Thursday, March 8, 2012

Things I have picked up from DriveThruRPG recently

No this isn't sponsored. I just like them. I don't see much about them on blogs and such so I thought I would spend a post on something I like that isn't technically a game. It's a heck of an enabler though.

I signed up in 2006 and this was my first order (note that I just accessed this today - yes, you can see your orders from 6 years ago and re-download them if you've been through a hard drive crash or a divorce or something):

d20 Status Cards - I'm pretty sure I never used these. BUT, for a dollar I don't really care. Plus, I could use them tomorrow if I wanted to, thanks to the magic of the internet.

Elements of Magic (Revised) - This was one of my favorite d20 supplements. An alternate magic system that was all-elemental and let you put together effects on the fly. It was a perfect fit for my main homebrew fantasy world which was created for a Fantasy Hero campaign and had a largely elemental-themed magic system. Alas, my players wanted none of it so despite printing it out and putting it in sheet protectors and a 3-ring binder I never used it. Again, I do still have it...

Wild Spellcraft - This was another alternate take for d20 magic that patched in a wild mage option for casters. Much like Elements it was something I really liked and something I never got to use.

The Keep of Lord Mmorpgus - I do not remember what this was. An adventure or some kind of funny. Not going to download it to find out.

Campaign Suite Extended - Ouch. This one was campaign management software - places, NPC's, items, monsters - heavily targeted at D&D 3E. I decided I was going to get all modern and keep my campaign notes on the computer and just print them out as needed to cut down on the binder-stuffing. I entered a bunch of stuff, which was not fun, printed out some stuff, had trouble finding stuff, and just found it to be a hassle most of the time. I just didn't need to do things that way at that time. You can still download it but the company does not appear to support it any more. Ah well. It was 24.95 too. Ouch.

So enough about the old stuff. What about new stuff?

 ICONS: Hero Pack 2 
 ICONS: Hero Pack 2.5 
 ICONS: Danger In Dunsmouth 
 ICONS: Sins of the Past 
 ICONS: The Aotearoa Gambit 
 ICONS: Whiteout!
Lots of ICONS - we played it some during the holiday off-time and I was all fired up. Plus they were on sale for a buck or two and I like having premade adventures on hand to throw a session together on zero notice. A couple of PDF's full of characters gives me the option to throw in NPC's on a whim.

Olympian Breed - Setting & Character Creation Guide
This is a Savage Worlds freebie that sets up a new adventure chain set in Mythic Greece and uses both the Fantasy Companion and the Superpowers Companion. It's a cool enough idea, though I'm iffy on the superpowers part, but I think SW is a perfect system for playing in Mythic Greece. I like some of the ideas, but I haven't picked up the adventures as I think I could run a decent campaign with material I already have.

Spirit Magic
These were also freebies and are the basic rules and magic system for Mongoose's Runequest system. They're renaming it "Legend" and proceeding with it for things besides RQ and Glorantha. I have some history with RQ and wanted to check it out, and you can't beat free. No plans to use it but I would gladly play in someone else's game.

Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile #1: Fire Powers
Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile #2: Armor Powers
Already discussed these here.

Battlescenes: Gorilla Warfare (ICONS)
Battlescenes: Death from Below (ICONS)
Battlescenes: Werewolves of the Gestapo (ICONS)
Battlescenes: Der Panzer Ritter (ICONS)
Battlescenes: Undead Stormtroopers (ICONS)
The Ice Palace (ICONS)
Vigilance Force: Heroes of WWII (ICONS)
Crown Guard: Heroes of WWII (ICONS)
Eugenics Brigade: Villains of WWII (ICONS)
Pearl Harbor December: Villains of WWII (ICONS)
People's Revolution: Villains of WWII (ICONS)
Blitzkrieg London (ICONS)
More ICONS goodness - This is all Vigilance Press stuff and I like it. Plus they were $1 so it's a nearly painless purchase. It's all WW2 themed supers - some are character collections, some are short adventures, and some are longer adventures though still not "long" by most measures. I got into a WW2 Supers mood and decided ICONS was a good bet to actually get to play it. We're going to work this in during spring break next week, probably kicking off with a viewing of Captain America, some character creation, and then one or two of the Battlescenes. It should be a lot of fun.

Action Scenes: Museum Mayhem (ICONS)
This is another ICONS adventure from VP but it's a modern adventure, not a WW2 thing. It's one "encounter" or "scene" about a break in at a museum. I'll be using it in the next Atomic City run.

Cascade Failure
It's a post-apocalyptic d20 game. Interesting. Also free, which makes it even more interesting.

That stuff kept me pretty busy but I did manage a few things:

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Basic Game
Wow some of us should write a bit about this game.

Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile #3: Mental Powers
Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile #4: Summoning Powers
Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile #5: Tech Powers
Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile #6: Weather Powers
Again, already covered.


Wild Talents: Essential Edition
I really like Godlike (look! More WW2 Supers!), and I liked the One Roll Engine enough to pick up Reign awhile back too. This is the current modern-era version and I figured it would be worth a read to see if they've changed anything. Maybe one day I can convince someone to play it.

Invasion: Oceania! (ICONS)
Battlescenes: Operation Bookbinder (ICONS)
Stormtroopers of the Deep (ICONS)
As I was planning some WW2 ICONS action I realized there were a few VP products I didn't own, so I rectified this right away. Bookbinder features a giant robot attacking an aircraft carrier - I think we can all pretty much agree that you have to have that one. It's 75 cents during the GM sale - how could I not get that?!

Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile #7: Electrical Powers
Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile #8: Water Powers
Covered these already, just keeping up as they come out.

3 Generations After The End
This is a sorta-generic post-apocalyptic setting that has about 15 pages of content and is very Thundarr-ish with monster stats for Savage Worlds, D&D 4E, Fate, and Apocalypse World. There's not a whole lot to it, but it's free so I gave it a look. I'd classify it as something I would use if my Gamma World party decided to mess around with a malfunctioning teleporter and I need an instant setting to drop them into - it's perfect for that.If it ever comes up. Or if some Savage Supers did the same thing...hmmm.

Field Guide to Superheroes Vol. 3 (ICONS)
Jason Tondro's life's work continues. The discussion of the archetypes in these is not system-specific, though there is an example statted up for ICONS of each, which can be handy when running a minimal-prep game, which is usually how I run it.

I've picked up a few more freebies too, like a bunch of the d6 system books for Fantasy, the basic Tri-Stat book (in case I decide to dust off Silver Age Sentinels for the Apprentices too). There's a lot of interesting stuff in the "Free" category on there and it might be worth a look, especially for the gamer on a budget as there are whole systems available, some of them quite good.

I have to say that early on I saw PDF's as not that useful, because to use them in play I felt like I had to print them out. Now, between smartphones, ipads (not that Lady Blacksteel ever lets me use hers), and laptops, I can actually run whole games with minimal printing. I still prefer a good solid hardback most of the time, but I can see a place for them now that I didn't see five years ago.

Also, I'm cheap. If I can pick up 5 short adventures for 5-10$ then I'm a pretty happy guy as that's useful material that can sit on the shelf awhile and not make me feel like I wasted money. I suspect this part of the RPG industry will continue to grow, and I suspect that I will continue to help it grow - just doing my part.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Some additional thoughts on this new Marvel RPG (and 24: The RPG)

No, I haven't played it yet - Blaster's birthday stuff didn't really leave us with time or energy to try it out and he had a much-delayed project for school that had to be finished too. BUT - I've read through it again and listened to some actual play podcasts (thank you BAMF & Vigilance Press) and thought I would share some more pre-game thoughts.

First, I think that once the players and the "Watcher" have gotten familiar with the mechanics it pretty much accomplishes the goal of simulating superhero comic books. It's not a simulation, it's very narrative-driven, but realizing and accepting that from the outset makes it OK. If you want to have an arm-wrestling contest between Thing and Colossus, you're still going to want to use Champions or M&M or MSH or ICONS or pretty much any other supers system out there. If you can refocus your view on how a superhero game should run though, where it's less about raw numbers and more about the dramatic situation, then this could be a lot of fun too. Just as an example, Affiliations:

Mechanically the play of the game revolves around building dice pools from your Affiliations, Distinctions (Kind of like Qualities in ICONS), Powers, and Specialties (Skills).  Typically, you can take one die from each of those categories if you can relate it to the current situation/challenge/attack. Everyone has these three affiliations shown above, and you can always use one of those dice: Solo if you're the only character involved, Buddy if it's only you and one other hero, and Team if it's you and two or more heroes. Every character has a d6, d8, and d10 allocated between the three choices. Right away we have a mechanic that effectively communicates and demonstrates which heroes are better with a team and which are better on their own. I can't think of an easy way to do this in another system. Maybe some kind of limited skill level in Champions, but even that would be a little clunky. This is nicely integrated into the normal mechanical system, it's flavorful, and it's an at-a-glance way to show a major character trait.

Distinctions are similar to Qualities in ICONS in that they represent something that stands out about the character. Characters tend to be very different here - and it's not like there's a lack of material to draw from - but the mechanics are the same regardless: You can present it as an advantage of some kind and add a d8 to your pool, or you can present it as a disadvantage, add a lowly d4 to your pool, and take a Plot Point. Again, we have a simple, flavorful mechanic that gets a player thinking creatively and both makes sense and has a definite mechanical impact in play. It's very well done.

Plot points are the player control mechanic and can be used for a variety of things. It's good to have several of them available, and the ability to take a d4 Distinction in return for gaining one gives players a decent way to get more of them when needed instead of being completely dependent on the DM, er, Watcher.

Adding in Superpowers and Specialties a player will be able to throw 4 or 5 dice most of the time, from d4's to d12's. Plot points let players add and manipulate the dice in various ways, and dice can be given to another player as well. It's a pretty slick system all the way around, and I'm even starting to like the damage system after hearing it in play.

If you're on the wrong end of a massive attack, "Godlike Durability" is a good thing to have!
Damage, sorry, "Stress" can be Physical, Mental, or Emotional, and some powers lend themselves more to one than the other. A successful attack inflicts some kind of stress which is measured in dice, as in d4 Stress or a d10 Stress. A character can take up to a d12 in each kind of stress. If pushed beyond the d12 limit then it's lights out and may result in longer-term damage called Trauma. The truly interesting thing about Stress is that it doesn't impair your abilities - instead your opponent adds the relevant die type to his die pool when he does something that affects you. It seems counter-intuitive (for example, in Shadowrun as you take damage you take increasingly larger penalties to your own die rolls) but it does work. being punched in the face by Iron man and taking, say, a d10 Physical Stress means that the next guy to punch gets to add a d10 to his die pool, making it more likely that he will connect and do some damage. It's a little abstract, in a similar way to M&M's damage rolls, but it does seem to work.

Now not all is perfect. I wonder if there might not be a degree of sameness problem after multiple sessions, even playing different characters, because they all work the same way. Since every Power and Specialty are rated in d8's, d10's, or d12's there's not much of a range, just "Enhanced', "Superhuman", or "Godlike". I suspect a year from now we will know if this is a real problem when playing a long campaign - like Civil War - or if the subtler differences between powers and characters will come out and shine in longer campaign play. Right now I can't tell but it's something to watch for.

Also, it's mapless and miniature-less (kind of going against the grain there, I know) so there's really no obvious separation of roles in the group - range doesn't really matter, so the common HTH/Ranged distinction between characters is much fainter. The Brick can't really move in and soak up the attention of the bad guys the way they can in say Champions or M&M. There's no "cover".  There's no movement rate in yards or hexes or miles per hour. All of the tactical stuff we're used to from other games goes out the window for the most part and a lot of us really like that part of these games.

Another small concern - not much on vehicles. I know it's not a big deal, but it could be for some characters. I'd like to know how to resolve what happens if someone shoots a missile at a quinjet. It can be simple, I'd just like to see some specific mechanics for it.

Finally, despite the inside-out approach to mechanics and the narrative thing I can't help but like it. It's not going to replace D&D as the main game, and I don't think it will replace ICONS & M&M and the rest but I think it has a place. It is going to depend a lot on published adventures and the plan is to base those on big Marvel Crossover events like Civil War and Annihilation and I think that's a really cool approach. It also gives me a reason to go back and read some of the original comics.  I'm really looking forward to the "Events" and I'm pretty sure we will be playing through them. I also have a strong urge to take a stab at converting some of the old MSH adventures - if I do I will publish them here - as I think those might be a lot of fun to experience via different mechanics and a different approach.

Finally finally: If any system was ever made to play "24: The Role Playing Game subtitle: The Adventures of Jack Bauer and the Counter-Terrorist Unit" this is it. The affiliations (Jack is Solo d10, Buddy d8, Team d6), Distinctions, and Specialties all work well to define characters on the show. The mechanics for assets that you can give to another character would perfectly support the whole "I'm sending the schematics to your smartphone" thing we see every other episode, and Opportunities and Plot Points work to explain some of the amazing (or ridiculous) plot changes and complications that we see over the course of a season. I think you could easily make a campaign outline based on each season. It would be a lot of work, and probably best done by someone with a license (hint hint) but it could be a lot of fun. Even using some kind of random plot twist generator could be a lot of fun. This system could handle it quite well with only minimal tweaks - and a fair amount of research for the actual adventure.

I've skipped over a ton of mechanics here but I want to wait until after I have played to cover more on the mechanics. Plus, these are the high points that have struck me so far. I'm sure more will come.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mutants and Masterminds Power Profiles

Green Ronin has a cool thing going on now: "Power Profiles" - they look like this:

They're 5 page PDF's and they're 99 cents each. The one above covers fire powers, and they've done Power Armor, Mental Powers, Summoning, Weather Powers, and Tech Powers so far.

I think it's a genius idea.

The expert player may not need them, but they are very handy for the DM who may want to pull something coherent together on the fly. They also look very handy for new players who have a concept but don't have the mechanics down just yet. These little docs give them a roadmap to work from. The  armor one was of particular interest to me and I thought it was solid, more than I expected it to be in 5 pages. They are focused in on the topic of choice providing a short talk about the major powers that fit the theme, descriptors that fit it, some examples of pre-built powers that fit the theme (offensive, defensive, movement, utility), and some thematic complications that a character might want to take.

I like small inexpensive PDF's that add something useful to my game - I don't need another campaign world and I don't need more supervillains - short adventures are good, and small crunchy guides like these are just right. Comparing this to something like class books for D&D I find it to be a similar idea with a better execution in many ways. It's a more net-friendly version of the "UNTIL Superpowers Database" for 5th edition Champions, which was a big thick book full of pre-built superpowers. Some people want 'em, but not many people want to pay $30 for them, which is why I think a wide range of smaller more focused and more affordable mini-books like this is a good way to go.

The price is right and the content is useful - sounds good to me. I wasn't sure how much attention they were getting out there and just wanted to share.

Motivational Monday

Theme for the month: