Archive for category G

Mixed game media

So while I am not the only one out there doing game blogs and creating stuff and giving advice, I wanted to dedicate a short article to others who are having fun, and promoting games and game discourse.

There is a lot of fun to be had out there in the big bad electronic world. And there are some people who take it further than others. Door Monster is one of the posters on YouTube that I like to go to when I need to see people acting out the games I have played at the most ludicrous levels. Take this piece on using the Diplomacy skill in a d20 fantasy game setting for example. Another one I enjoy on YouTube is Puffin Forrest. Now you will notice that I did not put a specific piece on that one. That’s because Puffin is all over the place. Some of the posts are rants about games, or players, or characters, or any number of other things. Some are stories and some are reviews. I did not want to push a specific one there. And who can forget when Wizards of the Coast was putting 4th ed out and they put this up on YouTube to help promote it.

Now then if I am feeling more like reading or setting up some bait to get an argument started I look for some good forums. If I feel like discussing a specific game product I will go to Drive Thru RPG or RPG Now (same site really, owned by the same company and offers the same stuff on both). If I really want to get in depth though I will go to either RPG Net or Pen & Paper.

Now then did you notice that I have not listed, nor posted a link to any specific game community? Or to any group that specifically supports one game, or even one style of game? Yeah, there is a reason. Those folks get hard core quick. I have been ejected from a few because I was not online posting all day, or I did not pick Kirk over Picard for higher stats in the classic Star Trek RPG. There are tons of them out there. Over the years I have found some to be very accepting and some to just be full of asshats. I will instead say just google it and good luck.

Speaking of google. Need some character ideas or game art? I hit up google images all the time. Also kinda fun to wander around in Deviant Art.

Oh gods and the number of online comics about games is just… damn… I mean WereGeek is a long time favorite but they have gone rather off the rails in their latest story arc… And if you don’t know Full Frontal Nerdity then, well you really should. 🙂

Of course you could always go and hang out at your local game shop too…

Basically what I am saying here if you have not figured it out, no mater your social niche or how anxious being out in the physical world makes you, if you enjoy gaming there is no reason not to enjoy it and to enlist others. Heck there are even online services so that you can set up a table top game in an entirely virtual environment. I have played one session with folks from multiple countries. It was… more challenging that going to a game con and playing straight and serious on day three.

Ok all, thats it for now. Hope everyone is having a great weekend and is looking forward to a great holiday season, or having one, or recently finished one, or whatever 🙂

Gimme the dice, I need to roll to see if the laundry is still fresh.

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World Building 207

Hello Readers

So a bit out of pace for me to be posting early, but with taking a couple days off to do holiday shopping and that sort of thing I thought I might squeeze the time in to do another post.

So where did we last leave off…

  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.
  4. Timeline is about 30 years in the future and there are older humans who remember ‘today’ as the good old days.
  5. There are many alien races but humans currently only know five.
  6. There are two “magics”, technology and psychic powers. Psychic powers are used to stratify the over reaching galactic society and technology is used as a tool and extra lever over ‘lesser’ races. And humanity is one of the very lesser races.

So step seven in this mix is to try and find a game engine that really works well for the ideas I am using here. Now I totally understand that some folks may be limited in the game engines that they use. Sometimes you find that one game engine that really works well for you and you just have to run with it. Sometimes you can only really afford to buy into one game engine and have to pray you never run into anything it cant handle. If you are in a situation like that I really suggest you just apply the first six questions and build a background and go for it. There is no stopping you and you will still have a great game if you work to make it work. 🙂

For myself I love to look at all the game engines that are out there. I am sure that I could make my design work in just about any system going. What I want to use for this setting though is the d6 game engine.

Let me tell you why.

Just so you know a bit about it, the game engine is currently published by Nocturnal Media. And if you want to get into the game engine you can go over to Drive Thru RPG and buy a copy of the rules or get the d6 game engine bundle (at the time of this writing the game engine bundle is listed as being free and all you need to do is have an account at Drive Thru and down load it at no cost.) It is a venerable system that has been around since 1987 to the best of my knowledge. Not too complex, easy to mod, but a little rough on vehicles. (Previous post talking about it is here)

So why would I want something that does not work easily with the space ships that can be so important in a sci fi game? That really refers back to another question. Two of them actually. And the answers to those two questions are that Humans are trash (so they have not had the opportunity to get into the wondrous worlds of tech that are in the universe), and that tech is basically one of the magics. So if the game engine itself does not lend itself to making star ships easy to create, and some weapons tech seems a little inconsistent, that will actually reinforce the feeling I want to create for the game. Sure you can make an engineering role to fix something, do you know how you are fixing it, no not really you just read the book or were told to fix it that way. Do you know where you are piloting? No but the computer says to go this way to get where we want to go.

I am not saying that this is a bad game engine. I am not saying that this is a way to frustrate players on purpose. You can still do all the tech balancing and shipbuilding you want to do. It is just a little cookie cutter. All the real customizing and balancing will come mostly in role play. Which to me makes it a stronger choice.

The strength in the mechanics really shines in system for special abilities and powers. It breaks everything into three skills and makes it really well defined for what can be done and what cant be done by any given character.

For me this is a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to run. Especially since I can just get a copy downloaded to my computer and play with six sided dice that I stole out of other board games. 🙂 heh

Since I kind of went over the strengths and weaknesses of other systems in the earlier post I linked to earlier in this post, I will just say that in the end you will need to come up with a system that is going to work well for you.

Ok so World Building 208 will have a bit of a write up on this game setting and then we move on with other things.

Hope everyone is staying safe out there.

Now gimme the dice, I need to roll to see if I have anything left to buy more gifts with…

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Game Review #19 – Heroes Unlimited 1st ed

Yeah so I am always on a superhero kick, it just has not shown itself here as much as it could have 🙂

Also one of my earlier reviews was on Ninjas and Superspies, also by the same publisher. Palladium Books.

I wanted to do this review more for adding a little bit more visibility to the publisher in a way that is not just bitching about them. There has been a lot of web traffic in the past few years about Palladium and the owner of the company than I have really seen for anyone else. I am not saying that the people ranting are incorrect in their points of view, but I want to put something out there that is not feeding those fires, and just talking about one of their classic products. If you want to read about or participate in those conversations then I suggest you look for them online elsewhere as I will actively delete any comments that bring those things up.

So Heroes Unlimited is another one of those super games that makes some interesting claims about what they provide, and when they provided it. They, at one time, called themselves the first complete superhero role playing game. If you are skilled with search engine image searches you can still find them. Since the game was first published in 1984 and there were a ton of other supers games coming out at the time I think you may have to take a broad perspective to get a real feel for who was first at what, most complete at what, or, well, anything really.

Just like anything else that has come out from Palladium the game engine is their Megaversal system. Which means it is a class and level system. Unlike some other class and level systems it does not allow you to multi-class. So your mutant will not also have cybernetics, or magic or anything else. They will always be a mutant and that’s it. Now then there are ways around that, like just going ahead and having the GM approve that the money your character saved up will buy a talisman that gives you something extra, or that the accident your character was in means you need to get them cybernetics as well. But this takes some home brewing and it can make things a little unwieldy. There are other elements that are very strict as well in playing the game. The combat system is a little bit hinkey, and if you are thinking about starting characters at first level, I really cannot recommend it. I remember sitting down to play a first level game back in high-school and we had one fight take hours. Unless you do some serious power tweaking on average you will need to have one character hit a thug at least five times to knock them out. If you are facing an enemy super you need to look more along the lines of about twenty five times with above average rolls. Part of the reason fights can take a long time is because of the way the Megaversal engine works with damage. Characters have classic hit points, but they also have SDC – Structural Damage Capacity. The rules describe the SDC as being the same as all the cinematic damage you see in the movies that makes the hero look beat all the hell and back but never actually slows them down. Personally I love the idea, but the number values that most characters build up means you can shoot one in the face with a rifle about six times and it will not faze them. On the up side they have things like a random background generator that you can have tons of fun with, and an alignment system that feels a lot more natural to me than the one you find in D&D. Also on the up side, even thought the system does not allow multiclassing, the individual classes themselves are actually pretty cool. Some allow for more customization than others, but you can still create just about anything you want.

The power level of the characters in the game actually can be seen as an issue for some players. The game engine does not really allow you to get a Superman or Thor level of power. You can look like it, but you cannot get a power level that will let you pick up battle ships and beat others with them, or use your optical laser to cut through a mountain. That is because the game engine is trying to keep things somewhat balanced between the mutants, the mages, and the super spies. It is a hard thing to do when you want to put rules into place so that a super spy feels useful when mages, psionics and alien robots are all on the same team. There has to be something unique that each character can do, or at least something they can do way better than anyone else. And still have it feel that way both in and out of combat. And that is something that the first edition, specifically the revised one, does really well.

The other challenge Palladium faced is that they want to make games that can all cross over. So their big gun Rifts can be crossed into your super world with everything else they do. Sadly the power creep in the Rifts setting makes this a pain in the butt to keep up with. But at the time of original publication, it worked and worked well.

When it was first published the game did not get a lot of support, and the only other book for Heroes Unlimited for quite some time was a licensed product for Justice Machine. A comic book series that most of you will never have heard of before. Still its in my collection because I know them, and loved the characters in the original two series. I think the reason they put that book out though is because they did not really put much into the original book in the way of setting, or pre-generated villains to fight. Of the five villains they did publish in the main rule book all of them are min-maxed and higher than level one. So there is no entry level play possible without some work by the person running the game. Even when they later published Villains Unlimited there was only one character in there that was level one. If I remember correctly. I don’t have that in front of me while I am writing this, and so if someone out there has the first edition VU and wants to correct me I will admit being wrong.

There is a ton of material in the book for tools, toys, vehicles and so on, that anyone can get with the right money, so you can even set up a super hero base pretty easy and kit it out without much effort.

If you get the idea here that I am pushing even though I am bouncing around a lot, the game is very much a mixed bag. There are some really cool aspects of it, there are also some really ‘WTF did I just read’ aspects of it. It got a little better in the 2nd edition, but that is not being covered here.

So how does it score?

Overall Fluff 2/5 – There is some really cool art, and some really bad art. There is a very cool section about world hot spots that they used in a lot of their other games. There is no setting and only five NPCs so not a lot to work with. And unlike other Palladium games there is very little color commentary by NPCs or even book quotes.

Overall Crunch 3/5 – The rules are a mixed bag and I would honestly recommend that if you don’t play the Megaversal engine a lot you might want to start with another one of Palladium’s games so you can get accustomed to everything you will need to do to shake and bake the game to fit your needs.

Overall Mod 2/5 – Not only is the game not easy to mod while maintaining the balance it created it is necessary if you want to step outside the standards even a little.

Overall Fun 4/5 – So with all that in mind how do I still find it fun? I know the engine, I know the system and I really do like being able to play supers where I don’t have to worry about meeting up with some boyscout with an S on his chest making me and everything I do seem useless to the city. There is a lot of fun to be had if you are willing to invest the time to get to know the rules and make an investment in some of the supporting materials to take a little bit of the stress off the game masters shoulders.

Total Score 11/20 – Another low score for a game I have played for years and will keep playing. One of the reasons I loved this game right off was due to the fact I could mix it with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game and Robotech. That also required more than a few mods but still… heh that was fun.

So I hope everyone is remembering to have their own opinions and enjoying whatever games they love to play, regardless of what anyone like me says about them.

Now gimme the dice, I need to have a random encounter for breakfast.

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Game Review: Villains and Vigilantes (G)

Welcome back readers. Anyone who knows me even halfway well knows of my love for all things superhero. My long term love of comic books and the worlds built in them. And this of course leads to superhero role playing games. The very first one that I played was the Marvel Super Hero RPG that was published by TSR back in the day. Next came Heroes Unlimited by Palladium. Then Champions by Hero Games/ICE. After those three I sort of picked up games all over the place. One of them was Villains and Vigilantes (V&V) by Fantasy Games Unlimited.

I was first exposed to V&V by Dragon Magazine. This was back in the 80’s when Dragon was not just a magazine that supported Dungeons and Dragons, but it also had articles that would support other game systems and game companies. I do not remember the issue number for the magazine but they had an article about powerful female characters in superhero settings. Marvel Super Hero got a bit about Phoenix, and for V&V they published a character called Maxima I believe. They gave her a great background and by reading over the stats I was interested in how the game mechanics worked. It would be a few years before I got my hands on a copy of the game itself. Now then for those who only know the modern online version of Dragon Magazine I suggest you look back at the old issues. There is a lot of interesting things for a lot of games that you can find there. Even in support of Steve Jackson Games Car Wars, Dragon magazine was the first place that had rules published for using tanks in the game… heh.

Now then while FGU claims on their web site that V&V is the first successful superhero RPG, I am not sure I can support that idea. V&V was first published in 1979, and did not see a lot of popularity (according to their wiki) until 1982. Meanwhile Superhero 2044 was published in 1977, making it the first superhero game that I know of. And when Champions was released in 1981 it sort of took things by storm if the distribution people I have talked with are to be believed. So I am not sure I can believe that it was the first successful superhero game. Also remember that the US is not the only place publishing role-playing games. MANY other countries publish games and I would love to get more of them. Especially things like Golden Heroes from the UK. There are also very very indie publications that may have only seen local distribution in a city, not even getting to a large audience. So the claim is tenuous that they have the first successful superhero RPG.

Now then even though I have doubts about the game being the first successful superhero RPG, I can say that it is very long lived. Even though it has been around since 1979, there are still new publications coming out for the game. And FGU is still soliciting for new things to come out. The only other game that I know that is still sporadically publishing is Heroes Unlimited. Champions has been on hiatus for the last several years due to, well lots of things. Marvel Superheroes has been licensed to other company and the original game engine is now running a completely different game. DC Heroes has been licensed to others and so on. It looks like Superhero 2044 is going to make a comeback, maybe, but it never had a lot of publications to support it.

Once I got the game in hand I quickly found it both very cool and very frustrating at the same time. On the frustrating side is the combat system. Instead of setting up skills the game engine uses the powers to govern combat. Making it harder or easier to fight based solely on the power you use. Defense is also governed the same way. So they made a table for it. Then you modify the table with other tables that govern experience and a few other things. Now then, to be honest, in most respects this really simplifies combat. However it makes it so generic that you will not be able to get much variety between characters with the same powers. On the positive side they had some really innovative ideas about things like character generation. You see in this game you are supposed to start with an honest assessment of yourself for your basic stats. That’s right this is one of the few games where you are your character. And one of the things that this means is that if YOU have a skill or a knowledge so does your CHARACTER. Brilliant really. When every other game system is warning players about the difference between what you know and what your character knows and the challenges of role-playing that difference, these guys just said shuck it and ran with the idea of you being your character. They do not kill the option of just randomly rolling stats, and they give options for it, but to cover skills they, well they dont really save to talk about taking on a profession and you can do those things. The second is experience. Now then with most level based advancement systems you are going to see very specific growth. In a point based system you have the option of doing whatever you want even if it does not make sense for the character. Well much like 3rd edition D&D and Pathfinder this game combines them. Once you start your character you select a mode of training. This training will give you advances when you level up. Every time you level up you can select a different type of training. They give a lot of suggestions but also have a little marker that says ‘Whatever’ (no, it literally says Whatever) because all of the training listed is suggested. You can come up with your own ideas and the GM can approve or not.

Now then please remember this review and my comments about the game are based on the 1982 Revised version of the game. There are newer editions and even alternate versions of the rules that were revised by other game companies during the life of this game. So if you know of alternates to the things I am talking about, that is cool. I know they are out there and I even have some of them, but this is where I got my start with the game and this is what I am reviewing.

Ok so background and flavor text in place. Lets take a look at the numbers I put on it.

Overall Fluff 2/5 – Other than the art by Jeff Dee, there is really very little you can call fluff in this game. There is no setting, there is no background. All that is up to you and the people you play with. I give it two stars because I really like Jeff’s artwork.

Overall Crunch 3/5 – I talked a bit about the rules above. One of the things that really caught me up in the game was that they also talked about the legal ramifications of superheroes. Citing actual laws and how they could be applied. Some might think of this as fluff, but I see it as a part of running the game.

Overall Mod 3/5 – This is a tricky one. You can mod within the rules, a little. But mostly if you want to mod it you need to get home brew and find ways to slip in changes that dont kill the system as it exists. Its not that easy really, but it can be done.

Overall Fun 4/5 – So with only twos and threes above how can I still call it a four for fun? Easy. In-spite of the challenges it is fairly easy to play and replay. It is one of the few games that tells you to play yourself and rewards you for it. It is inexpensive in a world of high priced game books and it lends itself to just about any super hero world you can imagine.

Total Score 12/20 – Ok so its only a 12 of 20 but it is still fun. I still like it and even have both digital and paper copies. Would I recommend it to others? Only on a limited basis. If you like supers and you enjoy the ideas above then yes, whole-heartedly. If you enjoy putting your own world into place and don’t need a background, then yes. If you want to play in a pre-made world or don’t have the time for building your own then no. So just like everything else I review, its going to come down to you and what you enjoy.

Ok so thats in the tank. 🙂 I will be back next week with more of… something. 🙂

Hope everyone out there is having a grand ole time and if you happen to be in the US and celebrate Thanksgiving or Native American Remembrance or whatever excuse you want to have family and friends over to binge on turkey and other foods then I hope you have a great time.

Now gimme the dice, I need to see if I can make a defense against feline mind control.

 

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World Building 204 – Suplimental

So it was pointed out to me that I forgot a really important part about setting up the timeline for the story. It was kind of reflexive for me but might not have been obvious for everyone else.

There is a common trope in sci-fi that if the jump to other worlds or the change to something more technologically advanced happens during the current recorded history, then there will be an Event. This is the day everything changes. Whether it is an invasion by aliens, the invention of a faster than light means of travel, the ascension of AI, or that big meteor that everyone worries about ending the world. There comes a point that everyone remembers as the day everything changed.

Now then the further you go from the event the more it goes from being historical, and then into mythical and eventually will be completely forgotten. In Star Trek it was the first use of a warp engine by humans. In Starship Troopers it was the first encounter with the Bugs. In Robotech/Macross it was the crash of the SDF-1 into Earth. When you look at worlds like Star Wars, and even Fading Suns, the Event is so far back in history that it is at best a historical footnote if it is not completely forgotten.

The big Event (note that I do capitalize it to stress its importance) can be positive, it can be negative, but it is never really seen as neutral. At least not initially. If you get to the point where it is a historical footnote, or a myth, then many will see it as neutral or a parable. But the closer you are, historically, to the Event, the more emotions will be tied to it. You can see examples of that in some of the versions of Star Trek. If you see the original series or Next Generation the creation of the warp drive and the impact of its development is just a historical footnote. But if you look at the series Enterprise you see a lot of people tied to the first engine, the first encounter with an alien race, and the resentment that the alien race will not help bootstrap them to the next level of tech.

So in a setting with a human focus, you need to consider your timeline and your distance from your Event.

I had been thinking about my Event when I decided to make the human race a trash culture. I wanted to know what might cause that, and then I tied it into my timeline so that I could keep emotions high about it. Because it is not just a historical footnote, it is a part of recent history.

Now then the funny thing is you can get away without an Event as well. You just have to be able to describe it. And that can be an Event all its own. Such as why do none of the humans on Earth remember the year 2040 even though it is 2045 and why in their memories of 2039 are there no aliens, but in 2041 we work for them. What the hell happened in 2040, and what could affect billions of people all at once? So now your lack of Event has become not only an Event but a major plot point and gives you a lot of time to sort it out as you begin play. Personally I dont mind single character amnesia but a whole world missing a year, that might be a bit too much for me to have fun with.

So when you are asking question 4 on the list and trying to decide just how far from modern day you are going to have your setting. Make sure you also look into your distance from your Event as well. If it is just a footnote in history or if it is a driving element in how you are pushing things forward. It is a key part of your timeline.

And even though I put out an Event idea dont be afraid to experiment and see if you might want a bunch of smaller events that tie together, or if maybe you just see things as a long term evolution. Or some combination.

And just like I said about myself the Event is not something that is really tied to any one of the questions. It can have an impact on many of them. So dont worry about having it in mind specifically at any given time, just remember the impact it will have in the world you are building. Your timeline will tell you how much emotional impact it has on the characters in the setting.

Ok thats it for today, short post I know…

Now gimme the dice, I have to try to make a saving throw vs emotional blackmail by a cat.

Game on folks 🙂

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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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