Sunday, December 9, 2018

Canon & the Multiverse

There's a Teen Titans show out on TV, movies from characters in the DC Universe, and a steady stream of other DC TV shows (live action and animated) out.

And there's yet another iteration of the DC Universe out in comics (I lose count).

My POV on continuity is a complicated thing, one that I may put together blog posts or a podcast on in the future. But this blog is about gaming and RPGs -- so what does that give me?

Well, I've always had my own take on how the DC multiverse and timelines should be. My headcanon -- and thank you to the blogosphere for this term -- is one that still believes in a particular kind of continuity. That there is a universe where the events of the primary timeline matters, and all the elseworlds and splinter timelines are just echoes.

And I've always wanted to set superheroic RPGs in this shared universe, one where:

  • the big names are known heavyweights, but there's still space of newcomers
  • the other superheroes and teams are constants (after a fashion) but are still constantly adventuring and in flux (out on a mission, missing, changed powers, etc.)
  • the villains and heroes occasionally get weird team ups
  • major crises periodically (and hopefully sparingly) pull everyone together into adventures allowing for many cameos and easter eggs for comics fans.
I guess what I'd like to do is to put together some ideas and toolkits for creating sandbox superheroic adventures in an established universe (well, a combined one, picking and choosing from the plethora of Marvel / DC / other comics lines and their continuities) that players would have no problem sitting down and playing in one week and disappearing the next -- but one where GMs also can juggle the storylines of present and absent players and PCs.

Time to put on the hot cocoa and think a bit before returning to the Armchair Gamer study for some setting writing. See you soon!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Data Scan: Cyberpunk 2077 E3 Trailer

If you're one of those Cyberpunk / Cyberpunk 2020 fans that have been looking at getting that late 80s cyberpunk fix this side of the 21st Century, I'm sure you've been wondering how to make it less dated and more relevant.

Of course, there's been no shortage of modern takes on the near future technodystopia in films and series -- perhaps it's time to come up with a new list of inspirations, since we're so close to 2020. However, a trailer was released at E3 for Cyberpunk 2077, sharing a glimpse into the world of that classic RPG, but updated (and hopefully ignoring the outdated technology that was touted as the 'bleeding edge' at the time it was written).

It looks promising, with an interesting set of 'slice of life' scenes that show that the strange, slightly violent cyberfuture has a wealth of alien, yet approachable locales to adventure in -- where not every streetcorner is awash in violence.

There are scenes of cybered up, gear-toting people on trains, hanging out on the street, enjoying the future as something mundane. I enjoyed the brief clip of the motormouth taxi driver chatting away, unimpressed by the gun-carrying cyberpsychos in his taxi, a sort of acceptance of the way of life in the future-shocked world.

There's a flood of vids and articles about the gameplay that a number of game reports actually got to see from E3, and I have to get caught up. But it looks promising, and I can't wait to hear more -- while digging up my old CP2020 collection!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

On the Radar: Fictional Past, Present, and Future

Three RPG books that caught my eye on DriveThruRPG this week were the following:


Oh, yes. The latest version, and crafted by the hands of Greg Stafford, Jeff Richard, Jason Durall, and Steve Perrin. Rules update, and a delightful dive into the world of Glorantha.

Here's the book pitch:

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is an all-new edition of one of the world’s most influential and acclaimed fantasy roleplaying games. First appearing almost 40 years ago, RuneQuest is as dynamic and vital as ever. This all-new, deluxe edition introduces RuneQuest and its setting of Glorantha to new players everywhere.

Try out a skill-based percentile system that balances experience-based progression with deadly combat!

The core rules of RuneQuest are essential for players and gamemasters, as they contain all the rules for character creation, starting homelands, background history, professions, skills, starting Runes and magic, and the cults and gods whose influence will define your character’s activities. Further, the rules for character advancement are contained here, for the times between adventures.

Torg: Eternity

I have fond memories of the original Torg rules and setting, and wanted to impact the outcome of the Possibility Wars during its heyday with other Storm Knights. Perhaps now, if I pick this up, I'll have that chance again!

The invasion of Earth told in previous tales of TORG took place on one version of our world. The High Lords there were successful for many years, but were eventually stopped by the planet's valiant Storm Knights.

But there are infinite versions of our world.

This is the tale of a different Earth, one where things did not go as well...

The Torg Eternity Core Rules include all the rules and setting information you need to create characters and play the game, including

  • Background on the Possibility Wars
  • World Laws and adversaries for Core Earth and the 7 invading Cosms
  • Creation and advancement rules with dozens of perks for all kinds of characters
  • Magic, Miracles, and Psionics rules
  • Gear for all tech levels

Star Trek Adventures: Command Division supplement

Last but not least, a supplement detailing what life is like for characters in the Command Division of Starfleet:


The Command Division supplement provides Gamemasters and Players with a wealth of new material for use in Star Trek Adventures for characters in the command division. The Command Division supplement includes:

  • Detailed description of the command division, including its role in Starfleet, the various branches within the command division, the role of Fleet Operations, life as a command division cadet, and details on starship operations.
  • Expanded 2d20 Social Conflict rules, enhancing social encounters and galactic diplomacy.
  • An expanded list of Talents and Focuses for command and conn characters.
  • Over a dozen additional starships and support craft to command and pilot, including the NX, Nebula, Sovereign, and Steamrunner classes, as well as many shuttle types and the indomitable Work Bee!
  • Advice on creating command division focused plot components for your missions to test the mettle of your captain and flight controller. 
  • New rules on running Admiralty-level campaigns that let you command entire fleets, as well as information on commanding starbases.
  • Detailed descriptions and game statistics for a range of Command and Conn focused NPCs and Supporting Characters.

TM & © 2018 CBS Studios Inc. © 2018 Paramount Pictures Corp. STAR TREK and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Things I Learned from Champions: Keep Some Surprises Under the Hood

Much of the superhero genre is steeped in secrets and misdirection. The heroes themselves were referred to mystery men and women, so a surprise or two from them was to be expected.

I'd argue therefore, that the 'classification' of superheroes into narrow categories (in other words, representing them as rigid classes) in an RPG runs counter to the spirit of the source material. Fortunately, many of the early superhero RPGs avoided this, despite the influence of D&D.

TSR's Marvel Super-Heroes may have had types of origins in the random generation of characters, but they didn't shackle you into 'mage' or 'fighter' or 'speedster'; that tended to be a function of the powers you rolled up. Mayfair Games' DC Heroes RPG and Hero Games' Champions, as point-buy systems, sidestepped this entirely -- your combination of purchased stats, skills, and powers crystallized the type of character you were playing.

And while the was a shorthand on the types of builds you had (Brick, Martial Artist, Energy Projector, etc.), there were always different kinds of each, and certainly mixes of several builds, as was often seen in the source material.

So, we used this to our advantage, in-game.

What you see isn't necessarily what you'll get

One of my characters was a martial artist had a grappling hook that he used to attack the enemy, ie up the enemy, and so on. The obvious build was to use Energy Blast (for the ranged attack) and Entangle (for tangling up the enemy) -- but I didn't go that route. It was built as stretching, bought on a focus, and I used my Martial Arts for Strikes, Throws, and Grabs at range. And while I could therefore take damage from damage shields, it also allowed me to type at long distance, feel the texture or warmth of things far away, etc... chalking it up to mastery of my weapon. It helped with that element of surprise when playing under good GMs (or perhaps more adversarial GMs who forget the builds that they approved, and just go by your character art).

But building in surprises -- like a woman whose costume shouts martial artist, but is really built as a brick ("My kung-fu makes my body impervious to bullets!"); or an item that seems to be a focus (like a power ring) but is bought straight ("I summon it back onto my finger via sheer willpower!"); or building a martial art that allows you to Full Move with every manuever; or combat skill levels that only work when you're fighting by yourself ("I just didn't want my friends to think badly of me, when they see what I can really do.") -- but using them sparingly, does add to the mystique of your character.

And helps when your opponents stereotype you and your capabilities.

The joy of Champions is that it allows you to do all this -- after all, points pay for the effect; the special effect is up to you.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Earth 641: Saturday Morning Remix

My vision for Earth 641 is not limited to the merging of only DC & Marvel Universes. In a past  post, I identified the Ultra-family as one of the other intergalactic peacekeeping forces. I'd always also wanted to find a place for many of my Saturday morning cartoon faves -- which include many of the Hanna-Barbera heroes!

With the continuation of DC's Future Quest series, I was struck by how much this was an echo of the 80s-era DC comics effort: redefining and celebrating continuity via Crisis on Infinite Earths and Who's Who: a definitive guide to the DC Universe.

Here we see how Mightor's efforts in pre-history might find themselves crossing over with the galaxy-spanning adventures of Space Ghost! Or how Birdman might fight crime alongside Jonny Quest! Or how the Herucloids might find themselves teaming up with the Galaxy Trio!

Hanna-Barbera did have a broad selection of times and places for their heroes; it's great to see those characters revitalized for the modern era -- and so open to mining for gaming fun!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

All Under HERO: Thoughts on Magic Systems of the Known World (Part 1)

The Magic-User Archetype (for Karameikos)

Karameikos was crafted to be the stereotypical D&D fantasy realm, and as a result has primarily stereotypical D&D wizards. As a result there's no shortage of ways to build this magical system in HERO. The classic magic system is known for:
  • verbal (Incantations)
  • somatic (Gestures)
  • material components (Foci and/or charges)
Also, you need to re-learn / re-select what spells you can cast each morning via spellbooks that is basically the list of spells you can learn and cast. You have newer spells that arise out of research (or learning from scrolls, other mages, or from acquired spellbooks) added to this spellbook.

However, given the HERO points-based, non-class philosophy -- not every mage will be shackled into these exact set of restrictions. In fact, the concept of a magic school or tradition may help very well here.

Magical Learning: Academies or Apprenticeships?

We know that there is an official school established in Karameikos, just as there schools elsewhere (Thyatis, Glantri, Alphatia, etc.), so there's no doubt that well-traveled mages and adventurers will be able to guess where a mage picked up their skills not only by the spells, but by the limitations and advantages open to them. There will be a certain rigor and breadth of knowledge and understanding of magical theory and history, even if they turn out to be not-so-great as students.

And there might be some rivalry between schools from a given academy, or between different academies as well.

However, there could also be apprenticeships. Depending on where the master or tutor learned his/her magic, the student could have strengths and weaknesses that academy-trained mages lack. And there could also be greater dangers associated with them as well, assuming that part of the approach of the larger academies is to teach magic that works for ALL students, rather than customizing curriculum for each student. Therefore the apprenticeship style of learning could have a more eclectic selection of spell, or a more specialized approach toward things.

And of course, depending on the build, some fighters and thieves may have picked up a minor cantrip here or there...

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.

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