Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking back on 2015

Looking over at the side there I had about half as many blog entries in 2015 as I did in 2011-12-13-14. It was a busy year for other things so the blog became a bit less important than it had been. I'm not going anywhere and hopefully it will be a little more active in 2016.

RPG Stuff
  • I ran 9 sessions of Wrath of the Righteous and finally - finally! - finished book 2! Book 3 kicks off in a few weeks and I am hopeful that we can plow through book 3 (remember, there are six in a Pathfinder adventure path) before the end of 2016. I say finally but the campaign has been a lot of fun and everyone is still enjoying it. Red even got to make a return appearance for a session or two. Book 3 kicks off in a few weeks.
  • My friend Steve ran 8 sessions of Kingmaker and I was there for 7 of them. He had some interruptions too. It hasn't been a peak year for the gaming stuff for any of us but when we do get together we are having a blast. Hopefully 2016 is a little less challenging when it comes to schedules. 
  • Savage Worlds is probably still in the #2 spot for games I run here, after Pathfinder. I ran a short-lived City of Heroes/Necessary Evil campaign. Stuff-wise I added the third Deadlands campaign book (via the Kickstarter), got the hard copies of Hell on Earth from the Kickstarter campaign, and added the first two big Deadlands campaign books, Necropolis 2350 and Slipstream to the shelf.
  • I got to run a session of Marvel Heroic again and will be running another one this weekend to close out the first arc of a campaign we started in 2013. I don't know that I could run it continuously for years but as a single session or "burst" campaign it's a lot of fun. I do wish it was still being produced but I have enough material and ideas that I can play with it for quite a while.
  • I also got to run some Mutants and Masterminds with "Battle on the Bay Bridge" to potentially kick off an occasional side campaign.
  • We had our first session of the FFG Star Wars and it was good. Not sure I want to invest in the whole line just yet but the boys liked it and I can see some potential in the system.
  • Other stuff : 
    • I added some supplements and dice for Fate though I didn't run it at all
    • I didn't run it even once, but I did get the hardcopy of Spirit of '77. I need to prep the Apprentices with a viewing of Smokey and the Bandit and then I think we'll be good to go.
    • I added books to my LUG Star Trek collection, Mekton.
    • The main target for "acquisitions" was Pathfinder - running one and playing in another for the long term meant I felt like I needed to be more informed and aware of the whole system. I averaged more than a book a month for the year and now have all but a few of the hardbacks and all of the smaller books I consider relevant for the current campaigns. That's a good place to be. 

Miniatures and Boardgames
  • We did get into more boardgames this year with King of Tokyo, Imperial Assault, and Relic all getting some time. I'm hoping to work in a few more before we all head back to school and work.
  • We tried Age of Sigmar once. It's OK but no where near what Warhammer used to be as far as drawing me in for a fight. When it comes to our limited time I would rather play 40K.
  • Warhammer 40,000 continues to be our main game. It had peaks and valleys through the year but here at the end we've played a couple of more games and had a lot of fun so Apprentices' Red and Blaster and I have spent some more time building and painting to get ready for the next round. 
Oh you'd like that wouldn't you?

Looking back at least year's "looking ahead":

  • We did play some superheroes but could not sustain them as a regular scheduled thing
  • We did play some Savage Worlds
  • All of the rest pretty much went out the window as just keeping our main games going proved to be a challenge. D&D 5th edition is just not really grabbing anyone in my group.
  • 40K - yes!
  • Bolt Action - No!
  • I did look into the Robotech miniatures game, Star Wars Armada, and Dropzone Commander, but none of them really grabbed me enough to take the plunge.
  • X-Wing and Attack Wing both fell off of the radar. The boys just were not as interested in either one, even with the new movie coming out. It's a shame as both are good games, fast to play, and not terribly expensive to get into. Ah well, neither appears to be going anywhere so maybe they will pop back up next year.
Hopes for the new year tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Around the Tower

We've spent a lot of time getting ready for Christmas this year and work is still a daily thing until Christmas weekend so there have not been a ton of updates this month.

  • Movies:
    • I saw Force Awakens last week and I'm still trying to decide how much  I like it. No spoilers here - I'll likely post about it next week while I am off.
    • New trailer for Batman vs. Superman - Well that is a new wrinkle. Still not feeling Affleck as Bruce Wayne but I did like the snarky comeback in his conversation with Clark. Call me old school but I am also not thrilled about this interpretation of Lex Luthor either. I like Jesse Eisenberg but I am not liking what I see so far of the character.
    • X-Men Apocalypse - Like what I see so far. 
    • Independence Day - no idea. I liked the first one, not sure what this one is going to be but the trailer didn't really give me a "wow" feeling like the blowing up landmarks trailer of the original movie did.
    • Star Trek Beyond - Looks like we lose the ship right off the bat - great. Then we have Kirk or someone jumping a motorcycle - great. Lots of jumping in general - it's the X-games edition of Trek! And as much as I like the Beastie Boys I will say I never expected to hear them as the backing music in a trailer for a Star Trek anything! Very mixed feelings about the next Trek movie.
  • Games
    • Next session of Wrath of the Righteous will happen in January so all quiet there
    • Played another session in Paladin Steve's Kingmaker campaign - still having fun with that
    • Will be running another sesison of Marvel Heroic after new years to hopefully close out the arc we started a couple of years ago in this very occasional campaign. 
    • I've been focusing on 40K in the meantime so I will probably have some posts about that in the near future too.
  • Kickstarters
    • I was one of the many backers of the MST3K Kickstarter. I pretty much had to be as that was one of the mainstays of the 1990's for me. I'm glad that it did well and hopeful we will see something awesome out of it. Reality check: Yes, I will be watching everything they send me, old or new.
    • I backed the Battletech computer game Kickstarter and I am hopeful that we get something out of that's awesome as well. More 80's -90's nostalgia there too but the computer games were usually pretty fun and the guys doing this one have some experience and the right leadership to make it happen. Reality check: Yes, I will be playing this.
    • I backed the 1$ mystery RPG project Kickstarter  because ... what the heck - it's a dollar! I am curious to see what comes out of it - no specific hopes or wants on it, I am just intrigued enough to follow it. Reality check: Whether I play it or not really depends on what kind of game the creator makes. Regardless, I only spent a dollar, so even if he makes a game about nuns doing chores around the nunnery I won't feel too bad.
    • Finally, I joined the Runequest Classic Edition Kickstarter, partly out of nostalgia, partly out of collector-itis, and partly to keep a good thing going. I played a fair amount of Runequest in the 80's and into the early 90's and while I was never one of the fanatics about it I did think it was a good game with an interesting and original mythology paired up with mechanics that were just different enough from D&D to keep it lively. I sold off my last copy of RQ3 years ago so the opportunity to pick up a hardback copy of RQ2 and some supporting material at a reasonable cost was very attractive. I also like that the plan is to keep the game in print and supported and even though it's not my "main" game and never has been, I like it and respect it enough to help out there too.
That's it for now - more to come!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Trek Tuesday (on Wednesday) - DS9 for TNG

After finishing Battlestar Galactica the week of Thanksgiving Apprentice Blaster and I talked about what we might watch next - Star Trek? X-Files? Original BSG? As it turns out he's been in a Trek mood lately - he's even reading Vanguard! He read the first book in less than a week and took the second and third with him when he left last time. To give him some additional background we watched "Amok Time" and "The Tholian Web" and I figure that should give him some familiarity  with those elements when he runs across them in the books. All of this pretty much made it a foregone conclusion that we were going to go with a Trek show,

We've watched individual episodes of the Original Series and Next Generation and we've watched all of the movies but we haven't really tried to work through an entire Trek series yet. I thought about TOS but he's seen enough of those to get it. We talked about TNG but he's seen a fair number of those too. Enterprise and Voyager came up too but what I thought was the best option - and he agreed after some discussion - was Deep Space Nine.

Why? Well, for one thing I haven't watched much of it  since it was on the air the first time and I wasn't religious about it then, so for me it's a nice combination of interest and broad familiarity but not deep deep experience as it would be with TOS and TNG where I've seen every episode multiple times. For another the man behind the newer BSG (Ron Moore) was also a major player on DS9, so there may be some familiar themes showing up. At the very least there's a very strong serial factor.much like BSG. Finally, the later seasons do get into a war story that I remember thinking was pretty good and I know he will like it. Of course we have to get there first and I told him the shows builds up nicely, pays off on what it promises, and has a pretty decent finale too.

So we have started the first season of DS9. So far we've watched the two-episode pilot and the first two regular episodes. There's no Worf, no Defiant, no Great Link, no Dominion, and Dax is still Jadzia not Ezri - writing that list just reminds me how much this show builds/changes/grows during its run. The Cardassians are the designated bad guys, the Klingons have shown up once in the form of the Duras sisters, and Quark is not as sympathetic a figure as he will eventually become. I don't think any other Trek series shows this kind of "evolution" over the seasons. TNG gave us many of the important elements at work here, but DS9 is where we get to really dig into them. For example TNG gave us the Ferengi but DS9 is where they turn into an interesting, nuanced race.

I am really looking forward to making this journey again - this time with one of my kids. We have a sort of bet on whether we can make it through all 7 seasons by the end of 2016. I think we can, he's not so sure. Either way it will be fun to look back at this time next year to see how far we have progressed.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Chaos on the Bridge

I watched this new Star Trek documentary earlier this week. It's a recent add to Netflix - that's where I found it, anyway -  and thought it was interesting so I am sharing.

Chaos on the Bridge is a look at the first 3 years of the making of Star Trek the Next Generation. This is mainly done through a series of interviews with some of the major players from that time - cast, writers, studio executives, producers, etc. I think we all know those first couple of seasons are pretty hit and miss but I've never really dug into any of the "why" before. Now I have some insight.

A lot of those major players, including everyone from Gene Roddenberry to the various lawyers and writers and actors and executives, come out of it with some of their less-than-finest-moments recalled, but it does bring home that this was business, show business, and that for the people doing it is a job, not just a visionary creative exercise.

Now I admit there were times when it felt a little bit ... gossipy ... but it wasn't really venomous, just more insider talk than we usually hear openly discussed.

Also, it's hosted and narrated by William Shatner. I felt like he was probably smirking offscreen during most of the show but I didn't mind. I expect it's nice for him to be on the other side of some "expose" type talk about Star Trek that doesn't involve recalling how Captain Kirk really treated his crew.

Overall I thought it was pretty informative as to what was going on, how people felt about it at the time, and what they were trying to do. I liked it. If you have Netflix and you're interested in Star Trek, especially if you were interested in this show, I'd say check it out.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Week of Finishing

I took a week off last week - from work, from the blog, from as much as possible. We had all of the kids(they were all out of school), so I didn't get to stop being a grown up, but they are old enough now to make being off even more fun.

It's amazing how much you can get done when you have a nice block of mostly unscheduled time, some goals, and some determination.

  • In a manner of speaking we "finished off" my own personal miniatures and boardgame drought that's been on for a few months by playing a couple of rounds of King of Tokyo, getting in our first game of Relic (40K Talisman), and starting and finishing a game of 40K. We also worked in a session of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying for the first time in two years, breaking that drought as well! Its a lot easier to justify the shelf space these things take up when we're actually playing them and doing that made me pretty damn happy.

  • Early in the week we finished up the Hunger Games movies. Since this was the last one, I took a crash course in the story by watching the first 3 movies with Apprentice Twilight over the last couple of weeks and then the whole family went and saw the finale together. Nice. I feel that much more informed on a pop culture thing and something all of my kids have enjoyed. This month ... it's my turn (cue John  Williams theme).

  • Later I managed to finish reading the Star Trek Vanguard series. It took my quite a while as I worked in a few other books (and a lot of other rule books) in between. I really liked it, and it's by far the best set of Trek books I've read in maybe ... ever. I like the setting, I like many of the characters, I like the plot, and I like the authors (there are several) approach to the whole thing. I read a lot of trek books in the 80's and then got out of it for a long time. I tried getting back in a few years ago with some of the better-regarded book series but none of them grabbed me. This one did and I was very happy to discover there is a sort of sequel series set in the same area with some of the same characters - that's next year's read. 
Still an awesome episode
  • I have been watching Battlestar Galactica (the newer series) with Apprentice Blaster for much of this year and we were down to the "final season" of about 10 episodes at the beginning of the break and I asked him if he wanted to try and finish it up while we were off - "sure!"- so off we went with most days ending late at night with an episode or two knocked out. We finally finished up the finale about 2am one night and then talked about it for another hour. It was a lot of fun and we're already talking about what show to do next - Deep Space Nine has been mentioned.
    As far as BSG ... after watching it a second time much closer together than the 5 or 6 years it took to watch it live, I still like it a lot and hate the finale less - though it is still terribly flawed. It's easier to see the groundwork for some of the mystical stuff being laid if you know to look for it. Of course it's also easier to see the jump the shark moment which for me is when a certain Viper explodes somewhat unexpectedly. Those last few episodes are still really good though and the first half of the finale is just awesome. It does say something about the type of show it is when Gaius Baltar finally gets the girl he's been after since the very first episode while loyal Lee Adama ends up abandoned by his dad, his wife, and the girl he's loved all along. For all of its flaws I still really like the show. Now to convince Lady Blacksteel to give it a try ...

  • After 31 sessions, 18 of them in this book alone, we have finally finished The Sword of Valor, adventure #2 of Wrath of the Righteous! The campaign started in September of 2013 and we started Book 2 in June 2014. We had a lot of gaps, sometimes for months as life intervened, and it has taken way longer than it should have considering we aim for 2 sessions a month. We should be hitting session 50 or so, instead we just hit the 30's - but I can't complain too much. Having 3 consistent players running two mythic characters each (and with occasional guest appearances by other players) it's already pretty ridiculous when it comes to their ability to break the game - but we're all having a blast with it, so we will continue. I hope to achieve a more consistent pattern of playing next year and maybe we can crack 50 by this time next year, because at a year per book it's going to take 4 more years to finish this one up and Apprentice Blaster will be close to finishing college ...

  • Finally, the biggest wrap-up was Apprentice Twilight, my daughter, turning 18. The kid that originally moved me to "Dad" status is now a legal adult, is about to graduate and is headed off to college in less than a year. My kid can vote in that election next year. Time is a funny thing - some days I think about it and I can feel every single day since the day she arrived. Other days it feels like it has been a blur and I wonder when she stopped liking Barbies and where all of this, uh, "silver" hair came from. She had a happy birthday with the whole family around, and the rest of us were pretty happy too.
It was a very good week! More to come!

Bonus Finish: I also managed to finish up Season One of Agents of Shield last week and I finally like that show again. On to Season Two!

Monday, November 30, 2015


Gundalf the Grey welcomes you ...

Today is the 3rd anniversary of the shutdown of City of Heroes. That's not a good thing - well, other than that I am here to remember it.

Since the shutdown I've spent a fair amount of time in Federation Space with Star Trek Online and some in The Old Republic as well.

Captain Shamrock after a particularly exotic night out.
They are both fine, good-looking games and can be a lot of fun to play but there's still nothing out right now quite like the ridiculous versatility of City of Heroes and City of Villains.

Blue Aluminum Man - prepare to put it back in deep freeze!

One of these days something very close to it will come along I don't expect anything to perfectly capture the combination of fun, quality, atmosphere, and general good-natured-ness and awesome that was this game.

All good things ...

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Rifts House Rules - My Combat Cheatsheet Part 3 - 2015 Edition

Most of this page is taken up with the two critical hit tables - one for humanoid, one for vehicles. I spent a lot of time working these out and tried to come up with some concrete effects that could be fun in the game and give players a chance to decide when enough was enough and it was time to retreat. It also gave a parallel path for driving off NPC bad guys beyond just mowing through hundreds of MDC and many minutes of playing time. If you can blow out the power plant or kill the fire control or the main weapon systems, then the fight may well be over. It also gives a chance for some characters to shine by getting damaged systems back online - "Scotty I need warp power in 3 mniutes or we're all dead" just made the fight that much more interesting than yet another session of shaving down 500 MDC on that Northern Gun Explorer Bot.

The E-clip section is there because I don't like the pricing structure in the main book. I also wanted options for bad things to happen in combat and some specificity in charging up e-clips in the field.

The Armor Goop is my own creation from back in my first campaign in the early 90's. In a mega-damage world, your body armor effectively becomes your hit points, as no normal character can withstand even a single point of MD. Considering that a typical rifle does 4d6 MD per attack and a fairly standard set of MD Body armor has 50 points, with 80 being a "heavy" suit, it only takes one firefight to shred your armor. The armor repair rules in the book are limited and ridiculous and make no sense as far as field repairs so I decided we needed a "healing potion" for body armor, ala D&D. Thus, armor goop: It comes in a 1-meter tube (like a toothpaste tube)  about 6 inches in diameter and there's a spreading tool attached to the cap. After opening the cap the user can squeeze out the goop and spread it around with the tool. It takes about an hour to fix one suit of armor and the goop sets in about 4 hours. It fixes all but 1d6 of the damage to the armor, so the 50-point suit will have from 44-49 points after being "gooped" If it's gooped again before being repaired in a shop, it loses another d6.

The whole point of this is to allow players to have more than one combat before heading back to town to buy new armor, or having to haul around multiple sets of it. It does still put a clock on the players in that it's not a 100% fix, so they will eventually have to get some work done, but it prevents the momentum-killing post-combat regroup and retreat - instead the party just patches up overnight then continues.

Anyway that's the end of the Rifts bit for now. If anyone is interested I can put them up on a file site if they need a better copy. As you might guess I really do like a lot of the ideas in Rifts I just don't like the mechanical execution and expression of some of those ideas. Even when I'm not running or playing it, the ideas never stop for long. I've recently been re-reading the old Marvel Super Heroes RPG (FASERIP) thinking about using it as the introductory supers game for the apprentices, and it struck me that it might  be worth a shot at converting RIFTS to FASERIP. I'll let you know how that goes.

PDF link is here.

2015 Notes

I was pretty proud of "armor goop" when I thought of it. It solved a lot of problems.

The critical hit system is one more element aimed at making combat more than just an auction of people shouting numbers and throwing dice. It gives crits a meaning beyond "hey I did double damage" or something similar. Plus it can make a situation that looks like foregone conclusion a lot more interesting when the enemy's fire control is blown out due to a lucky shot. It can require some interpretation in some cases, but that's part of the fun, right? I would probably have refined it more given more time but it was a solid starting point.  

I also might have tried a fate point/force point/bennie like system that (among other things) would let players invoke a crit automatically - or fix one if they needed to. It would take some tinkering to get it right but it would help offset the worst  parts of the random side of the game. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rifts House Rules - My Combat Cheet Sheet Part 2 - 2015 Edition

Page 2 of the Cheatsheet covers the ranged attack modifiers, size modifiers (something else Rifts really needed), then the Defense and Damage process and tables.  So someone shooting will mainly look at page 1 while someone being shot will mainly look at page 2 - the goal was to not have to flip back and forth a whole lot.

A lot of this is purely my own addition to the game, and it can look like a lot but it's really not bad once a player has been through the sequence one time. Plus it's a lot more organized compared to the by-the-book system. Additionally my players like to know where they hit that giant robot - cockpit, gun, arm, leg. I have also found that hit location sometimes helps a fairly lethal game - it's better to lose an arm than the whole character most of the time, and in a world of magic and super-tech replacing it isn't all that hard. 

I will say that looking at it now that the DR/armor piercing thing might be a little more detail than I would want if I started a new campaign tomorrow. It is cool, but it is one more step in resolving combat that might be better left out. I wanted vehicles and robots to have more to them than a big gun and a 500 MDC main body, so detail was what I was looking for at the time - it might not be everyone's cup of tea. 

There's also the system damage section it makes more sense with page 3 which has the crit charts. More on that tomorrow.

PDF link is here.

2015 Notes

By section:

  • Ranged Modifiers - these are from the d20 SRD
  • Size Modifiers - also from d20
  • Defenses - mostly from Rifts with some details added in
  • Damage - Rifts + an Armor Penetration system. These used to be a fairly common mod for Rifts but I don't see them as much anymore.  
  • Hit Locations - mostly Battletech
  • System Damage - mostly homebrew with elements of multiple space combat games as inspiration

The AP system does add a level of complication to the game but I wanted to give certain weapons a reason for being "better" than a comparable weapon that did the same or more damage. Now there is a reason why railguns and plasma cannons are so widely referred to as "heavy weapons" in the game. Also, it makes magic and psi  that much better than the standard game and in my experience they needed some help. 

The System Damage ... system came about in an effort to make combat more interesting than just blowing off chunks of MDC. That makes for a boring fight. it is more to keep track of and it can get hairy for the DM if he has multiple vehicles and bots in play but that's what tracking sheets are for! This lets opponents knock out weapons and sensors and propulsion systems the way things happen in modern sci-fi shows and movies where people need to "get things back online" in the middle of a fight. It makes all those system, engineering, and repair skills useful in combat. It forces interesting decisions - if the robot's big gun is knocked out do you a) stay back and concentrate on fixing it, b) retreat, or c) stop worrying about it and charge in with giant robot fists? That's much more fun than "there's another 75 MDC". 

Main sources here: d20 SRD, Battletech, various Traveller space combat systems, and Rifts Ultimate Edition.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mid-November Superhero TV Update

  • I finally have had a chance to start catching up on Agents of Shield Season 1 and I can report that everyone else was right - it does get quite a bit better! Episode 13 is where it took off for me and started feeling both as smart as it should have from the start and like it was trying to get somewhere - like it had a point. I'm looking forward to finishing it and moving on to Season 2 now.
  • The Flash is continuing to be good - really good - and before watching tonight's episode, or any future episodes I am going to predict that Zoom will turn out to be Barry's dad or mirror-dad. Not sure why, and I've never read much Flash, but that's my shot in the dark speculation.
  • Supergirl - Like it so far, hope it continues to arc upwards. The main actress is growing on me and now seems to really fit the part. It has a lot of promise, but a crossover with Flash would blow the whole thing wide open and make the show a thousand times better. Fingers crossed. 
  • Ash vs. Evil Dead - What can I say? this is a show that looks like a game I would run! Maybe some games that I _have_ run! I have no criticisms so far. It's Ash! The Boomstick! Deadites! On movie-cable TV! Just the fact that it exists makes me happy.

Rifts House Rules - My Combat Cheat Sheet - 2015 Edition

Having settled the ability score issue, I decided that initiative was getting to be a problem as it's not unusual for characters to start with 4 to 6 attacks and for creatures and NPC's to have just as many. If you just cycle through them one after another then having multiples doesn't really make a difference. If each character gets all of their attacks at once they can explode for horrendous amounts of damage before some characters get a chance to act. Plus either approach can get fairly chaotic with an 8-player group which was what I was running for at the time.  This was unsatisfactory and demanded a better solution.

I looked through my numerous books and decided that the minion of splugorth had the most attacks of any creature they were likely to run into at 15 - that's 15 attacks per 15-second melee round. I dusted off the Hero system Speed Chart, extended it from 12 segments to 15 and there I was. For my Rifts, # of attacks was now = to Hero's Speed stat and I had a nifty chart to go along with it. Since I was going to have to hand it out to my players anyway I decided to go ahead and make it a full-blown combat cheatsheet, which is what you see here.

By section:
  • Initiative is just explanatory
  • Movement is 100% Rifts, I just added the formula for figuring MPH vs. in-game speed
  • Attacks is a checklist to make sure no modifier is left behind
  • Other Actions is to remind players there are things to try besides pulling a trigger
  • Attack Actions spells out the process for Melee, Single Shots, Bursts, Missiles, and called shots, because sometimes it's nice to have a clear list of these kinds of things and people tend to forgo them if they aren't sure how they work. 
PDF link is here.

There is more to the cheatsheet - more on that tomorrow.

2015 Update: There's not much here I would change if I was still going to use the original system. Like any set of house rules this is seasoned to my personal taste and I'm sure additional playing time would have generated some additional changes. That said it puts just enough sanity, or enough "system" in place over the base Rifts system that it was comfortable for me and my players to use. 

I had considered going even further into the Hero system adjustments and incorporating specific combat maneuvers with set modifiers  (Block, Move Through, Haymaker, etc) but I decided not to at that point. For anyone interested in adding more "system" to the game, that might be a direction to consider. 

Main sources here: d20 SRD, any Hero rulebook, and Rifts Ultimate Edition.

One note from experience - you can use a grid to show relative positions in combat but much like a superhero game the speed and ranges involved in a typical Rifts combat mean that heavy/tight usage of the grid is pointless. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Rifts House Rules - Ability Scores - 2015 update!

2015 note: Ok this part really hasn't changed but it's important for understanding the posts that will follow so i wanted to put it up first.

Rifts and house rules are inevitable in my mind. It feels a lot like the old days for D&D when systems were much more malleable than 4th or even 3rd edition. There are several areas where I feel  some changes make for a better game. One of the changes I have made is to ability scores.

Rifts has always been confusing as far as stats, bonuses, and when they apply, plus the method for rolling is odd. Humans roll 3d6 for each stat but if they score a 16,17, or 18 then they get to add an additional d6. I scrapped this for 4d6 drop the lowest. Rifts actually has some skills (Physical Skills) that can be selected to add to certain attributes, so if you want a Physical Strength of 20 it's easily accomplished by rolling a decent score and then choosing weightlifting, boxing, etc.during skill selection. One problem solved.

Nonhuman races roll differing amounts of dice  - Ogres might roll 4 or 5 dice for strength, Orcs might have 4d6 for Physical Endurance, Pixies might only roll 2d6 for strength - I'm fine with that approach and leave it as-is.

Now that stats are a little more "regular" let's get some decent modifiers for them. I pretty much adapted the d20 ability score modifiers wholesale. My players and I were familiar with them and they do make the full range of scores count for something. So PS of 10-11 = +0, 12-13 = +1, 14-15=+2, etc. A Physical Strength of 40 now has a +15 modifier - but to what?

Rifts has a somewhat arbitrary division when it comes to combat, the infamous "Mega-Damage".  The ideas is that some super-high-tech weapons and powerful magic just operate on a while different scale than conventional weapons like guns and swords. It's an important part of the setting as characters cause superhero levels of damage without technically having superpowers.

For some reason though it was decided that mega-damage guns don't work the same way as regular ones so the Physical Prowess bonus doesn't count when using MD weapons. This makes little sense to me and additionally it makes character abilities like a high Prowess  less important than equipment bonuses like a +1 for a laser sight. The game also forbids adding character strength bonuses to MD melee damage, instead referring to a chart for punching damage based on strength number and type - yes there is "regular" strength, "augmented" strength, and "supernatural" strength - which all kind of matrixes together to tell you whether you do 1d6 or 2d4 or some other slightly different amount of damage.

I scrapped all of that.

  • PS (Physical Strength) adds its modifier to all HTH combat damage. 
  • PP (Physical Prowess) adds its modifier to all to-hit rolls and dodge and parry rolls. 
  • IQ (Rifts version of Int) and PP both affect initiative rolls.
  • IQ adds to the base percentages for skills
  • Mental Endurance (ME) adds to saves vs. fear and magic
  • Physical Endurance (PE) adds to saves vs poison etc.
  • Mental Affinity (MA) [Charisma] adds to reaction adjustments

Pretty much what you would expect them to do based on D&D style modifiers.

One reason for adding the strength bonus to all damage is that a mega-damage sword does about the same damage as a D&D sword but the MD armor you have to cut through starts at about 50 points for almost anything and rapidly scales up from there. Rolling 1d8 to beat down 50 points takes a long time. Considering that many PC's will be in the 20+ strength bracket, adding a +5 or +10 to that really helps keep the game from dragging and actually promotes the more frequent use of HTH combat that the game background seems to suggest. It's also one less fiddly rule to worry about.

Adding the PP bonus to all to hit rolls also ensures that hitting isn't much of a problem when you have the 30 PP Juicer going against the 10 PP mercenary. Rifts uses opposed d20 rolls in HTH as the attacker rolls to hit and the defender rolls to parry, high score wins. Classes, skills, equipment, and race can all add various bonuses to attack and to parry so adding in one more bonus from PP doesn't really upset things.

In the end it was more natural to my (then) 3rd edition D&D crew to use these modifiers and it kept combat flowing a little more smoothly. I still wasn't satisfied though as combat  still confused some people as all PCs end up with multiple attacks and hit locations were still causing trouble. More on that tomorrow.

Rifts Update Week

I've received a fair number of requests for a better version of my cheat sheets for Rifts and though I do not have the original files any more I have finally re-scanned them at a much higher resolution and turned them into PDFs. To get them back to the front of the blog this week I am re-posting and annotating my original entries from five years ago. It should be fun, and hopefully will make them more useful for anyone who is interested in a usable copy of them.

Friday, November 13, 2015

40K Friday - Eldar Allies

So what do you do when you end up with a nicely painted tank that doesn't really fit in with the rest of your force? Build up an Ally force!

So I had a nicely painted Falcon I picked up as part of a deal. It's done in Iyanden colors and I decided some time back not to paint my Eldar as Iyanden. So ... orphaned Falcon - what to do?

Well I also have some very yellow Fire Dragons...

Fire Dragons are the perfect unit to transport in a Falcon and the colors line up nicely. That gives me a heavy support slot and an elite slot. I need an HQ and a troop choice to make this work. HQ is easy enough...

I had a spare Farseer and I though about painting him up in Iyanden colors but I decided to continue the tradition and pick out a painted one instead. Now I need troops.

Minimizing point cost and effort-to-field I picked up a painted Ranger squad. That's enough to make it strictly an ally only force as you only need 1 HQ & 1 Troop unit to achieve that. In the interest of flexibility though I decided to add a second unit, a nicely painted squad of Dire Avengers. Now I could potentially field the group as a normal CAD.

The original theory here is that this is a nice little self-contained anti-tank force and a psyker/sniper team. It could really be used with any army as it doesn't need to interact with anyone. The Falcon zips across the board, drops the Dragons, and both units then annihilate whichever target is deemed worthy. The Ranger squad hangs out in some ruins or woods, likely on an objective, and pops targets as needed. The Farseer could go with the Dragons or stay with the Rangers depending on the needs of the fight.

Then I went and added a pair of Wraithlords. Now we're starting to make the turn towards becoming a "real" army.

Here's how it shapes up right now:

1 Farseer (HQ) @ 120 Pts
     (character); Ancient Doom; Battle Focus; Fleet; Independent Character; Runes of the Farseer; Psyker (Mastery Level 3); #Ghosthelm; The Spirit Stone of Anath'lan; Rune Armour; Shuriken Pistol; Singing Spear; Warlord

5 Dire Avengers (Troops) @ 65 Pts
     Infantry; Ancient Doom; Battle Focus; Fleet; Defence Tactics; Aspect Armour; Avenger Shuriken Catapult; Plasma Grenades

5 Rangers (Troops) @ 60 Pts
     Commander: None; Infantry; Ancient Doom; Battle Focus; Fleet; Infiltrate; Move Through Cover; Shrouded; Mesh Armour; Shuriken Pistol; Ranger Long Rifle

5 Fire Dragons (Elites) @ 110 Pts
     Infantry; Ancient Doom; Battle Focus; Fleet; Assured Destruction; Heavy Aspect Armour; Fusion Gun; Melta Bombs

1 Falcon (Heavy Support) @ 125 Pts
     Commander: None; Vehicle (Fast, Skimmer, Tank); Capacity: 6; TL Shuriken Catapults; Scatter Laser; Pulse Laser

1 Wraithlord (Heavy Support) @ 160 Pts
     Commander: None; Monstrous Creature (Character); Ancient Doom; Fearless; Flamer (x2); Starcannon (x2)

1 Wraithlord (Heavy Support) @ 180 Pts
     Commander: None; Monstrous Creature (Character); Ancient Doom; Fearless; Flamer (x2); Eldar Missile Launcher (x2)

Models in Army: 20

Total Army Cost: 820

At 820 points it is fairly "heavy" for a small army. With a bunch of anti-tank and a sniper unit it should be fine against tank armies and monstrous creatures. I think horde armies would give it a lot of trouble but then again at 800 points how much horde could you be facing? That's one of the reasons for taking the dual missile launchers on one of the Wraithlords - flexibility and to try and help  vs. armor, hordes, and air units.

As an ally force it could be as cheap as 400 points for Farseer + Rangers + Falcon + Fire Dragons. That adds a significant amount of anti-tank to any other army, plus a nice psyker. My orks might appreciate that kind of help.

For the future I don't feel a tremendously pressing need to expand this army but I do have some ideas:

  • A Spiritseer would be a slightly less expensive HQ for this force, flavorful,  and probably still very effective. 
  • A second Ranger squad would be an even cheaper troop unit to allow it to incorporate more heavy or elite units - if only they weren't so terrible under the current rules.
  • A Crimson Hunter would be a nice tool to have in the toolbox as an ally force and as a full army.
  • Wraithguard would up it's power quite a bit and are the obvious thing missing to make this even more of an Iyanden themed army.
  • Wave Serpents are pretty much required if you're going to field Wraithguard so they are definitely on the list. They would make the Avengers more mobile too.
  • A Wraithknight - well, maybe some day. It's another thematically appropriate unit and a very effective one too. 
I am not terribly interested in adding Guardians, Jetbikes, Artillery, or even most of the Aspect Warriors as this is supposed to be a simple side force while I paint my main Eldar army. Vehicles and wraith units will be the priority if an opportunity arises. I don't need to turn it into one of the other formations from the codex - a traditional CAD is fine.

In order to not split my focus I decided a while back to only add painted units to this army. So to some degree, this army's growth depends on what I find and when I find it. That keeps my army ADD under control and it also avoids adding any more to my already impressive backlog. I do need to unify the basing and that may happen as soon as this weekend. Right now I'm leaning towards snow but I won't really decide until I sit down and start digging in.

That's the update for this week - next time we will talk Iron Warriors!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Rifts Flashback - Stat Sheets

In 1990-91 Rifts was only the main book + the Sourcebook + Vampire Kingdoms, at least for a time. We were having a lot of fun with it but even then I was trying to find a way to manage the numbers in combat and help players keep track of their vehicle stats. Now I didn't have a PC but I did have my aging Commodore 64 and an alternate operating system that had gotten popular a few years before - GEOS.

GEOS turned the C64 into a very Mac-like device (well, 1980's Mac) with WYSIWYG word processing and some paint type programs that were pretty cool for the time. Availability met opportunity and I started making reference sheets:

There's a lot of stuff to keep track of but I managed to fit it all on to one sheet. Ranges, sizes, damage capacities, weapon details - whew! This was for one of my player groups.

This one was mainly for me. Sheet protectors and overhead markers made them reusable.

Another one for one of my players occasionally used for opposition as well. I was clearly having fun with  different font styles and sizes.

The skelebot sheet got used a lot as I thought they made great opponents plus I had visions of the future war scenes in Terminator 2 which was a big deal at the time. Admittedly at 5 attacks per round they could get pretty nasty but I only had to have one mostly-dead party to figure that out. Not running a full squad of 8 made a big difference.

With the sheet protector approach these sheets were still clean and used through most of the 90's.Heck, they're still clean now! They're just printed on that really thin fan-fold paper we used to use back then so they've yellowed and faded a bit. I've cleaned them up just a little in the scans here, but not too much. The C64 itself was lost in a fire a few years later but the sheets live on!

Anyway, this is what cutting-edge game aids looked like about 1991!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Mutants and Masterminds - Freedom City Year One: Battle on the Bridge!

The infamous Doctor Zero returns!

(actually it's his first appearance in my campaign - but he's been written into history!)

I recently ran a two-session episode in my very occasional Freedom City campaign using Mutants and Masterminds (second edition). I am hoping this leads into more frequent dips into this pool but only time will tell.

The setting: Freedom City, early 21st century. I am not setting a specific date on these as a) it's a comic book campaign and b) I figure I will retcon them into some kind of coherent timeline later

The heroes:

  • U.S. Patriot - a scientist who becomes a star-spangled super-man when needed
    (In M&M terms, a Paragon (Superman) type. Played by Paladin Steve)
  • Emerald Blue Defender - an alien guardian who crashed literally minutes before the attack on the bridge. The crash seems to have disrupted his identity a bit as he gives several different names during the action
    (In M&M terms, a Ringbearer (Green Lantern). Played by Apprentice Blaster)
  • Crimson Avenger - the mystic myrmidon dedicated to defending the earth
    (In M&M terms, a Mystic Battlesuit (Iron-Mannish). Played by Apprentice Who)
As our heroes go about their usual business - Patriot is at work, Avenger is at school, and Defender is spiraling out of control through the atmosphere - a report comes in about some kind of trouble on the Centery Bridge. A traffic copter report provides audio and video of the scene as strange insect-like mechanical forms swarm over the bridge and the vehicles crossing it. Overseeing it all, a huge tripod vehicle stalks across the structure and rants on about how Doctor Zero will finally have his revenge! Seeing this, the heroes swing into action!

As they arrive on the scene, Defender and the Crimson Avenger land on the bridge and begin slicing up, TK-tossing, and blasting the car-sized insectoid robots. Patriot, sensing the root of the problem, swooops down and lifts the walker into the air. Over the next few minutes Defender saves some encircled cops and rescues an injured driver while Avenger saves a minivan full of kids. In between, both of them smash multiple bug bots but are barely making a dent in the overall situation. Patriot takes the full force of Doctor Zero's wrath as he is blasted by various beams and rays emanating from the control pod of the walker. 

While this is going on all three heroes realize the bots are not just randomly tearing up the bridge but they are breaking down the vehicles and even parts of the bridge itself and constructing more bots! This problem could quickly scale out of control and threaten the entire city if it's not contained!

After managing to slow down Patriot with one of his many beams, Zero ejects the pod from the rest of the tripod and rocket-boosts down towards the bay, hoping to escape. The mighty chemist shakes it off and re-engages, grabbing the spherical pod tight enough to leave handprints in its shell. Then with a grunt he steers the pod up and over and slams it down onto the bridge. The material is too tough to smash outright but the Doctor is going nowhere now.

The heroes realize that tackling the bugs directly is a losing proposition. They team up to crack open the shell of the walker control pod but as Patriot peels back the canopy Zero lets loose with a maniacal laugh as he presses a button on his wristband. The bugs stop moving and begin emitting strange noises that mere into a slowly building tone ... almost like an alarm. 

“Now you will see the price of opposing me! That self-destruct signal will cause the power cores in my Bugbots to overload until they explode! In moments, this bridge will burn as a fiery monument to my genius, a pyre to light the very heavens! And there’s nothing you can do to stop it! The world will remember the name Dr Zero! Farewell ‘heroes!’”

Now concerned for far more than medium-scale property damage the heroes come up with a plan. Crimson Avenger uses his magical powers of thought-movement to sweep the bots into a pile as defender assists and then encloses them in a giant blue energy sphere. Patriot hoists the whole thing up over his head and lifts off. Avenger assists him, arms extended and trembling with power as Defender flies alongside to maintain containment. Their best guess is that they need to be 3 miles up (to prevent blast damage to the civilians, the bridge, and the city) and over the bay (to prevent damage from falling debris) and they only have seconds to do it. 

Three forms streak into the morning sky beneath a huge, glowing sphere, then are eclipsed as a massive explosion. A last-second "heave" by all three heroes tosses the bubble far enough that no one is harmed by the blast, not even themselves. Some bot-parts do rain down into the bay but boat traffic is light and no bystanders are harmed. In the confusion, Doctor Zero has disappeared. 

The three heroes return to the bridge to help the police get traffic moving again and to see to any damaged cars or injured civilians. Defender and Patriot find that they work well with the police but Avenger is less friendly and not sure that he wants to get too close to the authorities.

Today is a good day though. The city is saved, people are grateful, and their work here is done. As they depart, all three agree to meet again and set up some form of communication in case they need to act as a team once more.

DM notes: I used "Battle on the Bay Bridge" from Lame Mage Productions for this as I think it's a great introductory adventure. DTRPG link is here, though I don't see this adventure in the mix or on his site. There's probably not a ton of demand for M&M 2E adventures these days but I have been waiting years to run it and I am very happy that  I finally had a chance to do so. 

First question: "How much does a bug bot weigh?" This of course is not included in the stats, despite this being a nicely written and noted little gem. I know how much cars weigh, and the bots are car-sized, so I went with a number that made sense to me. Second question: "How much does the walker weight." Sigh - this is totally not car-sized so I actually had to look up size and weight rules for M&M and after that it all worked out. Note to self: Super-strength guys and Telekinesis guys are always going to want to pick stuff up and fling it about so remember to note down weight in advance where possible.

I was pretty proud of them for coming up with a solid solution to the problem so quickly. Playing videogames or even the same RPG or boardgame all the time can channel one's thinking. A good superhero session encourages wide-open thinking about how to solve problems.

Everyone had a pretty good time and some of the characters have been used in prior M&M one-offs so we are developing a little bit of a history here. Ideally this will be the gradual coming-together of a team of superheroes who will take over protecting Freedom City from the current Freedom League as they move into dealing with more global threats.  

I also finally managed to figure out how to run vehicles and minions in Hero Lab too which made the numbers much easier to keep track of in play. 

Overall it was a big win and we're hoping to work in more sessions in the future. Time is clearly the ultimate arch-nemesis of most of us grown-up gamers.

Friday, November 6, 2015

40K Friday - Even More Marines

I haven't played 40K in months, so updates here have been sparse. I tried out the "new" Orks against Apprentice Blaster's Eldar and took the worst beating I've had in years - not sure I'm going to put that one up online. That was in August and we've done zero 40K since then. I have added units to some of the armies but even that has been down - not playing = not as anxious to build & paint.

I'll have more on the new acquisitions in a future post but I have seen one new 40K item that's coming out and that's the new Horus Heresy boxed set.

Details on the contents can be found here and I think it looks pretty interesting.

  •  First up, it's a big boxed set of a bunch of older style 40K marine figures, so it's a nice thing to bolster an existing marine army. Considering I have about 5 of those I'm eyeballing it for an efficient means of mixing in some older marks of armor to my forces.
  • Second, it is from the time of the Heresy, so all of these models will also work for a Chaos army. I have a pair of those as well so that could be fun too.
  • Third, it is not a 40K starter set - it is a boardgame similar to Space Hulk which is set in the 40K universe and uses 40K style minis. That makes for a nice taste of 40K without as much setup and rules fiddling and army building. I doubt that it's going to be comparable to a lot of modern 1 hour or less boardgames but it's likely to be quicker than a 2000 point 40K battle.
So while I don't exactly need "more marines" these are more interesting than basic tacticals. Mix in an older mark of terminator armor and a plastic Contemptor Dreadnought and this a very interesting set. I'll also be curious to see some reviews of the actual game.

More next week!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Why I Like Rifts: The Coalition

In any epic story, you need bad guys - the opposition - the villains. For Rifts, this is the Coalition:

  • Not just black hats but black armor - check!
  • Skull motiff - check!
  • Technologically advanced - check!
  • Human supremacists in a world full of alien races - check!
  • Hated and feared by many who live outside the organization - check!
  • Led by an Emperor who rules the place with the help of secret thought police - check! 

So they cover all the basic things one would expect from an evil empire.

In a lot of really good stories though, you need villains who are more than just ... bad. They need to have some motivations that are at least understandable, if not downright sympathetic. Two of the best examples are from the superhero world - Magneto and Mister Freeze:

  • Magneto (especially movie Magneto) is a villain but is somewhat sympathetic as having been through a concentration camp once he's not going to let that happen again to his new race. You can argue with his methods, but the motivation is at the very least more nuanced than a quest for money and power. 
  • Mister Freeze (and I'm mainly using Animated Batman Mister Freeze here) is attempting to save his dying wife. His thefts are all built around this goal. He is not trying to change the world itself and is not just a greedy guy with some advanced technology, but he has a very personal goal and won't let anything stop him from achieving it.
The Coalition is all of the things I mentioned above but it is also the last defense of humanity against an invading tide of hostile beings, from insane mages, to warped psychics, to demons and dragons to mind-bending creatures from other dimensions. No other power in North America is capable of standing up to these things, let alone stopping them, other than the Coalition - the much-hated, black-armored, skull-helmeted coalition. Those soldiers aren't fighting just to be mean to people - they are protecting their families and friends back home from horrors humanity never had to deal with prior to the coming of the rifts! It's quite commonly viewed as a defensive war - everything was fine, then the rifts opened up and these things came through and started killing people and we are doing everything we can to survive and retake our home. If it's us vs. them then the humans of the coalition will happily take "us". The main point here is that they are completely right - from a certain point of view.  

So they raise up the dog boys, train up the psi-stalkers, build skull-themed power armor, tanks, aircraft, and giant robots, convert wounded soldiers (and crazy volunteers) into cyborgs to continue the fight and they can see themselves as "in the right" as much as anyone on the planet.

Now sure, you can play the Coalition as Cobra to your PC's GI Joe, clueless, blundering, schmos with leaders too busy scheming for internal power to really accomplish anything and if that works for your game that's fine - I myself don't want a debate every session as to whether it's OK to shoot them or not - but they can also be more. 

You can play around with characters and morality if your players want to go there. Uneasy allies, the blackest of blackhearts, noble opposition - they can be all of these things. If enough of the grunts and low-level leaders can be educated that not every non-human is out to destroy humanity, maybe the whole nation can be saved ... or maybe there would have to be a leadership change to make that happen! But ... would weakening humanity's shield to make that change damage its ability to stop Atlantis and the Splugorth or the Vampires of Mexico or a re-formed Federation of Magic? What if the price of enlightenment is the death of millions as the enemies of the Coalition swoop in on their old enemy, weakened by civil war?

There is so much potential there.

That's why I like them and why I like Rifts.