Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Who Was On Our Side Again?

Some people consider the GM to be the equivalent of the Creator (however you term him, her or it.) I'm not sure if that is a good metaphor. The Creator, I'm told, doesn't roll dice. But then diceless rp never grabbed me.

Why should the GM have all the fun (yeah right) of playing a deity? Let your players pick a deity to play. give them some followers and step back! This is particularly fun with build your own stat systems like Risus with it's cliches or any of the FUDGE games. Though I guess with a little work you could make it work for Open d6 or Microlite20.

If you're playing Risus it's easy enough. Give a character a cliche like God of War (5). If you're going to use the same 4-3-2-1 dice scheme or at least 10 dice per character remember to set the task numbers accordingly: the nearly impossible should be about a 10 for your average god (3d is a professional god at minimum, demigods might be a 1 or 2.) So 10 is a good number for various blessings, catastrophes and such. Obviously a Love Goddess would have lower TNs to make someone fall in love than a War God etc. The Sea God would have lower numbers to cause storms etc. A god out of his element might be considered not to have tools of the trade and have some cliches halved or even deemed inappropriate. No one screws with the Death God in the Underworld or the Sky God in a thunder storm.

Now let's invert a trope. Instead of the players being mortal heroes or villains, they are gods. Instead of the GM running the universe at large he runs a party of mortals! Yes the very fools or tools of fate that can derail the cunning plans of the Evil God! Don't tell me you don't have a player like that in your group. We all do. I was mine. The players will concoct their schemes, find the npc hero they favor etc or hate and figure out blessings and curses to fling at them. The Evil God and the GM will work up the monsters to oppose the heroes.

How much can the gods help or hinder the heroes? That's between them. They might act indirectly by teaming up with the heroes unseen. They might appear occasionally in different guises to advise the heroes. Or they might go for the big giant floating head once in the while. The players should get together and draw up an agreement before the game about what divine magics may be tolerated. Anything that breaks the agreement will lead to ... a war of the gods which no one will win.

Besides making things interesting for the GM's heroes the gods may have other things to deal with like the sinking of Atlantis, uprisings or the sacking of their favorite temple. The GM will have to work out whether destruction of temples and followers will actually hurt a god. Maybe humans are like pets. They love us, are often nurturing, condescending, and without a clue what really makes us tick. Killing followers doesn't hurt them physically but it pisses them off.

A GM might be faced with a world wide disaster brought on by deities that are into power gaming. Don't invest a huge amount of detail in your world. It's also possible to have the players start new playing mortal survivors after the world dies and gets better.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What the Heck?

I'm breaking one of my rules by writing a whole other way to play Risus. I'm sure it can be applied to FATE or d6. In the  RAW we have our various cliches and the target numbers for said cliches vary according to how appropriate they are to the task at hand. That's great when you have to roll a task number. Not so great when you have combat or a SAC. In the latter two cases we have to either rule the cliche inappropriate or give the character the everyman cliche (2) and bump the appropriate cliches of other characters up by 2 dice.

As a whole other can or worms I thought of the following:
Characters take 10 (more or less traits.) Traits are similar to their definition in Risus i.e. they are part of a cliche. When you have a situation that comes up you use your traits to build a cliche on the spot. As an exercise in over thinking I wrote down the following traits in six groups of six because d66 tables for NPCs are fun. This is a SF set of traits:

Area of Enterprise - 1) Religious, 2) Military, 3) Commercial, 4) Criminal, 5) Scientific, 6) Government

Physical Training- 1) Strength, 2) Nimble, 3) Endurance, 4) Martial Arts, 5) Zero-G, 6) Alertness

Occupation- 1) Tech, 2) Pilot, 3) Scientist, 4) Media, 5) Services, 6) Trooper

Academic Study- 1) Science, 2) Medicine, 3) Command, 4) Survival, 5) Engineering, 6) Communications

Personality- 1) Stoic, 2) Emotive, 3) Patient, 4) Reckless, 5) Introverted, 6) Extroverted

Socio-Economic Status- 1) Hell Worlder (someone who thinks the Amazon Basin or Ghobi Desert is a vacation spot), 2) Settler, 3) Drifter, 4) Core World, 5) Spacer,   6) Nobility

Specials- Cybernetics, Psi, Robot, Implants, Archaic Knowledge (i.e. Questing Dice, Lucky Shots, Shield Mates, Double Pump funky cliches etc.) 

So say your character was built as:
Tech, Engineering, Drifter, Alertness, Nimble, Commercial, Reckless, Lucky Shots (3), Repair Bot (3), Questing Dice (5) for jury-rigging quick repairs. (Note the Repair Bot has the single cliche, Repair Bot. NPCs don't get traits and what have you.) 

If you engaged in a plain vanilla fire fight the GM might say that the following traits had some use: Drifter (you move around on your own you have to know how to defend yourself), Reckless (Who cares about the odds! I start shooting!) and Alert (you know what's going down around you.) These traits combine to give you: Reckless and Alert Drifter (3)! One de per trait. 

The GM can customize a trait list by setting of course and can decide how many choices you make from each group. For example due to the length of time spent studying to be a doctor (especially if you deal with aliens too) he may only allow that Academic Study choice. He might also require some traits for some occupations. For example a Pilot must possess the Nimble trait. he could also farm the chore of creating different trait lists for different regions, species and cultures onto the players. Just remind them that you can se the lists they make for NPC opponents. Optionally you can have a player suggest new traits for their character. Just make sure you nail them down on when the trait is useful first.

Final thought: have some tasks or situations written down with the traits appropriate for them. If Reckless is good for a firefight one session it should be good the next time a similar situation comes up. 

A final example: our Alert and some what disreputable engineer is onboard a merchant cruiser that is attacked by pirates! A lucky hit by the pirate scum takes the main generator offline and the engineer must fix it! He comes up with the following traits he thinks are useful before adding in Lucky Shots and Questing dice or teaming with the robot: Tech, Engineering, Nimble, and Commercial. The GM wants to disallow Nimble and Commercial but the player insists he is quite familiar with most commercial ship designs. The GM adds it in but sees no benefit to Nimble and the player doesn't want to push his luck. They come up with the trait: Merchant Engineer (3) which he then rolls against a target number of 20 (I didn't say it was an easy roll, besides he has a robot to help and those Questing Dice.) 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dying is Easy, Role Playing Is Hard

In many (especially OSR) role playing campaigns death is a constant fact of life. The trend has been towards reduced character mortality in recent years, or at least sparing them when you can. I believe the trend started due to Classic Traveller where creating a character could take an hour or so. Who wants to hold up a game that long waiting for a replacement pilot to muster out (let alone the three or four Master Stewards you had to work up first)?

But characters have, are still, and will continue dying in games and you might want to give some thought to just what sort of afterlife your campaign has.

1) Afterlife is a belief. There is no direct contact between the living and the deceased. If there are gods or spirits that interact with mortals they may pass on some information or messages ('He said his squire didn't poison him but kill him anyway.') There may not be any post death survival and all such messages are lies by malevolent or malicious entities or phony psychics and prophets out to make a buck. The deceased could also simply be beyond communication or daily cares.

Another possibility is that the deceased do care and can intercede, their efforts are just not in a material way. If they can appear to people they won't show up in photos or to more than one person. If they lend assistance it's in the form changing the odds or little tweaks with a big pay off. No bolts from above or levitating pianos. Characters put in this position might find their best efforts go unnoticed. They might also find all their efforts going to combat other entities who want a different outcome.

2) Afterlife is a fact. This requires more thought than most people put into it. Imagine the spirits of the deceased make regular contact with the living. Maybe necromancers can summon them forth or maybe a powerful enough will allows you to hang around for a while. the pros are that death loses a lot of its sting ... unless they tell tales of a really crappy afterlife.

If that isn't the case people might value human life less than normal. Risk my life to save those people in the burning building? Why? They'll be fine and I have a hot date tonight. People might put up with far more disappointment depending on their beliefs or they might end it hoping the next life would be a little better.

Killing becomes riskier. For one thing you run the risk of being haunted by the person you offed unless they're tied to a location. If not all bets are off. Imagine a famous gunslinger with two or three spirits following him around whispering in his ear, tugging on his shooting iron. How many more shoot outs would he win? On a legal note, could a spirit testify in court and help convict his killer? If that is the case (ha ha) then necromancy becomes a part of the legal system and most murder victims get it in the back.

Many Golden Age comics approached death in this way. Some people who died (usually very heroic or villainous) came back. My favorite was the Duke of Darkness, a former policeman. The police chief didn't believe in ghosts thought he was a nutcase and kept trying to lock him up. The Duke usually put up with it to have a place to relax and did the walk through walls thing when he was needed. Your typical Golden Age spook could become invisible, non corporeal, fly or do all three at once. When materialized they could be beaten on the same as anyone else. It sounds kind of weird but it did make the character less invincible and kept the stories exciting. It makes you wonder how far some people would go to get super powers.

On a less facetious note ancestor worship in any form becomes a lot more lucrative. Do right by your ancestors and their spirits will watch over you. Of course if your ancestor was a terrorist psychopath doing right by him becomes a lot messier. What ancestral spirits would 'want' is also grounds for some originality. Maybe your great grandfather shows up one night, tells you to quit it with all the incense and to stick a flatscreen TV in his tomb if you want to continue to enjoy good luck and health.

Again just because there are deceased people who can talk to the living doesn't mean they're all on the up and up. They could be lying, manipulators, or impostors. If it's our world with an alternate history the dead couldn't have been speaking for long or on a regular basis, there's just too much potential for them to interfere.

Here are a couple of stats for Risus and my latest craze ROLF a truly fun and tasteless little series of 'rollplaying' games from Nuelow Games.

4 Color Ghost (Turning invisible, flying, turning noncorporeal, seeing the unseen)

ROLF  4 Color Ghost Sex can be male or female (anyone can die heroically/infamously)Brawn 20 Body 9 Brains 6 Combat Maneuvers are Basic Attack, and Dodge.  Dodge represents turning incorporeal. Traits are Ghost and usually Dour. May not take Irrepressible Good Cheer.

Ghosts have the Personal Flight Super Power.

The Ghost trait is my invention. Ghosts take 1 point less damage from all attacks. A Ghost can turn invisible and incorporeal as an action. Invisible ghosts can't make attacks but may get the first action the next turn if they turn visible and material. They pop up and yell boo! Then strike. Certain items can stop ghosts like cold iron or salt sprinkled over windows.

Many ghosts have the Spelling Talent and are quite formidable. A ghost may carry only one medium weapon and no armor.

Check out Nuelow Games on RPGNow. This is in no way an attempt to steal any of their materials, intellectual properties, kudos or thunder.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Stats and the Bees

Character creation starts when a mommy npc and a daddy npc fall in love.

No seriously odds are two people did the horizontal mambo resulting in your character in your game world. Generating characters while having sex is problematical. But character origins are not often addressed in game (hey, have one of your party's long lost father or mother show up some time for a surprise.)

As Joseph Campbell pointed out in his dissection of mythology, heroes (villains too I guess) are different from everyone else. One of the easiest and most dramatic ways to show this from the start is to give him a screwed up family. For example you're hard pressed to find a superhero with live biological parents. Batman lost his parents and became Batman. Superman lost his entire planet to become the Last Son of Krypton (More news on the Krypton cataclysm: the death toll continues to drop.) Losing their family can set the character on a certain path. Losing your species can make you unique (until that annoying cousin of yours shows up.) It could also make marrying and having kids a goal to continue your name, bloodline or species.

Instead of being last of their family/line/planet a character can be the first of his kind! Maybe his parents were a pile of laboratory glassware. Maybe they were compatible species (bloody unlikely in any sort of setting with biology that works the way we understand it.) For an eerie twist a character could be a changeling, a member of another species that replaced a human baby (and when that human shows up look out.)

Or you can be the second of your kind, a clone (or third or fourth or whatever.) I mentioned a group of clones as the basis for an adventuring party in an earlier post. Finally a character could be synthetic or magical in nature and blissfully unaware that their parent is actually their maker. They could be told they have a grand destiny that is more a matter of being built for a certain job.

Missing parents are often the prelude to unusual upbringing. Tarzan lost his parents and was raised by apes. Cat-Man was taken in by a kindly tigress (who fortunately thought he must taste awful.) Romulus and Remus were raised by a she wolf. All went on to lucrative careers as Lords, mystery men and empire builders. SF also has a fair share of stories about children raised in virtual reality to become spoiled, bratty psionics or what have you.

Odds and Ends
Finally even having your parents may not be enough to save you from an origin. Check their history to find any evidence of radiation, chemical, biological exposure, family curses or blessings, fae blood, or ghostly relations playing guardian.

Closely related to birth is the superhero origin. In the case of mutants the two are intertwined. Mutants were originally devised so Stan Lee and Jack Kirby could take a weekend off, I'm sure of it. Making up new origins is hard! Oddly very few super hero rpgs start play with an origin despite origin issues being the most sought after comics. You might want to start a campaign with all the characters receiving their powers, possibly from the same source (it worked for the Fantastic Four and X-Men.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Marvel Super Heroes Reimagined

No Risus today. I'm writing about the classic Marvel Super Heroes game (MSH). This venerable game gave me hours of fun play back when it was released in 1982. The advanced edition in 1984 was just icing on the cake.

Characters had seven stats represented by FASERIP (also a dandy keyword for googling the game and resources because anything with Marvel in it will produce a jillion hits): Fighting, Agility, Strength, Endurance, Reason, Intuition, and Psyche. Stat levels are represented by a number and a name (this was eight years before FUDGE by the way.) So a Strength of 40 was Incredible. Everything could be represented by a rank. Steel had a Remarkable material strength (30.) So trying to break a set of handcuff say was Remarkable intensity. If you had Incredible Strength this was pretty doable. You'd roll under the Incredible column on the Universal table and success meant the cuffs broke.  The table had several degrees of success: green, yellow and red to represent mrgins of success. A green result was required for intensities less than your stat, yellow for equal intensities and red for intensities a rank above your stat. if you need to know more go look it up online because now I'm going into what hurt a very nice quick and dirty rpg.

Combat Damage
One of the problems with combat was fixed damage and armor stats. If you had Incredible (40) Strength punching a guy with Remarkable armor (30) did 10 pts. of damage to him. Punching a guy with Amazing  armor never did any damage. As a quick fix I'd suggest dropping the value of armor to the minimum for its rank. So Unearthly Strength deals 100 pts. of damage but Unearthly Armor stops 88 pts. Smacking someone in Unearthly armor with Unearthly Strength would thus do 12 pts. to him.

As a long term fix I's suggest increasing the damage done in an attack with a yellow or red result. If they'd be good enough to slam or stun someone or land a killing blow the higher colors could also represent finding a weak point in the defenses. A yellow result would increase the damage by 1 rank and do a minimum of 10. A red result would increase the damage by 2 ranks and do a minimum of 20 pts. So Spider-Man could do a maximum of Monstrous damage with his Incredible Strength on a red result. This also gives them a reason for holding back when fighting squishy humans like Doc Ock. That ought to be good for a Karma award.

Another problem with the system was a tricky, combat maven like Daredevil or Spidey was no harder to hit than say, J. Jonah Jameson (I originally was going to say Aunt May but who would want to hit the dear woman?) Sure you can roll against your Fighting to pick up extra actions and use one of them to Dodge or Block etc. But you even if you succeeded you picked up a penalty to your actions and the intensities for the multiple actions roll made it a desperation tactic unless you had Captain America's moves which even super heroes found hard to copy.

The simplest fix is to simply allow everyone an additional defensive move in combat. So now your character could Dodge the crook's gun shot while punching him (Blunt Attack!) Optionally you could forego your defensive move to add 1 rank to your damage done (think Rhino or Juggernaut.)

Stat vs. Stat
While the Universal Table is great for combat ... that's all it was used for. If you weren't punching, stabbing, shooting, or frying something/one you were supposed to roll under your stat's rank. The intensity of the challenge you faced gave you the color you needed to succeed. Rolling against an intensity equal to your stat required a yellow result for example. I have a problem with that. A character with Excellent (20) Strength having a tug of war with a person with equal Strength has a 30% chance of succeeding. A character with Typical Strength fighting with a person with equal Strength has a 20% chance of succeeding. Shouldn't the chance be 50% in both situations (Basic Roleplaying would say yes!)

Instead I'd use the Initiative rules for such a situation. Roll a d10 and add the modifier for the appropriate stat as you would add the modifier for Intuition to determine Initiative. So our character with Excellent Strength would add 1. If he was having a tug of war with a character with Incredible Strength that character would add 3, putting him at a disadvantage. You could use this for whatever contest you set up. Roll your Incredible Stealth suit vs. my character's Typical hearing. You get a +3 and I get +nothing. Whoever rolls higher wins.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Illuminati Revealed!

Conspiracy buffs are fond of pointing out unexplained events or odd coincidences and blaming them on the Illuminati, those behind the scenes rulers of all. They're a great hook for a campaign. No matter how much you think you've uncovered you always have more plots, more reveals,and more conspirators.

I'm inverting that. No one can keep all their secrets all the time with no down time. The upper echelon of any organization need someplace, a retreat if you will, to unwind. Thus the Illuminati came together long ago (or recently, the records are ... incomplete) and founded Sanctum.

Sanctum is the one place on Earth the Illuminati do not rule (though each group does influence various sectors.) The city government enforces a strict neutrality among all the conspiracies. All f the conspirators come to Sanctum to relax and unwind and even talk shop. Some live as citizens of Sanctum their whole lives. Others join one of the Secret Masters. It's easier for some than others. Each of the cabals has a duty they perform in the city, all supervised closely by the city fathers. Some highlights:

The Bavarian Illuminati are subcontracted to handle many services: water, sanitation, power, and maintenance. The water is distilled, not treated with the common chemicals that arrest people's psionics and illumination. Sanitation trucks all have onboard incinerators (houses have incinerators too but you can't be too careful with your trash.)

The Internet, and media services are maintained by the Network. The consensus is they monitor people about as well as the NSA or FBI but the service is way more reliable. Conspiracy theorists would sell their souls to watch an hour of the reality show channel. There are also no viruses, spamming, pop ups or other distractions.

Sanctuary's banks and monetary functions are handled by the Gnomes of Zurich who provide very high interest savings accounts and many free services. Most people use debit cards or gold to pay for purchases to avoid dealing with minting currency etc. The Network and the Gnomes both watch over the electronic payment system to make sure no one's privacy is violated (at least in theory.)

Many citizens of Sanctuary wish to become part of the conspiracies and see the outside world. Citizens are not allowed to leave unless they join one or another conspiracy. Citizens with a scientific background try to impress the Masters with some kind of technological breakthrough often with mixed results. It's difficult to get an audition with the Masters though and some try to get their attention through committing crimes or juvenile pranking. The city government takes a tough stance with them. After all, if Sanctum locks up one of these nut cases before they can be recruited by the Masters they have a bargaining chip.

Some scientists working for a conspiracy are given intelligence enhancing drugs. These are not allowed by the city government. Scientists given the drugs become dependent on them and risk mental problems if they suffer withdrawal. A few do risk it and try to hide out in the city. These are hunted down by the municipal police as well. They can be traded back to their bosses for a sizable reward in many cases as well.

Besides the Illuminati, the city is also a retirement community for prized conspiracy agents. Lesser agents are mind wiped or ... dealt with. The city also is home to many experimental subjects of the Masters' labs who didn't turn out quite as planned. Some of them join the Municipal Police Force, since they are very unlikely to be agents of the Masters.

Some groups do not play well and are not in Sanctum in large numbers. A few Discordians are entertainers and run a small embassy for recruiting. The Fourth Reich disdains the creature comforts and decadence of the city and has its own recreation areas for its minions. Higher ups do get  in sanctum of course but under the guise of staffing their recruiting office.

The city government is relatively free of Illuminati agents. It has to be as it enforces the neutrality of Sanctum and forces the various factions to play nicely. For the most part the Illuminati play fairly here. The treaty all who participated in is very simple: no acts of violence, no infiltration or influence of the city government, abide by all local laws. breaking the rules can result in loss of privileges, jailing or fines.

To enforce its laws the city uses a corp of Men In Black as well as various special agents augmented by cybernetics, drugs, psionics, and alchemy. This is only prudent, we are talking about the Illuminati.

Where is Sanctum? there are a lot of theories on that by the citizens. A force field/minefield/dome covers the city. No one is quite sure what the boundary is. Some who approach it are never seen again. Others return with their minds wiped. The scariest theory is that the missing explorers are mind wiped and sent to live in the outside world, boring place that that is. Some say it is in a pocket dimension. Others believe it is accessed by time travel and is in the distant past or the unknown future. Some say it is on another planet entirely. The agents and Masters who come from the outer world are mind wiped. It is a mystery many would like to penetrate.

Story Hooks:
The characters are Men In Black tasked with tracking down scientists who have gone off the grid.

The characters are retired agents looking for a big score to provide for their golden years. There is still 'normal' crime in the city.

The group works for Animal Control. Of course in Sanctum that can cover anything from the Moth Man to intelligent insects.

The characters are blue collar citizens tasked with construction. They receive all kinds of offers to plant bugs in the building they are currently working on. Do they got to the Men In Black? Do they take the offers? What about the other guys they saw planting bugs as they were leaving their shift.

A noted Illuminati scientist hires the group to procure several ingredients for his next experiment from the depths of the Undercity.

The group is hired to recruit for a group. They get to answer the questions of jaded citizens, annoying teens, and deal with the occasional double agent.

Everyone wakes up near the boundary mind wiped. Only they did the job a little too well and aside from their names the characters remember nothing. Create your characters as you go filling in skills/cliches/whatever.

A major local corporation seeks to fund a Super Hero Team for PR. You can either be the corporate spin doctors or the supers with no clue who is in more danger.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

We Are All Individuals ... Or Are We?

Let's invert a trope. C'mon, it's fun. In this case the idea of everyone in a rpg party having completely different characters. Now having different characters each bringing different strengths to a venture is a good thing. You have your fighter, cleric, wizard, and rogue etc. In fact different fighters in a party can be very different in terms of weapons, attributes etc. Ditto Traveller where no two lieutenants in the Navy or Army are anything alike.

In fact rpgs have gotten downright meticulous in ways to individualize your character. Of course this level of detail is not covered in rules-lite system which is sort of my blogging theme/niche/passion. Of course you can make up whatever details, tweaks or whatever you want about your character, that don't affect the game and again play of two similar characters might be completely different. But again, just for kicks, what if everyone in the group plays the 'same' character?

Option #1 The players' characters are all clones of the same individual. How identical they are is up to the tech and dramatic license taken. They might have the same attributes but be trained differently or raised and trained alike a la Star Wars' Storm Troopers. Assuming memory transfer and identical mind sets people's personalities will probably diverge after a while or characters could get different hooks (one gets married, one get addicted, one becomes a reverend ... it all averages out.)

Option #2 The characters are all incarnations of a single 'Prime' character but from different time lines. They made different decisions creating different timelines and altering their skills and even stats more and more over time. You'd have to have some idea where each person diverged from the 'original' timeline and history could get very complex.

Option #3 The players are all the same person but from alternate Earths. So one might be a wizard, another a cyber-hacker, another a psionic detective etc. They would have similar skills and sats with some differences for culture and tech levels etc.

Option #4 Mass production! The characters are all the same model of robot/android. This is similar to #1 except the characters can be completely identical to the point of swapping skills and information they develop.

Option #5 Supers! The characters are all the same super who can make copies of himself. The GM might want to include a few NPC copies as well. When the super recombines the players' role is that of voices in their head. The GM might even make the original an NPC and make the 'copies' make rolls to persuade them to take a certain action or take over completely. Triad in the Legion of Super Heroes had this power. She was three identical women who combined to a single form. Each separate self had a very different personality (shy, extroverted and neutral)though when combined they tended to 'average' out. Since everyone on her planet had the same ability but identical personalities she was regarded as a nut job on her home world.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dueling Cliches

On a personal note: it is hard to write three posts a week. I am going to keep doing it and try to update on M-W-F because I feel it is making me a better writer and gamer and I enjoy hearing from you. Today we deal with combat situations.

Duels- Sometimes a fight boils down to a single round or two. A shoot out at high noon, a iajutsu draw draw between Samurai, and flamethrowers at ten paces are all examples of combat that boils down to draw and attack. It's also a great way for a badass character to shine. Risus as written does have a provision for this. Any attack may be resolved with a single roll with the GM assessing the outcome. For example, a heavily armed and armored warrior attacks a tiny gremlin. The GM decides the gremlin will be hit and stomped on a 15 or higher (he's little but quick) and if the warrior fails the roll the creature escapes. This works great for mooks who really only exist to slow down the players.

But some combat is between two equals or near equals. In this case the RAW still provides an answer. Use a Single Action Contest and both roll their cliches. It's good and quick but lacking a certain drama. Again the rules as written have a solution: play out the combat normally. Risus combat is not about trading blows and lopping stuff off but jockeying for position to deliver a punishing blow or otherwise subdue your foe. In this case they aren't moving around and parrying attacks so much as staring each other down before they draw.

How to jazz it up? Don't tell the rest of the group, if any, who is winning. Don't let them see their friend's rolls and tell only the duelist whether he wins or loses with a note or other sign. Or don't tell anyone who has won until the combat is over. In this case don't drop either character's cliche, just keep track of hits and reveal the winner dramatically when one character's hits exceed their cliche.

As an alternative the player character and his enemy may decide to lose more than one rank from their cliches for losing this exchange. Any number agreed on is good.

The Death Spiral- Once two equal characters start a combat there is a danger that the first character to lose a die will enter into a spiral of losing, having their cliche reduced and losing still more often. Not very dramatic (unless it isn't your character losing.) A lot has been written on preventing the Death Spiral, some of it involving <shudder> hit points.

First a character may have more than one cliche that is appropriate for a fight. A character who has Sharp Tongued Sword Master (4) might switch to Barroom Brawler (3) when his opponent wins a couple of exchanges with rapiers. Closing in the brawler unleashes an uppercut knocking his opponent's Hot Tempered Rapier Artist cliche.

As I've posted before I'd let my players use Lucky Shots and Questing Dice if appropriate to absorb a combat loss.

As a alternative with a good reason or perhaps by spending a Lucky Shot or Questing Die a character can change the type of combat. A hilarious example of this is in the movie 'Support Your Local Sheriff' where the title character sick of the latest in a long stream of hoot outs gets his opponent completely off balance by throwing rocks and him and chasing the mortified killer out of town. (check the link at 1:15.)

In fact the hero makes a point of turning violent situations into battles of wits (social combat) with a number of dimwitted opponents. With the rules as written for Risus the aggressor which (he was not) is the one who decides the type of combat. Why not let a player who is caught in a fight change the nature of the exchange by paying one or more dice? Imagine a shoot out or a curt room drama suddenly turned into a pie fight. More seriously your grim vigilante (you did give him some Lucky Shots to represent gear and training, right?) turns a super powers fight with Primary Colors Man into a martial arts brawl. PCM's super strength avails him not as he is thrown onto a table! You might want to limit the effect of these changes for a turn or two. So our vigilante could use his judo to win a clean break and escape but not beat a man who can move mountains into snot.

As always responses and thoughts are welcome. I'm also trying to get into a Risus game if there are any on Hangouts or Roll 20.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Every Starship You'll Ever Need

This post is taking a break from The Only Sci Fi Cliches You'll Ever Need to present starships (I suppose you can use these ideas for other vehicles.)

There are three main missions for starships: scientific, economic, and offense/defense. Decide which operation is the primary mission, which is the secondary. Anything left over is tertiary. GMs feel free to stick other types of missions in there to suit your setting. A game of subterfuge may require stealth as a mission.

Choose your cliche to reflect the mission priority. For example a Long Range Battleship might be Primary= Offense Defense (O/D), Secondary= Science (Sci), and Tertiary= Economics (Econ). No need to list every tertiary mission. Ships add a die to their primary mission rolls and subtract a die from their tertiary mission rolls when rolling combat or SAC. Science involves using sensors, conducting research and launching probes. Economic involves making a buck, hauling people or cargo, for example. Offense/Defense means shooting at stuff till it blows up and avoiding the same.

When you're making up target numbers apply the following modifiers: Primary 0 to +5, Secondary +5 to +10, and Tertiary +15 to +20. There's some wiggle room there. the  Long Range Battle Ship might have the same priorities as a Ground Attack Cruiser. However the Long Range Battleship receives a +5 to its TN for hitting ground targets while the Ground Attack Cruiser receives a +5 to its TN for hitting ships in space.

Make sure your players know stuff like this if their characters read the ship manuals. As another example a freighter and a yacht may both have economic for a primary mission. However, they have somewhat different missions. The freighter hauls livestock while the yacht ships jaded VIPs around (okay a small difference.) Pushing the yacht into service to haul cargo can impose a +5 to any TNs for that mission. In extreme cases the GM might rule the ship does not have the proper supplies for a mission and halve its cliche. If the freighter wanted to haul a VIP gourmet along and didn't stock up on fine wines and cold cuts good luck. If the Long Range Battleship wasn't armed with dogfighting missiles it might be halved going up against a grunt squad of fighters. Add/subtract dice for the primary and tertiary missions before halving.

So a Dreadnought of Awesomeness (5) with O/D as its primary mission would roll 6 dice normally when obliterating stuff. Faced with a Huge Wave of Star Fighters (3) the GM rules that due to a lack of dogfighting missiles and small quick traverse cannons the dreadnought does not have the proper tools and has its cliche halved to (3) when fighting them. The Armored Battlecruiser (4) fighting alongside them is not as lucky and bears the full brunt of the dreadnought's 6 dice cliche.

Travel speeds are not directly addressed in this system. Either time doesn't matter (you can make a run or patrol easily or you're already late) or we're talking pushing the ship for some dramatic reason (rushing to the rescue, evading the patrol etc.) In this case look at the obstacles faced in the trip. If it's a straight plain vanilla straight run it's covered by economics (warships have lots of fueling stations and tankers to increase their range and long term speed, commercial ships have room for fuel and big engines.) A trip through a turbulent atmosphere or a dangerous field of debris would fall under O/D. A tricky FTL jump into a nebula or near a black hole would be science.

I have a love hate relationship with fighters and shuttles. Space fighters should be flash fried by larger ships for so many reasons (more and better fire control systems, longer range sensors, more techs to man the sensors and guns etc.) and honestly if a loan fighter stood even a 1% chance against a capital ship no one would build capital ships. They'd build a few hundred fighters.

But fighters are cool and this is Risus. I have the following suggestions:

A shuttle has one primary stat and anything else is considered tertiary. Its cliches run from 1 to 3. A shuttle with a primary mission of O/D is termed a fighter.

When you're resolving actions with ships and want to take crew into account (players are fond of this as their characters are usually the crew) do a team up. With fighters and shuttles the pilot is the team leader. He rolls dice for his appropriate cliche and then rolls the shuttle or fighter's cliche adding any sixes rolled. With large ships reverse the procedure. Roll the ship's cliche and then roll for the crew (a single cliche for crew quality is fine Drab, Grey, Efficient Drones (3), Rowdy Pirates [2] etc.) adding any sixes rolled.

If a large ship is firing at a fighter it may have its cliche halved if it doesn't have the right weaponry or cliche. If we're talking a grunt squad of fighters then the big ship rolls to hit normally. If we're talking a loan crazed fighter jock making a suicide run then the fighter must close for 1d6 rounds while under fire. It can't hurt the larger craft until the rolled number of rounds pass. After closing both craft roll their full cliche dice. The winner inflicts three damage on the loser.

Where any character's ships fit into this is up to the GM and how big he wants ships to run in his setting. A small free trader could be considered a shuttle for purposes of combat in which case larger craft will find it hard to blast or it could be considered a large ship and run a gauntlet of fighters but be blasted by warships almost immediately. The GM should decide just how big a fish they should be in advance.

Next we'll continue The Only Sci Fi Cliches You'll Ever Need Pt. 2

Friday, April 11, 2014

Risus Horror

Horror games are near and dear to my heart. I've been going through a zombies phase the last few years. Given my love of Risus combining the two is a no brainer if you'll excuse the pun. Which is where I run into a speed bump: how do you do Sanity checks in Risus?

The grandfather of horror games, Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium) introduced us to Sanity checks. Sanity became a finite resource. Exposure to horrors would gradually wear this down driving the character mad and has become a sort of standard feature of horror rpgs in one form or another.

The easiest way is to simply require a Sanity cliche. You could roll this cliche vs. a TN to avoid freezing in terror, screaming or running away etc. after a glimpse of the Great Old Ones. Faced by a minor monster the character might roll cliche vs. cliche in a single action contest. Losing could in effect rob him of his tools of the trade halving his cliches (you try finding that monster in your text of demonology when you're a few tacos short of a combination platter) for that encounter. Faced with the big ugly boss the characters might have to enter into social combat, Sanity cliches vs the monster's appropriate cliche, failure reducing them to gibbering minions or worse, winning meaning they can then try to enter physical combat with the eldritch being.

Introducing horror elements into an existing game is fun, but requiring a Sanity cliche might give the game away. It's also bad form to require such a cliche if you aren't using horror elements regularly. In this case you wing it with the available cliches. Keep in mind that checks vs. something commo charactern to a character will be about a 10, a firefighter (4) faced with a blaze won't even blink. Similarly the firefighter facing something horrific but related to a fire would be slightly higher, a burning body might be a 15. Something completely out of ordinary experience but related to similar events, like a burning body walking around setting fires might be a 20. Characters confronted with dangerous situations quite often in play might get a bonus. If our firefighter is on active duty and role plays fighting fires reasonably often he might need to roll a 5 or higher to ignore his fears.

Not al cliches are the same for facing fear. Faced with the same Zombie Horde (tm) an accountant, ex CIA operator, and Paranormal investigator might all act differently. In this case a GM could run a Fear vs. Sanity conflict with a separate Fear cliche for each character. The accountant faces Hordes of the Undead (4), the CIA spook faces Undead Hoaxers (2) due to his lack of belief in the undead, and the paranormal investigator faces Deadly Proof I'm Not a Nut (3.) His study of the occult and earlier investigations make him a little tougher than ordinary men and accountants but his belief in the undead also makes him more vulnerable than the spy who finds they are a trick.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Teamwork Is Not Just a Cliche

Not all parties meet in a tavern/library/laundromat/prison. Not every posse is a group of mismatched cut-ups thrown together by fate (destiny, not the RPG.) Some people share a bond from the start (the Fantastic Four, Challengers of the Unknown) or just train like there's no tomorrow until they act as one (X-Men, ... Power Rangers?) Sometimes teams like these are even allowed in roleplaying games.

Teams already have benefits. They're great for team combat for one thing and a couple of guys with the right cliche to guard your back and provide a cliche you need is enough to turn a bad day around. A team could also be part of a larger organization and have a hook. For example join the Green Lantern Corp; get the most powerful weapon/tool in existence and see the Galaxy but you have to follow the orders of some little blue guys with big heads. Join the Holy Order of Justice and become a paladin but no more diddling the princesses you rescue. Or the X-Men can be viewed as a small team part of a larger group (human mutants) they want to help protect.

Aside from material benefits (power rings!) teams can have interesting benefits (see my earlier postings on equipment and sidekicks.) Some teams have a reputation, famous or infamous that precedes them. Even if the locals don't know you from Adam they will spot that skull logo on your spacesuit and know what it means. Being on a team may open some doors for you and close others. Police are more likely to share information with other police for example. Criminals might take one look and make you for a narc.

Let's look at some twists a team will allow:

Asymmetrical teams- A lot of superhero teams are like this. In the Justice League you go from Superman who can shift small moons to the Green Arrow, inventor of the boxing glove arrow. Note that I love all the so-called minor leaguers. When you're talking about power levels though the gap between Superman and someone like Green Arrow and the Elongated Man is pretty hard to account for just by choice of cliche. You can make the case that the Man of Steel has a few more dice than his cohorts (see my earlier post on epic characters.) If he got extra dice why didn't they? The simplest answer is he got them from his team mates when the team was set up. When creating characters everyone can contribute one or more of their dice to a player designing a big gun. The downside is you get less dice. The bright side is you get a superior character watching your back and can develop your character in other directions. As an added incentive the contributing players may each choose a hook for their big gun. The recipient does not have to take the die or the hook. If the demi-god does not do right by his contributors the GM is encouraged to go to the players for suggestions on how to deal with his bad teamwork. Sudden power loss works wonders for supers, mages and psionicists.

Questing Dice Pool- Instead of contributing dice to a character people on a team could contribute Questing Dice into a pool. This can represent team spirit or whatever. The players can decide they each use the dice in a different way or that everyone uses the dice in the same way. So the infamous League of Ambitious Antagonists sets up a dice pool and allows everyone to specify how they will use the dice individually. Razor Brick, the muscle decides he'll use the pool for 'Breaking things living and non-living.' White Collar decides he'll use the dice for con jobs and grifting and The Epic Brain will use the Questing Dice for designing infernal devices. The clones of the Conformity Crusade decide to create a Questing Dice pool and use all the dice for 'Fighting alongside your fellow clones.'

Merge-  The Team can form an incredibly powerful individual. The being is created using the rules for Shield Mates but can have one die more in its highest cliche than the highest player cliche. The GM is the final word on how many dice you can put into the Merged Being. When the merged being is formed the rest of the group suffers some kind of  drawback. Either they each lose the use of their highest cliche or are fused together with one member controlling the greater being.

Rallying Cry- Assembly Avenge Me! Or something like that. The team leader issues a rallying cry before the fight starts. The first round of a combat the team members may treat their appropriate cliches as double pump cliches. This is an excellent tactic for blitzing a boss or overpowering threat. Hit it with everything you have pumped up and hopefully knock it down to your level for the next round. The GM might want to reduce whatever cliche the team leader uses to order the gang around by one die for using the ability. The GM might also want to assess penalties to a team acting without its leader.

We Are All Individuals- Even teams or organizations that have standardized training and equipment will have members who use that equipment or training in their own way. The Jedi developed the Force powers they felt more comfortable with. The Green Lanterns used their power rings to create energy constructs but no two Lanterns used the same constructs which ranged from giant swords and axes to MRI chambers. This can be handled by rewording each member's cliche and giving different TN for different tasks.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Three Kinds of Stories

There are three kinds of conflicts in stories:

Man vs. Himself

Man vs Man

Man vs. Nature

I already rambled on about hooks and ways to roll dice to resolve their complications in all sorts of ways. That covers man vs. himself. Man vs. man is any sort of combat you care to work up. Man vs. nature can be handled with combat as well. I refer you to the Risus Companion: if it would be fun to personify a problem; assign it some dice.

So rather than plotting a journey on a map divided into hexagons or whatever grid you fancy assign the journey a cliche (or several cliches.) For example to reach the Disturbingly Remote Tomb of Demonstration our heroes must travel on the King's Road (2), then the Dismal Mire (3) and finally ascend the Deadly Precipice (5.) Fortunately they have a ranger with Rugged Outdoorsman (4.) He laughs at the trip by road and blows it away with no trouble in two rounds (say two days travel.) He loses none of his cliche. The Dismal Mire is defeated in 3 rounds as well but the ranger loses two dice from his cliche. The GM rules that the party takes a day for each round of combat and two more for their ranger's lost dice. Not being suicidal the group decides to rest a couple days before trying the precipice to allow the ranger's cliche to be healed.

The GM can of course decide all kinds of bad things happen if the party loses the contest to nature. At the very least trip times can be doubled. Sickness, getting lost. losing supplies, and equipment are other complications. A similar system can be devised for spacecraft.

Because getting there is all the fun (for the GM.)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Only Sci Fi Cliches You'll Ever Need Pt. 4

Presenting the Last Installment of Every Sci Fi Cliche You'll Ever Need. This is from the thread at RPGNet. I suggest you check it out.

Kirby Near Gods (sensing cosmic threats, embodying a single concept to extremes, inscrutable, appearing in a large explosion, surviving space and nearly anywhere else with your cape flapping in a metaphorical wind, universal translator, ancient lore, being unkillable)

Time Wizard (knowing about nearly everything in space, navigating the time stream, regenerating mortal injuries, turning junk into wondrous inventions)

F---less Alien (It doesn't matter. They don't do anything and nothing really bothers them.)

Proud Warrior of the Empire (swordplay, shooting it out, brawling, biting, being stoic in the face of pain and itchy uniforms, arcane rituals of endurance and courage, code of honor lore, boarding actions)

Mysterious Alien (showing up unannounced, leaving when you blink, being inscrutable, causing security systems to FAIL)

Space Vampire (draining the life of sentients, popping up unseen, hypnotizing sentients, appearing like the Universe's gift to romance, tri-sexual [will 'tri' anything], mysterious and temporary death, scary face when pissed off)

Notzi (shooting it out, spying, keeping excellent records of tyranny, setting up death traps)

Space Roman (swordplay, logistics and supplies, drunken orgies, organization, keeping  low profile)

Evil Methane Breather (torture, dissection, inhuman experimentation, tentacle attacks)

Giger Hunter (tracking bugs, trapping bugs, avoiding bugs, hiding, flame weapons, motion detectors, keeping cool)

Places and Things
War Eternal (grunt squads of fighters, enormous dreadnoughts, minefields, waves of boarding shuttles, fired and forgotten drones)

Giant Computer Planet (knowing everything, hidden data caches, processing incredible amounts of information, analyzing and predicting)

Spacethulhu (eldritch horror, hiding in non-euclidean nooks and crannies of space, blasting sanity, epic destruction)

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Only Sci Fi Cliches You'll Ever Need Pt. 3

Presenting Part 3 of The Only Sci Fi Cliches You'll Ever Need. We're doing the bottom of space today. I  urge you to follow the thread on rpgnet at

Alien Space God Cultist (kidnapping, brainwashing, techno rituals, archaeology, psionic lore, weird mythologies, denial)

Space Viking (see Space Pirate in Pt. 2. Replace fencing loot with poetry)

Man-Ape (hunting, climbing, brachiating, hollering, shooting it out, brawling)

Psionic Space Commie (mind reading, mental suggestion, quoting from their manifesto, subterfuge, recruiting people to their cause)

Hostile Intelligent Machine (hacking, turning your computers against you, being logical, manufacturing more HIMs)

Radioactive Wasteland Warrior (survival in a radioactive desert, shooting it out, dog training, hiding, scavenging food and technology)

Places and Things
Living Planet (looking like a non-living planet, scratching itches like people and spaceships with earthquakes, natural disasters, tractoring in ships for a snack, spelling things out with forests and rivers, using clouds to make emoticons, rock formations that resemble treasure laden cities)

Space God's Lawn (anomalous sensor readings, junk that looks like artifacts, artifacts that look like junk, explosive, corrosive, flammable or mind altering junk)

Planet of Hats (various hat tricks chose one or make up your own: being a gangster, being goth, being a pirate, being a Quaker, being a dilche to space travelers, being a thief, being a sports nut, eating hot peppers etc)

Radioactive Wasteland Planet (see Not Arakis in Pt. 2 and add in a cliche for radiation)

The Only Sci Fi Cliches you'll Ever Need Pt. 2

Guy Hoyle (rightly) pointed out that ships could simply be treated as characters in combat with other characters. Yes of course huzzah. I do add a layer of detail to Risus in my posts for sure. But my goals are simple in doing this: 1) Make sure what I'm doing will add to roleplaying and character options and 2) keep the add ons simple. Hopefully I did that with my post on starships and thank you all for your feedback. When in doubt keep it as simple as possible.
Hats off to Propagandor the OP. If anyone can put me in contact with him I'd appreciate it. I can't seem to join rpgnet. Must be my outstanding warrants for role playing with loaded dice.

Continuing our Sci Fi cliches and working on the lower left corner of the galaxy.
Mega-Corpo-Rat (making a deal, analyzing the value of an acquisition, hostile takeovers, strip mining your human resources, back room dealing)

Old Western Worlder (shooting it out, riding a robo-horse, tracking a quarry planetside, surveying/prospecting, heading 'em off at the pass)

Techno Feudalist (jetpack jousting, laser swordplay, shiny power armor brawling, managing cyber peasants)

(Space) Bugs (tunneling, biting, brawling, reproduction, ambushing, building with little more than bodily secretions, reproduction, projectile venom vomiting, reproduction (they really reproduce fast!))

Mecha Jock (piloting a mecha, mecha fighting, kaiju lore, acrobatics, shooting it out, great hair)

Dino Hunter (hunting with really big rifles, dino lore, jungle survival, camouflage, tracking, driving an atv)

Space Vegan Gambler (gambling, figuring odds, finding a game, dodging your bookie, cheating)

Space Pirate (boarding actions, singing and speaking in a silly accent, laser swordplay, fencing loot, staging an ambush, finding valuables)

Space Survivalist (Not Arrakis) (generic desert survival, riding, swordplay, desert lore, finding water, saving water)

Space Hippy (musical performance, poetry, nature appreciation, better living through chemistry, going with the flow, abiding)

Places and Things
Space Vegas (separating you from your hard earned money/credits/phlebotinium, cheap luxuries and accommodations, fantastic shows, anything is for sale)

Space Pirate Sector (getting you lost, messing up your communications, messing up your sensors)

Anomaly #12 (chucking your ship across the galaxy, causing bizarre transmogrifications, psionic phenomena, creating unidentified space objects)

Dinosaur Planet (giant carnosaurs, disorienting jungles, sneaky little toothy dinosaurs, big bugs, vegetation that messes with sensors)

Not Arakis (killing you with thirst, killing you with sun, killing you with sandstorms, killer sand serpents, killer natives, valuable commodities to risk your life for)

Part 3 Friday