Wednesday, October 31, 2007
When trapping someone under a mass of 1,000 lbs or more, treat it as an environmental effect, with:
Damage = 4 + (dots of Epic Strength required to lift it) B / minute
Trauma = 4 + (2 x(dots of Epic Strength required to lift it))
The trauma roll may be made with Stamina+Fortitude as per normal "sucking it up", or with Strength+Athletics to represent that you are "pushing back".
Remember that soak does apply to environmental damage, but armor does not.
So parking a Semi-cab (9.5 US Tons, requiring Epic Strength 5 to lift) on someone does 9B/minute , trauma 14. A fully-laden Semi (37.5 tons) with all of it's weight somehow applied only to them would be 10B/minute, trauma 16.
It conveniently works out to the level of Epic Strength necessary to lift the truck is roughly the same as the level of Epic Stamina necessary to lay under the wheels and survive indefinitely. It breaks down a little at higher levels of Epic Stamina, but the result is just that if you want to hurt a God, you have to swing a mountain at them, not just bury them under one.
For example, if I drop all 6,000 tons of the foundation of the Space Needle on my PCs next weekend it'll do 13 dice of Bashing with a Trauma rating of 22. You need Epic Strength 9 to lift the Space Needle, but Epic Stamina 7 will let you survive indefinitely pinned beneath it's mass. Call me evil, but I like being a possibility in my game.
Using this math, if you put a 1-ton weight (damage 5B/minute, trauma: 6) on a mortal for a minute they could get lucky and emerge unscathed, but it remains a potent danger vs even the best mortal athelete.
It's neither a terribly complicated nor horribly broken system, so I think it'll work.
Link to the extremely useful table of weights of big things with which you can squish.
Here's a quick & dirty Improvised Weapon system for Scion. It quickly generates reasonable stats for any item you want to swing at somebody. The system is designed to be fast and rough, and it intentionally keeps most improvised weapons as less powerful than intentionally manufactured weaponry.
Basically, the system is just a series of tags that can be applied to an item you want to use as a weapon. A given improvised weapon may have any number of tags, even zero. (In fact, most objects a mortal could use as a club would have zero tags)
The tags are: Long, Huge, Sharp, Pointy, Massive, and the negative tags of Fragile, Awkward, and Soft.
Tags do NOT replace stunt dice. Creativity should be rewarded, so most improvised weapons will generate 2 stunt dice when first picked up and used. Clever description of the things you do with a weapon (improvised or not) will of course continue to wrack up stunt dice. But even without stunt dice, a rock or pointy stick may prove more useful than your bare fists.
Assume all improvised weapons have the following baseline stats, except when modified by tags:
Acc:+0 Damage:+1(bashing) Defense:+0 Speed:5
The applicable Tags work as follows:
Long: The item is at least 5 feet long, making it possible to keep a foe well beyond arm's length. It adds +2 to Defense for calculating your Parry DV.
Wide: The item sweeps a very broad area when swung, such that a person can't just duck to get out of the way. Typically, this means something at least as wide as a compact car. If an item is wide, it gains Accuracy +2 (on top of any stunt dice being awarded).
Sharp: The item has a sharp edge, so it slices rather than bludgeons. It does +2L damage.
Pointy: It has one or more very sharp points, and is used to pierce the foe. This does +2L and has the effect of the Piercing Tag on the weapon chart (meaning armor is halved). The effects of Sharp and Pointy are not cumulative - Pointy overrides Sharp.
Massive: Mass increases inertia which can result in greater damage. Massive is a little different from the other Tags in that it includes a numeric code. For objects that way 5001bs to 1700lbs, add +1 die of damage due to the mass. This could be recorded as Massive1d. For even more massive objects, assume that the minimum Epic Strength required to lift the item becomes the number of bonus levels of damage that item does when swung as a weapon. The shorthand for this tag is MassiveX where X is the Epic Strength required to lift the item.
If you're unsure the mass of an item, a good list can be found here. That list includes as it's first column the Minimum Epic Strength requirement.
And yes, this is intentionally a very small bonus. Most of the damage in swinging a vehicle at someone is done by your Epic Strength. Deliberately pinning someone under a huge item will use a slightly different system, detailed in another post.
And now for the three penalizing/negative tags: Fragile, Awkward, and Soft
Fragile: Items made of glass, paper, unreinforced dry wood, etc, will tend to break when swung with Epic Strength. Any item labeled as Fragile by the GM will break the first time it deals damage. When that happens it loses the Long or Wide tag (if it has both, the player may choose which one it loses on the first hit), and if it has the Massive tag the bonus damage dice it adds are permanently reduced by half. If it already had none of those tags, the item breaks apart into bits.
Awkward: If an item weighs more than 1/2 of the maximum weight your character can lift as a Feat of Strength (see the chart on page 181 of Scion: Hero) then it is considered Awkward for him or her to use. Alternately, an item that is extremely poorly balanced or annoying flexible and spineless may be ruled Awkward by the GM. If that is the case, the item is used as a Speed: 6 attack, and has Defense -2 penalizing your parry DV.
Soft: An improvised weapon that is soft and yielding, such as a pillow, does lesser damage. In such an instance, you roll five fewer dice. Only threshold successes and superhuman strength (whether mundane at 6+ or actual Epic Strength) will cause damage in these situations.
Implementing the system is pretty easy: the GM can just keep a list on their screen (not using a screen, I'll keep them on a note card) as simple as
"Long:+2Defense,If a character relies on the same item again and again, you can record the relevant data on their character sheet.
Don't forget the stunt dice!"
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Progress on my Weirdyssey mod for Weird Worlds has been slow. Partly, that's due to some debugging issues, and partly it's because I've returned to Oilpainting, which eats a lot of time.
To spur myself on, I thought I'd put a minor preview item here. For your viewing pleasure, here's the crew of the Weirdyssey...
Monday, October 29, 2007
If you're interested, stay tuned to this blog, as I'm sure to post a link.
Speaking of links, sorry about the boring lameness of the Nomic link above. While actual games of Nomic tend to be riotous and freeform, for some reason websites about them always look dry and encyclopedic. Trust me, the game is / can be an incredible blast, akin to Blank White Cards, Fluxx, or Calvinball.
Since we were hanging with old friends of the neither-frightening-nor-easily-frightened variety, I made a few cards I'd always wanted to do, but had never felt they'd be appropriate. I was pleasantly surprised that not a single R-rated (or more severe) moment occurred in the game, unless you count what happened to that drawing of the yellow submarine. The trick seems to be to include escape clauses in your more potentially embarrassing cards, such as "...that player chooses between swapping clothes or swapping seats and cards." You still get the humor and the tension effects, but without anyone doing anything they'll really regret later. It's a hoot. And before Jeremy asks: "For the last time, we're not swingers!"
Friday, October 26, 2007
Edit: I have a system worked out, and have since posted it. Click on the ImprovisedWeapons label to see everthing I've written on this topic.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Other than one brief, half-hearted, return trip, the underground city was largely left untouched. However, for the rest of the campaign, the main villain was the various incarnations of the kingly ghost and the other blights and horrors they'd set loose upon the world.
I recruited Micah, a buddy from work, to play the big-bad. His character sheet was just a possessed human with no pulse, tons of Willpower, and immunity to Dominate. Purely defensive capabilities. Incredibly weak in combat. Any player character could have torn him limb from limb at very little risk to themselves.
He crashed Elysium and they all accepted him as a recently un-torpored Caitiff, thinking he was a PC not NPC. It was fairly big news because this game was set in the late 1800's, and he was the first vampire anyone had met that didn't have a discernable clan. But Caitiff is a normal part of the default World of Darkness, so everybody assumed that's what he was.
I told Micah:
"You don't get XP normally. Instead, every session that you do something patently evil in front of at least one PC and live to tell the tale, I'll give you another power appropriate to a Baali or Demon. We'll start with a single level-one discipline and move up if you last."After a few sessions, Micah brought a small wooden box to the LARP and started carrying it around, in-character, every session. He refused to say what was in it. Everyone who was on to him now assumed his character's soul must be in the box, but it was just to distract and divert them.
"If they're smart, they'll ferret you out and grease you in a session or two. If not, you'll eventually grow powerful enough to destroy them all and end my campaign."
When finally they took action against him, he was so sickly overpowered. He flung green demon fire all over the place, and used uber corruption powers to make them fight themselves or hit a fear-frenzy. In the midst of this very lethal battle PCs blew actions trying to capture, destroy or steal the meaningless wooden box. That fact alone bought him at least 3 more rounds of combat. He was doing Agg damage left and right and holding his own against 12 or 15 PCs till finally he ran out of Willpower to fuel his big Disciplines. Without the big flashy powers, he went down very suddenly and (to the PCs) unexpectedly.
In the free dialog accompanying his last few actions he revealed that he was the spirit that they'd set free months ago. At the end of the night, we made it painfully clear they could have nipped this in the bud before he ever became a threat.
So they kept digging. Despite cave-ins. Despite random follower deaths. Despite followers suddenly getting religious and deserting them.
Eventually, they found a cavern with a black river that killed the ghoul who touched it. At the opposite bank was what looked like an old city wall.
So they hauled boats down there. Undead monsters attacked and tried to pull them under. They fought them off and crossed it. The gates were sealed. They get some other PCs to help them, and came back to smash the gates open. I ask "Who has Awareness and Auspex. Okay. You get a creepy feeling."
So folks activate Auspex, and they can see ghosts escaping the city through the newly broken seal. Not sure what to make of it, the PCs head further in, Auspex still going.
After a few blocks, there's another gate, also sealed. They break it open. Now a powerful-looking spirit struts forward, all dressed in kingly regalia. He non-chalantly grabs other ghosts every few steps, rips them open and sucks out their juicy ectoplasmic centers. The PCs try to interact with him, but can't. He walks out of the city and across the surface of the black river without a word.
The PCs keep delving deeper. Gate after gate, seal after seal, getting deeper into the city, and then into a huge temple, and then into the temples inner chambers. There was lots more detail, but let's skip ahead. Eventually I said "So, now you're standing before the 6th Seal. Do you open that one too?"
Everybody swallows hard. They ask, "Did you say THE SIXTH SEAL?" All but 2 PCs immediately flee to the surface.
The other two break open this seal. "Behind it is a room lit by four flaming pillars, angelic in their beauty. Since you can see them, take a level of Agg and make a Courage test."
One PC passed the test and stood his ground. "Behind their heavenly trumpets, you can see a 7th gate with a 7th Seal. Take another Agg and another Courage test. What do you do?"
Eventually, he bails. With a lot of Agg damage and no Willpower left. If he'd made one more courage test, it could have been game over. I love giving players more power then they can handle.
A PC had spent over a year of game time trying to make up with his estranged NPC mother.
Doing all sorts tasks and quests on mom's behalf...
Learning how to shapeshift into human form so the sight of him wouldn't reminder her of the traumatic events of her youth...
Killing all of mom's enemies...
Keeping all of mom's secrets hidden, despite lots of in-game time spent figuring out the deceptions in the first place...
Fetching the most powerful artifact in the universe, and giving it to mom...
So there they stand at the edge of the Primal Pattern (the magical scribble that defines and sustains the entire universe).
Son apologizes for everything he's done wrong in the past. He enumerates all the things he's done trying to get her love back. The roleplaying was really, really moving.
They embrace. Mom says "I forgive you. Do you forgive me?" He's distracted by the emotion of it all.
She steps back, and the PC sees the bloody knife in her hand. His throat gurgles.
Not only did she kill him, but his "divine" blood flows across and obliterates the Primal Pattern, unraveling the universe so Mom could create a new reality WHERE HE WAS NEVER BORN.
Gotta hand it to Starr, the player of the character that had just been outmaneuvered and murdered. Eyes bulging...
"After all that, she killed me! THAT'S SO COOL! I should of known she'd do that."I asked Starr to be my co-GM in the next campaign I ran, as we clearly had similar ideas about what makes a good story.
Someone feels guns are seriously underpowered in the game, so they post a "solution". (I use quotation marks, because it's only a solution, if you think there's a problem. If you're okay with guns being less impressive than battle-axes, then there's no prob, ergo no solution needed). Often the proposal goes too far, making guns better than melee weapons. This provokes a response from another poster, typically someone who plays a melee-based character who's envious of the more streamlined gun-wielding PC in their group. And then they argue. Heck, sometimes I give in to my baser emotions and argue on forums too. It gets ugly.
The math behind weapons in Scion is roughly summarized as follows...
Guns have a set number of damage dice, and rely only on your Dexterity stat. Melee weapons, in the other hand, use strength to augment damage.
In the early stages, when strength values are fairly low, that's a pretty balanced system. You'll do more damage toe-to-toe than you will at a range, but aiming bonuses and being several yards away from the Nemean Cobra is a good thing. Also, with only one stat affecting your attacks, it's much easier to build a focused character and get full value for your XP and Bonus Points. Let's examine a starting character, Legend 2 with one dot in all Epic Attributes, and 5's in mundane Dexterity and Strength, and 3's in Marksmanship and Melee.
They fire a rifle. Their average attack roll is 5.5 successes, or 7 if they spent 3 ticks aiming. Average damage roll is 4 successes.
They swing an axe. Their average attack roll is 4.5 successes. Average damage roll is 7 successes.
Thanks to the system that turns overflow successes on attack rolls turn into extra damage dice, the rifle actually performs a little better than those numbers indicate. It probably trails the axe by only 1 points of damage when all is said and done. Sniping, shooting on the run, etc can make the Rifle feel a lot more versatile and keep enemies from ever hitting you. If you'd made a non-physical character with lower strength, the rifle would still do the same damage but the axe would drop off. At starting level, that Remington's pretty good.
But later on, melee trumps range. There's this thing called Epic Strength, and it adds Automatic Successes to your damage in melee. There's just no equivalent for guns. Let's look a Legend 8 character, with all their traits maxed out for Demigod Status.
They fire a rifle. Their average attack roll is 30 successes, 33 if they spent 3 ticks aiming, since we'll assume they took the Knack that doubles the Aim bonus. Average damage roll is 4 successes.
They swing an axe. Their average attack roll is 29 successes. Average damage roll is 30 successes.
Even with threshold successes from exceeding the attack roll difficulty, that rifle will do 24 fewer levels of damage (than the axe will) per hit.
Now, admittedly, that's a pretty stilted example, since we maxed the characters traits in everything. More realistic might be to compare two characters, one who spreads his XP between the three traits relevant to Melee (Strength, Dexterity and Stamina) and one who just focuses on Epic Dex to boost their gun...
Relative levels of Epic Dex is likely the biggest factor. It makes you hit more often, makes you less likely to be hit, and adds damage in the form of Threshold successes. But the total math that goes into who wins is really complicated. It depends on how you built your character, how you spend your XP, and what Legend you're at.
Basically, the gunbunny wins if they focus entirely, just raising Legend and Epic Dex. If they can keep both above the corresponding trait of the melee guy, and aimed-snipe or shoot while running away, they'll win.
But the melee guy has the advantage of being able to raise Dex and Strength. Since raising your weakest stat is cheaper than raising your highest, he'll be able to boost something every session or two. He won't hit as often, but he'll connect for a lot more damage when he hits. The fact that he gets hit more often can be mitigated by the ability to spend points on Epic Stamina as well.
Over the long term, the melee guy just raises whatever is currently their weakest relevant stat, favoring Dex slightly to keep the gun person trapped in an arms race. The gun guy needs to stay above him in Dex, so they have to raise Legend, and both Mundane and Epic Dex, to stay on top. The gunner keeps getting more accurate, but that doesn't mean the exact same thing as more damaging. The melee dude does both, but not to the accuracy extremes of his counterpart.
Who's actually more deadly will flip-flop from session to session based on exact levels of Legend, Dex, and XP.
In a nutshell, whenever the gunner raises their Epic Dex, they'll retake the lead for several sessions until the melee person incrementally catches up.
Whenever their Legend and Epic Dex are equal, the melee guy is more powerful because of the increased damage from Epic Strength, especially at Demigod levels.
Eventually, that Strength (and more importantly, high Soak) may make the gun completely pointless. At that point, it's gonna totally suck to discover your character can no longer compete via their divine handgun unless they use it to pistol-whip.
In the setting, it makes perfect sense - when you can run faster than a bullet (and use a skyscraper as a club) you're just going to be a lot more deadly than a bullet.
As far as mechanics go, it's the kind of thing that would have been better if it had been spelled out clearly in character creation. 16-point font, top of a page:
"Guns are superior at Legend 2, but become useless at Legend 7. If you plan to play this character for a long time, put your relic dots in a Axe, not a Rifle."If it had said that, this wouldn't be such a hot-button topic on the Scion forums.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Then Sunday, Sarah and I went for dinner at Beth's with Amy and Kevin. While there, we kept talking about Werewolf. It's pretty typical, as the game is so lively it's on your mind for the next day or two. In that conversation, we were talking of hunters and seers and witches and star-crossed lovers and other roles that keep townsfolk and werewolves from getting stale. And Kevin said something to the effect of:
"there should be a role that's like a terrorist or something, and if they die, they blow up the people sitting next to them."
My eyes bulged. I told him to expect something along those lines on my blog in the coming week, along with due credit to him for coming up with the initial idea. As we talked, we roughly sketched out two different versions of the role. I typed them up, and intended to post them here. But in the process of looking for a good rule page to link to, I found they already exist. Look under "Killing Roles" and read about "The Human Torch". Sorry, Kevin, some unknown person beat us both to the punch. But man, there's a lot of roles there. Might just have to print that out and bring it to Tindalos.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Sessions alternated: every-other-session was Elysium, with the in-between sessions being built of various scenes derived from player's actions.
In addition, we started every session with "Story Time", short vignettes to illustrate plot points that might have otherwise occurred off-camera. Major NPC comes to town - herald the arrival in Story Time. Important character died where only a couple players were witness - restage it in Story Time. More craziness unleashed at the evil haunted clock tower - Story Time it is. We also let players run Story Time segments, which was a delight but also a double-edged sword.
The game was a lot of fun, and way too much work. So much work, in fact, that I have a file on my computer full of ideas for things I'd do differently should I decide to start a LARP again. The name of that file is "If I Am Ever Stupid Again". It was like a second job that only paid in Clanbooks.
One of the hallmarks of the game was that we were always throwing curveballs and willing to take the story anywhere. We intentionally transformed nearly all the secrets of the Vampire: The Masquerade setting. That way the players would never be tempted to use out-of-character info gleaned from reading every WoD book ever published.
The Salubri were the badguys, Tremere had hunted them down to stop their apocalyptic magic. The Giovanni were possessed pawns of their ghostly masters. The Camarilla and Sabbat did not exist - there was a Guild that brokered passage between city-states, but a Prince was truly King of his city. We used old-school pre-Viccissitude Tzimisce. European Werewolves were Mad Scientists and Rail Barons, laying down track to steal the Chi of the new world. Native American were-coyotes were pretty prevelant, and at war with the European weres.
The players kept disregarding the masquerade, especially around the haunted clock tower in town square. One session, after a particularly bad breach of the masquerade (involving vampires, werewolves, ghosts, a kholdunic elemental, and a machinegun), the people who actually tried to solve the problem didn't coordinate and used such conflicting methods that they just made things worse. What to do?
We didn't just send hunters after them. We'd done that before, it would have been stale.
There was no Camarilla, so there was no one to enforce the Masquerade, either. The Guild could cut all Vampiric transit to the city, but that limits the concepts available for new PCs. And it's just not as scary as Anathema and Bloodhunt, or being judged by your superiors. We needed something new, and every bit as scary as the Camarilla "breathing" down your necks. But I also wanted it to empower the PCs as much as it punished them.
Instead I interrupted their next Elysium with a pre-recorded "radio" broadcast from the Prince of Mexico City.
He said "In light of the newspapers coming from Albuquerque, there's no use pretending Vampires don't exist anymore. Therefore, I am declaring myself Emperor over all of Mexico. By the power of my blood I have raised a shroud over Mexico City. The sun will never rise on my beloved home again. People of Mexico fear not, I will protect you from the mad monsters of Albuquerque."
The one player whose character was the Ambassador from Mexico City had a very rough night.
Friday, October 19, 2007
The Scion game system is packed with powers that paralyze, delay, or limit actions. Serpent's Gaze, Overt Order, Charmer or Center of Attention can be taken by any PC for approximately 1 session's worth of experience. They're just as acccessible to the NPC badguys, but be careful. Here's a precautionary tale of powers gone bad...
In an early session of my Scion Campaign, my PCs fought a Medusa. In Scion, Medusas don't turn you to stone when you look at them, but they do cause supernatural fear that can paralyze you or make you flee. I didn't think it'd be a problem, 'cause the fight was planned to be staged in a multi-room suite, and making someone flee to the next room or stay transfixed till the Medusan left the room would be no big deal. But instead, the players didn't really understand the power being used against them, so they slammed the doors between the rooms closed and barricaded them. Which left a paralyzed PC in the same room as the monster. He was effectively out of the game for over half and hour because of the other player's tactical decisions, but for the most part he took it very well.
"I'll never let that happen again," I said loudly at the start of the next session. "If I ever use a paralysis -based power again, I'll make sure there's an easy way out, like spending a willpower to cancel it." (Such a provision is written into the default rules of Scion, by the way, but it's specifically overruled in the write-up for Medusas - you can only spend the Willpower if you beat the Medusa's roll). I gave him an XP bonus for taking it so well that night.
Several sessions later, the PCs were up against Chupacabra, and thier boss the Luchacabra.
I gave the Chups the Serpent's Gaze power, which captivates and effectively paralyzes a PC while the Chupacabra is looking at them. However, a PC can spend a Willpower point to break out of it after missing a single action. (That rule is NOT overwritten in the creature I made). PCs usually start with around 8 WillPower, and have a few ways to get WP back in middle of combat, so it shouldn't have been a problem.
There were two chupacabra encounters set up: one against a lone chupacabra, and one against a group of them. The first was a test - if it went poorly I'd trim the second encounter back significantly.
Chupacabra pops up, zaps a PC. Before that one action has gone by, the other 2 PCs throw everything they have into killing the Chupacabra. It dies in 3 ticks, without the "affected" PC every actually missing an action, but of course I'd narrated that he'd looked hypnotized for a moment. In fact, since initiating the Serpent's Gaze had cost the chupacabra an action, it really was the same effect as if the PC had stunned the chupacabra and not the other way around.
Later, the 2nd Encounter happens. 10 chupacabra vs 4 PCs and 6NPCs. The PCs were sure to break free easily (and breaking free makes you immune vs that chupacabra), and since it took an average of 2 attack rolls (not 2 hits, 2 attacks) to kill a chupacabra, it should have been fast and painless. The idea was that the Chups would look really scary for about 5 ticks (ie: 1 action or 1 round of combat) and then as soon as I prompted a PC that they could spend a willpower to be immune, the tension would go out of the scene.
Paralyzing for 1 action cost the chupacabra an action and 1/4 their Legend resource. Mathematically, the only way the PCs could be out of the fight was if 8 out of 10 chupacabras managed to make eye contact with them in succession and the PC never did anything to gain Willpower, and that wasn't going to happen since 5 out 10 chups were busy holding the NPC followers hypnotically hostage.
No real danger. A slaughter, but in a good way: The PCs couldn't lose that fight.
It was going to be fun.
Instead, I had a rebellion on my hands. Players actually said "we should just quit for the night and go home" and that wasn't a strategic statement of what their characters should do. Fear of the unknown just jumped in. No matter what I said, they seemed to assume the scenario was rigged to kill them.
What blows my mind, is this wasn't a random convention game. These were people who've played my campaigns for years. I rarely kill characters, less than one a year on average, and when it happens it's due to major plot points not random mooks. I've never "scored a TPK". And we were playing a game that's mostly about making the PCs look hot. They should have trusted me. Worst case scenario, if the dice had hated them, would have been waking up later in a cage the chupacabra had built and having to figure out how to escape.
I just don't know what happened. Suddenly, I was paralyzed. It got so out of hand I actually shouted "I need to take a 5 minute break right now or I'm going to start killing characters!" I don't say things like that, not in the last 10 years anyway. I felt like I'd fallen through a rift to 1987 and was gaming with my fellow 13-year-olds from across the street. There's some serious soul-searching ahead of me, I suspect.
To my friends: I'm sorry I over-reacted. Sometimes I get too invested. This was one of those times. But sheesh, next time, please try to lighten up too. I'm not out to kill your characters, I'm out to make them look good. It is Scion, after all.
Then all of sudden, the fog blew in. It came out of nowhere, and obliterated the view from my 4th-story window.
My balcony ceased to exist.
The only thing visible was millions of tiny drops of water hitting the window, like a firehose into a spinning industrial-fan aimed at the camera. And the sound of those infinitely small drops striking the glass grew to such a crescendo, it sounded like the golfball-sized hailstorms of my youth in MN, pounding off the windows and walls. Yet by sight, it was clearly just atoms of Seattle drizzle. They were thrown with such force it seemed supernatural.
And then a minute later it was gone and all was clear.
Somewhere, in a plateau where Kolvir should be, the Pattern had been redrawn. I wonder what's changed out there. I wonder if it's safe for me to go outside and look...
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
In an hour, a character who is jogging or walking briskly can cover a distance in miles equal to the lesser of their (Stamina) or (2 x (Dexterity)). That figure assumes overland / uneven ground.
You keep full speed for hours equal to your (0.5x(Stamina+Fortitude)), then speed goes down by 1 mph, and a further 1 mph per two additional hours until you get some sleep. If your Stamina is 1 and you have no Fortitude, you won't even get the first mile, because the rules for Fatigue will make you stop for a break after 30 minutes.
Therefore, a typical mortal with all Attributes at 2 covers just 2 miles in an hour. This matches Tommy Lee Jones assertion in The Fugitive, which is as close to real-world accuracy as I feel compelled to strive. The most infirm human moves 1/2 a mile and stops, but the best Athelete (5's in both Attributes) moves 5 miles per hour overland.
On a closed professional track or flat stretch of road it becomes easier to sustain running speed and thereby derive benefit from training. In that case, use the lesser of (Stamina + Fortitude) or (2 x (Dexterity + Athletics)) in miles per hour. This formula generates real-world marathon times.
In all the above cases, I'd allow Epic Attributes to count as though their automatic successes were extra dots of the Attribute. So, a Legend 4 Scion with maximum traits can move 9 miles in an hour over broken ground or 14 miles an hour marathoning. Also, as per page 129 of Scion: Hero, a character with Epic Stamina can keep up the overland or marathon pace for a number of consecutive DAYS equal to their Stamina+Fortitude.
Clock speed for short bursts are determined by your Move and Dash rates in combat. Each yard per tick works out to roughly 2 mph. So the slowest PC can hit 14mph for short stretches.
The math used to determine these formulas will be located in the comments on this post, where it can be found by those who are interested, but doesn't make the main post run interminably long.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Teeming with Life is a mod that adds several new alien lifeforms, mostly nonsentient, to the game. It also develops existing lifeforms (from the main game) in new directions. Various non-sentient lifeforms such as the Fuzzy Lummox, the Piranha Bee, and the Megamoeba get new spins and become integral to new quests. We also get to see a new caste of Muktian society.
I had two goals when designing Teeming With Life. The first goal to increase the impact and importance of lifeforms in the game. Many of the lifeforms in the game start out new and exciting the first couple times you play, but become just "cheap stuff that doesn't do anything" after your 20th game. This mod adds new uses to various lifeforms to spice that up a bit. You never know what can happen if you keep that dreamsnake in your cargo hold.
The other goal was to make a mod that has great replayability. You shouldn't feel that you've seen all there is to a mod after two or three games. One thing I did to ensure that was to add multiple versions of nearly every new Quest I introduced in the mod. Certain lifeforms can be incredibly helpful in one game, and downright dangerous the next. I even added new versions of one or two quests from the main game to breathe new life into them. This is a mod you'll want to play again and again.
You can download Teeming With Life v1.2 at the Shrapnel forums. To do so, click on the link in the previous sentence, then click on the attachment link on the first post of the forum thread it takes you to. And, of course, you'll need a copy of Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space to play it.
Monday, October 15, 2007
So, there's this place called The Pike Market. It's that place with flying fish and the big neon sign that shows up repeatedly in any movie or tv show set in Seattle. Not as well known as the space needle, but still not exactly unheard of.
It's a produce market, it's the coolest strip mall in the world, it's a historical district, and it's an underground maze. In my Scion campaign, it was built by Dwarves, who were forced to do so by Giants, after they'd burnt down the city as part of a plan 100 years ago to break an Ogdoad out of prison. Current occupants include the above, plus Frozen Flying Fish, a Minotaur, and a fey named Puck'O'Pike.
It's a big complicated, convoluted maze. And it's clearly enchanted - both in reality and in my campaign. The stores are strange, and not just because of funky products, clientele, or employees. Stores move, changing their floors, swapping their places. Signs on doors say "enter this shop by the second stairway to the right". Multiple buildings are connected underground. Certain sections on the same floor are only connected by going up or down stairs and then coming back by a different route. Maps posted on the walls and pillars are intentionally incorrect, and often upside down. The further down you get the more random things become. There's a wall covered with about a million pieces of previously chewed bubblegum. You can literally set out to discover a new shop every visit, and you will. Good luck finding them again next time. There's an exit where the Sanitary Market is two stories higher than it is from any other angle - like entire floors only exist when observed from certain directions. Words can't describe it.
Two days ago, in the real world, Sarah and I got into an elevator there. The buttons were labeled "I", "PA" and "-1". We pushed "PA". It let us out on an alleyway. and then locked us out. I'm not kidding. Seriously, dumped out on the street. Had to walk around the building to get back in.
In my campaign I supplemented the existing shops of every description, oddity and ethnicity with a Egypto-Roman Slave Market, a humidor run by an animated wooden Indian, "Gettysburg Submarine Sandwiches and Civil War Souvenirs", an all-Lovecraft bookstore, a dwarven mine, and a place called Cyclopean Cutlery. The further down you get, the more supernatural the stores become. To defeat the mind-altering enchantment of the place and successfully get to the lowest levels requires a really good Wits + Survival roll and/or the Psychopomp Purview.
Friday, October 12, 2007
My rant will start with number crunching, but get into design theory and philosophy before I'm done. The part where numbers turn into theory will be marked by a picture of Odysseus amongst the stars - why, 'cause it's a picture I can conveniently upload. And it gives a visual clue to those who want to skip the parts of my rant that deal with math and the specifics of the Scion RPG experience system.
Where it begins: Some RPGs use point-based character creation systems. In the abstract, it's my preferred character gen ideology, since it gives so many options to the player. However, sometimes the execution has problems...
Often times that problem is that the system uses a different type of point for character creation and character advancement. If it was just semantics, two functionally identical points with the same name, it would be perhaps a tad silly but not troublesome. The issue comes when the points work differently.
Let's look at Scion, a game I love and am having a blast GMing/Storytelling. In Scion, you get multiple types of points. First there's "dots" that you get in various categories, such as Attributes and Epic Attributes or Boons. Then you get "bonus points" that can be used to buy things from any of those categories at the end of character creation. And later you get "experience points" at the end of each session. Even later, if you become a Demigod, you get a second round of "dots" and additional "bonus points". Dots vary by category and occasion, bonus points come in a cluster of 15, and xp arrives about 4 to 6 per session.
Raising an Attribute from level 2 to 3 costs 1 dot, 4 bonus points, or 8 xp.
Raising an Attribute from level 4 to 5 also costs 1 dot or 4 bonus points, or it costs 16 xp.
Note that it's the same cost in dots or bonus points, but double the cost in xp.
Conclusion #1: Mechanically, you're encouraged to raise your most important attributes only at character creation and ascension to Demigodhood. But the attributes that only matter a little to your character concept you can put at really low during character creation and then bump up to mid-level with xp.
Conclusion #2: Effectively you get a price break if you focus heavily at character creation and then use xp to just cover your self-inflicted weaknesses. If you had to choose between having three attributes at 2, 2 and 5 or having them both all at level 3, you're better off going with 2, 2, and 5. It will save you xp in the long run.
Epic Attributes do the same thing:
Epic level 0 to 1 costs 1 dot, 4 - 5 bonus points, or 8 - 10 xp
Epic level 1 to 2 costs 1 dot, 4 - 5 bonus points, or 4 - 5 xp.
Epic level 2 to 3 costs 1 dot, 4 - 5 bonus points, or 8 - 10 xp.
Conclusion #3: Conclusions 1 and 2 also applies to Epic Attributes.
Conclusion #4: Since getting to 1 from 0 costs more xp than getting from 1 to 2, you are also encouraged to take at least one level in any Epic you plan on ever being interested in. Doing so saves you 4-5 xp, which is about an entire session's worth.
Conclusion #5: At the end of character creation, each Epic should be rated at 0 or 3, rarely at 1, and never at 2 (0 if you'll never be interested in it, 3 if you plan to use it at all, and 1 only if you really wanted it at a 3 but ran out of points to get there).
But there's this other category of powers called Boons.
A level 1 Boon costs 1 dot, 4-5 bonus points, or 4 - 5 xp
A level 2 Boon costs 2 dots, 8-10 bonus points, or 8 - 10 xp
A level 3 Boon cost 3 dots, 12-15 bonus points, or 12 - 15 xp
Note that while dot cost remains in ratio with bonus point cost and xp cost.
Conclusion #6: Conclusions 1 through 4 don't apply to Boons. There's no way to get an effective xp break on Boons. If you had to choose between three level 1 Boons and one level 3 Boon, either is an equally good choice from a point of xp. So, you'd choose based on personal desire for one big flashy power or the versatility of multiple little powers.
Now's where it gets interesting. Epics and Boons come out of the same pool of Dots. Let's compare them:
Epic level 0 to 3 costs 3 dots, 12 - 15 bonus points, or 20 - 25 xp.
A level 3 Boon cost 3 dots, 12-15 bonus points, or 12 - 15 xp.
Note the same cost in dots or bonus points, but Epics cost nearly twice as much in xp / Boons cost just over half as much in xp.
Conclusion #7: Mechanically, your best move is to spend all those dots on Epics. Leave the Boons for your experience points later. Provided you eventually get them all to the same level, doing so saves you 8-10 xp (nearly two session's worth) for each Epic you buy at character creation instead of a Boon.
So, conclusions paraphrase: Your best call during character creation is focus on a few high Attributes and a few high Epics. Leave everything else at their starting/base level. You should never buy Boons with dots or bonus points, only with XP.
Conclusion #8 (Drawn from that paraphrase): Focused, narrowly specialized characters will eventually be much better than jack-of-all-trades generalists. They have vulnerabilities if the opening sessions of the campaign, but they will compensate for them much faster (for fewer xp) than the generalist evenly spent PC will be able to catch up with the specialists best moves and powers.
(For those who scrolled down to this picture to start, what you missed is an in-depth analysis of the Scion RPG experience and character creation systems, some quirks in said systems, and how to maximize your character by drawing conclusion from those quirks) The rest is observations, theory and philosophy...
In my experience, players will generally fall into one of three categories:
Category A: "I made those conclusions the first time I looked at the Scion rulebook. My character is all the better for it. I'm here to game."
Category B: "I made those conclusions at some point, but had a cool character concept that was fun to play even if it meant a few suboptimal decisions at character creation. I'm okay with lagging behind in XP because my character does really neat things right out of the gate and is a lot of fun to play. I'm here to roleplay."
Category C: "I'll never notice. All this math isn't my thing. I'm here to have fun."
Now, I wish everyone fell into category B. Oh, the games we'd have then! But my experience is that the real distribution amongst gamers is 45% A, 30% C, and only 25% B. And that's after years of gaming and self-selecting my gaming groups.
Back when I was in junior high, and only 3 people in town role-played, it was a very clear 33%A, 66%C, 0%B breakdown. For the record, I was group C. And when I figured out that one person in our little clique was Type A, I was pretty rude to him. "Point Weasel" was I called him, but I think "Munchkin" and "Twink" are the accepted (but no less harsh) terms these days.
But I wasn't being fair. (And wherever you are, dude, my apologies) The game system we were using had the same flaws, I just couldn't see them yet. He did, and he took advantage of it. The books were (and generally are) written to reward you for figuring out the math behind the systems, but that math is almost never (in the books) put into language that could possibly make a Type C player get it. That language, in Scion, would have been something along the lines of my 8 conclusions, above. Just conclusion #8 and the paraphrase directly preceeding it would have done it. 2 extra paragraphs added to a 330-page book would have benefited hundreds of gamers.
The same thing is what contributes to the main criticisms of D&D 3.x and the OGL. All those feats and prestige classes and 3rd-party supplements mean you min-max and penny-pinch or tweak your character for days.
The Category A's think there's nothing wrong with it, and the rulebooks clearly agree with them. For a subset of this Category, figuring out how to get the most out of the system is part of the fun.
The Category C's often think it's cheating, and many get as rude as I used to about it. Even if they don't call it cheating, it'll often rip the fun out of the game for them, because they don't want to crunch numbers, they want to play and socialize.
The Category B's can go either way. Some will be happy with a character that's fun and unique, and others will slowly grow resentful of their Cat A buddies till it wrecks the group.
Nowadays, I'm pretty clearly in the B category. Concept is most important to me, but I'll analyze a system to make sure there's nothing that's really holding my character back. If I notice something (like the above 8 conclusions) before character creation is done, I'll point them out to the rest of the group.
After character creation, it's a lot less useful, but I still get pretty offended at the subset of Category A players who horde the secrets of the system to themselves. Sometimes it's about ego, they want to have the most powerful PC at the table. Sometimes it's about not trusting the GM, pulling a fast one because your so fearful the GM will kill your character.
But the thing I need to keep in mind is that most of the time, for most of the Cat A's, it's a much more innocent reason: "Huh, that looks like it might be better. I'll try it out. If it proves to be really broken, everybody will notice and the GM will house-rule it. But if turns out just a little better than my other options were, then nobody gets hurt and it's all a-o-k. Next time we're making characters, since I'll know how well it works by then, I can tell everybody about it."
The game that opened my eyes was 7th Sea. We were several hours into character creation for the first time, and everyone was nearly done but me. We were all really tired. I was trying to decide whether or not I really could stretch my points to be both a Swordsman and a Full-Blooded Mage. Weighing it in my mind, I decided to look at the XP charts to see how long it'd take me to regain things I might cut from my character sheet to make room for it. Suddenly I realized that the base Swordsman and Mage placeholders were all I needed, that and the Attribute called Panache. All the Advanced Knacks dropped off the character sheet, 'cause I'd get them all cheaper by experience a couple sessions down the road. Sure, I'd roll less dice in the first few combats, but since Panache let me act so quickly, it'd be sure to hit at least once a round. It was late, I was tired, and I didn't think to explain this to my fellow players, who had already finished their characters.
Three sessions later people were pissed at me (And here's another apology, for a different group of people: Sorry I didn't speak up the night we made our characters, I really should have) because I got twice as many actions as them, had made up for most of their initial dice lead, and had Magic and Swordsman tricks too. I felt horrible, but it was too late to do anything about it.
My advice to game designers and developers: the lessons to be taken from this are ones that Monte Cooke has already called out a couple years back. I'm mostly seconding what he said. We need to step down from our Ivory Towers and meet the people. We need to make sure the character creation sections of our rulebooks include simple approachable statements about the math behind our game systems. We need to ensure it's possible to get the most out of your character without 2 hours of math and multiple thorough reads of the rulebook.
Don't worry too much about losing those for whom the dissecting of the rules is a big part of the fun. We can still debate the merits of whether an low-damage area-effect power is better than a high-damage single-target ability. And you can make the high-end powers (that starting characters don't get) have all the depth and subtlety that requires analysis - by the time a player gets to worrying about those they're pretty invested in the game and already know what they're doing.
Make sure the most basic math of your system is spelled out where (and in a way that) the non-scientists can get their hands on it. It'll improve everyone's first experience with your game. Thanks.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
I'm considering dusting off my old "DnD Elimidate" (aka elimiDnDate) scenario to run at GwenCon next year. The question is, will I run it as-is, being rules-lite version of 3.5 DnD, or will I buy the 4.0 books when they come out next summer and try to convert it before GwenCon? It's a tough call, since designers and developers of 4th Ed could end up playing it.
As I was looking "DnD Elimidate" over, I found the original brainstorming list that lead to it.
The following are potential DnD-meets-Reality-TV scenarios, submitted for your amusement...
"Fey Eye for the Goblin Guy"
"Who Wants To Inflict Their Template On My Daddy?"
"My Big Fat Undead Fiance"
"Amish In The Dungeon"
"The Apprentice" starring Eliminster (instead of The Donald or his wig)
and the one I'd be most likely to run after DnD Elimidate:
"Aberrations Gone Wild" (PCs play the camera crew trying to convince the Beholders and Mindflayers to get naked)
With that in mind, here's a Knack I'd posted to the Scion Wiki a little over a week ago.
For those not familiar with the Scion RPG, "Knacks" are a type of power accessible to any PC and most NPCs very cheaply, provided they have attained Epic levels in the corresponding Attribute. Knacks are very useful, cost about 1 average session's experience award, and are few in number. So they're one of the most popular places to expand the game with new content.
Friends Everywhere (Charisma Knack)
The Scion is so charismatic, he or she has friends everywhere. Once per scene, the character's player may spend a Legend to cause a (seemingly-random) NPC friend to enter the location. The storyteller is the final arbiter of who arrives and under what circumstances, but the NPC is generally always inclined to be helpful to the PC and at least useful in some minor or tangential fashion. The player can make a suggestion which NPC they'd like right now, but the GM is under no obligation to fulfill their request.
More often than not this should bring some existing fatebound NPC, typically a mortal. But, if the Storyteller feels so inclined, they can of course sometimes have friends of a supernatural nature show up, such as Followers or Guides. The GM can also improvise and introduce a new NPC, such as old high school chums or "your waitress from an off-camera scene two nights ago, you'd left her a really good tip and she remembers you".
You don't generally have to fear the GM using this to grease your NPC buddies or take them hostage before they can do anything. The summoned NPC has script immunity until the end of the scene or until they've done something useful or helpful (such as giving a clue or putting in a good word on your behalf), whichever comes first.
That said, only a sadistic or masochistic PC would use this knack in exceptionally dangerous places. If used in heart of a volcano, the NPC could start taking environmental damage as soon as they've served a beneficial purpose. If used in the villain's dungeon, the NPC might arrive as a fellow prisoner. If used in the underworld, you may find a ghost of a dead childhood friend shows up to help you. The Storyteller is encouraged to be clever.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
You can download a free demo of Weird Worlds by clicking here. I highly recommend it.
It's a sci-fi game that takes about 10-45 minutes to play, depending on how large a star map you set it for and whether or not the dread Kawangi turn your flotilla (or homeworld) into a flaming asteroid belt. You can cram an entire game into a lunch hour, or you can waste a day playing back-to-back-to-back-to-back games.
It's mostly a turn-based space-exploration game. There's a bit of a card game / board game feel to it, as each star has exactly one planet with something interesting on it. Like you travel to a star for your turn, and draw a card from an imaginary deck to find out what's there. Strange creatures, new technologies, violent enemy fleets, intergalactic ambassadors, tech-hungry mercenaries, supernovas, ancient artifacts of long-lost earth, quirky humor, thinly-veiled references to classic sci-fi movies... there's a lot of different types of cards in that imaginary deck, and only a fraction of the deck gets played in any given game.
But when you find those aliens, the game zooms in to a real-time starship battle system. You have command of at least one ship, up to a flotilla of up to 5 on the large map if you recruit all the right allies and befriend the less territorial aliens. Between battles you can swap out systems and weapons on your ships, upgrading them as you find better tech goodies. Certain systems combo to be really effective in tandem, including a few that feel really degenerate and evil when you get them working. Mostly, I really enjoy those, but certain items *cough* *particle vortex cannon* *cough* are a little broken.
But that's where my favorite part of the game comes in: Modding. It's relatively simple to create new versions of the game, introducing new alien races, ships, events, quests, tech, weapons, etc.
I currently have produced three mods of my own, and am working on two others:
Teeming With Life, v1.1: Modding is a bit like house-ruling the original game. If you see something you'd like changed in the main game, just mod it! In this case, I felt that there wasn't enough variety to the non-intelligent life in the main game, making the science mission grow a little stale. So I fixed that. Lots more xenobiology to study and collect.
Drives'R'Us v1.11: Lots of additional tech goodies here. As the name suggests, there's plenty of new stardrives. There's also new weapons, new sensor suites, new shields, etc. New toys to add to your ships, and some "house-rule" style modding to control some of the super-weapons.
Sgqwonkian Crisis, v1: This mod introduces a new race, the peaceful herbivorous Sgqwonk, who are besieged and slaughtered by one of the hostile races of the main game. The player is sent on a mission of mercy or vengeance. This was my first mod, and as a result, it's kinda buggy. One day, I'll get around to updating it.
My other two mods in production but not yet released are The Weirdyssey: Inspired by the tales of brave Ulysses, and an as-yet-unnamed mod inspired by H.P.Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. Weirdyssey will likely be ready fairly soon, but deep in Ryleh, dead Cthulhu lies dreaming.
If you'd like to get your hands on my Mods, and lots of other cool WW:RTIS mods, visit the shrapnel games Weird Worlds forums.
If you're interested in doing some modding your self, those forums are indispensible, as is The Modmaker's Guide To The Galaxy
That's all for now, but I'm sure I'll have plenty more to say about WW:RTIS some other day.
Friday, October 5, 2007
My campaign is set mostly in Seattle, which means I get to stage fight scenes in all the cool parks and tourist attractions we visited when we moved out here this summer. Since that's so close to Twin Peaks territory, I also added in Gordon "I Can't Hear Myself Anyway" Cole as an tip-of-the-hat easily-improvised NPC. Other famous folks to show up in the campaign so far include Alberto Gonzales, Hercules, Nemesis, Horus, Hel, Loki and Tlazlteotl aka "Filth".
When not GMing Scion, I also have a fancy for Blank White Cards, Magic, a great number of board games and RPGs, Are You A Werewolf? (which reminds me, I need to call Gwen), and making mods for the space-exploration computer game Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space.
That's certainly my plan. And I have lot to ramble on about. I keep thinking about gaming-related things, and not posting them on my other blog because I don't want to overwhelm that cool multi-person blog with a bunch of crap that's not on-topic.
So that keeps resulting in me posting my various gaming ideas in a variety of gaming-related forums and wikis. When I want to reference them again months later they're hard to find amidst all that crap, or they've been edited by some other gamer with a completely different concept of what makes gaming fun. And you lose the ability to claim anything as your intellectual property. Not to mention all the flame wars and rules lawyers that plague gamer forums. Uck.
So I decided to do something about it. I'm setting up a seperate blog, The Transitive Property of Gaming, where I can post those things when they hit me without it burying the uninterested in RPGs, card games, and the occasional weirdworlds mod. I'll continue to post in Repeated Expletives when I have something non-gaming-related to blather on about - which is pretty often. I am nothing if not long-winded. After this cross-blog almost-duplicate post, all my gaming stuff (at least 95% of it, anyway) will stay in this realm. Politics, Legos, High Weirdness, and other like topics will live in Repeated Expletives (and here's fair warning: Repeated Expletives is neither politically correct nor family-friendly, visit at your own risk), along with the posts of a bunch of buddies from the good ol' days.