Thursday, June 30, 2016

Themed Card Decks for Savage Worlds

With the likelihood of some Savage Worlds games in my future I started looking over my cards and bennies and decided it was time to expand my horizons. One of the overlooked fun elements of Savage Worlds is the physical objects that are part of the game - cards for initiative (and occasionally other things) and some kind of tokens for the bennies. I decided early on to have different decks for different games but I've let it slide as our SW playing time has gone down. Recently, though, I've started looking again.

For Deadlands:

This is really just the backs and the jokers but it looks right at home in a wild west game. Deadlands uses poker chips and a slightly different system for bennies so it all goes together nicely.

For Deadlands Hell on Earth:

These distressed cards look right at home in a post-apocalyptic game. Top of that list with Savage Worlds is Hell on Earth. They would work well for a Fallout or Savage Twilight 2000 game too. Twilight 2K uses a card-based NPC motivation system so they could be used nicely with the original game in that way too.  I especially like that the effect is front and back, though Lady Blacksteel just looked at them and asked why you would pay money for a deck of cards that look like you just picked them up off of somebody's dirty floor. Not everyone appreciates great ideas...

For Weird War II:

There's a story behind these involving WW2 POWs and smuggled maps on cards which is cool. I also think it's interesting that the backs look like a typical deck of cards but the fronts are the difference here. My main interest is the extra military look which adds to a military game like Weird War 2 or Tour of Darkness. These would work for Twilight 2000 as well.

For Supers:

There are a ton of superhero decks out there, villains too. The face cards are all Avengers but the number cards have a nice effect on them too. Plus, they're JUMBO!

For super types I like to use larger than normal cards. I had a giant deck for Necessary Evil but it wasn't themed. These are about 1/3rd wider and 1/3rd taller than a normal deck - enough that you notice it but not game show sized and awkward to handle at the table. I've been thinking about dusting off some Atomic City Stories for a run in Savage Worlds and these cards would be perfect. For NE I am looking at some other options.

For Savage Rifts:

Waterproof cards have been around for a while but if you don't spend time on a boat you may not know about them. They're made of plastic - thinner than a credit card but still with a different feel than normal cards. They also have a silvery, high tech sheen to them when you stack them up. I think they would fit well with Rifts and its heavy tech themes.

I also think they would work well for Star Trek. There are a bunch of Trek decks out there if you want pictures from the shows and movies, but if you want something less series-specific that still looks like it might be from the Trek universe, I think these are a good choice. They're probably good for any science fiction game.

Now none of these are essential for running a game of course, but for a system that has a tactile element to it why not go that extra step and tie it all together. This is one of the cheapest ways to add some flavor to your game. These card decks run around 5 bucks and are all over Amazon and eBay if you can't find some locally. I'm looking at some dice and bennie options as well for certain games to complete the theme - more on that next week.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Individual Initiative - the Curse of the Modern Age!

Oh look - it's Plan A. Again.
Let's talk about initiative.

I was once a big fan of individual initiative. AD&D 2E made it a pretty significant thing (and a lower number meant going sooner!), then for me personally Shadowrun, especially in 2E form, blew the lid off - with ridiculously souped up reflexes you might be able to act 3 or 4 times before some poor meatbag mook could pull a trigger. It was all about ME baby! The the d20 revolution took place at the dawn of the new millennium and ingrained it into an entire generation of players. I don't think I've had a party yet where someone didn't take Improved Initiative in the first 3 levels.

But there are other ways to handle it. Behold a passage from the Red Book of Moldvay!

Notice this - it refers to the side - not the individual! The side! Having seen it in play both many years ago and more recently with the Apprentices it really encourages a group approach to combat. Planning! Tactics! Letting the ranged characters shoot or cast before the melee types charge in shouldn't be a revelation but it is when someone uses this approach that either never has or has forgotten how much fun it can be!

I know some of you are saying: "Well you can do that in a d20 game, you just have everyone hold or delay until everything is set up."

This tells me you haven't actually tried to make this work in play. One thing we see from time to time is when Player A needs to hand a healing potion to Player B to administer to Player C. try doing that without rejiggering the initiative order in the middle of the fight. The other reality is that the barbarian who paid a feat for improved initiative isn't going to hold his action to let the bow ranger shoot first - he's going to charge! The rules encourage it both mechanically and with the spirit of the game due to the emphasis on individual initiative.

Timing is everything
Shocking Side Note: you can do pretty much anything with any set of rules. The feel of a game isn't so much what the rules allow - it's what they encourage. People play games with the "wrong" set of rules all the time and yet they somehow manage to have a good time. That said, it's good to find a set of rules that works with you  rather than against you.

Yes, you can try and force a group approach to initiative in d20 games but you're fighting the system - why do that? Why not modify it to make it easier in the first place, or try it in another game and see if you like the way it plays? See a few paragraphs below for one idea.

It wasn't just old school D&D  that did things this way:

Guess what game this is from? Hint: It has lightsabers and uses a bunch of d6's. It's about as far from D&D mechanically as you can get, and this version of the rules is about 15 years newer than the D&D rules above, yet per-side initiative was a good idea!

 Individual capability affects the order things are handled but only within your own side. But look - there's a way for an individual character to shine by giving his side the win with a high Perception roll! We have a 4th member of the trinity: Tank, Healer, DPS, & Initiative Guy!

To bring it in to the modern age, guess what approach the FFG Star Wars game takes?

Wait, what was I thinking? They're using individual initiative here! But wait ...

Look at that! There's a way to reconcile individual awesomeness with a team approach at the same time! Now the initiative works for you instead of handcuffing you. Think in D&D terms: The healer is often OK going last because they can move up behind the fighters and heal them after they get hit. But what if two fighters get hit hard in one round? Round one you go last, move up, heal PC#1, then in Round 2 you go first, move over, and heal PC#2. That's just one, limited example of how a flexible group-oriented approach to initiative can make a situation more interesting.

I've saved my favorite for last ...

This is the late, lamented, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying approach. The GM picks a player to go first. No dice, no numbers at all. one of the players gets to go first. Unless ...

So now we have some mechanics for breaking the standard approach, and it's harder to jump in front of faster or more perceptive heroes. This is one reason why supervilllains have henchmen.

Note the blue text there - the player who just acted gets to pick who goes next. Again, no dice, no numbers. If games at their best are a series of interesting choices, then this is a great example of one. The pattern of the new team typically is to let all of the heroes go first - yay team hero!

Well ... until this ...
 Then when the badguys get two uninterrupted turns to respond, well, things can get  ... dicey. My players learned pretty quickly to mix it up. It makes interesting choices for the GM too, as you weigh piling on with a bunch of mooks, or how exactly to break it down and keep an ace in the hole.

There are other interesting approaches to initiative - Savage Worlds card-based approach yields some interesting options with multiple cards and jokers while Runequest's strike ranks mainly apply to melee situations. The ones I am coming back around to liking best though are the ones that use mechanics to encourage team thinking as I assume would happen in the game world. Less "me" and more "us" makes for a more interesting game in my experience.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Friday, June 24, 2016

Big 40K Friday: Our first video battle report!

Well, it finally came together, so here it is, all 12 minutes of it:

Blacksteel & Sons

(Their idea, by the way)

All the Apprentices will be back the week of July 4th so I anticipate a second and maybe third batrep that week. Production values and camera technique will improve.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Side Quests: June

23rd century (actually maybe even 22nd?)

The good: The Marvel heroes Anniversary Event continues and is a lot of fun. Lots of free stuff, some crazy event overlaps, and it continues for another week! Also, a playable Ultron is coming, probably next week as well. yes, they call it "Marvel Heroes" but it has playable villains as well. Doctor Doom, Loki, Magneto, Juggernaut, and a few others, soon to be joined by the evil robot himself.

The less good: Star Trek Online is going in an odd direction. The upcoming expansion is full-on retro, allowing players to start a new character as a TOS federation character with uniforms, ships, gear, etc. It still bugs me a little bit but it is the 50th anniversary and it's not like time travel isn't a huge part of Trek anyway so I can deal with it. Now, in addition to that direction, we have this:

26th century - the "Nautilus" class
Spock, the legendary Starfleet officer, scientist and diplomat, accepted a mission to make a daring attempt to save the dying star Hobus. His mission was not successful, however, and the effects of the Hobus supernova have echoed though time and space. This series of events is now referred to as the “Kelvin Incident” by temporal agents and multi-spatial researchers. 

The sheer destruction from that moment in time has weakened the barrier between our reality and one strangely similar to our own, leaving a strange temporal anomaly in its wake. While most are content to allow alternate realities to be, others have looked on them as unique opportunities to exploit, the consequences to the natives be damned.

“Terminal Expanse” will take players not only back in time, but to this strange, alternate “Kelvin Timeline”. This mission will be available to all players at level 40 and above once Agents of Yesterday launches.

Look for future updates on new missions as the launch day approaches, and we’ll see you in-game for the release of Agents of Yesterday!

This is where it's starting to get messy. The game has a really good concept of the future of the original trek universe, covering the 20-50 years after TNG/DS9/VOY. That's where the focus has been barring the occasional time-travel scenario or mirror universe incursion. The trunk of the tree has very much been The Federation/Klingons/Romulans in the decades following the TNG era with branches for various other races, the Dyson sphere, the Iconians, etc.

The first big expansion added playable Romulans and covered their story in the wake of the destruction of their homeworld - it was great!

The second expansion covered the Delta Quadrant - not my favorite, but it added a whole new region with new races and a new missions so it was solid plus it  continued the story of the setting.

This new expansion goes backwards to the TOS, jumps to the 26th century somehow, and adds in the JJ Abrams movie universe in what I assume is the first of a series of missions at the very least! That seems like an awful lot to cover, even if it is an expansion and not just a smaller patch type update. I'm a little concerned that they're going to lose focus on the "now" of the game and get tangled up in all of these side areas. Players have been asking for stuff like playable Cardassians and now they get TOS Feds. In the wake of that quite a few Klingons have asked for playable TOS Klingons and so far that does not seem to be in the cards.

I can see making some tie-ins to TOS and to the movies with all of the attention they will be getting but it still feels like wheel-spinning to me on some level. There were already retro-ships, retro-uniforms, and some retro-missions in the game. heck, one of my characters and his crew wears the Wrath of Khan uniforms exclusively, because I like them! Making it the focus of the whole expansion, though? I don't know, that doesn't seem like a great choice for the long term. I'll give it a try when it comes out and share my thoughts then.

Almost a Loknar ...

26th century version

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Something Old and Something New

The RQ2 Reprint Kickstarter payoff arrived last week and over the weekend I actually had enough quiet time to read the whole thing. I like it. There's a practicality to it,  a very definite sense that this developed in play and was not sent out with zero playtesting. One example: You improve stats and skills by paying for training, in addition to experience. That's something we never used much in my prior RQ playing experiences, but it makes a ton of sense as far as a playable solution to character improvement. It also implies a ton about the world, way beyond Glorantha-this and Lunar Empire-that - there are fighting guilds, temples, and other organizations that provide this training, even going  so far as to do it on credit to new adventurers! Yes, "adventurer" is a known and widely accepted occupation. In a world full of ruins and monsters that seems eminently reasonable - and practical.

It's also very clear the influence of the SCA experience of the primary author, Steve Perrin. Combat is all about weapon types, weapon length, the order an attacker might be able to strike vs. different weapons, how much one might reasonably carry and still be effective in a fight. Including Size as a stat is another sign of this as it plays a role in a bunch of combat elements. With Apprentice Red in a similar organization at school I'm picking up on a lot of the influences here - moreso than i did before, anyway.

The whole book is written in a conversational tone that  I found incredibly appealing. It's something you just do not see in modern RPG writing. Comments like how an referee certainly could track a bunch of different elements if they wanted to overburden themselves, but in the writer's opinion it's simpler to just do X. It's very different than the contemporary (circa 1980) Gygaxian I was immersed in at the time, and it's very different form what I see in books today too It's personal without being ego-driven, which can be a tricky balance to strike. It's much more like how I think   I would want to write a RPG supplement if I ever got around to doing that - that's intended as a compliment!

We've already agreed within out group to run a session of RQ and see how my mix of veterans, experienced non-RQ'ers, and millennials take to it. I'll let you know how that goes.

On a different note, while I was re-reading some of my Savage Worlds stuff last week I got to thinking about how it would make for a really strong Star Wars ruleset. I started looking up conversions online, dug out some of my d6, Saga, and even Star Frontiers stuff with an eye towards outlining how I might use it. I also came across my AoR book and reviewed our playtest of the Beginner Box and how much fun we had with it, and started thinking I should really give this set another chance. So after I finished reading RQ I sat down and read AoR.

This is the serendipitous path we all tread at times. Honestly I was really happy to find the time to read two RPG books in detail in one day.

Maybe reading RQ helped open up my mind a bit, but I think I get the FFG system's appeal now. There are some touches with Marvel Heroic in the whole "building a dice pool" thing and we love that game. I know it's a giant rulebook, much like the Pathfinder ruelbooks, but it is a very different approach from PF mechanically and I think we could have a lot of fun with it. I'll have more on it next week but I am furiously thinking up campaign options in between the rest of life and at some point it will click and we will set up a one-shot to try it out. Also, there are a lot of cool things being done for this game by players - for example:

I still think Savage Worlds would handle Star Wars really well, and I may try it too. One nice touch is that both games, SW and AoR/EotE/F&D are mechanically light enough that you can put NPC's on cards. My take on the SW ones is here, an example of FFG's is here. I really like that these exist. Going back to my RQ take, they are very practical, an approach and an item that's intended to help you actually run games and not just sit on a shelf! That's becoming more and more of a factor for me in games: Is it a good game, is it fun, will my players have any interest in playing it, and is the "work factor" in running it high or low?

More to come!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion 2E

Savage Worlds has had a steady progression when covering super hero games. We started with Necessary Evil all of 12 years ago (!), and that was it until 2010 when Pinnacle released the Super Powers Companion alongside a slightly revised Explorer's Edition of NE. In 2014 they released a second edition of the Super Powers Companion. I finally picked it up and since I own all 4 of the books in question I thought I would talk about Savage Supers in general and the new book in particular.

NE in general is a very limited scope campaign - it all happens in a single city over the course of a few months, maybe a year at most. Certain powers were included - or not - based on the campaign conceit. There are some definite balance issues as we discovered when my wife's character went around happily mind-controlling everything in sight. Now we were all having fun so it was not a huge issue - "Why bash down the door when you can have the guards let you in?" - was the general approach. Balance is tricky in a supers campaign anyway and not really at the top of the list. The Savage Worlds system worked well as a framework for comic book action and we really felt like we were exploring the city, discovering a plot, and taking action to throw out the invaders. Both times I have run multiple sessions but both were eventually interrupted before we could finish the campaign. That said it's something we talk about starting up again whenever a new game is discussed.

NE was the only official source for super powers for a long time but after many requests the company did release a super powers companion. This was better, but it was still largely a collection of material taken from NE and very lightly revised. Some new material was added like super-bases, but it still felt like less than a full effort - limited, in some way.

The latest version is much, much better and finally feels like a full, standalone, superhero campaign supplement for Savage Worlds. If the prior versions were like the early versions of Champions, this book feels like the SW version of the Champions 4th edition Big Blue Book. It brings together everything they've learned previously, makes it right, and presents it well. So...

  • If you are interested in Savage Worlds and super heroes, do not have any of these books yet, and are wondering where to start this is the one to get.
  • If you have NE and would like to broaden your horizons beyond that book then this is the one to get.
  • If you have the prior edition of the companion there is a free PDF containing all of the changes here. Note that it is 54 pages long so it was much more of an update than a few pages of errata and clarifications. 
I don't see myself running a pure Savage Supers game just yet, but that's not because of this book. It's mainly because Savage Rifts is coming later this year. I figure a superhero might show up in that game at some point and who knows - I might dust off Atomic City for a one-shot using these rules to help get us warmed up for that.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Meme-tastic Monday

(OK, they're not all memes but I think I covered all of the major food groups here)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Problem With Imperial Assault

We've had Imperial Assault for about a year now and we've played it ... once. I was discussing it with Apprentice Blaster last night and he came to the same conclusion I had without any prompting. It starts with this:

Learn to Play Guide, Rules Reference Guide, Campaign Guide, Skirmish Guide
Rules - gotta have the rules!

34 plastic figures
6 Heroes
9 Stormtroopers
4 Trandoshan Hunters
3 Probe Droids
2 Nexu
3 Imperial Officers
4 Royal Guards
2 E-Web Engineers
Mini's - welcome enough!

6 Hero Sheets
Sorta like character sheets ...

59 double-sided map tiles
Map tiles are cool and might have uses in other games

11 custom dice
Kind of a thing with FFG now

Large Cards (FFG Green Sleeves)
39 Deployment Cards (3 decks)
2 Skirmish Mission Cards
10 Story Missions
14 Side Missions
18 Agenda Cards
5 Reference Cards

Small Cards (FFG Yellow Sleeves)
54 Hero Class Cards (6 decks, 9 cards each)
27 Imperial Class Cards (3 decks, 12 cards each)
36 Item Cards (3 decks, 12 cards each)
12 Supply Cards
18 Reward Cards
12 Condition Cards (3 decks, 4 cards each)
42 Command Cards
This is where the trouble starts - there are typically 5 or more decks of cards involved in play all in very similar sizes, plus the one-off cards for the  mission and each character . It's tricky to keep up with which deck means what, especially with new players.

1 Initiative Token
1 Entrance Token
4 Activation Tokens
20 Mission Tokens (8 Rebel/Imperial, 12 Neutral)
8 Terminal Tokens
8 Crate Tokens
15 Condition Tokens (3 types, 5 of each)
12 Ally and Villain Token
45 Damage Tokens (35 1's, 10 5's)
35 Strain Tokens
20 ID Tokens and 60 ID Stickers
There are a lot of tokens in play too. This does not help with the visual complexity.

Luke Skywalker Ally Pack
Darth Vader Villain Pack
A nice little bonus for getting in early.

By the time you get it all set up, the playing area is littered with cards, tokens, tiles, and miniatures.

That is not a real example of play as even our first play-through involved more than what is shown there.

The problem we both see is that if I am going to go to the trouble of picking up a $60-100$ boardgame I'd like it to be something different, yet this has all of the complexity, style, time-to-play requirement, and expense, of this:

So if I am going to have individual characters running around with individual actions,abilities, equipment, and damage tracking, and where one player runs all of the bad guys and events while the other players run individual characters, why not just play the RPG? The boardgame even comes with a campaign of linked missions where the characters are awarded XP and credits! If I'm going to do all of that and put up with all of the cards and tokens and funky dice why not run my own adventures with a party of characters that the players made themselves?

This is our dilemma.

Also, there are expansions - just like an RPG. They're boxes instead of books, but you get the idea.

Not everything is negative. The game also has a set of skirmish rules of pointing up your own small rebel or imperial force and duking it out like a traditional miniatures battle game. This of course leads people to do things like this:

Now I already have a big box of pre-painted plastic star wars minis from the WOTC stuff a few years back, so the last thing I am looking for is a set of star wars mini's to paint, but the rules for this part of the game are a nice bonus.

In the end, we are going to try one more game and see how it goes but I suspect I already know the answer. If it takes the time an RPG session would take, has a similar learning curve, and feels a lot like an RPG but with less freedom, is that a better option for us than just playing the RPG?