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World Building 200 – First steps

Ok so I know I have been non-posting, but hinting at the start of the 200 series of world building. So ya know what? Despite how much I know my friend over at Dan On Games is looking forward to a rant of some kind I am going to start here instead and categorize it as a rant 🙂 HAH!

So what the heck do I mean by First Steps? Well just like with building any other type of world or setting for any game or fiction you have a few things you need to know about your setting that can be summed up in a few questions. Once you get these down then you can really sort out the rest of it fairly quickly… well… as long as you have a little time, some imagination, a few other settings to steal from, oh and did I mention a little time… undisturbed… without other things going on… cause other wise this sort of thing takes forever. I mean if you have a job, and a life outside of gaming… well then…

Heh… see how I snuck the rant in there… 🙂

Anyway the questions that you need to ask to get to building a sci-fi setting/world are really similar to fantasy, or any other world really. The ones that I find the most important to answer go like this…

1 – Hard sci-fi, space opera, or pulp sci-fi? What you have here is the biggest aspect of sci-fi. Much like how much magic goes into a fantasy setting. Hard sci-ci is based on known science. Or even theoretical science that seems really plausible without a too much of a stretch. In hard sci-fi you will keep referring back to the science. A lot.. There are a lot of cyberpunk and a few hard sci-fi games out there that are good examples of this concept. Space Opera is more like Star Wars and Star Trek. You can mention the science but it is so advanced that you cant explain it so you don’t even try. You can use the science as color comments if you have a really good idea or want to make something dramatic, but it is not as important as in hard sci-fi. Pulp sci-fi is a category I may have made up for myself, but if you look back at the classic pulp sci-fi stories and the movies from the 40’s and 50’s that really got into the pulp style of sci-fi then you can see that they usually treated science with a mix of the space opera and the hard sci-fi at the same time. I mean that if you want to make a death ray out of a toaster to take on the 11th dimensional invading pumpkin people you better make sure you have three paperclips and a can opener… because SCIENCE!

Each one has something to recommend in it. Each one can be a heck of a lot of fun. All of them can be silly, or dramatic. Even with the little bit I put in there about pulp and science, it can be very dark and very serious for the characters, it is just the science itself that can seem, well, kinda like MacGyver on crack. There are a ton of other types of sci-fi but these three I find the easiest to start with.

2 – How important are humans? This is a very serious question to be asking in any sci-fi setting. You can find a lot of settings in which humans are the only sentient species. You can find even more in which humans are one of hundreds if not thousands of sentient species. You can find in the ones where there are hundreds of species that humans have been relegated to slave status in the universe, and others where they are the heads of empires. You can even find settings in which you question if humans are really human any more. The reason this is so important is because most sci-fi stories need a way to be relate-able to the players. And when you are dealing with technology that may seem like magic, and things that go outside of all current expectations of the future, a human being is going to be the way to tie things together and give you the most common point of reference.

In fantasy we look at how many races you want to have in a setting. And you will need to do that in sci-fi as well. But deciding the scope of human influence and impact will actually help you define that better.

3 – How big is the known universe? That question is going to seem to be a little misleading at first. But take it in the context of the previous question. What do humans know about what is out there? Are they still in their home solar system? Are they stuck to a single world? Do they roam the galaxy? This question is really just like the one for fantasy where we look at how big the world is. If you know the scope of your genre for the setting and you know how important humans are, you can give this a much needed look.

Now then unlike a fantasy setting where you need to have a really good idea of the primary environment (world/continents/nations) in sci-fi you can actually make up a lot of it as you need it a lot easier. You just have to take good notes as you go so you can call up worlds, or asteroid communities, or wandering groups of space stations as you go. You still will need to define your starting point rather well. But that goes for any type of game setting. It is just that this time the starting point is not limited to being a city or a nation, it can be just about anything.

4 – How far are we from today? This question will really lock in the flavor of your setting. I mean if we are in a galaxy hopping setting that is just next week… that is going to be completely different than a setting that is galaxy hopping a thousand years from now. It makes a big difference for what is human relate-able in regards to technology. And the sense of human achievement is going to be different. It will change the roles that people have in their lives regardless of race or gender. The jobs that can be done and even how trade and commerce are impacted.

You will notice that none of these questions actually try to define the technology. Talk about ships or how things move in space if you are even in space. These questions don’t ask what roles or classes of characters are going to be involved. They are all designed to get you thinking about scope. About how you want to define the realm you are creating.

Now then I have a setting mapped out and the following World Building 200 series will be answering these questions and adding some additional details to flesh out the world/s that are coming. Personally I am not trying to build a traditional sci-fi setting. So my answers to questions may seem a little weird. Then again this whole blog may seem a little weird. 🙂

Ok so that’s enough of a post for now.

Gimme the dice, I gotta give MacGyver a saving throw against science crack.

Play safe, and play well friends.

 

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Long time no post

Hey there readers.

Between my wife and I working on the room in our house we call the library… building custom home made book shelves and other fun work, I have been distracted on weekends. And over the last two weeks I have not even been able to get online on my main computer, so I may be looking at getting a new one… I mean this awesome little beast still runs on Vista so…

Anyway. World Building, the 200 series is still in the works, I just have a few more important things in life that I need to work on right at the moment. Dont worry, I have not forgotten. Oh and there are reviews pending as well for games and supplements and a couple of rants I want to articulate.

So yeah, Gimme The Dice is still here, still alive, and all that good stuff. Sorry to make you all wait, but, life… yeah 🙂

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Update on World Building and ‘That Guy’

Ok so to be totally honest last weekend I just had too much on my mind and wanted too badly to relax to even think about putting up a post.

So I have decided that for World Building 200 series I will be working on a Sci Fi world. A lot of people have tried to tell me that Sci Fi is the hardest of settings to work with. I disagree. There are a lot of options sure. And I will be walking through several of them. However there is a lot more to consider if you are going to build up a solid and sustainable Supers environment. Seriously. Supers will be the 300 series for world building and then you will see what I am talking about.

Ok so getting on to ‘That Guy’. Disclaimer – Yeah I know there are female gamers. Tons of them. And they fit the role of ‘That Gal’ but typing Guy/Gal or coming up with something witty like ‘Galuy’ just feels forced and non-conversational. Not trying to slight anyone or be a sexist ass. Because if I am truly being fair then I have to go beyond cisgender or transgender or non gender and that gets messy and so if I am going to play it neutral as hell I would have to say ‘That Person’ but someone would take offence to that too. So screw it I am using ‘That Guy’ and you will just have to roll with it.

Every gaming group has one. If they are a rules lawyer, a bad player overall, someone who just gets to bloody enthused about the game, the ultimate geek, the lucky roller… whatever stereo type they fit, whatever role they fill in your gaming group, they are unforgettable. The funny thing is that in almost every game group you will find that ‘That Guy’ is remembered by everyone. What they did wrong, how lucky they got when they got it right, how they must have cheated, and on and on.

Want to know a secret?

EVERY game player ever, is ‘That Guy’.

No joke. You may not figure it out until years later but everyone is memorable in their table top game groups. EVERYONE ends up having a signature move, an incredible event, a bad habit, or other feature that will make them stick in memory. Even the guy who just sat there an nodded and maybe smiled once in the three years they were at the game table.

The reason I am bringing this up is because I talked to someone recently who had no idea that they had ever been ‘That Guy’. They had thought that everyone else in their game group had a signature of some kind and that they had just gamed. None of the gamers they had associated with had ever told them they were ‘That Guy’, that they had done something memorable or had a pattern that everyone found predictable.

So why am I bringing this up?

I would just like my fellow gamers; male, female, trans, cis and every other option out there; to consider just what kind of ‘That Guy’ they want to be. If you know now that you will be remembered, that you will have an impact on others, how do you play that?

I am sure that every gamer out there has stories about ‘That Guy’ that made them want to play more, or quit gaming, or even go all stabby at the game table. I have met so many versions of ‘That Guy’ it is hard to say what ones have had the most impact. I mean I can tell you stories about ‘That Guy’ that almost made me quit playing LARP games. And the one that showed me not everyone was an asshole. I can tell you stories about ‘That Guy’ who made so many stupid errors in games that we thought he might have a hard time with basic thought, but damn he was enthusiastic about gaming and loved everything, even his mistakes. I can tell you about ‘That Guy’ who ruined a specific RPG for me. And I can tell you so many others it is ridiculous.

Are you getting the point?

To paraphrase DC Comics the Martian Manhunter (sorry but I cannot quote issue I just know it goes to him unless he stole it too) “Everyone is someones ‘That Guy'(alien).”

So really. Think about it before you sit down at your next game session. Know you will be remembered. You will have an affect on other gamers. You will leave a mark.

What do you want to be remembered for?

Ok gimme the dice, I gotta see if that warrants a dramatic exit crit or not… 🙂

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No review this week

Hey all readers. So I found there is a spam filter for the contents on the site… not sure how my bud over at DanOnGames got bumped over there but I had to unlock a few of his comments. Hopefully setting him as NOT SPAM, no really you freakin sock monkies he is not spam… sheesh.

Anyway that also got me looking over previous posts and what seemed to grab the most traffic. And low and behold it looks like more than the reviews folks seem to like the world building. So it looks like to help drive viewership I will get back to building worlds for everyone to steal a little faster than I planned.

However I will not go into building another fantasy world right off the bat. No no no. I am going to swing over to sci-fi or supers first. Not sure which yet, but I am building a soundtrack for… something… it will hopefully tell me what it is…

To give you a small idea of things that are going into the soundtrack check the following links… Some of these are a little explicit in language… well at least some will think so.

Ok so thats the teaser of whats to come. Hope everyone has a happy and safe fourth if you are in the states. And yes… cousins in the midwest… I am looking at you and your coolers and previously posted vids and pics… YOU BE CAREFUL too 🙂

All righty gimme the dice, I need a saving throw for Mondays….

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Game Review #16 – The Wheel of Time RPG

Ok so here I am hiding from the heat (yeah yeah I know its not all THAT hot, but I only really enjoy temps up to 65 degrees), and making sure my music keeps pumping. All so I could go over a couple of new game books my wife got me (she heard I was having a bad day during the week and picked up some great food and a couple of first ed D&D books on her way home. If that is not the definition of a loving wife there needs to to be a freakin update because that was just awesome). And also here comes a new review.

A few weeks ago I got a gift from a dear friend The Wheel of Time RPG. Now then this is an item that has been on my get list for a while. So while my main man over there at Dan On Games got me the gift, there is a serious history here. See my friend and I were in high school together when Robert Jordan‘s first book in the Wheel of Time was published. And as you can imagine, a couple of game geeks, with a strong new fantasy setting that starts with three teen male leads and a couple of female teen leads, written in a way that would make Tolkien go ‘Dayyyumnn!’, or at least in my mind it would, yeah we both got a little hooked.

Anyway, it took a while but Wizards of the Coast created a little system called d20 in 2000 that they put their latest version of D&D into. With that under their hat they created several licensed products using that game engine and the Wheel of Time RPG was one of them. And really no that is not the full story, that is why I put all the bloody links in these things these days so I don’t have to write all of history over and over again. So tell me how this all started… “Well first the earth cooled and then the dinosaurs came, and they got big and died and then” Yeah, no, I don’t have time for that.

Anyway, the Wheel of Time RPG came to us in 2001 amidst a flurry of other products that were all using the d20 open game license (no you don’t get a link for that one, you should know your way to Wikipedia by now). And to be totally honest at that time we were on book eight or so of the series and things seemed to be taking sooooooooo long that I really did not want to add the game to my collection at the time. Even to dissect yet another version of the d20 system. So instead interest on my side fades until about 2010 when I start rereading the series, and then the hunt began. Not in earnest mind you but if I would have found it I would have picked it up. Last year shortly after the wedding I started reading the series again while on the train back and forth to work (yea I have a regular job and have to commute… I have told you people this like a… no… no I am not going to get off track again.) and so I dropped it on my Amazon wish list just in case anyone could find it for the Yule/Xmas season. And then tahhh dahhh. Gift come round. So yeah, now I have it.

I have played plenty of d20 variants. And this one is not too bad. There are a few things I take issue with in the way they implemented the game mechanics to really reflect how the Wheel of Time world works. The reasons I have issue is… well I will go into that in a bit. Basically if you have ever played a d20 or D&D 3.0 game engine game you will be able to slip into this one with ease. Picking up and running with all the details, not as easy.

So what sort of set up do we have here. Well… let me just grab the good and bad I see to try and give you some of the details.

Good – Instead of giving all human characters (of which you should have 99% human characters in a WoT game) one extra feat, and four extra skill points, you take a background. In that background (all based on regions that your character came from) you have a choice of certain feats, and certain skills. You pick one of each. The feat counts as what you would usually see as the bonus feat for being human. The skill becomes a class skill (meaning it has a cheap cost to raise the level of for folks who don’t know the system) and gets four skill points in it. The background also gives you set languages, and also gives you some starting equipment that does not count against your starting monies (designated by your starting character class). They can also give you some serious restrictions when it comes to initial equipment, like no swords for an Aiel. Now some people would see this as limiting. I see it as a great way to establish solid role playing for whatever region your character comes from, and if you play a character that is even slightly perceptive they can pick up on this in game if someone is in disguise.

Good – Initial skill points are not going to be below 4+INT bonus x 4. There are in the base classes two that only offer 2+INT bonus x 4. And that really limits what a character can do outside of combat.

Good – They really try to fit all of the monsters they can from the books in (well up through book eight of the series anyway).

Good – They do a great job giving the feel of the world in the books. Region descriptions and details about the people are great. And some of the more magical things like The Ways (hidden paths created by magic (the One/True Power) that cross over space via a hidden dimension) get good write ups that help you feel how they could be used in a game.

Good – Equipment details help take all the terms that are used in the books by various cultures and give you something to look at directly and a slightly better description that Mr. Jordan did so that you can get into playing the items with your character.

Bad – While they include almost every human culture in the core rule book they leave out the Seanchan, the Tuatha’an, and the Shara.  While they are mentioned in Other Places, and a little about the Seanchan’s use of the One Power is discussed, they put nothing in place to allow you to play a member of those cultures directly. If they would have listed them as monsters (and in the case of the Seanchan I could believe that) I would understand it. But considering the fact they make the Sea Folk playable kinda takes any other valid reason they could present off the board. It would have added maybe twelve pages total to the book. But no. Not there. Even as bad guys.

Bad – Speaking of bad guys, there is no alignment in this game. The setting rather clearly defines good and evil on its own, however the axis of law versus chaos not so much. While it does not have a major impact on game play mechanics, I think it has an impact on role playing. In a game without a way to say a character has a code of behavior or other items to guide the play of good and evil you can roll anywhere at any time. And that can open up a whole realm of challenges a game master may not want to face.

Bad – Ta’veren. O k so in the stories this is the same as being “the One”, “Chosen”, “Destined for something greater” and so on. Instead of putting a solid mechanic of any kind into place they give a short side bar that says something along the lines of, you cant choose this and not all destines are great, a character may posses this trait for a short time. It usually comes with a stat boost to charisma, and whatever else the DM feels is needed. Ok I know that players want to be the heroes or villains of their own stories. But seriously. This is weak sauce. Personally I would have put a progressive mechanic in place. Based on the number of sessions or stories, how much bonus do you get. Or maybe based on impact on the world at large. And apparently the charisma bonus is supposed to simulate the ability of the Ta’veren seen in the books to gather people to them and influence how groups, not individuals but full on organizations or nations will react. Nah, its just weak. And its use on the NPC’s is… sigh…

Bad – The Source, making weaves, using the One Power. Ok I will give them this, they really tried. All in all the mechanic works. However it is clunky and unless you want to have a character who is totally focused on magic from day one and you are willing to wait until you have at least one Prestige class (advanced character classes for those not in the loop. They have requirements that you need to meet in a base class before you can take levels in them) and be at a fairly high level, the effect you are going to have in the game is minimal unless you are willing to risk burning out your powers every time you cast something, oh and if your character is male you will be going mad as you risk your power. To really make things worth while with this mechanic you need to burn every feat you can to make magic low enough impact to use regularly. Now then some people would say that this properly reflects the books. And to a degree it does and that is what makes it worth exploring. How ever the first character I made, a male who could channel burnt out his powers the very first time he tried to cast a weave. So, now I have a character who has a wasted level. All because I wanted to actually be able to affect the opponent I had set up (another first level character by the way). Because by the rules if you have burnt out, or been stilled your powers can be brought back (not easy at all), but you will be two levels lower in effect. So… I would have a -1 level caster if you count zero. Soooo yeah. I like some of the ideas they have for this, like a sliding level for weaves (spells) and how you can over channel (how I got into trouble because my first level weaves had no effect) but the way they are implemented means you have to make a very, very restricted character to make it work, and anyone I have played with will tell you that is sort of not my style.

Ok so that is a lot to take in, how about I simplify things and do my little rating bit?

Overall Fluff 4/5 – The detailing of everything in this book is great. I mean even the intro by Robert Jordan is totally cool. However they are missing a few essential cultures. If they are in the one supplemental book that was published that is great for that book. But in this one I gotta take a point off because to me it just hurt too much.

Overall Crunch 3/5 – Rules there are a plenty, but missing alignment and the way they made the One Power work… it just. I can’t say its better than a three because there is work to do here.

Overall Mod 4/5 – BWAHAHAHA, yeah its D&D 3.0 d20. I can mod this. I can mod the hell out of it. The amount of work I see to get the Channeling system working better though goes beyond what I normally consider fun in a mod kinda way.

Overall Fun 3/5 – Ok so the reason why fun is so low here is actually due to those missing cultures and the work I will be doing to make the magic/channeling system work better. I really wanted to play with those less common cultures, as friend and foe.

Total Score 14/20 – Ok so this seems like a low-ish score. It is not that bad really. And overall I think there is a LOT of great material here to work with. Plus the things they did explore in the setting have just enough flavor to get you running but not so over flavored that you cannot build on it and make it your own.

So as usual this is my opinion and if you dont like it… ask my wife before you bite me. 🙂 heh

But seriously if you can find a copy then you should look it over if you are a fan of d20 or a fan of Wheel of Time and make a choice for yourself if its the game you have been seeking.

Ok I am out. Time to beat the heat and start thinking about what I am gonna set up for my wife for dinner.

Gimme the dice, I gotta see if we have a random food encounter coming 🙂

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Excuses Excuses

Ok ok so it has been a while again.

Illness, injury, work load, working on improvements to the house, life obligations, friend obligations and more.

Ok and lets add Dr Who’s new season and Flash and Arrow dropping on NetFlix. Just for complete disclosure.

Needless to say there is a lot going on in life right now and while the blog here is a pleasure it had to take a back seat. I will still have things going on this weekend so I have to put the blog off until next week.

The plan for next week is to do a review of an awesome gift I have received. The Wheel of Time RPG. Done in the d20 system for D&D 3.0.

Now then while you wait for a full on blog post I want to ask folks out there a question about the d20 system for D&D 3.0. There were a lot of licensed and original settings created using it. When we talk licensed we have to talk about things like

  • Wheel of Time
  • Red Star
  • Star Wars
  • Farscape

And in the other category you might want to think about games that made versions of themselves in d20 like

  • Guardians of Order – Big Eyes Small Mouth
  • White Wolf – Trinity setting (Aeon, Aberrant, Adventure)
  • White Wolf – World of Darkness
  • TSR?? – Gamma World

As to original settings, there were dozens with one of my personal favorites being Spy Craft.

Now then with all these products basing themselves out of the same SRD (System Reference Document) and supposedly tied by the OGL (Open Game License), you would think that they all would be balanced and play well with each other. Welllllll that was not really the case. Folks tried but… yeah… did not always work that well.

So I was wondering if any of the readers out there have ever done cross overs, or super crossovers and just tossed balance to the winds and said screw it if you can find a character class and race bring it to the table and lets rock?

I did it a few times with a few game groups and it got… strange… quick. What happened to you?

Ok so thats it for now. Gimme the dice, I gotta see if I can roll up another excuse from the d18 table of excusology table…

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Epic Adventures

Good gods. Three weeks without a blog post. Ok while I will take full responsibility for not putting a serious priority on the blog, well, so goes life. I wont try to list all the personal and work things going on that took higher priority in that time frame. And I will not make excuses for putting my oldest friend first next weekend with his reception party for his recent wedding. Nor for putting my wife first and taking her on a vacation to the coast while we make our way to said reception event. So to my loyal reader/s who show up with regularity and read every one of these posts, now you know whats up. And if someone got me a job posting these things and creating wild and crazy ideas for adventures and worlds, well then and only then would I be here on a permanent basis. 🙂

So with all that out of the way, we can ask the usual type of question, what the hell does he mean by Epic Adventures?

So Epic Adventures, also known in some parts as Adventure Paths are a series of adventures and encounters set up to bring a group of player characters in a level based game setting from level one up to the top levels of play. The first example that I am aware of (please note that I say aware of, because there are likely more out there that I dont know of as this is a fairly cool concept) was Castle Greyhawk. This was originally published back in 1988 by TSR for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. It was intended to be a series of comedy adventures in a single castle that you could bring your players back to from time to time to unwind a little from more intense stories. However if you really cleared things out and did not mind creeping through humor all the time you could make it from level one to level 20 or so depending on classes by the time you cleared all the levels under the castle. While the next was not intended to have you start at first level, you could with a little tweaking make it work and that was The Ruins of Undermountain also published by TSR, this time in 1991. What made Undermountain and its sequel/add on  was that it was not designed to be anything more than a serious dungeon crawl adventure. However with good work by a good DM you could make it an ongoing campaign.

Later on you would see things like the Shackled City campaign that was originally published in series in Dungeon magazine in 2003, The Worlds Largest Dungeon published in 2004, and a TON of adventure paths set up by Piazo for Pathfinder. The later offerings went past meeting in a bar and starting up a series of raids to gain levels. They plotted a story, gave NPCs background and gave characters a reason to keep things going.

Dont get your undies in a bundle that I am not mentioning your favorite module series. While nearly every game system out there has published adventures that take a story-line over multiple modules (DC Heroes, Star Frontiers, Marvel Super Heroes, and all generations of D&D to name a few) there are a lot of notable exceptions (Champions, GURPS, and SLA Industries once again to name a few). But the reason I am not bringing them up right now is because while they may tell a story over a few adventures, they are not epics that can get characters from the start of their career to the very top of their game. There are also a few publishers that have made a full story-line out of their entire publication series, but only if you pay attention (Shadowrun and the original World of Darkness (all five main games) make great examples here). This last concept is usually referred to as a Meta Plot which means that not mater what you do or where you go you are playing in the same story line.

Now then these epics all have one really big challenge. The players. If they go off the rails of the story/adventure the GM has set up before them, well things go pear shaped really quick. Or at least they can. If the person running the game has prepped for their players to run out at just about any part of the game, then things will not go off the rails at all really.

For myself I happen to love epic stories. However I also happen to know that every group I have ever played with likes to go outside the lines of the story and may want to chase down very minor plot threads that could seem like a waste of time in the overall plot. Actually I have had game groups run from the main plot right at the get go. And while it will occasionally get frustrating, I have a method of working around that. I call it the Epic Clock. I put down a time line for things to happen in on the main plot. If the characters get involved then sure they are the chosen ones. If they run from it, well then whomever else becomes the chosen ones will either save everything or things will get messed up without them. This also means though that the characters can get involved at any time. Either being at the right place at the right point in the time line, or by finding a sub plot of some kind that leads them back into the main story/plot. Also I have a distaste for just setting up modules as offered for an epic. In recent times I have taken some old D&D modules (Basic, AD&D and AD&D 2nd ed) and put them into series so that they create an epic. All of these modules are fairly easy to modify into Pathfinder so I dont have to change too many NPCs or monsters in extreme ways. Or I just build my own out of whole cloth.

Now then dont think this keeps me from running one off nights, or even one off series. But having a over arching epic, and a timeline gives me something to run everything against.

I dont do this too often but I would actually like to hear from readers on this topic. Do you like one offs, epic stories, meta plots, timelines or just what in adventures? Just reply to the posting and let me know.

Ok signing off for now, so gimme the dice, I need to roll a d10000 to see how big the next adventure is…

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Not feeling the love… Unofficial Review #15

Hey there readers. So I have spoken up a few times about my dislike of G.U.R.P.S. For those of you that don’t know what the heck I am talking about G.U.R.P.S. is an RPG game engine created by Steve Jackson games. And the acronym name stands for Generic Universal Role Playing System. Now then while this article will not be a game review as such, it is going to be more along the lines of a rant.

First things first though. Remember that this is all my opinion and this game may be the very thing you have been looking for all your life. So take me with a grain of salt until you go over the game yourself. The materials published by SJG do have some very strong points, and their other games have been on my play list for a long time.

So let me start out by talking about what I think that SJG has done right with G.U.R.P.S. They worked very hard to make a scale-able universal game engine. In some respects they failed miserably but we will get to that later. Next comes the fact that they have licensed more properties since the game was released in 1986 than any other game engine that I know of, even to the point of licensing other games. The setting supplements that they publish usually have a ton of detail and fluff that can be used with just about any game engine. They make awesome reference material. To be perfectly honest if it was not for the game engine itself I would be hard pressed to find better material. And even though I don’t like the game engine I still have several of the books they have published to use as reference material. The engine is also point based, which should put it high on my list of great games. I love the design control that a point based system gives you, but that love falls apart when the engine becomes unbalanced.

Now then the things I do not think that they have done well revolve all round the game engine itself. I really have three major bones of contention. And while two of them can be worked around (one easily and the other with some serious rules shifting) fixing the third would just kill the game engine and you might as well use something else. And since I don’t feel like surprising anyone by saving that big one for last, lets just start there.

My big and unassailable issue comes from the games stats system. As most gamers will know the stats are the mechanic that you use to define a character in their broadest and bluntest strokes. There are engines out there like Champions that have over a dozen stats to give you clearly defined lines for what the basic character is capable of without skills, tools, powers or anything else. And then you have games like Big Eyes Small Mouth that uses only three stats and each one is very broad. The game mechanics let you refine them further to detail things how you like. G.U.R.P.S. however uses four stats, and three of them define physical traits. And these stats are used to define the majority of the other skills and characteristics that a character can develop. Now then this may work really well in a strategy game, but in an RPG I personally like to establish a baseline for the mental aspects for the character that have nothing to do with their raw intelligence. Now then while G.U.R.P.S. does have positive and negative traits that you can use to gain more of that level of detail, and has a disadvantage system called Quirks that you can use to give some cool little details that can really define the limits of a characters personality, you still have to face off with the fact that your strength of will is going to come down to an intelligence roll. And I don’t know about you but the number of people I know of with a high IQ, well they are not always the most strong willed. When it comes to scaling of the stats I also have a problem. The stats run from zero to twenty just fine. Very scale-able. Very much running up to peak human. However if you get into the truly heroic or superhuman the scaling goes a little, or even more than a little, out of whack. So much so that they had to create a separate point cost system for strength that you can kick in after a value of thirty for cost savings. This problem comes into play even if you are creating an elephant. Disproportion of costs so that you can build what you want. It ends up meaning that in any setting you will have stat values that don’t make sense for everything from animals to aliens just to try and balance the game play and point costs.

The second issue that I have with the G.U.R.P.S. game engine is an item that they put in called an Unusual Background Cost. Now then whenever I have played G.U.R.P.S. I have tossed this thing out. This is an additional cost that you will pay for your character to have something that is uncommon or unusual in the game setting. So if you are playing a spy game and everyone is building characters with 200 points and you want to be able to do minor magic the game master can charge you up to 50 points so that you can do minor magic. I find that lazy as (four letter word starting with F and ending with K). Personally I would call that a cause for a disadvantage. A reason to have the character hunted by gods only knows how many agencies and religious groups. It is something that I can use to build deeper stories and it gives me a reason to add weird stuff into the game. And if I don’t want that in a game I say NO. Really easy just say that the setting does not support that. End of issue. I mean, seriously… what… the.. FUC… is wrong here. So ok as I said this is the easiest to fix, just throw the dumb ass rule out. However it bothers me to think that game masters need to have a stick like this to either enforce the world they want to use, or have absolutely no ability to say no to players when it will screw up the setting. SIGH… ok… moving on…

Third issue that I have is the way that skills and powers get built out. Just to give you a quick basic way to go about things…. lets see here… Ahh yes. Most folks can relate to fights in RPGs, so lets take a look at punching someone. First we need to know your DX (dexterity) Punching is covered by Brawling so we put points into brawling. But I want to use martial arts so that means I now have to use my Karate or Judo skill which defaults to Brawling that defaults to DX. But if I have a specific technique I may have advantages I have to purchase and then a technique skill that is based off of Karate that is based off of Brawling that is based off DX. Now then if I want to be really good at that one technique, I just really want to use my Martial Master Plucks the Flowers punch better than anything else, and my character concept would agree that everything else I do in a fighting style sucks… I still have to buy up my Brawling and then my Karate and then my technique because I cannot exceed my base skills by more than a certain amount. Ok so my thinking here is how many people might you know that can cook one thing really well, but they destroy everything else? Or can draw one image over and over but then have problems with stick figures? Or or or or or… Now then the sad thing is that powers are built in the same way. Be they magical or super human, they do the game bloody thing. And if you have a power you need a specific skill to use it (back in first edition you also had another step in there where you had to roll one skill to hit something and another to hurt it on top of paying for the actual power to do anything with). This can be fixed, to a degree by cutting out middle skills, removing prerequisites and a few other things. But if you are going that far do you really want to use the engine anyway.

Now then I freely admit that I have not played G.U.R.P.S. since third edition. I have heard that they updated several things but it is really hard to get past twenty years of annoyed and try again.

Overall how would I rate the game I have ranting about, just remember this is for the WHOLE enchilada of G.U.R.P.S. not just the main rule book or any one supplement, this is an all or nothing…

  1. Fluff – 5/5 – They have some cool stuff
  2. Crunch – 0/5 – I really dislike these rules and I… I just cant
  3. Mod – 0/5 – Oh you can mod the hell out of it, you have to, then it still wont play well
  4. Fun – 2/5 – Some of the supplements really rock, when used with another engine.
  5. Total over all score 7/20 – You have my sympathy if you play this game.

Ok so let me finish off this crap sandwich here. I have never been impressed with G.U.R.P.S. I quit even trying after third edition. While the game engine, to me, is one of the worst with all the flaws, the supplemental materials, worlds, settings, references and so on are almost all awesome. And when they get a licensed product they treat the materials with respect and go into levels of detail that really impress me. And I know the game system has been hideously successful over the last 30+ years, where games that I find more balanced and playable have fallen to the roadside. So maybe I am an outlier, and maybe its just that SJG has more money to toss at marketing and slightly less expensive books. I really don’t know. So as I said, take me with a grain of salt.

Anyway, peace out, play well, and gimme the dice, I need to find out how deep this rabbit hole of skills goes…

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The Bad Guys – Cannibal Castle

WARNING – This post is dark and disturbing in its content. It is also intended in a humorous and informative manner. You have been warned, so don’t bitch about it later if it offends you and you read it anyway.

So I published a bit about the idea of Cannibal Castle a few years back on a gaming fantasy blog I was writing, and I figured after the last entry I would jump into an entry or two about what makes for good bad guys, and for playing them. So any entry starting out with “The Bad Guys” will be one of these.

A little history. Years back there was a time while I was unemployed that I was staying with a couple of guys who wanted to put together a symposium of a different type together for a local sci-fi fantasy convention. Well they came to me and I created Cannibal Castle and the following material. We got turned down, but I kept the material and have even dropped this place into a couple of game worlds I have run. Had a Pathfinder game group who wanted to play bad guys actually get one game session away from getting into the castle before they were too unnerved by playing the bad guys to go on with it.

What I am going to drop here first is the original pitch for the symposium. Our goal was not to really pitch the castle itself, but to get people talking about what is evil and how to put something more unique into their games and stories.

Cannibal Castle Productions

The first annual panel on the care and feeding of the TRULY EVIL.

 This panel is being brought to you to give a look, sometimes silly, at the care and feeding of a truly evil holding. The idea is to give you a look at something so nasty and bizarre that it inspires the creation of nastier villains and challenges that most heroes would probably loose their lunch over.

This years focus will be on keeping the food stores high in your castle thru any and all means possible, the nastier the better of course.

Part 1 – Castle features and their use in feeding the residents.

Torture chambers need to be in the second and third floor of a tower so that it can be used as a meat smoker when you have all the information you need.

Portcullis need to be removable individually so that skewered heroes can be heated up over a nice fire.

Ballista and archers need to fire bolts made from dried hickory or other flavorful woods so that they can be left in the victims to give a nice smoky flavor when cooking your enemies.

Murder holes used in pouring molten fats and oils over invaders need to be cleaned regularly with seasoned boiling hot water to make soup stock.

Underground areas need to be well mapped and trapped so that any and all unwelcome guests can add to the crop of mushrooms that you can grow there.

All vegetables and spices grown in the castle need to not only be flavorful, but also be toxic in high doses so they can do double duty.

Moats should be filled with flammable oils so that they can be used as barbecues during an invasion.

Stables should be kept clean for the storage of the invaders mounts. It is essential to keep them clean and fresh before adding them to the food supply.

At least one underground area needs to be free of running water so that it can be frozen with supplies of winter ice. This is essential for keeping things fresh and for quieting some of the noisier prisoners.

Part 2 – Bringing in the feast.

The fastest way to resupply your meat stock is to find a way to be invaded. This brings the fresh tender meat to your door, no hunting or farming required. A few quick and simple ideas to get this to happen are as follows.

Send out troops to brag about how rich you are. This will attract other evil groups and the poor, the poor are stringy and can be used as slave labor for upkeep, and the evil ones cook up nicely. This also gives you room to expand later.

Send out troops to brag about how evil you are. This will bring in scores of heroes, and as long as you can keep winning it will keep you well fed. Heroes usually cook better than villains anyway.

Send out a raiding party with a declaration of war. For this one you need good men and fast movers that can hairy the opposition and make them want to follow back to the castle in force.

Send out small groups to burn a city or two and leave your calling card. This one serves a dual purpose, it keeps the troops entertained and brings the heroes to your door. Just make sure that all the troops involved know that you get 50% of the take from looting before they head out.

Send out teams to wrangle all the live stock that they can from farms you do not control. This gets you some light eating at first, and as the farmers stock is noticed  gone then you will get more and more heroes coming until you are finally invaded in force. This is good for long term planning and used in conjunction with the fires can be a major morale boost for the troops.

This is a small selection of the options that can be used. If you are evil enough you can come up with more.

Part 3 – Proper equipment and training for your minions/cooks.

This part should be done subtly, if you do not then some wise guy out there will organize against you before you are ready to put things to your advantage. Knowing this gear for the troops should include but not be limited to the following.

Razor sharp skinning knives. Knowing that many of the troops that can knife fight would prefer heavy blades this may be the hardest one to get them to use. Just remind them that heavy knives cost food supplies for later by wasting meat.

Hickory projectiles and portcullis. This means that you have a good nice smoked wood flavor coming from anything that gets impaled.

Flammable oil vials with added spices. Letting the troops pick their own flavors might not be a bad idea, this way they can have a little more of a personal touch when they eat the enemy later.

Extra training in anatomy. This way everyone will know just what the best part of the body to use in the field or at home, what will travel best when smoked, and how long to cook that dwarven leg.

Constant exposure to the gardens. This way your troops can develop immunity to the plants you are growing for double duty as toxins and spices.

Training in the various kinds of oils and there uses. This way they will know just what kind of oils to fill the moat with, and which kinds to add to portable cooking kits.

Part 4 – Hiring Minions

The usual deals that are offered by evil overlords are good but there are better plans and small details like the following can help get the best troops in the area.

First you need to start out with the most ragtag group of losers and cut-throats around. These will be your cannon fodder and build your first income base. Remember that this crew is disposable and you would rather have them all destroyed before you get your first castle built, or taken over.

Second and later groups are only accumulated after the castle is built. You make them the following offers.

  • Base Pay (from the wealth you never paid the first group)
  • 50% of the loot in all raids in your name.
  • 100% of all loot from raids in the troops free time as long as they are approved by you.
  • Additional training to help beat and eat your enemies.
  • A well fortified base of operations.
  • A detailed ranking system in the troops so you know who to backstab without making costly errors.
  • Medical plans (must maintain at least 1 evil cleric make him/her a lieutenant and you will have it easy)
  • Uniforms
  • Global recognition within 5 years.

Part 5 – Relocation

Knowing that eventually Heroes, Kingdoms, and even good aligned spiritual forces will soon align against you and likely hit you with more force than even a well stocked fortress can endure you need to make sure that you have done the following things.

  1. Establish a route of escape that no one but you knows about. No one. Seriously. Kill anyone that finds out about it.
  2. Move at least ½ your wealth to another location regularly. Usually 2 or three locations works better so that even outside raids will not get all of it in one go.

We will go over all this more in detail later on in the symposium, I would like to also offer you our detailed courses in attracting the proper vampire to grant you power and not enslavement, and how to summon demon and evil elemental lords for fun and profit later in the week.

End of original material

So in game play I have a tendency to give things a back story and build up the villain who runs the castle. My personal favorite was a human from a culture in which eating ones enemies was a high compliment, but when he got to the region of the world I put the castle in he found the people there were small minded and considered him evil for practicing his cultures rites. He never ate anyone he had not killed, and he cooked them before he killed them because eating them raw was considered rude. Persecuted for his cultural beliefs and unwilling to adapt to the culture he found himself in, he decided to go ahead and be evil. The castle and these practices resulted. Playing this villain as being smart made for a really good bad guy. Setting up small things, planting rumors with locals and so on all to lure small groups of “heroes” into his castle. Making them the invaders and his enemy. Aaaand you can see where that goes.

So thats it for now… evil is as evil does… heh

Next time I do one of these things about bad guys I may tell you about the NPC that freaked out a whole group of players who thought they were playing the bad guys.

Now gimme the dice, I need to see how many poisonous herbs are in the castles garden.

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Game Review #14 – SLA Industries 2nd Edition

Welcome again readers. So you may have noticed that there was a slight skip in numbers on the game review. Last one was 12, this one is 14. Well that is because #13 is over on my wifes blog Steam and Lace DIY. Head on over if you want to see a non RPG blog about a game I enjoy that fits fairly well with my wifes love of Steampunk.

Now then over here I am about to add a little something to my game reviews. About two years ago I grumbled in the blog about not wanting to do a blog review of a game when I did not have a physical copy in hand. Something about the feel of a book really getting my creative and descriptive sides going. Well, its time to change that stance. With more and more games coming out in PDF form, some small press companies only having the budget to publish PDF or print on demand, and with some of the classic titles coming out in PDF while the physical copies get harder and harder to find… I just have to embrace the fact that I will not have all the games in a physical paper copy. Oh and I do mean all the games because I really do want all of them… every freaking RPG ever made… I want em all 🙂

So with all that out of the way we get onto the actual review… SLA Industries 2nd Edition.

SLA Industries is a game that has been in many hands, including for a while Wizards of the Coast. Originally published and once again in the hands of Nightfall Games, SLA Industries is the brainchild of Dave Allsop. Originally published in 1993 in a slightly oversized format, the game stood out on shelves wherever it was sold. Now then I have to say that when it first came out I saw it there, on the shelves, and was impressed with the size of it, but the original cover art just had me skipping by it. I gave myself a lot of excuses and reasons not to buy it. I would need a bigger book shelf just for that one book, I cant really tell what its about, and many others. One afternoon in about 1996 or so there was a first edition copy in the hands of a friend and I asked to skim it for a bit. And I have to say the rules in that book did not impress me, so I did not skim too far. Then strangely over the years I heard from other gamers, read reviews and finally in 2006 I hunted down a used copy. And I read it. Even though the rules were hard to work with (sorry Dave but you know its true, character generation is a pain, but especially that damage system and tracking armor in combat, akk) but with a little tinkering to smooth a couple of rough spots I was able to put together a couple of quick game sessions. The first group  I ran through it was not really knowledgeable of the whole setting and so they ended up meat for the grinder quickly. They hated it but I was enthralled. The second group ended up fighting for every inch and two of them survived the session. Everyone actually was on the edge of their seats. Unfortunately I could not get that second group together again despite the positive feedback. Other than Paranoia this is the first setting that I have found where, if your players are really devotes of the setting, you can get cheered for running a game with a TPK (total party kill). But you really have to get it right.

So I can hear a few asking, what sort of ungodly setting can you be in that would actually have players cheering about a TPK? Well, actually in SLA Industries there is a god. The god of business. And he goes by the name Slayer. Some people call the setting cyberpunk, and others call it scifi. The thing is this is the most dystopian setting you will ever find in an RPG. At least it is so far as I have found and if you know of something darker let me know. The main setting is in a city called Mort. This city is hundreds of miles in diameter. It is on a planet that is so screwed over the sun has not been seen in centuries. The city has been built in layers that go miles deep, and some of them have fallen so far apart that tribes of cannibals and once human mutants roam in the wasteland sections that are walled off from the rest of the city. Life in Mort is run by a single massive company, SLA Industries. It has dozens of subsidiaries that follow the whims of the high end executives. Mr. Slayer (not a joke… seriously) is at least hundreds of years old, and at his hand he has some of the most powerful and creepy aides. He spent hundreds of years clearing out rival companies on many worlds. Creating new cloned life forms to do war, and gathering up a few alien races to stand beside his army. Once he had enough of the enemy swept away he founded Mort and declared the new World of Progress. In which all you had to do was exactly what you were told, and you would be happy. Now then while there are businesses and technical advancement in this world, the only hope to get out of the pit that is Mort is to take a role as an Operative for the company. Being an operative means that you kill things that are going to try and kill you. And may be a threat to the company. Actually don’t worry about yourself dying because that is not as important as a threat to the company. Now then all this does not mean that the company does not have enemies, or rivals. But given the amount of resources available to SLA, best you can really say to them is good luck.

Now then all of what I said was put a little tongue in cheek. Trying to keep things a little light here. However really when you look at a setting this dark, where every character is going to be encouraged to kill and will be lucky to survive I think it deserves a moniker other than cyberpunk. I think the best call out for it would be Necropunk.

So lets run the numbers shall we?

Fluff – 5/5 – Oh gods the beauty in the darkness. Not only is there a ton of fluff in this game, the pinched and slightly off style of the art makes all the written work more powerful. Even in the rules sections there are comments and notations that add to the flavor of just about everything. The small personal stories and snippets really give you a feel for the world. And it keeps reinforcing the concept that no mater who you are, unless you are the boss, you are screwed. The game starts out with almost 110 pages of information, stories and art of characters and settings just to get you into the grove before diving into the rules. And it just keeps adding on.

Crunch – 4/5 – Ok so positives for the rules –  They are consistent, no mater the experience level or power level everything scales at pace. No real stats are ever given for Mr Slayer or the members of his inner circle. There is nothing in the rules that ties them to the world specifically, so no element of the crunch is directly tied to the fluff. You can mod it. Negatives for the rules – Frequently over complex. Frequently recitative. Character generation is a pain. So why do I rate it so high? Because with just a little smoothing you can really make a go of it.

Mod – 2/5 – So you can see this seems a little low. Here is the why of that. With the over complex rules you can do a little shaving and still be a bit flustered with how the overall rules system works. Or, like I do with a lot of GURPS books you can just toss out the rules and use it as source material for a game engine you really enjoy. But to do that effectively you need to be sure you can convey to your players that this will definitely be a darker, nastier world than anything they have used that game engine for before.

Fun – 4/5 – I cannot really max the fun out here. And yeah I have a really good reason. While it is fun to play in the dark side. To have all the reasons you could ever want to subvert, pervert, twist and destroy while still being told you are a good guy and reaping massive rewards for it… It is still playing in the dark. You need to come up for air from time to time and do some kind of game with a positive moral imperative or you are just going to be drawing on dark things forever. Now then while I have a story arc idea that would allow players to develop into something that could challenge Mr Slayer, and bring a moral compass to the world, it would take years of play time and that could get to be a slog just to see the results of trying to be a real hero in a setting this dark.

Overall score – 15/20 – So its not a bad score, not the best by any means. Do I recommend it? Actually I recommend a setting this dark to everyone. Play something like this at least once so you can get a feel for how dark things can get. That way you can really see hero versus evil in a new light. For the game itself. If you like dark to the point of Necropunk then you are likely already playing it. Give it a read by all means though and see if you like it.

Ok so thats the latest, hope you had fun in your visit and I am looking forward to my next post, where I may finally tell you all why I hate playing GURPS, or why I hate gnomes. Lets see what happens.

Now gimme the dice, I gotta see if my operative can find his way home after being maimed by carnivorous pigs (yes those area thing in SLA too). Great gaming to ya all 🙂

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