I've run games at every VirtuaCon, the official online convention for RPG Geek. They do good work and there's an interesting line up of events on offer this year. The convention happens the weekend of October 6th-8th. That's a couple of weeks before GauntletCon, so if you're looking for a place to do a trial run of your scenario consider this.
From the announcement:
VirtuaCon 17 is getting closer and closer at hand and we're starting to release more information on it.
Don't know what it is?
VirtuaCon is an all-virtual worldwide RPG gaming convention utilizing free online tools to bring gamers together for The Best 3 Days in Virtual Gaming. The con goes from Oct 6-8 and games can be run 24 hours a day.
I want to run a game! How do I do that?
That would be awesome! We are in desperate need of GMs! If you are interested, post the game information in the thread below and we'll get it on the schedule.
Virtuacon '17 - Game Master Sign-ups! (Deadline 01-Oct-2017)
I want to play in a game!
Yeah you do! Players sign-ups will start on Sept 15 and will be done on Warhorn.net. In the mean time, check out the list of games we currently have in the geeklist below.
VirtuaCon 17 Event Listing!
What can I get from going to the con?
You mean other than having an amazing time?
Well, all players and GMs get custom microbadges that you can only get from participating in VirtuaCon 17.
Additionally, we have loads of prizes to give away to GMs for running games.
I'm running two sessions this year so check them out!
WORLD WIDE WRESTLING
GLW FRIDAY AFTERNOON PPV: ROAD TRIP RUMBLE
Time-Slot A: Friday 06-Oct-2017 at Noon Eastern! (16:00 UTC)
Game Duration: 3 hours
Adventure: Geek League Wrestling vs. Gauntlet League Wrestling Cross Promotion
Game: World Wide Wrestling
Brief: Battle in the Squared Circle
Experience: None Required (Rules Taught as needed)
Pre Gens: Playbooks will be provided.
Run on: Google Hangouts with Google Sheets for Characters
On Air: This game will broadcast on-air and be recorded
Maturity: 18+ Only. We will use the X-Card given wrestling's sometimes problematic nature...
Gauntlet League Wrestling is on the road and looking for challengers from the Geek. PLayers will choose a playbook, make a couple of picks, we'll build a "heat map"...AND THEN IT BEGINS!
World Wide Wrestling lets you play out the world of "sports" entertainment using the Powered by the Apocalypse engine. If you know PbtA, great. If not, no worries. WWW is amazingly fun. And here's the thing: I wasn't a pro-wrestling fan. I didn't know anything about it really, but when I played this I had a blast. It's a game about drama, trying to keep your job, and getting the crowd hyped through collaborative athletic displays.
I recommend everyone give this game a try once. Even if-- as I did-- you think Pro Wrestling's dumb. If you're curious, you can check out the sessions I've already run for The Gauntlet Hangouts.
TALES FROM THE LOOP
Time-Slot L: Saturday 07-Oct-2017 at 10AM Eastern (14:00 UTC)
Game Duration: 4 hours
Adventure: Welcome to Wayward, OH
Genre: Kids on Bikes
Brief: Kids in an alt-1980's investigate weirdness
Experience: None Required (Rules Taught as needed)
Pre Gens: Playbooks will be provided.
Run on: Google Hangouts with Roll20 for characters
On Air: This game will broadcast on-air and be recorded
Maturity: 12+ Only. We will use the X-Card
Seats Available: 4
Welcome to Wayward, Ohio. You play teenagers in the late Eighties, solving Mysteries connected to the under-construction “Loop Project.” Everyday Life is full of nagging parents, never-ending homework and classmates bullying and being bullied. You will encounter the strange machines and weird creatures that have come to haunt the countryside as the Loop is being built. You can escape your everyday problems and be part of something meaningful and magical—but also dangerous.
We will take the first hour to make characters from playbooks, build relations, and set the scene. Then we'll play out our "mystery". Note: I'll be using the scenario I ran at Origins (and have posted on the blog), so if you've read that, you'll want to clear your head of that.
I'm also running events for GauntletCon! I'll be posting about those next week!
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Friday, September 15, 2017
GIRDERS FALL, EVERYONE DIES
So they get into a face-off with a corporate kill-team on an oil rig facility. The PCs have a superior position and they "Play Hardball." They want these guys to surrender and let them enter into the undersea research station to extract a target. The roll’s successful, the enemy team stands down. Then team leader from the corp groups makes them a counter-offer. He'll transfer 60 credits (a lot) to them immediately if they turn around and leave. He tells them the research station's infected with a bioweapon; they're heading down to neutralize it. The corp team's willing to blow themselves up rather than let it get loose.
The PCs proceed to as you might say, "dick around"
They push the guy, keep asking questions, bicker among themselves on and off comms. They stall while they try to make some contact with the cut off station. They don’t disarm these guys. Eventually the PCs push the leader to offer 75 credits.
They keep dicking around.
Finally one of the players again gets in the leader dude's face --- who they haven't disarmed mind you-- and tries to Fast Talk him for more money,
"I think you've got more to offer" he says.
The guy doesn't, but he says "I do have one more thing for you."
"Oh good. What's that?"
"The thirty seconds I'm giving you to get out of here because I triggered my bomb"
WHAT’S THE SPRAWL?
We hit session nine of ten last night for our campaign of The Sprawl. I expected a different game when I first played it. I’d imagined something more abstract, operating at a broader level. After two sessions as a player, I couldn’t decide what I thought. But it stuck with me and I put it on offer when I changed campaigns earlier this year.
The Sprawl’s a weird connector between two other games I’ve been running—The Veil and Blades in the Dark. It has the setting and technology of the former and the mission structure of the latter. The Veil’s has deeper world building via characters and explores issues I’m not sure The Sprawl would handle well. Blades in the Dark has a strong building element—your gang—it’s risky but you something more permanent.
In The Sprawl you’re standing on cracking ice. You have to keep moving or you’ll go under. It emulates the ethos and energy of classic cyberpunk: CP 2020, Shadowrun, CyberSpace. Those aren’t games I dug when they came out. I played them because the group liked them, but I never picked them first. I realized that I disliked long-term games where everything could blow up in an instant. That had happened several times. I once called these nihilistic games, but I’m not sure that’s the right term.
So why would I dig The Sprawl?
THE QUICK AND DIRTY
The Sprawl uses PbtA mechanics for stories about teams of operatives carrying out missions. It has all the expected cyberpunk archetypes: Fixer, Infiltrator, Tech, Drive, Hacker, Soldier. It adds to that a few more Killer (purely focused on mayhem), Hunter (skilled at tracking down targets), Reporter (using media tools to reveal the truth), and Pusher (a media figure playing with influence). The characters have badass skills, but also potentially serious obligations hanging over them. In character creation everyone creates a corporation. These will be most of the targets and employers for the campaign. If you start with cyberware you have to figure out how you paid for it. That means a connection to a corp who might own or be hunting your chromed ass.
Generally a session works like this. The team gets offered a job. They make a roll to see what they can negotiate out of the meet with the employer (better pay, more info, knowing who actually hired them). They then move to the Legwork phase. Here players investigate and plan out their op. They can get specific info as well as two resources: Intel (spend for a roll bonus) and Gear (spend to produce equipment). The group can keep doing this as long as they like, but they risk moving the “Legwork Clock” up. Like all clocks in The Sprawl, this has six segments. Filling the Legwork clocks means alerting your target to your actions.
Eventually the team has a plan and they move to the Action Phase. This covers more specific moves-- dealing with security, hacking systems, killing folks—to carry out objectives. There’s a Mission Clock for this as well. Hitting certain levels triggers different responses. Filling the Mission Clock means everything’s gone wrong—the mission’s blown and the group has to escape.
Assuming they’ve succeeded, the players can go to get paid. This is another roll, using the number of unfilled segments in the Legwork Clock as a bonus. High rolls give you more options (like marking XP, getting paid in full, not attracting attention, not being ambushed). In between mission time will likely be devoted to repairs, medical efforts, buying new equipment & cyberware, and getting revenge.
There’s more to the game. The Sprawl uses clocks in many interesting ways throughout. It has a solid tag-based approach to cyberware and equipment that’s easy to handle and track. The hacking system’s more extensive and detailed than you might expect from a PbtA game. The Sprawl’s XP system also has striking qualities. Advances cost ten points, where many others stick with 5 XP for an advance. That increase gives the system more room to drop XP bennies throughout the game. You mark XP when you take a job, make a plan, finish a job. More importantly each playbook has a set of Directives to choose from. These give XP when your character does something specific (“When you endanger the mission for financial gain, mark XP.”)
MY GAME’S CONTEXT
I’ve run The Sprawl for my Wednesday night online gaming group. It’s five players, all of whom have been playing together for 10+ years. Most I knew from f2f groups in the 20th Century; one I still play with locally. We’ve done Mutant & Masterminds and 13th Age. They’ve also played Numenera and WotC’s Gamma World together. After The Sprawl they’re switching over to Pathfinder. Three of the five players have really only played trad games. PbtA’s a big switch for them, but they have been down for it.
I wanted to keep some continuity with our last campaign. That had been an M&M 3e supers game with a tremendously effed up world. We’d used Microscope to build the 18 month gap between this supers campaign and the ones before it. As sometimes happens, the group had gone dark with their input. For The Sprawl I jumped forward 82 years, to 2099 in the same world. But there wouldn’t be any supers. We’d leave that an open question: why had they vanished? Where had they gone? I’d let that simmer in the background. It would be a straight cyberpunk game but with slight homage to Marvel’s 2099 series (Spider Man 2099, Punisher 2099, etc) and Batman Beyond.
I’ve posted the sessions so far on YouTube. You can see the video playlist here. We used Roll20 which has an amazing automated character. It’s one of the best. I used the clocks created by Fake_Alex_Blue. They’re great. In the recording you only see the Roll20 board—we use Roll20’s video/audio feed because I continue to have major problems with that (despite being a high level paid subscriber). That means you can’t see the players. OOH neither could I as the GM. This group doesn’t use cameras so I can’t see their faces. It makes things ten times harder as you may notice if you watch any of the sessions.
LET’S GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY
I loved The Sprawl, much more than I thought I would. It does mission-driven cyberpunk better than any other game I’ve played. It’s fun, mean, frenetic, and full of interesting choices. I like the play structure, the use of resources, and the variety in the playbooks.
If you’re looking for mean, wicked, mission-based cyberpunk, look to The Sprawl. I recommend it even if you’re not a PbtA GM. It has a ton of ideas and mechanics for handling situations in dynamic ways. There’s a ton you can steal from it.
I’m glad I bought it.
THINGS I COULD HAVE DONE BETTER
1. Because of the mission structure and challenge of running when you can’t see your players, I rush through some parts of the game. It’s a group that, after ten years, still has issues of talking over one another from time to time. Players will step away from the mic or mute themselves without an indicator. Sometimes they text or mention brb, but that can get lost when I’m running. So I’m never entirely sure if someone’s actually “at the table.” That makes me tense.
2. That rush meant I didn’t get create the cyberpunk atmosphere as richly as I could have. I have some good detail bits and I had a solid vision in my head of what the world was like. But I didn’t get that across as well as I could have. At times I focused so strongly on moving the heist/job/mission forward that it ended up a more generic thriller sequence.
3. I needed to vary my GM Moves more. In the latter half of the campaign I got better about putting hard choices out there and using soft GM moves to create atmosphere. Often I fell back to a couple of defaults—putting a physical threat in place, dealing harm, and moving clocks forward. The game has other tools and options. I should have explored those further.
4. We had a strange mix of characters: Infiltrator, Pusher, Hacker, Tech…and Killer. Having one PC strongly focused on force & combat made mission choice more difficult. If they went in quiet, then the Killer often could only look menacing, losing the opportunity to use many of their moves. On the other hand, if violence broke out, it made things more difficult for the other four characters to use their talents. I’m not sure I handled that balance well. There are a couple of other “combat” archetypes with some better non-com elements. Maybe I should have steered the player more that direction.
5. I don’t think I did a great job with the Hacking rules. I often ended up short-handing those elements. The game has a rich sub-system, but I often moved the hacker to the same set of things. When I run this again, I really need to be ready to handle that better.
THINGS I’D LIKE TO SEE
1. More tools for generating missions. There’s a supplement, November Metric, but it focuses on new locales and campaign frames. I’ve mentioned elsewhere the excellent Augmented Reality. It’s a supplement every cyberpunk GM should have in their collection and great for The Sprawl. But I’d also like something more involved. Andrew Shields has done an amazing PnP “Heist Deck” for Blades in the Dark. It has detailed obstacles, treasures, and important people. I think something like that for The Sprawl would be awesome. I’d likely follow that same structure.
2. I have to go back and look again, but I’d like more support on two fronts for the non-mission parts of the game. The basic moves are smartly directed at the mission structure. I’d like some optional moves for life outside of that, though I don’t know exactly what that would look like. Moves for finding and setting up missions could be awesome. Right now the default is that someone approaches the group. I’d like to see a little more support for PC proactivity.
3. More ideas for Directives, one of the key XP generators. Several of my players hit up against these and had a difficult time. They work for players who know PbtA games and those who want to hard exploit the system. They’re also nastier and more chaos causing in other games. I wonder if something like Dungeon World’s Flags might be better or if that would just dull the edge.
Again, to recap I dig The Sprawl. It’s a set of rules for a specific kind of game and it does that well. It isn’t a universal cyberpunk rpg and that’s for the better. It has a rich flavor with has tricks and tools you could steal for games like Leverage & Blades in the Dark. Or you could use those to enhance it. Good stuff.
Oh, but I didn't mention the uplifted cyber-lemur who ripped out The Pusher's eye...
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
I continue to cannibalize content by pulling together my "RPGaDay" answers. You can see Part One, Part Two, and Part Three here. With this we have finished.
Day 24 Alt Question What gives an RPG its ‘replay value’?
Here I’m reading “replay” as: I’m willing to play another session. If I’m going to come back to an rpg, I want continuity. Usually we have three kinds of continuity in an campaign: story, setting, and characters. These threads connect the sessions. You don’t necessarily need all of them. I can imagine thematically linked games which only tell a story. They might explore the same idea over multiple iterations of place and characters.
In some ways that’s the least important to me. Sure I want to finish and find out what happens, and I want to build on previous events and choices. But I’m more focused on continuity of character. I like to see my characters encounter new events and make those interesting choices. I like to see them grow—narratively and mechanically. It’s part of why I love GMing so much—I have access to all the characters PCs and NPCs. I get to see their story. I want to like those characters and experience joy, suffering, triumph, and more along with them.
That’s part of why I’ve always been less into rpgs that foreground the setting. In these games the set-up-- the dungeon, the adventure, the puzzles-- they’re the focus. The characters not so much. Characters can come and go without any real impact beyond logistics. Facts of a characters identity—origin, race, appearance, attitude—don’t matter outside the mechanical frame. If your character dies, you just roll up another one. Death is cheap here. It always happens; that high rate is a feature not a bug.
That’s the extreme version. I think most games find a middle space. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good setting—well described, cleverly thought out, evocative in detail. These have details and places you can interact with. But game isn’t going to pull me back unless it combines that with characters who matter. They might not always win, they might die, the might pay high costs…but I know their names and I know that who they are matters in the game.
Day 25 What is the best way to thank your GM?
Look, I've gotten tipped with Amazon GC's and wishlist buys when I've run long campaigns online. I'm not going to lie-- that feels pretty awesome. I do, however, feel a little venal after that. Not dirty enough to turn it down of course...
What makes me feel good, actually feel the best, are the little things: groans when I say "OK, let's stop here," players excited to do leveling up, when they remember obscure NPC names because they want to talk to them again, objecting when I say we're probably getting close to the end of the campaign, responding openly with feedback when I ask for it (because that shows they trust me a little), and all the times they say "I was thinking about my character and...".
For me the short answer is Microscope. That’s provided a tool I’ve gone back to again and again. It’s helped build many campaigns and offers a useful structure for any kind of collaborative rpg process.
But I’ve also run several different cyberpunk rpgs in the last few months: Shadowrun Anarchy, Kuro, Neo Shinobi Vendetta, The Sprawl, The Veil. And every time I go back to Augmented Reality. It’s a set of random tables for cyberpunk settings, apparently inspired by Vornhiem (something I think I glanced at once).
The tables are smart and useful: sensory data (sights, smells, etc), businesses, environmental factors, people, patrons, “loot,” and so on. I use them to generate short tables and lists for inspiration during play. I’ve used the “jobs” ideas to come up with plot threads to drop on the table. The materials don’t necessarily work with every cyberpunk setting, but you can easily modify them on the fly.
You can easily adapt this for other sci-fi games, especially grungy ones like Rogue Trader or Fading Suns. I’ve also used certain tables as inspiration for Blades in the Dark. I’m thinking out retooling several of them for just that purpose. A larger set of environmental tables for Duskvol would complement the material in the GM chapters of BitD.
I’ve bought the pdf and two copies of the physical version. I gave one away to my nephew who wants to run cyberpunk. I try to say this sparingly, but if you’re running games in this genre—you need to pick this up. The pdf is PWYW right now (and probably could have been an answer to earlier question about which publisher need to charge more).
Day 27 What are my essential tools for good gaming?
My Mead Cambridge Stiff-backed Writing Pads in Canary or Graph Paper (#59870)
Dry Erase Cards & Tablets
My fallback game prep sheets: Triad Sheets, 3 Things, Fate Scenario, and/or Ashen Stars Problem sheets.
Day 28 What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?
I have to take a kind of mulligan on this question. Our f2f groups have been playing together for a long time. The oldest player I've played regularly with since 1990. We've played many, many campaigns. Most folks in the group have been with us 10-15 years. So the when we quote, we most often quote old games and incidents. It's fun shared language, but has the disadvantage of excluding new players.
Day 29 What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?
I've had generally good results with Kickstarters. I've gotten stuck with a couple I'm pretty sure will never fulfill. Oddly they’re both done by people I've met (and one by someone I played and worked with extensively). I'm a little more cautious now. I have at least one KS that hasn't yet fulfilled, but their set up work was pretty awesome: City of Mist. They did a great job selling their product, adding options, and getting the word out there. The amazing and polished quickstart they released demonstrated their professionalism. It also showed how far along they were in the process. But I haven't yet seen the final release.
So I have to go with Tales from the Loop. Great presentation, catchy graphics for the site, a clear statement of purpose. They had some stretch goals and add-ons, but they kept those tight. They promised a fast turn-around and they delivered. The end product came out awesome.
Publisher Fria Ligen learned lessons from their previous Kickstarters. They didn't have the problems of ink-stink that plagued Coriolis. And they haven't had the pdf problems that still affect Coriolis (they promised DTRPG links but two months later haven't delivered. They're blaming Modiphius for the problem). But overall I've been happy with the work they've done and the speed they've done it with.
"Legend of the Fading Suns"
Fading Suns pitches itself as a sci-fi game with a fantasy rpg model. It resembles Dungeons & Dragons in space- with a thrown together adventuring party. But in some ways it's closer to the grittiness of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. FS suggests a vast wilderness to explore, curtailed by the nature of the jump gates. It pushes towards a party pulling in different directions- in Fading Suns the various “races” have widely differing agendas. Having an FS “Cleric” and a “Magic-User” together will probably lead to immediate strife. Fading Suns presents a rich back story full of conflict and detail, but you have to either ignore or leave as a looming intra-group for the game.
What I dig about FS:
*Sci-fi with a fantasy element- swords and the pseudo medieval pageantry.
*Noble houses each with a different character.
*Psychic powers with interesting flavor to that. Some powers corrupt. The Church’s has gifts, but it’s ambiguous if they should be seen as psychic.
*Decadent and strange relic technology. High technology is dangerous but less sophisticated technology remains viable.
*The Jump Gates
*Aliens present, but not central to the story.
*Guilds with sets of carefully tended skills
*The possibility for social conflict, power struggles, and diplomatic and courtly activities.
What don't dig about FS
*Monolithic presentation of the Noble Houses. Even when you get some drill down in the secondary materials, those rarely do much to change or develop the initial stereotypes.
*The Church can be truly awful in places- very nasty and dark. It almost creates an alignment problem for a group which includes Church archetypes.
*Some of the aliens seem goofy- like the Vorox and some presented from the Player’s Companion.
*Ship combat’s clunky and weird.
*Psychics get the short end of the stick.
*A Slavers' Guild?
But here's the big thing for me: the nobility lack a kind of central ethos- a reason for being and a way of behaving that directs players. So your central driving forces are either completely personal or the reactionary church. I want a Fading Suns game that patches in Legend of the Five Rings/Blood and Honor's approach to family and clans.
First, you'd have a code, a set of ideals nobles and others measure themselves against. Virtues that can be called out. Noble families would have differing emphases on and interpretations of these elements. They could see one as vital above the others and possibly another as not really important. That's the way the Clans are in Legend of the Five Rings. It gives you a good hook for each of them. At the same time, in L5R each Clan has sub-families representing different aspects. It creates internal tension within them.
Second, you'd refocus on a building game. Blood & Honor lets you create a Clan, you could do that with FS. The characters would come from the same family that they would create at the start, but they'd had different connections and backgrounds. Nobility represents a general background rather than determining anything about role or class. Players can still play rogues, engineers, psykers, priests ,etc. But those function within the context of the House and Family. They're a group "adventuring" but a higher interest. The Church and the Guilds would be a parallel family.
Third, we'd have a building game element. The rules would include tech and tracking for building up your family's interests. I don't know if that would be a specific as particular "seasonal" building projects or more general like adding resources & pull. For the former you could steal the settlement mechanics from MYZ and the province stuff from Blood & Honor.
Anyway, I've gone on way to long on this. It's a concept I've thought about before and kind of a white whale for me. I don't know if jamming these conceptual rpg elements together makes them stronger or washes them out.
2. I have several massively overdue rpg Kickstarters. Several of them I don't think we'll ever see. But a late one I'm sure we'll finally get in 2018 is 13th Age Glorantha. I have group who has played in that setting primed & ready for when that arrives. I'm also hopeful about Scion 2e, Mutant: Mechatron, and Shinobigami.
3. But I'm most excited about running more games online for The Gauntlet. At this point I've run a full year with them and its been the best online gaming I've done. Great group, solid structure, and a chance to try out interesting things. My online Wednesday group is wrapping soon, so I'm going to shift over to offering Gauntlet games on that evening as well. I'll add that to my Thursday evening and Sunday morning offerings.
I have some plans for the new year. I want to run a game where players can more easily drop in & out should they want to. To do that I'm going to run an ongoing Mutant: Year Zero campaign through the 1st Quarter 2018. Their Ark will remain continuous and grow, but players can come in for one session, a few sessions, or all of them. If that works, I might try one of the other Mutant games for Q2 (Genlab Alpha or Mechatron).
I still want to try out new and hot games, especially those with quickstarts. Star Trek and Mutant Crawl Classics are on my short list. I also want to make sure I run at least one Fate session each month, to showcase all the different things you can do with that. Finally I also want to run PbtA of some kind on a monthly basis. I have several of these I want to try my hand at running: Epyllion, Green Law of Varkith for DW, Urban Shadows, Masks, and more.
So, more games, more games.
Thursday, September 7, 2017
FORTRESS OF TURPITUDE
I love, love Base Raiders. Every time I revisit the concept, I’m struck by how cool it is. It manages to do something completely new with supers gaming and traditional dungeon crawls. The short pitch: all of the world’s superbeings have vanished and it’s clear they’re never coming back. A few stragglers remain: d-listers, sidekicks, those with latent abilities.More importantly: all of the superbeings’ STUFF stayed behind. There are dungeons scattered across the world: lairs, secret bases, island fortresses. Now a class of “Base Raiders” has emerged hunting for wealth, DiY superpowers, secrets, or beyond.
I ran Base Raiders for the final game in my Gauntlet Hangouts “Month of Fate” trilogy. It originally used the “Strange Fate” rules of Kerberos Club. I’d run it using that once before, but wanted something lighter, more manageable, and associated with more recent Fate Core. I’ve also run it using Action Cards and have written up a partial hack for using 13th Age with it. But this time I went with stunt-based Fate adaptation.
I took elements from Atomic Robo and Venture City Stories for this. However I skipped the power FX elements from the latter. In play they’ve been more confusing than interesting. Instead I built everything on straight stunts and bundled those together into a power set with a narrower drawback element. Players could consider their Power Stunt Set title as an additional aspect.
Once per story, players could mark their drawback element to boost the power set. If they did so, they could add +4 to a roll OR mitigate all damage from an attack. This then triggered the drawback. This gave one of three effects: Burn-out means they lost the power set until they had time between scenes to cool down. Debility gave a negative aspect with two free invokes for enemies. Collateral Effect meant something of value gets damaged. This approach needs work. While some of Venture City Stories' collateral effects don’t make as much sense in a base, my approach felt a little weak as well.
I also went with a tighter skill list: Aim, Athletics, Deceive, Fight, Investigate, Knowledge, Physique, Provoke, Rapport, Stealth, Tech, Thief, and Will. It worked decently, although given the nature of the set-up, Tech became a potent fallback skill. It might be different in a magical super base. I’m not sure if that needs to get broken up in some way. I also used the fifth action type: Discover.
LOOT BOXES & MICROTRANSACTIONS
As a dungeon-crawler, Base Raiders means loot. The original version has an involved system for tracking this with weight and cash value. I wanted something different. I came up with the idea that characters could make a single salvage check in a room (with investigate, knowledge, tech, or thief). Only one person could make the roll, but they could get the assist bonus from their party. Each shift of success would translate into 1 Loot point, meaning valuables they could sell when they got home. As well, they could choose to give up two shifts to get Intel or Gear. Each Intel could be spent to later ask a question or establish a fact. Each Gear could be spent to produce something specific or grant a +2 to a roll.
It’s not a bad system and gave us something concrete to work from. Rooms could have “items” outside of this scheme. Originally I’d intended to set difficulties for different rooms depending on how hard it would be to get good stuff from them. In practice, I skipped that and used a default 0 difficulty. That made it more colorless, so I should have stuck with my original approach.
MY SO-CALLED DELVE
I ran the adventure from the back of the core book. You can see the sessions here (Session One, Session Two). I made a couple of changes from my previous runs. First, I left out the “legwork” phase of finding the location of the base. In that past that had eaten up more time than I’d cared for. I did some basic connection building instead. Two, I used a ‘satellite’ base, something from the original which I’d skipped before. That offered a nice bit that I’ll use again in the future. Three, I had some “friendlies” in the base. I chose that for session two because of a background detail one of the players had come up with (that he was one of several clones of an evil mastermind).
I dug the session, though I ended up compressing more at the end than I wanted. I could have easily had another session or two. Because I’ve been exposed to more dungeon-crawly adventures recently via The Gauntlet and Fear of a Black Dragon, I’ve been thinking about how you might adapt existing fantasy modules to this. In particular I wonder if you could do a “superhero funnel”? Overall I had a good time and I’ll definitely run BR again next year. I’m hoping that designer Ross Payton returns to this setting. It’s solid and worth developing.
Below are the six re-gens I used for the game. The players chose the first four characters (Aurelio the Mongoose, Denny Blackstone, Doctor Epsilon, and Raz (aka Razputin).
You're a potent martial artist trained from photocopied ancient scrolls
What made you decide to take a risk on a mail-order superhero course?
What's kept you from continuing on with your training?
What do you want most out of your superhero life?
High Concept: Taught by Visions from an Atlantaen Dojo
Trouble: Unfinished Training Course
Drive: Strong Must Protect the Weak
Great (+4): Fight
Good (+3): Athletics, Physique
Fair (+2): Investigate, Knowledge, Provoke
Average (+1): Deceive, Provoke, Stealth, Thief
STOIC POWER SET
- Drawback: Lockdown (debility)
- Armor: 2
- You gain an additional physical stress box.
- Whenever one of your physical consequences begins to recover, it gets renamed and moved to the next lower consequence slot, if available. This clears away mild consequences immediately. Additionally, at the end of a scene, if you have any mild physical consequences—whether they are recovering or not—clear away automatically.
IRON CYCLONE TECHNIQUE POWER SET
- Drawback: Chi Inflammation (burnout)
- When you Fight a close group of targets, you deal full damage shifts to all of them.
- You ignore the first 2 points of protection of any target you strike.
- In a physical conflict, you always act first. If someone else in the conflict has a stunt that gives them the same ability, make an Athletics roll to see who goes first.
- When you use Fight to defend in melee and succeed with style, sacrifice your next action to immediately inflict an attack on your opponent at the shift value of your defense. For example, if you get four shifts on your defense, you’d deal a 4-shift hit to the attacker. You can’t do this again until you have another “next action” to spend (after your skipped turn goes by).
- You are preternaturally graceful, and gain +2 to Athletics when leaping, balancing, or otherwise demonstrating your agility. In addition, you have a prodigious leap: leaping up to a second-story window or from rooftop to rooftop across a wide alleyway is a simple task that, without further complication, requires no Athletics roll.
What do your powers look like?
What illness are you suffering from?
What price did you pay to get your magic?
High Concept: Gutter Mage
Trouble: Slowly Killing My Body
Drive: Know All the Secrets
Great (+4): Knowledge
Good (+3): Contacts, Stealth
Fair (+2): Deceive, Provoke, Rapport
Average (+1): Athletics, Investigate, Physique, Will
HEX & JINX POWER SET
- Drawback: Karmic Justice (burnout)
- You may use Knowledge to defend against attacks. When you use Knowledge to create a problematic aspect on a target, you always gain +1 invoke.
- You may use Knowledge instead of Aim to attack at range.
- Once per scene, you may ask the GM a question about future events, the likely outcomes of your actions, or any other information you can only access through seeing the future. The GM must answer as honestly as possible, but may be vague.
- You can fritz out nearby machines using Knowledge. Something computerized will put up Fair (+2) opposition, and more complex and powerful computers will offer greater opposition.
GONZO SORCERY POWER SET
- Drawback: Exhausting (debility) *note: all of these effect are potent, but have problems*
- You can use Aim to shoot every target near you at full strength. However, if you do so you will always hit something or someone you don’t want to.
- You can blow open the door to a bank vault, destroy a reinforced wall, or otherwise eradicate an obstacle. This is slow and imprecise and will tear up the entire room.
- You can create a temporary army of duplicates, but you can’t control them. This creates a swarm of you-NPCs under the GM’s control.
- Once per scene, if someone is taken out (including you), you can draw on crazy sorcery. Not only does this completely negate all the stress which would have caused the target to be taken out, it also clears your target’s highest consequence. After that, your magic goes haywire while dishing out some collateral damage.
You're a clone of a now vanished super-villain
What was Dr. Pangloss known for?
How did you break away from your mental or physical conditioning?
Who has been hunting you?
High Concept: Genetically Augmented Intellect
Trouble: Clone of Villainous Dr. Pangloss
Drive: Transhumanism for All
Great (+4): Investigate
Good (+3): Aim, Tech
Fair (+2): Deceive, Knowledge, Will
Average (+1): Fight, Provoke, Rapport, Stealth
IMPLANTED MEMORIES POWER SET
- Drawback: Visions of a Villain’s Life (debility)
- You get a +2 to Knowledge, Investigate, and Tech rolls whenever they involve science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics.
- Whenever you succeed with style on an overcome action to repair a piece of machinery, you can immediately give it a new situation aspect (with a free invoke) reflecting the improvements you’ve made, instead of just a boost.
- Once you see how someone fights, you can exploit their weaknesses. When someone deals physical stress to you in a conflict, you gain +2 to all attack rolls against them until the end of the scene.
- You have any number of fantastically useful contraptions tucked into your utility belt. You can spend a fate point to create just about anything you could possibly carry on your person.
- You have a disguise maker which can alter your face, build, and voice at will in order to become a completely different person. Once you spend time interacting with someone, you can imitate them near-perfectly. Gain a +2 bonus to Deception to oppose others trying to see through your disguise.
PROTOTYPE WEAPONRY POWER SET
- Drawback: Field Test Errors (burnout)
- When you attack with Aim, you have Weapon 2. Additionally, when you make a successful attack, you may trade in 2 shifts to Create an Advantage on the target. You may do this multiple times.
- You throw out energy blasts quickly and accurately enough to intercept other projectiles. You can defend using Aim against ranged attacks.
You're a mentalist who fled from a dangerous organization
What illness is your sister suffer from?
Who did you run away from?
What distinctive effect or trace do your powers leave behind?
High Concept: Psychic Agent on the Run
Trouble: Illegal Tenno-Kanna Training Program Dropout
Drive: Find a Cure for my Sister
Great (+4): Will
Good (+3): Deceive, Rapport
Fair (+2): Contacts, Investigate, Tech
Average (+1): Athletics, Knowledge, Stealth, Thief
MIND LASH POWER SET
- Drawback: Echoing Backlash (burnout)
- You may use Will to make ranged attacks against living targets. This ignores Armor and only requires line of sight.
- Questioner. You have a +2 to Discover actions when directly questioning a target face-to-face.
- You can silently & mentally communicate with persons you know at any distance.
- Once per scene you may mark mental stress in place of physical.
TELEKINETIC POWER SET
- Drawback: Cyclone of Damage (collateral effect)
- You can move physical objects to make attacks with Will.
- You can use Will to lift large objects. Lifting something human-sized is a Fair (+2) obstacle, while a car is a Great (+4) obstacle.
- You can erect a barrier between yourself and another area, which lasts until the end of the scene or you will it away. This barrier is transparent, but no matter can pass through it. When someone attempts to attack through the barrier, or attacks the barrier itself, you intercept the attack, using Will to defend. If the attack succeeds, you may either take the shifts as mental stress or allow the barrier to shatter and take mental stress equal to half of the shifts, rounded down. You may erect multiple barriers, but each active barrier after the first reduces your Will roll to defend by one.
- You can move vertically through the air as easily as moving along the ground. Use Will to overcome obstacles or create advantages related to flying.
Have you always been this way? If not what were you before? If so what do you recall of your "birth"?
How reptilian are you? What do you look like?
What do you know about the person(s) who did this to you?
High Concept: Engineered Reptilian Assassin
Trouble: Scaly Abomination
Drive: Find the Truth of My Past
Great (+4): Fight
Good (+3): Physique, Stealth
Fair (+2): Athletics, Provoke, Thief
Average (+1): Aim, Investigate, Knowledge, Tech
COMBAT ENHANCEMENTS POWER SET
- Drawback: Ruthless Frenzy (collateral effect)
- As long as you’re using brute strength, you get a +2 to Physique rolls and a +2 to Fight rolls.
- You have Armor: 2 against physical attacks like punches, stabs, gunshots, and getting thrown through buildings.)
- You can leap off the wall to put a little more punch into your punches. You gain +2 to Fight if you can attack someone by jumping off a wall.
- If you can see a projectile coming, you can get out of its way with some clever gymnastics. You gain +2 to defense rolls when dodging ranged attacks.
MUTANT CHAMELEON POWER SET
- Drawback: Vitality Drain (debility)
- You can blend with the background, granting you a +4 bonus to Stealth rolls to avoid visual notice.
- Fade Away. You can choose to disappear—leave a scene—anytime. Spend a fate point to come back.
- You can move along any solid surface, even upside-down, as easily as you move along the ground. In addition, you get +2 to Athletics while navigating obstacles that involve climbing.
- When you Create Advantage from surprise, you always gain an extra invoke.
You're the former protégé of a now missing famed vigilante
What was your mentor known for?
What happen that causes your flashbacks?
Who do you go to for equipment and repairs?
High Concept: Shadowy Rooftop Avenger
Trouble: Sidekick Without a Master
Drive: I Will Solve the Mystery of Ragnarok
Great (+4): Athletics
Good (+3): Fight, Investigate
Fair (+2): Aim, Provoke, Stealth
Average (+1): Contacts, Knowledge, Physique, Thief
GRIMDARK VIGILANTE POWER SET
- Drawback: Flashbacks to Capture (debility)
- Once per session, at the cost of a fate point, you can reduce the severity of a moderate consequence that’s physical in nature to a mild consequence (if your mild consequence slot is free), or erase a mild consequence altogether.
- When you create an advantage on an opponent using Provoke, you can use your free invocation to become the target of that character’s next relevant action, drawing their attention away from another target.
- Hardcore Parkour. +2 to overcome actions with Athletics if you are in a chase across rooftops or a similarly precarious environment.
- Always a Way Out. +2 on Burglary rolls made to create an advantage whenever you’re trying to escape from a location.
BIONIC ARM POWER SET
- Drawback: Out for Repairs (burnout)
- You gain +2 to Physique in all situations that require pure strength.
- Add an additional +2 bonus when using Full Defense to defend yourself in combat. If used to defend others, gain 2 Armor Rating instead.
- Add +2 Weapon Rating to an attack where you also invoke a consequence the defender has.
- Spend 1 Fate Point as an opponent is about to make a Fight attack against you. You may interrupt this attack with an attack of your own. This attack does not count against your next action. If your opponent is still active, he may then attack normally.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
I continue to cannibalize content by pulling together my "RPGaDay" answers. You can see Part One and Part Two here. I have one more installment for next week.
Day 17 What RPG have you owned the longest but not played?
There’s an odd break in my game ownership; we lost most of our rpg books in the fire and had to rebuy. A few things survived—water-warped Mage and Transhuman Space books, plus some Harn, RM, and Glorantha stuff we had stored away. So for this, I’m mentally adding pre-fire time to whenever I got it post-fire.
By that calculation, it's Heavy Gear. HG came out in 1995 and I picked it up immediately. I loved the idea of a mech game, but Mekton, Mechwarrior, and RoboTech hadn’t clicked for me. Heavy Gear looked more interesting, with a cartoonish style and seemingly simple rules. I liked that the Gears were more armored suits than multi-story robot warriors. The company released “Cardfighter” board games that came out just before the rpg, teasing the universe. They sold those in hard plastic VHS cases.
But when I sat down to read the rules, they didn’t grab me. Heavy Gear had what seemed like way-too-simple resolution and a strangely inflexible setting. It built on tactical miniatures mechanics but felt odd to me. I don’t know exactly why I skipped on it—I bought the sourcebooks but never tried to get it to the table.
Over the years I followed the Heavy Gear line. For a time RAFM or Grenadier released amazing minis for it. These were big figures, scaled at the standard 25-30mm, done in metal. I still have many of these. Eventually the company realized how limiting that was switched the scale far downwards, making humans 10-15mm and Gears about twice that. It made sense for what they wanted to focus on, but it turned me off. The company also licensed the game world out with minor success. The Heavy Gear PC was fun but buggy. I only played it a couple of times since it was outside my skillset. The Gears moved fast, way faster than I could handle.
When my friend Barry passed, I realized he’d been just as into Heavy Gear, but also hadn’t gotten it to the table. I inherited his collection of books, pretty much the complete set. That and my original core book vanished in the fire. Then a few years ago I ended up with two copies of the 2nd edition core book and some of the supplements, a payoff from Chains of Generosity. I still have those.
And I still haven’t played them. Looking through them again, the world still feels closed in. Heavy Gear has a metaplot and highly structured setting on a single planet. I don’t feel ton of imaginative space. On the other hand the rules now seem overly complicated and dense to me. They seemed paper thin two decades ago, but now I can’t even imagine trying to get them to work.
Day 18 Which RPG have you played the most in your life?
Still Action Cards, our homebrew. We’ve been playing it steadily since the beginning of 2007, with 1-3 sessions on average every two weeks. Even before that date, I’d already run three discrete AC campaigns over the previous decade.
Outside of that Rolemaster and GURPS come the next closest. The latter edges out if we split RM into Classic and Standard system.
Day 19 Which RPG features the best writing?
I’m sure you’ll hear this in other people's answers, but I think some games get compelling and interesting right, while others get clear and illustrative right. A few of the best balance the two. Up until this year, my answer for this would have been Hollowpoint. It has that balance. Brad Murray’s lean and clear presentation does an amazing job of creating a strong atmosphere while providing a clear set of resolution mechanics.
But then I read and ran Blades in the Dark. I'll admit, for the first few pages I wasn’t sure. I couldn't tell where the designer was headed with the explanation. But then, not far in, everything clicked. BitD has a ton of moving parts—layered resolution systems, rules for running your gang, ideas for handling the world. But it presents it well and logically as you read. It compliments those systems with smart and excellent examples of play.
I’ve seen some people complain about there being too many rules for the core mechanic. There aren’t. It’s a simple system with on-the-fly resolution. The difference is that Harper works hard to show you the different ways you can read those results. They aren’t rules, they’re examples. Sometimes rpgs with looser core systems, like some PbtA games, don’t do a great job of showing you what play actually looks like for specific systems. Sometimes they give fragmented ones or a single example to stand for everything. Blades in the Dark is constantly stopping off to say, “And this is what that looks like…”
It also presents the setting in pieces, a slow accrual of details. By the time you actually get to the sections in the back that lay this stuff out, you’ve been immersed in it. I love that. So many games I’ve read-- the hundreds from the RPG Genre lists-- info dump at the start, clumsily drop things in, or thinly sketch the setting in the GM section. Blades sets things up such that you become more curious as you go.
Blades has a specific setting—all of the mechanics are baked into that place. But I never feel like I couldn’t pull it out and hack it for something else. It smartly balances that. A rich world supported by the game, but also an adaptable core system. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be work—it would be. But the game doesn’t cloak those elements.
Blades in the Dark does have a flaw, and one that comes from this reader-centered approach. For me it brilliantly sets up and presents the material and information. It’s a dynamite book for learning the game—one of the best. However that organization of info is less helpful when you’re hunting for specific rules and details at the table. I’ve been trying to organize the cheat sheets around the parts I flip back to the book for most. That can be a pain, but I think the beauty of the writing and teaching approach of the book outweighs that.
Day 20 What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?
I'm going to abstain from answering this. Sometimes I have to find and check out old, old games for my RPG Genre Histories. These are things which are long gone, unavailable on DTRPG, and going for crazy money on places like Noble Knight and eBay (if they're even there).
Day 21 What RPG does the most with the fewest words?
For me that's Ghost Lines. There's so much crammed into there, and so much not explained. It sketches out the premise (people fight off ghosts on trains that go between cities) and gives you the tools to play that out. But you have to fill in the cool stuff. Each time I've played this, it has felt distinct and different. Is isn't just a collaborative thing but a demonstration of the possibility of multiple readings from a single text.
Day 22 Which RPGs are easiest for you to run?
Again I have to fall back to our homebrew, Action Cards. But I think that it points out an important feature. I've spent years working and refining that game to fit with the way I run. I've cut things I get stuck on, discarded any elements I've found myself not really using at the table, and eliminated bits that required me to go slow down and break the flow. The group's done the same-- they've been as instrumental in showing what they dig and engage with at the table. The meeting point of those two forces have given us a game that comes naturally to me.
Outside of that, I'm not sure. Many games I run still require me to get into their headspace before I tackle them: 13th Age, 7th Sea, Blades in the Dark, The Sprawl. If I had to do a pick-up game with blank paper and 2d6, I could probably run FAE or a stripped down PbtA engine pretty easily. So that's close.
Day 23 Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?
I'm of two minds about this. I can think of two games that made me stop and look at the layout because of Teh Awesome. The second edition of Nobilis is an absolute wonder of creativity and design; Tianxia's an overlooked gem of clean layout and presentation.
But I can think of many, many more that made me stare in disbelief. When I work through my RPG Genre history lists, I look at a lot of games. So many designers seem to not care about what happens on the page. They vomit words and only ask, "Does it fit?" If the answer's close to yes, they hit save. I'm working on cyberpunk rpgs from the late 2000's and I'm still running into this-- even in an age of easy access to freeware DTP tools.
Things I Don't Dig In Layout & Design
1. Big, thick page borders. Especially strongly ornamental ones. I don't mind when they're subtle or run tightly along the full-bleed edges. Some use borders to highlight page numbers; that's a good trick. But I've seen so many that obscure and hem in the text. They darken the page and run close to the words. I've flipped through a couple with heavy, boxy page borders. If they're combined with a large font, they look like something my writing students would do to stretch page counts.
2. Running the text out to the margins. I know designers want to cram everything in, but we need that white space. It helps with visibility (Sincerely, An Old Dude). It's especially bad with single column text as it turns into a wall of words. Designers need to kill their darlings. If you've got a tight page limit, cut fluff and content in favor of readability. BUT don't cut things like character explanations and playbooks-- things that players might reasonably go back to the book to use. Cut appendices and options-- put those online.
3. No spacing between paragraphs.
4. Intrusive watermarks or illustrations on page backgrounds. I know they can look cool, but they always end up darker in the final product. I've thrown away a couple of DriveThru PoD releases because the pages became unreadable. Even simple color/texture backgrounds make things harder to read. Designers need to think about what a particular element adds to the game vs. the cost.
5. They use Papyrus. I hate that font.