Friday, August 2, 2013

40K Friday: Apocalypse

Not a lot to report this week so I thought I would give a nod to Apocalypse, the rules expansion of ridiculously huge battles.

I'm not a big apocalypse guy - I played Epic for about 10 years straight and those are far bigger battles than you're likely to see in an Apoc game, even some of the multi-day craziness*. I think the biggest game I ever ran was a con game in Dallas back in the 90's where I believe we had six players per side, Imperials vs. Orks, and everybody had at least one titan, usually more, plus superheavies etc. It was a big fight - we ran it on a 6x12 board, half city, half country. The turning point I recall was that about turn 3 the more agressive Emperor titan player rolled boxcars for his plasma counters, moved right out to the center of the board and unleashed everything - he blew up a mega-gargant, a great gargant, and a mekboy gargant, plus he tore up a slasher. I think we gave him an award for wrecking one of each type of gargant in one firing phase - it's like hitting for the cycle in baseball!

Waiting and watching ...

Anyway GW lost interest in the Epic games in the early 2000s and the closest thing to it that is actually supported is Apocalypse, which lets you use all of your 40K scale mini's. plus a bunch of stuff from Forgeworld and other places that can't really participate in a normal skirmish. It's the no-limits version of 40K where models come off the table by the handful and going second means that a bunch of stuff you packed up and brought to the battle will never get a chance to do anything.

The Apoc book originally came out for 4th edition, there was an update book for 5th edition, and now there is a brand new shiny version for 6th edition. No I don't own it and I may never own it. When I get the urge to go ridiculous I'd rather route that energy into dusting off the Epic stuff and giving that a go. I may change my mind but the Apprentices are still building their armies up for regular 40K so it's not like we have a crushing need to go even bigger.

Anyway, since I don't have any battles of my own to share here are some links to some guys who do. Crazy Canadians...

2010 - 80,000 points

2011 - 250,000 points

2012 - 500,000 points

2013 - ? It just happened last weekend, no big report yet. Here's the intro.

*Before someone starts telling me about their awesome armorcast titan force, for Epic I can drop four Emperor titans on the board just for starters, and on an Epic scale board you have enough room to see how truly devastating they can be. Plus at least a dozen painted Warlord titans, etc. etc. Remeber, in Epic the formation cards include things like 3 Phantom Titans. Apoc is cool, but Epic games are still an entirely different scale of fight, and they don't take a 3-day weekend to settle.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Go Fer Yer Gun

In the midst of "gigantic new release" season I thought I would squeeze in a look at a game that is neither new nor gigantic. It originally came out in 2005, but I only discovered it earlier this year so it's new enough to me. There was a mini-wave of western d20 games back then with "OGL Wild West" from Mongoose (great name for that one), Sidewinder Recoiled based on d20 Modern, Deadlands d20, and probably some others I am forgetting.

My background: Played a fair amount of Boot Hill back in the 80's, fooled around with a little Western Hero and GURPS Old West in college, Spent some time with Deadlands in the 90's (both original recipie and d20 flavors). Own Aces & Eights but have never run/played. The only old west fun we've had in recent years is with the Savage Worlds flavor of Deadlands.

First thing: It's a free PDF! Available here. I like free, free is good.

It's 70-off pages long about half of which is all about making characters. It uses the standard d20 set of attributes, scores, and modifiers. It does use what I believe is C&C's approach of 2 primary, 2 secondary, and 2 tertiary attributes for task resolution. Instead of having a long list of skills and DC's by level the base difficulty is 12 for a check involving a primary stat, 15 for a secondary, and 18 for a tertiary. You make a check by rolling a d20, adding the relevant attribute modifier and the character's level to beat the target number described above. There are other possible modifiers - an opponent's level for example - but that's the basic system. Your class determines one primary attribute and the player allocates the others as they see fit. I like this as it does allow a simple way of defining what your character is "good at" in a completely different way from class abilities. You could have multiple characters of the same class that play very differently using this system. Heck, this has me wanting to go back and look over Castles and Crusades again. In the context of a western game I think it has a lot of potential to liven up what sometimes turn into cardboard characters.

Classes run from levels 1-20 and there are 3 different experience tables - sigh. Each class has an attack bonus that increases per level, a defense bonus that increases per level, and a hit die progression that ends after a few levels. So the Brave gets d10's for hit points but only thru level 4 - after that they get +3 hit points per level. There is also a list of fairly specific powers for each class from combat and healing abilities to defining what they can do without needing to make a check. Classes include:

  • Brave
  • Doctor
  • Drifter
  • Gunslinger
  • Maverick
  • Mountain Man
  • Muckraker
  • Preacher
  • Scout
  • Wrangler
  • Optional: Wandering Monk, in case you want to "wander the earth like Kane from Kung-Fu"
Multi-classing (two classes at the same time) and dual-classing (switching from one to another) are options. Fairly old school options, but they are in there.

The classes are an odd mix in some cases - the doctor is almost an alchemist with the ability to whip up all kinds of things given access to the right ingredients and tools. The gunslinger is a combat monster with ranged attacks. The mountain man is a beast in melee. The preacher can hand out bonus to allies, debuff opponents, and generally looks a lot like a 4E leader type class. Most class abilities are fairly specific so it's difficult to really judge them without getting in some actual play time. The damage capacity of a level 20 Mountain Man is far beyond anything resembling "realistic" given a heavy pistol's 2d6 damage, but hey, level 20 should be legendary in some ways.

Gear: there is a short gear section mostly focusing on weapons. If you're thinking about running a sustained campaign then a GURPS or Deadlands book would be a good resource to expand this.

Combat involves a d20+ attack bonus vs the target's defense class. There are modifiers for things like darkness or shooting from the back of a moving horse. It's lighter than typical d20 and is not tied to a grid. Characters can move and attack once per round or do one other action instead.

There is a section on NPC's, critters, and opponents that is a solid starting set but will be exhausted pretty quickly in regular play.

The book wraps up with some sample adventure ideas (no maps or statblocks here) based on some pretty standard western plots,

So to me, in the end, it's a relatively rules-light western game that has a lot of potential as a con game or a system for some one-offs, but I'm not sure I could run a sustained campaign with it. It benefits from being a d20 game so there is some familiarity on the part of almost any potential player. The task resolution is fast and flexible and so should be both manageable and fun even with a bunch of players who don't know each other. The class mechanics could be fun for a session or two but probably don't come frequently enough or have enough chrome to them to keep a lot of modern players interested - in that sense it is fairly old-school. It is also less cinematic than something like Savage Worlds as low level characters are fairly vulnerable to damage and there is nothing like bennies or hero points or action points to save one's bacon or allow for scene editing.

For a sustained campaign there is the standard question with a play-it-straight western game: what do you do? Sure bank robberies are fun, but are not particularly sustainable. Much like Traveller the PC's tend to slide towards criminal activity rather than heroism and given the state of medicine in the time that leads to a steady flow of dead characters. There's a reason stuff like Deadlands is more popular than any realistic western game - because the supernatural gives you some non-mundane character options and it gives you something to fight besides the law!

I do like the game and for a "pure" western game its particular combination of mechanics hits a sweet spot for me. Heck it's free, so if you're even slightly interested in old west RPG's go download it and take a look.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Shadowrun 5, Part 2 - Mechanics

Old Shadowrun Fistfight: My skill in dice vs. a target number of your skill, extra successes on my roll bumps up my damage. So my street samurai with armed combat 6 when fighting a ganger with armed combat 3 would roll 6 dice looking for 3's or better. When the ganger hit back he would roll 3 dice looking for 6's. Yes, a disparity in skills could get ugly in very short order.

A lot of the game worked like that - opposed rolls generally did. Even non-sentient stuff like matrix nodes had a rating and doing something to it meant rolling dice equal to your skill against a target of the rating. Modifiers generally changed the target number, and as you can imagine bumping things up past a "6" made it tough to succeed when rolling d6's. The system allowed for a roll of a 6 to explode, rolling the die again and adding to the previous roll. Figuring the odds gets a little weird under these mechanics, far more so than the typical d20 mechanics (a 6 is effectively a 7 for one thing), but that isn't everything. Knowing that was the base mechanic made it very easy to improvise in play. The probability may be all over the place but it was a very intuitive system and my crew loved it.

With 5th edition the system has changed quite a bit - maybe not from 4th, but definitely from the older editions. Now, stats actually contribute directly! A scenario like the one described above would instead be: Agility + Pistols in dice with a target number of 5+. The attribute and skill scale is the same with humans being a 1-6 so we're already rolling more dice, maybe twice as many. The fixed target number is a new wrinkle and it both makes it easier to figure the odds and eliminates the need for the exploding sixes. Modifiers change the number of dice in the pool, so a laser sight might add a couple of dice while bad lighting conditions might remove a few.  You're probably going to need more d6's. I get this now:

Apparently this was a problem with 4th edition, where characters could end up with 20-30 dice on rolls. As much fun as that is in Warhammer, an RPG table tends to be a little more crowded. To control this in 5th they have added a new mechanic called "Limit". The Limit is the maximum number of successes one can achieve on a roll. For the example above, the "limit" on a shooting roll is the accuracy of the gun used. So say I'm pretty handy with a pistol and have a 6 agility and a 6 pistol skill, and with some other favorable conditions I might be throwing 15 dice. My Ares Predator has an accuracy of 5, so even if I roll ten 6's, I still only scored 5 "hits". They call successes "hits" now so I'm trying to work in the lingo here. Note there's really no staging any more, so every hit has some kind of impact on the result.

There are a lot of places limits can come from but the most common one seems to be the gear, from guns, to cyberdecks, to vehicles. Driving 8 stuck in a car with Handling 2 - well, you're probably not going to be very happy in a chase. This also gives another angle for the gear to play with - that Ares Predator happens to have a built-in smartgun link so if my street sam is wired for it my accuracy goes up to 7.  Two pieces of gear might have the same basic functionality or rating but one might have a higher limit to represent better quality or materials without making it blatantly more powerful. I think it's a nice touch.

If the limits start to get in the way you can use "Edge" to surpass normal limits on a particular roll. It's an attribute, rated 1-6 like the rest, but it is effectively your hero point mechanic. There are other uses for Edge besides this but I can see this one coming up a lot.

Going back to resolution, with that shooting roll the target gets a defense roll, typically intuition + reaction (two attributes). So if this is an average joe type target they might be rolling 6 dice, looking for 5+ results. If they roll more hits than my shooter does, it's a miss. If they roll fewer, then it's a hit and we need to figure damage. Most opposed rolls work this way - I roll my stat + skill, you roll your stat + skill, and the one who scores more hits comes out on top.

For non-opposed rolls there is a "threshold" - the number of hits needed to succeed. "Easy" requires one hit, "Average" is two, "Hard" is four, "Very Hard" is 6, and then it gets into "Extreme" at 8-10. There are specific examples for a lot of skills and situations like combat, decking, magic, and chases but this is the general rule. If you want to get into probability it's nice to know that on average you need to throw 3 dice for every hit that's required.

Oh and defaults, when you don't have the skill but need to do something anyway, are attribute only -1 - and I thought the old skill web "add a +2 for each dot" approach was tough. Ouch.

Looking at the archetypes in the book it looks like most of them are throwing 10 or more dice in the things they are supposed to be good at so easy and average tasks are no sweat. Hard and very hard might be a little more tricky, especially "very" as you start to run into some limits there.

Damage: To wrap up this overview, weapons have a damage number and are noted as either physical or stun. - nothing really new there. Mr. Predator is rated "8P". Extra successes hits bump the damage up directly, so if I score 3 extra hits that damage rating is now 11P. The target rolls their body attribute and the number of hits reduces the damage number directly. So say an unarmoed Body 3 target gets lucky and rolls 2 hits - that drops the damage down to 9P and they get to fill in 9 boxes on their physical condition track. That's about a -3 modifier so that's going to make life quite a bit more difficult for them.

I'm going to have to play it, but I think this will work. It's definitely up to a Champions level of dice-throwing but there's nothing wrong with that. We did lose the intuitive skill vs. skill approach of the older editions but I don't think this one lacks flavor and the introduction of limits gives the players something to think about besides a simple "more dice!" approach.

Next post on this will talk about character creation, and then I may have one more to cover what I think are the highs and lows and then hopefully the next time I post about it will be some actual play stuff.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

New Games, Old Games, and Lost Opportunities

My musings on the likelihood of future support for 13th Age at the end of this post seemed to stir up at least a few similar thoughts. It is a fairly big concern of mine when it comes to picking up a new RPG these days. There is some baggage that goes along with any RPG from cost to shelf-space to time. I don't feel a tremendous drive to add books to my shelves "just because" anymore. There's a little more of a method to it than there used to be.

Sometimes a game is only available as a single, relatively inexpensive book or PDF. Those are easy. The Explorer's Editions of Savage Worlds are a great example. Heck ICONS is a pretty good example - it's regularly available at a similar price. Stars Without Number was like this too. There's not a lot of expense, it takes up little to no shelf space, it ties in to a subject or a system I already like and own - those are the easy ones.

Then you have examples from Pathfinder to Pendragon to Dark Heresy: detailed mechanical systems, big expensive books, dense text, massive amounts of supporting material, a lot of background to dig into to really get into the game. With these I have to ask:

  • Is this something I really want to run? This is me attempting to filter out new shiny for new shiny's sake. For Pendragon it was yes. For Pathfinder it was probably. For Dark Heresy it was no - I needed to wait for the Space Marine game. In many ways I've punched through the "collector" mentality and pretty much any game I still own I'd like to run or at least play.
  • Will I really have the opportunity to run it? This is largely dependent on time and players. For Pendragon so far it's been a no, and I knew that going in. I just wanted to have a copy on the shelf  for "someday". For Pathfinder, it's still a maybe. For Dark Heresy it doesn't matter because I didn't get it but for it's replacement, Deathwatch, the answer is I thought I would but it hasn't happened yet.
  • Am I willing to pick up all of the supporting stuff that goes along with it? For Pendragon I have only picked up a few extra books. I know I'm not likely to get to run it anytime soon so these are more targets of opportunity than any deliberate plan. For Pathfinder I stopped at the core book, but if we started playing it regularly I would go ahead and get more as it was needed. For Deathwatch  I picked up the GM's Kit as I knew it would get used from session 1 onward. There's a ton more stuff for that game and much like PF if we start playing it I will start adding it.
Now these guidelines have developed over the last fifteen years or so and I'm pretty comfortable with them. Along the way though a lot of game companies showed up with something cool, then disappeared, leaving an unfinished game behind, or let's say, the promise of a particular game unfulfilled. So recently I've started asking myself "What's this game going to look like in a year or two? Supplement overload? New edition? Dead and gone?" because as much as I'd like it to not be true, there is an impact when a games goes dead or out of print. There's less discussion of it online, fewer resources, and players are less interested in playing it - possibly related to those first two issues. Interestingly between the OSR and the WOTC reprints, the older editions of D&D are effectively "in print", while 4E limps off into the sunset with a hopefully temporary stigma of being a failed game that no one wants to play anymore. It's not a critical factor but all things being equal I'd rather run a game that's being supported than one that's not.
  • For Pendragon I think my book is an edition behind but I don't care because there is a version in print and much like Call of Cthulu, it doesn't change a great deal from one edition to the next. For Pathfinder I've circled around and come out the other end of this question: when is the next edition coming? I don't really want to go whole hog and spend a bunch of time and money getting this started only to find out we're going to get PF second edition in 2015. No, they haven't said anything but I'm a little gun-shy on this. For Deathwatch I don't think it's an issue as there is a lot of stuff out for it - but they did just announce a second edition for Dark Heresy so who knows. 
Now why would I feel this way? Allow me to share some examples:

The most recent example of trust being burned. I should probably add a sub-question to that last one "Is there a license involved?". I was ready to go all-in on this one and even bought some new dice just to support it and BAM - lots and lots of potential lost. We had just over a year of support and then poof - players can't even buy the PDF's anymore, another downside of licensed games.

Going back a bit we had a promising system and ... oh look another license. Hmmm. I picked up TNG and TOS and while I skipped some of the supporting material I was really looking forward to the Spacedock books that were going to be all about the spaceships. As productive as this company was they didn't even make it past year 3. 

Hey remember this one? Yeah ... I do: I bought a copy. Because I liked the setting and mechanics. This came out in 2005, around the same time as Eberron for D&D and had a similar pulp fantasy thing going on. They came out with one supplement, one of those "bunch of stuff we cut out of the main rulebook" type of supplements that was fairly common in the 90's & 00's and then they were eaten by a black hole. By 2006 there was nothing happening on this game anymore. Not too many people played it apparently, and not many remember it now. My lesson here was not to be fooled by the cool. Brand new settings with brand new mechanics from publishers you've never heard of should set off caution signs at least, even if they come in shiny hardbacks.

Around the time Ziran disappeared this one became the new hotness. I didn't buy it in 2006, but I wanted to! I was worried that I would end up buying a fairly pricey book just for the setting and using Savage Worlds to actually run it, which seemed like a waste. This was one of the more memorable times where I held off buying it and sure enough there was a grand total of one supplement and a DM screen and that was it - in 7 years! Can't complain about overloading the channels there, can we? Again this was all over the place winning awards and garnering hype for a year or so but by 2009 who was playing it? 

Again, not every game needs a ton of support and lord knows I get tired of the "core book - monthly supplements for 5 years - new edition"  treadmill as much as anyone but it would be nice to have a middle ground. A lot of games manage to pull this off and I'd like to see it happen more.

Kickstarter is a bit of a wild card though. Take 13th Age - the original game was announced around last year and there has been a beta program and then there was a kickstarter for the first supplement which included this quote:

Rob, Jonathan, Lee and Aaron want nothing more than to keep working together and create the first expansion book for 13th Age. But they need your help to do it. That's where the 13 True Ways Kickstarter comes in.

If this campaign meets its funding goal, they can cheerfully turn down other rent-paying freelance projects and focus on what they love best: designing and illustrating more great monsters, magic items, locations and NPCs for you to use either with 13th Age, or adapt to your favorite fantasy RPG.

So what we have here is effectively "we will keep supporting the game if we get paid" and that's a refreshingly honest approach. That said this looks a lot like one of those books of stuff leftover from the core type initial supplements I mentioned above rather than a really focused book. 

This sort of direct-to-the-customer approach with supplemental books makes even more sense than funding core books in some ways - you want more? Pay for it in advance and you can have it! This could easily become the wave of the future even for existing games. Want Hollow Earth Expeditions Australia supplement? Maybe it eventually comes out via KS.

My question here though is how often can this happen? Would players support one KS per year for a particular game? Two? Quarterly drives? I'm not sure. What if one of them fails? Does that mean no more support ever or just moving on to the next one on the list? At least when a company started publishing a big new game you could count on them to be committed for a year or two - well, you used to anyway - but with KS the commitment might only be as strong as the next funding drive. There's that risk of draining too much from your customers too with the growing number of gold-plated-leatherbound-signed-by-the-creators special limited edition funding levels on RPG kickstarters of late. Sure, if you can make money go for it but I suspect it's a short-term gain at the expense of a longer run. Not every game needs to be Ptolus-level in it's presentation, especially a new game.

Now there are all the failed KS projects, so it's not a guaranteed thing but it's at least an option in between "monthly books" and "dead game line". Dwimmermount, the dwarf game, and some others all remind us of the worst possible outcome - it funds and then you still don't get any support, at least not without some kind of drawn-out fiasco. 

Monday, July 29, 2013