Archive for category PP

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.

Advertisements

2 Comments

World Building 206

Hey all, special Black Friday special edition since I want my Sunday to spend relaxing with the wife and chilling. For those readers outside the US or who don’t care about the events in the US that much, Black Friday is the day after the Thanksgiving holiday that supposedly marks the start of Christmas shopping. However from the fact that you can find places putting up Christmas trees after Valentines Day and shops talking about pre-holiday sales so early any more… I don’t see why anyone bothers. But still there are huge sales on Black Friday, there is annual news about mob like behavior at stores and other bull crap going on, so my wife and I keep the same mind set. Find something to do at home and avoid the mess out there.

And now you know part of why I am posting a blog today. And knowing is half the story.

So what do we have in this little world so far?

  • The sci-fi style will be pulp sci-fi. So things can get weird.
  • Humans are trash. So at the very least they will be low class citizens, maybe worse.
  • 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.
  • Timeline is about 30 years in the future and there are older humans who remember ‘today’ as the good old days.
  • There are many alien races but humans currently only know five.

And the current question is… What is your worlds “magic”?

Now then just like I posted the first time, you will note the quotes there. “Magic” here means anything you cannot or will not explain with any ease. Usually it is something that just has to be accepted. Be it technology, the Force, psychic powers, actual magic or something else. You can find it in every sci-fi setting. Even hard sci-fi that is taking its queue from modern technology and trying not to go to far ahead. And also in every genre of sci-fi you can find it. Hard sci-fi, pulp, cyberpunk, steam punk, space opera, and on and on. There is always some kind of “magic”.

Now then one of the things that you will find when “magic” comes up is that somewhere in the story you will find someone who tries to explain it. At least a little. And in a game you will always have at least one player who wants to know how it works. The player will usually want to know how it works so they can circumvent it in the game to one degree or another. Now then this does not mean that you need to understand how virtual reality programs can allow one structure to alter another in one way or another to allow your virtual avatar to hack into a storage mainframe. Nor do you need to know how to circumvent the conversion of mass to allow a vessel to move faster than light in three dimensional space to have faster than light travel. You do have to be ready for the questions though. And when they come up there are three ways you can deal with it.

When it comes time to explain or define your “magic” for the players you can

  1. Tell them to shut up and accept it
  2. Research something similar or steal from other sci-fi so you can have talking points
  3. Create a game skill to cover it and just let them roll for it (kinda like shut up and accept it but it gives ya a little more wiggle room)

Technically there is a fourth way and that is to mix and match the other three in a way that works for you. Personally that is how I tend to approach things. If there is something I enjoy or want to play with I research it a bit so I can at least seem like I have half a clue. I also steal liberally from other settings and mix and match that with the things I have researched. Then I add in a couple of skills like ‘Science!’ I actually took that idea from Steve Jackson Games in their IOU GURPS supplement. When I originally read it I had to have it. They also have ‘Magic!’ in the same supplement and over the years I have taken that model and just made these massive overarching skills that allow you to do things like combining other skills together to somehow cover what you are doing in the name of the direction you are trying to run.  And I have to say that in a pulp setting like I have planned things like that really allow for mad scientists and for people who have no idea how something should work to say things like “Yeah I just picked up a little of this over time.”

Now then if your “magic” has some sort of power to it, like the Force or psychic powers you need more than a skill, you need to have people who use it. You might want to have a background for it. And if you are really over the top you could have an ultimate reason for it. I mean if you look into Babylon 5 you can see that they hint at but never clearly say that psychic powers are in many of the races in that setting because one elder race, the Vorlon, wanted to have a weapon against their enemy the Shadows. And so they did genetic tinkering all over the galaxy. A great many game engines support the use of something supernatural or preternatural or however you want to view the power.

Last thing you might want to think about is how many of these things should you mix together. I mean if you look at something like Star Wars, depending on your race, would depend on what you see as “magic”. I hate to use this example but if you take the (shuddering) Ewoks as an example. To them the Force and a lot of the high tech was all “magic”, but to most of the other races only the Force was “magic”. This is a difference in a game setting that can get you a lot of mileage in role playing. If you allow one player into a game with a character from an advanced race, to them everyone ohhing and ahhing over the tech is little more than a bumpkin or a hick. But even to them there is something that is still “magic”. And even in those cases you will find someone who ‘just has a knack for it’ and they really can change the dynamic.

To give you a personal example I was playing in a Star Wars game and as players we were allowed to make our own races. We had one player create a character that was quite strong in the force, but was not a Jedi. Their culture treated it differently and so he was always surprised by people treating the power with reverence and dividing everything into good and evil in response to the Force. Another player made a character that had a natural sense of technology, and even when she was exposed to something new she would just tinker with it for a moment and then make it work better. No formal education, no Force powers, just a natural talent that was really really helpful. While in the same group we had a formal Jedi, and a mechanic droid. It was very fun watching them banter back and forth about what could and could not be done. Each treating their opposite number as some kind of witch or heretic, or just a hick with no real knowledge what so ever who just needed to be educated.

So by now you have to be wondering what I intend to do in this setting.

My plan here is to actually do a mix. I want to have something that will stratify the setting. A reason why humans could be considered trash, that has nothing to do with the fact that humans are behind the rest of the setting in terms of technology. So I plan to use psychic powers. I am trying to see if I can come up with something that will explain the trait across multiple races with no physical similarities, but that one is going to be hard to pull off unless I can put a mutagenic element into multiple species DNA… hmmm, that might just work. Using the “magic to tier the society I can have a setting where if you do not have psychic powers you are not going to be a full citizen, and then if your race has low power levels you will be in the middle class. Judging by race this would allow them to have superior and lesser races, attitudes and all sorts of judgmental bull shit going on. Now we add technology to the mix too. If these racist races have an uplift policy then they might have something in place where taking a lesser race under your care allows you to treat them however you want until they get used to the modern society. And getting used to being a race without psychic powers and no native tech basically makes you slave labor and cannon fodder. Because in a setting like this you can be sure that somewhere out there a society like this has an enemy, and why would they use actual citizens as fighters when they can take entities that they see as little better than uncivilized animals and toss them into the war on their behalf. Ohh wait that sounds like an awesome meta plot.

Ok so lets put this in a brief for review…

  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.

Ok so there is only one question left on my list. After that I will do a short write up of the setting I have in mind and you can see where it goes from there if you want to use it yourself or just use the questions to build your own setting.

Hope everyone out there is having fun, enjoying the holiday if you got one, and playing safe if you are in the mix for Black Friday.

Now gimme the dice, I have to make a saving throw against the siren song of left over pie.

2 Comments

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.

 

2 Comments

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.

2 Comments

Creativity Engines

Ok so to take a short break from the world building materials, I waffled back and forth between doing a review and a rant, and in the end I think the rant is what I crave more.

So I have talked a number of times about differences between two major game engine types. Point based, like what you can see in Hero Games or GURPS. And level based games like D&D and the Palladium game engine. Now then if you look with a wide enough lens you can wrap up nearly every table top role playing game into those two categories. Notice that I say nearly. Let me give you a couple of examples of how my lens looks at some of the game systems.

  1. Point based
    1. Hero Games
    2. GURPS
    3. Tri-Stat
    4. d6 system (even though the points are dice)
    5. Cardinal by Sanguine (another dice type but a rather unique application of it)
    6. Amber Diceless (a unique way of spending some of the points to be sure)
  2. Level based
    1. D&D
    2. Palladium
    3. True20 – a D&D 3.0/3.5 variant
    4. Pathfinder – like True20
    5. Cyberpunk 2020 – I signal this one out because the Interlock system overall can be used more as a point based than level based

I am sure that for experienced gamers there will be those who try to say I have the idea wrong, and that there are a bunch of games that blur the lines like Mutants and Masterminds. To which I say, yeah sure. But the point of the rant is not those games at all. That’s background so you can see where my point of view comes from.

What really gets me is how few totally creative game set ups are out there. These two background concepts are really common. They make things so easy to get a hold of and run with. But what about exercising the gamers, and writers, creativity to come up with things that are more unique? Is it really that hard? Or are there no big ideas? I mean I have seen several other ideas that work… but…

  • FASERIP/Marvel SuperHeroes(the old TSR one)/4Color – This game engine, like Villains and Vigilantes, is completely random roll. If you play this one by the rules as written, everything from character generation to interaction with others comes out to a die roll. You are in the hands of fate from the beginning and you just cant stop. House and alternate rules allow you a choice in some things but not complete control by any means.
  • Chaosium – Fate plus choice. Roll your stats and they determine how many skill points you have to spend, plus a base so no one is totally hosed. From that point on though the more you do the more you can grow, and they have a growth mechanic too.
  • Pantheon – small press that never took off but the fact it is just narrative roleplay. You design a character with nothing but words and then try to out talk the other players. There is not even a DM type position unless the group wants to have some sort of editor.
  • Cypher System – Descriptive narrative brings skills and abilities. This is sort of like crossing Pantheon with FASERIP. Its a really good cross though.

So here is my big challenge. Why is it so hard to get the more original ideas to take with people?

Is it lack of marketing? I mean without in print game mags like Dragon and White Wolf  around any more, White Dwarf is almost totally subscription only and rarely prints anything that might support other games, and Pyramid… well yeah, and Space Gamer or Fantasy Gamer… Yeah there are online sources to find out and review sites and so on, but there is little to no promotion. I mean if you go to a convention you might see business cards or fliers scattered about, but that’s it. Back in the hey day you would see game companies taking out adds in each others magazines, dropping in adds in comic books and really trying to push the edge.

Is it lack of sales venue? Back in the day game companies had sections in national chain stores like Toys R Us. Today you are lucky to see anything other than the top two or three sellers in Barnes and Noble, and local game stores are disappearing thanks to online sales companies like Amazon. You used to be able to go into your local mom and pop and find some of the weirdest and most innovative games that had ever been printed.

Is it low quality? You can still find some rather innovative ideas in games online. But without the glossy print pics and driving background stories written by high end fiction writers there is so little to grab someones attention that you end up with a book that is just rules printed in a text size you can get into place. Or if you are selling them independently in PDF format online most of the time the buyers cant get a good look at the product if there is anything they can preview.

Could it be that we are all broke now when it comes to games? Or maybe the big publishers are having so much of a hard time with costs that in the last 15 years a hard cover rule book has gone from 20 to 60 dollars? Are they pricing us all out of reach?

Or maybe, just maybe, and yes I expect hate mail for this one, have gamers just gotten lazy? Do they not want to experiment any more? Have they just found their one little nitch and that’s all they ever want to do? Because its a system or a setting or whatever. And because gamers have gotten lazy, when they teach others about games they dont say, ‘There is a lot of stuff out there, experiment and find the stuff you like.” Instead they say, “This is the best game ever and if you wont play it then you are not a real gamer and fuck you and the dice your rolled in here on.”

To be totally honest I have encountered all of it. All of it sucks. And all of it seems to be killing innovation in games.

I mean look at D&D 4th edition. That was just trying to make MMO’s into a freaking table top game. It sucked for me because I had seen the innovation and growth from 2nd edition to 3rd and 3.5 and had been thinking, ‘Holy shit if they did this much to improve things last time they are going to blow my mind, I know it.’ Yeah. No. But there are tons of people I know who loved it. It bridged that gap between the MMO games they had been playing and the RPG’s that others had played around them. So in a way it was just another step in innovation. In terms of game mechanics it was also sort of a step back. But D&D and all its changes are another rant.

Palladium games has not really had a change in their game system in, well, decades. Other than Power Creep. Champions by Hero had a small jump from 3rd to 4th edition and then from 5th to 6th. Is that the problem? Are the big companies failing to innovate themselves? And so no one else follows suit?

Sigh….

Ok so the point that I was trying to make here is that there seems to be very little innovation in gaming. There seems to be a few methods and no one gets past them. I am concerned that if nothing happens we may see the same thing we currently have in Hollywood when it comes to movies happen in games. Everyone spending all of their time and money regurgitating all of the same old things hoping that by pasting a new face on the front of it they can make money on the same thing all over again. Only to have folks tell them the new version is crap.

The only way I see to pull the industry out of that kind of loop is to get people online and purchasing the small press games that have new ideas. If they are great or if they suck. Just to let bigger companies see innovation, and I mean real innovation not just repackaged and repainted yesterday, pays.

Ok before I wander futher down any rabbit holes and turn this into some kind of omni rant, I need to step away from the keyboard.

Gimme the dice, I need to make a sanity check to see if this makes any sense.

Peace out and game on.

3 Comments

World Building 200a

Back again with more sci-fi world building. This is not going to be 201 because we are still on the starting questions. I have two more that you need to consider at the start of your world building and there are going to be a lot of links here because there are a vast number of potential answers.

Also if you have not answered the original four questions first, then these may seem really insurmountable… or not. 🙂

So what do you think could be so big that two questions could warrant a post all their own… heh

5 – Other than humans, how many races are there, and how diverse is their knowledge, species, and tech? You may first notice that this question does not ask how important these other races are, then again you may notice that it also does not ask how many worlds they control or how they relate to humans. It asks how diverse they are. This question is to get into the idea of what is out there. The very first sci-fi RPG that I got into (Star Frontiers) had a couple of very cool PC races and a somewhat alien villain race. But they all shared the same technology and in most cases their cultures came together without issue. Well except for the villains that is. The Dralasites from that setting are still one of my favorite races of all time in an RPG due to the fact that they are not humanoid in any real way but they shape themselves to try and fit in. With this question you want to look at how humanoid are the races in your universe. I mean even in the new version of BattleStar Galactica the Cylons are the aliens. Even though they were created by humans and can look just like them. But if you look at things like Star Wars  you have a few non-humanoid races but you also have species that are just farmers who do not embrace technology.

Personally I like to scale this question to the scale of my area of human knowledge question. If the human race is stuck in a solar system or two, then usually I will only scope out between one and three additional races. And I like to have the majority of them to be non-humanoid. This keeps the sense of being alien very strong. I think that in fiction we see that pretty well in settings like the Expanse where you dont see actual aliens but the residue of their technology (at least for the first five books). However if you are looking at a full galaxy to wander in then I will shoot for the Star Wars side of things where there are hundreds of races with tons of variety in tech and culture but strangely 90% of the races are humanoid.

There are of course exceptions to the standards I talk about for myself. I really enjoy things like the Babylon 5 setting where you have a limited area of the universe to play in, and major races are all over the place, but there are also tons of minor races. You can get really creative dumping just about any type of character you want into this from any race you want to create and folks will just have to suck it up and let it go because it is so open ended.

Now then all of the five previous questions lead us up to a single, big, ugly, painful question. Please pay very close attention to the phrasing here or you will scoff and miss the point.

6 – What is your worlds “magic”? Ok, do you see the quotes? Do you get the jist of the question? Let me break it out for you. Star Wars has both the Force, and technology. Star Trek and Babylon 5 have technology and genetics (psychic powers and unusual physical powers). CyberPunk has the matrix/net. And game settings like Rifts and ShadowRun have actual magic, with the tech, genetics and the net. The Expanse has hidden secrets in alien technology. And some game settings like Fading Suns and the new StarFinder game simply say screw it and have tech and magic. And then games like Eclipse Phase has technology that makes you question what it is to be human at all.

So why do I wrap it all up into a little package that I call “magic”? Well that is actually easier to me than saying something like, what makes your universe special? If you break down all of the other questions and then come to this one you will likely find that you have already answered it. Sure you can start with this question but if you do then everything else you are designing ends up revolving around this question. And sure Star Wars did a fairly good job of doing just that, but not every setting is going to be Star Wars. Hells, no setting other than Star Wars should be Star Wars.

I think now you see why I ordered the questions the way I did. If you are going to build a sci-fi setting you want to make sure you have something to draw the players in, and build it up from there. If you start with an element like the non-human races, or the things that give you a “magic” of sorts in your setting then you get stuck in those elements rather quickly and it becomes very easy (at least in my experience) to loose focus on the things that your players can relate to. And if you are running a game you need to have things that your players will relate to so that they can really get into the game and the characters they build. Even if they choose to play something that is not human. Actually in my honest opinion it is even more important to have the human relate-able items in place if players are going to play non-humans. That way they can capitalize on being alien. Not just humans with different features, but come from outside the human experience.

Anyway, relatively short post this week. But I wanted to make sure that readers had a chance to look at this and think it over before I bring up the 201 topic. Which may twist you a bit. 🙂

So gimme the dice. I need to see how many races I am going to use…

2 Comments

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 🙂

3 Comments

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 🙂

3 Comments

Getting into Character

Howdy all, another week, another blog post 🙂

So I have run around talking about world building, games, reviewed a few things and ranted about others. Ya gotta ask from time to time what the hell is he going to talk about this time.

Well what I really want to talk about is finding and getting into your character.

Why do I want to talk about this? Well, from my perspective there are hundreds of table top RPGs out there. And about two years ago I wrote a very short article about choosing a game to play. But I looked over my posts and while I have mentioned using music and settings and a ton of little things that you can do to get into a game, or character I realized that I have never talked about actually choosing a character to play.

Now then regular players of any single game will usually end up having a favorite that they always play, a favorite that they never get to play because the people they play with dont allow that rules supplement to be used, or they have a non-favorite that they frequently play because they are really good at it, or they have a character they are stuck with because the party needed one. For new players they will either be dropped into the middle of selection and just given free reign, or they will have friends and mentors who guide them to a type of character that is easy to learn the rules with. And then with time and practice they get to see what they might like, and develop favorites.

Some people never do develop a favorite. They enjoy exploring concepts and ideas and the latest thing they have seen on tv/cable/video games/movies/convention/that hot chicks tattoo, or wherever. And personally I think that concept players actually are playing their favorite. It may seem like a flavor of the moment to others, but in that moment, they are playing the coolest thing they know. So it kind of balances.

Now then for the folks that are not concept players… really… how do you pick your favorite. Let me blow your mind for a minute here. At its peak, when you include third party publications Wizards of the Coasts D&D 3rd Edition, had at rough estimates, over 1000 character classes that could be played. You have over one thousand options just to start playing a character. And then if you have a path for the character to grow in mind you have the ability to multi class. Meaning you can add more than one class together at a time to make something more unique. And if you wanted to absolutely useless you could make every one of your twenty base levels a different class, meaning by the time… yeah… ok you see it there, that damned big number. Ok so Minds blown a little right? Now imagine you are playing a point based game engine like GURPS by Steve Jackson Games or Champions by Hero Games. No classes. No restrictions. Build as you see fit in the points allotted. Totally free form.

So again, really, how do you pick your favorite?

Well, really, regardless of the genre you just need to answer a few questions and you can get right to it. I know that everyone is going to have their own way to do things in the end but here is a method that I have used in the past and I know it can be helpful.

Questions –

  1. Do you have a character from a movie or book or comic that just fits and you love and want desperately to play something just like them? If yes then make that character. Please do try to give them an original back story of some kind because we all know the story of Conan the Barbarian by now. But other wise, if you want Conan make freaking Conan. If you do not have a preexisting character you want to bring into your game, then go to the next question.
  2. What do you find the most fun to play in a game? This can usually be broken down into a few really big ideas. Physical Power. Skills. Esoteric Powers (this can be magic, psi powers, holy powers, super powers and any number of others). Toys and Gear. Speed. Combat Skills. Charisma. A combination of the above. I usually find that if I rate these seven items on a scale I can get an idea of just about any character type.
  3. What sort of backstory do you like? Money (lots of or lack of its still money). Mystery. Race. Gender. Weird. Basic every day until the adventure starts. Again if you set these up in order of importance you can really get a quick outline of a background.
  4. What is it that you want to drive the character forward? The Past. Money. Adventure. Justice. Balance. Quest. Gods this place is boring. Shank a Bitch. That last one used to be called something else. Thanks to the ladies in my life though it got changed.

So did you notice how nothing in those questions talked about a genre? Thats because if you like a character concept  you should be able to move it from genre to genre. It does not have to be the same character, but it can be a theme in what you play.

If I build with these ideas you will see the following happen.

  1. Skills, Toys, Combat skills, Speed, Esoteric Power,  Physical Power, and Charisma floats it either bottoms out or hits the top.
  2. Mystery, Race, Money, Weird, Gender. Basic everyday life does not usually show up at all in my idea of fun.
  3. The Past, Gods this place is boring, and Shank a Bitch. These are the drives I have the most fun with usually.

Now then if I was going to look at that list, and I was playing a D&D game, I would be looking for a Rouge, maybe a Bard or Monk. Who came into their skills and training from an unknown location and likely an uncommon race for the area the game starts in. They are either running from something, or out to kick some ass, or maybe both.

When I use that list playing Shaowrun I usually end up creating some sort of Rigger with a few extra items you wont find on a regular character template.

If I go into Champions I have some unusual mutant martial artist that may have a bit of a Batman complex mixed with a Punisher attitude. But they wont talk about why.

The fastest way to do something like this is to only pick one or two items from each question and make a really focused character. Then add things as you grow them. If you are used to building this way then you can do like I did and mix and match you your hearts content.

I will freely admit that this is a process that is not for everyone. Some folks may like using something like the Life Flow chart in Cyberpunk by R Talsorian, or the background generator in Palladium Games books (even though it wont help you really pick a character it will give you a background for one). Or if you want to go to real extremes using tables to create backgrounds I would suggest looking into Buttery Wholesomeness, a supplement for White Wolfs HOL game, or if you are ready to search for them, Task Force Games put out three books in the late 80’s under their Central Casting blazon – Heroes for Tomorrow, Heroes NOW, and Heroes of Legend (supposedly system neutral but if you are using their stat bonus’ for characters you create you have best be using a percentile system).

So did this blog post really lead anywhere. In a zen kinda way, yes. By now you should know that there are a ton of different ways to come up with a character. Using whatever system you prefer, whatever method strikes your fancy. The only thing I would suggest is that you make a character you like, to play in a game you like, that represents a genre you like, with people you enjoy spending time with.

Be what you want to be, dream or nightmare. Here, all things are possible. Just remember that as in any other world, your choices will have consequences.

What does that mean? Well I have a feeling I will go into it in a later post about playing villains in a hero setting or something like that.

For now, gimme the dice, I got to see what happens when I roll up a half dwarf half giant using the 3.5 D&D rules… because I can.

Peace out, game on, and have fun while playing nice people 🙂

 

1 Comment

Review #12 Street Samurai Catalog (RS) +

Greetings readers

You will all notice the little plus sign out there on the title of this one, well that is because I am doing a little pitching for another blog here. My wife has started up a DIY blog for creating Steampunk items for home decorating. GO HERE. I think its only fair to try and steer people her way since she has asked me to do a game review on her blog. It is not my usual RPG game fare though, it is a table top game called Crimson Skies. Some may remember the Xbox game with the same title, or have read some of the game novels, but the table top game was done on a license from Microsoft by WizKidz. I know that table top games are usually the venue of my friend Dan the RPG man over at Dan on Games, but I just had to go ahead with it.

Now with that bit of shameless promotion out of the way, lets get to the reason you are really here, and that is my latest review.

The Street Samurai Catalog is a supplement for the first edition of the Shadowrun game published back in 1989. Shadowrun is a rather unique game due to the fact that it very successfully mixes Urban Fantasy and Cyberpunk into a very dark and fascinating world. It is also unique because even though it has been owned by several hands, since its inception in 1989 (see the link to wiki for a fair description of how it has changed hands) the game has run a series of ongoing story lines in meta plots that have progressed the world from 2050 to 2079. The rules system is a little complex when it comes to combat, and driving but overall it has been a lot of fun to stick with.

Ok so given that the game has been around for over twenty five years, why am I doing a review about a game supplement that came out in the first year of its production of the first edition? Well that is because this was the very first add on that I picked up for Shadowrun. The Grimoire was the second. It took me a while to really find the role I liked to play in this game setting but that is something that can be covered in another review or rant.

Considering that I had started playing RPG’s in the 70’s I had really gotten used to the idea that a supplement book would be just a stack of information about new gear. Maybe a few new rules and if I was lucky maybe an adventure in the back. On flipping through the book the very first time though I was caught off guard. There was not a lot of new stuff in the book. I mean for a 116 page book that I was going to drop twelve bucks on, I was really thinking that there should be more than one new item per page. Now then I will say this was back in the days when I was fairly new to FASA games publications. Only having played Battletech for a few years and mostly in a home brew kinda way, their tendency to add story and color elements to just about everything they do was something I had not completely caught on to yet. So I took a closer look at what they had offered. Yeah there is some cool gear here, and some new rules that made the items in the book a serious threat, or a serious joke.

What really caught me though was the color commentary by characters who were supposedly reading this book as an article posted online. It reminded me of some of the BBS sites that I had been introduced to. If you really think about it 1989, we were still a few years off from seeing the AOL revolution and the internet becoming a big thing. Thank you internet. And yet here was this book giving me the idea that there would be forums online where you could not only connect but to comment on things you were seeing. And even if people did not agree with you, you still had basic credibility because you were smart enough and skilled enough to get to this place online and talk about whatever you were looking into. But the banter that developed between characters, and the way they would evolve over the years became damned impressive. However that was to come, right at the moment I decided that yeah, this was worth my twelve bucks, this was how the future was going to look. And it looked like fun.

The book itself has entries on about ninety weapons, armor, vehicle and cyber options. Commentary on about half of them. Several pages of extra rules, Street Samurai character templates, reference sheets and character sheets.

Now then what is really funny about this, is that at the time this game came out, I was not convinced that I would play it. I was so hooked on supers (still am really) and fantasy settings that I just could not get into Shadowrun that much. I thought it was a cool idea sure. But I talked down about it almost as much as I talked up about it. When this book came out though, I decided that the Shadowrun world was mine, and I did not want to share it. So I sort of purposefully spiked the Shadowrun game I was in at the time by mocking the GM relentlessly (not that he didn’t need mocking) and trying to start up a game of my own (failed ohhh so badly). But again thats another story.

So how does this game stack up when I give it the numbers?

Fluff – 5/5 – This is going to be another moment when folks say… ‘Wait another supplement with a 5/5 in fluff, what the hell?’ And before I tell you to go piss in someone else’s corn flakes, let me tell you this. EVERY SINGLE ITEM that they are adding in this supplement, weapons, armor, cyber and toys gets its own art. Each one gets its own little bit of advertising like you would see in a catalog and over half of them have additional color commentary. Trust me the fluff is strong with this one.

Crunch – 2/5 – So you have to take this score in context a bit. This is a supplement made using the very first edition rules for a new game. In years to come it got easier and some of the rules got less unwieldy. But because of the changes in the rules structure it is a challenge to even import these items into the current edition of the game.

Mod – 1/5 – This is really an issue for Shadowrun over all up until the fourth edition. Due to rules complexity it is really easy to over power something by making very small seeming adjustments. And just as easy to make something completely useless. Actually there are a couple items in the book that really are useless. They sort of did that as a joke on themselves and even added color commentary that says “Wonderful. Now I can flatten light ammo against body armor faster than ever before.”

Fun – 4/5 – Ok so the rules hurt, and the chance to make things work or alter them is slim. But it is still a lot of fun. And it got more so as time went on and you could see the commentators appear in more and more supplements and see how they grew. The toys were fun to play with and it made a real impact on how I looked at games and what they could be. So yeah while I rate the fun high I am not going to max it out.

Overall – 12/20 – Ok so this is one of my lower overall scores. I figure I will have even worse in the future. With a score like this, is it worth looking into? I would say so if you like classic Shadowrun, have an obsessive need to go all pokemon on your RPG books and have to collect them all, or think that the art and comments might give you ideas. This is not going to be a book for everyone. Not even everyone who is a Shadowrun fan. But it is special to me and so I still say take a look and decide for yourself.

Well thats it for this time on my own blog. Not sure when my write up for Crimson Skies will appear on my wifes blog but it is something you can look forward to.

Now gimme the dice, got to see what the odds are that I will appear in other blogs and how much light ammo it will take to get back out of them.

Play safe and have fun folks.

Leave a comment