Monday, March 28, 2011

RIFTS- It's alive...ALIVE...Now put it in the Cryo-tube!

Yesterday we gave the RIFTS house rules a spin. For the most part, I thought they made combat go much, much faster. We also discovered that, with MDC converted to SDC, there is a lot more hand-to-hand combat in the game. We likey.

One player did bring up the fact that, while the number of attacks that characters can take on average has gone down, mages and other un-augmented characters are still prone to player boredom since everyone gets to go before them, sometimes several times. This is probably more "realistic," in that characters who are Juicers or Crazies or otherwise augmented should be faster than flesh-and-blood characters like Rogue Scientists and Mages. There was a suggestion that everyone should get their first attack before characters get their second, then all third attacks, and so on. At first I was a bit resistant to the idea, but the more I think about it, the more I'm on board with it. I still stand by my opinion that magic and magic-users in RIFTS are second banana to the missile-packing tech-based classes, so let's give them a little break, shall we?

At any rate, we won't be playing RIFTS (or Shadowrun) for awhile, and we have had a changing of the guard behind the GM screen for a few weeks at least.

I have generated my sector map for Stars Without Number and I have generated the basic details about the thirty-ish worlds therein. I still need to flesh them out, but I have a pretty good starting idea for the beginning of the campaign. 

I have found one minor quibble with SWN, but it is truly a negligible thing. When generating planets, the individual elements of a planet (Temperature, Biosphere, etc.) are determined individually and have no effect on each other. In Traveller, you start by rolling Size, which has an impact when you roll Atmosphere, which as an impact on Temperature, which modifies Hydrosphere, etc, etc. The Traveller method creates more logical planets, but I guess I just need to think outside the box, as they say. I think in the end I will end up appreciating the drop dead simplicity that SWN offers with world creation. I will also say that SWN's "tags" for determining what is unusual/of interest about a world are a heck of a lot more interesting than the tidbits offered up by Trav.

Of course, it would be easy to generate SWN planets Traveller style, just as SWN's tags could be swiped for a Trav world. Brilliant!

Friday, March 25, 2011


Traveller did not run tonight, as the wife put in crazy OT this week and the group only has three players, so I am loathe to run if anyone misses. Another player is going to be out of town for the next three weeks, giving me a solid month of no Traveller.

Meanwhile, this Sunday might the the last RIFTS session for awhile, as the GM is fatigued.

Double meanwhile (all the way), the Shadowrun 2nd edition GM is fatigued from various personal events, and wants to shelve the game for awhile.

This would leave me with nothing but Hackmaster, which seems to run about every other week.

But friends, I will not go gentle into that good night... I am starting up a campaign sketch for Stars Without Number, which I shall have ready to go for a week from Sunday, picking up where Shadowrun leaves off.

Assisting me in my endeavor to keep the torch burning, homie Josh will be starting up a new Deadlands Reloaded game, which he plans to have ready for the following Sunday, thus keeping the Sunday group on track.

This will leave me with black, sucking void in my Friday nights, but this is decidedly preferable to having the Sunday group grind to a halt.

One group member had previously suggested running a RIFTS Coalition States game, but the more I think about it, the more I'd rather staple my testicles to my desk than play by-the-book RIFTS as the bad guys of the setting.

Now, what am I going to do with my Friday nights for the next month?

(Probably play The Battle for Wesnoth on my computer, sadly...)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

RIFTS: The Patient Can Be Saved

I spent much of the day today corresponding with my RIFTS GM, Mindy, on ways we can houserule RIFTS to make it more palatable to ourselves and the rest of the gaming group. We have one very rough draft finished. (Actually, I'm hesitant to call it a draft, even...more like a collection of notes) Here are some of the problems one or both of us have identified. I will read over the notes one more time before I post our proposed solutions.

1. Mega Damage: Conceptually wonky, the huge numbers and inability to penetrate armor slow combat to a crawl, and we dislike the consistency of what is MDC and what isn't. (Especially with regard to races)

2. Combat Takes Too Long: This is mainly due to the ease with which you can create characters who can attack six or eight times per round. Also when you have guns that do 4d6 MD and the average CS grunt has a chest plate with 80 MDC... you can do the math.

3. (Mostly my issue) Attacks per round often makes no sense. Being a boxer lets you shoot more times in combat, cast more spells, etc. The skills that grant extra attacks should grant them in more specific instances. Mages who are martial artists shouldn't also be able to cast more spells in a round specifically because of their martial arts training. (Unless they're some crazy ass Chi users or something, but I'm talking about "regular" spellcasters like Ley Line Walkers and Elemental Fusionists.) 

4. Magic is wildly inconsistent (my issue) It takes 5 PPE to be immune to fire. It takes 6 PPE to take half damage from fire. It takes 30 PPE to spoil food and water. A regular Ley Line Walker can start with either of the fire spells or learn them on reaching 3rd or 4th level. The spoilage spell is too high level to be taken by starting characters, and cannot be naturally learned until 8th level. Seriously.

5. Magic Sucks- We sort of fixed this one by allowing spell range to be LOS. Personally I think damage spells cannot compete even a little with lasers and rockets, but that's another issue.

6. Lots of useless skills- Basic Radio. Basic Math. First Aid and Paramedic splitting some serious hairs. We haven't tackled this one yet.

We're on the way to solving several off the issues. The hour is late. once I have a chance to review the first draft in the morning, I shall post some of our houserules and fixes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Space Frost Doom

Recently I remembered an incredibly fucked up dream I had a few years ago. This dream, plus an illustration in Stars Without Number, has given me the idea to convert Death Frost Doom to a Stars Without Number adventure, as well as perhaps to create a version of the dream as a "Raggi-esque" module for SWN. I probably can't post the former, as it is someone's published work, but I can damn sure post the latter. Death Frost Doom in spaaaaaaaaace! (Space Frost Doom? Death Frost Space?)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Weekly Debriefing

Traveller was terrible on Friday. My players shopped for gear for an hour while fiddling over more economic stuff, until one of the players was called away from the game early and I just sort of gave up. The group shot down the idea of converting to Stars Without Number. On the bright side, one of the players and I came up with a really great idea for the campaign over IM the next day. Also, I have decided to hand wave the tedious process of moving cargo and passengers. We will simply assume that, as the players move from planet to planet, system to system, they pick up enough regular cargo and passengers to cover the mortgage and the expenses, and at the end of the month our heroes have 2d6 x 1,000 credits as profit to split amongst themselves. I will only pay specifics to the cargo/passenger stuff if cargo and passengers are unusual or important to the evenings events, or if the players are specifically getting involved in a high-risk/high-yield situation.

Meanwhile, one of the Sunday GMs has decided to hang up her spurs when it comes to RIFTS. Now she seems interested in running Stars Without Number, which the rest of the group seems quite taken with. I'm not sure when it will start, given that the RIFTS slot was slated to go back to Deadlands Reloaded, run by the GM who did it last time.

Tonight we unleashed our converted SR4 characters into Mike's first SR2 adventure, dealing with a contract to remove a toxic shaman from a toxic waste dump. My poor hacker was fairly useless in this regard, except as a communication hub between the party and the recon spirits being controlled by our astrally projected shaman. I gotta say that I finally learned just how damned useful spirit conjuring is in Shadowrun.

Interestingly enough, the GM is mostly keeping the hacking and Matrix concepts from Shadowrun 4th edition: commlinks, Augmented Reality?AROs, PANs, etc, etc. In fact, it seems that he will just use the hacking stuff from 4E and use the 2E rules for everything else. I think this will work fine in play. Hell, we've essentially been winging the hacking stuff this entire time.

Hackmaster has stalled out due to scheduling conflicts. Is it because I didn't buy enough scabbards? (Just kidding, Chris, just kidding)

Since I have this entire week off (spring break holla), I might try to catch up on my reading and my gaming-related reading. Right now I want to finish reading OpenQuest and Stars Without Number, and I also want to begin my clumsy attempts to create a working version of RIFTS using the West End Games d6 system. (Mostly "kitbashing", as they call it, using Star Wars Deluxe Revised Super Mondo edition and d6 Space, with perhaps some help from Mini-Six and d6 Fantasy for the magic.) I'd like to see the RIFTS campaign continue, but I know the rules and system are causing poor Mindy a lot of frustration. Of course, I can't actually post any of my work, because I'll almost certainly be sued. Sad trombone.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Post-Gaming Irritation

A brief disclaimer: My RIFTS GM is an excellent GM. Her NPCs are interesting, I like her take on the world...

...but the math in RIFTS is fucking stupid. There's no way around it. Combat takes WAY too long, even when characters have six or more attacks each. A "decent" gun does 4d6 damage, while the average Coalition grunt has an 80 MDC chest plate. You do the math.

I think we did something that our GM (bless her heart) did not anticipate, but it resulted in a two or three hour combat. Combat, as any regular reader of this blog knows, is the least interesting part of gaming for me. I even have a somewhat combat capable character this time, and I did some things in combat, and it still bores me to tears.

I actually feel worse for the magic-user in the party... in RIFTS, most of the spells seem to have a range of 60-100 feet. Many laser guns in rifts have ranges measure in the thousands of feet. Tonight we were engaged in vehicle-to-vehicle combat, so the magic-user literally sat in the vehicle unable to do anything. If he'd gone outside the tank, he'd have been annihilated by missiles. Consequently, the magic-user's player spent most of the evening fiddling around on his laptop, and, unlike my previous post about electronic distractions, I do not begrudge him. This was an encounter that he could not meaningfully contribute to in any fashion. (No skills to pilot vehicles, no gunnery, etc.)

Since my GM reads this, let me reiterate: I consider these elements to be failings in the RIFTS rule system, not failings in the GM. As I was leafing through the rule book this evening, I noted that a lot of the spells are incredibly weak compared to technology...weak as in "this sixth level spell does SDC, rendering it unable to damage about 90% of all opponents in RIFTS." For those unfamiliar with the SDC/MDC split, I mean this literally: SDC damage cannot damage MDC armor unless it causes 100 or more points of SDC damage. Many other spells cannot affect opponents in MDC environmental armor or power armor, both of which appear to be fairly common in the default setting of RIFTS.

I'm also rather irritated by one of the new players to the group, but that's another post entirely.

I do have two actual house rule suggestions, rather than just pissing and moaning with no solutions. It's the Joesky Way, goddammit.

1. Give most invocations LOS for range; it works in Shadowrun. If magic is supposed to compete with tech, as RIFTS seems to think it does on paper, give it comparable range.
2. Allow mages to "supercharge" spells, perhaps changing SDC to MDC by spending more PPE, or increasing the damage dice rolled by investing extra PPE. I remember that GURPS 3rd edition did this with a lot of spells, allowing mages to pump more energy into a spell for increased damage. Heck, maybe require an extra combat action to gather the needed energies or speak additional incantations or something. Supercharging Animate/Control Dead or spells like that would allow the mages to create MDC undead/constructs instead of SDC creatures that are piss in the wind to even the humblest MDC gun. (A spell rated at the 11th level should really create minions that can withstand at least one shot from the weakest MDC sidearms, right?)

Obviously these are for the GM to decide, but to me they make a virtually unplayable situation slightly more workable. Obviously, not everything should be totally balanced in power, but magic in RIFTS is something I've been butting my head up against since I started playing, and now I see that it is bothersome to other players as well.

Oh, and I will point out something that I found that made me crack a smile today:
Resist Fire and Impervious to Fire are the same level. They have the same range. they have the same duration. Resistance to Fire costs one PPE point more than Impervious to Fire. Hot damn. (No pun intended)

I love SWN

-I'm nearly done reading Stars Without Number and I have nothing but good things to say about it. I think it combines all the best of Traveller and D&D. My wife is liking the idea of playing SWN more and more because she misses gaining experience levels, something that Traveller lacks. (Even if I did create some new rules for skill advancement, she loves games with experience levels. I can dig.) I'm really interested in the Faction rules for SWN, and in particular a possible conversion of said rules to a D&D game in the near future. (Shouldn't be too hard... planets become cities, starships become siege engines or maybe giant constructs, etc, etc.) Some of the stuff about Jump Gates and the Scream will fit in surprisingly well with some of the elements in my Traveller game. Now, if I can get everyone on board...
I really can't recommend SWN strongly enough. The PDF is available for free at Drive Thru RPG, should you get curious. The GM section is very well done. I will also caution that Stars Without Number trumpets a sandbox ideology as the default mode of play, (along with suggestions on how to deal with the potential snags of sandbox style gaming) so if you aren't into sandbox the game might not be for you. (Of course, there really isn't anything stopping you from playing the game the way you want, you'll just have to endure a lot of pro-sandbox assumptions and a wee bit of proselytizing. Just sayin')

-Picked up Villains Unlimited today for five bucks at the Local Gaming Store. The superhero genre is one time when Palladium's usual disparity of PC power levels doesn't bother me... after all, look at DC: in this universe you have the street level characters of Batman and you have demigods like Superman and Darkseid. On the Marvel side, characters like Jubilee exist in the same world as Galactus. I've wrestled with power level disparity in RIFTS and in Nightbanespawn, so perhaps this deserves another post altogether.

-While perusing the shelves at the used book store, I found several copies of Living Room Games' re-do of Earthdawn 2nd edition. Given that we are converting our Sunday Shadowrun game to 2nd edition, I got all nostalgic for Earthdawn, which is weird because I haven't played it much. I skipped the newer version of ED2 and found the original FASA softcover online for three bucks. It's on the way to my house. I enjoy the idea that Earthdawn could be the distant past or distant future of Shadowrun, or perhaps be both.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Last night I played Hackmaster (the original) with two friends. It causes me no small amount of consternation that my pal Josh spent almost more time generating the character than he did playing him before he died a horrible, and somewhat unnecessary, death. The extensive, detail-ridden character creation process of the game is not a feature to me.

I'm not sure what it is about Hackmaster, but in every game I've played in, regardless of GM or group composition, there has been a palpable undercurrent of mean-spirited sentiment between the player characters. The tone of the game has ranged from passive-aggressively adversarial to outright violence between player characters, but the strange atmosphere of enmity has been a constant. I do not enjoy this. I have found that even when some players in the group want to play it "straight" (that is, a more mechanically robust hybrid of AD&D editions first and second) there is an element that will cultivate the hostility. It seems to be an inevitable part of the Hackmaster experience. I shared this hypothesis with the GM earlier this evening, and he agreed with me on most parts, and expressed a bewilderment that Hackmaster groups don't work together, given that the game encourages an adversarial relationship between the GM and the players.

I have considered asking the GM to perhaps play the game less by the book (and by the atmosphere that the book seems to encourage) and to treat it like a straight fantasy game with some parody elements. I just know that I will not be long for playing a game that makes you spend so much time rolling up a character only to have you constantly wondering if it's going to be a trap that kills him, or his fellow player characters.

I will say a few things in Hackmaster's defense: I think there is a fantastic game down there, somewhere, but you have to strip away things like the more ridiculous aspects of character creation, the silly skills (Basic Looting, Groin Punch, Wuss Slap, Berate, etc.), and the rulebook prose that reminds me somewhat of a "Gaming Tea Party," if you take my meaning. Like Palladium, I cling to the idea that if you just house rule enough, there's a good game down there.

Of course, there are a few bits in Hack that I liked enough to steal and modify the last time I ran AD&D. The method for ability score increases as characters gain levels, bits and pieces of the skill system, and parts of the equipment list. (Elderberry wine instead of "liquor, good quality" or something to that effect? Don't mind if I do)

The GM wanted to have a session tonight, which would have marked five days in a row of glorious gaming (a feat that I haven't been able to duplicate since high school summer vacations), but I'm not feeling that well tonight. I've summoned up enough strength to post this blog entry, but now I shall retire to the couch to watch my wife play Dragon Age II and leaf through my slick new hard cover copy of Stars Without Number.


Sunday, March 6, 2011


The Sunday group had our demo of Shadowrun 2nd edition today. We played archetypes straight out of the book or modified slightly from those provided.
The GM is sold on the combat system of 2 over 4. I and another player agree that it plays out much more smoothly and quickly. We also like being able to roll six or eight dice for the average attack instead of 15+.

I did experiment with making my own character, and found that I could whip up a decent Shadowrunner in twenty minutes, as opposed to the hours of agonizing through the point build jungle of 4th edition.

Although the decking system seems a bit more complex than the hacking of 4e, I find it easier to understand on a conceptual level; that is, I can read SR2 and have a pretty good idea of how to get through a system and get it to do things I want it to do. While SR4's ideas about Augmented Reality and Personal Area Networks are a lot more timely (as in, feasible given the current state of personal electronics) and cooler, I read the 30 page chapter three times and still wasn't quite sure how do actually do anything with my hacker. The GM plans to try and port AR and wireless tech into SR2, using the decking rules as a baseline. Personally I hope he finds a way to keep the AR aspect that allows hackers to act in real time with the rest of the party.

I played a Street Shaman tonight and I have to say that I love the magic system. I felt very useful and was able to contribute quite a bit between spells and summoning spirits. I could have also done something useful with astral travel, though I didn't realize it until the end of the session. I did not find Drain to be that much of a problem, though I did get pinged a few times.

M, our host, who plays the mage in our 4th edition game, was not totally sold on SR magic. I tried to break it down and explained how much fun I had playing a shaman. I hope she's not reluctant to try it... or rather, I hope she doesn't feel pushed into it by the rest of the group, all of whom had a pretty positive experience playing the older edition.

This week I will email the GM and see about converting Count Hackula to SR2, along with what we will do to handle AR, PANs, etc. The GM had our characters using a version of the commlinks from SR4 this session. Honestly I don't think it will be too difficult. Josh and I did joke around about making "analog" Count Hackula, with fingerless gloves, cyberdeck with spiral phone cable, 80's giant mohawk, and maybe a Cure t-shirt or something. He can be addicted to "Ultima Online V" instead of "World of Wizardcraft." High-larious.

Another bonus of playing old time Shadowrun is that most of the books can be found online for dirt cheap. Hot damn.

Oh, and an added surprise: the missus is planning to join the Shadowrun game on Sundays. She's been reading up. She still has no interest in the RIFTS game, however. Her addition is most welcome, especially since one of our players can only play every other week now due to family obligations and has decided to stick with the RIFTS game. (Fair enough...he's invested in some of the books since he started gaming with us)

This concludes my weekend of gaming every day. I'm still waiting on my copies of SR2 and Stars Without Number. Looking forward to next weekend.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

High Compliment

On the way home from last night's game, my wife told me how much she loves my NPCs. She said that when I take the role of an NPC, my entire demeanor changes; not just my voice, but my facial tics, posture, range of expressions, etc. She says my different NPCs have different senses of humor and even when multiple NPCs are present, there's no question which one of them I "am" at a given time. She said the best part about this is that I don't even know I'm doing it.

It was the nicest gaming related compliment I've received in a long time. It made my night, quite honestly.

However, now I must try not to pay attention to it when I'm gaming...

Last night was another night of winging it, as I was so tired when I got home from work that I went to sleep rather than prepare for the game. It still turned out pretty well. I dropped two big secrets about the campaign sub-sector, but in retrospect I don't regret this, because the game was in the early stages of adopting a formulaic approach to things: get cargo/passengers, arrive at destination planet, get involved in some unrelated trouble, get more cargo and passengers, depart, rinse, repeat. I have actually dropped something in their laps that they seem to be fascinated with, and I can already feel their interests changing direction.

This weekend will be kind of a first for me (or at least the first in as long as I can remember) where I game every single day. Friday was my campaign, tonight is my friend's birthday 3.5 one shot (I'm not a fan of 3.5, but it's his birthday so let's do this) and tomorrow is the Sunday group's experiment with Shadowrun 2nd edition.

Game on, dear friends.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Goodies in the Mail

Any day now, I should be receiving a battered but cheap copy of Shadowrun, 2nd edition. My Sunday group is giving that edition a try this weekend, and if we prefer it, we will be converting the game to 2nd edition. (At which point I will probably Ebay or otherwise dispose of my 4th edition Shadowrun book, as it does offend my sensibilities.) I got a text from one of the other players today who picked up a copy at the LGS from "the boneyard" (my pet name for the used gaming shelf) He told me he already likes 2e on just about every level, including the 80's aesthetic. I have to admit that I love the cover of SR2 fiercely. If I ever do a post on my favorite gaming covers, it will definitely be on the list

...and yes, I do realize that SR2 has flaws and bugs, but I find them preferable to SR4 nonetheless. The GM has mentioned converting the whole Augmented Reality bit to 2e (which really shouldn't be that hard to do)and leaving the rest as-is.

I am also awaiting a hardcover copy of Stars Without Number. Sine Nomine emailed me to inform me that they are selling SWN at 25% off this week, so how could I pass that up? SWN has been on my to-buy list for some time, if only so I can complete my "Zirugar" trilogy of modules* that were meant to link D&D, Mutant Future, and Goblinoid's planned D&D-compatible version of Starships & Spacemen. However, they appear to be prioritizing other projects right now, and SWN made a very positive impression on me, so it shall be my D&D-compatible sci-fi game.

*I've run the first two parts at the local convention these last two years. I have absolutely no intention of trying to publish them in any form at all. The other bloggers around here are far more ambitious than I.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Distractions at the Gaming Table

I would likely be considered reactionary if I flat out said that personal electronic gadgets are turning us (Americans, anyway) into a society of perpetually distracted, inattentive douchebags. I am just as guilty of this as the next guy, though lately I have been trying to work on it.

My phone is often nearby during gaming sessions. I keep it silenced; it doesn't even vibrate. Sometimes the missus needs to send me a text or email during the game. She has had to call once or twice, though she seldom does. (She respects my game time, and I appreciate that infinitely) If I have to talk to her, I take the call in the other room. Sometimes, if the party is split, or I'm playing a non-combatant in a game where everyone else gets a half dozen or more attacks per round, I will browse Advanced Book Exchange for relevant gaming material to order. (A RIFTS supplement, the core rules to the edition of Shadowrun we might be switching to, etc.)I am always listening to the game, however, (I usually play a support character and I need to know who needs healed/doors hacked for them/whatever next round when I get my measly one or two actions) and I certainly don't bother the other players by sticking my phone in their face or showing them that I just ordered the book we need for super cheap-o.

We have players who have laptops. We have players who take smoke and pee breaks. We have a group dinner break (because M is a fantastic host and feeds our unruly lot!) during which we generally do not continue the game. (Though we frequently plot and scheme...or not.) Generally, de-focusing happens, but the group has a sort of rhythm whereby we drift back together and crack out a couple more hours of productive (?) gaming.

...until now.

We have recently admitted two new players into the game, several months after the "core" of the group finally stabilized after losing the members who could no longer regularly commit. One of the new players has an ipad (it's not actually an ipad, it's something ipad-like) that he brings to the gaming sessions. It annoys the shit out of me.

Now, the reason I have not yet made my displeasure known directly is because I figured that I didn't have room to talk, since I sometimes have my phone out to order books. But... my phone generally doesn't distract. The new guy is constantly showing those photo-shopped demotivational posters (you know what I'm talking about if you have spent any time on the internet, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, do yourself a favor and don't look it up. Seriously.) Sometimes he plays Youtube videos. He often uses them to start side conversations. Generally I gently redirect, asking if he can maybe save it until after the combat or until the dinner break. I guess the only reason I feel entitled to be irritated is that my phone is totally silent and doesn't involve my seeking anyone's attention. I am also the not the only player who has expressed displeasure. The GM and host sent out a kind email reminding everyone to keep focused.

I'm trying to give the benefit of the doubt. He probably doesn't realize how distracting it is. His old group (in another state, I believe) might have had different chemistry/etiquette. I'm sure it will work itself out one way or the other.

I might also mention that the other new player had his phone and checked it once or twice, but I found the more recent addition to the group to be a bit smoother in terms of integration into the flow of the game and the social dynamic.

Of course, I can be a cagey, xenophobic jerk sometimes, so maybe this is just my natural charm at work.

What about you, dear friends? What is the role of gadgetry in your gaming group? What is your group's tolerance for gizmos and for distraction in general? (Food breaks, smoking, using the little gamers' room, etc?)

I think next session I'm going to leave my phone in the bag and only check it during dinner break. (As I said before, we don't game during din-din.)