August 16, 2017

RPGaDay Question #16

Question #16: Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

In spite of my penchant for being a tinker-monkey, there's actually quite a few RPGs that I enjoy playing or running "as is."

One of the more recent ones is 7th Sea 2nd edition.  There's so much freedom for the GM to run things with the rules that one doesn't really need to "tinker" with it.  Heck, I could probably run a lengthy and successful campaign using just material from the core rulebook, and never run out of options for players, either in things to do or ways to advance their characters.  Granted, the system takes a little getting used to, especially wrapping one's head around the "roll then move" approach that it takes versus the "move then roll" approach that is the industry standard.

Another RPG that I can easily run or play as-is would be FFG's Star Wars RPG.  With the exception of one minor rule in the combat section, I really don't have any glaring issues with how the system works.  While I agree that starship combat is its issues, notably the propensity for "rocket tag" if the PCs are in starfighters, over all it's pretty solid, and at thus far has yet to fall prey to the "Force users are overpowered!" issue that's plagued pretty much every other Star Wars RPG, be it official or a system hack of some type.

A third RPG that I've mostly enjoyed playing as written is The One Ring by Cubicle 7.  I pretty much grew up with Tolkien's works, and this RPG does a pretty solid job of delivering the Middle Earth experience as the Professor described in his writings.  I did get to play a fairly short-lived campaign, taking up the role of a Barding Warden with our company mostly playing through The Marsh Bell and a bit of the Tales from the Wilderland before ending abruptly due to over half the group forgotten this wasn't D&D and that getting into fights could be extremely dangerous.

And lastly, there's Mutants and Masterminds 3rd edition.  Frankly, that game is so flexible in terms of what a character can be built to do that there's really no need to introduce a plethora of house rules.  The fact I'm in a group that is currently comprised of a Golden Age Superman, a pastiche of Spider-Man, a quasi-ninja with shadow powers, and a flying version of Frozen's Elsa, and each of us is capable of pitching in during just about any sort of encounter just goes to how versatile the system is in the hands of a skilled GM.  And luckily, we've got a very skilled GM in the form of Eric running out MnM3e campaign.  As much as I'm enjoying Curse of Strahd, I can't want to get back to our Emerald City campaign.

That pretty much wraps it up for today's answer, so check in tomorrow for the answer to #17.

August 15, 2017

RPGaDay Question #15

Question #15: Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

I think it's safe to say that I've tinkered with or "adapted" just about every RPG I've played in some form or another.

As a self-professed "tinker monkey" when it comes to RPGs, I like mucking around with the system in various ways, introducing various house rule ideas to see what works, what doesn't, and perhaps most importantly why it does or doesn't work.

In terms of sheer volume of system tinkering that I've done, I'd probably say that WotC's various d20 Star Wars games take the cake.  For its flaws, the d20 engine does permit for a whole lot of customization, tweaking a whole mess of things to deliver whatever sort of game experience the GM and players enjoy.  I think the enduring popularity of Pathfinder is a testament to that, as they're still riding the 3.X gravy train long after WotC moved on to other iterations of d20.

I've also enjoyed playing around with ideas and concepts for FFG's Star Wars RPG, although the amount of "new material" I've created has been substantially less.  I think one of the biggest contributions that I made was the tandem effort between myself and Ben "Cyril" Erickson with the Unofficial Species Menagerie, which we first created way back in the days of the Edge of the Empire Beta, mostly as a way to give players viable options for species outside of the eight introduced in the EotE Beta rulebook.  In hindsight, we probably could have gotten a lot more daring than we did, but it was a new system and both of us were still in the learning curve of what was balanced and what went too far.  It's been interesting to see how FFG has approached a number of these species, and seeing where they diverge from what we did.

One fairly recent bit of system adapting I tried my hand was for 7th Sea, that being the conversion of a slew of 1e Swordsman Schools into 2e Duelist Styles.  I probably spent more time that I really needed to on that one, mostly out of an effort to avoid falling into the ever-present trap of creating home-brew material that was vastly more powerful than the official stuff.  Granted, I started this project even before the 7th Sea core rulebook was officially released (perks of being a Kickstarter back), mostly as a way to broaden the number of options available for characters.  I didn't wind up trying to adapt all of the 1e Swordsman Schools, as some of them were so unusual or out of place as a "dueling" style that it didn't seem applicable.

As for the idea of shoehorning an existing system to make it work for another setting, I'd have to say I'm generally not a fan of such an approach.  I know there are folks that love using FATE Core for pretty much everything, and I've lost track of the numerous different attempts people have made to run Star Wars in their preferred system de jour, but for me a lot of them just fell flat.  That being said, I have to give kudos to Green Ronin for in their efforts to make Mutants and Masterminds be able to replicate the sort of antics we see in various comic books, they wound up creating an RPG that can indeed be adapted to just about any sort of genre and still work as intended.  Back during the 2e days, I used MnM2e to create a bunch of characters from the Danny Phantom cartoon series (it was really good, but sadly got shafted by Nickelodeon, especially its third season), with Danny himself turning out to be a serious powerhouse for a PL9 hero.  I also used MnM2e to do character builds of characters from the Final Fantasy series (specially 7, 8, and 10) and Kingdom Hearts (dear lord Sora was a beast for being PL10/150 points), as well as the named characters from Avatar: The Last Airbender as of the conclusion of the second season.  For a while, the Atomic Think Tank (Green Ronin's official Mutants & Masterminds forum) was chock full of folks using the system to create heroes and villains of numerous genres, and none of them really felt out of place in a game about superheroes.   Sadly, Green Ronin's forums have turned into a cesspit full of bile and resentment, with a lot of posters suffering from entitlement about how they're not getting the products they feel they deserve (this was especially true with Dragon Age and the third box set, an issue that was completely out of Green Ronin's hands due to the approvals being held up on BioWare's end).

Come back tomorrow to see which RPG I actually enjoy using "as is" without tinkering around with it.

August 14, 2017

RPGaDay Question #14

Question #14: Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

Huh, this is a bit of a tough one, as I generally don't do a lot of "open-ended" campaign play these days.  As a GM, I'm not that great at running truly "open-ended" campaigns as I prefer my campaigns to have a definite starting and ending point.  That's not to say I'd be adverse to returning to a previously ended campaign, but that would be a new and separate story arc as opposed to an ever-continuing one.

Back in the day, I had what I guess you could call an open-ended campaign in the form of a long-running WEG Star Wars campaign that went across generations, starting out in the early days of the Galactic Civil War, then after a while skipping ahead a generation with the players taking the roles of the children of their previous characters, and then after a bunch of sessions jumping ahead another generation to take up playing the grandkids.  It ran for quite a while before the group in general kind of got tired of it and we at last put the campaign to bed.  It was fun, and I wound up coming up with a lot of stuff that in hindsight makes me cringe, but it wasn't as out there as some of the stuff that authors came up with for the New Jedi Order or other Legacy series, but like I said it was a lot of fun.

Now a days, I'd probably go with Green Ronin's Mutants and Masterminds 3rd edition for an open-ended campaign as the way it operates you can very easily have a PC whose Power Level never really increases beyond their starting point but still be effective, with their experience being spent not to boost their main abilities but instead to broaden their capabilities.  Which is not unlike how the main heroes in most comic books tend to operate, especially Marvel.  Tony Stark might constantly tweak and upgrade his Iron Man suits, but they generally have the same set of powers, often with broader range of effects, and Spider-Man is pretty much the same wise-cracking webslinger in terms of his powers.

Another viable choice would probably be FFG's Star Wars RPG, since there's almost always something for your character to spend their XP on, especially if you're a Force user.  And with the way specializations and talent trees operate, you can have characters with hundreds if not thousands of XP that aren't grossly overpowered, but instead becoming broadly competent in a breadth of different areas.

Yet another possible choice would be John Wick Presents' 7th Sea 2nd edition.  With a character's advancement tied to Stories, be it personal or GM-based, there's not really any such thing as forgettable XP awards, as each Story a Hero completes allows them to grow and develop.  As long as the GM and the players can keep coming up with fun and interesting Stories, I could see a campaign of 7th Sea going for years.

Tomorrow's question should be an interesting one to answer, given how much of a self-avowed tinker-monkey I am when it comes to RPGs.  Tune in tomorrow for what's likely to be a long and rambling answer.

August 13, 2017

RPGaDay Question #13

Question #13: Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

Well, this is probably what I get for not reading the questions ahead of time, as I've largely answered this back at Question #7 with my recounting my Vampire: The Masquerade experience where my Mortal returned from the dead as a Crow-style revenant.  If you've not seen interviews with the late Brandon Lee (taken way before his time) in regards to the change of perspective that comes with entering the role of a person whose life is behind them, I suggest doing so.  It's heady stuff, and the line that Eric delivers of how the little things always matter is one that a great many people need to hear.

So yeah, that game experience, of playing a character that has lived and died, returned to set the wrong things right, did have a rather profound experience.  While not all my characters are of the type to focus on the little things, I think that the more heroic-minded characters that I play do tend to focus on those little things, those small acts of charity and kindness that in the grand scheme of things probably don't amount to much, but still serve to make the immediate world around my character just that little bit brighter.

A game experience of a similar theme was one of my earliest sessions playing West End Games's Star Wars d6 RPG during my sophomore year of college, where in I played a Minor Jedi whose name I honestly don't remember.  The campaign was set in the midst of the Galactic Civil War, with the players being a band of newly-recruited Rebels that were fighting against the local Imperial presence on some Outer Rim planet whose name I also don't recall.  It was probably the fourth or fifth session, and the Old Senatorial was trying to rally locals to our cause, but sadly wasn't have as much success as he'd hoped for.  Now it's worth mentioning that before embarking on this campaign, a lot of my prior RPG experience was of the D&D mold, namely the "enter dungeons in search of loot and things to squash."

So when the big moment came to launch a raid on the Imperial regent's manor to liberate members of the local aristocracy, needless to say we were in a bind; to quote Murphy's Laws of Combat Operations, we were largely out of everything except the enemy, and thus were neck deep in the combat zone.

For my Minor Jedi, I had taken the advice of the GM and a couple players experienced with the system to put some of my starting skill points into my two Force skills, Control and Sense, so that he'd have some degree of competency with the Force as well as access to the lightsaber combat power, as well as some points in the Lightsaber skill itself.  In terms of that campaign, none of the other characters knew my character was a Jedi, only that I had some unusual abilities and hunches, coming across more as an oddity than anything else.  Deciding that the time for hiding had ended, and that if he was about to become one with the Force he'd do so in a manner befitting a Jedi Knight, my character drew and ignited his lightsaber, successfully activating lightsaber combat and adopting a combat-ready stance.  This of course drew the attention of the stormtroopers in the immediate area, with a group of them opening fire on this new threat.  The dice were certainly in what my friend Linda would refer to as "movie hero mode" and I managed to parry the attack and then reflect the blaster bolt into the lead trooper, dropping him with a single hit.  The presence of a Jedi on the field, especially one that was standing against the Empire, served as rallying point, one that the Old Senatorial didn't hesitate to exploit, and turned out to be the turning point of the skirmish, allowing us to win the day and free the prisoners.  Not a bad day's work for a half-trained Jedi apprentice.

My big take away from that was that it was indeed possible to play characters that weren't simply obsessed with purely tangible rewards, and that playing a truly heroic character, one that stood up when necessary to do what was right, was itself a rewarding experience, one that truly made playing RPGs worth it.  The other take away was that playing a Jedi was actually a lot of fun, something that's stuck with me through years of Star Wars gaming, be it WEG, WotC's various d20 iterations, and now FFG's system.

Come back tomorrow to see what I've got to say about Question #14 on the list.

August 12, 2017

RPGaDay Question #12

(so it seems that I will be sticking with including the above image on each of these posts after all)

Question #12: Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

This one's quite easy for me, as the answer is Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars RPG.  While she's since moved on to other things, Zoe Robinson did an outstanding job as Art Director for the product line in hiring artists and getting art that not only felt at place within the galaxy far, far away, but many of them were evocative of characters or events, many of which could and very likely have inspirited GMs to create plots using one of those images as the launching point for an adventure.

I still remember the last GenCon I was able to attend, where I got a chance to meet and chat a bit with Zoe, and the shared chuckle over how the character image for the Performer specialization in the Far Horizons supplement for the Edge of the Empire line was a barely dressed Twi'lek male rather than the scantily-clad female that a number of folks had been half-expecting and half-dreading. so well played to Zoe for that one.

Runner-up for me in terms of inspiring interior art would probably be CthulhuTech, which while not always bright and cheery certainly did help paint a vibrant picture of what the world was like during the Strange Aeon in which the game was set, even if the images of the Nazzadi got a little heavy on the fanservice at times.  A particular favorite of mine where the images of the Tagers, the setting's Guyver-inspired character types, with the illustrations showing just how powerful yet monstrous a character became when they shifted into their combat form.

August 11, 2017

Well, it is somebody's birthday... drinks all around!

But it's not mine.  Or at least, it's not mine yet, savvy?

However, since I'm due to be rather busy on the 12th, I figured I'd post this one.  And while a person's birthday is a time for them to receive presents from others, I thought I'd switch it up a little and provide a present for others.

Some time ago, I posted a very short introductory style of adventure for the 7th Sea 2nd edition RPG, under the punny name of "An Idol Pursuit."  Well, in the time since I posted that little tidbit, I've since expanded upon it, adding what I guess one might call an introductory prologue, focusing upon the exploits the Heroes undertake to obtain the Syrenth idol that my initial adventure centers around. I initially ran this as an unrelated one-shot for my regular Skype group, and the group had quite a bit of fun with it.

It was while working on coming up with a good 7th Sea adventure to run at GamerNationCon earlier this year that I got the bright idea of just combining the two small adventures (each of which can be run in less than 2 hours) into a single larger adventure that could fill up most of a four hour time slot.  Now carrying the still punny name of "An Idol Venture," this is a fun little romp designed to introduce players to the world and general feel of 7th Sea.  It's not all that difficult of a module, as it's meant to encourage enjoyment of the setting and the system, not grind the players into the dirt.  Thus, the Risks entailed aren't too daunting, and in a couple of cases the module itself encourages the GM to let the players get really creative with their descriptions in how they overcome the Risks presented.  It's a little rough around the edges, and by intentional design doesn't make use of Dramatic Risks (mostly out of fear of dragging the adventure out, a big no-no for con modules), but it's still fun and good for a night's diversion from a group's usual RPG fare, or as a means to give 7th Sea 2nd edition a whirl.

An Idol Venture, An Introductory Adventure for 7th Sea 2e

Also included in the zip file are the five Heroes that I created specifically for this module, though if you have access to the Heroes & Villains supplement, you could certainly select some of the Heroes from there if you'd like.  I've not yet found a character sheet that I'd truly liked or covered enough information to suit my tastes, so the characters here are presented in a pretty straight-forward style, with enough information given to play them without having to book-dive to see which of their abilities does what.

RPGaDay Question #11

Question #11: Which 'dead game' would you like to see reborn?

So I've got two answers for this question.

First off, one setting I'd really like to see get revived is Babylon 5.  I very much enjoyed the d20 version produced by Mongoose Publishing, especially the second edition, even though it did share some of the issues inherent with the 3.X D&D version of the d20 engine.  I only got to play in a couple of very short campaigns, with the first one only being called a "campaign" out of charity as it only lasted two sessions, while the other lasted a bit longer at five sessions but collapsed due to conflicting schedules and half the players wanting something a bit more action-packed than the mystery/investigative plot the GM was using.

I did get to play a Ranger in the second one (was set a very short time after the original series ended but largely ignored the Crusade series), which was fun, and had some pretty interesting characters such as a Centauri version of Deep Space Nine's Garak and a Human Telepath (former PsiCorp) that had gotten her powers boosted via some ancient alien artifact of unknown origins.  The campaign was centered on a lesser EarthForce operated space station, though pretty sure none of the PCs were actually part of EarthForce; mine was perhaps the closest due to being part of the InterStellar Alliance, but was operating on an extended covert mission.  Sadly things were just starting to get good when the game folded.  Ah well.

Though if Babylon 5 does make a comeback in RPG form, I'd prefer it to not use a d20-based system but perhaps instead using something like Fantasy Flight Games' Genesys, Modiphus Entertainment's 2d20 (especially the Star Trek Adventures version), or even FATE Core.  Just give me a chance to play as one of the Anlashok and I'm content.

The second 'dead' game I'd like to see make a return would be CthulhuTech by Wildfire LLC.  It's quite an unusual setting, being a mash-up the Cthulhu Mythos and various anime series, most notably Robotech, Neon Genesis Evangalion, and Guyver.  It was fairly bleak, but there were still elements of hope for mankind, though the question of how far would humanity go to survive and would it still be recognizable as humanity often lingered in the background.  The art was certainly evocative, and the future setting did some elements that were unsettling.  But it also had stuff that was pretty damn cool, such as the Eva-inspired Engels, gigantic monstrous organisms sheathed in armor and perhaps humanity's most powerful weapon against the Migou invaders or monstrous hordes in service to the Old Ones, with my personal favorite setting element being the Tagers, humans that choose to bond with entities from outside our reality to become something more and yet intrinsically less than human, fighting a Shadow War against the corrupt Chrysalis Corporation and their thoroughly inhuman Dhohanoid, monsters that can wear the shape of man but have forsaken their humanity for power.  Yes, it's based very heavily on the Guyver series of anime, though the PCs are nowhere near that level of power.  I'd had hopes more than once of running a Tager-centric CthuluTech game, but those plans never came to fruition.

Sadly, it was a game hindered by a dice system that was far clunkier than it really should have been.  Another problem that plagued the game was the distribution issues Wildfire was having, as they bounced from Mongoose Publishing to Catalyst Game Labs, who from what I can understand really screwed over the folks behind CthuhluTech.  I think with a more streamlined dice system this game could do really well if brought back.  I know there'd been efforts by Wildfire to create a second edition (I even grabbed the playtest docs), but I've not heard much of anything else on the matter.

So yeah, those are the two main settings/games that had RPGs that I would love to see make a return from the land of dead games.  While not without their faults, there was a lot to like about the settings themselves, and for the most part what little gaming I did with those settings, I remember with a sense of fondness.

Come back tomorrow for my answer to question #12, which will probably not surprise anyone that knows my gaming habits of recent years.

Until then... we live for the One, we die for the One.

August 10, 2017

RPGaDay Question #10

(You know, after ten of these posts, I'm wondering if I still need to keep including that image with the list of questions...)

So, Question #10: Where do you go for RPG reviews?

In this day and age, my first place is the internet.  I follow a number of different RPG publishing companies and game sites on Facebook, so if I see something pop up on my feed that draws my interest, I'll click the link and check it out.  I don't have any one site in particular that I go to, as I think they've all got their merits.

I also tend to use Google to do searches for fan-operated blogs to see what folks that aren't directly affiliated with an RPG have to say about it.  Often times, I can get a decent feel for if a particular RPG is for me or not simply by seeing what other folks have to say about it on a site that's not subject to needing hits/traffic or keeping in the good graces of a parent company.

Well, that was a fairly quick answer.  Tune in tomorrow for #11 and see which ghosts of gaming past I'd like to see make a return.

August 9, 2017

RPGaDay Question #9

Question #9: What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

Honestly, there's quite a few of them that work, provided you as the player aren't too hung up on character advancement.  So in that vein, my answers are going to focus on RPGs where the characters start out highly competent and really don't have to fret too much about failing tasks that are within the character's niche unless it's something well and truly difficult.

To go back to the olden days of RPGs, WEG's D6 Star Wars was one such game, and according to Bill Slavicsek the game was very much intended for what these days are referred to as "mini-campaigns" that often only last for a dozen sessions at most.  And unless you're playing a Force user, there's not really a point where your character feels less than competent within their area of expertise.

Of more recent fair, I'd have to say that 7th Sea 2nd edition is a solid choice.  As I noted in an early blog post, Heroes in this game start out quite capable, and with the way character advancement works it's entirely possible for a Hero to accomplish a major personal goal by the time the mini-campaign wraps up.

I could also see various FATE Core and FATE Accelerated games being good for mini-campaigns.  Depending on how you set up your skills/approaches, it could well be that your character only occasionally needs to invoke an aspect to be able to succeed at tasks, which is good because depending on how the GM handles the milestone system, you may not be seeing a whole lot of growth in terms of your skill ranks.

Now one RPG worth mentioning with regards to this question is Shadow of the Demon Lord.  While the overall mechanics fell much too clunky for my liking and the characters generally start out as 0th level scrubs, the game itself is very much geared towards the mini-campaign model, with the notion that each successfully completed adventure (i.e. session) gives the characters a level advancement, and with it capping out at 10th level, once that last session is in the books, it's pretty much time to retire the characters and embark on a new mini-campaign.

Another contender is FFG's Star Wars RPG.  While it might seem that you need loads of XP in order to really make your character capable, the introduction of Knight Level play in the Force and Destiny core rulebook allows a group to make characters that are a good deal more capable than your typical starting character, including the option for much better gear than what most starting characters can afford.  And such, if you only play for 10 or so sessions, you're not as worried about your character's advancement since you already start off with about 10 session's worth of XP under your belt.  In fact, I'd posit that the main characters from A New Hope and The Force Awakens all started out as Knight Level characters, with Luke and Rey not spending all their XP right off the bat so that they could later spend them on Force-related abilities as they came to learn more about the Force.

Alright, so that's my answer to #9.  Tune in tomorrow for Question #10, and where this gamer goes to get the skinny on new entries into the market.

August 8, 2017

RPGaDay Question #8

Question #8: What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2 hours or less?

Honestly, this was tougher for me to answer than you'd think.

To be honest, it's only rarely that I play sessions that fall under 2 hours, and those have usually been sessions that were part of a larger campaign that had to be cut short for various real life concerns, most notably the Skype group I'm in, often due to players being stuck at work or having to bow out early due to illness, allergies, or work-related exhaustion.  To be fair, I've been guilty of all three, so I'm not judging the other players, not by any stretch.

Still, if I knew that I only had a couple hours to play, I think I'd most likely lean towards FATE Accelerated, as building a character is very quick and game play is equally fast.  I generally stick to meatier RPGs, though I'm sure Chris "GM Chris" Witt of the Order 66 podcast has a number of fast-play RPGs that would fit the bill.

Yeah, a short post, but compared to the behemoth that was yesterday's answer, it's a fits the day's question that this one is over so quickly.

I will have a suitably meatier answer for tomorrow's question though.

August 7, 2017

RPGaDay Question #7

Question #7: What was your most impactful RPG session?

My answer to this one lies oddly enough in a short campaign of Vampire: The Masquerade, one that took place while I was in college and thus in my early 20's.

In terms of RPGs, it was a heady time for me, with my getting to learn about and experience a great many different systems.  Now those that know me also know that I don't have a very positive point of view towards White Wolf's World of Darkness, or as I've taken to calling it, the World of Over-Bearing Angst.  But, there was a time, very early on in the setting's life cycle, where the angst level hadn't gotten overwhelming and the dark broodiness of the setting hadn't begun choking the fun out playing the RPG.

Admittedly, I was more a fan of Werewolf: the Apocalypse than the other settings for their World of Darkness, mostly as playing one of the Garou was a more visceral experience, where your character had the opportunity chance and the power to directly attack the ills of the world; yes, I'm aware that the system tends to catch a lot of derision for pretty much being superheroes for furries, but a lot of those same folks have a tendency to overlook the many problems that their beloved Vampire: the Masquerade had, where the players often ignored the struggle against their inner monster and instead embraced the inhumanity of being a vampire and used it as an excuse to do some pretty horrid things.

That said, I did agree to play in what one of my friends would be a semester-long mini-campaign of V:tM, and that one of the goals would be to explore the loss of one's humanity in the wake of becoming a monster.  The characters were varied and with one exception (a Caitiff combat monster) rather intriguing individuals from a variety of clans, with an added wrinkle of two of the PCs, myself and one other, being ordinary Mortals, with the understanding that at some point, our characters would be Embraced (presumably by one or more of the vampire PCs).  Another element of the campaign proposed was the dangers of power, of how it could corrupt and to what degree should one submit to authority?

Sounds pretty interesting, right?  Yeah, it didn't quite work out that way.  Of the seven players (five vamps, two mortals), four of the vampires decided they liked working for the local Prince, a truly Machiavellian creature that ruled the city with an iron fist; pretty much nothing happened in the city without his tacit approval.  The fifth Vampire, a Ventrue that had been a crusading attorney prior to her Embrace, was the only one to seek to circumvent the Prince, but she was too useful to the Prince (plus he had an unhealthy fixation on her, even for a vampire), and so the other vampire PCs were instructed to "make an example" of the Ventrue's daughter, who was one of the two Mortal PCs.  The other Mortal was my PC, a twenty-something aspiring rocker named Michael Cross from the wrong side the tracks (prime material to be vamp'd by either the Brujah or the Toreador), and who in the course of the campaign to that point had managed to convince the Ventrue's daughter that he wasn't a total lost cause, leading them to become friends before developing into romantic partners.

I think the GM's idea was that the four vamp PCs would reject this as a brutality too much, and turn against their inhumane master.  Well, you know the saying about GM plans and what happens when they meet the players.  Suffice to say, they went over the top with the ensuing carnage, with the four players reveling in their ability to be unabashed monsters.  At the end of the session, my PC was left to bleed out after being horrifically beaten, the Ventrue's daughter was left barely alive but catatonic from the trauma both physical and mental, and the Ventrue herself was so horrified she nearly considered ending her undead existence in a final act of defiance.  It was some scary stuff, with a couple players being uncomfortable afterwards with what their characters had wrought in the throes of their Frenzy.

So that's the set-up for what lead into what is my most impactful RPG session, which to be fair was something of a two-parter, occurring on consecutive nights.  Pretty bleak, right?

Now, a couple weeks before the atrocity described above occurred, one that was bad enough for the GM to almost consider giving up gaming in general, I'd stumbled across a set of fan-created rules for a particular character type, one associated with what is probably one of my all-time favorite films.  I'd handed them over as I'd found the fan supplement to be fairly amusing, and figured nothing more would come of it.

A couple nights after that session, the GM stops by my apartment and asks if we can talk. I agree, figuring at the very least he wanted a sounding board if he should continue or not, which made since as I was pretty much out of campaign.  So imagine my surprise when he told me that he wanted me to rebuild my Mortal, only no longer was he Mortal, and to make use of a slightly-tweaked version of that fan supplement I'd stumbled across.

In short, Michael was coming back from the grave, but not in a way anybody would expect...

Now, this session in which Michael returned as a mime from Hell took place before Wraith: the Oblivion did their supplement for characters coming back from the dead, so there were no official rules for playing a Crow-style character.  The returned version of Michael was truly monster in terms of game mechanics, and seeing an opportunity to play a character type from a film I still enjoy do this day, I through myself into the role of an artistic soul that's been driven to savagery by the evil done, not only to him but to those he cared for and for the countless innocents whom nobody mourned.

So come that next Saturday, with the GM having told the group that he would continue the campaign for at least one more session, though sans the Mortals given what had happened; after all, one of them was dead and the other was catatonic, states that aren't exactly conducive to a fun role-playing experience.  I won't bore you the reader with the full grisly details (this post is getting pretty long already), but to say that it was a transformative experience for me on what it meant to truly get into character is an understatement.  Michael didn't show up right away, but when he did, I stepped into the room having gone all in, dressed in black with a long coat and my face done up in the variation of the Comedy mask that Eric used in the film.  In the end, the four vamps were dead, most of which by fairly creative and symbolically cruel ways, with only one of them truly repenting for her sins before receiving the Final Death, and the Prince of the city learned the hard way that vengeance cannot be forever denied.  In it's own way, that two-part session was incredibly powerful, with one of the players even writing her term paper for her alt-psych class about my performance; she was one of the few students to get an A from a professor who was notoriously demanding.

So yeah, that experience was highly impactful in terms of my playing characters.  Before then, I generally saw the characters I made as numbers, and will admit that while not a munchkin, I was something of a power-gamer and frequently sought out how to squeeze the most benefit out of the mechanics without much consideration for the character itself.  Of course, I find this to be a bit amusing, since Crow!Michael was as power-gamed a character as it was possible to build, but being able to fully and completely step into that role, gave me the insight to fully understand and embrace the role-playing aspect of role-playing games.  I may not get quite as in-depth with my character portrayals these days, but that short stint of playing Crow!Michael is one that still sticks with me, it still impacts how I approach role-playing, and it probably will stay with me for the rest of my life.

After all, it can't rain all the time.

August 6, 2017

RPGaDay Question #6

Question #6: You can game every day for a week.  Describe what you'd do!

Well this is kind of an interesting one.

Gaming wise, it'd probably be playing RPGs, as that's my preferred form of gaming these days.  Though I might sneak in some time with a Zelda title, probably Link to the Past, Link Between Worlds, or Twilight Princess.

As for which RPGs I'd play, I wouldn't want to necessarily play the same one all week.  So here's the run down in general order of preference.

Top of the list would be Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars RPG, as I've yet to truly have a bad session with that system.

Runner-up would be John Wick Productions' 7th Seas 2nd edition, as I very much enjoy the swashbuckling feel of the system and how it empowers the players to have their Heroes be larger than life.  Even when they're fresh out of the gate, a Hero in 7th Sea 2e can accomplish some pretty cool things, a feat that a lot of other RPGs tend to struggle with when it comes to newly created characters.  I had an absolute blast while playing Estevan Santiago de Montoya del Castillo during a friend's adaptation of the Erebus Cross adventure series, getting into a number of fun sword fights and charming a number of ladies, even managing to win the heart of an otherwise standoffish Vodacce strega after not only defending her honor but giving her the space to make her own decisions (something that she wasn't used to given how Vodacce society places a lot of controls on those noble women with the gift/curse of Sorte).

There is of course Green Ronin's Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition, which I have also very much enjoyed, especially when playing the Extraordinary Spider-Man, a PC that is a shameless homage to the well-known Marvel hero but with enough twists in his origin story (for instance, both his aunt and uncle are alive!) to make him not a complete carbon-copy of the original wise-cracking webhead.  Even if my propensity for rolling absurdly well on rolls tends to leave our poor GM Eric on the verge of tears.

Also, there's two FATE related games I'd like to try out, especially as a player, those being Dresden Files Accelerated and Tianxia.  I've been a fan of the Dresden Files series pretty much since I listened to the audiobook version of Storm Front, and while I've had a few chances to play around in that setting courtesy of Evil Hat's original Dresden Files RPG, I think the FATE Accelerated version would run a lot smoother and without nearly as many little hiccups as the original DFRPG had.

As for Tianxia, it's wuxia-themed martial arts that can be as light-hearted and silly or as dour and serious as the group desires, though the default setting does tend to lend itself a bit more to the former given the fantastical nature of the kung fu techniques.

Finally, I would at least like to try out Star Trek Adventures by Modiphus Entertainment.  Now to be honest, I've not had a chance to actually play this, but it looks like it could be a lot of fun.  I find it kind of cool that the game actually lends itself to an episodic style of play, which makes sense as the primary source material was itself episodic in nature.

So, that'd be my week of solid gaming, if the option presented itself.

Tomorrow's question isn't going to take me nearly as much thought as it might for others, since the answer to that one may have occurred years ago, but it still stays with me to this day, for reasons I'll describe in my next entry.

August 5, 2017

RPGaDay - Question #5

Question #5 - Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

I had to think about this quite a bit, given the wide breadth of RPGs that I've played over the years.

But the final decision had to come down to a classic, that being the image of the undead badass gunslinger Stone from the original Deadlands core rulebook.

The image tells you right out that this won't be your typical Wild West RPG with the cover by artist Gerald Brom being quite evocative that this is not an hombre you want to tussle with.

The runner-up for me would probably the original cover for Shadowrun, which showed a team of runners fending off a corp security team against a dark cityscape background.  Sums up the basics of what Shadowrun is pretty well, eh chummer?

Question #6 should be pretty interesting.  See you tomorrow for the answer to that one.

August 4, 2017

RPGaDay - Question #4

Question #4:Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?

So I sat down and thought about it, and the answer to my initial surprise was WotC's Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

Largely, my Skype group has been playing our way through a modified/abbreviated version of the Curse of Strahd module, something I had suggested as one of our usual players would be out of the country on a religious missionary trip, with said player generally not being a fan of horror-themed settings.

Now, to be honest, while there have been some very creepy elements, I think this campaign has just reinforced my view that doing true horror in D&D borders on being a Herculean task, as the PCs very quickly become superheroes, especially if the bulk of your group is comprised of spellcasters of some type or another, especially if half of them have easy access to radiant damage, such as a Paladin or a Cleric.  And if you're playing over Skype, it's even more difficult as the players are probably going to be in a comfy chair in the solace of their home, with the lights on and tasty snacks on hand.

Still, it's been a fun campaign thus far, and there's definitely some twists that our GM Eric has included so that even for veterans of the earlier Ravenloft modules (such as myself, having played the 2e and most of the 3e versions) makes the adventure feel fresh and original.  Seriously, the guy doesn't give himself enough credit for the work he's done with Curse of Strahd.

As for Question #5, that's a bit of a tough one...

August 3, 2017

Catching Up on RPGaDay For 2017

So I'd seen this on the Facebook feeds of a few of my friends, and had meant to hope in on Day One.  But that obviously didn't happen for assorted reasons.

Well, time to play catch up, and maybe even stay current with it.

#1) What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?
This was a bit of a tough one, but 7th Sea 2nd edition wins out over Mutants & Masterminds.  I really like what John Wick and his team did with the new edition of 7th Sea, and I'd love to play more of it.

#2) What is an RPG you would like to see published?
Honestly not sure I really have an answer, as most of the properties I have an interest in gaming in already have pretty solid RPGs.  Maybe a Marvel RPG that centers on the Marvel Cinematic Universe and isn't quite as subject to the whims of the staff at Marvel Comics?

#3) How do you find out about new RPGs?
These days, it's mostly Facebook.  I'm sure there's a number of small-press/indy RPGs that I don't hear about, but to be honest I'm already staring down the bullet of the "too many RPGs, not enough time" barrel, so don't really need to add more RPGs to an already long list.

As for tomorrow, the answer to #4 may well surprise a number of folks.  It certainly surprised me once I sat down and thought about it.

July 29, 2017

Two To Beam Up! (Star Trek Adventures)

Okay, so yesterday I posted a quasi-review of the Star Trek Adventures RPG.  So today's post, I'll be going through the character creation process for both a Main Character and a Supporting Character.

Starting off with the Main Character, I'm thinking of going with a Command-type, perhaps a youngish and not-as-seasoned version of Captain Kirk or Commander Riker.  And while I'm not intending for this PC to be the commanding officer of a starship, I figure he'll still be adept in a leadership role either sitting in the captain's chair or leading an away team on a mission.  I don't have a full name in mind, but I do have a first name in mind, that being Rafael, mostly as I'd been doing some reading up on Castille in the Nations of Theah Volume 1 for 7th Sea.  I'll come up with a surname later on.

So Step 1 is choosing a species for Rafael, which is going to be a Human.  I opt to put his three +1 modifiers into Daring, Insight, and Presence, putting those at 8 up from the base 7 that all attributes start at, and note the Human species trait for Rafael.  I also get to select a talent, and I take Bold for the Command Discipline since I see Rafael as being a daring leader willing to take risks.

Step 2 is Environment, or where my character is from.  I see Rafael as being from Earth, with the idea that he's of mixed racial heritage.  Opting to have him be a West Coast native, I'm now thinking a blend of both Hispanic and Oriental, and come up with the surname of Tashiro.  Back to making this character, I chose the Homeworld option which gives me a free +1 in one of the Attributes that is improved by my species bonus in Step 1.  Since being a Human gave three floating +1s to assign where I choose, I could probably put the +1 increase from this step wherever I wanted, but I'm opting to instead put it into Daring, making that a 9; this is a guy that definitely isn't adverse to taking risks.  I also get to increase one of Rafael's Disciplines (this game's name for skills) by one, which I'm going to put into Science, raising that to 2.  I also get to select a Value, which is a Trait that represents a core value for my character, for which I jot down "Fortune Favors the Bold."

We move to Step 3, which is Upbringing.  I don't have anything particular in mind, so I roll a d6 and get a 1, which is Starfleet.  I immediately get the idea of a character that comes from a long line of Starfleet brats, with multiple generations on both sides of the family tree having served in Starfleet since it's inception.  I get the choice of whether Rafael chose to accept or reject this upbringing; I go with accepting his upbringing and being proud that much of his family history is tied to Starfleet.  This gives Rafael a +2 to his Control and a +1 to his Fitness.  Being a Starfleet brat lets me increase one of his Disciplines, which I choose to put that point into Conn, giving him skill at flying ships and navigating the Starfleet bureaucracy.  I also get to select a Focus, which lets my character be even more successful when making checks that fall within its realm, for which I choose Starfleet Protocol to give Rafael a strong grasp of how Starfleet operates as an organization.  I also get a talent, and choose to take Mean Right Hook to make his unarmed attacks more effective, be it the classic Starfleet judo chop or the Kirk Hammer of TOS Trek.

Step 4 covers Rafael's time at Starfleet Academy.  His choice of which academy track to follow is pretty simple, that being the Command Track.  At this step, I chose to increase his Daring, Presence, and Reason by +1 each.  Since he's going to be in the Command branch, I take a +2 increase to his Command Discipline (now a 4) as well as a +1 to Conn (now a 3) and +1 to Security (now a 2) to give him a bit more of an intellectual angle.  I also get to select three more Focuses for Rafael, with at least one of them relating to his academy track, and choose Hand to Hand Combat (advanced combat training, which I opt to further refine as being trained in Wing Chun style of kung fu; blame my recent viewing of the Ip Man films), Helm Operations (knows quite a bit about controlling a starship), and Persuasion (being able to convince others to follow his lead).  I also get to select another Talent, taking Follow My Lead to account for his command training and aptitude for leading during hazardous situations.  And finally, I add another Value, for which I take "Know When to Bend the Rules Without Breaking Them."  Being willing to take risks or face danger means that you can't always go by established protocol, but at the same time a commanding officer has to abide by the general spirit of the rules and regulations.

Step 5 is Career Length, and while I don't see Rafael as being a fresh, still wet-behind-the-ears young officer, neither is he well-seasoned veteran officer, so I default to experienced officer, which provides me with another talent choice, taking Starship Expert to give Rafael a boost when picking out the strengths and weaknesses of other vessels.  I get a third value, which I decide to use to have Rafael be tied to another character in the group, selecting the female Vulcan medical officer T'leya, who is a very close friend from his days at the Academy.  As to how close, after a bit of talk with T'leya's player, we decide that they were very close, perhaps even intimately so, leading to the value "T'leya is My Closest and Most Beloved Friend."

Step 6 is Career Events, and since I don't really have anything in mind, I break out a d20 and roll twice.  The first result is a 5, which is "Required to Take Command."  Well, that's about perfect for Rafael as you can find, forcing him to take charge during a dangerous situation.  This gives him a +1 to his Daring (now an 11), a further +1 to Command (now a 5, which is the max you can have in a Discipline), and a Focus, for which I select Lead By Example to give him a "lead from the front" feel.

Now for Rafael's second Career Event, I roll again and get a 17 for "Special Commendation."  Since the rules suggest you can do it, I opt to combine the two events, and figure that Rafael got his commendation for saving the lives of his fellow officers when he was required to take command.  This gives him a +1 to his Fitness and a +1 to a Discipline of my choice, for which I select Security since I picture this as him having to take the lead against a threat to the ship he was stationed to.  I also get one last focus, which I choose to pick Athletics to figure that he'd need to be in good shape during high risk situations.

And we come to Step 7, the Finishing Touches.  Right now, Rafael has 54 points of Attributes, so he gets two further +1 bonuses, which I apply to Insight and Presence.  He's also got 14 points' worth of Disciplines, and receives two +1 boosts, which I apply to Engineering and Science, raising them up both to a 2 and making Rafael a little more well-rounded in his Disciplines, which is a good thing for a command officer.  I get one final Value, for which I take "Every Dilemma Has a Solution" to give him a spin on Kirk's classic "I don't believe in a no-win scenario" line from Wrath of Khan, but with not quite as much hubris.  I'm also at the point where I choose Rafael's rank, and while my initial idea was to probably have him be a Lieutenant, after his two Career Events I choose to give him the rank of Commander, making him something of a hotshot officer that's quickly climbed the ranks.  I also have to select what assignment on the group's ship this character has, and it quickly becomes clear that he's going to be the one sitting in the captain's chair, making his role on the ship that of the Commanding Officer.  Since he's a senior officer, Rafael has a Type 2 phaser, as well as possessing the Starfleet uniform, communicator, and tricorder that come standard for all Starfleet officers.

Commander Rafael Tashrio (Main Character)
Traits: Human
Values: Every Dilemma Has a Solution, Fortune Favors The Bold, Know When to Bend the Rules Without Breaking Them, T'leya is My Closest and Most Beloved Friend
Attributes: Control 9, Daring 11, Fitness 9, Insight 9, Presence 10, Reason 8
Disciplines: Command 4, Conn 3, Engineering 2, Security 4, Science 2, Medicine 1
Focuses: Athletics, Helm Operations, Lead By Example, Persuasion, Starfleet Protocol, Wing Chun
Talents: Bold (Command), Follow My Lead, Mean Right Hook, Starship Expert
Equipment: Type-2 phaser, communicator, Starfleet uniform, tricorder

And so we have a young starship commander.  Now, you may have noted that at no point do I make a distinction as to what century it is, so this character can work in either the 23rd or the 24th century.  Personally, I'm leaning more towards him being active in the 23rd century, but that's due to my being more familiar with TOS Trek than anything.  As for what sort of ship we're flying, that's yet to be determined, but odds are it'll be a Miranda-class, hopefully with the Multirole Explorer role.

Okay, so that was creating a Main Character, and now we go onto creating a Supporting Character.  For this one, I'm going to whip up an Andorian science/communications officer, choosing to make this character a young female Ensign, whose name I'll suss out later.

I start with a pool of values for her Attributes, along with a +1 bonus for her species to Control, Daring, and Presence.  I set her base values at Presence 10, Insight and Reason at 9, Control and Fitness at 8, and finally her Daring to 7.

Next are her Disciplines, which again have a pool of values to assign.  Being she's primarily a science officer, I set her Science to 4, followed by Conn at 3, a 2 in both Command and Medicine, and lastly her Engineering and Security are both 1s.

Up next are Focuses, for which I get three options, one of which has to relate to her role on the ship.  For these, I pick Computers, Linguistics, and Team Dynamics.

Last steps are her default equipment, that being a type-1 phaser, a communicator, a Starfleet uniform, and a tricorder.  Normally when a Supporting Character is first introduced they get a free boost to one of the above, be it a +1 to an Attribute, +1 to a Discipline, or an extra Focus, or a Value.  Given this is an example of building the character, I'll give her that introduction bonus right now, selecting a +1 to her Reason.  Finally, this young Andorian science officer needs a name, finally settling on Thralla Zynes.  Put all the above together, and here's what her stat block looks like:

Ensign Thrala Zynes (Supporting Character)

Attributes: Control 9, Daring 8, Fitness 8, Insight 9, Presence 11, Reason 10
Disciplines: Command 2, Conn 3, Engineering 1, Security 1, Science 4, Medicine 2
Focuses: Computers, Linguistics, Team Dynamics

Equipment: Type-1 phaser, communicator, Starfleet uniform, tricorder

As you can see, coming up with a Supporting Character is a fairly quick process, which makes sense as the intent is that the players will create these characters on an as-needed basis, for times when they might not be able to bring their Main Character on a mission, or there's only a couple of players and they could use some NPC support to shore up Disciplines that the Main Characters aren't quite so adept at.

Well, that's the two Star Trek Adventures characters I promised in yesterday's blog post.  Honestly, I'd love a chance to get Rafael into a game to see just how well he works out as a ship's captain; as written he certainly does have that feel of a younger version of Kirk or Riker, or perhaps a slightly more seasoned version of NuTrek's Kirk, having lost much of the cockiness but still having the nerve to go with unconventional solutions to the current dilemma.

Until then, live long and prosper *performs Vulcan salute*

July 28, 2017

To Boldy Go...

And now for something completely different...

So a couple weeks ago, I opted to pick up the PDF of Modiphus Entertainment's latest RPG, Star Trek Adventures, mostly at the urging, subtle and otherwise, of a couple members of my usual Skype group.  Bear in mind that in the never-ending Wars vs. Trek debate, I generally land on the side of Star Wars.  That's not to say I dislike Star Trek in general, but of the two franchises I prefer the one set in a galaxy far, far away.

The PDF cost me just under $16 from the DriveThruRPG, and I'll admit it's pretty snazzy looking.  Now it's worth mentioning that the general look draws from the Next Generation era of Trek, as does the majority of the artwork.  Now, maybe I've been spoiled by the amazing artwork that FFG has used for the entirety of their Star Wars RPG line, but the artwork in Star Trek Adventures generally just isn't all that amazing.  There's a couple of decent images of starship combat, but the rest of it tends to hover around acceptable for me.

Now it's worth noting that Star Trek Adventures uses a streamlined version of the 2d20 system that Jay Little (father of the narrative dice system used in Star Wars and Genesys) created for the Modiphus' Mutant Chronicles RPG.  The 2d20 system doesn't quite have the multiple axis of success/failure, instead going for a bit more of a binary pass/fail method, though the better you do on a task, the more impressive your success becomes due to the concept of Momentum.  Also interesting in that you generally want to roll under your target number, which itself is determined by how good you are at a task.  I'm still not 100% sold on the system, but I'd probably need to play it at least once.  Then again, I wasn't completely sold on FFG Star Wars' narrative dice system at first, and now it's probably one of my favorite RPGs on the market.

One element really do like is that use of Traits, which bear a lot of similarity to FATE's Aspects.  For instance, the game effects of your character's race is primarily tied into a Trait, which doesn't offer any discrete mechanical advantages or drawbacks, but can be invoked to give scene-appropriate bonuses or penalties.  This alleviates a recurring problem with races/species in many RPGs where some are just flat-out better at certain roles/classes/careers than others.  So it's quite possible to build an Andorian Science Officer that's just as capable as a Vulcan or a Human would be, or conversely build a Vulcan Command Officer that's not inherently handicapped at being a leader in comparison to a Human or a Betazoid.

Character creation looks a lot more daunting than it really is, since the standard creation method pretty much walks you through the process each step of the way, delivering each element in bite size chunks and offer a decent variety of options to choose from.  As I said earlier, the book pretty much focuses on the 24th century, so almost have the races available are from that era, with the number of available races dwindling the further back you go in the Trekverse's history.  I should mention that there is zero mention of the Abramsverse films, so for those purists that dislike the direction the reboot films take, you can rest easy that your classic Trek timeline remains intact.

I do like that all PCs start with the same value in attributes (7) and skills (1 rank), and that as you go through the character creation process, you simply add modifiers based upon which background options you selected.  You also get to add Values (pretty much identical to Traits) at specific steps along the way, as well as Talents which offer a minor (but handy) benefit in certain situations. It's worth noting that the game runs on the default that the PCs are all Starfleet Officers that have graduated from the Academy, as has been the case with the majority of Star Trek media.

Now I've not delved all that much into the combat chapter, but at first pass it doesn't look all that complicated, at least for personal combat, which isn't super deadly but unless your a Main Character it's quite possible to be taken out with a single lucky shot. Starship combat however is another matter, as it seems is often the case with RPGs that delve into such matters.  Since a PC group are by default all bridge/senior officers aboard their starship, there's a lot of options available depending on what station your PC is currently manning.

I think it bears mention that while the PCs, or Main Characters as the book calls them, are all bridge officers and thus the ones generally in charge of the ship, there is the option of what the book calls Supporting Characters.  These are generally pulled from the list of no-name rank and file crew, given a name and run through an abbreviated version of the full character creation process that's pretty quick, and a minor bonus if this is the first time they show up in the current adventure.  That way, you can avoid running into the classic problem of the original Trek series where the senior officers were beaming down into dangerous situations.  There is a limit to how many Supporting Characters a group can pull into the adventure, generally based upon the size of the ship the players are in charge of.

The options provided for starships are fairly broad, but again are centered on the 24th century with a few throwbacks to the 23rd century, with the famous Constitution-class being the oldest starship model available to players in the core book.  One nice touch that can help keep older ships viable is the idea of refits; in short for every 10 years past the ship class' launch date that the campaign is set in, the PCs ship gets a small boost to reflect the minor upgrades and refits the vessel would have undergone to keep it in service.  Another nice touch is that each Starfleet vessel gets the option of choosing a role for the ship, from a Pathfinder/Recon to Tactical/Patrol to Science to the Multirole Explorer (the game text notes that Kirk's Enterprise was of this type), with the role providing a set value of ship skills and a Talent to reflect the role it plays in Starfleet.

Overall, I have to say I like Star Trek Adventures, and am kind of eager to give the game a whirl.  There's been talk amidst my Skype group of trying at least a one shot or two, but right now our focus is on completing the Curse of Strahd adventure module (we're now at 9th level and still no PC deaths, though our Dragonborn Bard has had a couple close calls) before we really start seriously talking about doing one-shots for other systems.

Still, that hasn't stopped me from coming up with a crop of pre-gens, done so that I can get a slightly better feel for the system and how various numbers might work.  I'll probably do a later post walking through the character creation process for a couple of different characters, just to give a demo of how it works.

So, if you're a Star Trek fan looking for an RPG to let you game in the Final Frontier, then Star Trek Adventures is definitely worth checking out.

July 4, 2017

May the Fourth (of July) Be With You!

Okay, it's a stretch for the pun, but it's a pun and that makes it worth it.

If you're a resident of the United States, then you're probably at least aware of this being our Independence Day, or as some have called it Brexit 1776, if not out actively celebrating it.

Frankly, I'm not sure there's a whole lot to celebrate. We have a belligerent man-child sitting the Oval Office, a post turtle that's been put into a position he is not even remotely qualified for, and a large portion of our duly elected leaders seem hell bent on screwing over the people that they're supposed to represent.  Yes, the "wealth care" bill that the GOP has been trying (and thus far failing) to ramrod through has stalled out yet again, but I'm dreading that this bill may well pass; it may not impact me directly, but it's going to literally be the death of several people I know and count as friends, and will make things that much harder on friends of mine that are struggling with both health issues and to make ends meet.

On the other hand, I count myself fortunate to live in a blue state, where the bulk of our senators and congresspeople are concerned with the well-being of their constituents, even if with a few of them it's only to ensure that they can continue to be re-elected.  I'm also in an area where the bigotry and hatred that keeps cropping up since the cheeto-faced man-baby took office is not nearly as pronounced as it is on other parts of the country; I won't say it's not present, because I've seen it but I've also seen (and been counted among) good people standing up and against that sort of narrow-minded discrimination that racists and bigots are more open about now that one of their own has (in my view) stolen the election due to meddling by a foreign power.

But, I digress, as there's enough gloom and doom going around as it is.

As I'm sure many of you know, Fantasy Flight Games has announced Genesys, a generic version of the narrative dice system (NaDS?) used in their Star Wars RPG.  The response I've seen has been generally positive, with a number of folks suggesting possible theme books both official and fan-created for a variety of ideas, ranging from FFG properties such as Legend of the Five Rings (almost a given I would think) and Midnight to odd-ball ideas such as professional wrestling.  Me personally, I'd like to see FFG revisit their old Horizons product line, which was a series of "one and done" splats for 3rd edition d20, with the one I would especially love for them to redo being Mechamorphosis, which was essentially Transformers: The RPG with the serial numbers filed off and a different backstory for why the 'mechs were on Earth.

I only got to play Mechamophosis for a few sessions, with the GM having largely put the serial numbers back on, but I had fun playing Charger, a brash yet well-meaning young(ish) Autobot whose alt-mode was a ridiculously souped-up muscle car whose crowning moment was an impromptu demolition derby against a pack of Not!Dreadnoks.  In retrospect, I abused the hell out of the system, namely that by 'bot had DR10 versus anything that wasn't Cybertronian tech in origin and that damage from human-based tech was dropped by 10, meaning I could get into collisions all day long and suffer little more than a scratched paint job.

For those that participated in the open beta for Fantasy Flight Games' Force and Destiny, some of those who were on the FFG forums might recall that during that process, I had proposed some alternate layouts for five of the six the Lightsaber Form specs; at the time I felt that Niman Disciple was the only one that really didn't need any work, and it's a view I still hold today.  Granted, a large part of the layout changes was to accommodate a proposed change to how the damage reduction values for Parry and Reflect were calculated, which obviously FFG didn't go for.

At this year's GamerNationCon (a blast as always), I got to talking a bit with Will aka Taigia Reilly about a few different topics, one of which was that he liked the alternate layouts that I had proposed for the Ataru Striker during the Force and Destiny Beta.  Which after the con got me to thinking about what other tweaks I would make the remaining Lightsaber Form specializations?

So, over the past several weeks I've been playing around a bit with some of the Lightsaber Form specializations, seeing what worked with regards to the alterations and what didn't.  Overall, the versions that FFG published in Force and Destiny are pretty solid.  Now, if you've been following this blog in any way, shape, or form, then you're probably aware that I have what could be called a fundamental difference of opinion on the Shii-Cho Knight specialization, mostly centered around how FFG gave it zero ranks of Reflect and thus no protection against ranged attacks.  To be clear, I'm not saying that Sam or whomever wrote up the spec did it wrong, just that the author and I came to different conclusions from the same source material.  For easiness' sake, I'll be including what is probably my final take on a revised Shii-Cho Knight in this post, as well as discussing later on why I made the changes I did.

For the specializations where I changed the layout or talent selection, I've placed a hyperlink to an image of the revised spec's talent tree, which is stored on my Dropbox account.  Kudos go to OggDude, as the talent tree images were created using his Character Generator program; if you don't have that program and you're using a computer that runs Windows, do yourself a favor and grab this program as it incredibly useful and makes storing and sharing characters so much easier.

Ataru Striker
Overall, this is a solid spec, capturing the core idea that Ataru is physically demanding and not well-suited for facing multiple foes at once.  So really, the only alteration I made was to drop the third rank of Parry and replace it with the Improved Reflect talent, since a large part of Ataru's development came from the thought that Soresu was far too passive but still incorporating some of Form III's defensive elements.  With this change, I also severed the connection between Row 4 and Row 5 in the first column, so if your Ataru Striker wants to get Improved Reflect, they'll need Dedication to accomplish it (see what I did there?)  I had considered removing the connection between Row 4 and Row 5 in the second column as well, but I didn't care for the idea of forcing the PC to have to go through Saber Throw in order to get Dedication, especially since if the PC wants to get the most mileage out of Improved Reflect, they're going to be burning strain for both their Dodge and Reflect talents.

Makashi Duelist
The layout of the specialization is by and large perfect, capturing Form II's feel as a duelist-orientated style.  However, that doesn't mean it's without something I perceive as a problem, one that got high-lighted during the Force and Destiny Beta campaign that I ran for some friends.  One of the characters was a Nautolan Mystic/Makashi Duelist, infamous for his giant grin (one PC even seriously considering painting an image of the Nautolan's grinning mug on the front of the ship).  Overall, the character did really well, even making good use of a double-bladed lightsaber until the weapon got updated to have Unwieldy 3 instead of Unwieldy 2.  However, the issue came up that his primary means of defense against melee attacks was the Feint talent, which looks great on paper, but does you no good if you continue to hit your opponent, which in turn means the player has spent XP on talents they can't really use.

So, my proposed alteration for Makashi Duelist is instead for the Feint talent, namely to allow the character to spend 3 advantage or a Triumph from a Brawl, Lightsaber, or Melee combat check regardless of whether they hit or miss.  It does mean that in a melee fight, the Makashi Duelist is going to be very difficult to score a solid attack against, and that if you do hit there's a good chance they'll be able to use Improved Parry to score a hit in return, but really that's the Makashi Duelist's thing, is to be a very daunting opponent in a one-on-one duel, and that a true master of Form II is a tough nut to crack when it comes to crossing blades.

Niman Disciple
Sticking to my guns here, and I'll say that Niman Disciple is picture-perfect as far as the Lightsaber Form specs go with regards to talent layout, talent selection, talent mechanics, and bonus non-career skills.  So no revisions from me on this one.

Shien Expert
Another specialization that's got zero issues with regards to what talents it offers, how those talents work, and the bonus career skills the spec offers.  I could see some contention with the Counterstrike talent, as it requires your target to miss you, but that's strongly mitigated once you get Disruptive Strike, which if you've got a Force die (or two) available as well as Sense's defensive control upgrade running and have used Defensive Stance, you should have little trouble forcing your opponent to miss on their attacks, setting up Counterstrike for a free upgrade every round and saving you some pain both in terms of suffering wounds and spending strain.

About the only tweak I'd make with regards to Shien Expert is more to the Sentinel career, with that change being to remove Knowledge (Core Worlds) and instead add Streetwise to their list of beginning career skills.  The Sentinel, to me at least, has always been about walking the dark places that no others would enter, skulking around the shadier parts of the galaxy in an effort to find and defeat their foes.  Yes, I know that Shien Expert gets the Street Smarts talent, and that Shadow has Streetwise as a bonus career skill, but Knowledge (Core Worlds) still feels like the odd duck out in what is generally a very rogue-like/investigative career, and Streetwise makes more sense as it's a means to gather information from the locals.

Shii-Cho Knight
Okay, so this is a specialization that I've been tinkering with for a while, mostly to find space to incorporate two ranks of Reflect so that the PC has some measure of protection against ranged attacks, to account for the blast-deflect training that is an integral part of the more modern Shii-Cho curriculum.  Now, I suppose that one could just design a brand new spec and call it something like Shii-Cho Champion or Shii-Cho Crusader, but I didn't want to redesign the entire car when it was the tires that were a problem.

The first change was that I swapped out the rank of Parry in Row 1 of Column 1 for a rank of Reflect, letting the PC grab both Parry and Reflect very early on.  However, contrary to earlier takes on a revised Shii-Cho Knight, I put the second rank of Reflect all the way up on Row 5, replacing the rank of Durable and also severing the Row 5 connection between Column 1 and Column 2.  Given that Form I Shii-Cho is supposed to be the fundamentals of lightsaber combat that all the other Forms are built upon, I didn't want this spec to be too good melee protection, so I wound up dropping out the rank of Parry that's found in Row 5 of Column 4 and putting that second rank of Durable in its place, while also severing the Row 5 connection between Column 3 and Column 4 and adding a connection between Row 4 and Row 5 in Column 4, so that it's liked to Sum Djem instead of Dedication.

This is probably the one revised Lightsaber Form specialization that I've done the most playtesting with, given that my long-time friend Linda Whitson was gracious enough to let me play a Shii-Cho Knight in her Age of Rebellion campaign (where none of the active PCs were built using AoR careers).  The character in question, Kyren Stryder, has worked out pretty well, though amusingly he didn't get an opportunity to really make use of a lot of his talents until long after he'd gotten them, as he didn't draw his lightsaber (which none of the other players even knew he had!) until about halfway into Linda's running of the Dead in the Water adventure from the AoR GM Kit.

Soresu Defender
Again, overall this specialization is generally solid.  There's a few quirks, namely how Defensive Circle can be kinda underwhelming if most of your party already has a defense rating, such as from wearing armor or being behind cover or using weapons with the Defensive and/or Deflection qualities, which is compounded if your dice rolls tend not to generate much in the way of advantage, which more often than not a Soresu Defender will likely need to help recover strain during a fight.

Really the only that struck me as being "off" about the specialization was how the ranks in Reflect simply felt clustered too close together, especially towards the top while the half the ranks of Parry the spec offers are planted in the first row.  So what I did here was replace the rank in Parry located in Row 1 of Column 2 with a rank in Reflect, and then changing the rank in Reflect from Row 2 in the same column to a rank of Parry, which I think makes a nice synergy with the fact that Improved Parry is now most easily accessible after buying Parry as opposed to buying Reflect.  I also swapped out the Row 3 rank of Parry that was in Column 4 for a rank of Reflect while replacing the Row 4 rank of Reflect in Column 2 for a rank of Parry; this does have the effect of placing two ranks of Parry right next to each other, which could be solved by swapping its location in the tree with Confidence, but at the time I wasn't overly crazy about pushing Confidence up to Row 4, though with having Discipline as a bonus career skill and most likely having a high Willpower to bolster your strain threshold, having to wait a bit longer to purchase Confidence isn't that big of a drawback, and I may just wind up doing that.

The last notable change I made to Soresu Defender was to swap out the Defensive Stance talent in Row 4 of Column 4 for a single rank of Side Step, kind of taking a page from Shien Expert's playbook, which makes a degree of sense given that Form V grew out of Form III's defensive elements; plus, much like Shien Expert having that rank of Side Step gives a Soresu Defender PC a better chance of getting Improved Reflect to trigger without necessarily having to invest XP into the Sense power for the defensive control upgrade.

One of the players in my current Force and Destiny campaign did make the suggestion of dropping Supreme Parry in favor of Supreme Reflect, but I honestly think that's going a bit too far, and that such a degree of expertise at deflecting blaster fire is Shien's hat, where Soresu is more of the "I can Parry all day!" given its a direct transition from Form II.

So, there you have it, my proposed revisions for the six Lighsaber Form specs from the Force and Destiny core rulebook.  To re-iterate, there's nothing wrong with any of the specializations as they exist in the book, as each of them does a very good job at what they're intended to do.  I'm simply offering these up as possible alternatives for a player of such characters to consider or GMs to perhaps ponder implementing in their own campaigns.

One a side note, I was working on revising and updating the three Lightsaber Style specializations that Phil "DarthGM" Maiaweski had created as part of his Edge of the Jedi fan supplement back before Force and Destiny was published.  However, the main problem I kept running into was they consistently failed the "why would my character NOT take one of these specializations?" and frequently looked more a like a grab-bag of "good talents" with a theme than actually being a viable specialization in its own right.  Then again, I did already sort of a "lightsaber generalist" specialization in the form of the Jedi Initiate universal specialization that was part of the final release of my Ways of the Force fan supplement, and that itself was enough of a bear to turn it into a viable specialization that wasn't simply a talent grab-bag.

I am tempted to put together a "Saber Rake"-themed specialization, based upon the dueling culture of the same name that was first introduced in WEG's Lords of the Expanse box set for their Star Wars game.  I'm hoping we get official stats on lightfoils in the Mystic sourcebook (which to me would be a good place for dueling-themed weapon given it's the parent career of the Makashi Duelist), but we'll have to wait and see.

If you've made it all the way down here, thanks for reading, and if you're a citizen of the United States, be you proud, dismayed, concerned, native-born, naturalized, or otherwise, then I hope you have an enjoyable holiday, and may the Fourth be with you :D
see what I did there? ;)

June 24, 2017

A Pair of Character Oddballs

As any veteran RPG player will tell you, every so often you get one of those off-the-wall ideas for a character that just simply won't let you be until you put pencil to paper and actually write up that screwball character concept.  Now generally, a lot of those "oddball characters" that folks come up with generally aren't viable in the long-term; at best the character might make it through a one-shot adventure or a brief module, but the novelty factor tends to wear off pretty quickly for a lot of these builds.  Some however manage to stand the test of time, being so odd and off-beat that they become endearing to the group as a whole, or that they turn out to be surprisingly effective in their role.

I've seen several of these oddball characters make the grade, two of whom came from the same campaign, that being a Legacy Era campaign run by Ben "Cyril" Erickson using the Star Wars Saga Edition system.  The first of these notables were Kirkineery-tovante aka Kiri, a Squib Scoundrel played by Kevin "Rikoshi" Frane, whose in-character mannerisms and voice (this was played over Skype) made the character incredibly memorable, with the other being Niera Kurcz, an Arkanian Noble/Scoundrel played by Nateal "Tariel" Falk who in summation was rather odd; that she was a cyborg'd Force sensitive should give you a clue as to just how off beat this particular character was.  In comparison, the two PCs I played were rather bland and boring, though I did have fun.

One of the players in my regular Skype gaming group, Rick, has a penchant for coming up with some rather bizarre character ideas for what seems any system that he comes across, one of the more recent ones that he'd gotten to play being Felagi (or Ferngully as our regular Mutants & Masterminds GM Eric calls him), who was created for a cosmic-themed campaign and was built to primarily be a support character with minimal offensive abilities.  And to the surprise and delight of the player, Felagi turned out to be quite successful, and even managed to kick off an intergalactic fashion trend of wearing pirate outfits after pilfering such an outfit from a spacefaring squid man (Captain Kraken for those familiar with the Freedom City setting).

Now, why am I making this post?  Well, the reason is I've had a couple of these banging around in my noggin for a while now, and neither of them have been for Star Wars.  So, to get these particular character notions out of my head so that I can make room for things like working on my Force and Destiny campaign and/or the modules I plan to run at next year's GamerNationCon, I've put pencil to paper as it were, and wrote up those two oddballs.  And now I'm posting them here for others to read, hopefully enjoy, and maybe even make use of in a game.

First, since I was hooked on a feeling...

Krist Goodburrow (D&D 5th Edition)
Halfling (lightfoot) Sorcerer 1
Hit Points: 7 (1d6 hit dice)
Proficiency Bonus: +2
Speed: 25 feet
Alignment: Chaotic Good
Languages: Common, Halfling
Background: Charlatan

Ability Scores
Strength 8 (-1), Dexterity 16 (+3), Constitution 12 (+1), Intelligence 13 (+1), Wisdom 10 (+0), Charisma 16 (+3)

Racial Features (as per page 28 of the D&D 5e Player's Handbook)
Brave, Halfling Nimbleness, Lucky, Naturally Stealthy

Class Features
Saving Throws: Constitution and Charisma
Sorcerous Origin: Pelvic Sorcery (c/o Steve Kenson)
Spellcasting (Spell Attack +5, Spell Save DC 13)
Cantrips: Dancing Lights, Fire Bolt, Shocking Grasp, Thunderclap
Spells: Catapult, Color Spray, Expeditious Retreat
Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, Deception, Insight, Sleight of Hand
Tool Proficiencies: Disguise Kit, Forgery Kit

Sling, pair of daggers, arcane focus, explorer's pack, set of fine clothes, disguise kit, set of weighted dice, belt pouch containing 15 gold pieces

Notes: In case it's not obvious, the Pelvic Sorcery is a bit of home-brew material created by Steve Kenson, best known for being the primary creative force behind Green Ronin's Mutants & Masterminds superhero RPG, drawing its inspiration from the Guardians of the Galaxy film, notably Gamora's comment about how she wasn't about let herself be take in by Peter Quill's "pelvic sorcery."  It's actually a pretty fun sorcerous origin, offering some fun abilities from first level all the way up to 18th level.  I've no idea how well these would hold up compared to the official sorcerous origins in terms of actual game play, but I'm fairly certain that the character would be memorable.

And now for the other oddball character, this one from the wuxia-themed FATE Core game Tianxia.  And if you're asking if he's paid his dues, he'll look you right in the eye and say "yes sir, the check is in the mail."

Burdenless Jo
High Concept: Boisterous Drifter
Trouble: Loud-Mouthed Braggart
Aspects: Courage of a Thousand Fools, Fate's Favorite Punching Bag, "It's like Burdenless Jo always says..."
Refresh: 3
Jianghu Rank: 1

Great (+4): Drive
Good (+3): Athletics, Provoke
Fair (+2): Deceive, Fight, Shoot
Average (+1): Investigate, Notice, Physique, Will

Kung Fu Style: Stone Monkey
Technique: Stone Resists the Blow

A Fool's Bravado: You may use Provoke instead of Will to defend against Provoke attacks.
All In the Reflexes: If you successfully defend with style against a ranged projectile attack, you can sacrifice your next action to immediately inflict an attack on your opponent at the shift value of your defense plus two.
Talk Like The Wind: Gain a +2 bonus to overcome obstacles using Deceive, provided you do not have to talk to the person you're trying to deceive for more than a few sentences.

Notes: Now, it should be pretty damn obvious who this character is inspired by.  I've always been a big fan of John Carpenter's film Big Trouble in Little China, a film that may have failed at the box office but has certainly become a cult classic (Indeed!)  Granted, Drive as a skill probably won't see a whole ton of use in many Tianxia campaigns, but you put this man at the reins of a cart or means of conveyance and he'll be able to pull off some fairly impressive stuff.  Actually, Burdenless Jo is probably a more competent individual (even with his lower-than-typical score in Fight for a Tianxia hero) than ol' Jack Burton himself.  And with three Fate Points at the start of each session as well as Aspects that are geared to let the character earn even more of them, he should certainly be able to shake the Pillars of Heaven while dropping one-liners (pithy or otherwise) along the way.

May 26, 2017

Converted Dueling Styles for 7th Sea 2nd Edition

So here's something that I've been working on for a while, usually in a fairly casual basis.  Given that the latest installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise hits theaters today, it seemed appropriate to finally publish this.

7th Sea 2nd Edition - Converted Dueling Styles

A bit of background as to how this document came about: I had actually started this not-so-little conversion project way back in October 2016, long before the Explorer's Society option for publishing fan made 7th Sea material was officially a thing.  It started out pretty small, consisting of only a handful of adaptations of 7th Sea's 1st edition Swordsman Schools into workable Duelist Styles for the game's 2nd edition.  I did get a bit of feedback on the forum I initially posted the material at, some good, some bad, and some useful, but I ultimately chose to remove the material from that forum as things were starting to get a little too toxic for my taste.

One problem with the initial conversions was that I really didn't have a chance to play test these in mock combats as much as I would have liked.  Part of the reason it's taken me so long to finish up these conversions and then post them is that I've tried to run mock combats in a preset collection of scenarios (Duelist Hero vs. small Brute Squad, Duelist Hero vs. large Brute Squad, Duelist Hero vs. strong non-Duelist Villain, Duelist Hero vs. weak Duelist Villain, and Duelist Hero vs. strong Duelist Villain) to see how they shook out.  Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with how the various styles shook out.  They're not perfect, but as Steve Kenson (a game designer whom I deeply respect) said with regards to RPG design, there comes a point when you've got to say "it's good enough" and release it, otherwise you'll be "working on improving" the material forever.

From the very outset, I never intended to do conversions of every single 1e Swordsman School that got published (and there were a lot of them).  I mostly focused on the ones that I firstly found to be interesting and secondly that I could come up with something nifty for the style bonus.  One thing I tried to avoid was rampant re-skins of style bonuses for previously published Duelist styles.  If the only thing I could come up with for a style was a total re-skin, I simply dropped the the style.  There are a couple of exceptions as those Duelist styles I felt had enough in-game flavor to warrant their inclusion even if the style bonus wasn't anything truly original.

I did add a few converted Advantages, such as a revamp of the 1e Exploit Weakness Swordsman knack and the Left-Handed Advantage, as well as a little something for the professional pugilists out there that prefer bare-knuckles to bared steel.  I had considered doing a conversion of the Finnegan "Swordsman" School (aka Drunken Irish Boxing), but I ultimately opted not to, even if I did come up with a pretty nifty style bonus (which wound up being used for the Lucani style bonus instead).

Now, some of you may be aware that one of the initial releases for the Explorer's Society was the supplement "At Sword's Point," written by Rob Weiland.  What you may not be aware of is that I wrote a pretty scathing review of the product on DriveThruRPG (it's the only review of the product so far), due to the vast majority of the dueling style conversions being either clunky to the point of "why bother?" or being unimaginative tweaks of styles from the core rulebook.  I'm sorry, but if I'm going to take a Duelist style, I want to be able to do something that's not only cool, but isn't just a bland reskin of another style.  For instance, Rob's take on MacDonald, a style that favors using the Highlands claymore is just the core book's Ambrogia using different Traits.  There were a couple points where Rob and I had very similar ideas as to what a style's bonus should be (Lucani for instance).  To be honest, had this product been any good, I would have totally abandoned this conversion project of mine in favor of the "official version."  Yes, I gave it 2 stars, but that's only because I feel a 1 star rating is reserved for something that is complete and utter garbage that should have never been purchased in the first place.

I suppose one question that might crop up with regards with this document of mine is "why didn't you publish this as part of the Explorer's Society?"  Well, there are two good reasons.  The first is that I didn't feel this constituted an original enough work, since it's based very much off 1st edition material that belongs to John Wick.  The second is that trying to get this published for sale when there's already a similar product out there just felt incredibly tacky, as well as disingenuous given the rather scathing review I'd left for the product.  As to which one is "definitively better", Rob's "At Sword's Point" or my "Converted Dueling Styles," that's something I leave to the individual to decide.  If a table wants to mix and match, pulling Duelist styles from both files, then have at it.

So, there's the story on the how and why regarding the creation and sharing of this little project of mine.  I hope you find it useful, and that the Duelist style bonuses I've created don't prove to be more powerful than I anticipated.

As for the latest PotC flick... yeah, I think I'll wind up waiting for it to hit Netflix.  The trailers did little to make me want to see the film, and as much as I've enjoyed seeing Johnny Depp's performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, I think the character has worn out his welcome for me.