Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sub-Genres Without Number

I continue to run my little two player SWN game on Tuesdays. I find that I can accommodate my "Gamer ADD" in SWN by sprinkling the vastness of space with different planets that reflect the different flavors of science fiction. The campaign has already gone through a leg of "dungeon crawling in space" and a leg of "Traveller style commerce" and is now in "Cyberpunk 2020" mode. I mean, I could set up a campaign like this with really almost any sci-fi game, but I find the simplicity of SWN to be endlessly attractive as a GM with limited time to prepare the game.

I find that I have ideas for some Big Ass Space War (a la Star Wars), weird pseudo-fantasy (a la Empire of the Petal Throne), and plenty of other ideas that I want to be vague about. (My players read this blog)

I'm pretty excited about this setup, because we can keep the game fresh and switch it up when we start to get tired of Shadowruns or Keep on the Borderlands in Spaaaaaaaaaaace  or whatever.

I rolled out the Combat Cyborgs I posted recently. The party chewed through the first group, but ran into some problems with the second could've been a TPK if not for a few lucky/unlucky die rolls on both sides.

This Tuesday: the group is considering taking a job that involves "sterilizing a compromised biotech facility." That sounds totally legit, right?

There are always other jobs if they decide not to. The joys of sandboxing, right?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Blackest Friday

(Sorry, stole the pun from the local comic shop/coffee bar)

On their way to me:

*Anomalous Subsurface Environment Levels 2-3 at 30% off.
*Sailors on the Starless Sea- FREE NINETY-NINE. 

I got some other nerd goodness today, but they are not gaming related and thus beyond the limited purview of this blog.

Carry on, gamers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Old School D&D Threads

Today I was at my favorite comic book store, and I saw a flyer for "official" D&D apparel. I have to say that I will have trouble resisting the urge to buy a t-shirt with the Holmes Basic cover picture on it.

Other models include the minotaur from Keep on the Borderlands and a t-shirt that has the old "dragon ampersand" that TSR used to slap on products back in the day.

I'm still not going to buy D&D Next, but I will totally rock the Holmes Basic shirt.

That is all.

Another good idea from the internet

One phrase recently used to find my blog: "using dinosaur swamp with mutant future."


I've actually thought about such a project in the past. The PCs would probably be lost Coalition personnel, stranded in Dino Swamp after a mission gone wrong. Dinosaurs and lots of big lasers and rockets to shoot them with, and no pesky ass tour guide telling you to get back on the metal path.

It might be a fun thing to run over Winter Break...if any of my local gamers have some time off during the day. (Dan, Mike...looking at y'all)

I'll always stick to my (mega-damage) guns that RIFTS books make better source books for games other than RIFTS.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Jack in, chum- er, wait.. wrong game.

In preparation for further jobs on the cyberpunk-ish planet of Guangxi, I have been listening to nothing but Lazerhawk, Com Truise, and Power Glove for the past several hours.

The pros: I have a boat load of ideas for cyberpunk style jobs.

The cons: I wish I was running Cyberpunk 2020, and I now pine for the 80's with a deep, pervasive longing.

New fact about Guangxi: the farther you get from the "surface" levels, the closer you get to the aesthetic of a 1980's that never was.

Stats: Corporate Cyborg Hitman (Stars Without Number) Note: Whimsical, but only partly so

Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 4+4
Attack bonus: +5
Damage: 3d4 combat shotgun, 1d8 fist
Skill Bonus: +3
No. Appearing: 1-4
Saving Throw: 13+
Movement: 30' or 60'
Morale: 12

Cyborg Hitmen usually appear as fairly generic, if well-muscled men, with close cropped hair and dark eyes. On Guangxi, they appear to be of Chinese decent. They typically wear big dark coats or finely tailored suits.
Cybord Hitmen typically employ heavy shotguns in combat, though their fists are formidable as well. On the roll of a natural 20, a Cyborg Hitman will heft a character up by his neck, peer soulessly into his eyes, and then throw him bodily into a wall, plate glass window, or conveniently stacked group of objects such as barrels or crates. This inflicts 2d6 damage and stuns the character for 1d4 combat rounds. A successful Physical Effect save halves the damage and simply results in loss of initiative the following round.

Combat Cyborgs are equipped with advanced optics and halve any penalties for range. They do not suffer from darkness penalties.

Cyborg Hitmen move at the same rate as a normal human when being directly observed. When not being observed, they are capable of moving at double the speed of a normal person, usually moving ahead of their target so they can come out from a sudden corner, door, or other "gotcha" spot. They will sometimes use their enhanced movement rate when pursuing vehicles.

Combat Cyborgs reduced to 10 hit points or less typically have their metal endoskeleton exposed. They also receive +2 to attack and damage in this state until repaired or destroyed.

A Combat Cyborg reduced to 0 hit points dies instantly, and his internal computers wipe any and all data with regards to his manufacturer or mission. Valuable secret technology also fuses inside of him, leaving a smoking and ultimately useless metal skeleton.

Combat Cyborgs receive +2 on all saving throws vs. psionic attacks. They cannot be healed or enhanced by biopsionics. They are considered to be maxed out on System Strain for all purposes.

To De-Whimsify This Monster: Remove the enhanced movement and choke throw special ability..also, write I AM LAME on your arm or forehead in black marker.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Darn Cool Resource

If you haven't been by Wizardawn, you really should give it a gander. There are quality map and content generators for OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord + Advanced Edition LL, Mutant Future, and more. I find this site particularly handy because, while I don't mind mapping dungeons and interiors, I don't really like mapping cities or large wilderness areas.

Oh, and the 8-bit aesthetic sported by the website is just plain neat, 'specially to a child of the 80's.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

SWN: Voyage of the Albatross

I am presently running a little side campaign using Stars Without Number. "Voyage of the Albatross" isn't actually the campaign's name, but it's not a bad point of reference.

I have only two players. Their characters are:
-Eaverin Raideen  (5th level Psychic), a noble who belongs to one of the Hydrin Clans.
-Vrinn Hollow (5th level Qotah Expert), a former intelligence agent/hacker who joined the Clans.

Their NPC henchmen:
-Gustav Volkovic (3rd level Warrior), a mercenary rescued from captivity and hired on by the PCs.
-Dane Kestra Pedrana (3rd level Warrior), a Dane, or House Guard, of the Raideen Clan. She is the sworn protector of Eaverin and has been ordered to accompany him on his wanderings.

NPC Crew Hirelings:
-Sofia Lucullo,  skilled pilot/navigator, rescued from the same pirates who held Gustav.
-Adler Spiel, an engineer/mechanic who served on the same ship as Sofia. He was rescued from being turned into a zombie by a bizarre alien mold he accidentally unleashed while exploring some ruins. 

The game is sandbox style. We're on the second "leg" of the campaign right now. Having completed an expedition into an alien culture that gained the attention of Houses Raideen and Sashara, the party has been granted a small vessel, the Albatross. The party is currently docked at the starport of Guangxi. They've run a job on the planet and discovered how morally...flexible...operatives are expected to be. The party was hired to reclaim an asteroid belt mining/processing facility for a corporation, only to find out that the opposition were slave miners who had risen up against their captors and a group of unusually altruistic warriors sworn to help them. Thanks to clever party, they managed to complete the job, save the miners, and befriend the warriors... (frankly, I expected them just to blast everyone, take the money, and run.) We'll see if they're able to navigate their next job as adroitly.

I was skeptical about running with such a small group at first, but it's growing on me. At any rate, being a GM is in my blood; I'm just not truly satisfied unless I'm running something. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

I Concede: Sometimes Skills are Pointless

Alright, so I'm currently playing through Fallout 2 on my PC, having finished Fallout 1 a few weeks ago. The old Fallout games are traditional rpgs with skill and talent-based character development.

I'm usually an advocate for skills in an rpg because I think that some characters should be better than other characters at certain things.

Playing Fallout 2 sometimes makes me think that the anti-skill camp is on to something.

Case in point: there is a point in the game where you have to learn some fairly vital information from a computer terminal. Successfully accessing this information requires the game to check against your character's Science skill.

...there is no consequence if you fail, aside from a boring "you can't figure it out" screen.

...but... you can try again. You can try again and again and again.

What does this produce? Me hurling every expletive that I can come up with while bitterly clicking the skill screen and then clicking on the computer terminal over and over again until I get the information.There really is no point, it seems, in investing an skill points in Science. Yeah, I had it at 60% and it took me three or four tries. If my skill was 10%, would it just have required ten or so tries until I got lucky? If this information is vital to my continuing the game, why not just give me the goddamn information already? I could understand if the information lead me to some kind of bonus item or xp award or Optional MacGufffin or whatever, but this is information that is required to progress through the game's main quest.

 So, to all you skill haters in this corner of the internet...sometimes, I can totally see where you guys are coming from. 

X-Plorer Style Skills Pt. 2- A Few Basic Ideas

In a recent post, I toyed with the idea of using X-Plorer style skills in a D&D game.
TL/DR? Skills are baked into classes and work like saving throws. (d20, meet or beat) Fighter types have combat bonuses.

Since I want to begin tinkering in earnest, I'm setting out to make a list of skills for each class. When you create a character, you get X choices for skills.

I haven't made any decisions yet about cross-class skills or skills for multi-classed characters; for now I'm just trying to get a list hammered out. I'm sure I'll be paring this down.

My end goal is this: I want characters to be able to do things better than some other characters at certain things. Yes, I love the "anything goes" attitude of a skills-lite system, but I also have stated that I think a fighter who is imagined as a ranger should be better at certain stuff than a fighter who is imagined as a cavalryman. 

Classes will assume those found in B/X D&D. 

-Weapon Specialization
-Martial Arts
(These two are straight out of X-Plorers and all Soldiers have them)
-Repair Arms/Armor
-Feat of Strength (Basically like a bend bars/lift gate "heroic" burst of strength)
-Wilderness Survival
-Favored Enemy

-Open Locks
-Find/Remove Traps
-Climb Walls
-Move Silently
-Hide in Shadows
-Pick Pockets
-Hear Noise
-Read Languages/Use Scrolls
-Appraise Item

-Religious Lore
-Demon/Undead Lore
-Field Medicine
-Inscribe Scrolls
-Mix Potions
-Turn Undead
-Clerical Magic
(I'm not for-sure in having the last two count as skills. Or I might and simply say that clerics are required to take them. Ditto with the creation of magic items)

-Magical Lore
-Monster Lore
-Ancient History
-Read Languages
-Inscribe Scroll
-Mix Potion
-Enchant Item
-Analyze Magical Item
-Cast spells

-Weapon Specialization (Restricted to axes, hammers, or crossbows)
-Repair Arms/Armor
-Feat of Strength (Basically like a bend bars/lift gate "heroic" burst of strength)
-Favored Enemy
-Detect Traps
-Appraise Item

-Weapon Specialization (Restricted to bows and non-two handed swords)
-Repair Arms/Armor
-Wilderness Survival
-Favored Enemy
-Magical Lore
-Monster Lore
-Ancient History
-Read Languages
-Inscribe Scroll
-Mix Potion
-Enchant Item
-Analyze Magical Item
-Cast spells

-Weapon Specialization (Restricted to sling only)

Mystic (heck, why not?) Three picks?
-Ancient History
-Field Medicine
-Feat of Strength
-Martial Arts (required)
-Weapon Specialization


Saturday, November 10, 2012

SWN: Guangxi

Below is the first draft of the planet I originally created from a name and some random die rolls. 

Guangxi (Ceres Sector, Hex 0005)

Atomsphere: Breathable Mix
Temperature: Temperate
Population: 972,713
Tech Level: 4+ (Specialties in cybernetics and computer networking)  
Tags: Badlands World, Secret Masters
Reason for Colonization: Trade Hub
Government: Initially Military Dictatorship, evolved to Republic, devolved to Corporatocracy
Conflict: Freedom
Cultural Flavor: Chinese, Cyberpunk
Societal Traits: Factious, Ambitious

Guangxi was originally founded as a hub for the Terran Mandate. The idea is that Guangxi would supply the surrounding colonies. Governance was left to Mandate military commanders. After the Scream, the military broke into two factions, with civilian "contractors" forming a third. Pretech weapons were brought to bear on each other, rendering much of the planet uninhabitable.

After the dust settled, the new ruling faction found that it has earned only a Pyhhric victory against the other would-be regents of Guangxi, and cooperation with the civilian companies and means of production were necessary to the survival of all of Guangxi's inhabitants. Over the years, the planet formed something resembling a Republic.

In recent decades, the more wealthy and powerful tycoons and corporations have essentially subdued the elected bureaucrats through wealth and an endless system of lobbying and favor currying. The citizens are beginning to feel the effects of this, so the corporate occupied government has began to promote a hedonistic consumer culture among the middle and lower classes.

Guangxi excels in the fields of cybernetics and computer technology. Most of the implants in the Polychrome supplement have a near-equivalent on Guangxi.

Guangxi is currently officially neutral in the major conflict of Ceres Sector, which is a self-proclaimed Emperor being opposed by a loose confederation of independent worlds. Guangxi is selling weaponry and cyber-warfare countermeasures to the independent worlds, as well as enacting a number of plans to cause economic instability in the new "Empire" of Galaran- Empires are not good for business, after all.

Guangxi is a potentially lucrative venue for wandering adventurers. The corporations often oppose each other using covert, deniable contractors for discreet operations against each other's interests. 
(Shadowruns, baby.)

Guangxi never quite recovered from the ecological disaster of the Silence years. The people of the planet currently live in just a couple of large metropoli that are built upwards. The lower levels remain structurally sound, but the infrastructure is compromised in many places and it sends to be a honeycomb of slums ruled by gangs and third-rate companies that lost out in the dog-eat-dog corporate wars.

TL;DR: Chinese Shadowrun planet with cities like the big one from Final Fantasy VII.

Music to listen to when picturing Guangxi:
  Dizzying overhead view of ultra-modern Guangxi city (a la Blade Runner)

Running an op for one of the corporations

Slick but menacing business district where lives are bought and sold

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

SWN Milieu Map

 My SWN universe takes shape on some grubby graph paper at Village Inn. I did end up making some changes, but this is more or less where my campaigns take place.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sci-Fi Bad Guys

Sci-Fi has a lot of excellent bad guys. You should steal these bad guys for your Stars Without Number, X-Plorers, or Encounter Critical games. Hell, you can drop them into D&D if you're feeling feisty.

1. Darth Vader- You know who Darth Vader is. You know exactly why your game needs a plasma sword-wielding cyborg with evil magic/psionics.
He can work as-is in a gonzo enough fantasy game. Otherwise, make him an anti-paladin or evil fighter with psionic powers and a badass magic sword. 

2. Sovereign (Mass Effect 1)- A sentient capital ship who is millions of years old. He is also the vanguard of an entire race of sentient capital ships that wipe out all advanced organic life every 50,000 years as part of a bizarre cycle of order that they choose to impose on the universe.

In a fantasy game, Sovereign might be a big ancient dragon, heralding the reawakening of a  race of big ancient dragons. (or Krakens, or whatever) As above, if your game is gonzo enough, he can still be a big mean spaceship with a hate on for organic life. 

3. His Divine Shadow (LEXX)-A self-proclaimed Divine Ruler who transfers his essence into a new body every century. He keeps the preserved brains of his previous host bodies as a sort of weird oracle that he consults for advice. He destroys planets in the name of Order.

I can see him working in a B/X game as a cleric of Law gone horribly, horribly wrong. Perhaps he creates a militaristic theocracy. Although he gives off a great Evil Wizard vibe, he doesn't seem to have any magic powers, besides of course the preserved brain oracle collective.. 

4. Jean-Baptiste Immanuel Zorg (The Fifth Element)- Psychotic tycoon who owns a multi-planet weapons manufacturing firm. Secretly serves a cosmic power that wants to annihilate earth. Has a particular knack for megalomaniacal/pseudo-philosophical rants and for berating incompetent subordinates.

Zorg could easily be a petty baron, or perhaps a wealthy arms merchant. He's actually such a monstrous dick that when you find out he is in league with some sort of space monster/deity thing, it's actually not that much of a surprise.  If nothing else, his twisted logic that his place in the universe is necessary can make for an interesting bad guy.

5. GLaDOS (Portal/Portal 2)- Insane computer that runs a scientific testing facility. Obsessed with testing. Attempts to deceive test subjects with obvious falsehoods and maintains a persona of being friendly and helpful while attempting to kill escaping test subjects. She has several personalities (benign, murderous, etc.) that she seems to oscillate between.

Ha...the idea of dropping something like the Aperture Science testing facility in a fantasy game makes me grin. GLaDOS would work great in a Metamorphosis Alpha or Gamma World style game, or as a remote outpost in a non-apocalyptic sci-fi setting. I guess if you're a fantasy purist, you could make her into some kind of magical construct that was designed to assist a long dead wizard. In his absence, the construct continues about her business..."interpreting" her orders as best she can. 

Aside from Darth Vader, I tried to go with non-obvious choices. They don't have to be gonzo if cleverly re-skinned... it all depends on what flavor your game is. My SWN universe could only fit a few of these without seeming silly, but it does give me some ideas....

Saturday, November 3, 2012

X-Plorer Style Skills

I downloaded the free version of X-Plorers a long time ago, but I never really gave it a serious read through. JB recently posted a glowing review for the game, so I gave the PDF another look-see.

While I'm not sure this game will ever supplant my undying love for Stars Without Number, I do like the way they handle skill- by baking them into the character class.

Every class in X-Plorers has a four pretty broad abilities that all members of the class possess. Skills are checked by rolling a d20 and trying to meet or beat the character's skill number. The roll is modified by the appropriate attribute bonus/penalty. (Ability score modifiers are understated, capping at +2/-2 at scores of 4/17) Skill numbers decrease (rather like saving throws) as a character advances in level. I should note that the Soldier class is an exception- of his four skills, two of them are actually combat related bonuses (number of attacks, unarmed damage, etc.) that simply improve as he advances in level; you do not roll to check these skills.

I really like the basic idea here, which is making skill mechanics nearly identical to saving throws. I also like that a character class has skills attached to it. I always liked the idea of character class implying the different areas of a character's expertise.

If I ported this into D&D, I would probably change a lot of things about the implementation while leaving the basic mechanic intact. I'm thinking that classes would have some skill choice- it bothers me slightly that every Soldier in X-Plorers has training in demolitions and every scientist is also a doctor. I see the potential here to create variant fighters, thieves, etc. without creating new character classes for everything. Imagine there is a class skill list, and you are allowed to take X many choices at character creation. You could take Tracking and Favored Enemy to create a "ranger", or maybe Tracking and Stealth, etc.

I imagine many players would want there to be a little bit of potential for "cross-class" skills. D20, of course, did it. Even AD&D 2nd edition allowed you to take NWPs that were outside your class group if you paid extra slots. I'm thinking of two ways to do this right off the bat:
1. Cross-class skills cost two skill choices, rather than just one. (Consider that in X-Plorers, each class has only four skills.)
2. Cross-class skills cost the same number of skill choices, but they improve at only half the rate of class skills. For X-Plorers saving throw-style skills, this means that cross-class skills improve only every other experience level, rather than at every level. It means that combat skills would only improve once every four levels. Hmm...that seems rather harsh. I'd be tempted to say every three levels.

Thieves, of course, would get the most skill choices, and their success rates would be converted to X+ on a d20 (with starting rates more analogous to the Scout class in X-Plorers) Perhaps they would receive 6 or 8 while the other classes received four.

This is where it could potentially expand beyond where I had intended it to go. Perhaps magic-users would only receive three skill choices, with the use of magic counting as one of their abilities. Would clerics deserve the same treatment? (Spells and they receive only two skill choices?) Does this mean that a class could take magic-use as a cross-class ability? You could create a Bard or a Grey Mouser style character by playing a Thief with magic-user spells as one of their skill choices.

I think I'd have to reign it in a bit there. If we're getting that abstract, why not remove character classes entirely? (Short answer: because I like character class as a part of D&D) I'm thinking that magic-use or other supernatural abilities might cost double and advance at half rate, while more mundane skills like Horsemanship or Legerdemain would cost normal and advance at half rate. After all, you can easily argue that learning how to cast magic spells is probably a smidgen harder than learning how to move quietly or gather food in the wilderness.