Sep 022013
 

I know, “the Slaughter sword”. It just sounds like something you’d want to use in any game ever doesn’t it? The thing is, you’ve probably encountered it by a different name, as this is just what it was known as to certain English speakers. More commonly it was called a Zweihänder, although it did have many other names. For simplicity’s sake though, we’ll just be calling it a two handed sword. This is actually a very important distinction though, as to be a true two handed sword, it must be designed in such a way as that it must be hefted with both hands. Although there are plenty of swords that can be used with both hands, they can also be swung with just the one, and more often than not would be thought of as “hand-and-a-half”  swords.

two-handed-great-sword-88wgs-full-1I have written in the past about ways to get more use out of a longer sword whilst fighting in confined quarters, but swords of this length would not be useful for such conditions. Before we move on to how one would go about getting the most use out of this kind of sword, lets address what a lot of people are concerned about when it comes to picking up and using it, the weight. I could go on a bit of a metallurgical rant here, but I think that’s better left to the professionals who have devoted more time to the study of such things. In simple terms, what everyone needs to understand is something that most gamers know, but has yet to make its way into the popular consciousness: whilst the Katana is indeed an elegant weapon, it was far from the unique marvel of sword craft that a lot of people seem to think.

In the early medieval period, vikings (Yup, no capitol letter there, a lot of current historical theory is pointing towards viking being a verb rather than a noun. As in, “lets all sharpen our axes and go viking”!) were using a very similar method of steel folding and smelting to create lighter weight but still large swords to take raiding. So even swords made that would be long enough to be considered two handed would not have been overly heavy during the medieval period that most fantasy RPGs seem to be set in. In historical terms. the Zweihänder was actually used more commonly during the renaissance period anyway, when metallurgical techniques had been greatly improved. But since history is often fluid and only used when it is fit for purpose during RPGs, lets not get ourselves too bogged down in that kind of detail.

Taking ceremonial blades out of the equation – which were considerably heavier, but not designed or intended to be swung into the face of a charging barbarian – the most one would be expected to weigh is roughly 7 pounds. I know that that might seem heavy compared to other blades, but it was designed to be used effectively with two hands, offering greater leverage for the swing. And as we all know, in physics, leverage is very important indeed. Swinging the weapon is no problem when held correctly, and the weight it has will make it formidable indeed on the battlefield. Why didn’t we see such a weapon getting greater use then?

Apart from the afore mentioned fact that it wasn’t around so much during the medieval period of great battles, it was mainly because of the cost of such a weapon, and the fact that it never made sense to equip units with it. Most of the other weapons I’ve talked about on this blog have mainly been used to great effect by massed troops. The warbow was wonderful when hundreds of archers loosed volleys into the enemy ranks, the gladius was easy to produce in numbers and very effective when used by close knit ranks of well disciplined troops and so on and so forth. The Zweihänder though was inconvenient to say the least to with fight when you are stood in close formation with your allies.

This actually makes it a great for player characters in RPGs as they would not often worry about maintaining formation when they fought a pack of angry gnolls. It is a weapon for an individual, and the fact that having one made was an expensive and time consuming would make them rare weapons with a whole bunch of mythology all of their own. They are also more versatile then you’d think. The rather excellent cinematic game 7th Sea has a whole lot to say on the fighting styles one could use for a weapon this long, and I advise anyone with an interest to pick up the relevant nation book for more details.

For those without the resources to pick up said books, the three basic stances allow for the wide swing – and historically there is evidence to suggest that such a swing could take out up to three combatants in one go – with the legs apart to keep balance; the bracing stance, holding the weapon almost as a pike to fend off mounted troops or small units of halberdiers. And finally, holding it with the hilt over your shoulder and the point aimed at chest height, using both hands and the leverage to move to weapon at speed to combat against units wielding smaller edged weapons. A lot of Zweihänders even had gripping rings at the cross guard to make it easier to hold it in this fashion and maintain a high degree of maneuverability.

If you are lucky enough to hang out with a few other people also skilled – and rich – enough to wield such a ferocious weapon, you can do some real damage. Just make sure you’re spread out a little first. With three to five people holding a loose formation, swinging the Zweihänder, you can hold off large units of pike men, the swords cutting through the shafts before bringing down those holding the long pole arms. Small units such as these were favoured in battle for useful and versatile they could be, and once more are a great idea for your very own role playing games.

Aug 262013
 

It’s been a while since the last update on the up coming Cyberpunk computer game, but since we have a new edition of Shadowrun, plus a PC game too, the interest in the Cyberpunk genre is obviously still high. With that in mind I thought I would try and capture a few important things about people in the dark near future interact with each other. The problem with that is that not every game set in a Cyberpunk world has the same values. My last game using the CP 2020 for instance didn’t really live up to the style over substance and chrome chrome chrome ethos that’s mentioned in the book. Instead it was a much darker take, with cyberware being sinister and the thought of wasting money of frivolities rather than necessities would have seemed very strange indeed.

images (1)So instead of trying to capture the feel of an entire genre, I am picking a setting that I have reviewed in the past and thoroughly enjoyed: Kuro. If you’ve never come across the game or just prefer a more traditional future noir game, then it’ worth remembering that the Japanese are currently the predominate producers of personal electronics – including computers – and robotics, which will surely set them up well to be an important culture in any Cyberpunk future. So here are a few things worth bearing in mind when dealing with the Japanese either socially or in business.

  • The business card. In Japanese culture, the business card is even more important than the calling card was to the Victorians, and has similar uses. There are very important differences though, and the devil is very much in the details. If one is handed to you, it will be while the giver is bowing towards you, presenting it with both hands. You must reciprocate this action. Bow a little deeper to show respect to the person giving you their card, and make sure you take it with both hands. When you have it, take very special care of it. Whatever you do, son’t just slip into your back pocket while the giver is still in your presence. In fact, never stick it in your back pocket, as sitting on it would be a grave insult. Keep in your wallet or in a special case for business cards until you can put it somewhere safe in an office. You see a business card is more than just someone’s contact details. It is a promise that the person will take your call, and maybe even a personal meeting. Keep all such cards safe, as you never know when it may be required to make a call to that one person who can help you out.
  • Being a Gaijin. Unless your game is particularly focused in such a way, it’s probably unlikely that everyone will be Japanese. In dealings with Japanese people, those from outside the country will of course be afforded all due respect – more on this later – but they are still outsiders, and will never have the access or acceptance that fellow countrymen will receive. never draw attention to this, instead do what you can with the help you will be given. You may never be accepted into the inner circle, but it is possible to make very good friends with individuals within said circle and get them to act on your requests.
  • Respect. By far and away the most important thing to the Japanese is respect. For elders, for superiors, for anyone deserving it, and for anyone that is newly introduced. This might seem strange to western eyes, but rather than run the risk of not showing someone the respect that they are due, a Japanese person will show a complete stranger total respect. This comes across very clearly if you walk into a Japanese store. The staff working there will treat you like royalty, bowing deeply and making sure that everything is to your satisfaction. This even runs counter the above point about foreigners in Japan, they will be also be treated exceptionally well by strangers rather than them risking offending anyone by not showing them the appropriate amount of deference.
  • Conflict Avoidance. The point on respect above ties in nicely with this one. It may sound like a lazy stereotype, but it does seem to hold up the vast majority of case; a Japanese person is likely to go to great lengths to avoid any type of conflict or unpleasantness. This means making sure that you show the correct amount of respect, always erring on the side of caution by going above and beyond what might be expected, but this desire for peace and calm runs through most day to day activities. In a working environment for example, it would be unheard of for an employee to complain about their company, coworkers, or superiors whilst at work. Outside of work though there exist a social contract that allows workers to gather together and imbibe alcohol and get all their complaints of their chests without ever worrying about the consequences. It would in fact be a massive social faux par to even bring up these grievances the next day at work.

So there we have it, a far from complete list of social guidelines for dealing with what could quite likely be a dominant super power in a Cyberpunk future. Most of the credit should go to the excellent writer and blogger Héctor García and his excellent site and book, A Geek in Japan. Most of the points in this book have been researched through reading his work, and if you have any interest in checking out more on contemporary Japanese culture, I can’t think of many better places to start.

Aug 202013
 
Click through for Cubicle 7 page.

Click through for Cubicle 7 page.

As I’ve mentioned once or twice, this last month has been pretty damned hectic for me, so a few things have sadly fallen by the wayside. I have just about managed to keep regular postings on this page, but almost everything else has been put to one side until I can give the various projects I’ve taken on the time and effort they deserve.

One such thing is my attention towards the rather excellent, and massively anticipated third edition of the Steampunk role playing game Victoriana by those lovely people over at Cubicle 7. For a full disclosure and to explain why I’m annoyed that this one has taken me so long to get round to, I was sent a free copy of this book for review purposes. After hinting pretty damned heavily that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. So sorry everyone for the delay, I know it would have been better for another positive review to be out there before Gencon, but this will have to do.

To make up for it, I’ll be doing what I did for my review of Kuro, breaking it into several bits, each being about a significant proportion of the main rule book. Today then we’ll be starting with the setting and background section, The Encyclopaedia Victoriana.

As a history nerd – seriously, check out how many articles I’ve written about historical weapons – it’s hard to describe just how much fun I had reading this section. They cover things as one would expect for an alternative history book; in broad strokes. But there’s detail in there, and a lot of it is their own, but some of the stuff they’ve put in there had me breaking out in a huge grin. I don’t want to start listing them here (there were loads of them) but they were all brilliant, and impressed me with the level of research that must have been put into this section.

I do have to point out one thing that I wasn’t 100% happy about. I know that their world is very different too ours, and that there is more to the sapient races than just humanity. I think this is a great selling point for the game, and is handled with considerably more style than I think Shadowrun ever managed. Each race – not species – has a particular place within the social landscape. The Eldren sitting at the top, with Ogres usually at the bottom (links seem to go to an older wiki that may not be up to date with the current edition, and are used only for descriptive purposes). I also understand the need to change things a bit, and that there is no reason why they should stick faithfully to something when it serves no purpose. But Napoleon was actually taller than I am, so casting him as a Dwarf was a little bit strange…

The way it’s all tied together makes for a damned entertaining read too. Historical narrative can sometimes be a bit of a pain to read if it it’s written poorly, and this is some very good writing indeed. They break things down by event, and present them as mini case studies done first hand from the point of view of a character within their world. And it such a well realised world too. Page after page for the various countries and nations that exist, and even a few that don’t, at least not in our world.

What surprised me, as I haven’t played previous incarnations of the game due to lack of opportunity, was how important religion is, and how much was written about it. They go to some lengths to make sure that the readers know to differentiate between real world religions and the “fictional”* ones that they’ve created. Although there are similarities, and it’s pretty easy to see where they’ve taken inspiration from each of the three Abrahamic faiths, along with a few others, each is different enough that it doesn’t come across as a lazy pastiche.

So far then – and you may have noticed that I’ve kept actual content to a minimum to avoid spoilers – I’m absolutely loving the book. The layout makes it pleasure to read (I do like books with fully justified margins) and the writing is top notch. This is what I’ve come to expect from Cubicle 7 though. Each and every one of their games has been great to just sit down with and devour while sipping from a mug of hot chocolate.

Next time I’ll be looking at character creation, and as such a few bits of the system too. Hopefully the gap in reviews won’t be as long as the gap between acquisition and this one, and since work has calmed down somewhat, hopefully it should be within a week. Until then, feel free to pick up a copy for yourself. In fact, if you know me at all, I’d really appreciate it, as I would love to get the chance to play this game, based on what I’ve seen so far.

* Sorry, my atheistic side comes out around now, and I struggle to think of any any religion as being anything other than fictional.

Aug 122013
 

So, anyone want to take a guess as to which movie me and the missus curled up in bed with last night? That’s right, I was on a bit of a nostalgia kick, and Big Trouble in Little China was one of the first movies I ever owned. Roughly working it out, I think in fact I was about 9 years old. One could argue that I was a bit young to be watching this flick, but it I think I turned out OK. Having seen it more times than I could easily recall, there’s always been one line that has stayed with me, and this is the title of the article. Although I’ve spent most of my research time at the moment looking into Japanese things – both for a future post here, and an article over at Stuffer Shack – I decided after watching the film one more time to see just how many hells there are in Chinese mythology.

As with all things involving mythology, there is no correct answer to this question, and a lot of answers that are out there openly contradict each other. If you have enough interest in this subject yourself, there’s plenty of writing out there, and I invite to start with our old friend Wikipedia. Since this is not an academic paper on the subject though, instead being a place that I hope some of you come to for inspiration, I will be dealing in broad brush strokes with a few ideas that come across like they could be useful in a role playing game. If you’ve ever played Feng Shui, you’ll know just what I mean.

The Hell of the Upside down Sinner. In the movie this was an underwater scene with rotting corpses chained upside down beneath the surface. A truly terrifying place to come to after any adventure that required swimming through a tunnel to escape from.

The Hell of being cut to pieces. Since the body cannot die in Hell, this one is all kinds of unpleasant. For the still living an abattoir comes to mind, the floor slick with blood that has yet to make its way to the channels cut into the floor. Discarded digits getting crushed underfoot, and rusty blades hanging from blackened chains.

The Hell of the Razor Cliff. A sheer rock face, seemingly without end. The sinners have no choice but to climb though, and every place they could put there fingers or toes conceals a razor edged blade. It could  be the cliff, it could be a mountain; it could simple be every wall of a an open topped cell that contains your enemies.

The Hell of boiling in Oil. Chambers full of  metal cauldrons, filled to the brim with boiling oil. Sinners in cages that rise and fall in random patterns, submerging them in the oil as they scream in pain. The smell of cracked and burning flesh in here wold be beyond description, only the wailing of the victims outdoing it for shear awfulness. Would you try and help anyone, or just get the hell away before you were dragged into a cage of your own.

The Hell of being fed into relentless machines. The grinder has a beginning, and each soul is fed into it kicking and screaming, but no one has yet found the end. An eternity being spent moving slowly through grinding gears and hammering pistons, the body wrecked beyond mortal endurance but still feeling everything. What mind could conceive of such a contraption, and what is their final goal?

The Hell of the Frozen Sinners. An entire world of ice, where the hatred the sinners feel for themselves has extinguished all the fires of hell, leaving a desolate frozen wasteland. Each Sinner suffers frostbite, with blackened limbs giving way to oozing puss. The closest thing to respite is to throw themselves into the icy lake where there bodies will flash freeze and shatter at the merest touch. Could there be any escape from this place, or have the sinners made it themselves?

The Hell of being torn about by animals. For every sinner in this hell, there lives 50 animals, hungry and angry, red in tooth and claw. The larger beasts run uncontrollably, hooves crushing those unfortunate to have fallen, while horns and antlers rip and rend anyone still on their feet. Snakes and scorpions bite and sting at any exposed flesh, with carrion birds hovering above, looking to peck at anyone to feeble to fight back. 

As I said above, this is just a few examples, of the tens of thousands of hells that exist in Chinese in Buddhist mythology, so please feel free to add your own. There is one very particular place I haven’t mentioned though. All those listed above, act more as a Purgatory for sinners, with the length of time spent in a particular hell the result of the nature and severity of the sin. For the most unforgivable sins there is Avīci. This is a place of continual suffering, and much closer to what westerners might think of as hell eternal. And after all that misery, the least I can do is implore to you to go and check out the inspiration for today’s post, Big trouble in Little China.

Jul 292013
 

I will happily admit that this is another of those posts that I start while knowing full well that there’s a whole lot I have to say on the subject, and it probably won’t fit into just one post. I make no promises as to when I will get back to the rest of it though, as right now I have one particular element of the character generation process on my mind.

I am a few short months away from creating a character for a game that I will play in for roughly 9 months, and providing I don’t go and get myself perished, I will play said character for the duration. So I should be thinking about playing the kind of character I would happily be stuck with for a good long while. But here’s the kicker; there’s every chance that I won’t get to play that character. There are several factors determining whether or not this is the case, and I’ll deal with a few below, but I’m popping the advice for any gamer out there right here: Be prepared to play a character that you never planned on playing.

The game I will be playing has a character generation system that mixes dice rolling for attributes and a points system for skill levels. Lets look at the dice rolling though, as this is the most obvious way that your finely considered concept could be turned on its head. I wish I could share with you all the character creation system, but it is still a work in progress and as such they have asked me not to share it. To sum up, each attribute is decided by three 20 sided dice, but certain nationalities roll more dice and the player chooses the three they would prefer. Dice being what they are, it is totally possible for a character who really wishes to play a hard as nails Northern pirate raider, but when she rolls the dice, ends up with a strength score of seven in a percentile based game.

I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of people out there who will tell you that they have had amazing games with characters that sucked. I know there’s at least a couple because I’ve read about them. What I’ve found to be more common though is people who would much rather ditch a character build as they’d got their hearts set on something that is now unfeasible based on the stats they’ve rolled. My advice here may not be popular, but in its simplest form it is thus: change the thing you want to play.

People may be tuning out now, thinking what the hell is this crazy person talking about?! I don’t mean change the entire concept, just change the bits that no longer make sense, A little while ago I wrote a quick little plot seed up about the start of an adventure that I think would actually be a lot more typical of starting character’s jaunts out into the wild away from their homes and families. You may want to be a huge viking warrior, but if can’t, re-imagine her as a younger woman. Starting out with nothing but a knife and a rotting leather jerkin, it may not matter how she strong she is right now, but the character you want her to be, becomes a promise to yourself of the hero that the character will become.

Of course you also have the more extreme option to just change your concept. I have never yet been in a position where I have felt the need to do this, but that doesn’t mean this situation doesn’t exist. The closest I have come came down to a series of random rolls for backgrounds. What started off as a pretty cool idea for a conman character, would have been hamstrung by poverty and a drug addiction. Either of which is far from ideal, but both together meant that I had little I could bring to the character other than these facts when starting out. Rather than start from scratch, or struggle with a character concept that I had very little interest in, I spoke to my GM, and we decided to just re-roll the things that had such a negative effect.

Talking about issues is the biggest tool you have at your disposal when it comes to a bad result on the dice during character creation. Most GMs are at least open to a discussion if you’re thoroughly unhappy with what you’ve got on the rolls, but be prepared to not get your own way. Compromise is key at this point, and if you are able to really sell your concept to the GM they might be willing to allow a bit of wiggle room to get you closer to where you want to start.

Of course, there are times when talking about the character is exactly what leads to you not playing the type of character you have in mind, and this for me is slightly more important. I dislike creating characters in a vacuum, and for me this means doing it without any sounding board. I have in the past as a GM ended up having to create an entire group of characters one at a time with only myself and one player in the room. Sadly it was a necessity because of scheduling clashes before the game that I wanted to get started by a certain date. If I could go back and change it though, I would start a week later and let the players sit together in the room and make their characters as a group.

party_balance

That’s not to say that the characters necessarily needed to be part of a gang that already know each other, but I really like the idea that some thought has been put into making a group that when they do get together, are able to function. Now, I’m not saying that you need to sit around and worry about having the absolute correct balance of healer/fighter/mage/McGuffin, but avoiding the loneliest of lone wolves problem is worth taking some time to think about.

A party of characters needs to be able to work together and even if you don’t set out to create a lone wolf, it is totally possible to have one or more members of the group with characters that just don’t mesh with the party as a whole. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as societal class or criminal leanings, none of which should be a reason for a party not to work, but will need talking about. To look at a game that really does social classes well, lets focus on Unhallowed Metropolis. Why would a high ranking nobleman spend his evenings hanging out with a working class pick-pocket and whore? Sure there may be reasons, but take the time to work these before hand, and sometimes this means you might have to make some changes.

Don’t feel like you need to completely re-write something from the concept up, but there are things that can be altered that will make the group more playable from the starting sessions. As a group plays together then party friction will cause interesting relationships, but to start with, try your best to come up with concepts that will at the very least be able to play nice with each other. Again, compromise is going to make everyone’s lives easier here. If one person is totally unwilling to back down from an overtly disruptive character concept, it might be time to have a chat with the GM as a group, but for anything other than that talking between players should  be enough.

Jul 172013
 
Click to download the free pdf of pre-generated characters for Victoriana 3rd Edition

Click to download the free pdf of pre-generated characters for Victoriana 3rd Edition

As mentioned yesterday, I have been working my way slowly through the latest edition of Cubicle 7‘s excellent work of Steampunk fantasy, Victoriana. This has slowed down a little due to being sent a new novel to read by Gollancz that I’ve been waiting almost seven years for. That being said, I took great pleasure today going through some pre-generated characters for the game in question.

Since I’m not that far through the rule book so far, I can’t go into too much detail, but what I have seen; I like. The little bio style write ups for each character are inventive and interesting, giving a wonderful insight into the world of Victoriana and the type of story that could take place there. Each character has its own hooks that could easily be extrapolated into a full adventure, but for now I’m just looking forward to taking a shot at some Spring Heeled Jack fun! With any luck I should get the chance to run this for a group by the end of summer, so will write up a full actual play report by then.

There’s still a little bit extra to to go, so come back tomorrow for some extra shiny. Until then, don’t forget to head over and grab a copy of the main book, which you’ll need to play with any of the freebies available so far.

Jul 162013
 
spring-heeled-menace-Cover-240x300

Click to download the FREE Penny Dreadful “The Spring Heeled Menace”.

I have barely scratched the surface of this impressive tome, and so don’t want to jump the gun and start reviewing it until I know what’s actually under the skin of this bad boy. I can tell you straight off the bat that it has my attention though. As mentioned in my Kuro review, I’m a big fan of using fiction to open a rule book. It does a better job of giving the players an idea of what to expect than any number of pages talking about what role playing is, and make for a darned sight more interesting read too. As I said though, I don’t want to jump straight into a review just yet.

Instead I’m going to be sharing with you some fun little bits and pieces and the smashing folks over at Cubicle 7 have on offer to entice people to pick up this lovely looking book. Today we have a totally free adventure for the game. The title of this one grabbed me straight away, as my favourite bit of steampunk fiction has a similar name. This story goes down a  different route, and one I’m not going to spoil for you here. I will say though that it’s a very well put together adventure, with plenty of scope of follow on investigations, and there should be no problem bringing in any group of characters to solve this little mystery.

Click the image to download it, and pop back here tomorrow for a set of pre-created player characters to hand out, just to save you the bother of making them yourself. Oh, and if you don’t have it yet, better go and pick up the actual game too. You’ll totally need it to run the adventure, and so far, I’m pretty damned impressed with it.

Jul 152013
 

Choose-Your-Weapon-Dice-TabletopOnce more I find myself taking inspiration from the writing process, as work continues apace on my Steampunk RPG: Rise of the Automata. I’m still chugging away nicely on it and have almost finished the section I will need to try a play test of the combat system out. I’m not going to go on at length about what this will entail, as I have a different blog for that, but it has made me think about the kind of combat system I wanted to create, as it would be the kind I also wanted to play.

In the past I have made note of how much I love the Cyberpunk 2020 role playing game, but still felt the need to tidy up the combat system a little bit, as it wasn’t quite what I wanted. There wasn’t a great deal wrong with it, but there was just a bit too much dice rolling for my mind. And that’s what this post boils down to, and what I want to talk about; I want a combat system that truly is fast and fun. In the CP 2020 combat rules, when you attack anyone in close combat, either with a weapon or without, both combatants roll off against each other. Since this should happen at the same time, it technically shouldn’t slow thing down, but it does. There’s an awful lot to take into account when making a combat roll in CP 2020 anyway, two people doing it just takes that little bit longer. And the fact that what you have is a fluid target number also means a heavy degree of unpredictability, so people spend a lot longer thinking about whether or not luck should play a role in this moment.

So I removed the need for people to roll against each other by creating a very basic way of characters to have a target number that represents their ability to either parry or dodge an attack. It worked pretty damned well; the only failing being my own as I forgot to write down what I had used to make this number, or tell the players how to do it either. It was based on a combat skill, and as they were putting points into it, the parry/dodge score should have been going up too. My bad. So in the game I’m working, I have done something similar, but made a special box for it on the character sheet, so that it should be easier to track.

Another combat system I generally like, but could do with streamlining, is Savage Worlds. For a system that claims to be Fast and furious, combat can sometimes drag. Mainly down to two reasons based on my experience: initiative order changing every round, and being Shaken. Initiative first; I understand that combat should be fluid, but changing the order each round by the draw of a card is not the best way to go about it. I have recently been involved in play test sessions for 6D6, and I love one of their ideas about initiative. If there is a narrative reason for one character to go first, then they do – as long as it is agreed upon by all participants – and then they nominate the next active character. This means that the order is fluid, and the players can make tactical decisions in how they operate. A lovely idea, and one I thoroughly enjoy. I’ll be sticking with good old fashioned rolling once then setting the order though, as it’s simple and quick.

Being Shaken in a combat round is a big pain in the ass. I know why the rule is there, but it just means that a player has the potential to be a damned big hero who just lays there for several rounds as they fail test after test to regain their senses. I personally would like to just ditch this rule, but it would make player characters a bit too powerful, and they really don’t need any help in that area. if anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

So far then, it seems the best thing to do to speed up combat is to reduce the number of dice rolls. Before anyone points it out, I know that Amber does that job spectacularly well, but I’m still a bit too much of a fan of random chance to go full dice-less. So I have a parry/dodge mechanic to cut down on one set of dice rolls, and I am also trying out something that should do away with damage and hit location rolls. This idea has not yet been tested out, but it should be fun.

At its heart, the game uses a 2d10 system. So, you roll to hit, adding the two dice together and checking against the target number. If successful, you choose one of the results for hit location, and the other for damage. This works for all characters, so it isn’t just the players who get more control over how they deal damage. This could still be broken, and I may need to insist on different colour dice so that one will always be location, the other damage, but I’d like to try this out first, and see how it goes down.

So there you have it, some thoughts on speeding up the flow of combat, and a crazy idea i want to try. If you have any thoughts of your own, please feel free to share them below. If you think my ideas stink, please keep the raging torrent of bile down to about two paragraphs. I thank you.

Jul 082013
 

I have a game design blog that I’ll be cross posting this to, but since I have discussed money and keeping track of it in games before, I thought I’d pop this here first for people to take a look at. Expect the idea to be more refined by the time I put it into the actual game.

I have commented on forum threads, and other blogs on such subjects, and waxed lyrical about how much I enjoy the spending of money in games where it makes sense. My favourite example is from my most recent GMing history, and that was running Cyberpunk 2020. With the emphasis of the game being all style over substance, it makes sense for the shopping side of things to take a prominent role. There are splat books full of nothing but things to buy, and I think they’re great for adding flavour to the setting.

But in almost every other game, I would be happier if less time was devoted to the book keeping involved in keeping track of money and flicking through books to find things. In a game I have played in repeatedly – and hope to play again soon – they have a nice mechanism for dealing with day to day monetary spending while still allowing for shopping to take place for specialist items and the like. Basically, money is put to one side to cover your character’s living expenses. If you have little money then your lifestyle will be poor; living in a flop house and surviving on two cheap meals a day. This means more for buying fancy things like armour and weapons, but means you have a higher chance of picking up something contagious. Put more money aside, and you have a better lifestyle. Staying in a single room in a hotel, with meat in at least two of your three meals, plus a few pints of beer a night too.

This works for the game in question and adds to the flavour of it, which is one of the biggest things I look for. So with that in mind I have been thinking about how to handle it for my RPG. The Automata that the players will be taking on the role of  have just as much diversity of personality as do the Humans who made them. They are just as likely to be covetous of the belongings of others, and unwilling to share. As a society though, the Automata have sought to move away from the weaknesses of their creators. After the war the most valuable resource for them was fuel, but since it was necessary for the survival of the Automata, it is available to all, as long as there was enough supply.

I wanted this attitude to permeate most of their society. A socialist state as it were, especially with regard to trade. The only value of objects is how hard they are to create and how useful they are. What this means for the game is that each item has a score that modifies the dice roll required to convince the owner to part with it. This will make the Bargain skill a lot more useful to people, and hopefully stop the Interface Attribute being used as a dump stat quite so much. As a side effect it might also stop players thinking that treasure is so important. Unless something has a use, it has no value. As an example of play, the characters find themselves at an Automata settlement where they make an additive that prolongs the burn time of fossil fuels. One of the Automatons they meet has a lovely pneumatic sniper rifle, that one of the players could really use. This is a rare item, so the base chance to convince any Automaton to give it up would be pretty high, and the two characters would make opposed Bargain checks to see who can be the most convincing about who should own the weapon. If the NPC is a guard of the town, then he would get a bonus, as he has more use for it, but if it was a scientist or production worker who lacked the skills to use it, the player character would have the advantage as they were often in dangerous situations dealing with Human aggressors.

When it comes to character creation, each player character will have a set number of points which they can use to get access to items. Each item is worth a number of points equal to its Bargain modifier, and I’m playing around with the idea of allowing players to spend some of their character points to increase the number of points they’ll get for equipment. Based on a character creation session I ran, one player did ask of there was anything else they could spend their points on as they had picked up all the skills they wanted, and had a point left.

I’m not one hundred percent sure on any of this yet, but I would like to try it out. I know that a lot of gamers are happier without micromanaging equipment and money, and although this will not get rid of such concerns in their entirety, it should minimize them some what. As always sound off below with your own thoughts on the subject.

Jul 012013
 

BL2-DLC-4_logo-610x314

I will try and keep the review elements of this post to a minimum, because I have already touched on how much I like the basic game in the past. Instead, this is all about how the hobby I love is represented in something a little bit more mass media. I will also draw comparison to two other attempts to bring role playing to the attention of the masses, in the Big Bang Theory, and Community.

I will discuss a little bit of the technical stuff first though. The humour that has marked both games out from the crowd is still well and truly present, and with jokes aimed very much at the readership of this blog – stuff for you to laugh along with, not making you the butt of the jokes – makes it a great way to spend an evening. Sadly, the fact that you can get through it in an evening is a bit of a let down. The other DLC packs were much bigger, but since they mostly just re-used elements from the base game, they didn’t take up much space. So much has been made just for this DLC – including frickin’ dragons – that the same space just doesn’t go as far. Still, it looks amazing, and there’s some really nice touches. The village setting looks amazing, and the Immortal undead look great, with glowing swords embedded into their skulls to set them apart from the other, easier to kill skeletons.

But what does it tell us about table top gaming? Mainly just how much bloody fun it is and how inclusionary, but also how flawed some of the people who play the game can be. To begin with, we have the fun of people picking their characters. Brick, the close combat nutter picks the Siren, claiming she is the most beautiful and graceful creature in the world, and that she’s great at punching people in the face. The Siren who’s actually playing the RPG – Lilith - seems to be the only reasonably experienced gamer of the group. A lovely touch when we consider the messed up humour of The Big Bang Theory, making light of the fact that no guys ever play D&D with their girlfriends, contrary to mountains of evidence saying otherwise.

She is also a true blue geek, and gives Mr. Torgue a hard time for wanting to play, questioning his geek credentials, since he is clearly a muscle bound jock. I hate to say it, but I have been this person. Not the jock, the one who wonders whether or not someone is really a geek, or just trying to join in with what they think is cool. I see people walking around my home town wearing “GEEK” emblazoned on their shirts, and always feel the need to ask them what class their first character to hit level ten was? Or if they have any recommendations for fantasy literature other than Game of Thrones (The works of Joe Abercrombie as an example)? I never do though, as it is a small and petty annoyance. It is harder sometimes though, when I remember the beatings I got through school that Lilith also claims to have received for letting her geek flag fly. To be fair, I didn’t help myself out. Not only did I wargame and read comic books, but I was also a fan of very heavy metal. Oh, and I was short with a pronounced overbite and wear glasses. I mean seriously, what was I thinking?

But Lilith embraces the big fella when it’s obvious that that he loves the game, and although he may be far from most people’s ideal of a good layer, his passion for the hobby is beyond question. And this is what I mean by inclusionary. The DLC makes it clear that the perception of gamers as nerds with hygiene issues is far from the actual truth, without letting us off lightly, by also showing how elitist we can be about the games we play.

Lets go back to Brick again now. As mentioned, he’s the close combat specialist, and his power move is to go full on berserk rage and punch things until they stop twitching. In the role playing game he has trouble separating this urge from what his character would do to move the plot along.  It gets in the way so much in fact, that at one point a very easy problem to solve gets trashed as he punches a Dwarven slave in the face instead of freeing them all to help in their quest. Every GM has had this moment, and has to decide just how much they want it to matter. Tiny Tina goes all out, and now every Dwarf wants a piece of the players. No matter how helpful they are in freeing the enslaved Dwarves, they’ll always remember that Brick was the one who killed their mate. But Brick learns from his mistake, and by the end of the game does change his ways to fit with the character rather than what he wants to do.

So, all very cool, and a great way to portray gamers in main stream media. But it goes one further, and shows how useful gaming can be as a coping mechanism. I know most people who rock up to the table are their to have fun, in whatever way they decide is fun for themselves. Sometimes though, you have a bad day, or week, or month, and just want to get rid of some frustration in a world where you have a bit more control. It’s not necessarily healthy to rely on the hobby for such things, but it is damned useful all the same. In an episode of Community that involves RPGs, we see the same thing. A problem is, maybe not solved, but worked on a little. And the group happens to have a great time while doing so, and talk about coming back to play the game again.

I can’t think of a much better portrayal of table top role playing in other media than this DLC, and if you have any interest in the series at all, it is by far and away my favourite bit of DLC so far, having played every last one of them. two very enthusiastic thumbs up.