Friday, August 24, 2012

It Had to Happen Eventually: SVP Backs a Kickstarter

So...I backed a Kickstarter.

Initially, I was fascinated by Kickstarter, but then became wary of it as everybody and their mom got one. I got a little cynical as content was tied to stretch goals. I got a little more cynical when companies that I thought were large and didn't need crowdfunding started using crowdfunding for everything. I was all like maaaaaaaaaan, we have to fund the industry's projects and then buy the projects? They want me to kick in $60 bucks for a $30 book? Maaaaaaaaan....

Then Reaper put up a Kickstarter where I have them $100 bucks and I get something like 221 miniatures. I learned the True Meaning of Christmas and got my pledge on.

Yeah, I have to wait until March of next year, but... all those damn minis for $100? Even a curmudgeonly bastard like me could get behind that.

I've changed my opinion on Kickstarter, but... I'm not going to be backing any old thing.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Choice Is Really Damn Important

A meditation on personal gaming preference/philosophy.
This is not the One True Way, but it is my own personal One True Way.

I could play a computer game set in a big damn of the Elder Scrolls games, maybe, or Arcanum. (Which has a huge but mostly empty world) No matter how big the game world is, there is always a space limit. There is always a border beyond which there is no more rendered world, and therefore your character can go no further. (Unless they bust out some DLC, that is....)

No matter how clever my idea is, I can't implement it unless it has been coded into the game as a possible solution to the dilemma at hand. You have to get the Gypsy Shadow to find the Island of Thanatos, even after you've befriended two kings and a powerful industrialist, any of whom should be glad to loan you a boat for one measly trip. You can't take the Shadow by force. You can't steal it in the dead of night. You can't steal some other ship.
In Morrowind, I was once told that only "someone important" (i.e., someone who completed the coded quest) could get in to see some leader guy. My character, at that point in the game, was the Grand Master of the Fighter's Guild. Like, the only Fighter's Guild in the area where the game took place. I had no option to mention this to the guy guarding the door.

Here's where roleplaying games are awesome.

You can always cross that next mountain range. You can try to steal a ship. You can be like "Bitch, I'm the Grand Masterist Fighter on this entire island!" You could bring a badass retinue of Guild warriors with you.

Yeah, it might not work...but you can at least try. theory. This is where roleplaying games are supposed to shine. But...

In the past, I played a RIFTS game where we kept hearing rumors about the war between the Coalition States and Tolkeen. (for the uninitiated, that's Nazi Germany With A Skull Fetish vs. Magical Kingdom of Wizards) Our party wanted no part of this conflict and decided to move on to greener (less nuked) pastures. Of course, no matter what direction we headed, we always seemed to arrive on the front line of the war... even when we traveled in the exact opposite direction of the last time we ended up on the front line of the war. It should be noted that each front line looked an awful lot like every other front line, down to the same battle happening in much the same way.

Once, I played a D&D 3.0 game where we beat some pirates and found a ship. We were told the ship was too big to sail out of the cave we found it in. When we pointed out that this would have made the pirate raids we were trying to stop impossible, we were allowed to take the ship....but we had no crew. We tried to hire a crew, but there were no sailors to be found (in a city that was described as the biggest port city on the continent.) We waited a month. Not one single solitary sailor was looking for work. We also could not find a single naval map to save our souls.

There was this one time, at band camp (by which I mean Shadowrun 3rd edition) where we were told that an NPC was "too beautiful" to shoot (Charisma 8 elf in tight leather suit inspired by Trinity from The Matrix) because her continued survival was essential to the GM's multi-chapter storyline.
I should mention that she was too beautiful to shoot, after blatantly screwing us over and nearly killing one of our team.
And she was running away.
And it was night. 
And one guy was playing a character who had a noted hatred of elves.
We were not even permitted an attack roll with an outrageous penalty or something.

This is where the theoretically infinite medium of the roleplaying game can come to a screeching halt, as surely as when you hit the invisible wall that keeps you from going any farther in a computer game, as surely as that rickety-ass locked door is stopping a party that includes a guy with a seven foot long sword and the ability to summon a dragon (who can shoot an earth-annihilating laser. FFVII, anyone?) Why? Because only the right key can unlock that rickety-ass door. (They didn't even make it look like it was made out of thick metal or Super Unbelievium or a glowing force field...)

Computer games have the excuse of being a medium with finite programming space.

GMs have no such excuse.

Perhaps I'm being a little harsh. Some people aren't good at winging it. Some people prefer pre-decided narratives in their games. Hell, my games used to have plots years ago.

These days, though... I need to see what's over that next mountain, and I need you to let me.

I want to try crazy ass plans and I want them to have a chance to succeed if they should have a chance to succeed,and not be arbitrarily shut down because they go off some invisible rails. 

I, as a GM, will not take the dungeon or lost scroll or other thing you walk by or are uninterested in and just stick it in the next dungeon entrance or treasure chest. To do so is to give you only the illusion that your decisions matter. In Mass Effect 1, it seems like there are dozens and dozens of side missions, but really you're just exploring the same five planets and three buildings with a different paint job. Yeah, this time the building is a research facility that went dark, this time it's a slaver's den, this time it's a warehouse, but it has the same floor plan... and the guys guarding it are pretty much the same whether they are called Thugs or Mercenaries or Pirates.

Conversely, I as a player will only happily buy into this illusion as long as it doesn't become glaringly obvious that we were going to go through this dungeon or find this item no matter what. If you can keep it hidden that you just re-skinned your nanite-infected scientists as pre-sentient cannibal apes, I will be just fine.

Narratives in games can be cool, but to me, the Most Awesomest feature of the pen-and-paper rpg is this limitless potential, and if we're just going to run on rails with pre-set solutions, I might as well be playing Final Fantasy or something.

(I like those kinds of games, by the way- maybe not as much as I used to- but they don't hold a candle to the enjoyment I get out of tabletop gaming)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Simple B/X Hack Draft 1 Part 3: Adventuring and Task Resolution

Generally, a character's actions should be covered by his abilities with Combat, Thievery, and Sorcery.

Where an action is attempted that leaves the DM without a clear cut resolution, roll d20 against a relevant ability, throwing in modifiers as appropriate for character background, task difficulty, etc.

Light, movement, time, surprise, and all that bid'ness are as B/X.

Inverse Proportion?

Looking back on previous years of blogging, 2012 is on track to be my least prolific since I started in 2009.

It is also the year in which I have done the most gaming since I started blogging.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

SWN and Unexpected Player Actions

Sometimes, the players get lucky.
Sometimes, the players blow the barn doors open.

Let it ride, I say....they very well could have lost half the party this time, and they didn't.

I love being surprised.

Major spoilers for Hard Light follow:

You've been warned.....

The PCs decided to make an unannounced visit to Empty Graves while Roland Lomax was there. They ended up shooting the place up. Allias got dropped but Mindy saved him with a Lazarus patch. Mindy was about one shot away from being dropped herself. Mike and Nathan fought Captain Ramsey, but his inability to roll above a 9 in combat gave them a relatively easy victory. A timely bluff over the intercom by Nathan managed to get the last few pirates to surrender. The PCs decided to spare Gerta, for some reason. Prisoners have been delivered. They cleaned out Empty Graves.
Oh, and Mindy executed Roland Lomax because of his plans to do terrible, terrible things to her. (She learned this via judicious use of Telepathy)

The PCs can now prove that Empty Graves was a den of slavery and abuse. They have no justification for executing Lomax beyond telepathic gleaning. We'll see how that plays out next time. 

The PCs are now deciding if they are going to take over Empty Graves, use it as an ambush spot to attack pirates, become pirates themselves, or continue trying to study and revive the Ushan race. (While simultaneously selling their grave ornaments for cash monah.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Solii, a race for Stars Without Number


Appearance and Biology:
Solii are amphibious humanoids who stand about 1.5 meters tall. They have long, spindly, double jointed arms and legs and whip-like, prehensile tails. Solii have long, knife-shaped ears. Male Solii have skin tones that are various shades of blue and green, usually very dark. Females have purple or yellow skin colors. Solii prefer to walk on all fours, though they do not have to.

The Solii are a hermaphromorphic race, a trait evolved from having originated on a hazardous "death world." The Solii can also emit a seemingly universal pheromone that causes other sentient creatures to find them affable. Creatures with truly unusual (typically inorganic) physiology or who lack any olfactory perception are unaffected, while lifeforms that have strong olfactory perception find them particularly enticing. Having originally come from an amphibious genetic stock, Solii can hold their breath for an unusually long time, although they are no longer truly amphibious.

The Solii have nearly been wiped out many times in their existence. This Solii homeworld was constantly wracked by cycles of gigantic tsunamis, hurricanes, violent electrical storms, and volcanoes of near-cataclysmic proportions. The planet was also home to a curious variety of ambulatory carnivorous plant, whose migratory patterns happened to run through the few regions of the planet that were relatively free from civilization-destroying weather.
The Solii would have likely spent the rest of their existence staying one step ahead of annihilation had several migratory tribes not discovered alien ruins. It is unknown if this species were the original sentient lifeforms on the world, or if they were a failed colony, but their Pretech cities gave the migratory Solii a safe place to hide, settle, and begin developing technologically.
The Solii eventually learned how to build their own technology, though it was more than a millennium before they figured out how any of the high tech gadgetry worked. Eventually, the Solii reached the point where they could maintain the machinery, but they had no idea how it operated.
After living this way for another thousand years (and achieving Tech Level "3.5"), the Solii were faced with a dilemma: the Pretech weather regulators were beginning to fail, meaning that the Solii would soon be plunged back into a dangerous nomadic existence that they no longer knew how to navigate. The elders made the decision to take the Solii into the stars.
The Solii have since spread throughout space. Nobody knows the current location of the ships, and the Solii seem to have happily forgotten the location of their homeworld. They have been quite happy to integrate into other societies. They appear to have had some contact with the Terran Mandate before the Scream.

 The Solii are viewed through the cultural lens of Joy.Despite their species' high mortality rate in ages past,they have embraced everything the galaxy has to offer. Solii have intense but short relationships with other people and accept death and separation with an aplomb that other races often find shocking. To the Solii, you simply enjoy what you have while you have it. While they seem flippant to other species, this is not true; no experience is trivial to a Solii, but they understand that life is a series of moments, and you can't waste any dwelling on things that are past or will never be.
The Solii seem uninterested in finding a new homeworld for their species. Communities of Solii tend to collect on the stations and worlds of other, more established species. Many Solii spend part of their lives wandering from place to place, though it seems that older Solii begin to desire a permanent home among other Solii.
Solii are remarkably adaptive and often assimilate into the dominant culture around them.
Solii are virtually alone in being sentient hermaphromorphs; the more mischievous and spiteful among them relish the discomfort that this can cause other sentients.

The Solii can easily be played as either wanton hedonists or playful wayfarers. They are a race that fits the consummate "space wanderer" role. Solii are often found as fast-talking merchants, sage bartenders, or even unlikely spaceship crew members. 

Solii as Player Characters:

*Solii have +1 to their Charisma modifier, but suffer a -1 to their Strength modifier. 

*Solii have a prehensile tail. This gives them an extra hand, though it doesn't give them any extra attacks or actions. The tail lacks a hand, so there may be some tasks for which it is unsuited.

*Solii can change gender. This is a painful process that takes 1d4 days, during which the Solii must do nothing but rest. (The character cannot train a skill, do research, etc.) If a Solii is female and ends up impregnated, it cannot change back into a male until it has given birth.

* The Solii are no longer true amphibians, but they can hold air in their bodies for up to an hour without needing to breathe.

* Once per day, the Solii can emit a targeted burst of pheromones at a creature within melee distance. The creature must make a Physical Effect save or else it believes the Solii to be a friend and ally. The creature will not hurt itself or put itself in undue danger for the Solii, but it will stop attacking. If it is attacked by the Solii or any obvious allies of the Solii, it will snap out of it. The duration is generally 1d6 hours, reduced by 1 hour for each point of Constitution above 12. (The GM must use discretion for creatures) If the duration is reduced below 1 hour, the effect instead lasts 1d4 rounds. Anyone in a vacc suit or similar independent breathing apparatus is automatically immune, as are creatures that don't need to breathe or have any olfactory capability. The GM might also deem that a creature with sufficiently unusual physiology (living crystal, for instance) might be immune as well. A creature who saves against a Solii's pheromones is immune to them for a week.

*Solii may not be Psychics; no Solii has ever displayed any such ability.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Eldreth: An alien race for Stars Without Number

Appearance and Biology:
Eldreth are slug-like humanoids that stand about four to six inches taller than humans. Eldreth have smooth skin that ranges from grays to mottled greens and browns, and black hemispherical eyes that stand high on their hairless heads. Eldreth reproduce asexually, a process that occurs but once in their lives. Eldreth naturally live to be about 80 years old. (Although this is about double their lifespan prior to widespread cybernetic integration)
All Eldreth are born with cybenetics. Most of these are "plugs" in their skin that allow them to interface with various Eldreth technology. They also have one internal organ that is entirely synthetic; this organ produces the nanites that regulate the artificial aspects of the Eldreth's physiology.
Eldreth generally eat raw meats for the majority of their diet, and prefer their meat to be slightly decomposed. Eldreth can eat nearly any animal they encounter, though the more unlike their native biosphere, the more they need it to decompose before they eat it.  Eldreth require about twice as much water as a human. They are severely allergic to alcohol and cannot drink it.

History: The Eldreth seem an unlikely candidate for a sapient species. They trace their evolution back to large, carrion-eating slugs that fed off the dead animals of their swampy homeworld. Their planet had such a vicious ecosystem of mutual predation that they were simply the only species that didn't have to fear being eaten by their own prey.

Eldreth history is remarkably free of war; the abundance of carrion on their homeworld, and their relatively slow population growth made wars over resources largely unnecessary.  This allowed them to focus on technology that makes life easier, as opposed to technology that makes it easier to kill your neighbor and take his resources.

Throughout the history of the Eldreth, they have been obsessed with overcoming their physical limitations. They developed cybernetics very early and soon they spread to all walks of Eldreth life. Aided by their relatively simple biology, Eldreth didn't struggle with physical rejection issues the way many races have with cybertech.

The Eldreth have reached a point where they are literally born cyborgs; part of the Eldreth reproduction process involves a cybernetic organ within the body creating a cybernetic organ to be implanted in the offspring. As they grow up, different parts of this artificial organ are deployed and construct cybernetic infrastructure within the Eldreth's body.

The Eldreth discovered the spike drive about four hundred years after the Scream, and have built a modest polity for themselves. They are so far amenable to humans, though they seem to have little intention of sharing the secrets of their cybertech, they sometimes leave Eldreth space to work as technicians and scientists. Some of them have taken to researching cybertech designed specifically for other species.

Psychology: The Eldreth are a species that admires intellectual, particularly technological, prowess. They are curious about alien tech and seem to have little difficulty understanding it. However, the Eldreth believe that the Self must be perfected before looking outward. Many races find the Eldreth selfish or simply self-absorbed, and they are prone to behavior that other species would call "navel gazing."
The Eldreth are not particularly warlike, but their ancient history was filled with tales of behemoth monsters eating each other, but leaving them alone. The Eldreth are therefore somewhat naive about the idea of someone wanting to harm them. Many are easily fooled or manipulated by others. Others, however, are deeply suspicious of other sentient races, seeing them as a new type of predator that may very well prey upon the Eldreth in one form or another.
Eldreth are particularly vexed on the subject of psionics. No Eldreth has ever exhibited such ability. Many tout cybernetics as being superior, seeing as how the Scream didn't touch their race when it left so many other wiped out or with their empires in shambles.

Flavor: The Eldreth are best seen through the lenses of Sagacity and Curiosity. They are deeply ponderous and may even seem slow to others, when in fact they are very calculating and often consider multiple contingencies in any particular situation. The Eldreth are one of the newcomers to interstellar society and often seem to be overcome with wonder at the various things and creatures they encounter. Though their bodies are sluggish, the Eldreth language is very graceful, and sometimes seems out of place coming from a slug-like being.

Eldreth as Player Characters
*A PC must have a minimum Intelligence of 14 to play an Eldreth. Eldreth can have a maximum Dexterity score of 14.
*All Eldreth begin with Computer/0 as a skill, and all Eldreth treat Computer as a class skill.
*Eldreth may ignore up to 3 points of permanent System Strain from installed cybernetics.
*Eldreth begin the game with one of the following:
a.) An integral bio-weapon (treat as a laser pistol with half range, requires 8 hours of rest to recharge)
b.)An integral device equivalent to a compad.
c.) An integral tool-kit (treat as a metatool)
None of these items cause the Eldreth any System Strain.
*There are no psionic Eldreth; they must be Warriors or Experts.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Weekly Games A-Go-Go

Stars Without Number is going very well.

The PCs fended off a pirate raid on the station. Mindy's character got taken out but narrowly saved with biopsionics.

I'm interested to see how the PCs are reacting to the station's bizarre and incestuous (not literally) political situation. Meanwhile, they are preparing for another dungeon crawl into the sky tombs.

I'm trying to run this as a "politics optional" campaign. The PCs, if they wanted, could just ignore that stuff and raid sky tombs for artifacts and whatnot. (Well, they couldn't ignore the pirate raid, but you get the idea) I have no storyline, no agenda. The PCs are free to do what they will.

I have been trying to keep the campaign wiki updated, but goddamn is that ever work-intensive. I have this list of planets that I need to create entries for, but man... that's a time sink. I want to have an encyclopedia or knowledge for my SWN milieu and the goings-on in the campaign, but I just don't know if I'm going to have the energy to keep it rolling. Incidentally, most people I know who do Obsidian Portal sites or wikis tend to let them fall by the wayside sooner or later. (Usually sooner)

Oh, and I moved the game from the comic shop to my house. With the group size whittled down to me and six players, I can actually accommodate the game in my basement. I have this...thing...where I really, really prefer to run my own campaigns in my own house. I still head down there on Thursdays to play Beyond the Supernatural, though.

Speaking of which... Beyond the Supernatural is going very well, too.
Last session was oddly combat-heavy. My normally wimpy character found his courage and actually did pretty well against an overwhelming foe. It seems, though, that the more we investigate this mystery, the less we actually know. I'm creeping toward 4th level.

I have to miss my Sunday game this week. I have waaaaaay too much prep work to do for the school year (starting this week-- eeek!) and I need another afternoon or two to get my rooms set up and ready to roll. Still, two outta three ain't bad. Meatloaf never lies.

Still working on my B/X hack. I think I'll just post the (very short) magic section and the flavor section and I'm done. Will I get to run it? Who knows... but I'm glad I did it. It's been good mental exercise.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Simple B/X Hack Draft 1 Part 2-Combat

Combat is generally conducted in the same fashion as B/X. Some notes:

-Initiative is group, done with a d6. On a tie, action is simultaneous.

-All weapons do 1d6. Some variations I was thinking on:
*heavy/two handed weapons roll two dice and take the better result
*Two weapon fighting grants the attacker a +1 to hit
*polearms always apply damage first against the opponent, unless they have a similar lengthy reach
*Anyone can backstab if they catch an opponent unawares from behind: +4 to hit, double damage. A dagger, garotte, or other "assassin" weapon will roll three dice and take the best two for damage.
*Characters with large shields can cower- -2 AC vs. melee, -4 vs. missiles, but they cannot take any action besides 1/4 movement.
*Characters my "bind wounds" for 1d4 after combat. This takes a full round and can only be done once per post-combat/injurious encounter.
*Flails ignore shields, but on the roll of a 1 they become inconveniently entangled.
*Crossbows treat armored foes as one category worse for AC purposes. (So a guy in chain mail is basically like a guy in leather, and a guy in leather might as well be wearing nothing but a banana hammock.)
*Spears may set vs. charge for double damage, but may break when doing so. (1 in 6)

...etc. I'll make the notes on a large weapon table I have yet to draft.

-When reduced to zero hit points, a character must save vs. death or perish instantly. Success means he lingers on death's door. He falls unconscious (or barely conscious at the DM's discretion, though certainly unable to take any useful action) and bleeds until his wounds are bound or he receives magical healing. After the treatment, the DM rolls to see if the character pulls through using this chart:

Number of Rounds on death's door          Chance to survive
0-3                                                                100%
4                                                                     75%
5                                                                      50%
6                                                                      25%
7+                                                                      0%

A character pulled back from death's door moves half speed and is unable to fight or do much of anything until he has had a week's bed rest, after which he heals normally. Magical healing that restores the character to half or more total hit points removes this affliction.

Combat Skill

At the beginning of combat, a PC can roll vs. his Combat skill. If he succeeds, he can pick one of the following bonuses to apply for the rest of the combat/encounter:
a. +1 to all attack rolls
b. +1 to all damage rolls
c. Can choose to inflict maximum damage with one attack
d. +2 bonus hp/lv
e. -1 AC bonus
f. +1 to all saves

Note: I might boost the bonuses, or increase them at higher level, or maybe let higher level PCs select more than one bonus. These are just some basic ideas for how the skill works.

Another option: Combat skill is used for stunning attacks, disarms, trips, tackles, etc. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Simple B/X Hack, Draft 1 Part 1: Character Creation

This is what happens when I read Terminal Space, Encounter Critical, and Bandits & Basilisks in the same weekend.

1. The "classic six" attributes, 3d6 straight down. No bonuses until 14, no penalties until 7. Ability lowering/raising per B/X D&D OR the ability to set one single score at 14 per SWN.
Str: affects hit and damage, "feat of strength"
Int. affects languages known and chance to learn spells.
Wis. affects saving throws vs. magic/psi
Dex. affects missile to-hit and armor class
Con. affects hit points and saving throws vs. poison
Cha. affects retainers and reaction rolls

2. Hit Points are d6 for everybody

3. Skills:
   Combat: Roll this at the beginning of a battle to select a bonus for the duration of that encounter. Starts at a % equal to your Str x 2.
   Thievery: Roll this to do classic thiefly stuff. Starts at a % equal to Dex x 2
   Sorcery: Roll this to learn spells, make potions, identify items, etc. Starts out at a percentage equal to your Int x 1.

You also get 15 percentage points to distribute among your skills as you see fit.

4. Alignment- Law, Neutral, or Chaos.

5. Equipment- Everyone gets 3d6x10 gp.
You must have Thieves' Tools to open locks and disarm traps.
Armor heavier than leather will give a penalty to climbing, sneaking, and other applications of Thievery at the GM's discretion.
Armor has no effect on Sorcery, as spells are never cast directly by mortals. 

6. Magic- Characters who roll a successful check against Sorcery begin the game with one randomly determined spell.

7. Combat and Saving Throws: everyone uses the same tables as the B/X fighter.
Optional rule: You can switch the numbers around.

8. Experience- Use the fighter table from b/x. Each level, characters gain 1d6 hp, modified by Con. Characters also gain 10 percentage points to distribute, as they see fit, among their skills. Skills cannot be raised above 95%. 

Optional Rules for non-human races:
Elf-To be an elf, a character must have Int and Dex of 13 or higher. All elves must be Chaotic in alignment.
Benefits- start with Sorcery= Int x2, always start with one spell and may roll for a second, double chance to detect noise or hidden doors. Elves are immortal as long as they return to their homeland every 1d4 centuries. 
Drawbacks- Elves take double damage from iron weapons and can be warded away by magic such as Protection from Evil. The holy symbol of a Lawful religion will drive an elf back if he cannot save vs. magic, so long as it is presented by someone of non-Chaotic alignment.

Dwarf-To be a dwarf, a character must have Con of 14 or higher. All dwarves must be Lawfully aligned.
Benefits: Dwarves have +2 starting hit points and gain +2 extra hit points every level. When searching for/disarming traps or opening locks, dwarves have a +20% bonus to Thievery. Dwarves are immune to poison unless it is magical or extraplanar in origin.
Drawbacks: Dwarves have -1 to all attack rolls and saving throws made in daylight. A dwarf who finds a valuable gemstone (100 gp or more) must save vs. magic or consume the gemstone. He must roll for each gemstone, but once he consumes one he is sated for 1d6 months. A dwarf must eat at least one gemstone per level before he can advance to the next level.

Halfling- To be a halfling, a character must have a Strength of 13 or less and a Constitution of 9 or higher. Halflings must be Neutral in alignment.
Benefits: Halflings gain a +1 to hit with any thrown or ranged weapon. Halflings have a bonus of -2 AC against creatures larger than man-sized and -4 for truly giant opponents. Halflings double their Thievery score when trying to hide or be sneaky.
Drawbacks: Halflings must buy custom armor that costs 150% normal price to make. Halflings consume twice as many rations as other races. Halflings cannot use any melee weapon bigger than a short sword.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I Like Skills (to an extent)

Skills get a lot of hate 'round these parts.

It seems that most of the opposition around here comes from one of two ideas:
1. A skill system implies (or outright states, depending on the system) that there are things you cannot even attempt. If I have Sneak or Horse Riding and you do not, I can do these things and you cannot do them.

2. Certain applications of a skill system, particularly where the oft-maligned thief is concerned, short circuit what some gamers feel should be organic play experiences. (Ugh, that sounded Forgie. Remind me to self-flagellate when this post is complete ;p) I think Find/Remove Traps is the favorite target of this school of thought, although "social' skills (Bribe, Intimidate, Persuade) often come under fire here.

I get it. I can see the opposition to rolling something instead of working it out. My oppositional thoughts:
-We should not have to be able to do everything our characters are expected to do. If I'm not a good persuader, am I not allowed to play a high-Charisma character with social skills? If I am not the brightest bulb, must I disregard my character's 17 Intelligence? I probably wouldn't think to look in this nook or cranny for a trap, but my trained thief character very well could.
-What about systems that will let you roll without the skill, but at some kind of penalty?
-I do see the tragic end results of unmitigated skill systems. This is where you get Palladium's famous "Math: Basic", "Recycling," and other face-numbingly mundane skills. This is where you get GURPS and the skill "Fast Draw Knife From Teeth." (No shit.)

My conclusion: Skills are in, but keep it simple like Lamentations. I find SWN's skill system to be unobtrusive as well. Characters should be able to be good at certain things, or at least, better than some other characters. The barbarian should be sneakier than the cavalier, but the cavalier can fight from horseback and woo the damsel fair. I appreciate that you want your character to be able to try anything, but your 6 Int half-ogre probably has no chance to program an ancient computer or perform field surgery.

...and that's what diversity means to me.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

SWN Session 5, Thoughts on XP

The players finished loot-er, exploring the sky tomb of my own design. Everybody who wasn't already 2nd level made it, and Dan is nearing 3rd. One PC learned the Ushan language, and the party planted an Ushan corpse on a whim and are now contemplating contributing to the revival of the species. (What xp award should that yield, I wonder?)

Other notable events in the game tonight:
-Our sly psychic chick joined the staff of the Rain and Clouds, and in general she has used Telepathy 1 to gain a lot of useful information.

-Our equally sly psychic dude has made some valuable contacts in security and hydroponics.

-Our Qotah expert might have found a way to temporarily circumvent training fees...if he can get away with it.

-The PCs found a star map to a mysterious Ushan structure in another system...this will give them a hook for when they tire of the Hard Light module.

On an aside: I have decided that, if the PCs are successful in this course of action, I will allow Ushan as a playable character race in future SWN games that I run.

I find myself torn by what method to use when awarding experience. The SWN book suggest specific "rewards" that seem to be based on cash earned. However, SWN adventures that I have read (written by the author himself) award xp for certain accomplishments.

I am basically doing the whole thing ad-hoc, though that makes me question why I bother with experience points at all. Here's how I'm doing it:
-Any looted alien artifacts sold award xp equal to the credits they get
-They get xp equal to the credits they receive for "missions" or "jobs"
-XP for combat is 100/HD, +25/HD per special ability (poison, AC below 3, multiple attacks, etc.)
-XP for "accomplishments" like learning a big secret or doing something important. (Or at least important to them) Examples so far have been awards for solving an alien holograph trick and completed exploration of an important area. (This usually nets 300-400 per PC, wheres the rest is split among participating party members)

I will have to think about the xp further, but for now I'm okay with my shaky system.

Oh, and the psychic special abilities are proving to be perfectly fine in game disruption yet.

(Nobody has volunteered to try out the new Warrior or Expert abilities, though I'm told that secondary characters may choose them)

Can't wait for next week!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Beyond the Supernatural at 3rd Level

Tonight I played in my weekly game of Beyond the Supernatural.

This campaign is probably 80% investigation/roleplay/problem solving. I think it has actually been a couple of weeks since we've had a combat.

I like that the GM is able to work in a lot of our skills. One thing that has always kind of bugged me about Palladium (hee....) is that you have this ridiculous laundry list of skills, but you never use any of them. Then again, besides BTS most of my experience has been with RIFTS, and much of that has been "do you have the  biggest MD weapon you can find in the source books?"  (No, Mindy, I'm not talking about your game!)

I also like the fact that direct encounters with the supernatural are used sparingly. I mean, we run into stuff -tonight my psychic medium performed a seance-  but we don't have demons and ghosts constantly jumping out at us, monster-of-the-week style. It also takes more than one trip to the library/must bookstore/whatever to conveniently find an illustrated guide to the monster's history and weaknesses.

It's always interesting to see how other GMs differ from my own style. Steven's games feel like an episode of CSI, but far weirder and less formulaic. (Since, you know, we don't have to have the case wrapped up by Act III) It's definitely a different gig than my Sunday group or my SWN campaign. I'm looking forward to next week.

In other Palladium news, I am running a Palladium game at a local gaming convention in October. I've decided to run Ninjas & Superspies. I have tentatively named my little romp "Operation: STEEL SOLDIER" and decided that it is set in 1989 and involves a secret Soviet cyborg-soldier program.  If you couldn't tell already, I plan to make it just a wee bit tongue-in-cheek.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stars Without Number Weekly Game Report

Tonight we had a couple of absences, which still left me with five players. Next week I expect to have six. I think attrition is finally leaving me with a more manageable group size.

Tonight I let the party explore Brightside a little bit more and dropped them a couple glimpses of things going on around the station. Most of the session was spent exploring a sky tomb of my own creation. We ended the session with some rooms unexplored, so we'll finish that off next week. 

The PCs deduced rather a lot of information about the aliens interred within the tombs. I'm excited to see what they do with this information.

I've created an Obsidian Portal for the campaign, but goddamn if setting up a wiki with all the proper links and whatnot isn't incredibly time consuming. I need to get it in decent shape within the next two weeks, before I have to report back to school and join the world of the working once again.

 The interesting thing about this series of space dungeon crawls is that part of the treasure that the party is acquiring is information. In each tomb, they unravel a little bit more about the mystery of the tombs and their inhabitants. I'm really enjoying this game.

We didn't have any fatalities, because the PCs were able to see through the trick and avert disaster. I was surprised at how easily I was able to trick them into splitting up, since most gaming groups are steadfastly about splitting the party.

Looking forward to next week's session. Once the PCs start unraveling more of the mystery, I can post more detailed reports.