Sunday, February 24, 2019

On the Radar: SF RPGs (2 Science Fiction, 1 Speculative Fiction)

Here are a trio of RPGs that are currently of interest to me -- two of them are science fiction (one harder science than the other), and one falls into the broader genre of speculative fiction.

The Expanse RPG (Quickstart)

The full RPG for The Expanse isn't out yet, but you can avail of this quickstart to try out the AGE system as applied to this setting. For those who haven't really tried out any of the seasons of The Expanse, nor read the books that the TV show is based on, you may wish to hop online to get a briefing (but beware spoilers).

Here's the product blurb:

Don't Wait For A Countdown. Launch Right Into the Action.
We've got the crew assembled and ready. Strap into your ship and go full-burn toward adventure across the Solar System. The Expanse Roleplaying Game uses the AGE system to explore the science fiction universe created by James S. A. Corey. 

The Expanse RPG Quickstart includes everything you and your friends need to play your first game except some six-sided dice and pencils: condensed rules to help you learn how to play, six pre-generated characters ready for action, and Cupbearer—a complete adventure that sends the crew on a job aboard Ganymede Station.

I myself am curious about how they handle explaining to folks who may not be as versed in hard science fiction (or, indeed, real-world physics) how deadly adventuring in space really is. I'll be downloading this shortly.

Star Trek Adventures: Science Division Supplement

I've been waiting for this one to come out before I pick up all the division supplements and review them. And is that a Kzin on the cover? Hope so -- it would be interesting to see a crew with Klingons and Kzinti represented -- especially with a certain short story that was turned into a ST: TOS Animated Series episode involving them. They certainly weren't part of the Federation at the time...

Here's the product blurb:

The Sciences Division supplemental rulebook provides Gamemasters and Players with a wealth of new material for use in Star Trek Adventures for characters in the sciences division. The Sciences Division supplemental rulebook includes: This book requires the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook to use.

Detailed description of the sciences division, covering both the science and medical departments, Starfleet Exploratory Division, Starfleet Science, and Starfleet Medical.

  • An expanded list of Talents and Focuses for science and medical characters, as well as new character creation choices for cybernetic and genetic enhancements.
  • Guidance on creating truly strange and unique alien species, as well as advice on including spatial anomalies,parallel universes, the Q, and time travel in your adventures.
  • A list of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, and rules for their inclusion in Star Trek Adventures.
  • Advice on creating plot components that focus on their scientific and medical Player Characters, as well as information on including counselors in a campaign.
  • Rules for creating new, truly alien species, introducing hazardous and hostile environments into scenes, and new mechanics for suffering or curing diseases.
  • Detailed descriptions and game statistics for a range of Science and Medicine focused NPCs and Supporting Characters, including Carol Marcus, Noonian Soong, and Zephram Cochrane.

The Star Trek Adventures supplementary rulebooks and sourcebooks require the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook in order to play.

TM & © 2019 CBS Studios Inc. © 2019 Paramount Pictures Corp. STAR TREK and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Over the Edge (3rd Edition)

I never bought the 2nd edition -- all my print materials (which I've hung onto) are 1st edition, and it's thrilling to see how they might've updated the system and the setting for the modern era. A lot has changed -- greater geopolitical awareness, shifts in societal norms, and a greater preponderance of weird fiction in popular media. I'm getting ready to buy this while it's on sale...

Here's the product blurb:

During your stay with us, please remember that Liberty is Job One, Disarmament Means Peace, It’s Polite to Speak English, and, of course, Paranormal Activity is perfectly legal.

Thank you for your consent.

The Edge is the weirdest city in the world. Get into trouble. Question your place in the crazed multiverse. Transcend mortal limits. Join a cult. Fight a baboon. Along the way, you might find out who really controls humanity. Unless, of course, you’ve been working for Them all along.

Over the Edge is the classic RPG of counter-culture conspiracy, weird science, and urban danger. For its third edition, the game comes roaring back in a completely reimagined relaunch by its original creator. Everything old gets a new take. Nothing is a retread. Every conspiracy, every neighborhood, every major gamemaster-character is portrayed with a new spin. It’s not “25 years later.” Everything on the Island is reborn to surprise new and existing players alike.

Pick it up if you're got an itch to see Al Amarja again for the first time.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Things I Learned From Champions: Maximum Movement Determines The Limits of Your Sandbox

In my early days of RPG play, the limits of where you could go were defined by the walls of the corridors and rooms of the dungeon map. You often had a handful of choices at most in any given room, when you wanted to decide where to go next.

Eventually, after leveling up in power and stature, the edges of the adventuring world were pushed back -- flight and dimension doors allowed you to break out of dungeon edges. Wilderness adventures allowed you to choose any direction in which to travel -- though you were limited by how far you could travel in a turn, or an hour, or a day. But eventually, with the right equipment, the right spells, the right artifacts, you could break through these limits too.

But in Champions, you can pour a lot of your points into movement as a beginning character and already push back the edges of the gaming sandbox to a degree that might stun some beginning GMs.

A Staggering Selection of Movement

Even if you forego pumping points into a single movement power, the type of movement power can already chip away at those sandbox borders:
  • Jump can allow you to hurdle impassable crevasses or leap out of a deep gladiator arena (much to the surprise of whichever would-be emperor is maligning your heroes);
  • Tunneling will allow you to make your own corridors (and even close them up after you, if you pay the points);
  • Flight allows you to not only overcome nasty traps like pitfalls or slides, it also allows you overcome barriers like mountains and impassable rivers;
  • Teleport obviously allows you to bypass innumerable types of barriers without traveling through the intervening space (which could be filled with gas, invisible traps, monsters, etc.)
In fact, if you think about iconic heroes, a great part of their character is associated with a given movement power: Superman has flight, the Flash has running, Aquaman has swimming, Spider-man has swinging from a web, and so on. This freedom of movement is one of the defining aspects of super-heroism.

Faster than a Speeding Bullet

But overloading points into a single movement power also grants freedom of movement. Putting enough points into running will allow you to go anywhere on the hexgrid map in a single phase. Adding MegaScale to your flight or your teleport will allow you to go anywhere in the world (at the cost of a little / a lot of accuracy.

In other words, enough points in the right movement power will shatter the walls of your sandbox:

  • "The only other person who knows the secret is halfway around the world."
  • "We'll never get this kidney to the East Coast on time -- we have to find another way!"
  • "How will we check the entire northern border of the state for the lost child?"

Control for Control's Sake?

Of course, we're all familiar with the frustrations of a DM who didn't allow you to go beyond the edges of the sandbox because of a weak reason. We all know the human limits on all GMs that prevent them from creating an infinitely detailed, fractal world -- but we don't like it when the borders of reality are so obviously arbitrary. We want some kind of consistent level of verisimilitude before we'll agree to the edges of a super-hero sandbox.

So we learned to talk to our GMs about the types of games they wanted to us to be able to play. We'd accept in-game, temporary reasons to nerf our powers for a single session (happens in comics anyway). We'd not play certain characters for certain adventure types -- all for the fun of the game.

But we'd never permanently allow that movement power to be taken away, as it was central to the character's concept.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Campaign Frame: Metahuman Investigations

In trying to come up with a campaign frame that allows (a) players to rotate through different characters; (b) some players to appear occasionally; (c) a coherent story throughline, I looked to a series of books for inspiration:

Sugar & Spike: Metahuman Investigations collects the stories of Sugar and Spike (all grown up now), as they solve cases and problems for some of the biggest names in the DC Universe (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman). It's a mix of embracing stories from the Silver Age and carrying them forward into modern day -- and how to address any lingering consequences from things like old bat-costumes and an island in the shape of Superman!

From this, I'd take the premise of being hired by known movers and shakers from the meta-human realm and addressing smaller problems of theirs that may have grave consequences for normals caught in their particular kind of gravity. It's a variant on the old triskaidekaturion campaign frame that I wrote about before.

The benefits of this campaign are relatively low-powered starting characters, a way to drip feed aspects of your world's history through an active investigation, and some interesting enemies and allies that you meet along the way.

Chase was a comic book series starring an agent of the DEO (Department of Extranormal Operations).  The DEO was interesting, since its remit was to identify, monitor, and neutralize any metahuman threats to national security.

Different from the premise above, this assumes a government interest in keeping the world of normals safe from the metahuman realm. It also suggests an active role from government agencies seeking to gather information about all metahumans, and quite possibly strike teams and assassins tasked with taking out threats that super-heroes can't or won't address in a way that the government would prefer. With something like this, can't imagine that the Joker would stay alive for very long -- unless he somehow manages to fool them with misinformation or is a far greater threat than we understand.

Both of these deal with low-level (or lopsided) metahumans or talented normals attempting to keep the normal world safe in a world of metahumans. There's a rich tapestry of allies, neutrals, and enemies as individuals and organizations across a historical context that can make adventures less of a sequence of clashes, and more of an unfolding mystery that culminates in a climactic resolution.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Note to Self: The Armchair Gamer Blog Cycle (Q1 2019)

Trying to set up a regular set of containers for blogging, until I'm back in the habit again. My current areas of interest are:

  • all the superheroic material on TV and the big screen
  • comics (classic and new) and their multi-faceted canon
  • return to Enigmundia (my alternate takes on the Mystara corner of the D&D multiverse)
  • the Hero System
  • all these FATE and PBTA game systems which run counter to my decades of more traditional gaming tastes
  • cross-time / cross-dimensional RPG settings
  • space opera / science fiction gaming
Seems like a lot, and am trying to get a good handle on each so I can set up a notes-and-outline incubator on my apps, so I can easily write from them.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Mining the Titans: S01E01 "Titans"

"Mining the Titans" is a series of blog posts about using elements of the TV show Titans for your superheroic RPG campaigns.

The TV show is definitely a grittier rebooted version of the comic book The New Teen Titans. There are elements familiar to fans of that original comic book: some of the original cast (Robin, Raven, Starfire, and Changeling), the Trigon / Raven conundrum as the primary reason for the team's formation, hints about an older team (Wonder Girl, Hawk & Dove), etc.

Introduction of Characters

It's interesting to see this as a super-heroic team forming with a variety of backgrounds:
  • Dick Grayson (Robin) as the experienced PC, clearly with a long backstory that is referenced and drip-fed throughout the series along with Dick Grayson's subplot of trying to define his identity apart from Bruce Wayne / Batman.
  • Rachel Roth (Raven) as a newly minted PC with a traumatic origin story that also serves as the catalyst for the team getting together.
  • Kory Anders (Starfire) as another new PC, with the "amnesia that will slowly fade" schtick serving as the hook to allow the gradual reveal of her backstory, abilities, and skills slowly reveal themselves.
  • Gar Logan (Beast Boy / Changeling) as, perhaps, an NPC hero turned PC for the purposes of this new campaign.
An interesting choice: giving almost everyone (Gar's character isn't given almost any screentime in this episode) a reason NOT to go to the authorities.
  • Robin's secret ID and vigilante status are self-explanatory.
  • Rachel seems to be the target of several people (one highly motivated 'killer for the greater good', and an apparently very large organization with members in soup kitchens and the police) who want to killer her, or use her for whatever nefarious purposes they may hide in their dark hearts.
  • Kory is hunted by an apparent organized crime group that is also interested in Rachel.
These pressures will force them together as a team, even as their personality clashes and goals might force them apart. These forces would also allow the GM to define and reveal the hostile, neutral, and safe spaces of the world for the individual and the team in a very organic way. In classic reboot style, many references (meta-hints for the players, not the PCs) are generously spread throughout the unfolding of the storyline.

Combat and Use of Powers

The show is more violent than cartoons: Robin's combat scenes aren't about efficiently taking out criminals -- it shows this universe's view of the vigilante using the fear of violence against criminals (short of killing them, we assume). The manifestations of both Raven's and Starfire's powers are lethal to their targets -- again, almost as if Robin's player was an experienced gamer (a more extended combat scene), while the others are beginners (not quite combat, more of an introduction on how their powers can be used in combat).

This can be an approach GMs use as well -- giving all players a chance to strut their stuff, but with the experienced ones getting a bit more challenge in tactics.