Saturday, December 21, 2013

Working Under Cover

I've been considering a pulp staple: covering the bad guy (or the good guy for that matter.) I'm thinking in particular about being able to whip out a small discreet pistol and threatening to blow some gorilla's brains out if he twitches.

The problem being that small discreet pistols often do shit damage and big gorilla's often have a lot of hit points or endurance. So the plucky woman reporter grabs a hammerless .32 revolver from her clutch and covers Mickey 'the Rhino.' The revolver does 2d6 damage and as Rhino has 12 hit points he takes the shot and wrings the plucky woman reporter's neck. What can I say? He's a bastard.

Players are often guilty of making similar choices (instead of roleplaying an aversion to being plugged.)

Covering someone is a great way to set up a tense scene. But to do so you have to have a chance to come out on top and a chance to get screwed over and a few in between results. There is some justification in Traveller and other Old School games. For example Traveller says that an unconscious opponent or someone restrained and incapable of resisting can be finished off with a single blow or shot by an attacker at close range. No die roll necessary unless the character is making an unarmed or weakened blow. That's strong stuff. Imagine finishing off a stunned marine in TL 12 battledress with a TL 2 dagger!

Obviously a character being covered is still capable of resisting, just at a marked disadvantage. Killing the person covered is not automatic (we want to give people a chance, it makes for a good game.) But making a grab for the gun is going to have consequences if you fail.

House Rule Covering a Prisoner
A defender can be covered at short or close range by a guard or opponent who achieved surprise, has a ready pistol or rifle and is not in danger of being attacked himself. 

If the defender decides to rush the guard he must first make a morale roll with all the appropriate modifiers. If he doesn’t make the roll he is intimidated and may not make do anything except follow instructions until the situation changes (i.e. the guard is distracted, something worth risking his life for happens etc.)

If the defender decides to rush the guard or otherwise provokes him the guard fires with a +1 dm. In addition the defender does not benefit from armor (ignore damage resistance or dm to hit as the guard basically has the weapon trained on the softest parts of the opponent’s anatomy or armor.) If the opponent has no armor then the shot does maximum damage. 

The covering fire does not count against the guard’s attacks. He can make another normal attack that same round and probably will against the defender.

A single shot weapon can only cover one person. Characters may cover up to 3 adjacent defenders with a semiautomatic weapon. An weapon capable of autofire can cover a number of defenders equal to its burst number. Every defender in excess of this imposes a -1 dm to attacks.

Optionally a character may cover a single opponent at close range with a melee weapon, (laying the blade across their throat, jabbing a cudgel in their kidneys, but this requires the character to make a successful brawling or weapon attack. As above armor does not modify the hit roll and the attacker is at +1 dm.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Retro Traveler

Mongoose has used their version of Traveller in a variety of different settings as well as giving support for the traditional Third Imperium. Recently a number of OGL supplements have dealt near future and relatively hard SF settings such as Orbital by Zozer games.

While working on my Microlite20 setting I received a request to run a pulp SF game using a setting I'd pitched a while ago. Basically humans use unobtainium from a disastrous meteor strike to build atomic rockets and voyage to a pulp solar system. Action is going to center on a Venus full of swamps and dinos. I pondered what system to use and decided to use Mongoose Traveller. It already has good rules for generating and running modern/SF characters and combat, rules for weapons, encounter systems with critters of all sizes (I can just port dinos in) and spaceships of various tech levels. Psionics can provide some mad science as well.

Using Traveller in a pulp setting provides some challenges. I'll have to read the combat rules very carefully before tweaking them for larger than life characters. They could use a mook rule for starters or maybe more uses for tactical points. Like I said I'd have to look it over.

The real question is which of the two games I'll be able to run with life doing what it usually does. Gamers schedule games and God laughs.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Legion of Fantastic Heroes

Imagine a cosmos full of those floating islands I've posted about previously. Each island harbors a single fantasy race. They float or orbit relatively close to each other. Spelljammer type ships or chariots pulled by geese or whatever will allow the races to travel between them.

Alignments are out or at the very least not mandated according to race. An orc can be of good alignment (though it's better to be safe and hang him - old elven proverb.) Unlike the typical fantasy setting the races are not necessarily at each others throats but affiliated in a confederation of sorts out of need.

A demonic empire (or maybe a necromantic empire whatever anti-life/anti-freedom trope works for you) has attacked all the islands. Several islands were destroyed in the past. The remainder have begun talks to band together and defeat this evil force once and for all. A prosperous merchant and head of the largest trade guild who has already contributed arms and funds to the war effort has sent his agents to recruit the youngest, bravest and most able specimens of each race (with priority given to those with unusual abilities.) They will form a force to inspire the citizens of the confederation and prove they can all work together (well maybe not the goblins): the Legion of Fantastic Heroes.

One part Legion of Super Heroes, one part X-Men and a huge dollop of your favorite fantasy authors. Maybe they were inspired by the exploits of a godlike survivor of a destroyed island. Perhaps the merchant gets his idea when a psionic, a mage specializing in lightning spells and another with metalworking spells saves him from assassins.

Most of the worlds from the Legion of Super Heroes made little scientific sense but could be transformed into magical islands with a little work. Ditto for the fantastic places in the Marvel Universe Wakanda just screams for a steampunk and savage jungle adventure. In addition to being divided by races islands could be given over (mostly) to the different classes. Planet of Hats meets Island of Rangers!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Laying It On the Alignment

Alignments. I have yet to meet two gms who agree on what alignments mean in the grand scheme of things. For that matter I have yet to meet two players who agree on what the alignments mean.

Some people consider alignments the be all end all and you better play every move according to your alignment or else. Playing against your alignment leads to sanctions. You can be docked XP. You can be forced to change alignment in which case your old friends won't want to stick around you. Your god can yank your spells and special abilities (if you are a cleric or paladdin.)

I prefer a more fast and loose treatment. There are after all nine alignments (without getting into those fiddly tendencies.) I never liked the idea of there only being nine responses to a given moral dilemma. I had a player ask me once how a paladdin should react to a betrayal by her superior (a non-paladdin.) I replied it depended on the paladdin and in that moment my take on alignment was born!

Basically all my players pick an alignment. They then tell me their personal interpretation of that alignment. On rare occasions I've had to explain their chosen path of morality didn't match the alignment they chose and we'd figure out what other alignment fit more closely. For example one of my favorite pcs of all time was a cheerful sociopathic little halfling who predated Belkar Bitterleaf by several year. He chose neutral for his alignment and his interpretation of it was that his character returned the treatment he was given. he's drink and laugh with orcs if they were so inclined. He nail a paladdin to the wall if the paladdin did him dirt.

As long as the halfling was played that way consistently there wano problem. The player wasn't constrained by his alignment unnecessarily. I had the best seat in the house for a good show. You darned well knew in a party of LG/CG types I'd have an LG personage do something to upset that halfling every so often. Either that or he'd tell the party to come meet his new friends, a bunch of hobgoblins he spent the night drinking with.

In order to give players as much freedom as possible in describing their characters I opted for very loose alignment descriptions.

Good= You believe all sentient beings have a right to life and liberty (barring altercations of course.)

Evil= Some beings are strong, others are weak. The strong rule over the weak. That's just the way it is.

Law= Society's rules ... rule. Traditions, customs, courts and judges decide all.

Chaos= There is no law save individual honor. Laws stifle and restrict unnecessarily. No law code can anticipate every situation. So none are worthwhile.

A Neutral alignment indicates disinterest in either the Law/Chaos or the Good/Evil aspects or all of the above. Either the character sees all philosophies as having their place in the world or doesn't interact with them unless he must. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Leveling the Game

I have a love hate relationship with class levels. On the upside you can create a non-player character fast and eyeball encounters pretty easily. Point based characters can be customized more, no contest there. On the other hand I'm using a rules light system. Four stats, five skills and more customizing means more rules.

Microlite20 gives every character +1d6 per level, +1 to attack rolls and +1 to all skills. That's a little too streamlined for me. Why should mages advance in all attack rolls the same as fighters? It makes the fighter bonus to attacks and damage much less important (+1 at 5th, 10th etc.)

I'm tweaking leveling up as follows:
HP STR +1d6 per level.
Skills +4 skill points per level. Max of Level +3 skill points in any one skill.
Heroic Points + 1d6
Attack Bonuses for physical and magical combat are as follows:

Fighters, Monks 1/1 level (1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10 etc)
Paladdins, Rangers, Clerics 2/3 levels (1/1/2/2/2/3/3/3/4/4)
Rogues, Bards, Druids  1/2 levels (1/1/2/2/3/3/4/4/5)
Magi, Illusionists 1/3 levels (0/0/1/1/1/2/2/2/3/3)

Magical (includes thrown spells, and level bonus to Will checks)
Magi, Illusionists 1/1 level (1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10 etc)
Paladdins, Rangers, Clerics, Druids 2/3 levels (1/1/2/2/2/3/3/3/4/4)
Rogues, Bards,  1/2 levels (1/1/2/2/3/3/4/4/5)
Fighters, Monks 1/3 levels (0/0/1/1/1/2/2/2/3/3)

That's not too much extra work. It also gives me a framework for making saves. For example a mage might get +1/level to modify a save against magical charms. He'd only get a +1/3 levels to make a Will save to resist pain though (that burly fighter would get a +1/level though as he's been cut up many times and kept fighting.)

Segue Into a Good Cause

If I didn't mention it before I'm a teacher and hearing of a colleague in a rough   patch really makes me want to help out. The following was shared by Mark  Chance who I follow on Google +

I'm Mark Chance, owner and sole employee of <a
href="">Spes Magna Games</a>. For my day job, I teach
5th grade at <a href="">Aristoi Classical
Academy</a>, a small classical liberal arts charter public school in Katy,
Texas. Being a charter school in Texas, we do not receive the full funding
from the state that a traditional public school receives. (For example, we
receive no monies for facilities.) Consequently, my salary at Aristoi is
thousands of dollars a year lower than it would be in a traditional public
school. Now, mind you, I'm not complaining; I'm simply informing by way of
a preface.

One of my fellow teachers, who has fewer years experience than I, has hit
a difficult patch. Rick and his wife have three daughters, ranging from
elementary school to high school. They live in a rough neighborhood. His
house has been burgled more than once. One of his daughters has been a
victim of violence. Rick needs to get his family out of that neighborhood,
but moving, as I'm sure you all know, requires money.

I want to help my friend and co-worker, and I figured that Spes Magna
Games might be a good way to do this. For the entire month of November
until the end of 2013, 100% of my Spes Magna sales will be donated to Rick
to help him get his family to a safer neighborhood. <a
the link to my on-line catalog at DriveThruRPG</a>.

Thanks for your help!

-- Mark L. Chance |

I've bought and read 'That's a Goblin!?' by Mark. He does good stuff. The supplement is $3.00. In 21 pages you get two dozen new mutations/variations on your typical goblin ranging from the deadly (fangs/bite attack) to the surprising (wall crawlers) to the gross (beer gut and rasp tongue no more need be said.) The supplement also has a section on fey goblins who can have all sort of magical powers and seem more suited for midlevel adventurers. Imagine a murder of crows suddenly morphing into savage goblins at twilight. There are also some more down to earth subspecies to play with like arboreal or littoral goblins for a change of pace. Finally the supplement provides background and npcs for a small hamlet, Reyr's Well, that is suffering from mysterious attacks that only your party can stop. It's a good starter adventure with some sleuthing, fighting and an original foe. Check it out on the link above. I intend on using some of the ideas in my own campaign.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fantasy Firearms

One of the innovations in my fantasy campaign will be gunpowder weapons. I'm doing chiefly this to show the players that sometime has passed since their old campaign. That and I had a lot of fun running them through a dungeon with mechanical monsters that was so much fun it must have been illegal somewhere. Those monsters screamed Steampunk to me and demands I address it.

Gunpowder will be not quite magical. It's made with mundane means but tends to blow itself and the maker up. Muskets and pistols will be the weapons of garrisons and armies. Bows the weapons of adventurers. Learning to load a firearm is fairly simple compared to the years of training required to really master the bow. The saying went if you wanted a good archer begin training his grandfather. Gunpowder weapons are fairly easy to produce and a musket unit is much easier to raise than a longbow unit.

In game terms a pistol does 1d8 damage and musket 1d10. Both are exploding dice. If you roll maximum damage (i.e. 8 or 10 respectively) you roll and again and possibly again and again. On the down side a pistol has an effective range of 20 feet and a musket an effective range of 50 feet. Attack is -4 for every doubling of range. A character takes 4 rounds to load a pistol and 6 rounds to load a musket (meaning you better hit, meaning you better wait till that gob is at short range ...) A fouled weapon or damp powder or faulty flints are all options to keep pc's alive. Some powder does not travel well. Only the dwarves make kerneled powder regularly. Other races consider their powder the best and it is in high demand everywhere.

Adventurers prefer the bow. Quiet, a higher rate of fire than a musket and appreciable damage at longer ranges. Still many archers were put out of jobs due to gunpowder and have turned to various enterprises to make a living (ever wonder where all those adventurers come from?) firearms have an effective range at present measured in tends of feet. The best way to use a pistol is to poke your target in the head with it. Knights are still in business. A cavalry charge is still a fearsome thing. Getting a shot in requires you to stand your ground. If you miss you get run down. Most shooters flinch.

Some people are already moving away from heavy armor (rogues!) and taking up lighter DEX dependent weapons (and packing some heat in the form of a pistol or two.)

Dwarves make excellent firearms and stable gunpowder. Orcs make standard weapons and are a real pain to adventurers now. Elves usually refuse to have any truck with guns. Gnomes relish gunpowder weapons and have all manner of repeater weapon they're developing (so far only misfires repeat reliably.) Gnolls, like the elves, will usually not use gunpowder weapons even when they are supplied. They find the stench repulsive.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Races and Classes Pt. 2

The D&D game so far has the usual plain vanilla races: humans, elves, dwarfs, and hobbits. In my previous campaign I tried to stay away from orcs as easy adversaries. So I'm rulling that there are no sizable populations of them on the island (Old elf joke: Once there were two orcs ... now look. It's funnier in elvish.) Instead I'm going with gnolls. Lupinoids can be friendly types (doglike) or dangerous foes (think wolves, coyotes.) In fact I'm going with several types of gnolls (why should humans be the only ones available in more than one color.)

Yeah, I know they're supposed to be hyena headed humanoids but it's my world.)

Hyaenoid (hostile to humanoids and tough as hell)
Gnoll: HD 2d8+2 (11 hp), AC 15, Battleaxe +3 (1d8+2) or shortbow +1(1d6) +3 Physical +1 other skills.

Gnoll: HD 2d8 (9 hp), AC 15, Spear +2 (1d8) or shortbow +2 (1d6) +3 Physical, +2 Communication, +1 other skills. Wolfoids are more likely to use pack tactics (some shooting arrows others closing with spears.) They favor hit and run and surrounding their opponents. Wolfoids are very loyal to pack members and will never leave a live one behind. They are more likely to avoid humans unless their territory is violated or occasionally ally with them against a common threat.

Gnoll: HD 2d6 (7 hp), AC 16, Shortsword +3 (1d6) or shortbow +1 (1d6) +3 Subterfuge, +1 other skills. Coyoteans are shorter than humans and tend towards skinny builds. They favor light weapons they can use to advantage with their high dexterity. They often use two light weapons at once (shortsword and dagger.) Coyoteans are primarily raiders and thieves and excel at ambushes (think furry kobolds.) They frequently rob humanoids nearby but rarely engage in pitched battles.

Player character Wolfoids get +3 STR, -1 Mind. 

Player character Coyoteans get +3 DEX, -1 Mind.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Races and Classes Pt. 1

I am fond of classes and levels in rpgs. On the plus side it's way easier to keep track of experience and do improvements to your character all at once than keep track of every niggling skill point and such.

There is some concern that characters are placed in a strait jacket by their classes and not allowed to be individualized. I decided to alleviate some of this in Microlite20 when I run it. Instead of your primary class skill having an initial +3 and all skills increasing 1 per level characters start with 8 skill levels and may add up to 3 + their level to any one skill. So if you want a swashbuckler type fighter put some skill levels into subterfuge (good for feints and dirty tricks of all kinds) and communication (because hey smart ass remarks while waving swords around is required.)

Characters will also use the optional fourth stat: Charisma (CHA) because I like social combat (and will probably write up something about it in a future post.)

Besides the plain vanilla classes of Fighter, Mage, Rogue and Cleric I'm going to include Monks (which I liked since reading about the Bloodguard in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.) I'm also including an archer type. Stats are as follows:

The Archer

Wear light or medium armor. They have a +2 bonus to physical and add +2 to attack and damage rolls with ranged attacks. This increases +1 at 5th level and every five levels on. They are +1AC vs all missile fire. They may take a double shot at -2 to each attack. 

Monks are as written on page 62 of The Microlite20 RPG Collection vol. 1.

I also gave a little more pizzaz to fighters. As written a 1-4 level fighter only gets +1 to hit over other classes (this increases to +2 at 5th level, +3 at 10th etc.) which doesn't seem enough. So in addition the fighter can attack Level/3 opponents each round of half their level or less and receive the Cleave ability. When a fighter kills a foe in melee he may attack another adjacent foe. Killing people quickly you see is a power all its own.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Life on a Floating Island

This campaign is set on a floating island (at least initially.) I'm using Spelljammer-esque physiques since anything resembling real science leads to a lot of asphyxiated humans and demi-humans and the Undead laughing their heads off.

The island was part of a larger world called Aarde. It is roughly crescent shaped. I haven't decided if the mother world exists still or there are only islands floating in the mist.

There is no gravity as we understand it. Rather elements seeks their natural level. Levels from top to bottom are fire, air, water and earth. If you take these substances they will naturally fall into layers. As a result of this atmospheres are sharply defined. Flying more than a few thousand feet above the ground you encounter vacuum. The good news is you carry a small bubble of air with you.

The Island is fairly sunny and warm. As one approaches the edge the temperature drops till you encounter a rim of snowfields, frost and glaciers. That's essential to keeping the waters of the small sea mostly contained. As it is the sea and many rivers bleed off the edges. Beyond the Island they freeze and circle about or fall back in and add the ice flows that eventually move to warmer regions and melt.

The humans call their land The Wise Frost realizing it keeps their lands from drying out.

I'm not sure if the Island broke off the edge of Aarde or had a more central location. The original position depends on how much of Aarde I decide is intact.

The disaster happened at least two centuries before. That's enough time for the creatures of the Island to evolve or mutate (it's a magical world after all.) Unlike our world Aarde evolution follows Lamarckism. Attributes an organism acquires are passed to its offspring. Organisms living near the edge quickly develop the characteristics of arctic animals with odd D&D twists: ice dragons ice elves, ice worms etc.

Lamarckism has some interesting implications for role play. If your character is a fighter and survives combat after combat he will evolve attributes to help him in future combats. In other words leveling up becomes not just a matter of experience but evolution. You increase in HP because your body is evolving to need them. This explains why adventuring types level up while running around out in the wolds as opposed to practicing their swordplay and spellcraft in schools. Evolution baby!

It also means you pass on some of this to your children. Great fighters tends to sire great fighters or at least kids with that potential. Ditto for spell throwers. Paladdins are rare because they (usually) take vows of chastity. On the rare occasion they do have kids, think Sir Galahad.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Over Planning

One of the worst sins I commit as a gm is over planning. One of my players once said that he felt like I always had a plan for what was over the next hill no matter which way they went as a party.

I blushed a little then had a group of gnolls with polearms attack the party. In truth a lot of planning went into my last fantasy world. I mapped things out in minute detail. I made up a tree for language evolution and relationships. I came up with several major pantheons and worked out what the gods were doing when their people went to war with each other.* With all that stuff worked out it was very easy to fill in the cracks fast.

Happily I don't have that free time anymore and sadly don't have the energy. So while I like to have an overview I'm not figuring out every store on Merchants' Row or what orcs have for supper (smaller orcs.) I'm also realizing more and more what I stat up and give my attention to should be things that involve the players. It makes it easier for them to sit through the inevitable hosings I'm so infamous for.

Anyway my current crews likes are my first priority, in particular my newbie (I know she loves Minecraft and robotics, a dungeon that is an abandoned mine filled with clockwork automata seems in order.) Her parents are harder. I know they're huge fans of Sleepy Hollow and Once Upon a Time. Having a headless yet charming prince doesn't work. I'll think of something eventually. The first session is going to revolve around the reveal that this world is their old campaign world that underwent a horrific change. That sort of fits in with OUaT. I can add the conspiracy to keep things getting worse for a Sleepy Hollow vibe (though this is sort of like the End Days happened already and the good guys lost.)

I also have to remember that one of my players is in middle school and doesn't need to know her daddy played a boozing, wenching sociopathic Hobbit cardshark and her momma played an elven grifter with sticky fingers and a libertarian view of law to say the least. They can break that to her when she's 18.

*It turned out the gods natural form was a bunch of cute li'l tweens who were playing an rpg while hell was breaking loose. My players ran into them while on a hop between dimensions. They were surprised but not shocked.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Heel Turn Into Fantasy

I've been world building for a while and obviously concentrated on SF. All that is about to abruptly change as I'm getting the opportunity to actually run a game. Two of my old gaming group want me to introduce my Goddaughter (man I'm old) to fantasy RPGs. Since the parents had very fond memories of the AD&D 2nd Ed. game I ran many, many years ago I opted for one of the d20 engines and decided on Microlite20.

Microlite20 where have o been all my life? It's simple to learn and run and it distills the essence of D&D into 8 frigging pages! You can prep a new monster in minutes and it's easy to convert the tons of D&D stuff I bought back in the day to it. So on to world building.

The campaign starts on a floating island. If I'm going to do fantasy I'll go all out.

The Island was part of a larger and disk shaped world called Aarde. This was the world my crew ran in those many years ago. Something very bad happened to Aarde/the Island. The learned on the Island believe Aarde experienced an apocalypse and was torn apart or at least suffered grievous damage.

Unknown to all at the start the isolation of their island from the main world is slowly depleting its life force. Undead are increasing in number and animals and humanoids are mutating in odd ways. People living near the edges of the Island sometimes suffer from a form of insanity (sometimes permanent) called Edge Fever. Also outside the Island in the impenetrable fog pirates and monsters sometimes live and conduct raids.

Much of this misery is part of the plan of a lich who intends to reduce every person n the Island to Undead and then move the Island back to Aarde to /conquer the world./ Longterm goals include defeating the lich and its minions and finding a way to get the Island back to whatever remains of Aarde.

Anyway, that's the campaign in broad strokes. Next races and classes.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Care and Feeding of Zombies

With Halloween just ahead I stopped my Traveller designs to work on something more spooky: a classification system for zombies!

 1) Bugs are smarter. Zombies react solely by instinct. Will walk off cliffs or into fire.
 2) Animal cunning. Very dumb animals.
 3) Feral human. Will throw rocks, particularly to break lights.
 4) Semi-intelligent. Will throw rocks, use clubs and can learn rudiments of machinery. Could fire a rifle but not load it. Can open doors. Limited learning.
 5) Near human. Often retains habits and knowledge of past life. Can learn by observing how to operate simple machinery.
 1) Can plod slowly along. Forever.
 2) Can stumble or shamble along at normal walking speed.
 3) Can break into a shambling jog.
 4) Can run but may fall.
 5) Can run as fast as a human.
 1) Half human strength
 2) Below average human strength
 3) Average human strength
 4) Athletic human strength
 5) Twice as strong as an average human
 1)Brittle. While destroying the head is the only way the skull is fragile and can be broken with a kick or penetrated by a jackknife.
 2)Normal human durability. A headshot is not necessary.
 3) Only a headshot will do it though other wounds will slow it down.
 4) Only a headshot will do it. Other wounds are ignored.
 5)Even a headshot is iffy. Only massive firepower will kill this.
 1) Not infectious.
 2) Infection can be fought with antibiotics.
 3) Only amputating a wounded limb has any chance of working. A bite on the torso, head or neck is hopeless.
 4) Infection is immediate within seconds
 5) Highly infectious and goes out of its way to infect (spitter, spewers etc.)

Some examples:
28 Days Later Smarts -2, Quickness -5, Muscle-4, Toughness-2, Infection-4
Night of the Living Dead Smarts -3, Quickness -2, Muscle-2, Toughness-4, Infection-1
The Walking Dead (new zombie) Smarts-1, Quickness-4, Muscle-3, Toughness-4, Infection-3
The Walking Dead (old zombie) Smarts-1, Quickness-3, Muscle-3, Toughness-1, Infection-3
Warm Bodies Smarts-5, Quickness-3, Muscle-3, Toughness-3, Infection-3

Monday, October 14, 2013

M-Drives and Rocket Jocks

The major player in my next Traveller Campaign is the 'Polity.' I think FFE has copyrighted 'Imperium.' The Polity is made up of humans descended from Terrans who were abducted/saved at the end of the last Ice Age by aliens we'll call the Ascended. The Ascended ... ascended eventually. They evolved to the point where they no longer really had any cultural references with us lowly meatbags anymore. The humans left behind had access to their technology and managed to back engineer some of it with different degrees of success.

Like the Terrans who arrive on the Up Port the Polity is about TL 9. They have gravitic drives and laser rifles and carbines. Their troops wear ablative (think chrome storm troopers who can hit what they aim for sometimes.) The Newcomers will probably assume they are much more advanced. The problem is a) the Polity is a stagnant culture (these humans are not as technologically inclined as the humans left behind on Terra) and b) having grav drives made much of the technological innovations of the Terran space age unnecessary. The constraints of primitive chemical rocket launch systems led to miniaturized electronics, robotics and other goodies the Polity never needed.

The Polity has also struggled to maintain their grav-tech and FTL drives to keep an edge over the other cultures in their cluster. Other areas of technology are pretty much ignored. So IT is about TL 8. They have fusion reactors (made possible with grav tech to contain reactions) though they seem to guzzle fuel because the ignition procedure is very energy intensive. Their sensors are quite primitive by modern standards because in general their ships jump pretty close to the world they're heading for.

The grav drives they use have several interesting features. Each gee of the drive rating can be used to accelerate at 10m/s^2, compensate for 1 gee of acceleration, or create a barrier against incoming weapon fire (their armor materials are also only TL 8.) They have typical 70's space opera tech.

The Newcomers however have advanced armor materials, point defense, sandcasters and smart weapons. Will their more realistic technology be a match for the retro future technology they face?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Up Port Alpha

Up Port Alpha is built more or less to Traveller TL 9. The major difference between CT's tech level progression and my ATU's technology is that reaction drives are still used, at least by Terrans. Several sublight expeditions have been launched to Saturn and the outer worlds as well as the Oort cloud (they're very good reaction drives.) The port was built as a joint effort by the UN and the Lunar Republic. The Republic feels very strongly about weaponizing space and further antagonizing the Asteroid Coalition. Earth is determined to defend itself and its lukewarm ally.

Alpha is 2000 displacement tons. 1500 tons is in a ring 20 meters in radius rotating at four revs per minute. This spin gravity takes some getting used to. The ring is 6 meters thick and 35 meters wide. It contains most of the space port systems. The ring is mounted on a central shaft that doesn't rotate and contains two shuttle (95 ton) hangars and two 50 ton berths for the two cutters. A smaller 15 ton berth is for miscellaneous couriers that come calling.

The shaft also contains two lab/workshops that are capable of building a courier in a few days. The tip of the central shaft has a 20 ton docking arm that currently holds a 100 ton asteroid (more on that later) in a cargo bay.

Alpha's reaction drives allow it to thrust at 1 gee for 8 hours. It orbits earth in a very eccentric orbit taking it into the upper atmosphere to rendezvous with spaceplanes. Its thrusters make up the slight loss in velocity from air resistance. Alpha can obviously change its orbit to go where its needed. It requires a lot of reaction mass (an orbital transfer alone uses 100 tons of fuel but it's way more mobile than the ground port.) When the first orbital bolos go into operation in a few months the port will service them as well.

The ring has two levels. Going from the inner level to the outer level the gravity increases from .35 g to .41 g. That and the rapid spinning causes vertigo in many people when they first board. Drugs and special earphones can alleviate this condition almost immediately. Hostiles boarding will not have this luxury.

A ten ton berth  in the inner ring can hold a small courier or lander. In practice this craft usually rolls around the ring on a track powered by monopropellant or maglev to assist EVA. However it can be launched and operated like any space craft. A water tank serves as a counter weight to keep the ring's balance. If the ship does launch the water is pumped out of the tank to secondary tanks to restore balance.

In view of recent hostilities the port was equipped with ten hardpoints. Against Lunar protests Earth has installed ten triple turrets. The turrets each mount a missile rack, sandcaster and pulse laser. The Earth insists this is defensive weaponry.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Real Men Use Kinetic Energy to Kill

Traveller has been referred to as hard sf which is interesting for a game with FTL, psionics and reactionless drives. I always thought the reason for that was in the nuances. For example instead of blasters or other rayguns the weapons consist mainly of slugthrowers. Yep, board a ship in Traveller and you're liable to get shotgunned or similarly riddled with bullets till the air pouring from your vacc suit makes you sound like an convulsing bagpipe player. The game's designer defends this concept very eloquently: a bullet is a simple and efficient way to kill a person and likely to be around for a long time.

Energy weapons make two appearances in Classic Traveller, the laser carbine and laser rifle and they are quite impressive and believable. An early laser carbine makes its appearance at TL 8 presumably for sniping or as an amped up targeting system. By TL 9 a culture has developed lasers as their battlefield weapons of choice and developed ablative armor to defend against them. Since laser weapons punch through cloth armor (the defense of choice at TL7-8) a TL 9 soldier tackling a slugthrower wielding warrior in ballistic cloth is at a distinct advantage (laser rifle vs. flak jacket at medium range 3+ to hit, automatic rifle vs. combat environment 8+ to hit.) I like to imagine shiny stormtroopers invading and zapping befuddled ground troops.

But at TL 10 something strange happens. For one thing the flak jackets and cloth armor of earlier tech levels becomes combat environment armor and more effective. More importantly reflec armor appears which works deliriously well against lasers and can be worn with other armors. Laser weapons are replaced by the advanced combat rifle (ACR.) The ACR firing discarding sabot rolls 5+ to hit a flak jacket or 7+ to hit shiny ablative while the stormtrooper's laser rifle must roll a 15+ to hit a trooper in reflec at medium range.

So our invading shiny legions run across a TL 10 culture they might view their slugthrowers with contempt and sneer at their humble bds, till they get holed by the ACR rounds and their laser beams are deflected by the reflec worn under the humble bds.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

More on Minicosms

For the record I got the idea for minicosms (see Space: 2099 post) from the game Diaspora and an article in White Dwarf (can't find the issue sorry) by Marcus Rowland. You should check out Diaspora and anything by Mr. Rowland. The Alderson Drive used in Jerry Pournelle's Co-Dominium series is somewhat similar.

The idea of minicosms is that a group of stars is very closed in jump space for various esoteric (handwaved) reasons that don't have much bearing on their real space locations. Alpha Centauri might be very close to a star in the galactic core for example but Earth might be nearly impossible to reach.

Minicosms take the form of polyhedra with their component stars scattered across their surface. The most common form is a dodecahedron (sphere really.) Other shapes exist and I'll work them out if this game has any legs (a tetrahedron or torus would be awesome!) Unlike Classic Traveller in which a jump drive was measured in parsecs of range a jump is referred to as a stage. Stars one hex away on a map may be thousands of light years apart (a few dozen commonly.) The stage refers to the number of hexes you move on the map, not your real space travels (a minor but important distinction.) A minicosm might be composed entirely of a giant blue star and the four or five stars that are its far companions. A speedy maneuver drive could get you to all of them in a few weeks or months but the gravitational and electromagnetic interactions could make jumps a higher stage than your drive can perform.

Minicosms have one or more gates to other minicosms. They can be one way. They are generally a stage 2 jump. Hit the right button in the right star system and bang you're someplace very different. Gates generally link stars of the same or similar type.

Jump drives use a lot of hydrogen (10% of ship's displacement per stage number.) During the jump you're venting the hydrogen continuously to keep a bubble of semi-normal space around your ship. Jump space energy wants to get at your ship and will break down any normal matter except hydrogen (which is as basic as you can get, one proton.) Using other elements as fuel will result in radiation that can harm your ship. So you try to keep your hydrogen pretty pure. Using tainted hydrogen can cause radiation damage or worse allow jump space into your ship. More on that later. At the very least radiation and energy surges could throw your jump off course.

A jump takes one week as in Classic Traveller. It takes that long for you to create a path in jump space and exit it carefully.  There are no (publicly known) forms of ftl communications other than taking a letter onboard a ship.

Next Up: The Toys.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Brother Alien

One of the tropes of many space opera settings (especially Traveller) is the scattering of primitive humans across the galaxy by an advanced alien race. Over the thousands of years in unusual environments some of these races may evolve strange abilities, morphologies and cultures. It worked for The Legion of Super Heroes. Battlestar Galactica did away with the alien travel agency entirely and simply assumed the humans somehow lost most of their technology after reaching Earth or wherever.

The benefits to using this trope is that you don't have to create an alien race from scratch (which is a lot of work) and you don't have to worry that your new race isn't weird enough.

After all they are human.

The problems with this approach is that you seldom get any clue why some advanced culture would take a bunch of cavemen (or Romans etc.) and plop them down on another planet let alone a whole bunch of planets. Some reasons:

1) Labor force- Humans are adaptable and show high initiative. On the other hand robots don't need life support, quarters, and toys. Also do you really want to teach a bunch of knuckle draggers how to operate your mining lasers?

2) Mercenaries- Some people feel humans have a talent for warfare. A race of advanced sissies might want us to fight their wars for them. This has the same drawbacks as reason 1 and giving the knuckle draggers actual weapons is even more dangerous.

3) Spare parts- This assumes the aliens seeded Earth with life and guided a lot of our evolution. They can use our blood, organs and such and want us for medical supplies. Or maybe it's merely one branch of humanity that developed spaceflight after being dumped somewhere. The drawbacks are less obvious but we're moving away from transplants now by developing stem cell therapy and we may be cloning transplant materials soon.

4) Artisans- Humans possess a skill or perspective the aliens liked. Maybe the galaxy is seeded with troupes of ballet dancers or impressionist painters or sculptors. You don't need to teach artists or entertainers your technology. When the alien patrons die off or leave the humans are left to develop technology all alone. Unless the aliens have them sculpting with mining lasers.

5) Pets/servants- Maybe having a human around the house was a status symbol (more points for a redhead which is why they're so rare here on Earth.) Maybe humans were a form of currency. They spread them thin to keep breeding populations low and avoid inflation.

6) Conservation- Humanity was nearly wiped out by geological disasters at least once. Maybe some kind aliens will transplant some of our brothers to other worlds to insure our survival.

7) It's an experiment- The aliens never went away. They are keeping a low profile and observing humanity in all its forms.

Comments are welcome.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fermi Paradox and Roleplay

If I'm going to do my take on a Traveller setting I think I ought to ponder the Fermi Paradox. This basically asks, "Where the hell are all the <censored> the aliens?" In an ancient and vast universe where is all the intelligent life?

Most answers to this problem involve most of the aliens blowing themselves up before colonizing the galaxy. That's kind of a pessimistic view. It means that all these aliens managed to destroy themselves without ever managing to create at least one offworld colony to survive their equivalent of World War Three. It also means that our intrepid explorers will encounter many radioactive cinders with little of interest besides tech a few centuries out of date.

Perhaps instead races usually develop interstellar travel after they already reached some new level of intelligence (or even a new kind of existence.) Humanity might be one of those very rare precocious races to find their way into FTL and discover a universe full off ancient brooding ruins and younger pre-starflight cultures. If the ancients are around obviously they aren't interested in talking to the likes of us or exploring anymore (they already know where everything is.) They'd probably view attempts by us to contact them as we would a caveman entering our home and playing with our pc.

So the rare starflight capable younger unevolved races would have centuries or millennia of empire building before they too achieved this ascension and left our universe or turned inward (leaving all kinds of goodies for pcs to find.) Races building interstellar empires like us would be fairly rare and hundreds or thousands of light years apart (considering we've had radio for over a hundred years the minimum average distance must be over 100 light years.) At the very least empires would be months or years of travel apart even at FTL speed and have many minor races within them.

Sounds interesting.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Space 2099

Reimagining 70's SF tv series like Battlestar Gaactica has become popular lately. I was trying to rework Space: 1999 which much like Galactica started with a cool premise but took far too many liberties with physics (to quote Isaac Asimov, "Moons don't do that!) and had a few problems with execution.

Space 2099: mankind has moved out into the solar system with fusion drive ships. capturing asteroids and bringing them into Earth orbit for mining is a booming industry. Nevertheless Earth is facing stiff competition from miners in the Asteroid Belt and on Luna and negotiations for mining rights to the Jovian moons are breaking down. It is a tense situation and industrial sabotage and spying is rife.

Asteroid Base Alpha is one asteroid and rumored to be the site of a very rich strike. Without warning the base suddenly is closed to ships and a new commander is called in.

Arriving at the base the commander discovers the rumors are a cover for the high security. Scientists at the base may have discovered a faster than light drive. Such a drive would open up the universe to Earth and break the outer worlds' advantages.

The problem is the outer worlds are aware something is up and want the drive. The commander has to deal with spies and sabotage and in the end a group of attack ships closes in on Base Alpha to seize the research. In the course of the attack the prototype drive is triggered (the head scientist panicked.)

Base Alpha finds itself transported to a minicosm: a group of stars linked together closely in hyperspace. The cluster's hyper lanes are closed. Using an FTL drive there are only a few lanes into or out of the minicosm. Alpha's drive can be triggered again letting them explore the minicosm but they have to travel through it to find the hyper route out. So they do, hoping to find the route back to Earth. Alpha has to travel through as many minicosms as the story demands till they find their way back to Earth.

Basically some rare systems in each minicosm link it to other minicosms. Some of the links only work one way (like the first link in the Solar system to the first minicosm.) The clusters the base visits can be as close or from Earth as the story demands. Traveling between the minicosms is not as easy to predict as travel within the minicosm.

As for what they find in the galaxy...

Monday, September 9, 2013

Reinventing Traveller

I began reading some old school articles about Traveller. When I say Traveller, I refer to the bare bones 3 LBB set, better known as Classic Traveller or CT (here in New York CT has a much less flattering bit of slang associated with it so it's always going to be just Traveller.)

I used to love this game. I must have run a half dozen campaigns in it before immature schmuck that I was I decided I didn't like the armor affects hit chances mechanics and a few other trivial rules and got into FASA's Star Trek. Traveller kept bringing me back in, especially when they fooled with the combat system.

Now I'm older and (hopefully) wiser and have far too little time to read a 400+ page book to learn a new game and I broke out my LBBs, bought some new pdfs and started reading old articles.

One of the things I'd tweak if I get a chance to run another game is the travel system. As it stands you have to travel weeks and weeks to get beyond explored space wherever you are. Most campaigns won't last the three years it takes to cross say the Third Imperium. If you're dealing with Aslan, then they're pretty much going to be a fixture, period. Want to make a run into K'kree or Hiver space? Get ready to travel.

Yes I know that is the point in the game but long stretches of jumping and refueling will get tedious and eventually the players will get impatient and not want to check out all the interesting stuff you're setting up. They'll want to get the hell to the destination. Plus there's plenty of really wild stretches of space: nebulae, clusters etc that are very far away.

You could just up the range of the jump drive but that's way to easy for me. Instead I'd opt for the venerable space warp. Maybe there are a bunch of them strung across the galaxy. So each warp could cover an arbitrarily large distance. Outside the warp ships move according to classic j-drive rules (or stutter warp if you must.) So one session you're in a sector located in the halo stars. the next you're in a cluster with a dozen stars in each hex.

I'd add one more flavor of weird to this. Some space warps lead to closed clusters. Not only do the warps only work one way (with intermittent exit warps opening randomly) the subsector wraps around itself (at least in terms of jump space.) Jump off the edge and you'd find yourself entering the same subsector on the side. These clusters can develop all manner of weird cultures due to their isolation. Finding an exit can be an adventure in itself. Finally some space warps just appear out of nowhere leading to all sorts of possibilities.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Steampunk in Five Points

Continuing my gritty steampunk setting what are the themes/tropes/memes etc? I have points to make (Five Points ... manhattan get it? No? Then go watch Copper on BBC and get a DVD of Gangs of New York.)

Point 1 This steampunk is close to its roots - cyberpunk! You're either very rich and trying to get richer or very poor and looking to get very rich. Everyone is hungry. The street urchins want their next meal. The robber barons want bigger profits. Industry wants coal and steel. The army wants men.

Point 2 Life is cheap. Death is everywhere. Confederates and anarchist are alway attempting what today would be called terror attacks. There's someone looking to roll you on every corner and that's just everyday life! Let's not even get into the what the Astors or Vanderbilts will do if you mess with their bottom line. In addition most medicine is pretty primitive apart from prosthetics or mad science. they can't treat TB but they can keep your brain alive in a jar if you can pay or replace that lost arm with a brass one (chrome is cyberpunk, brass is steampunk.)

Point 3 Information Overload. Kinescopes hawk wares and show war scenes. Pneumatic tubes whisk mail everywhere. The city is a tangle of dangerous telegraph lines (see Point 2.) Newsies peddle papers on every corner and also pamphlets, brochures and flyers. Picture human and paper spam keeping you from thinking as you walk.

Point 4 Corruption. The bigger or more important an institution is the more evil it is. The corner pharmacist may be okay, patch you up and keep his mouth shut for a suitable wage. The young inventor with a small company will give you up to advance himself. The big companies regard everyone as a tool to be used as long as they're bringing in profits. The British Empire and most other governments ... you do the math.

Point 5 Technology increases at a frightful pace. The Civil War goes on. It started with cannons and muskets. Now heat rays steam powered battlesuits run wild. The Union blockade of the Confederacy is defeated by the rebels' submarines and airships. Every week brings new advances and a way to use them in a scam or crime.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Steampunk Redux

For your consideration:

Things got really bad in New York City after the second Draft Riots. They were never too good. they got worse when the War Between the States started. The Republic needed soldiers and as always the poor supplied them. Immigrants coming off the boats were dragged off to serve in exchange for citizenship.

The war is in its thirteenth year and every year has been worse than the ones before it. The British tripods sold to the Rebels turned the tide against the Union at Gettysburg. The only thing that saved Washington D.C. and the nation was the new lightning guns. Now both sides are nearly bankrupt and the wonder weapons becoming rare. Soldiers are going to win this, men shot up and rebuilt with clockwork arms and legs who just keep being sent back to the front lines.

A Rebel submersible got into New York Harbor a few nights ago and used a gun that shot flames to set fire to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The fire gutted half the borough but the war goes on. They shot Lincoln in '66 but he's still giving the orders from a jar somewhere in Washington and the war goes on.

The war goes on and I pound my beat. I hear there's a resurrection man on Fourth Avenue who builds golems to take your place in the Army if you have enough money. They're made from hospital and morgue cast offs and under the table deals.  I'm going to be on the raid to shut him down. You can warp the laws of nature and God but lad you better make sure you pay the right people. He didn't.

We're going in squad force. The golems are bad enough but the Plug Ugly gang has a bunch of new recruits back from serving with gears for guts. Cops just don't go out alone. if we're lucky we might get some support from one of old moneybags Hearst's dirigibles that do such a fine job protecting his newspaper building.

I might be better off in the army.

(Who says steampunk has to be set in Europe or deal with upper class inventors and gentlemen explorers?)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mystery Men Revealed Pt. 4 The Wild Die

One of the core mechanics of the d6 family is the wild die. There seems to be three opinions on the wild die: people love it, hate it or are doing it wrong.

Basically you're supposed to roll one die as the wild die (which should be a different color to cut down on the number of knife fights.) If the die comes up '6' you roll it again and add the second roll to your total. if the second roll is also '6' you repeat. If the die comes up '1' then you remove it from the total and also remove your highest die roll. If this causes you to fail your roll the gm can then get inventive about just what went wrong.

Supposedly some gms consider a '6' on the wild die to indicate success no matter what the rest of the roll is and a '1' to be an epic failure. This interpretation ticks off a lot of people but I suggest it with a few tweaks for a mystery men game.

In the first place a success with the wild die doesn't let you do the impossible. A normal athletic human might be able to shift a wrecked car off a friend if he rolls a wild die success. He couldn't knock down a building. The gm has to decide just what is possible for godly characters.

If a character is fighting a character who totally outclasses him a wild die success could indicate his attack managed to stun and/or let him escape. A high power character rolling a failure on the wild die indicates failure at a nearly certain task. You might be able to flatten that crook with one tap and his bullets will bounce off you but the plucky girl reporter he's holding at gunpoint can't say the same. Time to think of a solution not using your muscles.

The wild die can also be used for a fight between two characters of similar ability, (Superman fights Captain Marvel!) The two can't really hurt each other normally as their strength levels are so similar. First one to roll a success on the wild die wins!

If you are going to allow this rampant abuse of the wild die I'd suggest that any failures or successes it indicates don't derail the story (or campaign.) If the character would have succeeded anyway a failure should be a temporary condition thwarting him and he should get a chance to try his action again later (after the agony of defeat wears off.) In the example given above the failure doesn't have to mean the plucky girl reporter got her brain blown out. You should only inflict the worst failure that will keep the game moving and fun (of course if your group likes innocent bystanders reduced to landfill ...)

This requires you to have a couple of outcomes in mind for any situation in which you have to roll a die which is a bit of work. But then again if something is important enough to roll for it should have stakes and the player's should care about their consequences.

Mystery Men Revealed Pt. 3 Men and Gods

Super strength is one the most common if not most common super powers (I'm pretty sure that's an oxymoron.) Wikipedia defines it as ranging from just above that of a powerful weightlifter to nearly limitless. So far I've dealt with more or less human characters now I'm taking on those of god-like stature. In the 40's there were a lot of them. Their strength levels were all pretty ludicrous.

Super strength often leads to greatly inflated character stats. Captain Marvel was shown restarting the earth's rotation, surviving the explosion of a billion tons of TNT, and stopping the eruption of a volcano (and that was just in one story!) I don't even want to think about how many dice in lifting and stamina he'd have.

Super strength falls into two categories: limited and (for most purposes) unlimited. Limited super strength is anything between 6d and 10d in lifting and stamina. Heavy firepower can still mess these people up. It's the gm's call on just how much you can lift.

Unlimited Super Strength costs 12 skill dice and is only available to superhumans.  Most opponents are treated as mooks (this includes tanks or battleships if the super is swimming.) One hit and they go down. Similarly most attacks doing physical damage do nothing (bullets, artillery etc.) The character never has to make a lifting or stamina roll under normal circumstances.

So what stops these guys and why does a story with one of them last longer than three panels?

First and foremost the villain can run away! Escaping and sneaking away are maneuvers using skill and superhumans have a low skill default and lower skills than most heroes. Giving the hero a few tasks that require finesse and not brawn will make his life a lot more interesting

A villain’s plan can also have several parts to it requiring the hero to figure out exactly what’s going on and stop several disasters or decoys before he finally catches the rat (I mean it took Captain Marvel 25 chapters to capture Mr. Mind and he was a freaking intelligent worm.)

Finally there are some things that even these powerhouses find difficult. Moving mountains or stopping a volcano or suffering the detonation of several million tons of dynamite. In this case it's good to have a few dice in lifting and stamina and the gm should rate the difficulty of the challenge with the hero in mind. In general only global disasters should be 2d or more over the character's lifting skill. Anymore and then finding the right tools to reduce the difficulty becomes the story hook (for example Captain Marvel used several hundred ship anchors and chains to help him start the Earth rotating and it was still a close thing.)

Other characters with unlimited super strength can also fight the hero of course which is handled like a normal combat. Characters with limited super strength are at a great disadvantage. Run the combat normally but reduce the mere mortal's lifting and stamina by 5d (minimum of 1d) and consider the unlimited character to have 10d in lifting and stamina. Such characters can hold their own briefly using hero points or character points or through strength of numbers.

In addition even when a hero (or villain) outmatches his opposition fate can still play a hand. More on that to follow.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Mystery Men Revealed Pt. 2

Okay we're making Golden Age style mystery men characters and we need a quick and dirty way to do it. I'm using Mini Six and looking taking a long hard look at the 'Making the Game Your Own' Section.

Most d6 games default to rolling a number of dice you get by adding attributes and skills and trying to beat a number based on the difficulty of whatever you're doing. I'm going to break from that and use the No Attributes rule. Instead of the default 7d ice for skills you get 25d.

I could have just added more attribute dice but I'm trying to keep it simple and fast. Attributes are all considered to be 2d. That's what most people roll for something you have no skill in and what you add to any skills you purchase. It varies for heroes.

Bear in mind a normal person would have 2d to roll in most situations and maybe 3d for their profession. A thug or policeman probably has 3d. Most characters should have at least 4d in brawling and dodge.

What skills do I purchase for a character? Look at the guy or girl's costume. After all the costume was the primary difference between these guys. In fact some stories were reused by redrawing the main character to resemble another.

So if a guy wears a fedora and looks like a detective give him a high search skill (think Dick Tracy.) A full trench coat might might mean disguise or acting skill as it can hide different costumes underneath. A tight a/o skimpy outfit means your man is a fighter with high brawling or melee weapons skill. A cape indicates acrobatics or athletics skill and high dodge.

For an example here's one of my favorites: Radar from Fawcett Comics. Radar came from a long line of circus performers. His dad was an acrobat and strong man, his mom a mentalist. He was tough, and agile and had what he called 'radar eyes.' These functioned as a combination of mind reading/x-ray vision/telescopic vision as well as letting him receive radio messages (golden age style powers were all over the place.) He had his limits; he couldn't see in the dark and he had to make eye contact to read someone's mind

Radar the International Policeman.
Hero Type: Mystery Man (10 points for powers max, 3d default for skills)
ESP (3)
Telescopic Vision (2)
X-Ray Vision (3)
Clairaudience (2)

10 dice total

Acting 4d
Brawling  6d Punch damage 3d
Dodge 6d
Lift 5d
Search 5d
Sneak 4d
Stamina 4d Soak 4d
Willpower 5d

15 dice subtotal 3d default

25d total

Limitation (R1) ESP only works with targets he can see i.e. it won’t work in a darkened room. Clairaudience only works on scenes he sees with his telescopic vision. 

Devotion (R2) International Police Force duties.

Quirk (R1) Wiseass and prankster.

4 CP 1 HP

Equipment: Fedora, trench coat (both reversible), occasionally carried a pistol (4d+2) 

Mini SIx doesn't address things like brawling damage or body points if you use the no attributes rule. I made the following tweaks.

Characters start out with 25 skill dice and I'm running with that for the time being. 

As a mystery man  type Radar has a default of 3d to his non-skilled rolls. But he has a limit on the number of points he can spend on powers. True super humans are less skilled but have no limits on powers. Vigilantes have no powers and are the most skilled to represent people who were just good with their fists or weapons.

Hero Type: Superhuman (No limit on powers, 2d default for skills)

Hero Type: Mystery Man (10 points for powers max, 3d default for skills)

Hero Type: Vigilante (no points for any powers, 4d skill default)

In figuring brawling damage I wanted to make it possible for heroines like the Black Cat to knock big thugs silly in spite of looking like super models.

Brawling damage is half brawling or lifting skill (multiply dice x 3 and add pips then divide by two  rounding down and convert back to dice and pips.)

Body points = 20 + 4 per die in the higher of brawling or lift.

A character reduced to 20 body points is -1d to his skills and -2m per turn. A character reduced to 10 body point is -2d and -4m per turn. One at 5 body points is unconscious unless he makes a easy (10) stamina roll.

A final word on skills: 5d in lifting or stamina is pretty much the limit for normal humans. More dice count against the character's power allowance. For a gritty feel the max of lifting or stamina should be around 10d.

Next some more mechanics dealing with super powers. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Before I start working out the rules for my Mystery Men game I'd like to address crunchkins (I don't think I ever heard that term before, if I invented it yay!)

A crunchkin is a player who desperately needs a rule for everything. They are attracted to extensive and well developed rules systems and often nest in GURPS and Hero System forums among others. I hasten to add that they are a small minority of gamers and using a crunchy system doesn't mean you're automatically a crunchkin. Crunchkins are not exactly rules lawyers, those guys try to work the rules for their own gain. A crunchkin just wants to be sure they are doing things the right way. Some very good friends of mine are crunchkins and they're great roleplayers and gms.

Crunchkins probably will not like the way I set up my game. I'm usually the sort of gm who hides behinds screen so the players can't see I'm improvising like mad and most of my notes consist of sketches of My Little Pony characters with cyborg implants and missile launcher wiping out the Care Bear psionics (that'll be the next game design if I get good feedback.)

Anyway the system I intend to use for this game is Mini Six from AntiPalladin Games. This is a game in the Open D6 family and if you don't know about that you should give it a look. D6 started as the Star Wars Roleplaying Game West End Games put out. It's now open game license, free on RPGNow and numerous D6 websites.

I like Mini Six because it gives you a slew of write ups for npcs as well as ways to customize the game. Golden Age heroes ran into all many of oddballs and aberrations in addition to thugs who made you just want to smack them. In the next blog I'll deconstruct Mini Six and show you the mechanics (for want of a more ambiguous term) I'll use.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Mystery Men Revealed

I was perusing the public domain super hero sites and naturally started thinking about using these characters in gaming. Here's my thoughts on running a mystery men style game.

When you're dealing with Golden Age characters background and continuity were not foremost in the minds of their creators. I've often written a page or two of background for a character I've run. I doubt Bob Kane could have written a hundred words about Batman's personality when he first drew him. Most of these guys just threw on a dyed tights and started fighting crime. that was their origin. If they were supers they found a pill, elixir, ray, magic spell that gave them their powers and then they just threw on tights and started fighting crime.

So, say you pick a character out of the public domain what makes this character stand out? The answer is probably not a lot! After all if they were in public domain they probably lacked a certain staying power. Not always, sometimes companies went under due to economics etc but created some memorable characters. On the other hand most of the Nedor super heroes were pretty interchangeable: super strong, could make fantastic leaps, were bulletproof (and could still get cold cocked with a blow to the head for some reason.) In fact you could probably get away with using the same stats for several characters in the same group with just a few tweaks.

It sounds like heresy, but on the other hand each player will individualize the character they play anyway. If it sounds like I'm rushing to set up people with characters yes I am. The Golden Age heroes and their stories borrowed heavily from the pulp magazines of their day: action, action, and more action. If a hero had a personality it could probably be summed up as wise ass (maybe patriotic wise ass if the war was on.) This isn't Shakespearean tragedy I want to emulate, it's comic books written for youngsters. If you want something deeper and angst ridden buy Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.

Next up: some game mechanics.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Wardrobe of Justice

You have your mask (if any) you have your cape (if any, I don't judge.) Both are optional but the rest of the costume kind of ties things together and keeps you from being socked with indecent exposure charges (I want to see the cop with the balls to ticket Dr. Manhattan though.) There are several costume genres.

Realistic, also known as cheap, means you're buying stuff off the rack or maybe fighting crime in normal clothing. Normal clothing has a tremendous advantage for the secret identity user. No one can go through your closet and discover your union suit thus outing you (That thing? I wore it to Mardi Gras. Yeah I know it's bulletproof and flame retardant; have you ever been to New Orleans?!)

As an alternative to street clothes a hero could wear athletic gear (enter ... the Quarterback!) Some rigs, particularly for dirt bike riders looks made for supers. They also can afford some protection (speaking of which an athletic cup could pay for itself many times over even if you wear street clothes.) A little dye job or repainting and you're ready to go.

Some supers incorporate armor into their uniforms. This can be seamlessly tailored in or a general issue BP vest. Realistically it is doubtful a skintight outfit could incorporate protection against anything larger than pistol rounds with current technology. I''m going to buck the current trade of RPGs in general and go with the SCA people when I say armor doesn't necessarily impede you. Even the Middle Ages, knightsy stuff let the wearer climb ladders, perform shoulder rolls and, in the case of chainmail  at least, swim! However armor does tire the wearer out and make them more prone to overheating which can be a large factor when you're patrolling on foot.

Speaking of overheating there is a practical reason for skimpy costumes (other than sales.) People running around and socking people all night get hot. You want some exposed skin to cool off quickly. The Green Hornet must have had the endurance of Hercules fighting crime in a business suit and trench coat. Batman never seems to have a problem with this but hey, when did you ever see him sweat?

The four color conventions say a hero's costume is immune to their (usual) activities. In other words Matchstick Girl doesn't burn her costume up and become Fan Service Girl every time she combusts. Your average brick can get slugged through a razor blade factory without seriously damaging their clothes. explanations for this effect run from handy side effects (I generate a skintight forcefield that protects my costume), to pseudo science (unbelievable molecules mimic our power effects and aren't damaged by them) to hard science (Beta Cloth is used by NASA and can withstand a temperature of 2760 degrees C. go look it up) to practical (This isn't a silk screened orange shirt, it's orichalcum mail, a symbol of Atlantean royalty!)

Even super powered characters might want to consider costumes that afford some protection. Sure you're invulnerable now but one day your nemesis might wise up and carry a handgun along with his power nullifier ray. For that matter you wonder how much easier Superman's life would be if he just incorporated a layer of lead foil in his uniform. If your super needs frequent contact with some substance to maintain his powers or health he could include some of that in his outfit. It makes you wonder why Dracula never carried some native soil on him. If Van Helsing finds your coffin, just sprinkle a little dirt in any old crate for the day. In one series Aquaman wore a version of his costume that stored sea water allowing him to spend more time on dry land.

As a final bit of compulsiveness keep in mind your super doesn't have to have one costume. He could have different versions for summer or winter or with modified armor when he knows he's going up against heavy firepower for example. Besides, would you wear the same civilian clothes everyday?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Cape Controversy

Superman or Batman without a cape smacks of heresy. I shudder to think the powers that be almost decided to remove Supe's cape for his latest movie flight.

The consensus is Superman started the cape fad. The golden age Superman's costume was inspired by a) circus strongmen and b) acrobats. Historically some acrobats used their capes in their acts to control their falls. This makes sense if you remember Superman originally didn't fly but make extraordinary leaps. So I suppose any human grasshoppers could use a cape likewise.

The movie The Incredibles gave capes a bad reputation listing numerous wearers who suffered due to getting their cape snagged. I think they have a point however a super who can't tear his cape off in a pinch or design a quick release for it isn't much of a hero.

Capes can keep you warm on a cold stakeout or protect you from the elements. I suppose a world with flying people also has room for bulletproof capes to add to a hero's protection as well. Fireproof fabrics are another option. Even if your hero is nigh invulnerable that person he's rescuing from a burning house isn't. Wrapping them in a cape might be a good idea.

In days of swordplay many fencers used their capes to fake out their opponents and I suppose a full length cape could draw an attacker's fire away from your body. You can also snap it in their eyes if you like that sort of thing.

A hood is a popular accessory to a cape. On the plus side it obscures your features without the need for a full face mask and helmet. The drawback is that it interferes with your peripheral vision. Having a thug come up out of your blind spot and clock you won't make you seem terribly mysterious.

Some supers have secret pockets in their capes to hold items. I wouldn't since I advocate quick release capes. It's no fun leaving the her holding your cape when you make your escape if your wallet is in it (or even your house keys.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Super Hero Fashion

Let's talk super fashion namely: costumes. The hardbitten urban warrior types refer to these as uniforms. Whatever. They are hardly uniforms unless you have a team wearing the same outfit which could have advantages as I will discuss later. First up -masks and gloves.

Masks- masks serve to conceal a person's identity (d'uh.) If you're really serious about this a full face mask is the only thing that will do. This has a downside of possibly interfering with breathing and talking and if your super is going to an awards dinner in his honor he'll have a hard time getting sweet and sour shrimp past it. Mouth holes are just icky. Then again if you're really serious about not being outed the first and foremost rule is don't make scheduled appearances in public! Sadly these day even wet behind the ear cookie bandits have their own cel-phones so someone is going to take you picture and with the face recognition software on the market today only a full mask or similar covering will keep your identity private.

The other downside of masks is having some nut yank yours down over your eyes. You can minimize this risk by having lenses. These can protect your eyes as well as keep people from learning your eye color and race.

Half masks and domino masks don't conceal as well. But they are easier to hide. If you want to fight crime in street clothes with a mask you can whip one of these off and pocket it easily to blend in a crowd.

Interestingly the Lone Ranger wore a full mask in his earliest incarnation. It was switched to a half mask for the 50's television show. I often wonder what people thought about only his chin being sun tanned if he took his mask off for a night on the town. Then again it seems like he never took the mask off. He was always the Lone Ranger.

Masks can be part of a helmet for added protection. If you have a distinctive hairstyle or color you want to cover it. Batgirl, I'm thinking of you. Way to eliminate 97% of the possible Batgirl suspects because they don't have red hair. Of course wearing a wig as part of your costume is a great way to confuse your identity further. Yvonne Craig's Batgirl got that right. Mousy brunette by day, redheaded scourge of the underworld by night.

High tech heroes like to load their masks with all sorts of gadgets: voice synthesizers, polarized lenses, handless headsets, placebo detectors and such.

Makeup is a possible alternative, either in your civilian identity or super. KISS managed to keep their private lives private using heavy makeup for years. People might not twig to your two identities being the same person if one is painted blue all the time. Makeup can have a striking effect on a person's appearance (ask any woman) that can make two personas seem like totally different people.

Along with masks gloves are required to avoid leaving fingerprints. Thin latex gloves will not do. The oil on people's fingertips comes mainly from touching their faces and one any sort of oily residue is left on a latex glove if can leave a fingerprint. If you're going to do a lot of fine work like picking locks and cracking safes you might want to remove your gloves and carry a cloth to wipe down surfaces when you're done.

Many pulp heroes fought evil in fairly ordinary outfit. By that I mean trench coats. Everyone owned a trench coat before 1950. Add a mask and presto, you're a mystery man. Not only do you cut down on custom tailoring but in a pinch the mask is removed and you are another face in the crowd.

Finally some super powers can hide your features. A speed demon who never holds still for a photo doesn't need a mask. If your powers involve illusion or shapeshifting all the above becomes moot. The only problem is if your powers stop working for some reason.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Supers and the Rule of 15

I had an idea for a super setting for an RPG or maybe a novella or three. Being prone to overthink I wanted to start by setting power levels. Sadly I can't just assume the hero can lift a building in his hands (unless he was using TK to mimic super strength you'd end up with a demolished building and that'd make a difference to me.)

So I came up with the 'Rule of 15.' The Golden Age Superman in his earliest appearance could lift a car that weighed around 3000 pounds. A very fit human male could lift 200 lbs. So 3000/200= 15. Super powers magnify human capabilities by 15 where applicable.

In DC Heroes terms this is a puny +4APs for a stat around 7-8 APs which is still pretty good. You could rip apart a normal car or flip an armored truck. In Open d6 I'm not as sure. I'm still trying to work out benchmarks for it but it seems to equate to +5d which is also pretty good.

So supers wouldn't be able to flip tanks. A brick still could probably run up to one ignoring the machine gun fire, rip open a hatch and jump  in to beat the hell out of the crew.

Let's look at running. The human peak is around 15 mph. Multiply that times 15 and you get 225 mph. You aren't moving at multiple mach speed but you could still run fast enough to run on water or climb a 20' wall. Not too bad.

It breaks down if you try to model some powers like the GA Superman's leaping. Superman was said to leap 200 meters in a single bound. The world record is about 8.9m so if your super was a world record holder he could pull about 133.5 meters. Usain Bolt might get a distance of 9.46m so if he was bitten by a radioactive grasshopper (or whatever) he could reach a distance of 142m. But that's still pretty super.

For powers that don't have a physical basis like invisibility you could model it as an increase to skills such as invisibility increasing Stealth skill +5d in Open d6. Flying is a hard one. It gives a lot of freedom of motion as well as negating some threats (you don't worry about someone throwing you from a building for example.) You might just multiply a character's dice code by 15 meters so an average character could make 45m per second. Energy blasts could be based on the character's strength or mental score with the stock +5d add.