasons I put up the Armchair Gamer blog is not because I game in an armchair, but because I rarely actually get to play majority of the games out there and spend most of my time reading them. I do play, however, in a systemless (it shifts periodically from house ruleset to house ruleset) campaign almost every week.

For the new year, I plan on adding to that gaming portfolio.

There are two primary campaigns that I'd like to get started on -- primarily online since I don't think my schedules will allow any otherwise. They are:

  • Dungeoncrawlers (a campaign that deals with a changed Mystara that is plagued, yet linked by megadungeons -- using the Castles & Crusades ruleset);
  • Fading Suns ( a campaign that will hopefully explore the new Fading Suns 3rd Edition later this year).

There are a number of games that I'd also like to take for a one- to three-session test drive:

  • [RPG] Eclipse Phase 
  • [RPG] Diaspora
  • [RPG] DC Adventures / M&M 3rd edition
  • [RPG] Shadow World using the HARP ruleset
  • [RPG] Dresden Files RPG
  • [Wargame] Victory By Any Means
  • [Wargame] Starmada: the Admiralty Edition
  • [Wargame] A Call to Arms: Noble Armada

And finally, I'd like to log in some time cobbling together a Military SF / Space Opera campaign using the Hero System.

We'll see how this year turns out, eh?

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