Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Farewell, Robin Williams

"Mork calling Orson; come in, Orson --"

Mr. Robin Williams made a big impact on my life at least three times.

The first was in all four seasons of Mork & Mindy, which my family watched almost religiously here in the Philippines. He made me laugh out loud, and made it okay to be a bit crazy in public (though my sense of humor has always been iffy).

The second was when I first got to the U.S. and watched Robin Williams: Live at the Met and I realized just how much broader his skillset in comedy was, and how much wider the realm of comedy was as well.

The third was at Pacificon, when it was still being held at the Dunfey Hotel in the SF Bay Area. He was walking around the halls with his son, enjoying the convention atmosphere, and buying game stuff for his son. People smiled at him and greeted him, but no one went up to him (that I saw) for his autograph, for questions about his work, nothing like that. It reminded me that we all have different sides to us, and that we're comfortable sharing some of those sides in safe environments -- or around people we trust.

It took me some weeks to think about it, but I think I'm ready to say goodbye. Farewell, sir. I loved all your work; you made a positive impact my childhood and I thank you for it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Quick-Bits: Return to Super-Hero RPG News

New Book -- ICONS: The Assembled Edition

There's a new / alternate version of ICONS out called ICONS Assembled, still by the incomparable Steve Kenson, that offers a substantial amount of alternative rules or rules adjustments -- but packaged as a single rulebook.

To my mind, this was kind of like a D&D Cyclopedia of the ICONS ruleset, which really intrigued me at the get go. But from Mr. Kenson's blog, there's a list of all the changes between the original ICONS ruleset and ICONS Assembled:

  • Adjectives (from Weak to Supreme) see a bit more use in talking about abilities on the scale.
  • Actions characters can perform during their panel are better defined. Supplemental actions are gone; as feedback indicated they were confusing and folks tended not to use them or the associated modifiers. Instead, characters get an Action, a Move, and a number of opportunities to React and Interact.
  • The Benchmarks Table from Great Power is included.
  • The term “Determination Points” (DP) is used to differentiate the resource players spend from the Determination ability level.
  • The default die rolling method is: Effort (Acting Ability + d6) – Difficulty (Opposing Ability/Level + d6) = Outcome. The math is the same, it just equalizes the die-rolling equation so there isn’t a need to “reverse” all the action formulae when its GM characters acting rather than heroes, or vice versa. The original d6-d6 method (along with a couple of others) are optional rules.
  • There is a marginal degree of success, allowing for one of seven degrees of outcome: Massive, Major, and Moderate Failure, and Marginal, Moderate, Major, and Massive Success.
    The Combined Effort rules are more broadly applied for “stacking” instances.
    Pyramid Tests (which first appeared in Sidereal Schemes of Dr. Zodiac) are in the Basics chapter, along with all the Pyramid Test modifiers and variations from Team-Up.
  • Challenges are consolidated into qualities, and the baseline number of qualities is reduced to three to start. Qualities are activated both to create advantage and to cause trouble for characters.
  • The Qualities section has expanded information on creating and learning qualities, removing temporary qualities, and activating qualities through maneuvers and tactics as well as spending Determination Points.
  • Determined Effort is replaced by a simpler Improved Effort that is just a flat +2 bonus, dropping the various requirements that no one really used anyway. Focused Effort is folded in the stunt mechanics (substituting one level for another in a test or effect), a Push Ability option is added.
  • Trouble caused by activating qualities includes Challenge, Compulsion, Disability, Increased Difficulty, and Lost Panel. I may write at some point about the notion of “Editorial Interference” as trouble, but that concept didn’t make the cut (too meta and, frankly, rooting in comics fan cynicism).
  • The Stunts section has expanded to include using superhuman (level 7+) abilities and Master Specialties for stunts, as well as powers.
  • The Damage section include options for minions, more lethal damage, lasting injuries, and different damage effects (from the standard Slam, Stun, and Kill effects).
  • There are two expanded examples of play, one in the Basics chapter and one in the Taking Action chapter.
  • The random Power Type table is tweaked slightly to change the probabilities of generating certain powers (mainly making Movement Powers more common than Mental Powers).
  • There is an optional table for randomly rolling Specialties (if you want, otherwise you just choose them as before).
  • Powers have generally been brought in-line with the material in Great Power and make more reference to qualities for modifiers. The focus is on the “core” powers, with condensed descriptions, leaving the more detailed descriptions, extra and limit lists, and “reskinned” powers for Great Power to cover.
  • Extras and limits from Great Power are included.
  • Power descriptions are now all listed in alphabetical order, for easier reference.
  • A condensed version of the Devices from Great Power is included, with lots of sample equipment.
  • A simple initiative system is included (Coordination test, highest outcome goes first).
  • Actions are broken out by different types (Movement, Action, Reaction, Interaction) and more clearly detailed.
  • An option for Interludes (narrative based scenes that activate qualities and award DP, which can be saved or spent immediately for insight, retcons, or recovery) is in the Game Mastering chapter.
  • Some expanded and cleaned-up Game Master advice.
  • A system of Achievements & Changes for character development.
  • The villain creation system from Villainomicon is included.
  • A slightly updated version of the Universe Creation system from Team-Up is included.
  • Nine sample heroes and nine sample villains are included. There is no sample adventure (as I’m not a big fan of sample adventures in the core rulebook itself). I might look at revising the four-page Wages of Sin from the original ICONS book as a free downloadable sample adventure.
  • A glossary of terms is included at the end.
  • And, of course, the Assembled Edition benefits from new art and new layout by Dan Houser and Daniel Solis, very much in the style of Great Power.
In addition to all this, I've seen what appears to be a nice hardcover edition of this book out there. If that's preferable to the digital version of ICONS Assembled available online -- go for it!

New Book -- Supers! Revised Edition

Simon Washbourne created SUPERS!, a few years back. It was a super-hero RPG characterized by simplicity and flexibility in the genre. Since that time, HAZARD Studio obtained publishing rights to the game, and out a SUPERS! Revised Edition (via a successful Kickstarter campaign).

Here's a great interview of the makers / publishers of this RPG.

I'm always curious about new entrants into the RPG market. With all the movies and TV shows available for this genre, no wonder there's such a huge amount of material out there.

Will this be the new introductory genre for the RPG market? Maybe not yet, but it's a contender for second place, I think.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Eye on the 5th: beyond Official System Releases

This current version of D&D not only seems to be very friendly towards older D&D conversions, but also -- by extension -- to a lot of the OSR systems that were inspired by those older versions. I think I can see it working for the B/X and BECMI versions of D&D, as well as 1st Edition AD&D -- but I have no real feel for converting the other versions before and after. But it does make it possible to therefore use a lot of (a) old D&D material; and (b) a lot of OSR material.

Unofficial Conversion Document

Fortunately, for people interested in converting older materials (and some OSR systems), James Bowman has produced his own conversion guidelines for D&D 5th Edition.

At the time of this posting, it includes:

  • BECMI to 5E (includes 0E, Holmes, and B/X) - last updated 12 August 2014
    2E to 5E (includes 1E) - last updated 12 August 2014
  • 3.5 to 5E (includes 3E and Pathfinder) - last updated 12 August 2014
  • 4E to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014
    Next to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014
  • Castles & Crusades to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014

There's both an in-depth document and a quick reference document for each. Great work, Mr. Bowman.

Old School Style: Geomorphs

I'm always happy to see old school maps and geomorphs online, not only because of the nostalgia factor, but also because of my gamer fascination with maps and the design philosophies behind creating 'geomorph' maps in RPGs and boardgames.

Michael Wenman currently is tackling how to create & design geomorphs on his blog in a fascinating (currently 10-part) series.

OSR Game System Listing

And if you're looking for various OSR systems that you might want to go through for source material and perhaps some cool game mechanic hacks for a one-shot, a short campaign, or a permanent house rule -- look no further than the D&D retroclone / neo-clone listing on Taxidermic Owlbear! Logos and links and short summaries aplenty!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An Eye on the 5th: D&D Basic v2 (for Players and DM)

It seems that there's a new version of of the Basic D&D ruleset out on the Wizards of the Coast website.

What used to just be a single document (in standard and printer-friendly formats) is now a set of two documents -- one for the Players, and one for the Dungeon Master.

Here's what the change log says about the revised contents:
Change Log

This change log indicates significant updates from the previous version of the D&D Basic Rules.

  •     Added acid splash and poison spray spells.
  •     Added noble background.
  •     Added appendix containing the Forgotten Realms deities.
  •     Added appendix containing descriptions of the five factions that feature in the D&D Adventurers League.
  •     Legal text added to the footer to allow reproduction for personal purposes.

Of course, it seems that this only tackles the Player's side of things.

In the DM's book, there's a huge section about Monsters, covering monster types, abilities, AC and Proficiency, and then giving a listing of monsters for use in the game. It also provides NPC templates and ways to customize them to your needs. There's also advice on building combat encounters, rules on magic items, and a short list of them.

Looking forward to future updates!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Strike Hard And Fade Away Into The Night: TMNT

There's even a short comic inside this sucker. Awesome stuff. Didn't play this game enough, and probably won't ever again.

And I'm going to give this to a good friend soon, so this is kinda farewell to this game.

Good luck, TMNT RPG. May your new owner use you well.

I remember really being into the turtles back in the day, but then the cartoons started to veer sharply away from the source material in tone.

It wasn't always grim and gritty, after all. There was humor, science fiction, and pizza! But the mixture kinda went a bit weird for me. Oh, well. Good times.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

An Eye on the 5th: Bloggers on Basic

I've been enjoying a lot of the posts that have been going up on blogs regarding the current rules release for D&D 5th Edition. At the time of this writing, only the Basic version is up on the WOTC site, but there a quite a lot of blog posts out there that are not just reviewing it, but also posting new material, conversions from older editions, and useful stuff to help run games while we wait for the standard trifecta of books for the game to come out (PHB, DMG, MM).

Here are a few of those posts and links that I've found useful or interesting:

They Got The Math Right by Robb Minneman (on RPGGeek)

A short but informative post about how the math works out for D&D Basic so far. It has a table that displays how calculations were done, and has some interesting observations / analysis about the results:

"First thing to note: Modifiers top out at +11. There's a cap on a PC's ability at 20. Proficiency bonuses do not extend past +6. That means you can't get more than a +11 to a roll, ever. That "nearly impossible" DC 30 check? They mean it. Heck, a "Very Hard" (DC 25) check can really only be attempted once a PC gets up into the level 6-8 range, and even then it's going to be a rare success.

But the math scales very nicely. The fact that bonuses scale gently means that characters get more capable, but the game designers don't have to go through the contortions that the 3e and 4e writers did to continue to make challenges hold up. This is more like the 1e and 2e thief skills: Your chances of success keep going up as your level increases.

That's good! It doesn't break the verisimilitude of your PC becoming more powerful. You can actually try harder things and your chances of succeeding go up. It provides a tangible success meter for characters."

5E Backgrounds by Courtney Campbell (on Hack & Slash)

With character backgrounds emerging as an interesting way to further customize your 1st level character, this series of posts is adding to the available backgrounds by offering up a few new ones. Currently available at the time of this writing are: Torturer, Gravedigger, Farmer, Prisoner.

5E Monsters by Surfarcher (Surf's D&D Blog)

Monsters are always welcome to DMs looking for some interesting opposition to their PCs. We should encourage Surfarcher to complete his 10-part series of D&D monsters as he does some analysis on them. Four of the planned posts are up; check them out!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

RPG A Day: Days 1 through 5

For those of you who may be unaware of +Dave Chapman's call to the #RPGaDay challenge, check out this post on his blog: Autocratik.

Me? I'm a bit late, so I gotta get caught up.

1st Day: First RPG Played

The first RPG that I ever played, believe it or not, wasn't D&D. This is because, growing up as a kid in the Philippines, I was usually trying to get people to play the game -- meaning that I'd be trying to run it, but with a very tenuous grasp of the rules.

Therefore, my first RPG game as a player was another well-known TSR property: Star Frontiers! It was run by a classmate of mine who picked up that boxed set and ran it for us at a class retreat in a beautiful seminary overlooking some of the lovely Baguio scenery.

2nd Day: First RPG Gamemastered

This, without a doubt, would be D&D Basic. This is the Moldvay edition with the Erol Otus cover. I've recounted elsewhere on this blog that I actually first purchased an AD&D module, then was given the basic rules as a gift, and tried to run the game. I remember trying at least twice -- once with my classmates and once with my cousins -- but never managing to really make it stick.

I never stopped cracking it open, despite the fact that I eventually realized that AD&D held the majority of the rules for the modules I'd been collecting from the bookstore, and therefore shifted away from the Basic and Expert Sets to devour the trinity of rules (PHB, DMG, and MM) for 1st edition AD&D back in the misty pasts of my youth.

3rd Day: First RPG Purchased

With my own allowance money? This would be Top Secret. Yeah, TSR was the only real RPG brand we could get in the Philippines (that I knew of). Reconnecting with others when I got back here, I found out that some determined souls had gotten ahold of Champions.

But I digress. Where was I? Top Secret! I remember stumbling through these rules, but having an easier time figuring out what might happen. I had a steadier diet of espionage flicks on TV and in the movie theaters, and my cousins were into them too. We all created characters and tried out a couple of games, but I -- ultimately -- couldn't quite figure out Sprechenhaltestelle.

We did eventually return to the espionage genre with Top Secret/S.I. But that's another story.

4th Day: Most Recent RPG Purchase

All my RPG collecting is in the electronic world these days, as space is costly at home. So my latest purchase comes from RPGnow / DriveThruRPG: a supplement for Sine Nomine's spectacular Stars Without Number -- Relics of the Lost.

Kevin Crawford is a lean, mean RPG writing machine. And he does some interesting work in creating tools for sandbox-style games in the Science Fiction genre. Actually, for multiple genres -- there are supplements for the cyberpunk, post-holocaust, and post-human subgenres as well.

Of course, Mr. Crawford does the same for Fantasy RPGs, and you should just give Sine Nomine a look online to see the full breadth of his work. Then check out how long he's been doing it; you'll be amazed.

5th Day: Most Old School RPG owned

I thought it would be a toss-up between two RPGs: the Moldvay Basic D&D set, and the 1st edition of Champions. I never actually played Champions 1st Edition, as I began playing it with the 3rd Edition. However, I've since traded for a copy of the original rules set, out of a collector's mentality.

However, looking at the release years it turns out that my Oldest Old School RPG owned turns out to be: Traveller. Yes, the classic Traveller rules in those black books by Marc Miller.

It was also the first RPG that I got to play when I was in the U.S. I was a beginning character, playing alongside ridiculously powerful characters, but I was finally playing an RPG with seasoned roleplayers, and I couldn't have been happier (at the time) gaming-wise.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Mining Firebirds: Grimjack 01 - The Suspects

In Part 02 of this series for Grimjack #01's story (titled "A Shade of Truth"), we tackle the suspects, revelations, and red herrings encountered while investigating the suicide.

In Part 01, we learned the premise of the story: One Ms. Sondra Grant, former wife of Cynosure's Finance Minister, engages the services of John Gaunt, also known as Grimjack, to discover the true circumstances surrounding the suicide of her daughter.

Through this setup, we also learn more about Cynosure -- a pan-dimensional city where various realities meet and intersect, but not always reliably or peacefully.

A favorite line of mine from the series: "Guns work here. Magic works there. Swords work everywhere."

A great rationale for a setting where swords still have some relevance.

The Former Lover turns out to be an athlete so full of himself as to be instantly unlikeable. He tries to blow off Grimjack with a combination of an "I don't know her" and "Take a hike". This encourages Grimjack to use more physical means to persuade him to spill information about poor Marcie.

John "Grimjack" Gaunt, aware that this young buck would easily take him in a fair fight, uses a combination of cheap shots and overwhelming violence to triumph. He discovers that Marcie was on drugs, but knows that there's more -- more that won't be forthcoming yet.

Firebird 1: this encounter would give PCs a challenge, since the person being questioned is physically and socially capable of defending himself in civilized company (contender for the tri-sector boxing championship; backed by the University). Even resorting to violence, he won't reveal everything given that he'll lose everything if his involvement with drugs is revealed. And a murder is certainly going to bring its own kind of heat on the PCs.

The Father of Marcie, and Ex-Husband of Sondra Grant, is Finance Minister Honesworth -- who has a reputation for honesty. Quite important, as any hint of favoritism would result in a trade war (something we'll see in future issues).

Firebird 2: this type of character is useful to establish as a) a squeaky-clean suspect who is quite powerful on many levels, surrounded by less honest or scrupulous, but very loyal retainers; and b) a future ally or antagonist depending on the behavior of the PCs.

The New Wife is exotic -- an Ethayr woman of a race that exists across separate planes simultaneously. She drops sparse but concrete hints, but seems a bit distant to be a direct suspect.

Firebird 3: mostly a nice way to re-inforce the scope of the setting. Another race, different realities, matched with issues of prestige and power. However, it's also a good technique to drop hints to the PCs if they're floundering a bit.

Firebird 4: this would be a good fit for the Ur-Obun or (perhaps more controversially) Ur-Ukar in the Fading Suns setting. A window into another culture, as well as an insight into how they're becoming more and more integrated into the Known Worlds.

The Friend & Advisor is a dangerous one. Not only does Heinrich Krupp stop Grimjack's snooping around (while Sondra commiserates with Honesworth), but he also gives a powerful thrashing.

Firebird 5: a fantastic way to introduce a heavyweight race into the adventure -- intelligent and dangerous in combat, killing this individual will certainly mark the PCs as dangerous people, and perhaps earn them the enmity of the people he represents and has befriended.

Firebird 6: You go the obvious route, by dropping in a Vorox noble into this role. Alternately, however, you can hew closer to the visual representation of Krupp, by choosing a rare sub-race of the Etyri with serious physical power.

The Candyman is dangerous. He represents the another dark side of society: crime. He reveals suggests that Marcie delivered drugs and acted as his call-girl for a time.

He used to be small time, but now has serious muscle behind him -- muscle that's looking to find some kind of leverage on Honesworth. It seems like he probably would've killed Gaunt if he'd come alone, but the presence of Sondra probably stayed his hand. But perhaps he still has need of Grimjack in some way?

A lot of things will crystallize, and the portrayal of Marcie gets darker and darker, driving Sondra to the edge -- she wants to stop the investigation.

John Gaunt, however, doesn't do that. He has an obsession with the Truth, and must find out what really happened.

Firebird 7: Almost at the end of the trail, the PCs should have a clear idea of what's been going on, and perhaps have some idea of how high the stakes are.

They should also know about the powerful backing of the Candyman -- in Fading Suns terms, this would be the equivalent of a particular Guild getting a destabilizingly exclusive patent on certain services.

Firebird 8: This should also let the PCs know how much they should be ready for the inevitable resolution. Careful planning and sufficient firepower and contingencies would be wise.

Next post: The conclusion!