Archive for category G

World Building 203

Ok so here we come into Question 3.

Just as a refresher we are looking at the following elements in this world I am building.

  1. The sci-fi style will be pulp sci-fi. So things can get weird.
  2. Humans are trash. So at the very least they will be low class citizens, maybe worse.

Question three is “How big is the known universe?”

Taking this from the human perspective we can get an idea of how intimidating things are in known space. We can also play with the idea that no one really knows. The real key is going to be tying the answer to this question into the answers for the previous ones.

Ok so what sort of universe settings are Pulp Sci-Fi known for? Well you have a lot of extremes actually. You have settings like John Carter of Mars where everything takes place on one world. You also have settings like Flash Gordon (yeah I consider it to be pulp sci-fi even with the actual origin of the setting being in a news paper comic strip) where you have multiple worlds that are all in contact with each other. And then if you go all the way back to the original Buck Rodgers it all takes place on Earth. So that really does not narrow it down. But there is one thing they all have in common. The main hero needs to have local allies because they dont really know jack about the technology and cultures around them. So it seems pretty common to have the heroes not really know how big anything is until they get hit in the face with it.

That gives me a great idea to keep the total scope of the universe the players are going to be involved with unknown to them. That way I can take advantage of the opportunity to build a little mystery into the game and give them tons of chances to role-play to find out information, and to figure out who might be taking advantage of them or lying to them outright. There would be things that I need to answer in later questions about the number of races and how humanoid and all that, however at this point I dont really need to worry about that.

Ok so since I have decided that I dont want the players to really know right off the bat how big everything is, I need to decide for myself how big things can be… or do I?

This is where you need to know yourself and how you want to play, and tell a story. I can break down things into really detailed info so that I can drive the players to specific things. I can sketch out a few ideas and give myself a feeling for the overall scope but let the details get built on the fly. OR I could do the whole bloody thing on the fly except for a few specifics, like alien home worlds and the like. But that is still not going to define the scope of the universe. The technique is important, but do I want to have the game and stories focus on just one world, maybe a whole solar system, a part of or even a full galaxy or just say screw it and run with a series of galaxies?

So this may seem a little rambly, but I want to talk about the game Star Frontiers for just a moment here. When the game was first published (Alpha Dawn) the original module/adventure in the game was on a planet that was new to the different powers in the game setting. The next two modules continued the story on that world. Introducing the games main villain race, and giving the players the chance to make first contact with some new sentient species. The following modules brought the players more into the worlds that made up the federation the game was set in. When the second part of the rules was published (Knight Hawks) players got the chance to expand their influence, and not only pilot ships (something that was not really even possible in the base game) but to command fleets. The scale grew as more material was published and the universe expanded. I really liked this way of getting players and GM’s into the game world. Sure you had to keep buying product, or you could come up with your own materials.

So what does all that have to do with the scale of the game environment? Well it tells me that even if I am going to build things out I really don’t need much more than names for some alien worlds, home worlds in particular, and a starting point. I can make things as big as I want, or need to as things go on. I mean something in the game can go completely Lilo and Stitch (yeah I went Disney on ya) and players get dumped into the middle of no where (so to speak in galactic terms) and that is what you get for hitting the candy stripped button (or lever or whatever) not really knowing what you are doing.

Hmmm I am liking this.

Ok so now we have, for my setting anyway –

  1. The sci-fi style will be pulp sci-fi. So things can get weird.
  2. Humans are trash. So at the very least they will be low class citizens, maybe worse.
  3. Players will not know how big the universe is, and I will sketch out a couple of places in advance but otherwise let the players drive things so the universe will become as big as it needs to be.

Now for those that think I am copping out, you have never let a group of players run anything in your lives. You cant predict where they will take things or what they will want to do next. That’s right ERIC… save the freaking dragon… I remember! Sheesh. Its like herding cats. To make this effective I will likely need more notes and stacks of ideas that I can flesh out on the fly than with any other option. It may be some serious work on my part but I think it will make the most playable environment for the players. I can set up some sort of over arching story, but not have to railroad them into it just because that is the only ting I built up in advance.

Ok well thats it for the moment… next post… who knows where I will go with it 🙂

So gimme the dice, I gotta see if I can make the roll for finding lunch.

Play well and play often folks 🙂

 

 

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Review # 17 Starfinder

Wow, ok it was June last time I did a game review. And like I told you in the last post this is one that I have not played yet.

So how can I review a game I have not played yet? Well people on other sites do it all the time, but this time I have, I feel, enough experience with most of the material to make a few jumps in logic without an actual game session under my belt.

You see Starfinder is the latest game from Paizo, the company that created Pathfinder and kinda took over for the massive crowd of gamers that loved D&D 3.0 / 3.5 when Wizards of the Coast stopped supporting that product line.  Since shortly after the initial release of Pathfinder there have been elements in the game community that have been begging Paizo to do a Pathfinder Modern like WOTC did with d20 Modern to put the d20 system that ran D&D 3.0 / 3.5 into modern and futuristic settings (look at the supplements list on the d20 Modern wiki and you can see d20 Future for sci-fi and other settings – you can also take a look at the d20 version of Star Wars [Not my favorite version of Star Wars RPG], in many ways these licensed products are why there was so little support for d20 Modern). Several fans have cooked up their own materials and published them online. I wont give links to those because half of them seem to have predatory adds and its a pain to keep up on who has what. Feel free to go looking but keep your security monitors up at full speed when you do.

So finally now Paizo took their Pathfinder rules and made a sci-fi game setting. Starfinder is it.

Here is where things get a little hairy. It is not a straight translation. There are a number of rules and mechanics changes that will make game play different. However they do have a section on how to play Starfinder with Pathfinder, and I could see from the get go that while there are changes the basic structure is so closely similar that it would be easy to just skip the difference in some of the mechanics and roll with it one way or another. In some respects I look at the engine and changes as being a possible Pathfinder 2.0 game engine. There are only two game engine changes that I do not really agree with, but it is easy enough to put those aside.

Paizo already has a few products planned to support the new setting. But it remains to be seen if this is going to be a long term, and well supported game. Looking at everything Paizo has done over the years to support Pathfinder, I have to say that I am kinda hoping that they will put just as much time and effort behind Starfinder. And I also hope they avoid the long term decline that we have seen in the quality of Pathfinder products… that is a rant for another time though, and considering how many people have already ranted about that online I would feel like I am in the middle of a ‘been there done that’ moment.

So what has Paizo changed in Starfinder? Well lets start with character generation. The primary format they suggest using (see its not the only way to do it but they call it out for game balance reasons) is that you use a point based stat generation system and that no stat should start above 18 after all the race and background modifications are in place. It is not a bad system overall, but when you compare it to the way you could roll an 18 and add race mods and so on to a Pathfinder character and start with a stat of 20 or more it seems a little out of place. Thankfully the roll option is still there for those who cant live without it. Next change is that players have three selections they need to make for their characters to get things started. Pathfinder has race and class. Starfinder adds Theme to that. Theme is an interesting new aspect that basically flavors your class in a number of ways. It provides level dependent benefits that can also shape your character. While you can multi-class still you cannot multi-theme. And for those who worry that adding a theme element might make you more restricted in how you can design or play your character, don’t worry they actually have a ‘theme-less’ theme so that you can free form it a bit. Next big changes come in the areas of combat. I want to start with something that comes up in character generation but is not really worked with much until you talk about combat. Characters in Starfinder have Stamina Points, and Hit Points. Stamina Points (SP) get burned quickly and recover quickly. Once your SP are gone you burn Hit Points (HP) and they are harder to recover. This mechanic reminds me of the Palladium Books SDC (Structural Damage Capacity) and HP set up. However I think the Starfinder version is better defined. The big challenge here is that by adding SP you make it harder to kill things. The sad part is that this mechanic is needed because the weapons in this setting do more damage than you may be used to if you have been playing Pathfinder. Next change is that you have two versions of Armor Class in Starfinder. Energy and Kinetic.  I know that Kinetic is a type of energy, but… well… yeah ok just roll with it. Both are calculated from the same base, but one protects you better against some of the energy weapons and spells (yeah there is still magic here) and the other against ones that just use brute force. You will notice that there is nothing in my statement about ranged or melee attacks and that is on purpose. Next up is a modification to the Combat Maneuver system. One of the best innovations that Pathfinder did to improve on d20 was to simplify combat maneuvers. Things like tripping or tackling an opponent. Starfinder changes the way you calculate the values but nothing else really. It does not change much, but it does change the overall values a bit.

None of the changes are bad, they are just different.

Some of the cool adds that they have in the game include several new races, new classes (one of which reminds me more than a little of a leveled version of a Green Lantern or a Nova Corps member) and a ship design system that I wish I would have had ages ago playing d20 games. Yeah, its pretty cool even if it relies heavily on an initial template, after that you can smeggin go to town and make some really cool ships.

The setting for the game is tied in tightly with the Pathfinder solar system. They give a lot of tasty tidbits and history in the main book. For a core rule-book it is fleshed out pretty well, so it is really interesting to think where they will take it from there.

Now then my initial testing of the game (I do this with just about everything that I get that has related rules in another game… hence why I know so well the Palladium power creep) I made up a couple of Starfinder characters and pitted them against Pathfinder characters of the same level. First level characters in Pathfinder got mopped. Not because of higher skills or abilities, but due to gear and Stamina Points. Fifth level was actually a closer match but only when the Pathfinder characters thought ahead and used their skills. Tenth level if you have a Pathfinder mage you come out on top, monks also do some significant wiping up. Fighters and rouges have serious issues unless they have feats that allow them to get a-hold of Starfinder gear and weapons to turn them against the Starfinder characters. To my mind the rules changes do not make this a case of power creep though. Starfinder characters are in a world with more fire power, and slightly different mechanics. But take it as you will.

Ok to get down to the numbers so this does not turn into a really huge post.

Overall Fluff 5/5 – The art, the background, the flavor text. Yeah this is a quality publication when it comes to the fluff. Most of the book is very easy to read and can give you a ton of ideas. Not just for a Starfinder game, but there are some interesting things in there about relations between some of the races and cultures that just sort of sings.

Overall Crunch 2/5 – The rules in this game are mostly well placed. However I found myself diving into the index a lot to get more information about topics. In the exact opposite to the fluff the initial rules material is usually enough to tease you about something but not explain it well. So to really understand some of the rules you need to go to a couple of places to make sure you know what the changes from the Pathfinder system means. I have been told that if you are completely new to the game it is easier to follow than if you are experienced.

Overall Mod 4/5 – So yeah, it is a Pathfinder/D&D 3.5 product. If you know anything at all about the engine you can mod the hell out of it.

Overall Fun 2/5 – This one is just an estimate as I have not played any more than my power creep tests. I think it will be fun, but finding a crew to play a sci-fi pathfinder that has both tech and magic will not be fun. Yeah I know I did not really go into that but yeah there is magic and tech.

Total Score 13/20 – I do see a lot of potential here. And to be honest some of my scoring may be biased by the fact that I am currently looking at rules engines for my own sci-fi setting and want the perfect one. Also that I may be impacted by the slow decline in quality that I have been seeing in Pathfinder products for the last few years. So I will accept that I may be biased, but I am honestly looking forward to seeing what can come out of this game.

Allright so that covers the review… Usual disclaimer that this is all my personal thoughts and you will need to think for yourself to really figure out if this game is for you or not.

Now gimme the dice… I need to roll for dodging kitten claws while typing.

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World Building 202

Ok so next week I am planning on giving a basic review for a sci-fi game that I have not played. But for the moment I want to take a look at the next question on my building a sci-fi game setting list.

How Important are Humans?

This is a really serious question. Humans are the most relate-able characters in sci-fi settings. While you may see humanoids (Wookie, Vulcan, and Centauri to name a few) in great numbers, they always have a culture or feature that makes them obviously not human. Then you also have non-humans that will have some small characteristic you can relate to as a human, but by their very nature they become very alien to your natural mind set. The Hive oriented Thranx, the parasitic predators the Brood, the vaguely humanoid Adipose, and the Leviathan Pilots to name just a few. While races that are humanoid dominate fantasy realms and make it fairly easy to find something to relate to, only some sci-fi, well ok a lot of the space opera sci-fi, gives you that relate-able feature.

So how do you create a setting that still gives players an option of playing something they can relate to fairly quickly? Easy. You make humans part of the setting. And you leave yourself free to bring in anything alien that you want to. You can even go completely alien in some of the things you create and you will know that your players will still have a foothold.

So now that we have the why even have humans, we need to look at how important they are. I mean if I have the option to try and play something that is going to relate to humans with confusion because my culture and upbringing make human lifestyle choices seem alien,  I am going to want to play it. Unless there is a compelling reason to play a human. Like if humans are the only playable race in the setting, like in Dark Conspiracy. Or you can make humans the most prolific race and the leaders of empires like in Fading Suns.

Now then if you do not make humans very important, or prolific you end up with settings where you will have people who play everything. Like Rifts, or Star Wars. Not that this is a bad thing. But if you take a look at those settings you will see they fall back on the Fantasy formula of making everything that is not human, human like so you and your players can relate to it. It takes away some of the truly alien feel of the game.

There are very few settings in sci-fi, fiction or gaming in which humans don’t really mean a sodding thing. They are tiny, minuscule, and expendable. I really tried to find a couple of examples to put into this category but I could not find anything that really worked. What I find interesting though in a setting like this is that you and the players get to make humans important. Or you can make them extinct.

Now then as with the overall type of setting you create, the importance of humans is going to be totally up to you. I tend to break this down into three major settings ideas.

  1. Humans in charge
  2. Humans are an equal part of everything
  3. Humans are trash

When I was building this new setting I immediately tossed out humans in charge. I wanted more diversity and I wanted to give the players more of a sense of wonder than entitlement.

Humans being equal. You know there are so many settings that do this today I have a hard time coming up with a way of making something that I think players would find memorable. I also have a hard time figuring out how I could get most players to play humans in something like this, and to be honest I want to encourage players to play human.

Humans are trash. Ok so this is going to be a challenge. I want to get my players to play humans, but I don’t want humans to start out with all the advantages. That means I am going to have to be on top of my game to create a Pulp sci-fi setting where humans don’t really mean anything to the universe at large. But the players can change that. Maybe they need to change it.

Ok, so I think I am seeing more in the whole pulp sci-fi thing here. I mean Flash Gordon had three humans and a lot of humanoids. But by the end of the story it was the human Flash who was the most important person in the stories. John Carter Warlord of Mars was also technically the only human, with several humanoids (I mean the human looking people on Mars laid eggs in that setting, so you cant call them human no mater how the cover artists drew them), and he ended up being the most important person in the story.

All right. Getting some ideas and some flow going.

Pulp sci-fi and humans (at the start at least) are trash. I think I can build on this.

Ok I am going to let you all think about this for a while and I am gonna go do something else…

So gimme the dice, I need to consult my d87 table of random things to do.

Play nice and play often folks.

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World Building 201

So I have decided that in this series of world building I will actually answer the starting questions in order and then present some conclusions at the end. It may make it a little easier for others to follow and to see just what I am building out as I go.

So question 1 – Hard sci-fi, space opera, or pulp sci-fi?

This one actually took the the longest time to answer. I had to look at the concept I was trying to get across with the setting. Do I want science to play a pivotal role in the setting? Do I want the players to be able to grab a physics book or an engineering manual and go “AH HA!”? Do I want to be able to get past the science and drive more of the plot?

Well in thinking about all of this I looked at the hard sci-fi first. I am not the worlds best when it comes to hard science. I love talking about and looking into the theoretical stuff but when it comes to the actual mechanics, I could not tell you why the Bussard ram scoop works without going to wiki and looking it up. I cannot tell you why some radioactive isotopes are more harmful in the radiation they emit than others. I don’t really want to look up the latest innovations in cybernetics and neural computing. It takes time and enthusiasm for hard science that I just don’t have to really run good hard sci-fi. Especially if you are going to have a player or two that could really know their stuff and call you on it when you get it wrong or implement something in a way that science wont support. Closest I would be able to do is something like GDW’s Twilight 2000. And to be honest that is an apocalypse I don’t want to play with.

Ok so hard sci-fi is out. I have to say though that if someone were to run a good hard sci-fi I would want in. There is no telling what I could learn about actual science.

So now we look at space opera. Big, epic, huge. Good space opera seems to take a lot of, well… space. Space opera also seems to leave the science completely behind in favor of the settings and the drama. I mean looking at Star Wars and Star Trek, I can see the hint of technology, and a few mentions of science. But the science has so many work arounds that even things like black holes are not an issue. Or at least much of one. Planet killing doomsday weapons are relatively easy to come by, and it seems like without the heroes the entire setting would go down the toilet. That puts a lot of weight on the players if they know it is them or the universe is doomed, or the solar system or any other area of known space. But it does do a really good job of looking into the unknown and not flinching.

Ok lets back burner space opera for a moment and move on.

Pulp Sci-fi. All right, we still have drama, but the science can be put either on the back burner or brought into the spotlight. You can get a little odd with the science and get into the point of ‘SCIENCE!’ but that does not have to be bad. The situations get almost as out there drama wise as the space opera, but when you look at the overall story you usually know that even if the characters/heroes fail then someone else has a back up play. Things may not work out as well as if the heroes succeed but they will still to some degree work out. You also have a tendency to limit the scope of things a bit more. A solar system or three instead of a galaxy or galaxies. And adding in a little humor if not downright camp is seen with a better light than in either space opera or hard sci-fi. A little humor is actually kind of required because you can go so far over the top with the dram or the SCIENCE!

Ok so I have to say that pulp sci-fi gives me most of what I want to work with. A little science that could be real and I can play with more if I want bu I don’t really need to because I can just SCIENCE! my way out of it if I need to. I can bring drama and character building to the forefront and can even drop in a McGuffin or three to move the plot along. And if I decide a story element is too important to let it slip, like say a victory here or there I can Deus Ex Machina without it seeming like I am steam rolling the players into something or forcing an issue.

I could do a lot of that with space opera as well, but I really enjoy the idea of players having the chance to use an odd skill at an odd time to come up with a really out of the ball park way of pulling something off… like using a cooking skill to negotiate a cease fire arrangement or something equally unusual that if you play in space opera settings you really cant do and keep the flavor of the setting.

Ok so due to the flexibility of the pulp sci-fi style I will be going with that one for the world that I build. Focusing on the drama though more than the SCIENCE!, the humor or the McGuffin/Deus Ex type stuff. Kinda hoping for a Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars kinda feel I think. The books mind you and not the movie. Or even the tribute stories by Michael Moorcock Kane of Mars. A few exceptional people doing things that others would see as impossible in a place they do not really understand but work their butts off to be successful there… yeah that is what I am looking for.

Ok so gimme the dice I need to roll up a few new ideas while these concepts sink in for the rest of you.

Remember to keep thinking for yourself and enjoy what you game 🙂

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World Building 200c

Ok so this is to be the last one on the opening questions for world building.

To be perfectly honest this question may actually be the one you want to consider first when game building. However I like to keep it last due to the number of things that can come up with the first six questions.

7 – What game engine do you want to use?

Sometimes this question gets answered for you, as you only have one game system you can use. Or you might have a group of players who only likes one way of playing. The more flexible you are in regards to the rule set you use the more you can adapt to make things fit your game in unique ways.

As I have talked about in previous posts some game engines are better at some things than others. Some times level based game engines work well, sometimes point based work well. Some game engines make it really easy to work on things like vehicles and some make it easy to work on having the ‘magic’ you created. It is really rare to find a game engine that does everything well for what you want to see in your game. And that is where you need to develop the art of compromise.

Below I am going to list out a few of the game engines and some of their strong and weak points. Please remember as always these comments are from my experience, you may see things differently and may have a different history with the games which may give you a different point of view. And that POV is just as valid as mine. So make sure you think about what you want, and what you want to do when you have the option to set yourself up from the ground up.

Star Wars RPG – This is the original Star Wars RPG. Currently you can find the same system in the d6 RPG by West End Games and it is frequently free on RPG Now in PDF form. This engine is point based. Points that convert into numbers of dice for skills and abilities. The game engine works really well for building out alien races and for ‘magic’. The merits and flaws add flavor and can give special focus to abilities. However for vehicles and special gear it really kinda sucks. The use of such things is not too hard, but any customization you want to do is, well, unbalanced.

Star Hero – Sadly this link focus’ on the Fifth Edition hero system version of the game and really does not mention the older version. Now then while I am a staunch supporter of point based games, and especially Hero System, I have to actually draw a line here. Hero works great for building any kind of character you want, with any skills and abilities you want. However vehicle and base building quickly becomes unbalanced and can throw a game way off. I mean when I am building a 150 point character I can spend 30 of those points to build a ship with an AI that would finish the game for me with as much power as the character. And a lot less vulnerable. If I have five players who all put in 10 points each to the building of a vehicle and they play it smart, they can build a small Death Star.

Rifts – Rifts has a lot of problems for me. It is a class based game engine that you cannot really customize without contributing to power creep, and the game has enough of that already. Even though characters are limited by classes that they cannot combine or cross, the  game engine handles mixing magic and tech really well. Again when it comes to vehicles you have a hard time customizing anything without unbalancing things.

D20 Future – Ok so this is level based, but you can cross to your hearts content. It handles magic and tech fairly well. The only challenge I have here is that as with Rifts there is no real base system for vehicle creation. There are templates to modify them with, but if you want to create a new base you are left wondering how in the heck to balance it with the already existing ones without just duplicating what is already there. Vehicle combat in d20 Future is also a little hard to work with. It is like a second system has been slapped onto the game engine to really cover it completely.

Cyberpunk 2020 – Ok, so here we have a class/point mix going on. Focused but allows for a broader customization that most class systems. Combat system is exceptional. Vehicle combat is part of the core system. Vehicle design and any kind of ‘magic’ past technology is non existent though.

Mekton – Made by the same folks who made Cyberpunk, the original Mekton was a bit of a joke really. However when they did their third edition (yeah there was a Mekton II and I consider Mekton Zeta to be third edition) their vehicle design really shined. Their combat system is slimmed from Cyberpunk, and they no longer have classes in the engine but have templates. All in all the only weak spot here is that if you want to have a ‘magic’ that is not technology then you need to make some adaptations to the rules. In the expansion Mekton Zeta Plus they gave a few ideas, but did not really take things far enough to keep the character side of things completely balanced.

Heavy Gear – Another point based game system that handles both characters and vehicles really well. However just like Mekton and Cyberpunk if you have anything other than technology for your  ‘magic’ it does not handle it at all in the base rules. You need to home-brew something to cover it, unless you want to dive into some of the other products the publisher has created in the same game engine and try to fuse them in.

Ok so this is a small sample of a ton of sci-fi rpg engines. Are any of them perfect for everything. No. At least not in my mind. There are a couple of them that I have not had a chance to dissect yet, and more that I have not had a chance to play. So it may be that I have just not hit every possibility and have not found that one masterwork game that will do… everything.

Is there one out there that is perfect for your game and your world? I am sure there is. If you are limited to one game engine can you still make it work? Sure you can. Just be ready to mod the hell out of it should you need to, and make sure you work ahead of the game. Spend time well before the game starts to find flaws, weak points or missing elements in the engine you have decided to or need to use. Make sure you let your players in on the fixes you have created, or enlist them to help. That later idea is a great way to get the players to buy into the game because they are helping to make it fun and exciting from before they even create a character.

So the question of game engine really does become your anchor in all of this. But if you are ready and work on it, you can take a game engine that you have to/have chosen to  use, and make it one of the most memorable game series you have ever run.

Ok gimme the dice, I gotta take a look at the old Twilight 2000 and see if the .4 mph winds spoil this last shot.

Next week will either be a review, or a rant depending on time and how I feel, then back to the world building… or that is the plan anyway.

Enjoy the games folks and play nice.

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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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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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