Thursday, December 14, 2023

Savage Worlds Combat


I'm pretty happy with Savage Worlds as a system and I am glad that it seems to be more popular than ever now. One area I do see people questioning online is combat - particularly initiative and the damage system. Typically these people are coming over from D&D and don't really grasp that there are other ways of doing things but let's talk about these two things:

Initiative is done in Savage Worlds with cards. The GM deals out a card to each player and the high cards go before the low cards. This is a holdover from original Deadlands and Rail Wars but it just works. It's a physical reminder of when you go - once you go you toss in your card. Want to delay? Just hold onto it until you want to go. The game supports this mechanically through related edges - want to be faster? There's an edge that lets you take 2 or even 3 cards when initiative is dealt and you keep the best. For a level-headed character you can take an edge that lets you trade in your card if it's below a certain value. 

And yes, initiative is dealt every round. No it's not a big delay and yes, we played D&D for at least 20 years this way until 3E changed it to static initiative so it's not some radical new idea.

Finally the cards are another physical object that can help enforce the genre for your game. I've posted about it before but there is almost always some kind of card deck out there that is thematically related to whatever your running - pirates, cowboys, soldiers, superheroes, well-known space setting IP's ...

As an example of the impact this approach has on play I typically had 5-6 players per session in the Deadlands campaign I just finished. One started off with the Level-Headed edge, then pretty soon another one had it, and by the end one had the basic edge while two had the improved version and one of them had Quick as well. This means on a combat round with only 5 of them I am dealing out 10 cards for the players, plus (typically) 1-3 for the opposition, with one player possibly re-drawing several more cards. Jokers are an important card in Savage Worlds and this approach let my players mill the action deck by 10-15 cards per round from a 54 card deck. This is double what a normal party would be doing and it meant those Jokers popped up very quickly. Every Joker drawn is a package of "go first", "+2 for all actions that round", and a bennie for everyone on top of that! Towards the end there were combats where both Jokers were drawn in the same round - and that was not a good round for the bad guys. The existence of these mechanics opens up an interesting set of options for a player to explore that you don't see in other games. 

Damage in Savage Worlds is the other "rough spot" I see - mainly because it's not like D&D and does not use hit points. There is not a direct "wearing down over time mechanic" like that really. A deliberate design goal was that combatants would be up, down, or off of the table with no tracking of hit points or health. Most opponents are taken out by a single wound. Only Wild Cards, a status reserved for the PC's and major opponents, can take up to 3 wounds and still be standing. There is a "Shaken" status to indicate some kind of degraded status and there are optional rules for an intermediate type of opponent that can take multiple wounds but is not a wild card but that's it. 

Attacks involve a hit roll which, if successful, will generate a damage roll - so far just like D&D right? The next step though is to compare that roll to the target's Toughness. Meeting it or exceeding it = Shaken, exceeding it by 4 or more = a Wound for each increment of 4. It's that second part that really throws people at first. There are some nuances to it but it's really not -that- complicated.  

However this sometimes freaks people out as they bang away on an opponent and seemingly do nothing for several rounds. You might Shake them, or inflict some kind of condition with a power, but it bothers some people that there's no counter ticking down with every hit. This despite the truth that in D&D those hit points flying off have no impact on most NPCs or Monsters either - until the last one. In Savage Worlds if you are fighting an opponent who can take multiple wounds then each one of those will inflict a penalty on actions that creature takes. There are edges to offset these penalties, and powers that can do the same thing  -"Numb" was a regular player in our campaign - but again that's another way to flavor a character or monster. 

The closest thing to hit points in a Savage Worlds game are bennies. When someone takes damage they can spend a bennie to try and soak the damage - it's not a sure thing - and the supply of bennies is limited. Over the course of this campaign  I was reminded again and again that the GM's bennies are effectively the big bad's supply of hit points as once those ran out the bad guys tended to drop fairly quickly. There is always the temptation to use them as "rage bennies" to reroll an attack or damage roll, but most of the time you want to keep your opposition around for another round of troubling the party. 

This just seems to be a hard thing for people coming in from D&D in particular to get over. Shadowrun and Mutants & Masterminds have some similarities to this approach where you are comparing damage to another number and then generating results based on the comparison. It's different from D&D for sure but it works just fine and is a lot of fun.

So in my opinion combat in Savage Worlds does live up to the Fast, Furious, and Fun tagline. 

  • I don't think I had a fight last more than 7 rounds in my entire campaign and once players have a little bit of experience the pace of those rounds is pretty quick. D&D 3E and Pathfinder in particular tended to have long combats made up of long rounds where players might get bored waiting for their next chance to act. That was never a problem here. Also, in spite of this faster flow, combat is still rewarding as many different approaches and tactics can be tried - it's not a static regimen of "hitting for X damage" round after round as you whittle away at the dragon.
  • Furious comes into it when characters are doing things every round - there's not a lot of need for multi-round actions. Also, the rules allow for multiple actions beyond the basic move + act as much as a player wants to push things by imposing a -2 cumulative penalty to additional actions with no actual cap on how much one can try.
  • Fun is a factor with interesting abilities from Edges and Powers plus mechanical things like manipulating the cards and facing tough choices on how to spend those bennies when things hit the fan. Also, exploding dice - particularly damage dice -  add some excitement and occasionally some despair, depending on which side of the roll you are on. 
It's just a really strong system that runs smoothly and is fun to play. I've run it many times over the years and I expect I will be running it again fairly soon. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Savage Worlds - Post-Campaign Thoughts on Characters


I wanted to write this post because I was expecting that after running Deadlands for two years - and having played in a 50 Fathoms campaign before that one - well, I was expecting to be feeling some system burnout. That feeling when the mechanics of a game system start to grate, characters and monsters start to feel samey, and the game's possibilities narrow down to what you've already done. It's a feeling that means it's time to change games for a while. This has happened to me with various versions of D&D, Pathfinder, and Traveller, among other games. Often it comes up near the end of a long campaign.

Unexpectedly though I do not feel this way about Savage Worlds. I've run or played a lot of Deadlands, a little Hell on Earth, quite a bit of Necessary Evil and 50 Fathoms, and a fair amount of Rifts - and that's just the published campaign stuff. There is a bunch more that I want to run from books on the shelf to homebrew ideas that demand attention. The system really does hit a sweet spot for me between playability and flexibility and having characters that are just detailed enough to feel unique. A lot of lighter systems are either OSR where one low level fighter looks a whole lot like another low level fighter or else they use such light mechanics that some kind of trait or tag system is the only differentiator between characters and mechanically they tend to all do the same thing. There's a place for all of these of course but a lot of times I end up wanting a little more crunch to build on for both my players and my NPC's and creatures. Savage Worlds apparently hits that just right for me. 

That said it's not a skinny rulebook anymore. The current Adventure Edition is 200 pages long BUT the biggest section is for building or advancing characters at about 60 pages. The gear section is about 15 pages and that covers from medieval weapons to guns to vehicles to armor. Combat is 10 pages. The powers section is about 30 pages and that's where a lot of the chrome is for certain character types and monsters too. There's a whole section called the Adventure Tool Kit which covers special cases - chases, mass combat, travel, wealth rules - stuff that won't come up every session but is useful to have.  So around half of the book is character-focused rules and the rest is running the game - I think that's a solid balance. Earlier thoughts on it here

The main thing for me is that it just runs well - the playability factor is high. Characters have a lot of options but you typically do not need to consult a long list or a long chapter just to do what your character does. Despite being simpler in a lot of ways characters still manage to feel unique. My Deadlands party has a Shaman, a Martial Artist, a Mad Scientist, a Hexslinger, and 3 non-magic using gunslinger types that have each specialized in an area: one is the "put a lot of bullets in the air" guy, one is a sniper (and a bounty hunter), and one is a pistol-focused gunfighter (and a Texas Ranger). That means three of my players could be stepping on each other's toes constantly yet they don't. There is some occasional friendly competition between them and comments when the dice are just not with someone but no one has complained about a lack of options or a lack of mechanical individuality.

The only time there was some mention of a lack of options was at Legendary as there were not a ton of Legendary-specific edges. To be fair though this is where most games will spend the least amount of time - in my experience, anyway - so it's not nearly the problem it could be. Still, there's an area that could be improved. I would especially like to see setting-specific Legendary edges as that would give players something to aim for within a specific  campaign and show what the heavy hitters in a campaign world are supposed to look like. It would also help with flavoring them at the higher tiers.

The way characters are structured and advancement is handled is also a part of this. There is a rough level type structure in that there are 5 character tiers from "Novice" to "Legendary" which are based on the number of advancements the characters have received and stat advancement and certain edges are gated by tier. So while it is pretty open and loose it is possible to gauge a group's power level this way. Also, while there are definite Archetypes in most of the published settings there is nothing as formal as the way classes are handled in most class and level games. There are benefits to specializing in certain skills and combining certain edges to enhance whatever area you want to excel in, but there is nothing mechanically making you do this. The closest thing you see to 3E-style Feat trees are that some edges may have a prerequisite and there may be an "improved" version of a particular edge so you're looking at a string of 3 edges at the most to really dig into something. This means that your character can be good at more than one thing or in one area! Not all games accommodate this. 

The one area the game does restrict to a notable degree is Arcane Backgrounds. This is the magic/psychic/super option where you can have special powers and you can only take one. So your Mad Scientist cannot also be Blessed or a Huckster. I have no problem with this as it serves as both a balancing control (no getting around the particular trappings or restrictions of on AB by taking another), a playability control (no having to figure out any weird interactions between spells or magic items when you're both a wizard and a cleric), and it also enforces some niche protection in a game that is pretty open otherwise. It's one of the absolutes in the system and I've never had a player complain about it. Considering that there are typically few or no restrictions on the kinds of powers you can take with each one, it's not terribly restrictive mechanics-wise. Flavor counts for a lot so under these rules a Blessed doesn't have to be the party healer- he can throw holy fire or turn invisible or whatever else he wants to do.

So throughout this campaign my players never felt constrained in their options and neither did I when it came to NPCs and critters both. Edges, Hindrances, and Powers all provided enough variety, when skinned the right way, that there was plenty of flavor to go around. 

More on some other aspects of the game tomorrow. 

Monday, December 11, 2023

Deadlands: The Flood - Our Finale


The City of Lost Angels ... up until Saturday night anyway ...

This weekend we managed to wrap up our Deadlands campaign with an epic finish that I believe left everyone satisfied. The only thing left for the party to do was to shed some blood on the doorstep of Reverend Grimme's grand cathedral in Lost Angels and that's exactly what they did ... eventually. 

If you've read or played the adventure the final piece is presented as a bit of a set run - once the party drops the blood in the right spot Grimme and his 13 ghouls and some fallen angels all rush out of the cathedral and start a fight that has a 13-round timer ticking away before the flood finally hits the place. 

This is not how it went at all ...

My crew was very concerned with trying to survive the earthquake and flood they were about to start and spent quite a bit of time running through various plans to achieve this. Boats were purchased, ironclad acquisitions were contemplated, a ridiculous amount of math was done to calculate how much weight the shapeshifting Indian shaman could carry in his most extreme form - and for how long, and at what speed. I joked that he had turned into a Vulcan at one point because he was "communing with the spirits" quite a bit in this effort. 

There was a whole lot of recon in and around the city too looking for "safe ways in and routes to help them keep a low profile along the way. I emphasized that this was a city open to land and sea trade and not a tightly guarded fortress and eventually they calmed down about it.

In the end they decided they had done all of the planning they could do and said "well we have to go in" and did so.

The Approach ...

To summarize, they used the quiet, stealthy approach to get to the cathedral and then obliterated the exterior guards in two rounds of gunfire, magic and dragon flame - more on that in a minute. Smashing open the front gates they moved through the main space of the church and broke open the rear doors to the inner sanctum where Grimme and his allies were having their annual feast. This is where the fight broke out and where it stayed for about 9 rounds as they blew away the ghouls, the summoned demons, and eventually beat down the Reverend himself ... 

"Sir, there is a dragon in the cathedral ..."

Then they went outside, spilled the blood, flew off towards Perdition, and watched the mighty power of the ocean wash away the center of Grimme's power. 

Yeah it was seriously flipped from the projected finale but it still felt epic and it still worked out. They had no idea what the expected approach was so they did it their way and I loved it.

Grimme's Last Stand (upper left part of the map)

A few points of explanation:

  • Unfortunately for the reverend my posse was a couple of advances into Legendary by the end and were both ridiculously powerful and damn versatile. "Only hurt by magic" on the demons didn't mean much when my shootists were using magic bullets (Smite from the Mad Scientist) from a .50 cal rifle and the Hexslinger was throwing her usual ammo-whammy'd shots. 

  • The party had discovered Grimme's original walking stick in the course of their travels and this started off in the hands of the martial artist with his ridiculous skills and super-boosted 30" of movement. This was not super-effective given Grimme's toughness so it was handed over to the dragon during the fight.

  • The dragon ... sigh ... yes my Indian Shaman had the shape change power and at Legendary you can turn into any living creature up to size 10 ... and dragons are size 8. This seems like at least a bit of a limitation but he realized this during on of the last rune-marking efforts where they encountered an undead dragon - which I had placed as it seemed like a wild opponent for one of their last challenges. However, once I had established that dragons could be a thing in Deadlands he immediately jumped on that and I had a PC dragon for at least a little while in each of their last 3 fights. I could have blocked it but it felt a little heavy-handed and they were "legendary" and this was the thing that had wiped out the rest of his tribe so I allowed it. The player loved it and that's rarely the wrong call.

    Effectively this meant that the party had a second decent melee combatant as thus far only Wu the martial artist had been filling that role and as the finale approached I thought it wouldn't hurt to have another HTH fighter available. 

    Something I did not foresee at the time was that the Reverend's Strength + 1d4 walking stick - the only thing that can actually hurt Grimme as he is immune to physical and magical damage - would end up being wielded by a Strength d12+8  dragon in this final encounter! That said, it was still very much a challenge for even the dragonized shaman to land real wounds on him for a while. Managing to score a single wound meant I would just bennie it away. I eventually ran out of bennies and then the concentrated attention of six legendary characters was more than even the Servitor of Famine could withstand.

  • I had a total of seven players during the run of the game and six of them were present at the end. That was very satisfying. Everyone was on time, in a good mood, and invested in the challenge as they knew this was, one way or another, the end of the campaign - that's how you finish a campaign! We may revisit these characters a little way down the road for a coda but this was the big finish.

  • We managed 33 sessions from September of 2021 through December of 2023. There was a six month gap in there while I packed up, moved, and then unpacked, plus the annual convention crew pause this year, but it works out to about two sessions a month during that time otherwise. That's a nice, sustainable pace I find. Knowing we run 5-6 hours per night that's 150-200 hours of Deadlands and I am not tired of it yet!

    This also gave me time to run some other games in between when I had free off-weekends and interested players and that keeps the GM's wandering game-eye satisfied - in this case with d6 Star Wars, FFG Star Wars, WFRP 2E, the Sentinel Comics RPG, the new Marvel game, and ICONS.

  • No PC deaths! I do not think I've ever run a campaign approaching this length without at least one character buying the farm. And I don't mean they were raised from the dead - no one got to the point of needing it in this campaign. The downside is that this denied us the chance to explore the Harrowed rules - ah well, maybe next time.

    I chalk this extraordinary resilience up to a group of very experienced Savage Worlds players in this case - there was a Deadlands Japan game one of them was running on a different night that started before and was wrapped up during the run of this game. Plus there was a 50 Fathoms campaign that ran from 2018-2021 that many of us played in as well. I have also run multiple games going back 10+ years from other Deadlands runs to Necessary Evil. System mastery is still a thing and knowing how to make a mechanically effective character in a limited number of advances can be a game-changer.
The Aftermath ...

Over the course of the campaign they fought bandits, undead, corrupted religious fanatics, maze dragons, and some transformed mages ... helped a ghost, ran into Big Trouble in Little Shan Fan, came in second in a martial arts tournament, survived a train crash, blew up an ironclad, and even ran an election for mayor in a small town - that was a first for any campaign I have run!

So there it is - this is the first campaign I have run in quite a while that had a definite end point and it feels good. This is not always my style but I do like having the option and I still think Pinnacle's Plot Point approach is the best way I have found to set these up. 

I have some more things to say in other posts about the system and the setting and some things I could do better if I was running it again but those are for later in the week - for now it was a blast and I am very happy with the whole thing.

Friday, December 8, 2023

40K Friday - Pictures from a Display Case

 Well, one of them anyway. After last week's bare plastic I wanted to get some painted stuff out there too. Call it a year-end retrospective type post.

A recent acquisition (earlier this year) the Custodes force is one I am happy with for now - plenty of the main infantry types, a bike squad, a couple of tanks, and one of each dreadnought type. It covers all of the bases and I have a couple more units on the bench to add some additional options like the bolter guys and to ensure each squad has a vexillum if they need it.

The Howling Griffons are my oldest army. I painted them in the late 80's and into the 90's and I don't really plan to add much to them. I do have some additional units on a shelf for them (scouts, more old metal terminators, some bikes) but there's not much urgency to get those done. These are mostly RT & 2nd Edition models and are still on the original 25mm bases but I get them out for at least one game each edition with people who are not nitpicky about such things so I can say I've played them every edition so far. Some day I may decide I have too much time on my hands and do a modern force in these colors but it will not be anytime soon for as much as I love this scheme it is a royal pain to do and get right. That said I love it - it was the most distinctive one on that double-page display in White Dwarf and then the Compendium and it also makes me think of comic-book Iron Man so it was an easy choice back then - if not an easy pile of work.

The Crimson Fists were effectively the successors to the Griffons above when I got tired of spending ridiculous amounts of time painting those colors. It is a dramatically simpler scheme to paint and from day one I loved the cover of the Rogue Trader book - even before I knew what it was about - so they were an easy choice  They were initially put together during 3rd edition  and I have added to them in every edition since - I still am! There may be as many or more units in the workshop designated for this army as are shown here so it's not slowing down. Various units have been altered or even phased out as editions have come and gone but I don't care - those units are still part of the army. Those shelves have everything from beakie marines and RT Predators and Rhino's to Aggressors and Redemptor dreadnoughts so it covers most of my history with the game and it will keep going as long as I do. 

They Grey Knights became a thing for me in 8th edition as I had liked the models for a while and decided to go with a zero-backlog approach of buying painted models. This is fairly easy as this army tends to be painted in a fairly consistent scheme. Of course touch-ups and base-unification eventually led to filling in some raw units and ... I have a backlog. I do have enough to play a fully painted army, no worries there, but there are still some units on the to-be-finished list ... possibly a few on the to-be-started list as well. Ah well. I haven't played them in 10th yet but I'm looking forward to it.

This picture is just the Blood Angel vehicles that are finished - the infantry and dreadnoughts are in a different case. I started putting together an army in 5th but didn't play them until 6th and I think my oldest batrep type post here was for 7th. I liked this army from early on and once I made the decisions to start picking up units I was a convert and it has never stopped. Much of the army was bought already painted (Blood Angels are usually well done and like the GK's are pretty consistent in style) but some of it is my work and much of the newer stuff is mine. I have developed a pretty significant backlog here as well as "acquisitions" exceeded "painting" by quite a bit for a few years. Now my focus when I work on them is on finishing some Primaris units to add a few more modern options. This is another army where I add new units every edition and will likely continue to do so for the long haul. It's a nice alternative to my standard C-Fists but it's still "marines" so I don't have to re-learn what every unit does if I decide to switch to them for a while.


The Imperial Knights are another recent acquisition. They were only added to 40K as an army in 6th edition and at first I thought it was a terrible choice but I've come around in the years since - mostly because they look incredible on the table - so I bought a few in 8th but didn't get serious about making them an army until earlier this year. Despite owning some unbuilt knights I figured the quickest way to get them on the table (and to avoid upping the backlog) I started hunting for painted knights and started picking those up over a few months. This was all big knights I made a deliberate choice here as while most armies are painted to look like an organized unit I wanted my knights to be a sort of "freeblade crusade" with every knight in a different color scheme to show a bunch of individual knights gathering together to fight some great threat. Given this I needed to get the big guys first as I want the small ones to represent their squires and have each one painted to match one of the larger knights. I have the smaller ones but now I need to paint them up to match - I'm sure that won't take any time at all. 

Anyway there's a bit of retrospection and thinking out loud here in December. More to come.

Friday, December 1, 2023

40K Friday: Works in Progress


Catching up the recent work has mainly been Marines, World Eaters, and Tyranids.

  • I was building and painting my Crimson Fists and have made pretty decent progress though there is still a lot to do with all of the Leviathan stuff still in waiting for paint at least and a fair amount yet to be built. 
  • I took a look when the very late 9th edition codex released for the World Eaters and gathered up my very slowly progressing army and decided to put it out in the on-deck section of the work table. I needed some backpacks (of all things) for my berserkers and something I could use as eviscerators as that was a new option with their recent updates.

    With all of the parts gathered I built the squads ... and now I have 40 old school berserkers waiting for paint. Well, more like 20 now as I've managed to get some color on 2 squads with one almost completed. It's tricky finding the exact paint scheme I want to commit to putting on that many guys but they are chaos-aligned so each one will be a little different. They are very close to playable now.
  • Finally I have started building my Tyranids - that's them up top. I started with the big beasties as those look like the most fun for now and I have quite a few more to go. I'm not worried about paint just yet as the weather is not great for spraying but I do have a color scheme in mind so no uncertainty there. I figure I can play them as gray plastic if I have to so the priority is to put them together first, as an army, and then start the painting process when I can. It feels good to have a brand new army that will be 100% built and painted by me. I did it with my Necrons and liked it a lot so I'm doing it with the 'Nids now. 

    And yes they're going in the display case to help clear space on the table. And to remind me they are ready for paint. No I don't normally do this so that's a new wrinkle too.

So progress continues even when the posts slow down. Hopefully I will have more to show a little bit down the road. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Wargame Wednesday - The History of Panzerblitz


A short post today with a link to a pretty thorough history of Panzerblitz - it's origins, early development, and eventual publishing history. Panzerblitz was a tremendously influential game as the first big popular tactical level game and one that would be in print and selling copies for  20+ years as well as spawning multiple direct and not-so-direct descendants. If you were playing wargames in the 70's and 80's you likely played this game and Panzer Leader and some of the other related games as well. I still have my battered copy I picked up 40 years ago and break it out every once in a while to touch on those early experiences again. If you are at all interested in the background of the game here is a really nice trove of information:

Link: An Informal History of the Development of PanzerBlitz

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Deadlands Campaign Catch-Up


Well I have run 29 sessions of my Deadlands "The Flood" campaign and we are close to the end, likely finishing up at session 33 or 34 in the near future. It's been a lot of fun and brought in some new players even as old ones stepped away and one of my challenges will be maintaining that energy with whatever we do next.

We started in September of 2021 with an easy opening, moved into "Comin' Round the Mountain" (an adaptation of the original Deadlands starter adventure) for a couple of sessions to get our feet wet, then rode the rails into California and have been there since session #3. The funny thing is I feel like there are still large areas we could explore further, both inland and in the Great Maze. That said the characters are about to hit Legendary status and so it is time to wrap up their story ... for now anyway.

One interesting note: no character deaths so far! Outside of superhero campaigns it's rare for one of my games to go this long with no one dying. This is especially true of a game where bullets and magic are flying in nearly every session. This has also deprived my players the opportunity to dive into the whole "Harrowed" section of the rules which is unfortunate. Oh well, maybe in the next Weird West campaign!

Now there have been gaps - moving last year and various holiday schedule conflicts have gotten in the way, alongside my determination to run different RPG's on different weekends. I did drop that last part recently as once I realized we were close I decided to let the other games go to ensure we used every opportunity to wrap up the main campaign properly.  

It's been a good run.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Wargame Wednesday - Storming the Gap: World at War 85


I haven't played a lot of tabletop Cold War era games. I think the only other land combat one I own is Last Battle from GDW which was closely tied to Twilight 2000 but it used all the latest Cold War-era equipment. I do have the Fleet series games from Victory Games and those were great but not at all focused on the landward side of things. There's Twilight Struggle of course but it's not exactly a traditional hex and counter type conflict simulation. There have been various computer and miniature games in this area over the years ( like the old "something 1985" series from SSI) but if we're talking strictly about board wargames this set is a little new for me.

Yeah, that's the one I had!

There were two main reasons to start digging in  to this particular game. First - the scale and the period are both of interest. As mentioned I realized this period was a bit of a gap in my experience and in my collection so I started looking at Cold War-era games. There are a fair number of options but this one chooses a specific year so we know what was definitely available and what might have been rushed into service or available in prototype form. That's a nice touch for an otherwise speculative game. 

It's also a platoon-level game which means the counters represent tank and infantry platoons which is the same scale Panzerblitz and Panzer Leader used way back when. This gives it a nice tactical feel that allows for differences between different types of equipment (like an Abrams vs. a Leopard 2 vs. a T-72) without needing to worry about details like facing and front/side/rear/top armor values. I have miniatures and some computer games for extreme detail and there is always MBT (from Avalon Hill and now GMT) if I want that. So this slightly larger view of things still feels close but should not bog down in minutia. 

Additionally this is a Lock 'N Load game which means it should be very well supported. I do not have any of their other games but they publish multiple lines of well-regarded games from Nations at War (WW2 platoon-level) to Lock N' Load Tactical  - Modern and WW2 lines - for that up-close scale of game. Their games look great, have been around for a few years now, and seem to be pretty widely played. 

There is a fair amount of stuff out for it now.

Finally the rules used in this game are refreshingly different - there is no CRT, for example. The numbers you need are right there on the counter and tell you either how many dice to roll for an attack or what you need to roll on one to succeed with whatever you are doing. Now the counters are a little busy and all of those colors and shapes and superscripts/subscripts mean something so I can see it taking a little while to learn all of the details but I appreciate the drive to put everything you need right out there on the board.

The other interesting rules element is the way it uses cards. It is similar to a card-driven game like C&C Ancients but the deck tells you which specific unit to activate, not what actions you can take - this is a huge difference if you've played any of the C&C games. There are cards for each formation in a scenario plus a few others might be added in like close air support or electronic warfare to represent the almost random appearance of certain assets. Also, you will run through the entire deck until the -second- "end operations" card is drawn which means this phase is over for the turn and the deck will be reshuffled for the next turn. This means that while you may not get to activate all of your units (like you would in a more traditional non-card-driven game) you will likely be able to do more in a turn than in a C&C turn so less of your army will feel like it's sitting there doing nothing. 

Finally there is a lot of detail in the game - missiles, reactive armor, helicopters, minefields, and more. It's all handled in a pretty intuitive way once you get the basics of the system so I don't feel like it's missing anything significant. This is a second edition of a prior game line so they had a few years to work out the kinks and it shows. 

Almost hilariously there is an associated novel line set in this ... universe(?) ... as well, so if you're missing your Team Yankee or Tom Clancy novels here's an outlet. I mean, RPG's generating books is old hat but this is a hex and counter board wargame ... well, OK ... and yes, I will probably check out the first one at least just to see what it's about. 

So I am looking forward to getting my hands dirty with this one - I'll post about it after I have some more actual play experience to share. 

Monday, November 6, 2023

Thoughts on Ascendant


Ascendant launched in January of 2022 and apparently did pretty well as they just recently did a Kickstarter for a new Platinum edition which is a pretty quick turnaround for a new edition of a game. I saw the KS and realized I hadn't looked at the existing version so I thought I ought to and now I finally have. 

It's a softcover book that is 496 pages long - it's a hefty tome though Hero 5th Revised is about 590, and Pathfinder 2E Core was over 630, so it's not the absolute biggest - but it's hefty. It's mostly black and white text but it does have some illustrations here and there and it does use color - title bars are done in blue while examples and specific headers are done in red so there is some thought put into the layout. There are section tabs on the edges of the pages so I do like the effort that went into organizing these rules.

The mechanics roughly described are sort of what could happen if you took the Hero system and mixed it with DC Heroes with a dash of Marvel Super Heroes. yes, it's a bit of an 80's greatest hits kind of thing. In their own words:


If we have succeeded, it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants. Two particular giants deserve special acclaim: Jeff Grubb, the designer of TSR’s 1984 RPG Marvel Super Heroes; and Greg Gorden, designer of Mayfair Game’s 1985 RPG DC Heroes. Grubb’s Marvel Super Heroes RPG (sometimes called the FASERIP system) was our inspiration for the color-coded Challenge Action Resolution Table, which enables any and all actions within the game to be resolved with a roll of 1d100. Meanwhile, Gorden’s DC Heroes RPG (sometimes called the MEGS system) was our inspiration for the logarithmic mathematics that power our physics- based design. We have sought to synthesize what was best about these two games into one cohesive system that surpasses both in robustness, comprehensiveness, and verisimilitude. Whether we have, in fact, succeeded is for you to judge.

The hero similarities are my own take on it. Characters have six Primary Attributes - Might, Agility, Valor, etc. - and then they also have ten Secondary Attributes which cover everything from height and Weight to Run Speed to Income, Reputation, Passive Spotting Range, and Passive Listening Range. Then you also have two Variable Attributes - Health (physical damage capacity)  and Determination (mental damage capacity). 

That's before we get into Skills and Powers. In my eyes it's starting to look like a Hero character sheet already.

Now the DC piece comes in with "Supermetric Points" or SPs. Everything is measured in SPs - distance, speed, time, weight, density, volume, area, money, information, and fame. There is a baseline quantity of each of these that is SP 0 and then each additional point doubles the previous quantity. So a distance of SP0 is 5 feet while SP5 distance is 160 feet. There is a whole section of charts that list values/examples for all of those categories from 0-25 SPs plus notes on how to manipulate them - you can't just add them together for example. Now a lot of games since DC Heroes have used ratings like this (Mutants and Masterminds and ICONS among others) but they are hardwired in to this system even more explicitly - everything a character has or does is rated on this scale - a Might of 6 means you can pick up 1600 lbs or a Horse, for example. The normal human max is 5 by the way.

There are a ton of up-front definitions of other things too like Objects, the different type of Actions one can take, and how to resolve tasks with Challenge Checks. It's not that any one of these things is particularly complex it's that there are so many of these things right at the beginning of the rules. I go back and forth with RPGs on what should be covered first - task resolution or character creation? But there is nothing in this section that really gets me excited about playing or running this game. That said, here on page 53 we do get to see how the system works:


Once the AV and DV have been determined, the DV is subtracted from the AV to yield the Resolution Value (RV). Next, consult the Challenge Action Resolution Table (CHART). The CHART is divided into seven columns and thirteen rows (-6 to 6). Find the row matching the character’s RV in one of the two RV Columns on the left-hand side of the table. If the character is making an Attack or certain other interactive actions, it is making an Attack Check and uses the RV column labeled RV (Attack). If the character is attempting any other type of Challenge, it uses the RV column labeled RV (Other). The player or GM controlling the character then rolls 1d100 and finds the column matching the number they rolled. The color of that column is the Color Result of the Challenge Check.

That's a lot to chew on but the chart does make it easier to grasp:

For example punching someone is Valor vs. Valor. So you compare that rating,  find the difference, roll percentiles, and look at your result above. White is a fail, Green is typically a success, and the other colors indicate better and better results with some outcomes requiring a specific color minimum - that's the MSH influence. 

There are Hero Points that let you break the normal rules - every superhero game should have them  and this one does. 

Character creation uses a point build system and there are Power Limits that cap how much can be spent on any given power though there are several pages spent breaking down different kinds of limits here and both the GM and the players are going to have to look this part over fairly carefully. 

There is a lengthy powers section that looks like it covers what most people will need. 

There is an entire chapter devoted to "Objects" which covers gadgets, devices, inventions ... vehicles in this system are "crewed objects" which cracks me up for some reason. This also gets us winning section headers as "sub-object launch capability" which seems like it could get pretty deep if you model an aircraft carrier that launches attack jets which can launch missiles which might have have sub-munitions of their own in each missile. No I'm not going to try and build that right now. 

After this we get into the gear section - excuse me, the "object catalog" which covers everything from a tactical flashlight to guns to drugs to nuclear weapons. There is a pretty thorough selection of vehicles here including the aircraft carrier and jets mentioned above - missiles are in the previous part. There is also this gem of a section:

I mean .. that covers a lot, right? This is really the "things the Brick wants to throw at someone" section and I love that this is here.

There is a chapter devoted to "Movement & Travelling". It's 13 pages long and full of formulas and charts and ... this is just how this game is going to go alright? It does say "physics simulator" up front and it is not kidding.

There is a "Forensic Site Complexity" table. I am not kidding. This covers a range of sizes from "Toilet Stall" 0 SPs to "St. Thomas Island" at 25 SPs.

The game does have rules for everything from social interactions and acquiring fans to managing money to learning and memorizing information to interrogating/interviewing witnesses ... some of that I can appreciate but I have to say a lot of it just seems like needless over-quantification, especially in a superhero game. The Saving the Day section has some very cool and certainly thematic ideas - asteroid strikes, avalanches, etc. but then we get to "Disease Outbreak" which spends 7 pages breaking down all the steps of identifying, containing, and treating various diseases. I have to say in 40 years of playing and running RPGs, including superhero RPG's, I have never need this level of detail for handling a disease outbreak. Maybe someone has ... but not me. Not even in Twilight 2000 where disease is probably at its most dangerous as there is no magic, no superpowers, and not much medicine left. So this to me seems like something one would put in a specific adventure or campaign supplement that dealt with a disease outbreak as a major challenge - not part of a core rulebook for playing costumed heroes. 

The Gamemastering section wraps up the book and has my personal required elements of lots of normal NPC types, animals,  heroes, villains, and some guidance on how to organize a campaign. 

So what does it all boil down to? Well, I would have been a lot more interested in this kind of system 20-odd years ago. It is very thorough - if that's what you are looking for it's probably the most thorough superhero RPG I have encountered. They did mention "comprehensive" in that inspiration section up above and they were not kidding. But ... for me ... I just don't need multiple pages and tables for every problem a team might encounter. I like the way the main Chart system works but the overhead to get there with the SPs and the RVs and all of the details just kills it for me. In the universe of Supers RPGs I don't know where it would win out enough for me to earn some table-time. There are some things that feel like odd disconnects to me:

  • It cites TSR Marvel as an influence but other than the color-coded results on the table I don't see it. MSH was very playable and did not get bogged down in details yet here the whole game is built on details. It doesn't feel FASERIP-y at all. Ease and speed of play does not seem to have been a primary concern here.
  • It cites being a Physics-based game as opposed to Effects-based (Hero) or Descriptor-based (Marvel Heroic Roleplaying) but comic book physics are notoriously flexible and variable and it just seems like an odd thing to base a comic-book game on. Superpowers are not usually defined with meticulous precision in comic books or shows or movies yet that's what this game is built around. It doesn't really feel right to me. 
  • The general feeling of "overkill" in so many areas. The disease section is a good example. In a campaign I was running most of this would be happening offscreen while the heroes gathered samples, carried people to safety, maybe dealt with some quarantine issues, and then helped deliver the cure. It would be about how the player characters reacted to the situation, not a procedural exercise in how the world works through it all. It's just a difference in approach and what I feel is important to a game versus what the designers here saw as important. 
  • Also (and Hero has a touch of this as well) there is a lot of jargon in this system and I worry that players are going to be spouting numbers and ratings and formulas in play more than just doing superhero stuff. Thirteen pages on movement alone ... I just feel like you're going to hear "He's 8 SPs tall" a lot more than "He's the size of a skyscraper!"  - the constant need to translate feels like it could interfere with the flow. Maybe with time this would fade but looking at it as a new system it's a concern. 
So it's not a game I am likely to run anytime soon. Saying that I would still consider playing it if one of my crew had a burning desire to run it. It would be an interesting experience and might change some of my feelings about it but I do not think that's likely to happen. For now, it goes on the shelf and sticks in the back of my  mind as something to re-examine down the road. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Wargame Wednesday - Catching Up on Years of Neglect


I used to play board wargames, also known as hex-and-counter wargames, quite a bit. Panzerblitz was my first - like it was for so many people - and from there I moved into Panzer Leader and then Squad Leader. Star Fleet Battles also entered my life around this time along with Starfire and Car Wars and Ogre so it was not just historical games. This was the early 80's so Avalon Hill reigned supreme in this arena with SPI, Steve Jackson, Yaquinto (Ironclads! Mythology! Swashbuckler!), and Task Force all in the mix as well. 

Over time Squad Leader became Advanced Squad Leader and squeezed out most other historical games for us. SPI was bought out by TSR and then many of it's main people started Victory Games and cranked out a whole lot of interesting things like the "Fleet" games, Ambush, and Tokyo Express among many others. Battletech entered the mix as something much easier to put together and play compared to SFB and ASL. Miniatures became more of a thing during this time thanks to Battlesystem and Warhammer Fantasy and, yes, Battletech and SFB too. Now many RPG's were being played as well but we were in junior high and high school and just had so much more time that it was easy to work in all three parts of the "triad" - RPGs, miniature games, and board wargaming. I never felt like these things were competing with each other for our time.

As time went on - though I did not notice it - the board wargames began to be squeezed out. Now things were still fine in the first part of the 90's but as we all grew up, moved out, got full time jobs, and started families our game time did thin out. RPGs maintained their primary place when we could get together as a big group. Miniatures, mainly 40K and Epic with a sprinkling of Battletech dominated the two-man gatherings. The boardgames dried up almost completely other than the occasional 6+ players game of Civilization or Twilight Imperium. Avalon Hill died, Victory Games died, Task Force died, and Steve Jackson went heavily into GURPS and then Munchkin and it felt like I didn't know any of the remaining players and didn't care a ton for what they were putting out.

About 10-15 years ago I got exposed to some of the new games at the time and it was a revelation. Card-driven games, more area-movement games, impulse-type turn sequences instead of rigid I-go-you-go systems ... there was a ton of good, interesting stuff happening. So I did step back in, picking up and playing Command & Colors, Combat Commander, and some older games I had loved like Ambush and Battle Hymn. I also dove into Federation Commander for a while and tried to make that a recurring thing again. 

After a year or two this faded though I did keep a very irregular C&C Ancients game going with Blaster for years and I did pay more attention to what was going on in the business taking the GMT newsletter email etc. I just didn't get to play a whole lot so I didn't keep up all that closely or buy much of anything. 

This past year though ... I started looking into Battletech again  - with all the Kickstarter noise coming from them how could I not? So There are new Battletech products on my shelf for the first time in years. That helped to get things rolling. I also started looking into games that matched up with whatever history I was reading at the time and realized I had missed a lot of good games. So I resolved to start rebuilding the wargame collection driven largely by what looked good and had decent reviews. For example, I watched "A Bridge Too Far" for the first time in years and ended up with multiple games on Operation Market-Garden. There are a lot of games on this section of the war so I tried to focus on 3 or 4 that seemed to cover it well ... perhaps 5.

I always had a lot of fun playing WW2 tactical games starting with Squad Leader and I still had the Combat Commander sets but there has been an explosion of this kind of game so I have been stepping into as many of them as possible - Old School Tactical, Band of Brothers, Conflict of Heroes, The Last Hundred Yards ... there are a lot to choose from. I also decided to rebuild my ASL collection (sold off in the 90's) and I've done a pretty thorough job there. I even branched out into the more recent ASL starter sets to help me re-learn the finer points of the game. 

So that's what prompted me to start this as a regular thing - I plan on stepping back into this part of the hobby and I plan to post my notes here as I do. Who knows, someone out there may be in a similar situation - "how is this new game different from Squad Leader?" Well, that's the kind of thing I can talk about here. More to come ...

Friday, September 29, 2023

40K Friday - Leviathan Work


I should really be working on completely finishing up the rest of the Necrons but sometimes the new and shiny takes precedence. I've started digging in to the Leviathan marines with the Balistus dreads going first (see above) because they are fairly simple to build being a simplified starter set type and also because dreadnoughts are cool. Two of those will be joining the Crimson Fists and one will go to the Black Templars most likely. The Fists are my "everything" army while the Templars are more melee focused but they do get some shooty units too. I have a couple of Redemptors set aside for them and a Brutalis but why not add an all-guns unit into the mix too? Someone has to provide all those Crusader squads with some covering fire, right?

The Terminators will also be going to the Fists - I have several squads already and the newer, bigger, types will just be additional squads for them. 

As for the rest right now I think one pyroblaster squad will join the Fists and one will go to the Templars. The Sternguard will mainly go to the Fists as well as they don't really fit my Templars. The Fists will also get one of each of the new characters and the others will likely go to the Templars - outside of the Terminator Librarian of course. He may join my Blood Angels. 

And that's really the breakdown right now - with way too many power armor armies I have to focus in at any given time so the new stuff goes into the Crimson Fists "let's get them brought up to snuff with a bunch of the new stuff" improvement program while the Black Templars await their turn (next) and the Blood Angels may be waiting for their own codex release for a big update. 

Lastly, my Imperial Fists army is all-terminators with some bikes (originally built as a Deathwing force many years ago) so I've just picked up some dreadnoughts to add to them and I am looking forward to that 1st Company Strike Force formation coming in the new codex. There will be no Primaris units added to this one - just more terminators perhaps down the road.

Also on a "new codex and it's inherent changes" note I of course finished painting a bike squad and a landspeeder squadron earlier this year, both of which now appear to be going to Legends. Ah well ...

From Leviathan that leaves the Tyranids and having gathered up quite the Nid army and the Codex and the cards it's a fairly big hill to climb. You have to start somewhere and getting them all built would at least let me play the army some to try it out. I'm probably going to start with the big monsters to run a crusher stampede as I can get that done faster. More to come there for sure.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Marvel Multiverse - The Intro Adventure PDF is Out


Quick note - Marvel finally put their intro adventure up in PDF form for free on DTRPG. It starts out as a straightforward hostage situation:

When the heroes arrive on the scene, the police officer in charge informs them that the situation is even worse than what they were told. The Hydra agents are demanding that the city of New York drape the Statue of Liberty in a Hydra uniform, and they’re threatening to kill a researcher every hour on the hour until that happens. There are five minutes left until the first hour is up.

I mean ... that's pretty Silver/Bronze Age appropriate I would say. As you might suspect there is more going on here than Hydra grandstanding. There is a solid map which is nice if you're going to have action scenes in a modern office building. Also there are stats for Hydra Agents (which are already in the main book), Officers, and Armored Agents (like that one up top) so it beefs up the non-super foes list a bit and it's nice to have them all right here in the adventure instead of being referred to page X. It's a nice introduction and it's exactly the kind of thing that could have been included in the main rulebook in my opinion. A free PDF is not a bad option though - thanks for that Marvel. 

That's the latest and greatest for the Marvel game as far as I know. Kang is coming in November so we will get a better look at what the big books for this game will look like then.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Firing up ICONS again


So I was going to be short some players this week for a variety of reasons - thus thwarting myself once again from wrapping up the Perdition Elections arc in my Deadlands campaign as I want everyone present for the finale. The bonus complication here was that the mix of players this week did not match the mix of players I have had for Warhammer, Sentinels, Marvel, or either of the Star Wars games I've run in the past year - inset appropriate emoji here. With the chance to continue an existing game game out the window I dropped back into the Hall of Gaming, took a look around, and contemplated my gaming life thus far. 

I needed something that was easy to drop players in and out of, that could be run as an episodic campaign - self contained from game to game, and something that would not take a great deal of time to prepare as this gear-switching tends to come with only a few days notice. I do not want to keep crash-course-re-learning games for one-shot runs like I've been doing so I want to pick something as the "Plan B" game and stick with it. 

Superhero games are the easiest type of RPG to manage variable player attendance issues in my experience so that's where I started. Simpler rules ... simpler character generation ... lots of support ... this was really going in one direction from pretty early on. 

So ICONS it was! I haven't run ICONS in 5 years but I ran a bunch of it from 2011 up to about 2018 and wrote about it a lot here so it's not unfamiliar territory. I mostly ran it with my kids though so my regular players have not spent much time with it. The other bonus with ICONS is that I have a bunch of short adventures for it - and I like them, which is a rarity with superhero games as most of them are not good. For some reason though this game brought out good things in people and resulted in some really fun scenarios with classic comic book themes front and center. Fainting Goat Games in particular has had a nice run.

So I spent two days re-reading the rulebook and choosing an adventure, then we got together and rolled up some characters. I ended up with only two players but that's fine for a supers game. 

  • Variable Dave ended up with "Phantom Justice", an interesting mix of Phasing, Density Control, Fast Attack, and ... Spinning ... of all things. He made it work.
  • Shootist Will put together "The Amazing Sub-Zero" - an Ice Controller that ended up pretty cohesive.
For this run I chose "Primal Power" from Fainting Goat. I don't want to spoil much so I'll stay general but it's a great situation involving gorillas, a zoo, mind control, a secret lab, and some other heroes, a police force, and an agency to interact with during a crisis. There are character stats and some maps to give the GM an idea of where things are happening and of course it could lead into more. 

My players being veteran superhero fans didn't even blink at a hostage situation involving armed gorillas and dealt with the initial situation quickly and efficiently. One reason for this involves one character having a high degree of proficiency with the Reflection power and the large number of tranquilizer rifles in play. Lots of mechanical interaction there but it does make people drop quite quickly when they can  be knocked out on their own turn!

I freely admit I came out of it happy that they had fun but feeling like I had a lot of homework before the next session based on the number of questions I wrote down. Combine a few new powers with not having played in a while and uh, yeah, I felt like I was behind on and off all night - it still went well though.

This weekend will probably be another session as I already know we will be missing a few players. More on that next week!