Thursday, December 22, 2011

Indistinguishable from magic

Adam, Zak S. and Jeff R. have all been musing about magic lately. Sounds fun, so I'll chime in. Probably as a result of playing T&T, I tend to regard magic as a specialized form of psi power. (As you can imagine, I've never been a fan of the way D&D adds a separate (and IMO clunky) system for psionics.) This is more in keeping with Vance's idea of magic, too. I tend to imagine it being more like Norton's Witch World or Bradley's Darkover series, where magic ain't nothin' but psi misspelled.

(3rd edition hardback)

For a straight-up magic system my favorite is still the one from Ken St. Andre & Steve Perrin's Stormbringer. The system revolves around summoning and binding elementals and/or demons. In case you're wondering, the psi angle is that your mind is reaching out to another plane of existence and drawing those creatures to you. The cool thing about the system is that it's simple but very versatile. You do all the usual stupid wizard tricks, like cast a fireball (fire elemental) or make a flying carpet (demon of travel). And it naturally limits magic powers, since demons of combat can be very dangerous. If you pick up a magic sword in this game it could kill you.

In more general terms, I don't see why magic couldn't be done with straight psi powers. You could even use them to explain most superpowers. Super strength is just psychokinesis with no range, fireballs are just a special form of pyrokinesis, x-ray vision is a type of clairvoyance, etc. One thing that really got me thinking this way was Claude J. Pelletier's excellent article "Put Some Magic In It" which used the Mekton II psionic rules as a framework for a magic system. But why bother with separate rules? Why not just use the psionic rules to account for "spells"? There are a few things that standard psionic rules don't cover, like shapeshifting or breathing water, but it's easy to expand the rules to cover that stuff.

And really it just comes down to a matter of semantics.As Jeff R. showed, whether you want your Magic Missile to be a bolt of mind force or a spray of pixie dust is all up to you.

Friday, December 16, 2011

"That's no moon..."

Marc Miller's Traveller (1977) introduced a system for randomly generating space maps that has been widely imitated. One thing that is sometimes overlooked in these systems is the possibility of exotic interstellar phenomena. That's what makes David Cook's planet generation system for TSR's Star Frontiers (1982) so interesting. It appeared in Ares Magazine Special Edition #2 (1983) and when rolling up a system there was a 1% chance you'd roll on a "Special Feature Table" that covered unusual deep space objects.

Special Feature Table

Die Roll...Feature
01-03.....Alien artifact
04..........Alien lifeform
05-06....Artificial world
07.........Black hole
08-20...Dead star
21-22...Derelict spaceship
23-50...Dust cloud
51........Neutron star
72-80...Rogue planet
81-99...Supernova remnant
00........White hole

Most of those features should be self-explanatory. Dust clouds cover 1D10 cubic light-years and may interfere with communications, as might neutron stars, supernova remnants, et al. Artificial worlds can be anything from a hollow asteroid to a ringworld or Dyson sphere. You get the idea. So the nest time you're rolling up a space map throw in a few special features to spice things up.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The History of FASA Trek

You probably already know the story of Guy W. McLimore, Greg Poehlein & David F. Tepool's Mekton supplement, Mekton Empire (1990). But there's an equally interesting tale behind their development of FASA's Star Trek RPG. A couple things really stand out to me. One is that they had to do a rush job on the project. That probably explains why the campaign advice was so sparse. Another is that they eventually split with FASA over the company's push to militarize the game. But I'll let McLimore tell the story in his own words.

1st edition cover

Star Trek: the Roleplaying Game

Guy McLimore, Greg Poehlein, and Dave Tepool were privileged to add their small part to the Star Trek legend as the authors of Star Trek: The Role Playing Game for FASA Corporation. As long time Trekfans, the trio is still very proud of the work they did on this project in its early days.

Guy, Greg, and Dave, operating at that time as Fantasimulations Associates, were assigned the Star Trek project by FASA after five other design teams had failed to turn in a manuscript that both FASA and Paramount Pictures would approve. FASA's license option was about to run out, and they needed to get a product into print almost immediately.

"We had only a few weeks to create character creation, character combat, and starship combat systems," remembers Guy. "When we made that deadline, FASA assigned us the entire project." It was to absorb almost all of their design efforts for the next several years. Guy, Greg, and Dave created the first edition of the basic ST:RPG rules, which debuted at a Trek convention in Omaha, Nebraska. The game was an immediate success, and soon became the second best selling RPG in history at the time (although well behind #1 - Advanced Dungeons and Dragons).

The first boxed set included both the role playing rules and a role playing style starship combat system that remains unique among game systems. Instead of a tactical board game, the role playing combat system offered players the chance to sit at "consoles" for the various bridge stations and perform their duties by allocating power to various systems, setting course, activating the shields, and firing weapons.

A series of expansion volumes soon followed, all written by Guy, Greg, and Dave, including The Klingons, The Romulans, and Trader Captains and Merchant Princes, which introduced non-military personnel as player characters for the first time. Most of the early adventure supplements were also written by one or more members of the trio. David created and later revised the Star Trek Tactical Ship Combat Simulator, which was eventually boxed as a separate component of the system and probably outsold even the role playing game because of its fast play mechanic and authenticity.

The main books of the system, including the Basic Game and the Klingons, Romulans, and Trader Captains supplements, entered a second edition, using the Fantasimulations Associates systems and text that was edited by John Wheeler. The second editions proved even more popular than the first.

FASA was already pursuing another success story in the form of Battletech. Future warfare was very popular, and FASA was in the forefront of the new gaming craze.

FASA's desire to stress the combat aspects of Star Trek led to disputes between them and the Fantasimulations Associates designers, who wanted to maintain the less-violent focus of the Star Trek TV series. This led to ST:RPG projects being assigned to other designers, and eventually to a payment dispute which ended the three Fantasimulations Associates designers' association with FASA and the Star Trek property.

The later ST:RPG works became very controversial in fandom because of their focus on military themes. Gene Roddenberry returned to active interest in licensing (during the initial planning of Star Trek: The Next Generation) and was reportedly unhappy with the change of approach to the game materials. A number of proposed FASA projects were turned down when submitted to Paramount for approval. One short-lived sourcebook was actually sent to press and distributed before Paramount had ruled on it. When it was turned down by the licensee, Paramount insisted that FASA withdraw the book from publication.

Eventually FASA's license to produce Star Trek materials was not renewed, and the game went out of print. Copies usually bring high prices from used game dealers. Paramount never again allowed a role playing game license to be sold for any Star Trek property, despite the interest of companies such as TSR, Mayfair Games, and Steve Jackson Games, until January 1998, when a license was granted to Last Unicorn Games.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Klingon Random Name Generator

I was looking through my RPG stuff to find some of my old notes, but it doesn't seem like much has survived. I think most of it got thrown out one of the times I moved. Bummer. One thing I did find is something I don't even remember doing. It's a Klingon Random Name generator for...I don't know what. I guess I must have wanted names for Klingon NPCs in a Star Trek game, but I can't for the life of me remember the details. Nevertheless, here it is in all its mysterious glory.

Klingon Random Name Generator

I: Given Name:

First Letter (Roll one die): 1-3 = K-, 4-5 = Q-, 6 = M-

Mid. Syllable (Roll one die): 1 = -ar-, 2 = -il-, 3 = -ah-, 4 = -ir-, 5 = -al-, 6 = (Roll on Short-Name chart)

Last Syll. (Roll two dice): 2 = -dar, 3 = -gran, 4 = -mtav, 5 = -rvan, 6 = -gga, 7 = -mato, 8 = -tarc, 9 = -gak, 10 = -gar, 11 = -ssa, 12 = -ramark

Short-Name Chart (Roll one die): 1 = -or, 2 = -ruge, 3 = -ang, 4 = -ex, 5 = -zak, 6 = -altz

II: Honorific (one die): 1 = no honorific, 2 = tai-, 3 = vestai-, 4 = sutai-, 5 = zantai-, 6 = epetai-

(NOTE: The honorific is added as a prefix to the line-name.)

III: Line-name:

First Syll. (Roll two dice): 2 = Sol-, 3 = Jur-, 4 = Sub-, 5 = Hav-, 6 = Pal-, 7 = Ney-, 8 = Tre-, 9 = Jav-, 10 = Hur-, 11 = Lim-, 12 = Uru-

Mid. Syll. (Roll one die): 1 = -ai-, 2 = -ge-, 3 = -us-, 4 = -az-, 5 = -la-, 6 = (No middle syllable)

Last syllable (Roll two dice): 2 = -esh, 3 = -ra, 4 = -iss, 5 = -bh, 6 = -arn, 7 = -th, 8 = -ric, 9 = -sig, 10 = -exa, 11 = -vrk, 12 = -ltz

That's it. Let's see how well it works...

#1: Qang vestai-Palgeth
#2:  Qilgga sutai-Neyaziss
#3:  Kirmato vestai-Neygeric

Qapla'! Not half bad, although the slight bell-curve on those 2D rolls weights things toward the middle. Good enough for a quick-and-dirty Klingon NPC or two though. But what do I know? tlhIngan Hol vIjatlhbe'!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

FASA Trek's prescience

Guy McLimore, Greg Poehlein, and David Tepool's Star Trek: The Role Playing Game (1982) had a lot of interesting points. While generally staying true to the Star Trek universe, it also emphasized some aspects that were more reminisent of Marc Miller's Traveller (1977). For example, the supplement Trader Captains and Merchant Princes (1983), which let players unleash their inner Harry Mudd. But in the equipment lists of that book was something remarkable, even uncanny. It came disguised as a simple description of a data storage card, or "computer cart."

The text seems to be describing a standard memory tape, but look at the illustration. Look familiar? That's no memory tape, it's a USB flash drive.

But flash drives weren't around until c. 2000 CE, eighteen years after that game was published. This is highly illogical. Is it a clue planted by a time traveler, as in Asimov's The End of Eternity? Did the game designers have precognitive abilities? What's going on here?

Thursday, November 17, 2011


The R. Talsorian sourcebook for Cyberpunk based on Walter Jon Williams' book Hardwired (1986) included some interesting variations on the core rules. Most significantly, the netrunning rules were revamped to a more realistic system. CP2020 is a good game, but the treatment of cyberspace is very idiosyncratic, to say the least. Another thing I like is the table of "glitches" for NPCs. These are personality quirks that can give characters a distinctive personality. It's like a quick-and-dirty Life Path. To determine the number of glitches, roll 1D10. 1-5 = 1 glitch, 6-8 = 2 glitches, 9-10 = 3 glitches. Roll 2D10 for each glitch and cross-index on the Glitch Table.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Radiation rules

I was browsing Joseph Heck's Traveller website and found these rules for radiation poisoning from GDW's Twilight 2000. They are very realistic (i.e., lethal) and will work as written with any game that has a stat range of 1-10. In games that don't have a Constitution stat just use the equivalent; e.g, in Interlock use the Body Type stat, in CORPS or Action! System use Health, etc.

Date: Fri, 29 Sep 1995 12:30:17 -0700 (PDT)
From: John ---- ---------- <>
Subject: Rads
Re: Radiation T:2000 rules

Effects of Exposure: Exposure to lower levels of radiation will produce temporary illness, while higher levels can kill. All exposure is cumulative. When a character's accumulated rads reach or surpass 50, he must be checked for radiation illness. Thereafter, each time the character accumulates one or more rads he must be checked for radation illness. however, the character is checked for radiation illness only once per day on each day that he accumulates additional rads.

The Radiation Illness Chart (below) gives the multipliers used to determine the chances of illness and death from exposure to radiation. Use the rad level on the chart that is closest to (without exceeding) his accumulated rad level.

Rads...Slight Illness...Serious Illness...Death

Multiply the character's Constitution by the multiplier to determine his target number (round fractions up). Roll 1D10. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the chance, the character avoids the effect.

Slight Illness: Nausea, vomiting, and headaches. Onset is 1D6 hours after exposure. The character has strength, agility, and intelligence halved for the duration of the illness. Symptoms last one day at lower levels, two days if exposure is greater than 600 rads.

Serious Illness: First suffers slight illness, as above,. Then suffers serious illness and is incapacitated with severe vomiting and diarrhea, spotting on the body caused by bleeding under teh skin, and blood int he stool and vomit. Onset of serious illness is 2D6 days after exposere at levels less than 300 rads, 1D6 at levels above that. Incapacitation lasts 1D6 days, plus one day for every two days spent without bed rest and medical care. The amount of medical care required is the same as for a character with a serious wound to two body parts -- or two additional body parts if the character is already wounded. General illness, approximating the effects of slight illness listed above, will persist for 1D6 weeks.

Death: The character first suffers from slight radiation illness and then from serious radiation illness. During the incapacitation period (and usually within 30 days of exposure) the character dies.

At higher tech levles, presumably an automed could treat slight and serious illness at increasing levels of exposure, and a full medical facility could prevent death, and "roll-back" a persons cumulative exposure. The description in FF&S of the consequences of getting too close to a Fusion Drive suggest that bone marrow transplants etc, would be necessary, so presumably the character is till going to be laid up for some time.

*Apologies to those not interested in radiation, but enough people had expressed an interest that I thought it was worthwhile.

Whether or not you want to use these rules depends on how realistic you want to be. They would be very useful in a hard sf game but would be inappropriate in a planetary romance or superhero game. If you do use them in a super-science game - a space opera setting like Star Trek, for example - you might want to allow medical science to provide a cure, like the original poster suggested. Assuming the doctor has the necessary drugs on hand and makes a successful skill roll she could alleviate the effects of the radiation poisoning. If the science is sufficiently advanced you could even allow treatment that would reduce the number of rads the character has accumulated.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Warp "speed"

I know Warp 6 is slow, but as Murphy's Rules points out Warp 7 isn't much better.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Count Dracula

Picture by Gene Colan

Count Dracula is a centuries-old vampire and Transylvanian nobleman who exudes a veneer of aristocratic charm. He claims to be a Székely descended from Attila the Hun. He is deeply proud of his boyar heritage and is nostalgic for the past times of heroism, honor and valor. Although Dracula dons a mask of cordiality, he often flies into fits of rage when his plans for world domination are interfered with.

Count Dracula

Body: 8 Mind: 7 Soul: 9
Health Points: 125 Energy Points: 160 Shock Value: 17
Combat Value: 11 Defense Value: 6  

Attributes: Alternate Form (Bat: Body 6, Mind 4, Soul 1,  Flight 2 (50 kph), Heightened Senses 1 (Sonar)), Animal Summon/Control (5 Wolves) 2, Attack Combat Mastery 3,  Contamination (Vampirism) 5 (12 hr for transformation to complete, 1 Person), Energy Bonus 4, Extra Attacks 2, Heightened Awareness 2 (4 Check Value Bonus), Heightened Senses 2 (Hearing, Smell, Vision), Highly Skilled 1, Mind Control 3 (+2 Check Bonus, -1 to Resistance Check, 1 Person), Mind Shield 3 (3 defensive levels of Mind and Soul, +30 mental armor), Natural Weapons (Fangs) 1, Regeneration 1 (5 Heath Points restored each round), Special Attack (Vampire bite) 4 (20 damage attack, Incapacitating (Body Check Required), Drain Soul (1 soul points drained), Vampiric, Only Restore Lost Levels, Low Penetration, Melee), Special Defense 7 (Ageing 2, Disease 2, Air/Oxygen to Breathe 2, Poison 1), Special Movement 3 (Wall-Crawling, Cat-Like), Super Strength 1 (2 tonnes and +10 damage in close combat and +4 strength check bonus), Tough 2 (+40 health points)  

Skills: Climbing 1, Cultural Arts (Transylvanian History) 4, Etiquette 3, Forgery 1, Intimidation (Street) 2, Languages (English, Lip Reading) 2, Stealth (Silent move) 3, Urban Tracking (Underworld) 4, Wilderness Tracking (Forest) 2,

Defects: Achilles Heel (Wooden weapons) -2, Bane (Holy Symbol, 20 pts/round of exposure) -1, Bane (Sunlight, 40 pts/round of exposure) -2, Marked (Red eyes. fangs) -1, Nemesis (Professor Abraham Van Helsing) -2

Character Points: 165 Skill Points: 30

Notes: Made with the SAS Character Generator for use with the free Tri-Stat rules. The write up is based on BESM Hellsing (02-907), BESM 3rd Edition (WW76000) Vampire template, and of course Bram Stoker's 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Rule of Five

I think we've all been in games alongside Power Gamers. You know the ones. They could care less about their character's personality. Their only interest is to turn them into an unstoppable juggernaut. If it weren't for encumbrance rules they'd haul around every conceivable weapon. They also like to load up on any and every magic item they can grab. What's a poor GM to do? The Fantasy Trip had a nice way to deal with the latter problem called The Rule of Five.

The Rule of Five: Wearing Several Magic Items
The Rule of Five states that one person cannot use more than five magical items at a time. However, any one item can contain up to five spells. This means that a person can have up to 25 spells going for him at once -- which ought to be enough.

Of course that won't be enough for the Power Gamer, but they'll just have to lump it. And in practice the average magical item will have far fewer than five spells in it. That could make for some interesting choices for the players as they try to decide between this magic wand and that magic ring. On the other hand, you might also want some special rules to take into account artifacts and other legendary magical items of great power. If someone finds the Ring of Gaxx, which has nine different powers, it might have to count as two items.

You could work any number of variations on this rule. For example, in a more gritty game you could have a Rule of Seven stating that a character can have no more than seven spells - from magic items or elsewhere - going for them at once. That could help keep wizardry from overpowering the game and really annoy the Power Gamers.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Extraordinary Voyages

Previously I posted about how despite the best efforts of RuneQuest's creators they just couldn't persuade the game's fans to use it for settings other than Glorantha. I even posted the mock-ancient map from RQ3 and then speculated that the landmark called "Chariot of Gods" might be a reference to theories of ancient astronauts. Well, it turns out that map was much more realistic than I imagined, and that there really was an ancient mariner who sighted the "Chariot of Gods." That sailor was named Hanno, and here's what H. G. Wells has to say about him in The Outline of History (1920).

About 520 B.C. a certain Hanno made a voyage that is still one of the most notable in the world. This Hanno - if we may trust the Periplus of Hanno, the Greek translation of his account which still survives - followed the African coast southward from the Straits of Gibraltar as far as the confines of Liberia. He had sixty big ships and his main task was to found or reinforce certain Carthaginian stations upon the Morocco coast. Then he pushed southward. He founded a settlement in the Rio de Oro (on Kerne or Herne Island), and sailed on past the Senegal River. The voyagers passed on for seven days beyond the Gambia, and landed at last upon some island. This they left in a panic, because, although the day was silent with the silence of the tropical forests, night they heard the sound of flutes, drums, and gongs, and the sky was red with the blaze of the bush fires. The coast country for the rest of the voyage was one blaze of fire, from the burning of the bush. Streams of fire ran down the hills into the sea, and at length a blaze arose so loftily that it touched the skies. Three days further brought them to an island containing a lake (?Sherbro Island). In this lake was another island (?Macaulay Island), and on this were wild, hairy men and women, "whom the interpreters called gorilla."

The Carthaginians, having caught some of the females of these "gorillas" - they were probably chimpanzees - turned back and eventually deposited the skins of their captives - who had proved impossibly violent guests to entertain on board ship - in the Temple of Juno.

Hanno's own account mentions a notable landmark.

"Sailing quickly away thence, we passed a country burning with fires and perfumes; and streams of fire supplied from it fell into the sea. The country was impassable on account of the heat. We sailed quickly thence, being much terrified; and passing on for four days, we discovered a country full of fire. In the middle was a lofty fire, larger than the rest, which seemed to touch the stars. When day came, we discovered it to be a large hill, called the Chariot of the Gods."

So that's what the map is referring to. But even if you leave space aliens out of it this kind of extraordinary voyage would make a great basis for a game. It could either be an epic campaign, with players undertaking the whole voyage from beginning to end, or it could be a jumping off point for more episodic adventures. Fabulous ruins, mysterious civilizations, lost Atlantean colonies -- any number of adventures await. It would be like a cross between Conan, Tarzan and the old Wagon Train TV series, only set in ancient Africa.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Pillars of Hercules

The state of affairs about 750 B.C.

This is a follow-up post to my earlier suggestion for a game set during the time of the Cimmerian invasions. While in the east the Assyrians and Lydians are fending off the rampaging barbarian hordes, in the west the Phoenicians are extending their sway. This map shows the disposition at the time. The Phoenician colony of Carthage is the dominant city-state in the region. They are so sure of their power that they tend to regard the whole Mediterranean as their own private property, and have been known to seize ships and cargoes. Yet when the Greeks or Etruscans return the favor they're branded "pirates." A loose federation of Etruscan city-states dominates the Italian peninsula. Rome at this time was still ruled by the legendary kings. It was little more than a colony of Alba Longa, only just beginning to assert its independence. The Greeks, both Ionian and Dorian, have a strong presence in the toe and heel of Italy and eastern Sicily. They present a serious challenge to the Phoenician dominance of trade.

Although the Phoenicians counted biremes as part of their navy, and triremes were starting to appear, the most common ship plying the seas was still the pentekonter. Even a century later, at the Battle of Alalia, the Greek fleet would consist entirely of pentekonters, and decades later Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos, would wreak havoc on the Aegean with a navy of 100 pentekonters.

In addition to the usual opportunities for adventure --  treasure rich, monster haunted ruins, etc. --- the prevalence of colonies in this region presents an opportunity for an interesting variation on the standard "D&D endgame." Instead of just getting a stronghold, players reaching a certain level (either literally or figuratively if playing a game like RuneQuest) could set out to found their own city. This could become a campaign in itself, with the party playing out a scenario similar to the one in the later books of The Aeneid.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Cimmerian hordes

A while ago I suggested that the Hellenistic Era would be a good historical campaign setting for a Conan-style FRPG. But of course Conan was a Cimmerian, and there really were barbarians by that name, but they lived centuries earlier.

Western Asia, 7th century BCE. 

It was a time of empires in decline, when Egypt was in turmoil, the mighty Assyrian empire maintained a precarious dominance, and the Phoenicians ruled the Mediterranean waves.  It was then that, as Herodotus tells us, "...the Cimmerians, driven from their homes by the nomads of Scythia, entered Asia and captured Sardis, all but the citadel." For decades the barbarian hordes ravaged Anatolia, often seeking only loot. "For the Cimmerian attack upon Ionia...was not a conquest of the cities, but only an inroad for plundering." Before they were vanquished as an effective fighting force by king Alyattes II of Lydia towards the close of the century they had clashed with imperial Assyrian armies, brought Phrygia to its knees, and ravaged the kingdom of Lydia. Who knows what other exploits they had, what solitary adventurers set out form among their ranks and what dangers they faced?

Of course Howard's stories were not historical, and his Cimmerians were not the ones of history. But I think the history of this period is just as exiting and exotic as the imaginary world of Hyboria. It was a time of brave Greek mercenaries, wise Egyptian sorcerers, wily Phoenician merchants, Etruscan pirates, fierce priestesses of Ishtar, and of course rugged Cimmerian barbarians.

However, there are a few historical details that may challenge the average role-player. For example, coinage had not yet been invented. At that time people mainly used weighted bits of metal as currency. It was the Lydians who would mint the first electrum coins, but it would be centuries before the system was widespread. And at the same time the Lydians were also just inventing the inn. I think that facing a world with no inns or coins might reduce the average gamer to a twitching wreck. You could fudge things, and add those conveniences to make things comfortable for the players. Since there's going to be magic and monsters in the game there's no need to be a stickler for historical detail. On the other hand, sometimes it's fun to watch the players twitch. It's your call. In any case, your chariot awaits...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Arduin, Bloody Ardiun

Different Worlds was Chaosium's house magazine back in the day. Although never as popular as The Dragon or The Space Gamer it was a pretty good zine. One notable feature was the "My Life & Role-Playing" series. As editor Tadashi Ehara explains,

"To provide content for the first issue, I invited all the prominent game designers and role-playing personalities at the time to submit a "My Life & Role-Playing" article. The response exceeded expectations and many heart-felt articles were submitted. The premiere issue of Different Worlds debuted in early 1979 with articles from 13 of these members of the role-playing world. Many others followed in subsequent issues. To my chagrin, Greg Stafford himself has never contributed to the "My Life & Role-Playing" series."

Dave Arneson, Ken St. Andre, Steve Jackson, Marc W. Miller, Paul Jaquays, and others talked about their experience with gaming. They provide a great glimpse into the early days of the hobby. One of the others to contribute was David A. Hargrave, author of the unforgettable Arduin Trilogy. The second issue of the magazine featured an article by him titled "Arduin, Bloody Ardiun" in which he wrote about his eclectic (eccentric?) campaign setting and which included this cool early map of Arduin.

Whether that article was written before or after his infamous spat with Greg Stafford I can't say, but he didn't seem to have a problem with promoting Arduin in the pages of Chaosium's zine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chariot of the Gods

RuneQuest is a game that will always be associated with the fictional world of Glorantha. This is despite the fact that the game's authors have always encouraged players to use it for other settings. In the introduction to the 2nd edition of 1979 they emphasize the novelty at that time of situating a game in a particular world, but also recommend that it be used in other venues.

However, this game is not limited to Glorantha. The experience system, the combat system, most of the magic system, and the training/guild system, and everything but the specific references to the world of Glorantha can be adjusted to fit any time and space with a minimum of hassle. We think you will find this system more realistic, and at the same time more playable, than any system you have seen before.

They even published Questworld, a non-Glorantha setting for the game. It never caught on. When the third edition was released by Avalon Hill some years later they went a step further. The default setting of the game was changed to a fantasy version of Europe, with Glorantha provided as an optional setting. They even included a nice map in the rules.

This is a great map. It has the feel of a pre-modern map. It's a little crude, a little sketchy, but has enough details to be useful for the players. I like this much better than the overly realistic maps in some games. (As much as I admire the world building that went into HârnWorld, the presentation in the form of a modern atlas always struck me as somewhat anachronistic for a pseudo-medieval fantasy setting.) One curious thing about the map is that mountain in east of "Libya" labeled "Chariot of Gods." Just what is that? For me it brings to mind all those stories of ancient astronauts, aliens from other worlds mistaken for gods by earthlings. It's easy to envision a group of PCs mounting a major expedition to explore it, with plenty of adventures on the way and an encounter with strange creatures from the void at the end. Despite intriguing features like this, and further supplements like Eldarad, these non-Glorantha settings never caught on. For most gamers RuneQuest remained synonymous with Glorantha. And so the Chariot of the Gods remains a mystery waiting to be explored.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

D&D magic using BRP

Back when I was using BRP to run FRPGs I was always figuring out ways to adapt material form other games to the Chaosium system. Since it dominates the hobby it was inevitable that this would involve D&D. BRP was similar enough to TSR's juggernaut that it was a fairly straightforward process. Monsters could be thrown right into a game after giving them an Attack % and with just a slight tweaking of the damage they did. Magic swords fit right in by the simple expedient of treating each +1 as a +5%. But when it came to magic things got a little trickier. BRP is a skill based game, and it uses Magic Points to fuel spells. That's a far cry from D&D's Level-based, cast-and-forget system. How do you fit that into a game?

All your base are belong to us.

I hit on this simple expedient. The minimum INT required to learn a spell was the spell's level+11; e.g., a 4th level spell requires an INT 15 to learn. Each spell was treated as a separate skill. The spell-caster's "level" for determining the power of the spell was the skill divided by 5. The Magic Point cost for each spell was equal to the spell level, plus additional Magic Points for extra range, duration, etc. For example, a Wizard with an INT of 13 (or more) knows the second level spell Detect Invisible at 45%. He could cast it as the equivalent of a 9th level D&D wizard with a range of 90', but it would cost him 10 Magic Points (2MP base+8 for extra "levels" of effect). However, a magic user can opt to cast a spell at a lower "level" by pumping fewer Magic Points into it. So our wizard could opt to put only 3MP into the spell for 20' range, etc. A Critical Success means the spell only burns the minimum number of Magic Points but takes effect at maximum level (or less at caster's choice). For example, our wizard knows Fireball at 45% and gets a Critical Success. The spell only consumes 3 Magic Points but does a full 9d6 damage. A Fumble means the spell is a dud. It uses up all the MP put into it but has no effect.

You don't say.

That's all there was to it. Nothing too earthshaking, I admit. It worked OK, although I didn't playtest it extensively. It was only used in a few encounters with NPC's on alternative worlds. Other people have thought of their own versions of this long before I did. I saw and old Pegasus magazine article where someone had come up with a very similar system, although he also added (IIRC) a pool of points called Mana that limited the amount of magic that could be cast in a certain time period. And I can think of plenty of variations. You could have a character pick a class and that class would have a % ranking, starting at 5% ("first level"). This would function as the Level your character has in their "class". So a Druid 30% would be the equivalent of a 6th Level D&D character. Etc. So don't just limit yourself to plundering dungeons. Plunder those other games for rules, monsters and magic, too.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Baron Xaq von Sytok

I've had that freeware Traveller Character Generator on my desktop for a while and every now and then I'll roll up a character to see what I get. Since Traveller chargen is an almost entirely random procedure, what I end up with is pretty hit or miss. Surprisingly few of the characters have died while being rolled up, but it does happen. More common are characters with some ridiculously low attribute, like the Army vet who had a successful career, acquired several skills and reached the rank of major -- all with an Intelligence of 3! Then there was the Navy man who ended up with an Endurance of 1. I'm all for playing challenging characters, but and invalid is a bit much.  Anyway, here's my best result so far.

 Baron Xaq von Sytok, Capt. Imperial Navy (ret.) Male Human, Age 34 


Skills: Blade (Sword)-1, Computer-1, Engineering-2, Gunnery-1, Jack of All Trades-1, Navigation-1, Pilot-1, Vacc Suit-2

Gear: 25,000 credits and one sword.

With a determination to reach the stars and the top of society,  young Xaq entered the Navy and embarked on a stellar career. Although never gaining a command of his own, he became an accomplished ship's engineer, willing to go the extra parsec and suit up to crawl into a hot reaction tube for some emergency repairs. His outstanding service and social graces saw him created an Imperial Baron. He now seeks adventure on the Imperial frontier, where his formidable skills and urbane demeanor are always welcome aboard ship.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hercules vs. Bat Demon

I think we've all had encounters like this. I wonder if Hercules will have to get a rabies shot now?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ugly Americans RPG?

I really dig the show Ugly Americans. It's is set in an alternative New York city peopled by monsters, wizards, mutants and demons. It's like the typical FRPG populace in an urban setting. Here's a taste.

Ugly AmericansThursdays 10:30/9:30c
Battle of the Summer Solstice
New Episodes Oct 6, 10:30pm/9:30cDepartment of Integration Field GuideFollow the Show on Twitter

As I see it, the PC's would all live in the same big city, and all share the same menial job, like taxi driver, security guards or working at a Rat On A Stick franchise. As for the rules set, the obvious choice would be Toon. There's already a fan made Futurama game using Toon floating around out there, so having an Ugly Americans one too is only natural. But another good choice would be Goblinoid Games' Labyrinth Lord and Mutant Future. LL has all the monsters, wizards and zombies you need for the game, while MF has the stats for the robots, mutants, etc. A few minor tweaks and your ready for downtown weirdness. With the right players I think it would make for a great, off-beat campaign.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Superhero Costume Generator

This should account for about 80% of all superhero costumes.

Roll 1D6.

1-3 = Unitard*
4-5 = Zentai suit**
6= Leotard

* Roll 1D6: 1-3, w/Cape; 4-6, w/o Cape

** Roll 1D6: 1-3, Covers upper face; 4-5, Open Faced; 6, Covers Head

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Superman (Golden Age)

Name: Superman (Golden Age)
Genre: Superhero
First Comic Appearance: Action Comics #1 (June 1938)
Group Affiliations: N/A
Occupation: Journalist
Territory: Metropolis
Age: 23
Gender: Male
Height: 190.5 cm
Weight: 102 kg

Description and Character Notes:
Superman, champion of the oppressed, the physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existance to helping those in need!

Body: 17
Mind: 8
Soul: 11
Health Points: 200
Energy Points: 95
Shock Value: 28
Combat Value: 16
Defense Value: 12

Armour 8x3 = 24 ("Impenetrable Skin," 80 damage stopped)
Attack Combat Mastery 4x3 = 12
Combat Technique 2x1 = 2
Lightning Reflexes
Steady Hand
Defense Combat Mastery 2x2 = 4
Features 2x1 = 2
Appearance x2
Heightened Senses 3x1 = 3
X-ray Vision
Highly Skilled 4x1 = 4
Immovable 3x1 = 3 (60 meter knockback reduction)
Jumping 2x1 = 2 (10 times normal distance)
Special Defense 4x1 = 4
Air/Oxygen to Breathe
Pain x2
Speed 4x6 = 24 (5,000 kph and +8 Initiative)
Super Strength 6x4 = 24 (60 tonnes and +60 damage in close combat and +24 strength check bonus)
Tough 3x2 = 6 (+60 health points)

Famous 1x-1 = -1 (Metropolis)
Vulnerability 3x-1 = -3 (Kryptonite, Cannot use Attributes)
Wanted 1x-1 = -1 (Minor Incentive to Hunt)
Achilles Heel 1x-1 = -1 (Kryptonite, Attack form is rare)
Bane 1x-1 = -1 (Kryptonite, 20 pts/round of exposure)
Skeleton in the Closet 2x-1 = -2 (Secret Identity, Faces Arrest)
Nemesis 2x-1 = -2 (The Ultra-Humanite)

Acrobatics 1x6+ 1 = 7 (Jumping, Balance)
City Knowledge 1x3 = 3 (Metropolis)
Climbing 1x2 = 2 (Walls)
Disguise 1x3+ 1 = 4 ("Clark Kent," Make-up)
Intimidation 1x3 = 3 (Street)
Performing Arts 1x2 = 2 (Public Speaking)
Powerlifting 1x6+ 2 = 8 (Bulky Objects, Humans, Moving Objects)
Writing 1x1 = 1 (Journalistic)
Unarmed Attack 3x8 = 24 (Veteran)
Unarmed Defense 2x8 = 16 (Expert)

Character Points: 175   Skill Points: 30

Notes: This is Superman early in his career. The city he lived in wasn't named Metropolis yet, but I went ahead and called it that. He also hadn't encountered kryptonite yet, but I assumed he is potentially vulnerable to it.

The character was made using the Silver Age Sentinels Character Generator. The Silver Age Sentinels rules are nearly identical to the free Tri-Stat dX rules.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Spaghetti Bronze Age

I suppose I  didn't make it very clear in my post yesterday that when I talk about a fantasy game set in the Bronze Age, I'm not so much thinking of the actual historical period as those cheesy old sword-and-sandal films.

A lot of them were made on shoestring budgets, so you'd want to add more magic and monsters than most of them feature, but in general that's what I had in mind.

Whether or not you want to have Hercules running around as a major NPC is up to you, but it could make for an interesting encounter.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bronze Age campaign

I was looking over that map Jeff Rients posted a while ago and got to thinking about how good it would work for a Bronze Age campaign.

The map lays out a region that is somewhat reminiscent of the Mediterranean, depicting an enclosed sea dotted with islands. The map already shows the location of various city states, so all  the GM has to do is determine the nature of the states and the balance of power, etc. Most of the city states on the islands would be ancient Greek analogs, complete with fleets of triremes. You could add some mythological touches, like an Amazon city, etc. I would give the southern city states an ancient North African feel, while the northern ones would be more Celtic. I'd be tempted to change all of those ice hexes to savanna, but you could leave them as they are and put some faux-Vikings there. Mixing and matching historical societies is a staple of fantasy, after all.

"Your pickled herring or your life!"

The map also helpfully lists the location of Magic Items, which as Jeff suggests would be the campaign's dungeons. To fit the Bronze Age theme, I would take a RuneQuest-like approach and make them the ruins of ancient cities. Maybe some are the haunted ruins of a lost Atlantean colony, an abandoned Egyptian outpost, or Cyclopean ruins - literally the ruins of a cyclops city. For example, that one in hex 2122 would be some kind of spooky pyramid complex. Another feature of the map is the various aeries listed. These are intended to be Roc nests, but I would probably change them to griffin nests - or even dragon's dens.


With all of those sea hexes you're going to want some sailing rules. How you handle it depends on how detailed you want to get. The easiest way is to just have players make a skill roll (or the equivalent) whenever they have to deal with a storm or pursuing pirates. But I would even consider incorporating some navel wargames rules into the game. That depends a lot on the players and the "feel" of the game you're trying for.

Most fantasy rules would work for this with only a few cosmetic changes. If you want a game that already matches the setting the obvious choice is Mazes & Minotaurs. But really it's just a matter of taste.

Update: Two more rules options are RuneQuest Bronze Age Sourcebook (RQ3) or Runequest - Age of Ancients SRD (MRQ1).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

D6 Martial Arts

One of the curious things about D6 Adventure is that there are no rules for martial arts. In fact the phrase "martial arts" isn't even mentioned anywhere in the rules. Instead you just have a Brawling skill to cover all types of unarmed combat. To compliment that there is a short menu of Combat Options that you can choose from: All-out, Grab, Lunge, Knockdown, trip, Push, Sweep, and Tackle. I suppose that would work OK. In fact, it kind of reminds me of the way Hero System handles combat. But it's quite a change from earlier editions of D6.

In D6 Star Wars© martial arts were handled in a rudimentary fashion. Your Brawling skill had two specialization options, boxing or martial arts. It didn't really add much to the game besides the name. That changed with the publication of Rules of Engagement: The Rebel Specforce Handbook. That supplement included an optional rule for Custom Martial Arts. For every 1D you improved in your skill you could choose from a long list of special hand-to-hand techniques. With techniques such as Blindfighting, Multiple Strikes, and Nerve Punch characters with the martial arts specialization started to really feel like kung fu fighters.

This system was modified in the DC Universe/D6 Legend rules. There was still a list of Close Combat Maneuvers like Bear Hug, Double Kick, or Haymaker that a character could choose from. But now Martial Arts was a separate skill and your character could specialize in particular maneuvers. In addition to that characters with a high Martial Arts skill gained extra actions. For every 2D in the skill you gained an extra action in addition to your normal action. Now characters with Martial Arts could fight off multiple foes using amazing techniques, just like a kung fu master.

I miss the martial arts rules from those earlier editions. I don't know why they dropped them from D6 Adventure and D6 Space. Luckily the games are similar enough that the rules can be ported to the newer edition without much trouble. It's worth the time it takes to come up with a house rule to let you deliver the Smash of the Six Beetles!

Monday, June 13, 2011


This is a weird case of life imitating art. Remember the Punknaught from Chromebook 1? It turns out the Mexican narco cartels are building their own version of the things. At least they don't hover -- yet.

Every riot cop's nightmare!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Outlaw Press

 UPDATE: I really put my foot into it this time! It looks like the leopard hasn't changed its spots, and OP is still up to its sleazy old ways. I apologize for giving them any word of mouth. Thanks to everybody for setting me straight on this one. If anyone reading this wants T&T stuff please go to sites like Flying Buffalo and Tunnels & Trolls and not the crappy outfit I posted about below.

Friday, June 3, 2011

D6 Marvel Superheroes

I was reading through the OGL D6 Legend rules and I realized they aren't a complete rule set. I'd say they includes about 3/4 or so of the DC Universe rules, but there's a lot missing. For example, the power Speed Manipulation is mentioned several times, but it's not described in the powers section. I suppose if you wanted to you could complete the game yourself by adding the missing rules. I doubt either Eric or Nikola would mind. But as it stands now the free D6 Legend rules are not a whole game.

There is a D6 superhero game on the web, though. It's the D6 Marvel Superheroes game. The copy I originally got is by T. Catt. But as far as I can tell the rules are currently only available on the Arcane•Marks game page (at the bottom) in a version by Talon Dunning. I guess it's the same cat.

This is the old cover

Anyway, the game is not based on the Legend rules, but on a slightly modified version of D6 Adventure. The biggest change is that the D6A attributes (which were the same as the Legend ones, BTW) are replaced by the FASERIP attributes from  TSR's old Marvel Super Heroes Roleplaying Game. Fate Points work the same, but are now called Karma points like in the old MSH game. There are also new rules for Popularity which are somewhat like the Reputation rules in Mekton Z. The most surprising part is that there isn't a new system for handling super power. Instead the game just uses the Special Abilities form the D6A rules. Players are encouraged to add new abilities, but the stock list works surprisingly well for most super heroes. Two new powers are included, Wall-Crawling (3) and Power Cosmic (15). For characters like Dr. Strange or Jean Grey who have magical or psionic powers you just use the Magic and Psionic rules from D6A. There are two sample characters included, Spider-Man and Wolverine, which gives you an example of how the rules work.

It's a pretty clever use of the stock D6 rules to handle a super hero setting. Using the Legend scale, I'd say it would work good for Power Level 1-2 games. But higher level games featuring powerhouse characters like Thor or Hulk would be harder to run. For example, Spider-Man has a Lifting skill of 10D+2 which means he can lift 1,400 kg. That's impressive, but it's nowhere near the 10 tons he's should be able to lift. Another problem is that the cost of some of the Special Abilities in D6A are a little off. For example, Elasticity, which gives you the powers of Mr. Fantastic, costs only one point per rank. Meanwhile, Ventriloquism, a far less useful ability which just lets you throw your voice, cost three points per rank. So in my opinion the D6A rules might need a little more tweaking to work well for superhero gaming.

Which is not to criticize the author of D6 Marvel Superheroes, who did a great job. The game is an excellent example of how to take rules in an unexpected and fun direction. If you want to run a superhero game using a free set of rules these would be a great choice.

Friday, May 27, 2011

MSPE adventure points

In my review of MSPE I mentioned that the part I liked least about the game was that you have to keep track of adventure points for each skill separately. That may not bother most gamers, but it's the one thing about the game that I'd change. So if I were to run a MSPE game I'd introduce this house rule.

Adventure Points are gained in the usual fashion for good role-playing, achieving scenario objectives, making saving throws, etc. However, players no longer need to track APs for skills. Instead, when a character goes up a level they receive the new level number in points which may be divided between attributes and skills, with the restriction that a) no more than two points may be allotted to attributes and b) no skill may be raised by more than one point at a time.

For example, a character going from first to second level would get two points. He or she could put both points toward increasing attributes, put both points toward raising two different skills by one point, or use one point to raise an attribute and one to raise a skill. Another example would be a character going from fourth to fifth level. The player could allot at most two points to attributes with three points left over to distribute amongst three different skills.

The reason for restricting attitude increase to two points is to remain consistent with the original rules. However, if I were playing a Doc Savage style pulp game, or a high voltage Hong Kong action movie game, I could easily imagine relaxing that rule and using something more like the original T&T experience rules. The reason for limiting skill increase to one point per skill per level increase is to prevent players from becoming experts in some field overnight. I would also consider limiting the increase to skills that were used during the course of the game.

This system isn't as realistic as the original rule, but it is simpler. I haven't play tested it yet, but I don't see any obvious flaws in it. This is especially true given the unwritten rule that in T&T/MSPE even eighth level characters are rare and powerful. For example, in MSPE Sherlock Holmes is only a 7th level character. So since I don't run a Monty Haul game with 12th level titans running around I think this rule would work fine.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes

Michael A. Stackpole is probably best recognized today as an sf author of such books as I, Jedi (1998) and his Star Wars: X-Wing (1996) trilogy. But he got his start in the RPG hobby, specifically with the T&T based game, Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes. As you might guess from the title, the game focuses on contemporary crime and thriller adventures. As Stackpole says in his introduction, "MSPE is a game of two-fisted adventure: part pulp, part mystery, part John Wayne movie and 100% fun."

Cool box cover!

Character creation begins with players choosing their characters background, nationality, ethnicity, etc. before you start rolling the dice. You roll 3d6 for the standard T&T attributes, Strength, Luck, Intelligence, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, and Speed. If all the dice come up the same number you roll a further 2d6 and add it on, giving an attribute range of 5-30. Combat adds, the bonuses you get for having certain attributes over 12, are split into Hand-to-hand adds and Missile weapon adds.

The biggest change to the system is the addition of a skill system. In general skills work by adding the skill level to an Attribute when making a saving throw. They are broken up into groups based on a minimum IQ requirement, ranging from IQ 4 skills like Brawling up to IQ 16 skills like Cryptology. There are also Open Skills with no IQ min., covering Special Interests and Occupation skills. All characters start with a number of skill points equal to their Intelligence and each skill costs one or more skill points to acquire. During initial character generation you can also expend skill points to get a hereditary title or psi powers, either of which are then randomly determined.

Combat will be familiar to any T&T player, although Stackpole recommends splitting up the mêlée into one-on-one fights. The combat round is also restructured to take account of Martial Arts and firearms. Martial Arts are handled in an abstract but very clever fashion that allows a skilled martial artist to take on numerous foes and even disarm gunmen.

Character advancement is handled in familiar T&T fashion using the standard adventure point chart. The main difference is that MSPE characters only gain 2 attribute points after increasing a level. No Marvel superheroes here. In addition, individual skills acquire their own adventure points. That means you have to keep a running total of adventure points for each and every skill you have. That's a lot of book keeping.

There is some GM advice for running mercenary, espionage and detective games. In addition to stats for typical animals and thugs, this section features a detailed section on The Art of Detection which provides a wealth of information for setting up and running mystery scenarios. This is really the heart of the rules and gives the GM invaluable advice about establishing motives, laying out clues, etc., and generally how to run a compelling mystery game.

Other highlights are an extensive equipment list, an excellent recommended reading list, and rules to cover Car Crashes and even Law Enforcement Agencies, which are given attributes like Records, Forensics, Judicial, etc. There's a section called Nightstalkers which gives advice on using the rules to run a pulp-fiction Lost World or horror/science fiction game, which includes stats for dinosaurs and supernatural monsters. Finally there is a selection of sample characters from different time periods, with a few notables like Philip Marlowe and Sherlock Holmes.

These rules are a clever variation on the basic T&T system. The skill system is a welcome addition with lots of options. The stand-out section is The Art of Detection, which is something anyone running a mystery oriented game, whether straight detective or Call of Cthulhu, should read if they get a chance. The combat rules are also changed for the better. Combat skills like Brawling, Pugilism, Self Defense, and Martial Arts each have a different game effect. Martial Arts is the most ingenious, and captures the feel of Kung Fu fighting without getting bogged down in details.

Unfortunately this game does get bogged down by adventure point tracking. I don't like experience points to begin with and having to tally them up for each of maybe a dozen skills your character has is a real headache. The other shortcoming of the rules is that the GM sections on running mercenary and espionage scenarios are very anemic. They are sketchy at best and can't compare to the detailed guidelines for running mystery games.

The rulebook cover is kind of plain.

MSPE are must-have rules for T&T players looking to broaden their scope of play. They do and excellent job of expanding the rules and adapting them to a more realistic, contemporary setting. For anyone who runs games that feature mysteries I can't recommend the essay The Art of Detection highly enough. And even if you just want to find out what happens if your leprechaun rogue gets his hands on an Uzi you'll like this game. MSPE is one of those game that deserved a wider audience than it got. If it sounds like your cup of tea I highly recommend it.

Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes (Flying Buffalo Inc.) $9.95

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

BRP & Me

Adam has an interesting post linking to another post arguing that RQ/BRP is better than D&D. I agree in so far as I personally like the BRP system better than D&D's mechanics, but I wouldn't claim one is better than the other. It's like arguing about whether DC is better than Marvel or vice versa. It's really just a matter of taste. But I do prefer BRP. In fact, it's one of my favorite game systems. If you've read this blog before that may come as something of a surprise since aside from the occasional mention of Call of Cthulhu or Elric!/Stormbringer I hardly ever talk about it. That's because I don't play it any more. How can it be one of my favorite systems if I don't play it? I'll explain that later. First, let me spell out why I like it.

One of my favorite things about BRP is the ease of play. You roll your attributes, then pick a few skills to define your character and you're off. What I like even more is that it completely does away with character classes and experience points. Character classes are nothing but a group of skills, either implied or enumerated. With a skill system classes become superfluous. Want to be a thief? Give your character the skills Pick Pockets, Move Quietly, Spot Trap, etc. Want to be a fighter? Pick a bunch of combat skills. Want to be a fighter and a thief? You don't have to mess around with some awkward "multi-class" with a separate experience point table, you just choose the mix of skills that fits that kind of character. In fact, you don't have to mess around with experience point charts at all because there are no experience points. If you're like me and you think keeping track of experience points is about as fun as balancing a check book this will make you happy.

The other great thing about this approach is that you can modify the skill list to suit your fancy. Do you have a fighter who wants to use nunchaku? Just add a nunchaku skill. Does someone want a Fast Draw ability? Just add a skill for it. Do you want magic users to be able to smell magic? You got it, Smell Magic skill. This is a great approach to gaming and it's stood the test of time. The BRP system is so stable it has remained virtually unchanged since it first appeared. So why don't I play it any more?

I used to use BRP for just about every game I ran. It was great because the percentile based system was so intuitive that players would pick it up in a snap. The hardest math was multiplying your base attributes by 3 or 5 to get different saving throw values. But the thing about the percentile system is that the skills are defined too finely. If one character has a Boogie skill of 63%  and another has a Boogie skill of 64% that's not a meaningful difference. In fact, to make a real difference you need a much coarser separation on the order of 5-10% or so. So instead of multiplying your attributes by 5 you should be dividing your skills by that much. And once I started thinking along those lines I realized that you didn't need all those different polyhedral dice. Just divide the skills by five and roll that number or less on 3d6. Kind of like GURPS but without the fiddly stuff.

So I moved away from BRP. I still think it's a good system, and it has had an important influence on the hobby, but I doubt I'll be running games with it any time soon.

Friday, May 13, 2011

RPG anarchy

I like the general attitude of Mark C. MacKinnon's BESM/Tri-Stat games which are very much in line with the T&T tradition of modifying the rules to fit your style of play. However, their emphasis on a storytelling style sometimes gets out of hand. For example, in the Tri-Stat rules there's a section on "Moving Beyond Tri-Stat" (pg. 90) which gives advise on doing without rules.

Remember back to your childhood when you played “House,” “Cops and Robbers,” (and perhaps even “Doctor”) with your friends. There were no Character Points, no rules, no dice, and no character sheets at that time. All that mattered was the role-playing. Capturing the essence of those games you played long ago should be your ultimate goal: just role-playing, and nothing else.

There follows sections on how to "Remove the Skills," "Remove the Attribute Levels," "Remove the Dice and Rules," and even "Remove the Game Master." I don't object to any of that in principle, and it could work quite well given the right group of players. I think that's pretty much how those Murder Mystery dinner parties work. The problem is that the role players I'm used to tend to be power gamers and they would not fit well with that approach. MacKinnon recognized that himself sever pages earlier in the section on "Power Abuse" (pg. 86).

The player characters may have tremendous powers. Perhaps they can literally
move mountains, or change the course of history. Sooner or later, someone will
decide to see just how far he or she can go with their character’s powers.

The solution he suggests is GM veto. But if you've done away with the GM then what? If you've thrown out the rules and a player says "I jump to the moon and pick up the alien death ray I find there," who's going to contradict them?

So while I think it's quite possible to have a fun game with no rules and no GM, I think it takes a very particular group of gamers to make it work. The average munchkin is incompatible with that style of play.

But I admit I'm a bit biased. I'm something of a gearhead and I enjoy games like Mekton Z or Hero System where you design your character or mecha for optimal awesomeness. So maybe my fondness for a design system that can be tweaked is skewing my view. Have you ever run a game with no rules or even no GM? How well did it work?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tiger & Bunny

I thought I'd brainstorm a bit on how to run a superhero campaign based on Sunrise's new comedic superhero anime, Tiger & Bunny.

The basic setup is this.

"The series takes place in a fictional re-imagined version of New York City called Sternbild City, where 45 years before, individuals with superpowers called "NEXT" started appearing and some of them became superheroes. Each of city's most famous superheroes work for a sponsor company and their uniforms also contain advertising for real-life companies. Their heroic activity is broadcasted on the popular television show "Hero TV", where they accumulate points by each feat accomplished and the best ranked hero of the season is crowned "King of Heroes"."

Since corporate sponsorship is such a big part of the show, it should be worked into the game, too. One way too do that is to have the character's sponsors be the player's favorite junk food, or favorite brand of sneakers, or whatever. So if you have a gamer who is always drinking Dr. Pepper that could be her sponsor. If another guy always wears Nikes that could be his sponsor. Etc.

To complicate matters further, if you have a regular group of players you could have each one play both a superhero and the corporate rep of another player's sponsor. So not only will players be competing against each other for ratings on Hero TV, they can make life miserable for each other by having their corporate bosses making demands on them. Handled right that could lead to some very entertaining situations.

As for which rules to use, just pick your favorite superhero RPG and go with that. There are plenty of good free rules you could use. There's D6 Legend, the generic, OGL version of WEG's old DC Universe RPG. There's also John M. Stater's  Mystery Men! which is based on OD&D, or the 4C System, which is a generic version of TSR's old percentile-based Marvel Super Heroes Roleplaying Game. And then there's Tri-Stat dX, which is the generic version of GoO's short-lived d10-based Silver Age Sentinals. And there are many more.

So grab your dice, pull on your tights and try not to embarrass your sponsor.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Battlegloves are heavy gauntlets that can be worn by humanoids and cover the entire hand and forearm, articulated with artificial muscle and hydraulics. A Battleglove attacks uses the character's Brawling skill, delivering STR+2D punching damage, and has a STR+3D crushing grip. Battlegloves can also be used as a "reaction skill" to parry brawling and melee combat attacks. It also has three slots allowing it to be equipped with extra weapons.

Model: Talsorian Industries Battleglove
Type: Special
Scale: Character
Skill: Various (Brawling or other, see below)
Cost: 900
Availability: 2, X

Roll one die three times to determine which weapons the battleglove comes equipped with.

1...Pop-up Blaster
2...Micromissile Launcher
4...Grenade Launcher
6...Gas Jet

Pop-up Blaster: Mounts an internal blaster that attacks using the Blaster skill for 4D damage. Ammo: 50 (reloads cost 25); Range:3-7/25/50

Micromissile Launcher: Fires explosive heat-seeking guided miniature missiles. The target must be at least partially exposed for the battleglove to lock-on for the first shot. The missiles will pursue the target, even around corners of up to 90 degrees (will loose tracking on a roll of 5 or less on 2D). Attacks are made using the Missile Weapons skill, ignoring cover and line-of-sight modifiers (after initial lock on). If the attack succeeds the missile explodes (damage: 4D/2D/1D; blast radius: 0/1/2). If the attack misses, the attacker rolls 2D and on a roll of 8 or more the missile corrects its course and a second attack roll can be made.  Ammo: 4 (reloads cost 50 ea. missile)  Range: 10-50/100/200

Flamethrower: This is a small, high-pressure flame jet that attacks using Missile Weapons skill and may be "swept". The attacker decides a starting point and an ending point and makes a Difficult roll. If successful, anything caught between the two points is ignited. If the roll is missed use the Grenade Deviation Diagram. Damage is 2D the first round, 1D for 2 rounds afterwards. Hard armor protects normally. Soft armor must be at least +1D physical to protect against the flame, and is reduced -2 pips per attack. Ammo: 4 (reloads cost 100) Range: 1 meter

Grenade Launcher: A modified support grenade launcher, stored in a popup mount. Attacks using Missile Weapons skill. Basic grenades come in fragmentation, incendiary, stun, dazzle, sonic, concussion, and gas varieties. Each type has its own area of effect, usually between 2 and 5 meters. For example, a typical concussion grenade is damage: 3D/2D/1D; blast radius: 0/1/2. Ammo 1 (reloading takes one round; reloads cost 30 ea.) Range: 10-35/75/150

Whip: A 2.2 meter long alloy tentacle that can either whip for STR+2 damage, strangle for STR+1D damage per round (target must make a Difficult STR or DEX roll to escape), or act as a short-range grapple. Attacks using Melee Combat skill.

Gas Jet: A pressurized canister of gas (any type) is installed in the glove that attacks using the Missile Weapons skill. Effect depends on the type of gas which can be resisted by a Difficult STR save. Teargas: -1D DEX for 1D rounds; Nausea: vomiting and -2D DEX for 2D rounds; Sleep: unconscious for 2D rounds; Poison: 4D lethal damage. Unsealed armor does not protect against gas. Ammo 6 (reloads cost 275) Range: 2 meters


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Traveller inspirational reading

There's a great post over at The Zhodani Base today recommending some classic sf novels that influenced Traveller. I tried to comment, but the website ate my post. You can't go wrong with any of those books, and you're sure to get some great ideas from them.

There are a couple more novels that relate to CT that I'd recommend. Andre Norton's Plague Ship and Voodoo Planet are part of a series that recounts the adventures of the Free Trader Solar Queen and her crew. No points for guessing how they relate to the game.

And BeRKA mentions the "obsolete" CT computer rules. While they do seem a bit dated today, I think that when they were written they were a clever attempt to add computer management to space wargames. There were other sf combat games that achieved a similar effect with different rules. In Star Fleet Battles you had energy management rules, and later in BattleTech you had heat management rules. In CT it was computer program management. So to me the CT computer rules make much more sense when seen in the context of wargaming conventions where it's taken for granted that there's something, whether energy, heat or programs that the player has to finesse to get the better of their opponent.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D6 Slugthrowers

I was looking through my copy of D6 Star Wars 2nd Rev. & Exp. and something caught my eye. I don't think I've ever read the rules all the way through. I've played in a D6 game and had fun. ( It wasn't SW, just generic space opera). But I've never GM'd it. Maybe that's why I never read all the rules. I just skimmed the relevant parts. Anyway, I was checking out the entry on Slugthrowers. There's only one gun listed, a pistol, and it's kind of interesting.

Model: Coruschal WeaponsWorks "Dagger" Combat Pistol
Type: Slugthrower pistol
Skill: Firearms: Slugthrower pistol
Ammo: 16
Cost: 300
Availability: 2, F
Range: 3-10/30/60
Damage: 3D
Game Notes: -1D damage when used on a target with body armor
Capsule: Coruschal WeaponsWorks was a prominent munitions manufacturer until the planet Coruschal fell into civil disarray. Currently, the planet is a decaying urban sprawl, filled with street fighting between warring factions. Coruschal WeaponsWorks' firearms are generally regarded as high quality among those who still use such weapons, though contact with the planet has been cut off by the fighting.

Did they just sneak an adventure seed into a weapon description? I think they did. A planet that's "...a decaying urban sprawl, filled with street fighting between warring factions." That sounds almost cyberpunk. The idea of using the D6 System to run a cyberpunk game sounds kind of cool. And the gun does 3D damage. That's right in line with the damage done by guns in Cyberpunk 2020. So it occurs to me that you could steal just about any slugthrower you wanted from CP202 to use in D6. And you could other weapons too, like a MonoKatana or Nunchaku.

Someone's already thought of this, although they did it in the opposite direction. Over at Mockery's CP page there's a list of D6SW weapons converted to Interlock stats. But I'm interested tossing some of those shootin' irons into D6. The damage is so similar I wouldn't change most of it. (D6 is not for sticklers for realism.) Just a few tweaks here and there. The biggest difference are the d10 weapons. The average roll of 1D10 is 5.5. The average roll of 1D6 is 3.5. So 1d10 is roughly equivalent to 1D6+2. Just add up the dice and convert to a die code. For example, a Barrett-Arasaka 20mm rifle does 4d10, which would convert to 6D+2. Easy.  As for melee weapons, just treat the damage they do as a "+" to STR in standard D6 fashion (with the same max. of 6D; and maybe reduce all those nD+3s into nD+2s). So Nunchaku would do STR+3D. Sweet. Now you can have nunchuk skills. "You know, like nunchuk skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills..."

As for the note, "-1D damage when used on a target with body armor" I'd rule that only applies against armor of a higher tech level, like that worn in an interstellar society. For a "cyberpunk" planet (or orbital station, etc.) of a slightly lower tech level I wouldn't apply that to the local armor.

I know all this makes me sound like some kind of gunbunny. That's not what I'm aiming for (pardon the pun). Giving all slugthrower pistols 3D of damage is fine by me. My only point with this post is that if you want a wider variety of slugthrowers and martial arts weapons for some kind of cyberpunk-ish adventure the ones from CP2020 work great in D6. So the next time your party crash lands on a cowboy planet, just throw this little number that I got from Mockery's site at them.

Model: Colt "Peacemaker" Revolver
Type: .45 Long Colt revolver
Skill: Firearms: Slugthrower pistol
Ammo: 6
Cost: 300
Availability: 2, F
Range: 3-5/18/35
Damage: 2D6+2
Game Notes: -1D damage when used on a target with body armor

Now where's did I leave that MonoKatana?