Blog Archives

Origins 2012 Recap

Several days ago, I posted about my first day at Origins. Things were going very well and I was enjoying both the roleplaying games I was playing and the board games I was running. Now that the convention is over, I’m pleased to say that the great experience I had that first day carried over through the rest of the convention as well. And contrary to the previous years at Origins, I didn’t have a single bad game!

I don’t know how interesting a full recap of my events is to others, but I’m going to go ahead and post one anyway! ūüėÄ

Thursday

Mutants & Masterminds 3rd EditionI got up bright and early once again for an 8 AM game of¬†The Avengers using¬†Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition. I’ve always liked the¬†Mutants & Masterminds system for doing a good job of emulating the superhero genre while still allowing it to be somewhat tactical and crunchy if desired. And after being blown away by this year’s summer film¬†The Avengers, I decided that it would be a lot of fun to play in it.

I grabbed Captain America (my favorite superhero) as soon as the sheets came out. It turns out that this group of Avengers was from the comics, rather than the summer film, so we had Iron Fist and Black Panther available rather than Hulk and Thor (the GM did note that Thor would likely be too powerful given that he tended to be the Avengers’ magic bullet rather than an equal member of the team). I had to get a recap on who Kang the Conqueror was, but ultimately, I was able to enjoy the session despite not being nearly as well-read in the comics as the other people at the table. And in the end, Cap was able to help his fellow Avengers save America from yet another supervillain threat. The GM could have been a bit more enthusiastic, but all in all, it was a great session.

The rest of the day consisted of me running not one but two roleplaying games. First up was¬†A Traveller’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was an intro to the¬†Traveller roleplaying game (Mongoose Publishing version) consisting of both character creation and a quick scenario (feel free to see part 1 and part 2 of my review of Traveller). I had a pretty eclectic mix of experience levels with two players who had never played¬†Traveller, one who just started GMing a campaign but had never played, one who played about ten years ago, one who played when the first version came out in 1977, and one who not only played since 1977, but works for¬†Terra/Sol Games¬†which sells nothing but Traveller supplements!

Players old and new enjoyed creating characters. To my surprise, every character had average or above average stats with multiple 12s being rolled at the table. Almost all of the chosen careers wound up being military occupations, so it was definitely a battle-hardened group. To my surprise, the players were deathly afraid of the Aging Table, so our characters mostly ranged from 34-46 years old with only one character adventuring at the ripe old age of 54. As a result, group character creation only took 1 1/2 hours, which was the shortest that I have ever had it take.

The scenario I ran was a pretty basic one where someone hires the crew to do a field survey on a recently colonized world, but it quickly becomes apparent that their patron is motivated by something else. This time, it was a search for psionic artifact that the government had placed there as an experiment to diminish aggression, but with prolonged exposure, it wound up making beings far more aggressive. The team recovered it and decided that the best way to deal with their treacherous patron was to space him. Not all that heroic, but it was an interesting turn of events.

In the evening was¬†Stargate Universe: Rescue using the¬†Savage Worlds system.¬†Stargate Universe was the third (and currently last) show in the Stargate series. Although admittedly the first episodes were very poor, the show got quite a bit better about halfway through the first season and had a (in my opinion) stellar second season. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to save it from a premature cancellation from Syfy Channel’s chopping block (or from Syfy’s vendetta against all sci-fi shows if you’re bitter about Sanctuary and Eureka¬†also getting prematurely cancelled and being replaced by yet another paranormal show). The final episode was left pretty open-ended with everyone in stasis pods and Eli alone on the ship, looking out at the stars.

So I created a scenario that provided at least some closure to that. One and a half years later, the Lucian Alliance had managed to recapture Destiny by leading a covert strike on Langara and using their Stargate to dial the ninth chevron and gate to Destiny (and I decided that a successful ninth chevron dial to Destiny immediately drops the ship out of FTL). So what does Stargate Command do? They send their A-Team to get it back! So we had Samantha Carter, Daniel Jackson, Rodney McKay, John Sheppard, Carson Beckett, and Col. Telford leading a rescue operation on Destiny.

The whole explanation of how that turned out is too long for this blog post, so I hope at some point to write up how that went and how our group decided to provide a partial conclusion to¬†Stargate Universe. Oh, and in case you’re wondering,¬†some time ago, I did write up a conversion for using the Stargate setting in Savage Worlds, but it’s undergoing a complete overhaul to bring it up to the same level of quality as my Elder Scrolls conversion. So if you’re a Stargate fan and you want this, stay tuned!

Friday

Friday began with the new board game¬†Oh My God! There’s an Axe in My Head! by Game Company 3. After hearing about it from the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild Patriarch since I joined the Guild, I decided to try it out (apparently the company they originally hired to print it didn’t pull through, but they broke away from them and it’s finally coming out).

In this game, you are all delegates meeting in Switzerland to negotiate treaties following World War I. The Swiss have hired axe jugglers as entertainment, but they have suddenly gone crazy and are chucking axes into the crowd! So now you’re left to negotiate treaties while dodging axes flying past you. Oh, and you can pick them up and throw them at other delegates too! It was a fun game and I decided to splurge for it.

In the afternoon was our Battle of Endor LARP. This was intended to be the Wings of War LARP (without full cardboard planes) adapted to the Battle of Endor from Return of the Jedi. On paper it sounded great and we prepped it for 21-42 people (which happened to give us a whopping 21 credit hours for the purpose of getting free rooms).

Unfortunately, only one person (who was from the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild) showed up, so we obviously couldn’t run it. I think there were two main factors that kept people from signing up. First, it was classified as a LARP, but wasn’t a typical LARP and so it probably didn’t appeal to the right crowd. Had we advertised it as “GIANT Battle of Endor” much like the popular “GIANT Settlers of Catan,” and advertised it as a miniatures game (kind of a macro-miniature game I guess) we might have drawn the right audience. Second, they placed us in the farthest room of the farthest hotel adjoining the Convention Center, meaning there was no potential for walk-ups. It’s unlikely that we’ll try this again in the future, but it was a valiant attempt.

Then in the evening was The Price of Success, a Firefly game using the Savage Worlds system. In this game, we got to play the remaining crew members of the Serenity after the Miranda incident (minus Kaylee who was back on the ship). I got to play Malcolm Reynolds!

The game used the increasingly recycled scenario of the characters waking up without any memories of the last day and having to retrace their steps to figure out what happened. In the process, we found out that, among other things, Jayne got caught up in an underground fighting ring (and became the hero Clobberin’ Cobb!), River had helped Simon cheat at cards in a casino, and the rest of the crew crashed a party Mr. Niska hosted for his (very ugly) daughter. The author said that at some point he would post the characters and scenario online and I’ll be sure to link to them when he does.

EDIT: Less than twelve hours after I post, it’s up online! Check it out at Dragonlaird Gaming!

Saturday

Saturday I started off with the D&D Next playtest. Yes, I am allowed to talk about it, but I would like to save that for a later post about what I think about D&D Next as a whole.

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and SpaceIn the afternoon, I ran¬†A Timelord in King Arthur’s Court, a¬†scenario for¬†Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. Although the tickets sold out in 20 minutes, I was surprised to find that only four people showed up. I felt bad for the people who told me during the convention that they wanted to get in the game, but couldn’t because it was sold out.

The players decided to try something I’ve never seen done before: they wound up choosing both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors for the same group. Fortunately, the players who played them were able to have a lot of great banter off of each other. Accompanying them were Donna Noble and Rory Williams (without Amy apparently).

In this adventure, the characters found themselves in the time of King Arthur. (When is that time exactly? Forget that you asked, it gets in the way of the story!). After being sent to look after the missing Knights of the Round Table, they ran into a suit of armor with a Vashta Nerada inside (who fortunately was prevented from leaving to wreck havoc among Earth), a downed spaceship, and a cage that housed a creature that looks remarkably like what Earth people would call a dragon. Oh and they discovered that Merlin was The Master!

There was a very epic ending to the scenario in which The Master was using Blood Control (from the Sycorax) to control the dragon to destroy Camelot. The companions decided that King Arthur needed Excalibur to slay the dragon. But where do they find Excalibur? They came up with a very creative solution: they remembered that Excalibur was sometimes called “The Singing Sword,” and so they decided to rig up a Sonic Screwdriver with a standard sword to create a Sonic Sword! Then they gave it to Donna, who was dressed in blue, to be the Lady of the Lake (she at least called herself Lady since she was a Noble) who badgered King Arthur until he took it. During this time, Rory taught Lancelot CPR, which likely evolved into the legends about him being able to lay on hands.

And then the epic showdown came when the Tenth Doctor confronted The Master and told him that what he was doing was wrong. Meanwhile, the Eleventh Doctor snuck behind the unsuspecting Master and knocked the Blood Control device out of his hands. Rory smashed it to bits and Donna yelled for King Arthur to attack as the dragon plunged toward him and his army. With everyone chipping in story points for extra dice, King Arthur rolled a whopping 73 to slay the dragon (mind you 30 is “Nearly Impossible”). And so we decided that the tale of King Arthur slaying the dragon would be a legend forever.

The group let the Master get away and we decided that the final scene of the episode was The Master getting into the downed ship and the Vashta Nerada’s ominous shadows closing in.

Finally, I ran Night Train for the Deadlands setting of Savage Worlds. Did they survive the scenario that is known for resulting in many TPKs? That’s a story that will have to be saved for another post!

Advertisements

Review of Mongoose Traveller, Part 2

Two weeks ago, I started my review of Mongoose Traveller¬†(i.e. the version of Traveller¬†created by Mongoose Publishing)¬†and talked about the amazing character creation system. Gameplay in Mongoose Traveller¬†is slick, although it’s not quite as stellar as the character creation.

The typical adventuring party in Traveller¬†is a group of people working together on freelance missions. Sometimes they have their own ship, sometimes they’ll have one on loan from a patron. Generally this leads to sort of a Firefly¬†vibe with people from different walks of life all working together.

Because there are so many skills, it’s possible to have missions that don’t have any combat whatsoever. Want to go on a science mission? It’s easy since there are multiple skills that are related to science. Want to have Battlestar Galactica-style¬†drama? You’ll be using skills like Admin, Advocate, Deception, Diplomat, Investigate, Persuade, and even Carouse. And how do you do stuff? Roll 2d6, add your modifier from an appropriate characteristic (such as Intellect, Dexterity, or Education) and add your modifier from an appropriate skill, generally aiming for an 8 or higher. Quick and easy. Because skills just add flat modifiers, this also means that characters still have a shot at doing things that they aren’t well trained for.

But if you do want to do combat, be forewarned that it is lethal. Say you’re on a mission and some goon wants to shoot you. He makes a Gun Combat roll, adds his Dex Modifier, and gets an 8. If you’re not under cover or anything, then you’re shot. The goon rolls for damage and your Endurance characteristic is reduced by the number of points you got hit for. Did it get to 0? Then you reduce either Strength or Dexterity for the remaining number of points, which abstracts the kind of wound that you’re getting. And did either of those get to 0? Then you need immediate medical treatment or you’re dead. Lethal, but¬†really, really fast (faster even than¬†Savage Worlds).

If there’s a weakness to gameplay, it’s that it’s really hard to advance. If you think about it, your character only earned one or two skills over the course of four years during character creation. It takes about as long in gameplay. The official way to do it is that the number of in-game weeks it takes to advance a skill is equal to the number of skill levels you have. Got ten skill levels? It will take you ten in-game weeks to advance. Although realistic, this can be hard to manage if you’re used to a D&D-style power progression. The real reward for completing missions is generally money and contacts, not experience.

Besides those things, there really isn’t anything special about gameplay. There’s a lot of potential for a variety of mission types, combat is lethal, yet really, really fast, and the focus is on getting contacts rather than getting experience. If you don’t like for the system to get in the way of your storytelling, I think you’ll be happy with how Mongoose¬†Traveller¬†feels in game. Still I imagine that there will be some who find gameplay less interesting than the awesomeness of character creation. I can’t think of another system that has that problem.

At any rate, I definitely recommend giving Mongoose Traveller a try at least. It’s a nifty system that is an update to an old classic. Simple, diverse, and fun.

Review of Mongoose Traveller, Part 1

On Friday night, I got to run a one-shot of one of my favorite systems: Traveller. Or more specifically, the Mongoose Publishing version of Traveller (usually shortened to Mongoose Traveller or MGT). You see, there are quite a few versions of Traveller, the oldest of which was released in 1977. Mongoose Traveller is an updated version of the original Traveller with more modern mechanics. The result: pure awesomeness!

The most ingenious part about¬†Traveller¬†in all its forms is character creation, which is basically a game in and of itself. Most RPGs have you create characters as they are in the present and any thought about their past is usually an afterthought relegated to a character’s backstory.¬†Traveller¬†works the other way. Your character’s statistics are a direct result of their past life events, which are randomly determined to some extent. Although you will likely wind up with a different character than you envisioned, the result is a character with greater depth and history.

The first thing you do is roll 2d6 to determine your six basic characteristics. There’s the standard RPG attributes like Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, and Intellect, but there are also two more: Education and Social Standing. Just like the PSAs tell you, a better education means that you have more career choices. But being famous helps too.

You start your character as a teenager on a planet somewhere¬†out in space. You get a few skills based on your homeworld and upbringing, then you get to apply for your first career. If you make it, then you’re off to good start. If not, you can either let the military draft you or you can become a Drifter (or as we like to call it, a Hobo).

After that, you advance your life in four year stretches of time. You get training in a skill to indicate your learning on the job. Then you have to make a roll to see if you “survive.” In old versions of¬†Traveller, failure meant you died. Time to make a new character! But in¬†Mongoose Traveller, failure just means that you were ejected from your career for some reason. You roll on a mishap table to figure out why. Perhaps your journalist got arrested and sent to prison because of something they wrote. Or your marine led a blunderous assault and was severely wounded, resulting in his discharge. Either way, it’s time to find a new career.

If you succeeded in your survival roll, you get to roll on an events table to determine what notable thing happened to you in the last four years. Perhaps your scout managed to get in contact with a previously undiscovered alien species. Or your noble had some political squabbles and gained an enemy. After this, you roll to see if your character gets a promotion of some sort in their career. Then you can repeat the cycle again for the next four years of life.

If you decide that your character is getting too old, then you can end character creation and decide to start the game at whatever age you stopped at. There is a tradeoff to aging: you become more skilled, but the physical toll of aging starts to catch up to you. I think that this is a really brilliant mechanic because it makes it so a 26 year old and a 62 year old are both on about equal terms in the entourage while still having very different talents.

Another important part about character creation is that you gather contacts, allies, rivals, and enemies. These add more depth to the character (and give lots of great plot hooks to the GM). Contacts and allies can also be another player character, reflecting your shared history. I even had one player made another player character into a contact, then roll a life event saying that their character became romantically involved with one of their contacts. So the characters wound up marrying! I can’t say that I’ve seen that happen in any other system.

To sum it all up, character creation is a blast and is definitely a unique system! Next week, I’ll be reviewing Mongoose Traveller¬†for the actual gameplay.

In Defense of Non-Magical Characters

This summer, the Platinum Warlock decided to host a weekly Deadlands Friday night game running through The Flood, an epic Deadlands plot-point campaign. I decided to join, at least until Wittenberg University started school and the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild resumed their tradition of Friday Night One-shots.

The question came as to what type of character I would play. The Platinum Warlock told me that the other players were playing a Mad Scientist, a Huckster, and an Indian Shaman.¬†In Deadlands, magic exists in the world and each of the aforementioned character types uses magic in some way.¬†But¬†I decided that I would play someone who wasn’t magical in the least and not “special” at all. I decided to be a muckraker (i.e. a journalist).

This made me think about how in role-playing games, the trend seems to be getting away from “normal” character types and more towards “magical” character types. Looking at Dungeons & Dragons 4e, we see that of all the “power sources” of the various character classes, there are 22 classes that get their powers from some sort of magical energy (such as arcane energy, divine energy, or primal energy) but only 4 who get their power from their own innate ability (those who have the “Martial” power source). In other words, characters who aren’t magical are in the minority and for every 1 character out there who is out to save the world with their own talent, 5 are out there who are empowered by some form of magic.

Sometimes this isn’t really an issue. If Harry Potter were a role-playing game, I don’t think anybody would complain about Muggle characters being underrepresented because a conceit of the setting is that it’s about people who are magical and presumably all player characters would be such. Same with superheroes: nobody is really expecting a guy off the street to be a player character next to Superman, at least not unless he has Batman gadgets to go with it.

But in many settings, this becomes an issue when “magic users” are supposed to coexist in a party with “normal people,” but the magic users wind up overshadowing them.¬†Rifts¬†(which admittedly I’ve never played) took this to the extreme by having the “Vagabond” class as basically a hobo and a fish-out-of-water in the strange, strange world. It’s an interesting concept, but Wikipedia’s¬†list of character classes¬†shows¬†that such a character is likely to be adventuring alongside cyborgs, psychics, mystics, techno-wizards, and even dragon hatchlings (all from the core book!). Many versions of Dungeons & Dragons¬†have the same problem with “linear warriors, quadratic wizards” with Fighters turning into cheerleaders for the Wizards.

It doesn’t have to be so extreme. In my experience with Star Wars, people tend to want to play Jedi (the Star Wars “magic user”).¬†Dark Heresy and the other Warhammer 40,000¬†games, role-playing games almost always have at least one Pskyer in the party. It’s usually not from a lack of imagination either. For instance, pages 23-25 of the Deadlands Player’s Guide¬†list 14 suggested non-magical character archetypes along with 3 suggested magical ones, and yet over two thirds of Deadlands¬†characters I’ve seen are magic users.

Each of these situations just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t think that they’re working as they are intended to and it has the unfortunate consequence of making regular guys boring and pass√©.

There are a few solutions to combat this problem. One is to raise the bar for the normal folk to the level of awesomeness of the magical folk. For instance, Legolas is an Elf who can fire a bow like nobody’s business and can take down a war-elephant single-handedly! Why would you want to be a wizard Gandalf when you can be Legolas! Sometimes this requires thinking outside of the box, but I believe that it is generally possible to make normal folk capable of feats of equal awesomeness as their magical counterparts. Often times all it requires is a change in perception.

Another approach I’ve seen is to actually enforce the rarity of magic users, requiring most players to make characters who are “normal people” and thus lowering the bar for typical levels of awesomeness. The most direct way to do this is GM fiat, excluding certain types of characters.¬†Traveller¬†has an interesting alternative in that it mechanically supports enforcing the rarity. Characters can choose to be a variety of professions including nobles, soldiers, explorers, and even entertainers. Psionics exist, but they are rare. So rare in fact that players cannot choose to make a Psionic character. Instead, the only way to become a Psionic is to randomly roll a life event that puts you in contact with a Psionic institute on the fringes of space. The odds of that are approximately .07% every 4 years of your character’s life, meaning a character has maybe a .8% chance over the course of his lifetime to get a chance to become a Psionic and even then, if they don’t have the potential, they might not get in. Perhaps it’s limiting, but it does provide an effective way of eliminating the problem of overshadowing. (By the way,¬†Traveller¬†actually does have a¬†hobo class, called the “Drifter”, who is able to fit right in with other characters!)

It’s my personal opinion that role-playing games should support non-magic users more than they do now. Every character deserves to be awesome, not just the magical ones.

And for what it’s worth, my Deadlands muckraker wound up doing all kinds of feats of awesomeness, including snapping pictures in the midst of battle (which will hopefully net him a whole lot of money), blinding martial on top of the train with his camera flash and making them fall off, and helping commandeer a steam wagon that was driving alongside a speeding train! I’ll even go so far as to say that in this first session, my character even overshadowed most of the party’s magic users!

%d bloggers like this: