Friday, April 29, 2011

R is for Random Tables

I was always one of those finicky game masters who always had to plan everything out in advance. In my youth, I felt that randomly generated results from a table didn't "produce good story" or some other ridiculous high minded bull honkey. But I'm also not someone who would completely rely on tables to stock a dungeon ("This room has... *clatter* 60 gibberlings and... *clatter* a pie crust filled with silver pieces.") or run social encounters. For me, random tables are imagination boosters. If I'm ever feeling lost or out of ideas when I'm constructing an adventure, I can always find someone's table full of dice-generated good ideas. For players, they can provide character hooks, equipment ideas or ideas

Probably my favorite random table out there comes from Ken Hite's phenomenal Savage Worlds campaign setting, The Day After Ragnarok, which details a pulpy post-apocalyptic world where Hitler's occult machinations actually summoned the monsters of Norse myth, forcing the Allies to slam a nuclear bomb into the Midgard Serpent. When the Serpent dies, it crushes Western Europe underneath its body and sends a venom-infected tidal wave towards the East Coast of North America. If you're a Savage Worlds fan, an alternate history weirdness fan or just a Ken Hite fan, you should really check it out.

I mean, look at that fucking cover.

Anyway, the back of the Day After Ragnarok book has a random Adventure Generator in it that really hits the right buttons for me. Each aspect of an adventure is detailed here, from the initial Hook that gets the PCs involved (anything from the Dying Message to an Innocent Beginning that belies something more sinister) to the antagonists involved or a potential Twist to add. But the best part of the Adventure generator is that it's fairly system-neutral: those they have references to setting items like Chimeras (monsters that were once human like ghouls and Stalinist man-ape hybrids) and the like, it's very easily adaptable to just about any setting. If I run out of ideas for Bullets and Tequila adventures, I'm gonna pull this thing out.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Q is for Quickly Now!

Now that my semester is over and the pile of finals coursework is finally done, I'm going to blaze through these last ten or so entries in the next few days. My gaming brain has been pretty solidly focused on my Savage Worlds anachronistic action western game over the past week or so (my rewards for finishing coursework have included watching weird spaghetti westerns and Maverick and playing Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood), but I've also been taking a real look at Tunnels & Trolls because of Scott of Huge Ruined Pile's super-cool Idrizoob stuff.

So if you see a few entries on your blogoroll in the next couple of days that seem behind the curve, it's just me catching up. :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

P is for Pregens

The more that I prep and plan for potential games, the more that I like the idea of pregen characters. High School Me would be furious if he ever found this out.

Though one of my favorite parts of playing RPGs in character creation, it's something that I have a lot of practice doing. When you buy as many games as I have over the past ten years or so and only get a few chances to actually run them, you tend to spend a lot of time making characters in assorted systems. For a system that I'm fairly familiar with, like Savage Worlds or any of the Cinematic Unisystem games, I can whip up a PC in about 5-10 minutes and I'm sure that most experienced RPers can do the same thing. However, point-buy games like these two can often be daunting for the complete novice or occasional gamer. When I did character creation for my failed Deadlands game with my friends, there was a lot of that uncertainty on what they were going to play, until they took a look at the character ideas section of the Deadlands book.

In this way, I think class-based systems really have the edge in terms of novice player buy-in. Roles like Fighter, Magic-User and Thief are iconic: you immediately have a picture in your head of what kind of character you would be as one of those classes. For a western, there are plenty of these iconic roles, but I never really thought that they fit into a traditional class-based structure. So instead, I'm making pregens. For those of my friends who already have an idea of what kind of character they want to play, we can hammer out character creation on our own and hopefully, it'll be a painless experience. But for anyone who just wants to pick an archetype and play, I'ma have them covered.

My list of pregens came from a wide variety of sources, including the Deadlands Reloaded and Wild West Cinema corebooks, as well as countless movies and TV series.

Mysterious Stranger
Bounty Hunter
Kung-Fu Wanderer
Soiled Dove
Mountain Man
Indian Brave

Any other suggestions?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

O is for Old Ideas Made New Again

Sorry it took so long to get back to this, Superhero Necromancer. :)

While I was working on the branch library, it seems that a veritable revolution in lockpicking and thieving skill has been going on around the old-school community. Sparked off by Arkheim at Rather Gamey, the thread was taken up by Telecanter, Zak S, Roger the GS and many more from the overarching blogging community. Reading about all of these cool thieving ideas (NEVER bump a Dwarven lock!) got me thinking about the D&D Heist ideas that I had come up with a month ago. Unfortunately, none of my current gaming crowd are super interested in playing Dungeons and Dragons any time soon, so these efforts are purely speculative on my part.

There was a great post that I read on the Dungeon Mastering blog while planning for a potential D&D heist on how to prep a heist adventure without having to plan the whole thing out like a Hollywood screenwriter. I'm not sure about the "Planting Information" stage, but the first two are rock solid. Every heist movie or novel has its section explaining why any attempted caper is either tough or impossible, so why not lay that out explicitly when constructing a heist?

The Place: The Temple of Manymon
The Score: A bottle from the temple's heavily guarded wine cellar said to contain the spirit of a famed poet, plus as many relics or ornaments as you can get your hands on.
Why It's Impossible: The temple is almost always occupied by the clerics of Manymon and their animate guardians. In order to get access to the wine cellar, an ordained cleric must speak the ancient oath and drain a drop of their blood into the intricate reliquary vault. No one knows what would happen to someone who screwed the pooch at the vault.
The Cracks:
  • The feast day of Hallowlaeg is approaching and the clerics of Manymon are preparing for the ceremonies and festival contests. Plenty of performers, cooks and brewers come in and out of the temple in the days leading up to the festival.
  • No one said that the blood had to be in the cleric's body.
  • The animate guardians sense the world around them seismically, in the vibrations of footfalls and impacts. Chances are they wouldn't notice someone just floating past them.
With these four steps, you can illustrate all of the important aspects of a potential heist and have a pretty sweet little adventure sketch, all in one. I could imagine these being great on 3x5 cards, maybe separated by what city the PCs are in or the kinds of efforts that would be needed.

Monday, April 18, 2011

N is for NPCs

I love making NPCs for games almost as much as making pregens. Something about whipping up cool characters that you'll get the chance to play or just pit against your players is a real blast for me. As of lately, I've been working on making potential antagonists for my Savage Worlds Bullets and Tequila game. Some are completely new, others, like the Handsome Brothers Circus of Crime, have been cooking around in my head for years now.

Potbelly Pete

Pete wasn't a very good outlaw. Sure, he and his gang would make away with some good scores every once in a while and hightail it down to Mexico or some other bandit hideaway, but somehow Pete would always end up taking a bullet. He never got hit bad, but boy, did he sure get hit often. Whether it was a ricochet catching him in the hindquarters while running out of a bank or the rifle bullet that left him with a noticeable limp, all of those wounds began to build up on his nerves. So one day, Pete hired a blacksmith to make him a 'bulletproof suit' that covered his vulnerables and most of his body in solid cast-iron. Since the addition of this set of armor, Pete's become a lot more successful, if not any less ornery or smart.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d8, Vigor d8
Skills: Driving d6, Fighting d8, Gambling d6, Healing d4, Intimidation d4, Notice d6, Shooting d8, Streetwise d6, Taunt d8
Charisma:-2 Pace: 5" Parry: 6 Toughness: 10 (6)
Hindrances: Mean, Obese
Edges: Command, No Mercy, Nerves of Steel
Gear: Revolving shotgun (12/24/48, RoF 1, 1-3d6, +2 to Shooting), Bulletproof suit (+4 armor, covers torso, head, arms, legs. Called Shots at -4 bypass armor)

Jake Thornton and Iron Crow

The bounty hunters known as Jake and Crow first met while trying to catch the same buffalo. After nearly killing each other over the lost quarry, the two figured that they could bring in much more game as a team than solo. But as time passed, the hunt became less and less lucrative. Unwilling to dissolve their partnership, the two decided to turn their skills towards hunting bounties instead of animals. Jake is the more talkative of the pair, with a fairly sunny disposition for someone in his line of work.

Iron Crow
Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d6, Spirit d4, Strength d8, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d6, Intimidation d6, Notice d8, Riding d6, Shooting d10, Stealth d8, Survival d6, Tracking d8
Charisma: -2 Pace: 8" Parry: 5 Toughness: 5
Edges: Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Fleet-Footed, Marksman, Quick
Gear: Composite Bow (15/30/60, 2d6) with 3 dynamite arrows (2d6+2, MBT), 3 "tear gas" arrows (Vigor rolls or Shaken, MBT) Pair of Knuckle Dusters (d8+d4)

Jake Thornton
Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d8, Healing d6, Knowledge (Traps and Snares) d8, Notice d8, Riding d6, Shooting d6, Stealth d6, Survival d8, Tracking d8
Charisma: 0 Pace: 6" Parry: 6 Toughness: 5
Edges: Ambidextrous, First Strike, Woodsman
Gear: Colt Lightning rifle (20/40/80, 2d6+1, AP 1, DT), Lariat (Reach 2, Agility tricks Knock Prone on a Raise), Tomahawk (2d6)
Notes: Jake's traps and snares act as the Entangle power from SWEX pg. 90. He has 10 'Power Points' worth of uses. Ensnared victims have a -2 penalty to Pace and skill rolls linked to Agility and Strength (Raise restrains target fully).

The Handsome Brothers Circus of Crime

There are all sorts of traveling sideshows and circuses in the Wild West, so it's hard to tell when carnival folk are trying to bilk you out of your hard earned money. In that sense, the Handsome Brothers Circus is a refreshing alternative: they're more likely to steal your money with a knife to the throat than an ill-sized ring. Run by the conjoined criminal masterminds Jake and Todd Handsome, the Circus usually comes into town as a standard traveling attraction: jugglers, acrobats, freaks of nature and games of luck and skill (mostly luck). But while the town is entranced by the spectacle, a small group of skilled performers and outlaws take the bank in town.

Jake and Todd Handsome, Management
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d10, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d8
Skills: Driving d4, Fighting d8, Gambling d6, Knowledge (Criminal Planning) d10, Notice d8, Persuasion d10, Shooting d8, Streetwise d10
Charisma: +2 (+4) Pace: 5" Parry: 6 Toughness: 7
Hindrances: Conjoined Twins (Obese), Outsiders, Wanted
Edges: Ambidextrous, Attractive, Charismatic, Command, Improved Frenzy, Level-Headed, Martial Artists, Natural Leaders, Snakeoil Salesmen, Two Fisted
Gear: A very nice suit, two derringers (5/10/20, RoF 1, 2d6, AP 1), Bowie knife (d6+d4+1, AP 1)

Big Mel, Right Hand Clown
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d8, Vigor d10
Skills: Driving d6, Fighting d10, Gambling d6, Intimidation d10, Lockpicking d6, Notice d6, Repair d4, Shooting d8, Stealth d4, Streetwise d6, Tracking d6
Charisma: -4 Pace: 6" Parry: 8 (7) Toughness: 8
Hindrances: Ugly, Mean, Wanted
Edges: Berserk, Block, Brawny, Dirty Fighter, Nerves of Steel, Sweep
Gear: Sledgehammer (2d8, AP2 vs. rigid armor, Parry -1), meat cleaver (d8+d6), Double-barreled Shotgun (6/12/24, RoF 1-2, 1-3d6, Shooting +2)

Jay Lafayette, Card Sharp with Sharp Cards
Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d8, Gambling d8, Lockpicking d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Riding d4, Shooting d4, Stealth d8, Streetwise d8, Taunt d8, Throwing d10
Charisma: 0 (+2) Pace: 8" Parry: 6 Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Arrogant, Wanted
Edges: Attractive, Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Fleet Footed, Flurry (Throwing Frenzy, short range only), Quick Draw, Trademark Weapon (Razor-edged Playing Cards)
Gear: Razor-edged Playing Cards (5/10/20, 2d6)

Madame Serpente, La Dompteuse des Hommes
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d10, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d8, Healing d8, Knowledge (Poisons) d10, Knowledge (Dangerous Animals) d8, Notice d6, Persuasion d8, Riding d6, Shooting d6, Stealth d6, Streetwise d8, Taunt d6
Charisma: 0 (+4) Pace: 8" Parry: 6 Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Vengeful, Wanted
Edges: Beast Bond, Beast Master, Common Bond, Snakeoil Salesman, Very Attractive
Gear: Derringer (5/10/20, 2d6, AP 1), Nail Syringes (d6 + Poison)
Notes: Madame Serpente's animal companion is a 20ft boa constrictor named Gregoire (use stats on SWEX pg. 153)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

L is for Library

And once again, blogging has fallen a little bit by the wayside because I was helping to open a completely new library satellite branch in the Pittsburgh Public Market!

This doesn't have anything to do with D&D, Savage Worlds or anything else roleplaying related, but libraries are basically my life outside of gaming. In my Marketing and Public Relations class at Pitt's library school, we had the opportunity to work with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to open a very small library branch at the Pittsburgh Public Market in Pittsburgh's Strip District. It's part of an initiative to try and find new service models that provide important library features with a relatively low budget. For the non Pittsburgh natives, the Strip District is a stretch of about 10-15 blocks loaded with wholesale markets, assorted ethnic groceries and fantastic restaurants. Patton Oswalt did a hilarious stand-up bit about the Strip's Pennsylvania Macaroni Company, mistakenly identified as an Italian restaurant, but still hilarious.

See? It says so on the cover!

The Strip District hasn't ever had a dedicated library, so setting up a small satellite location where patrons can pick up holds, bring kids to storytelling on Saturdays or check out cookbooks after they pick up their meat and dairy is a pretty phenomenal event. Even particularly unfortunate circumstances while we were doing promotional chalk art (long story short: my girlfriend's purse was stolen, but we got it back 5 hours later from a good Samaritan who found it on the ground with everything except cash still inside) couldn't stop the day from being a triumph.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

K is for Karnival of Killers

This message is brought to you by TV Tropes, for now we have names for every instance of anything that ever happened in pop culture.

Ever since I watched the anime series Trigun as a young teen, I've always loved the idea of what TV Tropes calls the Carnival of Killers. The basic idea is that a wealthy bad guy hires a massive group of colorful, thematic and potentially unrelated killers to take on the main characters either one by one or all at once. Each member of this hired gang would have different skills or powers that made them a formidable opponent. I had seen the concept before in the "Rogue's Galleries" of different superheroes or super teams, but something about Trigun's Gung Ho Guns really stuck with me. The latter half of the entire series was based around Vash, Wolfwood and the other main characters avoiding the attacks of the various different assassins and coming to terms with their lots in life. Some were wild and over-the-top in their villainousness, while others were more low-key and resigned to their lot in life, but no less deadly.

I've always thought about integrating some variety of assassin's society in a tabletop game. I think that the anachronistic action western setting of Bullets and Tequila or the cyberpunk space opera grabbag of Assholes in Space could easily accept either a group of colorful hired killers or specialized bounty hunters out to get characters on either side of the law.

In the Bullets and Tequila setting, I've been thinking about all of the myriad ways that characters can bring the fight to their enemies. On top of your standard gunslingers, there are high-kicking martial artists, trap laying hunters, buffalo rifle-toting snipers, giant guys that can carry a Gatling gun and just about anything else that you can imagine, just as long as it makes thematic sense (which is different than logical sense). I figure I can put together a list of killer/bounty hunter characters that could be used separately or as part of a larger group.

So, let's think of some weapons or fighting styles that a Wild West assassin could specialize in:

Traps and Snares
Knife Throwing
Martial Arts
Long-distance Sniping
Heavy Weapons (Gatlings and such)
Heavy Armor
Horse Riding

Any other thoughts? I'm going to try and turn each one of these into a Savage Worlds NPC suitable for cinematic Wild West action.

J is for Jamie Time

Kind of a double meaning on this one. Not only am I taking a little time to myself, but it's also time for a visit from my girlfriend, Jamie.

I know, right?

She's coming out to visit for the rest of the week, so I'm going to be hard at work trying to get things ready and finish my homework. More posts later on.

I is for Inspiration

Within the past few days, I've been grooving on a whole truckload full of great western influences that have really put me in the Bullets and Tequila mood. Here are some of them.

(The amazing bar shootout from Robert Rodriguez's Desperado. The archetypical Bullets and Tequila gunfight)

(One of my favorite Spaghetti Western trailers. Note: I have never seen this movie and have no idea where I would get a hold of a copy.)

(Rockstar Games' amazing Red Dead Revolver, half gritty Western revenge, half Capcom shoot-em-up. The soundtrack is all lesser known Spaghetti Western music and is really responsible for my depth of knowledge in the genre.)

(The Professionals, a movie whose structure is basically an RPG scenario and a damned good one at that. A great cast of Wild West shadowrunners (Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster AND Jack Palance!) getting screwed over by Mr. Johnson and switching sides. Plus that badass Lewis gun scene on the train.)

(And here's a clip of a Jim Garner/Clint Eastwood fist fight from an old episode of Maverick. Bret Maverick takes no guff from no one)

Monday, April 11, 2011

H is for Hardboiled Hollywood

This is kind of a repost from my previous roleplaying experience, but I don't really know how many people check out old threads about Inspectres on RPGnet these days.

In college, I was in charge of a detective radio drama called the Dead Hear Footsteps. We would write half-hour long scripts detailing the exploits of our hero, Hardin Lovelace, private eye (say it quickly), then perform them live on the college radio station. It's probably the most rewarding activity that I was ever involved in and I've been trying to do something similar with distant friends ever since I graduated last year.

As a huge fan of detective novels, radio plays and television shows, I've always been incredibly frustrated by their seeming lack of transferability to the gaming table. They can either be an exercise in pixelbitching for the right clue or GM overload in adapting a mystery to fit the players' actions. I was reading about the Gumshoe system used in Esoterrorists and Trail of Cthulhu one afternoon when I realized that I already owned a game that could be used to run a dynamite goddamned mystery: Inspectres.

You'd have to run it with a group of people well-versed in Chandler, Hammett, Nero Wolfe and Johnny Dollar, but I think that's a feature, not a bug. The mission ratings, players describing the clues or information that they uncover, the simple character creation, everything just... fits for a hardboiled detective game. Even the 'Confessional' works as radio-style inner monologue. So as follows are my Hardboiled rules modifications for Inspectres.


Character Creation

Characters in this modified Inspectres have four basic skills, each covering an area of expertise.

Wits is the skill you'll use to piece together theories, outsmart armed guards, remember facts and figures and research information through records and libraries. Characters with high Wits are like Nero Wolfe, able to hypothesize and make connections even when the circumstances are dire.

Brawn is the skill you'll use to sucker punch a torpedo, make your roscoe cough 'Ka-chow!', resist physical torture and do all sorts of physical activity. Characters with high Brawn are like Mike Hammer. His gun is quick.

Legwork is the skill you'll use to tail a mark and remain unseen, get in touch with your contacts, question witnesses or break into someone's house to find evidence. Your Legwork skill is also used whenever you want to buy (or have access to) equipment. Characters with high Legwork are like Boston Blackie, with contacts in the underworld and a criminal disposition.

Cool is the skill you'll use to con someone into believing you're someone you're not, seducing the gangster's moll and convincing people to tell you secrets. Characters with high Cool are like Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade, able to talk their clients and enemies into revealing everything.

You have 9 dice to distribute amongst your character's Skills. No one skill can be rated higher than 4 or lower than 1.

Each character also has a Talent, either something they're naturally good at or a skill they picked up before working at their detective agency. Choose an area where your character will gain a bonus die. Whenever this area comes into play, you'll roll an extra die. Sample Talents include:
  • Car Mechanic
  • Ex-Stuntman
  • Incredibly Beautiful
  • Academic
  • Cast Iron Stomach
  • High Society
from the rulebook (don't sue me, Jared)
When using a Talent, strive to be creative! And remember that your character is allowed to use their Talent in any of the four skill areas. So if your ex-mechanic gets into a scrap, boost your Athletics roll by using a monkey wrench as a weapon. If your agent is sexy as all-get-out, maybe you can get the team a good deal on a used car (a bonus to the Legwork roll).
Agency Creation

Since you're just a fledgling detective agency, you get 6 dice to divide among your Agency's accounts.

Gym Membership - Gym membership dice can be spent to add to Brawn rolls.
Library Card - Library Card dice can be spent to add to Wits rolls.
Expense Account - Expense Account dice can be spent to add to Legwork rolls.

All unallocated die go into the Bank, which can be spent on any roll and used to alleviate the effects of Stress on your investigators (nights in the speakeasies, movies, pleasurable companions, etc...) However, there is a much bigger risk in spending Bank dice. Whenever a Bank die is rolled, there is the potential to regain it, lose it, or lose your entire Bank.

Example Stress

Get shot at by two guys bursting through the door with guns (as per Chandler's Law): Two dice
Find your dead client: Two dice
Tortured by syndicate henchmen: Three dice
Double crossed by...
- Sneaky Peter Lorre type: Zero to one die
- Femme Fatale: Two dice
- Best Friend: Three dice
- True Love: Four dice

Sunday, April 10, 2011

G is for Gunslinger

It always seems to come back to westerns for me. From the Leone-inspired name to the Sabata poster banner to the boomtown of Motherlode, most of my blog has been western-inspired, a fantasy or apocalyptic veneer over a frontier core.

I was talking with my friend CJ about the sort of games that he would like to play over a couple of whiskey and cokes and he started reminiscing about a Deadlands game in his past, probably the most successful game that he's ever played in. I tried to get a Deadlands game going with my crew before, but there's just something about the setting and PC parties within it that's really hit or miss for me. It seems like a lot of people gravitate towards the Arcane Backgrounds and cool powers of the setting; I've seen a lot of potential parties that are loaded down with Hucksters, Mad Scientists and Blessed without once cracking the multitude of movie western roles. I guess it's hard to think of 'Old coot prospector' or 'Army deserter' as D&D-style gaming classes, even if they are western archetypes.

I think my ideal campaign milieu is an anachronistic action western, equals parts Robert Rodriguez's Desperado, Lawrence Kasdan's Silverado and Howard Hawks's El Dorado, plus a lot more films on top of that (I just liked the rhyme scheme): a West that Never Was combining kung-fu, sleeve guns, electric guitars and motorcycles with a cinematic frontier filled with oil towns under siege, outlaw gangs and railways connecting it all. The closest that I've seen any piece of media come to the idea is Rockstar Games' Red Dead Revolver. Even with a soundtrack of phenomenal Spaghetti western music and a gritty film aesthetic, it was still a Capcom game at heart, which means that nothing has to make sense. You can be fighting fat guys and midget clowns in an abandoned mill until everyone's dead, then have to deal with a dynamite-strapped boss character who chases after you with a pair of metal shields and explodes when he runs into you and that's okay, because they're carnies.

I haven't seen this kind of cinematic western flavor in many RPG products, save Dave Bezio's Wild West Cinema, which seems to be on the exact same wavelength as I am. However, I'm hesitant to spend another $10 on a PDF download that I might never use when I'm reasonably sure that I could hack this game together with Savage Worlds, the game I'm most comfortable with and the original rules set in which Bezio ran his successful wild west games.

I know this one is a bit short and a bit late, so here's a little bit of video to make up for it. Over-the-top Korean westerns are a-okay in my book.

Friday, April 8, 2011

F is for Fun

Seriously, if you're not having any fun, why play RPGs?

The most consistently fun RPG I've ever run is Jared Sorensen's Inspectres, the first and arguably still best 'Narrativist' or indie RPG I've encountered. I first downloaded the PDF back in 2005 and since then, I have run dozens of incredibly successful sessions of supernatural hunting fun with gamers and non-gamers alike. Though many games tout their ability to be run relatively prep-free, Inspectres is really the only game that I have been able to run successfully with absolutely NO prep. The player buy-in for Inspectres is honestly stronger than most fantasy or sci-fi RPGs, because EVERYONE has either seen Ghostbusters or watched a Monster of the Week supernatural TV show (Buffy, Angel, X-Files, Supernatural, et al.) Failing that, they can always basically play themselves.

The system is super simple: characters are created with 9 points put into four Attributes (Athletics, Academics, Technology and Contact) and a Talent that adds a bonus to these rolls when in use (ie. Mechanic gets a die bonus when fixing a truck, swinging a monkey wrench, haggling over a van, etc...) Each assignment is measured in Job dice, which are acquired as characters come closer to solving the mystery, defeating the monster or finding the missing MacGuffin. But what makes it so easy to run without any prep is the fact that narrative control is shared (if not dominated) by player input.

When players succeed at their Attribute rolls, they describe the results of their success. When a character is researching the apartment complex inhabited by ghosts and rolls a 6 on one of their Academics dice, they get to decide what is causing the building to be haunted. It could have been built as a natural conductor for ectoplasmic energy like Dana Barrett's apartment building in Ghostbusters or built on top of a textile shop that caught fire, killing everyone within. It's all up to the players, which means that you, as the GM, can just concentrate on setting up the initial scenario and rolling with your player's ideas, keeping the Stress on the whole time.

I've adapted the rules of Inspectres to hardboiled detectives, Leverage-style heists and just about any other episodic genre out there. It's a game that's perfectly designed to emulate that structure and it's up and downs. You can find a copy of the Start-Up rules on the Memento Mori Theatricks website. If you like the idea of the game after reading it, gather up a group of friends and just wing it. It's the best option.

Cover image from the Memento Mori Theatricks website.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Equipment

For me, equipment has always been the slowest part of the pre-game character creation ritual. I always seem to have players that agonize over the differences between an Ares Predator and a Browning Ultra-Power, the relative usefulness of a length of rope vs. a bedroll and the eventual kicking of one's self when they realize that they've forgotten something.

Creating the equipment list for Assholes in Space has been an exercise in keeping things simple and modular. I wanted to minimize the equipment bookkeeping and the countless ammunition tracking from which Savage Worlds often suffers. Every piece of equipment that I have created or cherry picked from one Savage Worlds book or another is there because I think that they fit the style of the game in one way or another. Each weapon listing is genericized and ammunition has been completely broken down into action-movie style 'magazines.'

Everything may be generic, but there are incentives for making your weapons your own. If a player comes up with a name for it (say, Black Falcon), they get a +1 to hit with it. If they draw a picture of it, they get a +1 to damage with the same weapon. Since there isn't any more ammunition tracking, these bonuses easily take the place of Double Taps or Burst Fire that appear in the Savage Worlds rulebook and let the players make up some cool stuff about the world. If players aren't really artistically inclined, there's always Pimp My Gun, a Flash website that RPGnet clued me into in the past. Using the old version (since I don't really care about all the finicky bits of guns), it's a blast to do the Hollywood Sci-Fi Retrofit by taking an existing gun...

...mess around with the construction and glue some extra bits on to make a Space Gun!

Now you try it!

D is for Duos

Sorry this one's coming out a little late. I was laid up sick for most of last night with a couple of assignments for school due, so I've been trying to make some time for blogging.

As chronicled in my B is for Buddies post, my potential gaming group has whittled down to two players at the moment: my friends Marcos and CJ. Generally when people think of a gaming group, it's five people or more including the GM: the iconic Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, Thief party and a game master to set everything up. It seems to be a lot harder to run games for a duo, so I thought I'd take a look at some classic duos and see how their interactions and adventures can inspire a two-person party.

Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser

The iconic sword and sorcery duo, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser feel like the first real team or 'party' in early fantasy literature. Their strengths compliment each other and even though they do have their arguments and falling-outs, they always return to the Silver Eel, often a little worse for wear or out a couple thousand gold pieces. They constantly try and one-up the other, a continuing friendly rivalry that often gets them into much more trouble than they would if they were solely cold professional acquaintances.

Spike Spiegel and Jet Black

Though the crew of the Bebop is eventually rounded out by two more members, they seem much more auxiliary than the show's two initial main characters, Spike and Jet. One's hotheaded, the other is stoic, but their personalities really seem to compliment each other. There's a lot of tension between the two that occasionally explodes into arguments but at their core, they both respect each other's abilities and personalities, even if it doesn't always show in their banter. This unspoken bond really shines in the longer episodes like Jupiter Jazz and the series finale The Real Folk Blues.

Duos live and die on their interaction between each other. If a pair of PCs have great chemistry and bounce ideas and plans off of each other, it makes your job as GM that much easier. While a larger party that is more reluctant to converse with each other can technically function, a silent duo makes things awkward at the table and especially taxing on the GM's NPC stable. You can only do so many different accents. :)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

C is for Convict Planets

I came up with the idea of convict planets so that I could scratch the Trigun-style space western itch in Assholes in Space without having to seriously redefine the game world. One of the things that I really appreciate about science fiction settings in general is that a completely new environment or set of social rules can be just a planet away, like how Firefly and Cowboy Bebop can switch from gleaming future cities to frontier satellites in between episodes. Plus, the idea of desert planets conquered with jury-rigged technology just tends to appeal to me.

Convict planets are the interstellar equivalent of Australia, where the less scrupulous or financially solvent members of the Federation of Allied Worlds can send their repeat offenders to fend for themselves. These makeshift colonies are generally located on planets where terraforming has failed to meet the specifications of a multi-stellar corporation or whose natural environments are... less than hospitable. Anything from barren wastelands to swamp worlds filled with vicious carnivorous plants could be home to a convict planet, depending upon the severity of the crimes committed. Hopefully.

Criminals being sent to a convict planet are generally launched from Federal prison transports in dropships known as Oneways. Each Oneway is only equipped with stabilizing thrusters and enough fuel to move the ship into an atmospheric entry, where an ample amount of heat shielding and impact-resistant foam should protect every passenger in the crash landing. During the drop, a recorded message will inform the prisoners about the basics of their new home, its environmental hazards and the existing power structures (if any). Once they crash and extricate themselves from the foam-filled mess that was their transport, they're on their own.

Some convict planets have developed far better than their overseers anticipated, creating towns and cities from both the planet's natural resources and the salvaged wrecks of their Oneways. Generally, these more developed planets are either controlled by feudal warlords or else divided into civilized outposts and roving gangs of raiders and thieves. Towns are simultaneously wary and welcoming of new arrivals, like a constant Yojimbo-style struggle for power. Of course, there are plenty of other convict planets that have turned out more like the Most Dangerous Game.

Picture from Greg Martin's super cool guide on how to make planets in Photoshop, which I will totally start doing once I have some free time.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for Buddies

But before I do that...

Buddies are great, aren't they? You hang out with them, make music, watch movies, eat food. Sometimes you even play roleplaying games with them, like I did this week. For all of my blogging bluster, it has been a really long time since I actually, you know, gamed with anyone. So after I finished an intensive week of projects for library school, I decided to call a couple of my friends up and let the good times roll.

We gathered over at Marcos and CJ's house with a carefully purchased assortment of Cheetos and Mountain Dew (to complete the experience) and my copy of the D&D Gamma World boxset. While Marcos, CJ and my friend Mike from college rolled up character origins, I was frantically winging the skeleton of the potential adventure and the basics of Radon, the town that it took place in. I wanted to do the classic 'post-apocalyptic gang wants to take over a small town for its natural resources' bit, but give it a bit of a twist. So the resource that the porker motorgang was chasing after was not gas or weapons, but food. Specifically, a mineshaft filled with tasty, genetically modified beetles that reproduced at an alarming rate and ate anything they were given. We never got that far, but it's nice to think about your prep work.

Our characters were:
  • Chimp Eastwood (CJ), a Giant Simian, who's 20 Strength and naturally rolled 17 Constitution made him the de-facto piledriver of the group. Skilled in Mechanics, he carried a big ol' hammer and an electric nailgun, which he could use to pretty deadly effect with his Ape Rage (no joke, actual power from Famine in Far-Go)
  • Bogo Free (Mike), a Magnetic Arachnoid, described as a kind of regular looking guy with a giant web-spinning thorax. Accompanied by a HAL-esque talking laser helmet, Bogo also used what we referred to as a 'cargo-cult railgun' that used his natural magnetism to fire projectiles.
  • Problem Glueth (Marcos), a Gelatinous Nightmare apparently from a parallel universe where life never evolved above single celled organisms (albeit very big ones). A private detective by trade, Problem used his gelatinous body to form blades, shields and his patented Goomerangs.
As you can see, a finer group of adventures doesn't exist. The trio started out on the Road heading towards Radon to deliver goods and mail to the local post station, rolling in a pick-up truck towing Problem's wagon and canoe (Gamma World's random crap tables are fantastic.) But on that hallowed highway, they come across a smashed up trailer with a large cloud of glowing red birds hovering over it. The trio attempted to move past the blood birds, but ended up attracting their vicious ire and combat began.

It was vicious. Chimp and Bogo initially tried to close into melee with the avian bastards, but the blood birds radiated a damaging aura and each of their attacks inflicted ongoing damage against our heroes. After splitting up and retreating to a safe distance, Chimp was unexpectedly tagged by a bullet from a distant rifle, wielded by a sneaky dabber who hid in wait to scavenge the gear from the victims of the blood birds! With Chimp distracted, the blood bird flock focused their attention on Bogo, whose attempts to use his laser helmet were met with robotic disdain and the sound of batteries draining. Chimp used his powerful Alpha mutation to throw up an invisible wall of force between the dabber and his allies so that he and Problem could focus fire on the dreaded bird swarm. Down to a minuscule amount of hit points, Bogo freed himself from the blood birds and spat an entangling web of venom that managed to keep the swarm tied down and immobilized for the next five or six turns thanks to my crappy saving throws.

As the force field faded, the dabber was greeted by the sight of Problem vibrating his gloopy body like the Hypnotoad, channeling terrifying psychic flashbacks into the poor creature's head. He remembered how his father left him in the wilderness to fend for himself and never truly cared. As the dabber continued firing at ghostly images of his awful past (and missing), Chimp took a rage-fueled run at his assailant, who instinctively flung open his vest and triggered a claymore mine attached to his belt buckle that sent the ape-man flying. Problem continued to lock down the poor, misunderstood bastard while his allies went to finish off the rest of the swarm. Trapped inside the radiation aura once again, Bogo managed to deliver the killing blow to the dreaded birds.

With their enemies defeated, the trio united to finally deliver the mail to the town of Radon. The post office was a ragged tent-city affair and the mutant on duty told them that they could get a free meal at the local greasy spoon Bud's before turning in. The food was delicious, if disconcertingly all called... clams. As night fell, Bogo and Chimp found their lodgings at the Huck, an arcade-game filled tavern with a creepy animatronic animal band and Problem found his at El Rancho, the stable where he unsuccessfully tried to barter for the owner's riding mantis.

At night, the party was awoken by the sounds of revving engines and rumbling dirt. Making their way outside, they were confronted with a late night biker gang invasion of dear old Radon! The fight wasn't as punishing as the confrontation on the way to town, but the motorcycle-riding porkers were vicious in their attacks. The day was finally won when Chimp rolled a 1, which caused him to switch out his Alpha Mutation for the Teleportation power. He made his Overcharge roll, then sent every remaining biker 50 ft. into the air. As folks who have played a 4E game know, falling damage is a bitch. Each porker took about 5d10 damage and pretty much disintegrated on contact with the ground.

That's where the night ended and it was a pretty wild ride. The pared-down 4th Edition system behind Gamma World is damned solid and my friends had a great time pulling, throwing and zapping people with mutant powers. The only caveat is that Gamma World is super deadly with less than 5 people in the party. It's really hard to make appropriate challenges for three people without making them overly deadly. The first encounter of the evening was designed for 4th level characters and our heroes barely escaped with their lives.

All in all, we had a great time and played until I had literally run out of prep material. Unfortunately, Mike has since gone back to school and I am left solely with Marcos and CJ as adventuring companions. Though I really do love the new Gamma World, I'm afraid that it would be way too lethal for their early leveled characters, so the eventual Assholes in Space game will definitely involve the two of them and hopefully some more folks.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for Assholes in Space

As I hope most of my followers remember, I started the month of March off with an idea for a Savage Worlds sci-fi setting called Assholes in Space, my kitchen-sink melange of space western anime, Bioware space opera, cyberpunk attitude and good old fashioned old-school adventuring spirit (which is to say, profit-motivated jackasses who will nevertheless do the right thing when the chips are down. Probably.) Needless to say, I was unfortunately overwhelmed by graduate school work and had relatively little time to put pen to paper and write up world concepts and a cast of characters. Not to mention that my flash drive, which up until recently was my depository for my school work and all things Assholes in Space-related, had a tragic mishap involving an elbow and outstretched arms late at night last week. As a result, my previous files will be inaccessible without the aid of a flash drive recovery company and probably $150.

But honestly, the equipment lists and racial descriptions only go so far in describing what Assholes in Space is really like for me. I'm often afflicted with what's commonly known as 'Gamer ADD,' which means that I am incredibly susceptible to outside influences on my gaming ideas. Assholes in Space is enough of a sci-fi sandbox that it can accommodate just about anything that I want to add. Trigun-esque space western adventures can be found on convict planets or frontier asteroids where the strongest rule with a literal iron fist. Ocean's 11-style heists and capers are commonplace on urban core worlds with mile-high skyscrapers and walkways. There can be giant robots alongside psychics, alien martial arts that take full advantage of having four arms and good old fashioned revolver-slinging exploits.

So this month, I'd like to get a lot more of the crunch and ideas for the setting out there, either in blog post or gazetteer format. I want people to see the cinematic combat rules that I've cooked up for Savage Worlds, the different sci-fi races that I'm having trouble naming and the adventure ideas and locations that potential PCs can tear up.