Monday, August 31, 2015

Wuxia World: Draft Notes

Yesterday I backed Max Nervieux's Legend of the Elements Kickstarter. I pulled the trigger in part based on Dr. Tom's interview with him and part on my love of the genre.  I haven't yet had a chance to look at the draft, and I'll probably hold off for a little while longer. Agfter I got back from Gen Con, inspired by The Warren and Worlds in Peril, I started sketching out a PbtA Wuxia hack. Designer Renee Knipe had worked on something like that, coming from the direction of Monsterhearts. Her take on it is leaner & stronger, and focused on the personal interactions. I'm not sure where mine's aimed. Or rather I know whee I want it aimed, but I'm still thinking about it. Anyway, I thought I'd post the rough sketches I've put together so far. I'll probably circle back and flesh it out again next month. 


OK this is a rough, rough starting draft of some ideas. I’m trying to figure out out how much I want to do classic martial arts films vs. how much I want to figure out how to do Feng Shui without over elaborate mechanics.

THOUGHTS ON MARTIAL ARTS/WUXIA SETTINGS
In my head, there’s a broad family to this genre, with several lines.
FRPG Wuxia: This has a mix of classical Chinese traditions mixed with fantasy elements. Essentially it wants to present a pseudo-China with magic. Scholars and sorcerers exist as playable classes. Big magic’s everywhere. You have lots of monsters. Weapons of the Gods (and the later Legends of Wulin); Qin; The Celestial Empire, and Dragon Lines all fit into this. For me the strong focus on cultural specificity and heavy magic-using PCs defines this.
Classic Shaw: Almost no “magic,” instead there’s some strange martial arts powers. Drama conflicts. Has a historical feel to it even when some of the situations become gonzo. Wing Chun, My Young Auntie, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Come Drink with Me; Heroes of the East.
Cities on Fire: Most of the modern stuff that aims for “real world” feel. Gun Fu and/or full on martial arts. Police Story, The Killer, Twin Dragons, Flash Point, Ong-Bak, Chocolate. Hong Kong Action Theater focuses on this.
Wuxia Novels: This is kind of a hybrid genre. It has magic and monsters, but they’re reserved as show-piece elements. Most sorcerors and wizards are clearly NPCs. The Supernatural’s usually dangerous. But truly weird and ludicrous martial arts forms exist as well. There’s a focus on relationships, conspiracies and betrayal. Movies: Crouching Tiger, The Duel, Painted Skin, Flying Guillotine, Storm Riders, The Four, Detective Dee, Dragon, The Guillotines, Chinese Ghost Story, Five Element Ninjas, Mr. Vampire, The Swordsman I & II, Green Snake, Bride with White Hair, Five Deadly Venoms, Dreadful Melody,   TV Series: Condor Hero, Handsome Siblings, Laughing in the Wind, The Patriotic Knights, Fox Volant of Snowy Mountain
What I’m aiming for is closest to this last one.

STATS
Fight
Wise
Tough
Calm
Attractive
Odd
+2, +1, +1, +1, +0, -1

Damage and Debilities
Characters can take five harm. Once the last Harm box has been ticked, characters begin to take Last Breath tests (+Tough). On a 10+ the character stabilizes and regains one point of Harm. On a 7-9 the character either goes out and stabilizes or stays awake and marks a death tick. On a 6+ the character can either a) go out and take a single death tick or b) stay up and take two death ticks. Death ticks remain until dealt with by serious treatment. Five death ticks and you die.

Wuxia characters have a couple of additional conditions which can occur. Most conditions can be cleared by a recover action or bargaining with the GM to take a failure of some kind in place of a rolled success.

Rivalries: If a character has a rivalry with another character, they cannot use the Coordinate or Help moves with them. Characters can clear rivalries in several ways. If the rival character uses Help on them, the player may clear the rivalry. If the character sees his rival struck by a Hated Foe or another rival, they may opt to clear the rivalry. Players may also clear Rivalries through a series of interactions if they want- usually revealing a previous connection, shared interest or secret relationship between them.

Emotional Conditions: Classic debilities include things like Angry, Loss of Confidence, Sudden Fascination. These create changes in the fiction which the GM can compel- often to have events occur. The GM may also bargain to allow the player to clear these by taking a failure instead or a success or more randomly, by rerolling a success. Supernatural foes may create panic, dread, or chills, all of which may be compelled.

Crippling: A classic element of these genres is that characters may have their chi disrupted, their legs broken, or their hands pierced. Crippling a named foe may be a condition to defeating them. When a PC becomes crippled they will lose some kind of effectiveness, both in the narrative and mechanically.

Wuxia Hard Bargains
This genre features weird twists, complex conspiracies, strange revelations, and bizarre betrayals. Hard choices and bargains may revolve around establishing new fiction about the setting: “I succeed, but realize she’s my long lost sister,” or “I deal damage but recognize that my foe has also been taught by my master.”

More examples in the GM section. Complications for romantic entanglements. Misunderstandings as a huge part of things. These should be a central GM move. Sherri suggested that The Trickster might have a move to Clear the Air? Maybe one to Cause Misunderstandings.

Talk about how to handle twists and secrets- some players may not be cool with those revelations. One way is to see response and if it doesn’t go down well, then shift it to be simply a Misunderstanding. It turns out she wasn’t betraying you after all, it just looked that way. Advising caution about not pulling the rug out from under players- meta conversations about these elements in game.

Bonds and Hated Foes
Characters begin with five points worth of bonds. These can be established with fellow PCs or with NPCs- they can also be established on the fly. The max starting bond value is a +2. Players may burn a bond point to reroll, to clear Harm, or to remove a debility- if you can justify how your connection pushes you. This doesn’t necessarily represent a reciprocal bond, but how they push you forward. {Characters may have a max of 8 points worth of bonds}. Hated Foes are much the same; players may begin with 2 points of Hated Foes. These points may be burnt when opposing those foes.

Reputation/Respect: Another mechanic????

Moves
THESE ARE TERRIBLE MOVE NAMES TO START

Battle Mooks
You cut through a mob of faceless enemies, Roll +Fight. On a 7-9 pick two of the options below, on a 10+ pick three. On a 6- you suffer a debility. Capture’s especially on the table as they swarm you.
  • Reduce Their Number (may be taken multiple times)
  • Push them Back
  • Keep Them From Something
  • Escape Encirclement
  • Reduce Harm
  • Dispirit Them

Duel
You battle against a named foe. Roll +Fight. On a 7-9 you do a Harm and may pick one of the options below, on a 10+ you pick two. If multiple heroes battle against a single foe, they may get in each other’s way. This can be avoided by using Help/Hinder. If multiple characters attack a foe without someone first taking the coordinate move, all characters suffer a -1 to their roll and the lowest roller(s) gain rivalry with the highest.
  • Do Additional Harm
  • Keep Them From Something
  • Move Them
  • Reduce Harm
  • Gain Respect
  • Make a Point
  • Allow Escape
  • Study Technique +1 Forward
  • Spot Weakness +2 Hold for other characters
  • Cripple- counts as two picks and Harm

Defy Danger
Roll +Tough when you’re faced with an unusual physical danger outside of combat. It can also include players dealing with Legendary Secret Weapons or techniques. They may not be able to fight back against these until they manage to develop a technique of their own. On a 10+, you do what you set out to, the threat doesn’t come to bear. On a 7–9, you stumble, hesitate, or flinch: the GM will offer you a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice.

Coordinate
Roll when you plan out a strategy for dealing with a named foe or foes. Roll +Wise or +Calm. On a 10+ all attackers gain +1 Forward. On a 7-9 the GM may offer you a hard bargain or you simply negate the -1 penalty and rivalry gain.

Deal with Strange
Roll +Calm or Odd when you’re faced with the strange, occult, or arcane. . On a 10+, you do what you set out to and keep yourself together. On a 7–9, you find yourself unnerved: the GM will offer you a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice. Strange effects usually cause debilities.

Help/Hinder
Roll appropriate stat. On a 10+ the object of your attention gains a +1/-1. On a 7-9 they gain that bonus/penalty, but you’re linked to any negative effect from the exchange (Harm, debilities, etc).

Demonstrate Prowess
You exert your presence in an artistic performance, in a contest of skill, making an impassioned speech, or the like. Roll relevant stat. On a 10+ you impress and convince. On a 7-9 the GM will offer you a hard bargain. If in direct competition against foes, the bargain will usually relate to them. Some competitions may have several legs, in which case the GM may keep a running total of your success rolls (bargains taken move the value up to a 10). In this case the GM may set a minimal total the player needs to obtain. The player may bargain to raise their results before the finish line.
Conceding is a kind of bargain, demonstrating intelligence. The GM will negate a previous hard choice if a concession is made gracefully. Common contest bargains include loss of reputation, revelation of weaknesses, endangering loved ones, or rivalries.

Wire-Fu
This game assumes characters can always perform great stunts and acts of acrobatics. This Move comes into play when two characters compete for something using such techniques. If two players compete, they declare which stat they wish to use. The winner gains control or achieves their objective before the loser. The loser gains “Rivalry” with the winner. The GM may offer the loser a chance to reroll, if they take a hard bargain (usually gaining the Angry debilitation). This switch only happens once.

A competition with another PC may have several legs or multiple competitors. Regardless, in any exchange each character can only gain a rivalry with a single person.

Sneak Past
You attempt to deceive or trick someone: stealth past a location, conceal an object, disguise your appearance, create a distraction. Roll +Wise. On a 10+ you succeed. On a 7-9 the GM will offer you a hard bargain. Keep in mind this genre often allows for weird and absurd stratagems.

Reveal Secrets
When you want to recall a piece of secret lore or study a scene for clues, roll +Wise. On a 10+ you may ask three questions; on a 7-9 you may ask two. You gain +1 Hold when using that information.
{Insert Typical Questions here}

Gather Info
When you want to pick up gossip on the street, read a room full of people, and assess an opponent, roll +Attractive.
{Insert Typical Questions here}

Romance
You may establish or develop a romantic bond with a character. This goes beyond mere flirtation. Roll +Attractive (- current level of bond?). On a 10+ you succeed in making a significant connection. You create or improve your bond with that character. On a 7-9 the GM will offer you a hard bargain. On a 6-, you will reduce any established bond and you will have fallout of some kind.

Recover
Roll +Tough. This requires downtime and a place to recover. On a 10+ the player may pick three from the list below. On a 7-9 they may pick two. Some debilities may require additional resources like a Chi doctor, a magic spring, or a return home to train and meditate.

Be Skillful
The character uses their talents to affect the physical world in some way: shattering a boulder, lifting up a massive object, disarming a trap, casting an oracle. Roll relevant stat. On a 10+ you succeed and may take 1 forward. On a 7-9 the GM will offer you a hard bargain to succeed. On a 6- your efforts have made things worse.

Deal With Spirits
You find a way past the unusual defenses of supernatural beings. Roll +Odd. On a 10+ you find a way to affect them as you would other foes. On a 7-9 you do so but there’s a significant cost involved.

New Technique
The character realizes that they must go off and develop a new technique if they are to succeed. Decide what foe or situation must be overcome. Roll +(the number of times you have faced that foe). On a 10+ you figure out a revolutionary solution. In some cases, you will use this to craft a new move. Often, this will allow you to overcome a foe’s invincible technique (deadly poison, head-cutting weapon, ghost form, golden armor). On a 7-9 the GM offers you a hard bargain- a cost either associated with the development or with the execution of the new technique.

Manipulate?? As a Move???

Defend?? As a Move???

ARCHETYPES
Don’t exactly want to do playbooks, but maybe I should. If so, handled broadly: Exorcist, Monk, Weapon Master, Fighter, Trickster, Learned.

TALENTS
  • Trickster: Roll Calm for Gather Info and Sneak Past.
  • Drunken Master: You gain the Drunken aspect and lose a Respect. You have a +1 ongoing to your Fight and Tough, but a -1 to all other stats.
  • Master Planner:
  • Brother & Sister in Arms:
  • Manipulator: Roll Attractive for Sneak Past. Begin with two extra bonds and higher max bonds.
  • Animal Forms
  • Iron Skin
  • Signature Weapon
  • Lightfoot Master
  • Alchemist
  • Gadget Master
  • Big Family
  • Filial Duty
  • Master of Disguise
  • Hidden Stance
  • Forbidden Style
  • Secret Technique
  • Secret Weapon
  • Bounty Hunter
  • Exorcist Technique to innovate anti-supernatural elements on the fly. Perhaps they have the Deal with Spirits move exclusively. Otherwise requires heading outside of combat.
  • Something to heal in combat
  • Other exorcist things: Detections, revealing disguise, finding signs, magic items which contains caught things, wardings, item for bonus harm vs. supernatural. Should still have decent general abilities so they don’t get too locked in.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part 14: 2010)

Y NOT THE LAST MAN?
When we’ve hit the end of a decade on past lists, I’ve reviewed some of the Post-Apocalyptic media from that era. This time I had enough items I opted to split the decade in half. This covers 2000 to 20004. I’ve probably missed some items here, so chime in if you see a gap.

Movies: On the Beach (2000), Battlefield Earth (2000), Titan AE (2000), Left Behind (2000), A.I. (2001), Final Fantasy: Spirits Within (2001), Kairo (2001), Equilibrium (2002), 28 Days Later (2002), Reign of Fire (2002), le Temps du Loup (2002), Casshern (2004),  Dawn of the Dead (2004), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Post Impact (2004), Idiocracy (2004)

There are some bad films there. No good-bad like Hell Comes to Frogtown, but “we spent good money to make you mutant meh” bad. Still we get the awesome Kairo and about ten minutes of Casshern is awesome.

Books: Demons (Shirley2000), Mortal Engines (Reeve, 2001), Idlewild (Sagan, 2001), Night of the Triffids (Clark, 2001), The Peshwar Lancers (Stirling2001), The Years of Rice and Salt (Robinson, 2002), The Butlerian Jihad (2002), Snowfall (2002), Oryx and Crake (Atwood, 2003), Clade (Budz 2003), The City of Ember (Du Prau, 2003), Vampire Earth (Knight, 2003), The Taking (Koontz, 2003), Cloud Atlas (Mitchell, 2004), Fitzpatrick’s War (Judson, 2004), Uglies (Westerfield, 2004).

I have a love/hate relationship with Idlewild. It’s intriguing most of the way through but the ending feels a little cheaty.

Television: Andromeda (2000), Dark Angel (2000), Smallpox (2002), Jeremiah (2002), Encrypt (2003), Battlestar Galactica (2003)

Comics:  Just a Pilgrim (2001), Y the Last Man (2002), The Walking Dead (2003)

Manga/Anime:  Saikano (2000), Battle Angel Alita (2000), X/1999 (2001), Overman King Gainer (2002), Wolf’s Rain (2003), Dragon Head (2003), Appleseed (2004), Deus Vitae (2004), Planetarian (2004), Desert Punk (2004)

Dragon Head is freaky. Really, really freaky.

Video Games: Earth 2150 (2000), Gunlok (2000), Carmageddon 3 (2000), Final Fantasy X (2001), Sin and Punishment (2001), Fallout Tactics (2001), Ace Combat 4 (2001), Project Eden (2001), Halo (2001), AquaNox 2 (2002), Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2002), Deus Ex: Invisible War (2003), Half Life 2 (2004), SMT: Nocturne (2004), Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel (2004)

Didn’t think Wind Waker was post-apocalyptic until someone pointed out that Hyrule has been flooded and devastated.


SPOILER: AMPERSAND WAS THE MONKEY
To keep this list easy to read I’ve tightened the years covered. As we get closer to the present the lists expand and contract weirdly. I include mostly core books, but also significant setting material or sourcebooks. I consolidate “spin-off” and miscellaneous supplements into a single entry. For example at the end you'll see round-up entries with post-apocalyptic elements. Given the number of great things published I haven't included everything I want. I try to list revised editions which significantly change a line or present a milestone. Generally I only include published material- print or electronic. I skip freebie or self-published games. I'm sure I've left something off without adequate reason; feel free to add a comment about a line I missed (if published in 2010). I've arranged these by year and then alphabetically within that year.

History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part One: 1976-1984)
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs

Apocalypse World is tremendous game. It gets a great deal of love and attention for the mechanics. It created division for its language and commands to the GM. But I’ll leave that for other reviews and comments. How well does Apocalypse World function as a post-apocalyptic game?

Because I’ve gone through so many of these games, I instinctively want to put Apocalypse World in a box. Where do I sort it? It has a Mad Max feel, but it’s not treading the same ground as octaNe or Redline. It isn’t the gonzo of Gamma World or Mutant Future, but it does have some strangeness baked in. It isn’t the gunlove of Twilight 2000 or Morrow Project, but it does have violence as a critical element of the play. Vincent Baker has said he hadn’t done much with other post-apocalyptic games and I can believe that. It feels like it’s taken themes hinted at in other media (Doomsday, Thunderdome, The Road, Jeremiah) but created something creatively new.

Apocalypse World focuses on people. Players pick a playbook for a character type, no duplicates. We’ve seen archetypes and templates in other games, but the physicality of the handout and the immediate uniqueness focuses the experience. And the playbooks say a lot about the background. AW doesn’t spend any time talking about the world, not even to the GM (Master of Ceremonies) here. It knows the players have a vision of these places look like. It doesn’t have to have a history, gazetteer, or even an explanation of how things fell apart. That’s not important.

Yet we do get a strongly conveyed world, a sense of what life in this place is like. Again, the playbooks carry this weight. We see the importance of tech and scavenging, not for ancient artifacts but gear for survival. We see that force and violence exist everywhere, but that they have a cost. Most importantly we learn that people are tools and double-edged swords. Relationships and connections bleed into everything.  More than anything else the Moves, the things the game structures rules for you to do and do interestingly, show what the plays going to be like. You know this isn’t going to be like other games.

When I showed AW to a friend who was preparing a Fallout game he was a little thrown off. I’d only just gotten the book so I hadn’t groked it, but it had “Apocalypse” in the title. Looking back now I can see why. It might have a similar premise, but tonally it goes in another direction. You might be able to bring a Fallout skin to AW, but it wouldn’t be Fallout. That isn’t to say AW doesn’t work with other games. It can, but in particular ways. Sourcebooks for other games can be useful for the GM, helping them build the fluff and giving them apocalyptica to barf forth. And AW can perhaps show you how you might make another PA game more intimate, more human. But that being said, Apocalypse World knows what it wants to do and sticks by it. It has a vision of the world and the play. In other games that might serve as a straight-jacket, but instead that weirdly opens it up. It isn’t for everyone, but it remains a great game and a great resource for anyone seriously engaging with what life would be like in these settings.

While Baker hasn’t published any big supplements for the game, you can find a ton of fan-made material on the web. A second edition of AW is currently in playtest.

Please, PLEASE tell us what the game's about early in your rulebook. And not in vague terms, like "a game of extraordinary people doing interesting things." As well don't count on your audience reading the game fiction you put at the front. Somewhere in some of the first pages or on the back cover, give us the premise: clearly and directly. It took a lot of hunting to glean that Archetype offered a fantasy post-apocalyptic game. In it, monsters have taken over the world and the only way to battle them is taking on their powers and essence. That's not a bad concept and the game has several things going for it: nice color artwork and a Tarot-based resolution system. On the other hand, the setting’s vague presentation and a 48-item glossary straight out of WW make me nervous. The general mechanics of attributes and skills also owe more than a little to WoD. The game's $15 as a 95 page pdf ($30 for the softcover). That's a little high for me. But if you're intrigued by Tarot-based mechanics or really like slightly unspecified fantasy post-apocalyptic settings you might check it out.

I'm always unsure where to put these "Dying Earth" games. They're end of days, and the world fell and changed long ago...but that's so far in the past as to be a forgotten dream. Books like Dancers at the End of Time, Castle Brass, and The Dying Earth have this feeling. We’ve seen a few games on these lists as well. Most have a mythical or dreamlike quality (Low-Life, La Terre Cruese, and maybe Polaris if you read it that way). In any case, Chronicles of Future Earth offers a strange and far future world. A BRP sourcebook published by Chaosium, on the one hand it feels a like Dark Sun, on the other like Dune. So perhaps that combined with a more serious version of Dying Earth? Or perhaps it’s just a wonderful and weird pastiche. I liked it when I read through it, but at the same time the completeness and detail of the setting threw me off a little. You have a lot of strange and alien races and assumptions to get across to the players. They're well presented, as you'd expect from the ever-excellent Sarah Newton (Mindjammer). She never talks down to the readers and potential GMs. She gores for high-concept and plays it through. That can be intimidating. But it remains a great read. If you like weird sci-fantasy, I recommend this book.

This might not seem post-apocalyptic, but I’ll keep claiming it is. It just feels that way to me. The English Civil War ends with the death of Charles I...or it would end but that murder instead breaks the Divine Right of Kings and shatters something in the world. The conflict continues between the alchemically backed Royalists and the Clockwork Roundheads. But order has broken down, and society has been splintered. Different factions and faiths wander and struggle for the souls of the world. There's a sense of isolation, with villages left alone and waiting for the rest of the end times to come. Think post-apocalyptic by way of A Field in England.

Clockwork & Chivalry doesn't have to be played post-apocalyptic. You could do a conventional military game. But I love the idea of the old world ending, and an uncertainty about what comes next. If you like historical games, I recommend checking this out. You can see my comments on the 1st edition core and the Divers and Sundry sourebook.

At first choosing Dark Sun as a core D&D 4e setting puzzled me. But in retrospect it makes sense. Dark Sun stands out from any other world and has a clear and direct path of play. Birthright's more niche, Al-Quadim is more echoing than original, and Mystara's close to Forgotten Realms. Still…why no Planescape or Spelljammer? Dark Sun offers a fantasy setting of dead gods and polluting magic. It once had a distinct and striking look in the TSR days, with Brom’s artwork the cornerstone. The 4e version loses that look and so it blends in with the rest of the line. WotC decently supported this setting with a creature book, several modules, and many electronic adventures for organized play. A lot of people love this Dark Sun, though some object to the truly weird stuff in the later TSR edition. I'll be curious if WotC returns to this well with 5e or decide it has run dry.

6. Deluge 
A short, systemless setting by Brad Murray (Hollowpoint, Diaspora). It has rained for a hundred years. Our world crumbled as the water levels rose, the ice caps melted, and temperatures slowly climbed. The book suggests that any game played be set in your hometown, combining these ideas with your personal experience. Deluge provides systemless information, like typical character archetypes, but then talks about what to consider when adapting that to a game. It's a great approach which other universal supplements could benefit from. The game includes randomized tools for building the world, ideas on challenges & opposition, and suggestions for what to do in this world. Deluge is a smart, short (34 text pages), and useful supplement. It’s great as a setting, inspiration for similar apocalypses, and model for how to present information. It is currently available PWYW on RPGNow.

A cute, light indie rpg. A Kickstarter version superseded the original in 2012, offering graphical improvements. It dresses up the original game and made it more presentable without bloating the book. In Engine Heart humanity has died. But it has left behind many robots. But unlike many robopocalypses, in the aftermath you play tiny and unobtrusive service robots. There's a simple resolution system with characters built on a set of skills connected to three tracks (Intelligence, Chassis, Crux). A few figured stats complement these. Character also pick some additional features (arc welder, solar powered) and defects (high maintenance, overheating). The game weirdly gives little direction of the GM (or Programmer) as to what play looks like and what characters should be doing. There's a page or two, plus an example of play, but that's it. Engine Heart is currently free on RPGNow, so if you're at all intrigued you should check it out.

aka Gamma World 7th edition aka Gamma World 4e. This edition offers the most radical reworking of the original game by far. Rather than a distant or near future nuclear apocalypse, it posits a reality warping effect. Though...looking around at the various publisher blurbs and reviews from the time, you might not realize that. Instead these focus on mechanics and presentation. It's a little odd. Though I knew GW7/4e had changed the background, I had to hunt around for a long time to find a good synopsis. Essentially a Swiss Supercollider crashes together many possible realities into one. I like the idea, because anything can happen...BUT.

…It sounds like Rifts and other kitchen sink games, but it looks like Gamma World. I'm not sure how I feel about that. There's a deliberately light and funny tone to the material which underlines the absurdity rather than embracing it. Still it has a lot of the classic elements: weird creatures, robots, fragments of old tech, random mutations, so perhaps it is still "my" Gamma World. (Hey you kids, get off of my lawn.)

This Gamma World comes in a big box, looking much like a starter set. In some ways it is. It uses a digest sized book and has lots of flashy bits (maps, tokens, and cards). It builds on D&D 4th edition, offering a particular feel and a focus on balanced combat and builds. GW sticks close but makes a few changes. WotC notably shut off the possibility of third parties making new items for GW. I don't know if that helped or hindered the game. I do know that I skipped on it because of the cards. The main box includes two sets of cards covering general mutations and one shot mutant abilities. There's the idea that the continuing reality warping means anyone could change at any time. That's great and I love card-based support materials. But WotC opted to release more cards in random booster packs. Nope. I'd seen that before and it never turned out well.

Most gamers I knew who picked this up skipped the additional cards. And most really liked what they saw of the game. WotC supported GW modestly, but it felt like they didn't know what to do with the line. I suspect the middling success of this means we won't see a version based on D&D 5e, at least not from WotC itself. You can find copies of this out in the wild. If you're curious about the Gamma World, there are few better places that Critical Hit's assembled resources on it. Reviews, character sheets, new tools. That's a great place to start.

A Belgian rpg set in a near-future devastated by pollution. The title comes from the Latin for Free Will. Humanity has retrated to megaplexes and supernatural forces rule the outside world. It has a dark feeling to it, perhaps close to something like Armageddon from Eden? The reviews suggest it has serious problems with layout and presentation. It seems to be an amateur publication, but one with an ISBN and physical copy. It uses a resource-spend mechanic for resolution, not one of my favorites. 

10. Robotica 
A chunky (360 pages) Polish rpg. And it has an English translation from last year clocking in at 472 pages(!). It is notably sequestered in the adult section of RPGNow. And before I go on, I have to quote from the publisher's blurb there:
Clocks are no more mere time counting tools. Every jolt of the pointer is symbolic - ticking is similar to that of a bomb detonator, promising a sudden explosion... It is just an empty hope for a painless finale. Existence is hard to discern from torture. When a man is at the brink of his limits, the fate kicks him in the corner, leaves him to catch some breath. It is back only when the victim is standing on its own again. It seems that torturing a helpless victim is not providing fatum with enough satisfaction.
Okaaaaaaaaaay.

In this dark future, Corporations have taken over and then abandoned a devastated Earth. You play characters left behind in this wasteland, monitored by the Corps and battling against DESTRO. (note: Not from Cobra, instead a rogue electronic force). Players can be robots, mutant humans, cyborgs, or even weirder things. The game has several modes: pulp to grimdark and smooth to crunchy. It reminds me a little of Systems 
Failure and GURPS Reign of Steel. If this kind of mechanical dystopian world appeals to you, read the extensive blurb at RPGNow (which has a book length of "about 1,000,000 characters" as a selling point).

News has gone around that with the new Chaosium reorganization, they will discontinue their "Monograph" series. These fan-made, sometimes lightly edited, projects for CoC and BRP ranged widely in quality. Some could be great, but others missed the mark. There's a world of difference between Rubble & Ruin and the already mentioned Chronicles of Future Earth, and in more than theme. I'd hoped for a generic toolkit for BRP Post-Apocalyptic campaigns. But R&R has a specific, near future setting it wants to play out. It clearly comes from elements developed for an ongoing house campaign. It has the feel of a '70's PA game, but less gonzo. Like Gamma World dialed down several degrees. The near-future nature means that the setting can't really go too crazy. A little over half of the book's devoted to system mechanics and new BRP rules (cyber enhancements, gangs, prospecting, etc). As I understand it the rapidly evolving nature of "core" BRP means that some of these don't fit with what later became canon. If you like BRP (in the Chaosium, Legendary, RQ6 or other flavors) then you might find this a useful product.

I'm struck by how many love letters to early gonzo we've seen on these lists. Games breathing in and out  the weird of the earliest editions of Gamma World. Or at least the GW before they shook it up to make the world  coherent. I didn't see throwbacks like that on the Horror or Steampunk lists. The closest would be games aping the style and presentation of White White books, Nosferatuclones. In Supers we saw some games hearkening back to the central mechanic of older games (FASERIP and its many offspring). But games like S&SS fall pretty close to the Gamma World tree...before running off on spindly, mutated legs.

Sorcery & Super Science takes place several hundred years in the future. In the early 22nd Century an explosion of the weird began the break down the old laws of nature and humanity. Eventually conflicts shattered the moon and brought devastation across the world. Survivors formed enclaves and new peoples appeared, including mutants of all kinds. The game focuses on the classic explore, exploit, and exterminate formula. But it does that with a good mix of humor and clever concepts. It has gonzo, but it rarely points at it. Instead it plays the straight man. So the when the picture of a mutant cactus cowboy shows up, we don’t dwell on it. The art reminds me of classic Gamma World and After the Bomb, though the quality never rises to that level. S&SS has a class system, called "catalysts" and a new resolution mechanic. This "floating dice system" seems a little clunky when I read it; I'd have to actually see it in play.

Is it good? I've enjoyed what I've read of it. I recommend checking out the 48-page quick start, The House of Blue Men. The smart and careful Johann Four has a lengthy review worth reading. He likes it, though sees some weakness in the presentation. However Intelligent Cactus Gunfighter in a Duster invalidates that. Expeditious Retreat Press has supported the game with many pdf supplements on lost items and new creature. They're short, but might be useful for GMs running these kinds of games.

13. Roundup: Zombies
What's the plural for a large group of zombies? A gaggle? A zaggle? I'm guessing a horde, but that's a little generic. We need a special word for it. Anyway 2010 presents us with a murder of Zombie rpgs:

Against the Dead tries to stand out as a ZRPG by using popular system, in this case d20 Modern. However, Against the Dead does comes to that a little after that system's run its course. The publisher material suggests that it aims for a fast version of those rules. One interesting concept is that the zombie campaign arc breaks into three eras: Emergence, Ascendance, and Apocalypse. The goals and available mechanics vary between those. Also, though the cover and company blurbs suggest a conventional and realistic survival, apparently you can also play magic users in Against the Dead. That’s a significant split from the game's general presentation.

Outbreak: Undead positions itself as both an rpg and a survival guide. That at least makes it stand out from the crowd. However usually I'm looking for game-able material. OBUD It has a number of flaws which make it not the kind of game I like. I'm not fond of systems which have you make a character based on yourself. I know exactly how long I'll survive in that environment. The layout and graphic design- done as survivor notebooks- feels forced. It is also irritating to read. Others may embrace the verisimilitude of this approach.

War of the Dead offers a series of chronological zombie survival scenarios, tracing the outbreak and collapse of civilization. It uses Savage Worlds, but could be easily adapted to other ZRPG systems. Three collections bring together the individual weeks together into a three act structure (so far).

Z-Corps is a French ZRPG set primarily in America. That's a little funny to me, but says something about the thematic connection between the zombies and a decayed US. Maybe? Or perhaps Redneck zombies just seems more cool than whatever the French equivalent would be. Z-Corps uses the D6 system, which may dig for the ease of play. It appears to still be in print and have several supplements (including Denver and Savannah sourcebooks). 

14. Corner Cases
This year offers an odd mix of games that fall at the margins for various reasons. Some games dip their toes into the field. Many of the Game Chef designs for 2010 have a post-apocalyptic theme. OOH  The Fallout is a post-apocalyptic playset for Fiasco. As it says, "Mutants, motorcycle gangs and Rami’s Rat Kabobs."  Mirrors is a sourcebook for World of Darkness offering several new campaign frames. "The World of Darkness Destroyed" shows how to run the various supernaturals in the wake of a global apocalypse. It isn't Monte Cook's World of Darkness, which has a strong and clear focus. Instead its a tooolkit for running these kinds of games.

Some corner case games have minimal information available. Neuhanse is a Finnish rpg done as a public beta. Set in the Baltic Sea in 2070 following an apocalypse, the game doesn't seem to have been taken any further. COLLAPSE is a pdf-only self-published PA game. It looks like near future maybe?

Two others are interesting but lie right on the edge. More disaster than PA, Abandon All Hope, seems a little like Metamorposis Alpha, set in the immediate aftermath. are aboard a massive penitentiary spacehulk. However, something has gone terribly wrong- and an encounter with a dimensional rift has let "things" into our reality and...ok, let's just cut to the chase- they take Event Horizon premise, marry it to Pandorum and stick aboard a prison ship.

Dance of the Damned is card-based game, using a standard playing deck. This storytelling GM-less game sets up a basic situation and offers rules to allowing players to adjudicate and develop the narrative. Here the set-up echoes The Masque of Red Death or the frame of the Decameron. The characters have taken refuge in a castle to escape a plague ravaging the countryside. There's a competitive element to the game as players pass cards onto one another. Suits allow for different results and twists.



Monday, August 24, 2015

Sky Racers Unlimited: Planes, Flying, and Dogfighting for Action Cards

As I've posted about before, we're beginning a campaign arc for OCI called "Sky Racers Unlimited." When the group chose this as one of their portals, I knew I wanted to do something weird and more crunchy. Normally Action Cards is a little more crunchy than Fate (advancement, damage). But I wanted to be able to use all of the cool Crimson Skies planes I had and borrow a bunch from X-Wing mechanics. I wanted the dogfighting to be less abstract and allow players the chance to customize their own planes. So below you can see the bastardized system I've come up with. I have no idea if it is going to work, and more importantly, if it will be fun at the table. At the very least it should look cool. It's a good group and they're pretty good about adjusting values and making changes as we play. 

BUILDING PLANES
Each player will build their plane as they’d build a character. You begin with a chassis and then can add on to the basics of that. Stunts act as the currency to buy these things.  Planes come in one of three categories: Light, Medium, Heavy. That affects how much they can add, how fast they can go, how they move, and how tough they are.

Each plane type has a movement template, damage tracks, and a capacity. A movement template shows which moves you can pick at the top of each round. Better handing planes can go further and have more “green” or easy movement you can use to gain an advantage. Planes which handle worse will have more “red” or difficult movement which cause stress. You can find more on that in the Flying & Fighting section.

Just like characters, planes can take damage. Every plane has a damage track, system boxes, and the usual armor & damage resistance values. Planes can also take tags and consequences. Just like character consequences, plane damage effects get added to a player’s deck.  They clear at the end of a scene if the player has access to a mechanic and supplies.

Each plane chassis has a weight limit, representing how much more cool stuff you can attach to the plane. It also limits the # of different weapons you may attach. In play, if a plane goes over their weight limit for some reason (jamming extra people in), they suffer from the “Overloaded” tag.

You have 5 Stunts to spend on your planes. You may give up a character Stunt for an additional Stun to spend here.

PLANE CHASSIS
LIGHT CHASSIS
Starts with no DR and 6+ to damage (max DR 1 and 7+ to damage). Starting damage boxes: 1, 2, 3. May equip up to 5 weight in add ons. May purchase “Light Only” systems. Up to two weapon points.
MEDIUM CHASSIS
Starts with no DR and 6+ to damage (max DR 2 and 7+ to damage). Starting damage boxes: 1, 2, 3, 4. Up to three weapon points. May equip up to 7 weight in add ons.
HEAVY CHASSIS
Starts with 1DR (counts as an armor upgrade) and 6+ to damage. (max. DR 2 and 8+ to damage).  Starting damage boxes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. May equip up to 8 weight in add ons. Up to four weapon points. May purchase “Heavy Only” systems.
All planes begin with one front or rear mounted machinegun (2+5d damage).

WHAT YOU CAN BUY:
ARMOR
Ablative Armor: You gain an additional damage box equal to your highest damage box. This may only be taken once. (1s, 1.5w)
High Density Armor: You increase the number need to damage you by 1. (1s, 1w)
Reinforced Armor: You reduce the damage taken from any attack by 1. (1s, 1w)

WEAPONS
You may swap out your machine gun for these weapons marked with * at with a reduction of 1s, .5w). 
Additional Machine Gun: You may add a second gun with a different arc (front, rear, left, right. Keep in mind you may only fire one weapon per round (unless you have a gunner). (1s, .5w)
AutoCannons: Does 4+2d damage. Reduces the # needed to wound by 1.* (2s, 1.5w)
Double Mount Machine Guns: Does 3+6d damage. Replaces base machine gun. (1s, .5w)
Gunner: You may fire a second weapon in a different arc. Heavy Only. (1s, 1w)
Lightning Gun: Does 1+6d damage. Does additional damage against mechanicals.* (1s,1w)
Special Ammo: Magnesium: Used with machine guns. If the target takes damage from the initial hit, roll 4d at the beginning of their next action. (1s, .5w)
Special Weapon:  Bombs: You can bomb ground targets. A narrative effect, so no damage recorded. Assume two bombs, double weight for a second set. No Light chassis. (1s, 1w)
Special Weapon: Concussion: Creates an area of effect which can be used to do damage (6d+ 1d per target at highest armor, divided evenly). Alternately can be used to tag everything in that range. Affects all models with a base within 1. (1s, 1w)
Special Weapon: Rockets: This weapon does 9d damage. It reduces the number needed to do damage by 1 and does extra damage to ground targets. Assume two shots, double the weight for a second set. Goes in a straight line, the width of the base forward (or rear). (1s, 1.5w)
Special Weapon: Sonics: Grants a +1 bump to tagging an opponent with a distraction. Useful against many kinds of monsters. Excellent panic inducer. (1s, .5w)
Special Weapon: Tracers: When you hit with this weapon, it automatically “Sets Up” the next attack by an ally this round. Also useful for igniting fuel. (1s, .5w)
Turret: You may give a standard weapon a 360 degree arc (Machine Gun, Autocannons, Lightning Gun). Medium or Heavy Only. (1s, .5w)

FLIGHT SYSTEMS
Booster: When performing a straight move you may kick in your Booster to go an additional ‘2’ length. Useable three times before recharging. Light or medium only. (1s, .5w)
Dive Brakes: You can drop from High to Low in a single movement. You do +2d when diving to do a strafing run on ground targets. Light or medium only. (1s, 0w)
Overthruster: Your plane may make a straight 6 move, considered stressful. Light chassis only. (1s, .5w)
Responsive Controls: Once per fight you may spend a fate point to reduce damage taken from an attack (after DR) to 1 point. Light only. (1s, 0w)
Stall Enhancer: Stalls are not stressful. You may choose facing afterwards.  Light only. (1s, 0w)
Stunt Wings: Your plane may make a curved 3 move, left or right, and immediately reverse. This is stressful. Light chassis only. (1s, 1w)

OTHER ADD ONS
Cargo Box: Your plane has better and more secure capacity for cargo or passengers. Medium (one person+ worth) or heavy only (two people+ worth). (1s, .5w)
Co-Pilot: If you take a random system hit, your co-pilot gets taken out first (no roll).  Once per scene, if the Co-Pilot’s still there, they may make a Repair check to clear a Plane Damage consequence. No Light chassis. (1s, 1w)
Enhanced Sighting: You can see extreme distances and gain a +1 to create advantages for surveillance at a distance. (1s, 0w)
Flares: Useful for blinding close planes, signaling the fleet, drawing off heat seekers, creating distractions, and igniting fuel. Much easier to use than a flare pistol. (1s, .5w)
Grappling Hook: Used for effects like snatching things or event performing some stunts. Can be used to cause damage. (1s, .5w)
Long Range Radio: You can maintain contact over great distances via the Aetheric relay system. (1s, 0w)
Medical Kit: You can perform serious treatment in the field, removing some consequences on the ground with medical skills. (1s, 0w)
Net Launcher: Can be used to tag a plane with an aspect. More useful against flying monsters. Can be used outside of combat for containment. (1s, .5w)
Night Navigator: You have sensors for night flying and suffer no penalties for such flights. (1s, 0w)
Quiet Motor: You can activate dampeners to reduce your engine’s noise. This can be used to gain an advantage, evade monsters, or sneak up on targets. Non-combat only. (1s, .5w)
Repair Kit: You can perform serious repairs in the field, removing Plane Damage and fixing some damaged systems on the ground.  (1s, .5w)
Scientific Instruments: Your plane can do some basic scans from the air. As well once landed you can use the system to do more sophisticated analysis on the ground. (1s, 0w)
Smoke/Chaff: You can use these to add persistent aspects to the environment. These come with an additional invoke. (1s, .5w)

MOVEMENT TEMPLATES
LIGHT A
5


8



4


8


2
3
4
7
8
9
6
2
2
4
7
8
9
6

1

7
8
9



LIGHT B
5


8


2
4


8



3
4
7
8
9
6
2
2
4
7
8
9
6

1
4



6


MEDIUM A
5





2
4


8



3
4
7
8
9
6

2
4
7
8
9
6

1

7
8
9



MEDIUM B
5





2
4


8



3

7
8
9

2
2
4
7
8
9
6

1
4
7

9
6


HEAVY A
5






4


8



3
4
7
8
9
6

2
4
7
8
9
6

1

7
8
9



HEAVY B
5






4


8


2
3
4
7
8
9
6

2
4
7
8
9
6

1

7
8
9



PLAY
Each player has a plane, mounted on a rectangular base. You use your standard deck for making checks while flying. At the beginning of each turn both players and the GM set their movement by marking it. Then we run through the turn as usual, with players picking initiative order and passing. On your turn, you will move based on your selection and then carry out any actions. 

MOVEMENT
To move place the appropriate template at the front of your plane’s base. Then take your plane and place the rear of it at the other end of the template. There are four kinds of moves. You can see the distance covered in the row beside the movement:

8        Straight
7        A Slight Curve
4       Tight Turn
2       Move Straight and then Reverse Your Direction.

There are a couple of other movement exceptions explained below.
Movements marked in Red are stressful. When you do these, you have a -1 to actions until you clear the stress. You can clear these on the following round by doing a movement marked Green or by making a Pilot test and taking 2 damage. If you are Stressed you may not do a movement marked in red.

If you end your movement in contact with another plane’s base, make a Pilot check. If you fail you may either do 2 damage to your plane or lose your action. Alternately you may choose to do 3d to both planes and lose your action. In any case, move your figure so that bases are just in contact, not overlapping.

All planes are on one of three relative altitudes: Low, Medium, High. You may change one altitude per movement. You must be Low to attack ground targets. Difference in altitude affects attacks and some maneuvers. You don’t have to mark altitude changes when you plot your movement.

Stall: You may stall out to suddenly stop movement. You cannot have moved more than a 3 on your previous turn. Stalling is stressful. When you stall, you stay in place and immediately drop one or two elevations. You gain +1 to defenses that round, but must make a piloting check on the following round to avoid plane damage. You randomize your facing afterwards. Your next movement cannot be greater than three.

Barrel Roll:  Light and Medium planes may perform sideways rolls. At the end of movement, you may opt to make a simple Piloting check. If you succeed, you may shift your base to the side in either direction by one base width.

Sometimes there will be terrain which interferes with the battle (mountains, towers, stationary objects in flight). Planes which end up within a base width of these may invoke them as bonus if someone’s attacking them from the other side of the terrain. The tradeoff is that passing above or within a base width of such a terrain requires a piloting check.

ACTIONS
On your turn you may perform actions, including attacking. A good deal of the time you’ll be performing maneuvers to aid allies and set up enemies. Sometimes you’ll be doing something to change the situation, and sometimes you’ll be tagging someone with an effect. In mechanical terms, this is creating an aspect. It’s especially important in dogfighting.
In order to do full damage to a target plane, you have to activate an aspect on the target. Otherwise you do partial damage.

Usually this will involve things like moving to get the plane in your sights, tipping the wing, playing chicken, diving out of the sun, reading their patterns, and so on. You just have to describe the maneuver you’re pulling off. You make a test, resisted by the opponent. If you succeed you tag them and set them up. This gives you a free invoke for doing full damage on them. You can also use it for the usual purposes.

Maneuvers will use different result types depending on the maneuver you describe. Generally if the maneuver revolves around daredevil flying, you use Piloting for repulls. If it involves perception and calculation, you use Navigation for repulls. Aspects created via maneuvers can be invoked by any of your allies.

The Golden Rule of Maneuvers: Pilots are smart and learn from past mistakes. Therefore you cannot describe the same maneuver or trick twice in the same combat.

Clearing Aspects: Invokes on aspects clear after you use them. A pilot may also spend their action to clear an invoke (more with a strong Piloting test). As well, because of the high-speed nature of a dogfight, any aspect you create is fragile and will go away after your next action.

Consequences from damage on enemies can also be invoked to do full attacks. 

Tailing: If you end your move in the rear arc of an enemy plane after both of you have moved, you may attempt to create a special aspect: Tailing. You must be on the same or higher level. You repull with Navigation for this test, the target plane repulls with Piloting. Tailing works like other aspects, but with a bonus. Before movement the next round, that pilot must declare if they are going Straight, Left, or Right.

Shaking a Tail: Clearing a Tailing aspect requires an active test of the escaping pilot vs. the plane on their tail (rather than a test against a passive difficulty).

SHOOTING
You attack with Combat (repull Gunnery) and evade with Physical (repull Piloting).

Weapons have an arc. If any portion of a plane’s base falls within that arc, they’re a legal target. Exception: If you’re within a base width of a plane and they’re on another elevation, they may not be targeted.

If your target’s in range band 4, they gain a +1 bump to their defense test. If your target’s Low and you’re High (or vice versa), they gain a +1 bump to their defense test.
As usual, Defenders win ties. However if an attacker tie a defense result, they gain a +1 boost to any attack they make on the same plane in the following turn. If a plane has three or more “armor upgrades” they lose ties on defense. 

Planes which have taken a stressful movement have a -1 to actions (but not to reactions).
If you hit, you do your weapon’s fixed damage. In order to do your full damage, you must invoke an aspect on the target. This can be a free invocation or cost a fate point (for example from environmental effects or damage consequences). If you do so, you do your fixed plus your rolled damage.

If an allied plane is in contact (or really close by) a targeted plane, you will hit them if you miss your shot (Law of Dramatics). The same goes for bad guys though. 

DAMAGE
When you take damage you have to deal with it. After subtracting any DR, you have several options:
  1. Mark Off Damage Boxes: Mark off one of your plane’s Damage Boxes. This takes care of that much damage.
  2. Suffer Plane Damage. You can take Minor (2 pts for 1 card), a Moderate (4 pts for 2 cards), and a Severe (6 pts for 3 cards). Plane Damage cards get shuffled into your deck. They can be repaired after a fight. If you draw a Plane damage and can’t draw past it, you can either take a BLACK X or concede the fight and pull away to safety. If you gain three BLACK X’s your plane’s destroyed and you eject, with all that entails.
  3. Take a Random Hit: Reduce the damage taken by three. The GM rolls on a random effects table.
  4. Pilot Hit: You may take damage on your character. For every one point you mitigate, your character takes two damage.

If you cannot or do not want to deal with the damage, your plane is taken out. If you opt to concede and pull out of a fight, you’ll gain Fate points based on the # of Plane damage, Consequences and system damage from random hits you’ve taken.