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.