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.