Friday, January 13, 2012

ICONS Supporting Cast #1 - Billy Mack

(A lightning strike of inspiration during a drive into work this week)

Billy Mack -  A Detective Down in Texas

Prowess - 4 (Good) He's a tough customer

Coordination - 3 (Typical) Average in this regard

Strength - 4 (Good) He's a big guy

Intellect - 4 (Good) He's not super book-smart, but he's canny

Awareness - 5 (Excellent) He has good instincts and senses from years on the job

Willpower - 5 (Excellent) he doesn't give up easily

Stamina - 9

Determination - However much the DM says

Origin - Natural

Specialties - Investigation (Expert)


"Knows Exactly What the Facts Is" - He's a non-nonsense kind of guy who has a knack for cutting right to the heart of things. This can be tagged to help figure out a mystery or to for a flash of insight to get out of a dead end or even when hit by some kind of beguling power

Connections: Texas Law Enforcement

Motivation: "Ain't Gonna Let Those Two Escape Justice" - He is a determined, dogged pursuer of criminals and does not give up easily

Enemies: Billy Joe and Bobbi Sue, a pair of armed and dangerous criminals

Bad Luck: Somehow sometimes his quarry just slips away

Description: He's a Texas detective so this is pretty simple: Suit, bolo tie, boots, cowboy hat. He carries a pistol and a badge and drives a Chevy Tahoe police model. For a younger version use Timothy Olyphant, for an older one Tommy Lee Jones pretty much defines the role.

Points-wise he's under 30 so he's more of a connection or a personified opponent for a hero who's brushed up against the law somewhere. He could also serve as a sort of rival who comes into town on a case that the heroes get involved with, starting some kind of competition to see who can solve it first.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thoughts on the 40K RPG's

Apparently these are pretty popular right now and I've had a chance to look through the first three:

Dark Heresy: You're a fairly low-powered group of characters working for an Inquisitor rooting out heresy inside the Imperium. This does very little for me because while Inquisitors and their personal retinue are interesting, the guys that work for them at this level don't do as much for me. Plus, the things that you're investigating can get very powerful in a hurry and I suspect this would play out a lot like a Call of Cthulu game. I'm sure some peoepl would be interested in that but not me, and I think the popularity of this game was largely due to it being the first 40K RPG ever released rather than the awesomeness of the premise. Beyond this, I just don't think the spirit of 40K is in sneaking around uncovering mysteries - that's too much 90's conspiracy x-files game. The 40K part of the story begins after the planetary governor has turned to chaos and declared a rebellion and the sky fills with marine drop pods streaking towards the planet.

Rogue Trader: You're the command crew of an an interstellar trading ship sent to the borders of the Imperium with a warrant to trade and interact with Xenos cultures. Now this one is interesting - tons of freedom to do as you wish, enough power to not be overwhelmed the first time you find something interesting, and all of the cool background of the 40K universe to play in. It does have a bit of the Star Trek problem in that one player is supposed to be the ROgue Trader and theoretically in charge, but I don't think this would be a major issue most of the time. I like this one a lot.

Deathwatch: You're a Space Marine, from one of just about any chapter, and you've been assigned to an all-star team of space marines that deals with alien threats, primarily through violence. This is the highest powered game - marines have 20 genetically modified implants and organs, extensive training, access to the best weapons, and then they get power armor - and is centered around commando raids and assaults on things. It's a very military flavored game, but it also looks to me like it would be a lot like a super team - some rely on their "natural" talents, some are gadgeteers, and some have psychic powers - where dramatically overpowered beings invstigate and solve mysteries using a lot of violence. The small size of the team, differences between the chapters, personal rivalries, and competition make this a little different than a Traveller merc unit or even a Twilight 2000 player character group.

There's a 4th game out now called Black Crusade that deals with playing chaos marines, traitor marines from a civil war a long time ago. I haven't seen it yet but I assume that (much like the Chaos Marine Army in 40K itself) it caters to those players who want all the badaceness of the Marines without having to play the "good guys" - Heh.

The mechanics are the same as the Warahmmer Fantasy RPG second edition from a few years ago so it's pretty much all a percentile-based roll-under system. It's not as flashy as some, but it works, and the DM is encouraged to use a simple list of modifiers to run the game, from a -60 (Hellish) to a +60 (Trivial). Character stats are rated on a percentile scale and then skills allow a character to use the related stat to roll for a task. There are also Talents which are similar to Feats in d20 games, allowing a character to do something outside the normal rules. The whole thing is fairly clean and for the most part does not get bogged down in a bunch of subsystems or special exceptions.

I have to say I was pretty happy to see that these were finally coming out when they were announced. A 40K RPG has been a dream of many of us who have played 40K for a long time, and many, many homebrew efforts have been made, from custom systems to GURPS to Savage Worlds. Basing it off of the WFRP mechanics keeps a certain level of flavor (since the miniatures game 40K was based on and is still similar to Warhammer Fantasy Battles) and makes it fairly easy to translate the vast list of creatures and gear from 40K over to the RPG. The vast amount of lore in the 40K fluff gives the DM a lot of material to use for a campaign too. This is especially true if one has had some of the various side games published over the years: Battlefleet Gothic yields a lot of information on how ships and systems and fleets work in the 40K universe. Necromunda covers a lot of background on Hive Worlds and Gangers. Even going back to the original Rogue Trader game book that stated the whole thing gives a lot of information on creatures and terrain and general weirdness that might be encountered. The interlocking web of support of both useful game material and background details is probably only rivaled by D&D campaign worlds and maybe published universes like Star Wars and Star Trek. There's a ton of it, and when you get out to the more fringey material like the old Realm of Chaos books, there's a pretty good chance more recent players won't know anything about it.

So am I starting up a game of one of these? I'd like to, I'm just not sure where to fit it in. It will likely become one of the rotating "when we feel like it" games with the Apprentices. We have made characters for Deathwatch, and we will do the same for Rogue Trader, and we will play at least an introductory mission to get a better feel for it. After that, well, we will see.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thoughts on a Middle Earth Campaign

Barking Alien had a good post on Monday here, particularly the part about playing a game in someone else's universe - it's worth a read

I like the closed vs. open description, that's not a bad way to visualize it. I tend to think of it as a question of whether I can work within the movie/show/book or do I have to work around it?  Star Trek is one I can work within because there are other interesting things going on in parallel with whatever show or movie you're watching - the rest of the universe is shown, not just mentioned and the plot of the typical show or movie doesn't fundamentally change the universe. It's hard to define in specifics but LOTR in contrast, is one where I feel like I would have to work around the main story because the plot does drastically change the environment.

In the specific case of LOTR I think my best option for running a middle earth game would be to set it quite a while after the end of the trilogy. At some point within 100 years or so the wizards are gone, most of the elves are gone, and the fellowship is all gone. Set it in the time of Aragorn's son's first few years and there's a new feeling in the world and with the passing of the heroes of the third age it's time for a new generation (cue theme music). There are still plenty of nasties in the world and there are plenty of good normal folk threatened by them - who's going to stand between that lingering darkness and the innocent and defenseless? Beyond the orcs and trolls there is old magic to be rediscovered and old cities of dwarves and men and elves to be reclaimed. It's a time of expansion, rediscovery, exploration, and pushing back the frontiers!

This approach lets you use all of the background material and lore and the races and cultures of middle earth without that feeling of playing second fiddle to the main story. I think "what happens next" is a nice way to make all of that relevant but not confining. Plus it's customizable to taste - want more connections with the big story? Set it in the later years of Aragorn's reign, make sure Gimil is still alive and Legolas is still around and maybe a couple of the elderly hobbits are still upright. Regardless, Treebeard and TOm Bombadil are going to be present for quite a while so even if you go later they can still provide a link.

With a theme of exploration, rediscovery, and a crusade against evil you have a reason to have adventures all over the map, moving through familiar areas as you do so. A nice range of character motivations fits in here from curiousity or restlessness to greed or vengeance against those orcs that wiped out your family. The type of adventures could include anything from dungeon crawls to cross-country pursuits to discovering and hunting down a dragon that's come down out of the north.

So that's my best take on how to make a LOTR game that would work for me. I realize you aren't going to be rubbing elbows with Frodo or Boromir, but for me that's not the attraction of the world anyway. I can see the armchair Tolkien scholar having some problems with it, but they're going to have problems with pretty much any game unless they can accept some compromises, and there's really only one big compromise here; Everything you know is in the past. Once you can get past that, then it seems like we could have some fun with this.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sandboxing Rifts

While researching for my latest mania I realized that I ran and odd kind of sandbox back in the 90's for Rifts of all things. I think Rifts might be a decent game for this kind of approach, better than I had thought at first anyway.

The concept for the campaign was that the PC's all started out in one of those quasi-coalition towns in Post-Rift Arkansas. A local mage was recruiting for an expedition to Detroit, where he was convinced that he would find some ancient magic items in the collection of a wealthy collector from the time before. The plan was to travel cross-country in a Behemoth Explorer robot (pictured above) with a crew of adventuring types, explore things along the way (and sell that information later) and then dig into the ruins of Detroit.

I gathered some real world atlas pages of the travel route, slipped them into sheet protectors, and marked them up for apocalyptic damage, rifts and ley lines, and interesting locals. I knew the course the 'bot would travel, so I stayed within 100 miles or so of that course for any kind of detail and made some notes on what else might be off the edges.

The beauty of this approach is that the trip was going to take a few months to get there and presumably that much to get back so you get many sessions of sandbox exploration -with a moving map- but there is an overarching goal at the end for players who need a plot to work off of.

The giant robot follows all the rules of a typical West Marches/Sandbox Town - it's safe and nothing really happens inside it as that's where you go to heal/repair/learn new spells/accuse each other of being idiots. The interesting twist (other than having a base that moves) is that it can be attacked! Especially if the players start some kind of trouble and lead their enemies back to it, which happened once and spurred one of the biggest fights of the campaign, leaving the bot mobile but pretty heavily damaged. They learned form their actions, but they did enjoy getting to unleash some of the big guns and bigger missiles on the thing, so secretly I don't think they regretted it.

Managing players was easy enough - somebody can't make it? They're sleeping on the bot. New character? They are passing through the same area / a local / running from the law/ suffering a mechanical breakdown and agree to help out on the expedition. There was payment up front and at the end of the mission as this was a job, but money in Rifts isn't always a huge motivator, but XP's and knowledge, gear, and interesting types of ammunition (nuclear weapons) can be.

It was an interesting array of characters like the crazy who was severely claustrophobic so she slept in a tent bolted down to the top of the robot and the glitter boy who liked to drive his own truck alongside the bot (with his suit in the back). Along the way they fought demons, raiders, giant robots, vampires, superheroes, renegade wizards, and in a gladitorial arena somewhere in what used to be Tennessee.

We did eventually make it to Detroit (and among other things they nuked Windsor - sorry, but they had a good reason) but the game fell apart before we could make the trip back.

Looking back I think this kind of game works pretty well with Rifts because the power levels are all over the place and while rapid ground and air travel is easily arranged, enemies have all of those options too. Limiting things to a set region might work too but the moving base opens up more and keeps them from mapping everything from the air on Day 1.

One thing with running Rifts of any kind is forget about balance - it doesn't really matter. In a sandbox game the less powerful characters can actually shine as the Wilderness Scouts and Rogue Scientists have an environment where their abilities are extremely useful. That said, having a giant cannon with a range over a mile and a swarm of missile with double that range ready to go is still very comforting. In fact it gives your weapon-heads plenty of room (and likely plenty of reason) to cut loose. Yes the system can be a mess but once you stop trying to fix it things get easier to live with and the DM and the players can have a lot of fun.

Monday, January 9, 2012


... I went ahead and signed up for the playtest. Why not?

Taking the Easy Way Out - with the Force

So we have a slight kink in the schedule this year because someone decided to go and have ANOTHER baby, due in May and no, not at our house as four is quite enough.

Gven this, and given that I'm still working out how to run a West Marches game for D&D (shhhh - they don't know yet) I offered to run a mini-campaign of 8 to 10 sessions from Jan to May. Options I threw out were Deadlands, Star Wars, Supers, Warhammer, and a 40k RPG. Top 3 responses were Star Wars, Supers, and Deadlands, pretty much in that order.

Since I have done something like this before that was pretty well received I decided to go with Star Wars. I'm sure the new MMO has some people fired up about it and the release of the movies all over again should stoke it further. So interest is decent and because I've been playing around with Saga with the apprentices the system is not totally new to me which should help us get more done.

Then, having blindsided myself with a campaign out of nowhere (wasn't planning on this two weeks ago) and agreeing to start it in two weels or so I realized I needed a concept and I didn't have one. C'mon, I've been reading that huge Deathwatch book and every blog post about west marches, megadungeons, and sandbox games I can find! How the heck did I come up with Star Wars?

Anyway, I realized that given the momentum mentioned above, and that since it's not the first baby, the interruption might not be terminal to the campaign, so more than just a one-shot I needed it to have some future potential. KOTOR is a big deal right now with the new game and all but I'm not very familiar with it and I don't really want to compete with it directly. The Clone Wars could be a blast but I haven't tried to put anything together for those either. Rebellion Era is the place we've played the most but I want to do something a little different and I'm tired of unfreezing Jedi. So I'm copping out and using the published "Dawn of Defiance" campaign from WOTC.


One, it's "Rise of the Empire" which is fresh because there aren't any movies or AAA video games coming out about it. It has stormtoopers and star destroyers, but there are still renegade Jedi running around too, so I get the best of both worlds.  

Two, it's about the beginning of the Rebellion, so my players will feel like they're part of a major storyline and not just holding the bag for big doings over there by other characters.

Three, it's probably the major common ground set of adventures among Saga Edition players - quite a few people have run and played it, netting us that "shared experience" thing I ramble on about sometimes.

Four, it's made up of 10 separate adventures that will take the PC's from levels 1-20 if I want. The first one covers the first few levels and should be perfect for our Jan-May timeframe, and if we decide to keep going then I have plenty of material to work with. If not, we still have a complete adventure finished and a premise established for a future game down the road someday.

Five, it's published and ready to go and has some nice supporting material (especially since I'm running it a couple of years after everyone else), so I can focus on the mechanics and working in character details rather than plotlines.

I have at least one player excited. Since he played in my old game referenced above he's already thinking about making his new one that character's father - there's some "retroactive continuity" for you in a slightly different sense. I've read through the advanture and it looks good so here in a couple of weeks we should be firing it up and of course I will post up details here.

Motivational Monday