Saturday, April 1, 2017

Star Trek: Vanguard - 5 Years After

Here's a blog post by one of the authors on what is easily my favorite set of Star Trek books so far. It's a nice little read even if you haven't read the books as a lot of it is about what they are not going to do. Vanguard is a series that covers the characters and happenings around a new starbase in a new sector of space around the time of the original series. The authors position is that story is done - there will be no direct sequels and no follow-ups on the major characters in particular. Now some of the lesser characters do show up in other books, particularly the "Seekers" series but the Vanguard story is complete and will not be opened up again.

I really like that stance - "here is a complete work, it needs nothing further" is a rare thing these days where the brand and the franchise are king.

As a final take, if you're ever thinking about running a Star Trek RPG campaign, the series is worth a look just from that angle. Set it in a particular area of space with a recurring cast of ships, characters, enemies, colonies, and mysteries that they can get to know in detail. The traditional Trek campaign tends to be episodic and not very connected session to session but there are other ways to approach it and this series is a good example of what that looks like.

Friday, March 31, 2017

40k Friday - Iron Warriors Chaos Spawn

The last piece of this current round of Iron Warrior additions is my "Chaos Spawn".  The GW chaos spawn mini is basically a mass of tentacles or insect parts with legs. It's fine for general "chaos" but it seems out of place for this particular legion. The IW's are builders and make quite a few of the Daemon Engines that show up in chaos armies. While they have the chaos mindset, they do not have a ton of the physical chaos expressions. Why not take a theme of "spawn" as minor daemon engines? It sounded more interesting to me and that's how I ended up here. Those are Pathfinder miniatures Gorgons. They come already painted silver and washed in black (and have tiny red eyes!) so all I did was add the IW contrast colors of copper/brass - in a different pattern for each one - do the snow bases, then clearcoat the finished beastie.

In the game spawn are a cheap and expendable unit that is fast, tough, unpredictable, and fairly dangerous if they get into close combat. I think raging metal demon-bulls fit that perfectly. I like the rules and the look of these guys enough I may build another unit or two - a whole herd to unleash!

Technical Note: Current GW spawn base size is a 50mm round base for 40K. These bases are 50.1 mm. In my world that means "perfect match". In a tournament someone might complain, but I've rarely found a bigger base to be an issue - usually people whine about old mini's on smaller bases if things go that way. Regardless, I'll be darned if I'm going to grind down a circular base by .1mm!

Quick, easy, inexpensive, and looks good. Plus they can still be gorgons in a D&D game if needed!

The next unit on the table for the Iron Warriors is (finally!) the chaos biker squad! originally intended for my Death Guard army, I changed my mind as I was reviewing both forces and decided they were a better fit for the silver guys. They are gathered, partly built, and basecoated black at the moment so I may be able to show them off next week! That will finish out the Fast Attack element of the army so I am looking forward to that milestone.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

40K Friday - Thursday Edition - Havocs!

Another entry in the 'Finishing up the Iron Warriors" list - a squad of havocs with autocannons. These are the old 3rd edition metal guys but I like the shoulder-mounted look just fine. For most battles they will be parked in a ruin somewhere dumping Str 7 death onto the enemy from 48" away. That's the plan at least. Autocannon havocs are one of the best heavy support options for a Chaos Marine army and one of the few options that the loyalists do not have so I am pretty happy to have them finished.

The paint here is another round of my quick and dirty IW scheme: black basecoat, drybrush silver, pick out details in bronze/brass/copper, then do the snow base and wrap it all up with a clear coat spray.  It's not going to win big tournament painting contests but it's consistent across the army, looks how it's supposed to look, and is pretty quick to execute. This squad came out a little grungier than some but I'm OK with it.

I added a piece of hazard stripe decal to the squad leader as that's another Iron Warriors thing. I think when it comes to that look that less is more so here only the squad leader is getting that kind of extra detail. They did all get the IW "skull" decal but considering that it's silver and on a silver background it's hard to spot unless your fairly close to them.

The squad leader is giving a "come at me bro/kung fu challenge" type wave. It gives him a tiny bit more character and fits considering that a) he's almost always going to be the first guy in the squad to buy the farm and b) if he doesn't this is still a long-ranged squad and the path to ascension involves beating people in melee challenges so if he's not dead by the end of then fight he's damn frustrated.

While putting this squad together I picked up the Traitor Legions book and discovered the IW havoc squads get some nice bonuses. I had one missile launcher in a regular CSM squad (which I was going to swap for a plasma gun anyway) and one more in a box. Why not pick up another pair and make a missile-havoc squad? So that's the next project.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Campaign Concept: Rogue Trader as Guardians of the Galaxy. Also: Starfinder

A few weeks back I described my inspiration for a Rogue Trader campaign driven by Black Sails, Starz amazing pirate series. Over the weekend we watched Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time in a long time and I think I have found the inspiration for the opposite of that other campaign concept.

Black Sails is serious, gritty, full of scheming, betrayals, and violence.

Guardians is far less serious, not nearly as gritty, does have some betrayals, and does have violence. The movie does involve dealing with powerful artifacts and overly powerful opponents so it's a better fit than I thought at first glance.

Rogue traders do have less chance of being put in jail ...
So there are some common elements, enough to make a good game for sure, but the tone would be completely different. I think "grim and serious pirate" Rogue Trader would be significantly different from "comic book movie" Rogue Trader, to the point they might not even feel like the same game.

It's OK Captain Flint, let's talk through this.

Key elements of a GotG Rogue Trader campaign in my mind:

  • Characters are in slightly over their heads, despite being basically competent. Maybe they just recently fell into their positions and the campaign starts on "Day 1" of this new life.
  • Less concern about details, technology, and "realism", looser style
  • Action over plotting and scheming
  • Focus on organizations
    • name
    • goal
    • leader as recognizable NPC
    • one or two lower level members as recognizable NPC's to put a face on things
      (example of what this means: Guardians RT would probably be more "that's Zolo's ship!" than "that's the Red Fury!" when identifying a new arrival)
  • More emphasis on "doing the right thing", even reluctantly and less on "personal gain", comparatively
  • Humor - this would be accepted and encouraged as part of the feel of the game. The closes "other thing" to this kind of feel is probably Firefly - there are serious consequences to actions of the PC's but that's no reason we can't be funny in getting to them.
Organization + recognizable member NPC

There are some differences in the scenarios. A Rogue Trader has a massive crew - they would probably have to stay mostly in the background. It's a massive ship but it's still smaller than serious warships so there are still things you will need to run from. Just think if the Black Sails crew was put in charge of the Enterprise or a Battlestar vs. the Guardians crew - how would those two stories be different? 

Also as I started to think through this I wonder if GotG might be better 'adapted" to a Starfinder campaign. We don't know much about the game yet but a lot of Pathfinder and D&D games start with "out for gold" and end up "doing the right thing" not far into the campaign. 

Yep, that looks about right for a "First Contact" for a lot of my games ...

So I may have talked myself into thinking through a Rogue Trader-like campaign that may end up using Starfinder instead of RT rules to help keep the right tone. I suppose we will just have to see how they fit together when the rules come out.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Skill Checks, Degrees of Success, and Savage Worlds

Since skill systems became a near-universal thing in RPG's, most of them have been pass/fail. From Runequest, Star Trek,  and Hero through GURPS on into the d20 games, most games are only concerned with whether you succeeded or not. Some have a critical success or failure element, but most of the time that's tied more to combat than typical skill checks. A lot of the time, that's enough.

There are outliers.
  • The One-Roll engine covers both the "height" and "width" of each roll and those mean different things depending on the circumstances.  
  • FFG's Star Wars game adds various other factors in with their own dice so that interpreting a dice pool for that game is something of an art all on its own. The knock on it is that it's sometimes more information than you need on the routine stuff.  
  • Dice pool games form White Wolf to Shadowrun often include rules for multiple successes that indicate relative success or failure. This is definitely something to build on.
  • The old TSR Marvel Super Heroes had one of the cleanest systems: One roll gave you a white (failure) green, yellow, or red to indicate increasing levels of success. 
My interest in this springs from my current immersion in getting the Deadlands game off of the ground. Savage Worlds task rolls are dice vs. a target number of 4, and for every increment of 4 over that it's a "raise".  Now this most directly applies in combat but the mechanic is the same for everything.  In reading through the published adventures though there are a lot of handy notes like "on a success the characters find X, with a raise they also find Y".  

Given that you have, effectively, 3 levels of result from a skill or stat check: Failure, Success, Raise. Because of this I've been trying to think of results in terms of these three levels. Some typical examples where this comes in:
  • Perception Checks - probably the most overused skill in every game I've played, most of the time it's "you see the bad guys" or "you don't see the bad guys/trap/etc."   So what does a raise or an extra success get me here? 
    • Maybe a normal success is "you hear something" while a raise is "you see something". Especially in a night encounter or inside a dark cave. Maybe some kind of nightvision makes that "see" result possible with just a normal success.
    • Maybe a normal is "you see 5-6 guys standing around the campfire" while a raise is "let me put their miniatures out on the map in their exact positions. 
    • A lot of times these are opposed rolls vs. someone else's Stealth type skill so sometimes a higher result is its own reward. 
    • If the idea is to make it more interesting maybe a success is "you see these guys" while a raise is "you hear them talking about x". It might give your players a reason to listen a little longer before the inevitable gunfire or charge.
    • My 3 degrees here go like this (typical sneaking up on a camp scenario)
      • Failure = smells a campfire and that they're cooking something, maybe hear some voices
      • Success = There are several guys around the fire talking about how bad the food is and how they can't wait to get back to a real town
      • Raise = There are 4 guys around the fire, all wearing gunbelts and a 5th guy standing over by the horses with a shotgun

  • Knowledge checks - this is where I've seen some effort made in a lot of different games. 
    • Pathfinder sometimes has a little table: DC10 = some minimal knowledge about a topic, DC15=  more, and DC20 = all that plus more even more details. That's a toally playable system. 
    • This is an area where even failure should probably yield some knowledge. If nothing else I like to give the party a name of someone or something that could help. It's kind of a sideways local knowledge check too - "no, you can't recall anything in particular but you do recall there's a local mage/ranger/dog groomer who's supposed to know all about elven magic swords/the red eye orcs/ dire poodles. it's more interesting than a dead end and might give other characters a chance to contribute too. This could also be an organization or a location (like a temple) or an object, say a book.
    • My 3 degrees here go like this: 
      • Failure = don't know myself but I know how we can find out
      • Success = know enough to be useful, could go ask someone else given time and enough concern
      • Raise = know all that's useful or relevant to our situation, all someone else is going to do is confirm what we already know. 
  • Crafting checks - this doesn't come up as often as the others but when it does it's relatively easy to adjudicate
    • Failure = you're not done yet - needs more time. Critical failure  = you are done, you just broke it/ruined it/have to start over
    • Success = you made the bare minimum quality and/or amount that is supposed to come from the check. 
    • Raise/additional successes = it took less time or you made more of it than expected (or it has more charges if that's how it works)
    • Another option: A lot of computer games use quality levels for gear, typically something like White for basic, then Green, then Blue, then Purple, then Gold for increasing levels of quality. That's fairly simple to incorporate if you think it's worth the trouble. For something like a D&D potion, maybe it lasts one additional round for each quality level, or bumps the die type up for say a healing potion. Permanent gear gets a little trickier but there's usually some way to account for a really good roll. 
  • Physical checks - Sometimes these are the hardest to judge as far as extra success. "I want to leap from this balcony to that chandelier" is a fairly straightforward task.
    • Failure - A simple "you fell" on a failure isn't all that exciting. For a game like Savage Worlds I'd say this means you do it but you're hanging on by one arm, dangling in space and off balance. A critical failure or botch type result  = "you fell and looked clumsy doing it". 
    • Success = you made it, looked like you knew what you were doing, and it only took your normal move - what else are you doing this round?
    • Raise - you made it and swung it just enough to be in reach of the object you want to handle in a single impressive move. That might be a stab, a grab, or a drop to a slab.

Now I did not do nearly enough of this with Pathfinder, so I feel good that the new game is spurring me to pay more attention to this. I also am a big believer in that not everything needs a roll, and one roll should be enough. You shouldn't need a perception check to see non-invisible creatures moving around a well-lit area, and I don't care what the movement rules say you don't need 5 stealth checks to sneak up on the guards at the front door. Make one roll and get on with it!

Wrapping up - as a DM it's good to have something in mind/up your sleeve/in your notes beyond simple success or failure. I tend to prefer the "failure  = partial success" option, with a critical failure meaning no success and a negative impact as well, to the traditional pass/fail result. I'll try to point out some more examples as we play our way through The Flood. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Something New (-ish) for Monday: Old D&D Adventures from Goodman Games and WOTC

I'm a little surprised they're being this direct. Goodman Games is going to be doing "collector's edition" reprints of B1 and B2 (at least) with all of the original material plus 5E stats and some other additional material.

I'm ... impressed.

I thought we would be seeing more of the "re-interpretation" we've been seeing with their campaigns so far. It's an approach that covers both the nostalgia angle while still being "new" to a large degree. Handing it off to Goodman Games, the "retro" publisher (they print Dungeon Crawl Classics, among other games) means that WOTC isn't "wasting" their limited resources recycling old material. They're allowing and encouraging the kind of stuff some of us wanted for a long time.  It's remarkable how far we've come.

Yes, I will probably end up getting some or all of these. I've converted some of the old adventures for every single D&D campaign I've ever run and I think you could run a perfectly fine 5E campaign using nothing but converted AD&D modules.

This is a really cool development.