Thursday, April 22, 2021

ICONS Menagerie


I admit I haven't run ICONS in a while but I still follow the game and figure I will probably run it in the not too distant future. A while back I decided to catch up on the steady stream of supplements that Ad Infinitum has been releasing and now I have a stack of books for ICONS sitting on the desk. As I work my way through them I will share my thoughts here. 

From the beginning ICONS was a nicely complete system. The original book managed to pack in some stock characters, animals, and supervillains on top of a complete superhero RPG. This made it easy to run right out of that first book. The Assembled Edition had even more of this kind of support built in. Additionally the game has never lacked hero and villain options with multiple books of those - a supers RPG staple - showing up in the first year ... which was 2010?! How has it been more than ten years since this game came out?  

Menagerie is dated 2020 so strong support continues into the now. If books of supervillains are the monster manual of superhero games then this is ... a lot like a monster manual for -other- games. A strong point - this is not just a bunch of statblocks. 

  • The first ten pages discuss how animals were designed for ICONS and their role in a superhero campaign
  • Then we get twenty pages of regular, real-world animals grouped by type. stats, powers, qualities, and a general description for each animal entry.
  • After this we have 5 pages of animal powers, including specific coverage of Animal Mimicry where a character's powers are based on directly duplicating the powers of an animal. This is a common enough thing that it's worth covering here especially. It's sort of a power framework or array (to steal terms form other supers games) that lets you turn that first part of the book into your own personal power catalog. Handy!
  • Next we have about ten pages of Prehistoric Creatures that hits all the expected notes and briefly discusses ways these things could end up in your modern day superhero game ... because with any decent GM you know they will.

  • Getting towards the back of the book we have Fantastic Creatures - this is your actual D&D Monster Manual section. Angels, Demons, Dragons, Elementals, Fairies, Undead - this is a solid representation of "normal" fantasy monsters and there are multiple entries for most of those categories. Much like dinosaurs a GM worth his salt is going to drop these in at some point. 
  • The last section, about 5 pages, is pretty much your typical sci-fi movie monster set - androids, robots, giant bugs, blobs ... all reasonable things to drop into a superhero campaign.

So it's a solid book and I think it's an excellent purchase for anyone running an ICONS game or thinking about running an ICONS game - because it will help spawn some new ideas. As always Dan Houser's art is perfect for this game and has only gotten better over the (ten!) years. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

40K Friday Late Edition - Imperial Adventures with 9th Edition 40K


Time to start catching up! We have been playing 9th edition here, pretty much since it came out. I've mentioned it but haven't done any battle reports but I'll think about posting some up in the future. For now I thought I would talk about some of the armies I've tried out so far.

Adeptus Astartes

For my first battle I took my ancient Howling Griffons out for their 9th edition of the game.  They've seen action in every version of the game so far - the record continues! I consider them at least semi-retired as I haven't added anything to them in years though I do occasionally contemplate doing a big new primaris update for them. The paint scheme is just a lot more work so that usually pushes me back from that idea. Anyway I took them against Blaster Eldar army and though I lost we had a good time figuring out the new objective system and all of the tweaks. "Edition bleed" is definitely a problem at this point but more games will help. 

Then I decided continuity at some level would help so I took the Crimson Fists out for a couple of games. In one of them I took a ridiculous Maximum Dreadnoughts list with a master techmarine with the "keeper of the ancients" trait from Psychic Awakening (these games were all before the 9th ed, marine codex release) and I lost again but it was a lot of fun to run 7 dreadnoughts in one fight. Now of course with the new codex this list would be that much more viable so it will probably show up again soon.

Warriors of Titan

After that I decided to bring the Grey Knights into 9th and took them against Blaster's Eldar yet again and let me tell you ... they are a ridiculously complex army to run. I was struggling for a while to keep track of all of the variables with them. Marines are fairly straightforward - each unit has a purpose but is fairly flexible so you can adapt in-game, there are a few important stratagems, and the chaplain litanies and psychic powers are mostly a bonus you work in where you can.

GKs though ... first off every unit has a weakened Smite + one power, but of course you can only use the normal powers once per turn. So the first part of the trick is allocating powers to your units based on what you think will be useful or important during the game. The second part is in-game knowing when and where to use each one - if I can only Gate of Infinity one unit across the board but I can see three units and situations where it would make sense ... it's easy to feel like you made a mistake as their psychic powers are crucial to their units. Making your Paladin squads +1 to save is a big deal. Jumping a Dreadknight from over there to over here to shoot up something and prep a charge is important. Psychic Awakening made things better in one way as now there are two separate disciplines to spread out in your army but it also made the decision making that much more complex. It was a lot of fun to out-psych the Eldar army for a change, but that didn't save me. 

Then there are the stratagems that are also crucial to making the army work, and some of them are significantly influenced by the Tides mechanic introduced in PA ... there is a lot to learn in playing a Grey Knights army effectively. With a typical marine army I would say most of what you need to know is on the datasheet and as I mentioned everything else is situational and a bonus. With these guys I felt like the datasheet was only one part of it. For example:

  • If I'm running my Fists and I have a terminator squad in deep strike I know what it can do. The main point of decision is when and where to drop them in. Once they land they're going to shoot stuff and possibly charge. I will know what the doctrine is, so I'll know if they get the extra -1 AP. The only other decision to make there is that I might spend a CP to use Fury of the First to improve their shooting. 
  • With GK Terminators I need to consider the same basics of when and where but I also need to decide if I want to change the Tide to the-one-that-makes-psy-weapons-stronger, then if I do I need to play the stratagem that makes all their storm bolters psy weapons for the turn, then I need to use their psychic power to give them a better save for a turn or maybe not if I'm going to drop them in behind some terrain and have an also-teleporting-in Librarian use Astral Aim so they can shoot through that terrain, but if I do that then the venerable dreadnought that was using it last turn will have to move to where he can see something instead of staying hidden. It's just a lot more complicated and you could potentially have decisions like that with every unit on every turn. 

I think the Grey Knights, more than any other army I have played, seriously benefit from playing them over and over to "see the synergies" and just know what they can do in any given situation. After two games I decided to work  more on building/painting/finishing the army since I had a touch of experience at least to inform my decisions. 

The Hammer of the Emperor

I then decided to try out Imperial guard. I have a lot of tanks and a little infantry and ... well, Blaster's Saim Hann force is damn strong against tanks. Lots of bright lances, a fair number of starcannons, some shining spears, a Crimson Hunter Exarch, and fire dragons in falcons ... it went pretty quickly in both games I played in with the guard. I took 3 Plasma Russes, 3 BC Russes, an Exterminator, a Command Punisher and a Command Demolisher, plus I also had two Manticores ... it didn't matter. I only have a limited number of infantry so I couldn't do a ton of screen and still hold objectives. I had 3 infantry squads and then a Chimera with 3 Ogryn and a priest - again because that's stuff I have - and it was blown open and everyone inside was dead on turn 2. We went big in this one at 3000 points and I did manage to kill his Wraithknight but it took so much firepower to drop it before it started wrecking my tanks that his bikes were all over me before I could do much of anything. I think the guard strats are on the weak side and I am admittedly new to using the army but it felt like I was fighting up hill in both games. 

Also ... "Expert crafters". If you've played Eldar in the last year or so you are probably familiar with this choose-your-own-craftworld trait because it's the one EVERYONE takes. One re-roll to hit, one re-roll to wound ... on every unit ... every turn ...

It makes a Crimson Hunter ridiculous as it's only firing 3 shots anyway. Falcon with a pulse laser + bright lance? Same thing. The on bright lance in a backfield Guardian Squad? Yep, he's going to re-roll. Wraithlord's bright lance? Him too. He took a D-cannon battery in some fights and of course they look like all-stars with these kinds of re-rolls. And if you miss or fail to wound with two shots from something important you have the normal CP re-roll available. Doom means at least one unit per turn is going to be a punching bag where everything gets to re-roll wounds too.

I even took custom regiment traits in the second game. One lets lets you repair your tanks each turn and the other let me re-roll the number of shots for all those tanks and artillery. It helped a little but not enough. I'm sure Guard would perform better with repeated play but I would need to add quite a bit to my unit options to really improve them. Bullgryn are a big unit right now and I have none. I only have one Chimera and only 3-4 squads of infantry and suspect at least Chimeras would help keep those guys alive longer. I took one Tempestus squad and some assassins in the second fight and I think they definitely have contributions to make  - figuring them out and getting better at using the orders here and there would certainly help. 

One example of the challenges here: the Vindicare assassin was up high in a ruin and sniped a jetbike warlock - yes! The very next turn he gets charged by the jetbike Autarch and he's done for the fight. He didn't die that first fight phase, but he can't beat an autarch in melee - even with his pistol -  and he can't get away because Bike Autarch is faster. Plus the Shining Spears were busy wiping out the infantry squads in the rest of the ruin so he wasn't going to live long anyway. 

So yes I did have a lot of fun shuffling through the Imperial deck these last few months but I did lose a lot while learning a lot and I learned to hate Expert Crafters.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Terminator RPG


So there's a kickstarter running right now for a Terminator RPG. It is past its goal so it should happen but it got me thinking about the whole concept. I was playing RPGs for years before the first movie and I don't remember a Terminator RPG before now  - how has it taken this long for someone to make a game out of this concept and universe?

First up, I have loved the movies since the beginning - the concept, the look, the hows and the what-if's ... it's a great idea. Loved the first and the second, really liked the third (and it took them around 20 years just to make 3), was not as big a fan of the 4th, was OK with the 5th though it had some problems, and I'm roughly ok with the 6th though it has some problems as well. There was a TV series too and it was interesting.

Now it appears they only have the rights to the first movie and the ... comic books? In the comments they mention that each of the movies is a separate license which probably explains why no one has tried this before. Sure the first movie sets it all up but for an ongoing RPG not being able to use the other 5 movies seems pretty limiting. I've never read the comic books so I have no idea where they take the story and I bet most of the people interested in the game haven't either. That said I like the approach:

In ‘The Terminator RPG’, you play resistance fighters struggling against the machine onslaught of Skynet in an alternative and post-apocalyptic version of today—the once "far future" of the 2020s. You can take the role of rebel time travellers sent back to various points in time to stop Skynet from altering history. You can even play natives of any historical time period, targeted by Terminators and trying to stay alive as a future hell is unleashed around you. 

The book is designed as a toolbox to allow the Director to create their own campaigns or one-shots, including detailed multipage campaign arcs, campaign seeds, mini-missions, NPCs, weapons, detailed locations, and enemy characters.

You have the option to play either pre-generated characters or to create your own—tailored to your preferences, weapon choices, and role within your team. If your character is killed, a new one can be brought in from the future, past, or present. That new character can be many things—including even an alternate you from a divergent timeline.

They are using their own in-house system which I have not read or played but I'd bet it will be perfectly fine if they're betting on it for a very visible game like this. 

Thinking about what I would actually run with this, well, I think it would be tough to run a long term campaign here. Between the one-way time travel, the lethality of the terminators, and the high-stakes nature of the source material - I mean, they either kill Sarah Conner or they don't - I would be aiming for a limited run, finite goals type of campaign. Something like a plot-point campaign in many of the Savage Worlds books and even there I'd be aiming for 6-12 "chapters" that would not take all that long to play through. 

Think about the basic scenario: Skynet sends a terminator (or three) back to Time Period X to eliminate someone important to the future. Are the players playing resistance fighters who are also making that one-way trip back? Are they playing "natives" to the destination time period? Does a mix of the two make sense?  

At this point it effectively becomes a Superhero scenario: The villain has a plan, the heroes must become aware of this plan, figure out the specific goals or targets, then they must undertake various actions to stop it. Unlike a superhero campaign though, once you stop it, that's pretty much the game. I suppose you could come up with some kind of Torchwood-style organization to deal with future time-traveling threats but that seems out of step with the source material where it's left to the crazy people and their therapists to watch for a return.

This is why I think it's best as a limited campaign and while you could play through a few different incursions - as happens with the movies -  I don't know how many times your players are going to want to play Man vs. Machine. You could certainly change up the time periods and the scenarios to keep it interesting ...

  • A Terminator drops into Germany in 1945. How does the basic scenario change in an active warzone? Plus, maybe this time he needs to keep a particular scientist -alive- to ensure the future goes a certain way. Could give your party a nice moral dilemma.
  • Maybe Skynet decides someone's grandfather is a better target and drops a cybernetic Austrian into the 1960's ... in Vegas ... and the target is a celebrity ... or a mob boss ...
  • Change up the location and make it more of a fish in a barrel scenario by having a T-whatever target someone on a cruise ship. Maybe it comes on board at one of the stops, or maybe your players think they are playing an entirely different kind of game until they find a spherical section of the ship is missing and things start to get dangerous ...
Those are just a few ideas for running something like the traditional Terminator movie scenario. 

I think a more practical use in a lot of ways is dropping a T-scenario into another game. 
  • One night the Super-base sensors pick up a temporal disturbance downtown and investigating heroes find a naked human fleeing the scene ...
  • Hanging out at a club in Night City gets a lot more interesting when a big guy walks in and triggers all of the security scanners then tosses the bouncers aside with ease ...
  • A group of people who normally wear primary-colored uniforms are doing some field research on the life of an important scientist via the Guardian of Forever when BLAM! A new mission to preserve the timeline ensues. 
I'm mostly ignoring the ridiculous 80s-centric crossovers you could have here too with Robocop, Predator, Transformers, GI Joe, and all of that ... then throw in a Stargate for good measure. I mean, once you make time travel a thing you open up a lot of possibilities.

The final main way I could see to running a Terminator campaign is the one where you might be able to do a long-term game: Human Resistance Wars. It's pretty much Twilight 2000 with robots ... shiny killer robots ... with lasers ...

Anyway I felt a need to ponder and ramble on this topic - more to come. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Catching Up

Dusting things off a bit here ... let's see ... lot of potential topics to cover here ... let's recap 2020 for now:

RPG's - last year was awful, my longest break in 40 years of tabletop RPG's. The Pathfinder 2E game petered out around March as I was preparing a revamp to turn our test run into a real campaign. Quarantine killed that option and I neither played nor ran anything for almost the entirety of the remaining year. Almost ...

Miniatures - well we got 9th edition 40k during the summer and with blaster still in the house we did get in some games and that made the lockdown situation quite a bit better than it could have been. I did get a fair amount of work done on some of my armies so that helped too. Not much Kings of War but I started a second army there just for the heck of it. Not much Age of Sigmar either as we focused in on the new 40K rules but I think that might change some this year. 

Boardgames - not a lot here. We've played some Command and Colors and that's about it. Lots of good options, but if it's just Blaster and I we tend to go miniatures. Twilight is not terribly interested in any of these options at this point so it's mainly the boy and I.

The rest of life, say the not-hobby part of life, was fine considering the circumstances. Socially, professionally, kid-wise things were all good to great so it wasn't a terrible year considering what some people were dealing with. So life is good and life continues.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Friday, December 18, 2020

40K Friday - December 2020


Well we haven't played a whole lot recently but some general army progress has been made... and not just with 40K.

  • 40K is still the big game here and we have played multiple games of 9th, I just haven't been posting them up here. For me it's been a lot of working on marines, especially with the codex out, and that will likely be a thing for quite some time. I've beefed up the Eldar a little bit (and played a few games with them too) and worked on both the Death Guard and the Nurgle Daemons too. 
  • Age of Sigmar - not a lot of action but I'm trying to get the armies into better shape. I added a lot of reinforcements, especially to the Stormcast, early in the year but a lot of it is still sitting on the sprue and not in playable shape. I need to fix that.
  • Kings of War - I dove into the undead army this year. Quite a bit of it is painted and now it's getting based up. So many skeletons ... The Orcs are in good shape forces-wise, I just need to get them based up as well.
  • Flames of War - a new itch. I've always felt I should have more historical miniatures than I really do and I've gone back and forth between Flames of War (bigger battles & more tanks) and Bolt Action (28mm fits better with all of my terrain and is better for any potential WW2 crossover RPG type options. For the moment I'm digging in to FoW and we're going to play some games with it first, but I expect to pick up some Bolt Action items as well. 

There are definitely some other temptations floating around out there. I've resisted adding any new 40K armies to the pile but with a new edition I have a lot of books to buy as they come out anyway. There's a new WW2 naval miniatures game out too from Warlord - well, a new edition of one anyway, and a fantasy ship game from Mantic I want to investigate but those will have to wait a bit. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Mutants & Masterminds Condition Cards


Something new here at the end of 2020 - something very useful in play! 

A lot of the action in M&M involves inflicting various conditions on PCs and NPCs. It's one of the reasons M&M is one of the few games where I like to keep  a computer handy but that's more for me to use as the GM. It's still tricky sometimes for the players to keep track of who is in what state and being able to hand them a card with the details on it is a huge win for everyone at the table.

There are three "types" to help make the searching a little quicker and they are otherwise self-explanatory. Including the "supersedes" note is a great touch. It's nice to be clear on exactly how things can get worse for our heroes.

As "conditions" have become a more common concept in RPGs over the last decade I have picked up similar types of products for Pathfinder and for D&D 5E and we use them in just about every session.

"...OK and now you're blinded"

"Uh, is that a -2?"


(Problem solved)

Now you absolutely do not need these to play the game. They are a "bonus" if you have a few extra bucks but they are one that in my experience is well worth it. They end up around $20 in a nice plastic deckbox with shipping and having gotten my hands on them I can recommend them without hesitation if you play M&M with any regularity.


Monday, December 14, 2020

Champions Complete


So ... it's been a while, but I have hopes of actually getting something going before the end of this wonderful year. Deprivation followed by a bit of hope  can send you to strange places so I found myself finally picking up a copy of Champions Complete!

First up it's funny how so much of this is still locked into my brain. I started playing Champions - 2nd edition, officially - about 1983 and the core of this 6th edition of the game is incredibly similar. Most of the changes are in details and clarifications, not in the way the game works. 

This book is a reworking of the 6th edition Hero System rules and the 6th edition Champions sourcebook to get back to giving players a one-stop source for "Hey let's play Champions" that does not require two big hardback rulebooks and another big sourcebook just to play the damn game. You know - like it was up through 4th edition. It's 240 pages long, softcover, black and white inside, and is listed at $30 though it can usually be found for less than that online at least. 

Side note: I bought this and the D&D 5th edition Eberron book on the same day from the same place and both of them were $22. The 5E book is hardcover, full-color throughout, and 1/3 longer. It's a clear demonstration of the power of the print run and scaling advantages. 

Hero 6th edition came out ... ten years ago. Sheesh. I stopped at 5th because I was still catching up with 5th edition and it's lengthy line of books when 6th was announced and I was also keeping up with 4th edition D&D and it's impressive run of books as well. Considering we never played Hero 5th, not even once, it made little sense at the time to me to start picking up a new version. Plus somewhere along the way I realized I would probably just use 4th and my damn-near-complete set of books for it if we got a serious Champions itch going. So I'm seeing some of the 6E changes up close for the first time. Thoughts below:

If you've played and remember the core of what Hero System is like from an earlier edition you will find it's very similar. The stats are very similar though the point costs are different as this edition has completely removed the whole derived stats concept. So if you want to make a character who is great at sleight of hand but terrible at dodging and shooting things you don't have to do anything complicated - you buy up Dex and do nothing for OCV or DCV. most still have a base value, pretty much what the old versions used if you had the human average of 10 in your core stats, but your character's Con, Body, Stun, PD, and ED are completely unrelated to each other mechanically. Dex is still an important stat but it's no longer the god stat that it was as it's unrelated to your CV's and your Spd. Overall I'm fine with this change as while it seemed intuitive back when it was new it does make some assumptions about characters and as time has gone on and more complicated concepts have emerged it's totally fine to de-couple these things. 

System-wise you still build a character out of points with a base allotment and then an expected amount from "Complications" - the new name for Disadvantages. It's a little more clear as a name for what it covers and I'm fine with that change too. There are actually fewer discrete complications than I recall because most of them are folded into Physical (which we always had), Psychological (which seems even broader than before), or Social (seems new to me but makes a ton of sense as a category) complications, plus the old standbys like DNPCs and Hunteds. 

You still have skills and they still work the same way with a 3d6 roll-under approach. A typical roll is still an 11-, with a familiarity being a fixed 8-, and a nice sidebar on what the various other levels mean and how you might rank up compared to the world at large. Levels are still a thing too and combat levels have been thoroughly fleshed out to where I think you can aim to achieve pretty specific things via levels alone. 

Powers and  power modifiers take up a big chunk of the book (as they should) and I don't see any problems here either. Some things have been combined or refined or clarified and I can see where they have tweaked some areas I remember being tricky or unclear. I have not really spent much time trying to recreate any old characters -yet- but I didn't see anything ridiculously different. Well, "Energy Blast" is now "Blast" - I mean it makes sense and that might have changed in 5th but it's been "Energy Blast" since I was about 13 so it stood out to me.

In fact, each of the "bigger" to my mind, or maybe "more complicated" powers has a very cool discussion of how it works and interactions with other parts of the game. Things like telekinesis and teleportation and even stretching are covered like this. A lot of powers that at one point in the game were described mechanically and left a lot of implications and loopholes for enterprising players to explore are much less so now with some discussion of modifiers included right there in the listing for the power itself. The improvements in this section are some of my favorite parts of the book. 

One other major flaw with Hero for me in recent years is the lack of a Fate/Force/Hero point/Bennie mechanic like most other RPG's have now and have had for decades in some cases. At the least they are a way for players to smooth out the extreme whims of the dice gods and in many cases they allow for some scene editing that makes a ton of sense in a comic book game. Champions hasn't had that ... but it does now: Page 130 of this book - "Heroic Action Points". It's not as completely fleshed out as Savage Worlds' Bennies or Mutants & Masterminds Hero Points as they are  straight-up 1 to 1 dice modifiers but it is a start and I could work with it from there. 

Final notes:

  • Yes, the vehicle construction and combat rules are included
  • Yes there are base-building rules included as well
  • Yes there are rules for heroic or agent level play with normal characteristic maxima, hit locations, bleeding, and all of those optional combat rule changes you sometimes see with that style of play.
  • There are some excellent, excellent examples of actual well-known comic book hero powers: power rings (built as a multipower and not a VPP - I was shocked), claws, invulnerable shields, web shooters, utility belts - solid solid solid.
  • The sourcebook section is a good start - types of characters, types of campaigns, villain motivations, and more. There are tons of additional material of this type in the Champions line alone, much less the universe of superhero RPG's but it is not wasted space here. 

In case it wasn't clear I am really impressed with this book. It is truly a one-volume rulebook for playing and running Champions. They actually did it! For context, the "normal" 6th edition rules were split into two separate books that are almost 800 pages long combined. The Champions book which is mainly sourcebook type material and not a duplication of the core rulebook material and adds another 300 pages. So, on some level here we have a 240 page book that accomplishes what you might have taken 1100 pages previously! The Hero bloat, especially with 5th and then 6th, was real. It's nice to see the realization of that and that action was taken for those of us who would like it to stay a game, not a lifestyle choice. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Cyberpunk Red


Well it looks like there is finally a release date for the tabletop RPG rulebook and there is a really nice overview here. Somewhat to my own surprise I am looking forward to this. We were always more of a Shadowrun group than a CP2020 group but I am really interested in where they take this one. 

More to come.