Friday, July 16, 2010

Beam Me Up Before You Go-Go

Last night I ran "Wham Trek" at my weekly one-shot group. The mechanics were an extremely light trimmed-down version of Warhammer FRP 3rd. After a brief explanation of the rules, and a tiny bit of clarification that this had nothing to do with George Michael, we were ready to go.

For those still scratching their heads, Wham Trek was an RPG scenario blending of a couple of crazy old boardgames designed by the great Tom Wham, with just a hint of Star Trek parody. The PCs were the crew of the Znutar, and they were responding to a distress call from the backwaters world known as "Snitopia". It would appear there was an unexplained geological upheaval on Snitopia, and an entire mountain range was jumping up and down on the peaceful snits.

For those still scratching their heads, George Michael was half of the 80's UK pop duo "WHAM!"

For reasons I can't really explain, this was a game I'd wanted to run for a long time. I'd been unable (until just recently) to figure out mechanics that would work for it. In theory, it needed to be goofy and light, but able to support random interactions of bizarre weapons and alien biochemistry. I used the board from Awful Green Things as the map of the PCs spaceship. That map shows (amongst other things) where 12 different weapon types can be found on the ship, so I assumed I needed a system that would make these 12 weapons functionally different. I felt that Fudge or Risus or the like wouldn't do that - but in retrospect I probably could have saved myself a lot of trouble.

As it turns out, I forgot to make the PCs specify what weapons and equipment they took down to the surface until they were in the middle of a fight and had already sounded the retreat. As a result, my big list of weapons didn't really matter. I also managed to forget to print one very important sheet of paper - the page with all my NPC stats. Several days had passed since I'd statted out those NPCs, and the morning of the game I'd had a very distracting emergency trip to the vet for one of my cats, so I really had no fuzzy clue what the stats were. Which meant more improvisation, as it turns out was alright.

Dice mechanics were pretty simple, using the dice from Warhammer 3rd as a narrative engine without most of the baggage that game brings with it. I skipped the green and red dice, the fatigue rules, the recharge rates, etc. The "comets" on the yellow dice gave PCs narrative control, the "Chaos Star" on the purple dice meant something really bad happened. In theory I had worked out success, boon and bane results for all the weapons and a few locations internal to the "mountain range" (that is to say, the Bolotomi from the Snit's games) but they really didn't end up mattering as we just improved our way through my missing paperwork. (I wouldn't be surprised if none of the players even knew I was missing most of my GM's notes, since I just kept my error to myself and rolled with it. GMing and grifting have more in common than most of us suspect. If you can fool your players into believing everything is running smoothly, it usually will.)

I replaced the intricate critical hit system from Warhammer with a neat little subsystem stolen from the "New Hope" game I played in last week. Each PC had a handful of consequences - disarmed, wounded, distressed, and captured/killed - they could choose from when a foe got a hit on them. A critical success (lots of hammer or eagle symbols on the dice) let the attacker choose which consequence they suffered, otherwise it was defender's choice. In addition to the common consequences, every PC had one custom consequence unique to that character. The captain could be seduced by aliens, the chief engineer could avoid personal injury by having the engines go offline, the doctor could get cranky and drunk, the communications officer might start speaking in tongues, etc.

It worked well enough for a one-shot, but probably would have been better if I'd had my carefully-balanced NPC stats on hand so I would have felt more confident throwing real challenges at the PCs. As it played out, there were very few injuries and no real PC fatalities. I was probably too easy on them to really capture the proper Tom Wham feel. No one seemed to complain, though.

The best developments of the night started when the Pilot (played by Peter) engaged the warp drive while in the atmosphere of Snitopia, and thus slingshotted around to an hour before the scenario started. You know, the classic Star Trek trick of bumbling into time-travel. This gave them the opportunity to actually cause the problem they'd responded to. When things went poorly and the 1st Officer was lost, they just flew out to where their ship had been half an hour earlier, and kidnapped the younger self of the 1st Officer, thereby disrupting the time line. Transchronal ripples spread throughout the universe as they continued to mess with their previous selves and engage in more time travel. In one time line, they contaminated the Snit gene pool with xenomiscegenation and converted them into a Fremen Fedaykin army that spread across the cosmos destroying everything in the name of the 1st Officer (who, along with the ship's mascot, was revered as a God). Then they undid that timeline and prevented themselves from ever visiting the planet in the first place. Good clean stupid fun.

All in all, we had a blast. I sort of regret the amount of work I went to trying to customize the game system. I made Ook and Leadfoot (the mascot and the robot from Awful Green Things) into followers akin to the "Small But Viscious Dog" in Warhammer, and created small deck of random weapon affects, none of which probably needed the level of detail I'd prepped for them. The game was a big success, but probably would have been just as successful with 1/3 the prep work. Hopefully I'll learn that lesson one of these days.


Anonymous said...

The game was fun, and I don't mean this as a criticism, and this may just be how the dice fell. But I feel that if you had gotten rid of all the odd dice and skills and characteristics and all that and just used a mechanic of anytime you want to do anything roll 1d6. On 1-2 it works but something bad happens on 4-6 it fails but some positive side benefit occurs that, at least for me, the results would have been completely identical. Really, I'm serious. I know that the dice have all sort of odds that go into them but if at the end of the day you're really looking at 27%/73% or 36%/64% depending on skill rather than 33/67 across the board, is that difference really that meaningful? And yes, I am jaded and cynical when it comes to mechanics.

rbbergstrom said...

A factor you may not be aware of was that your character kinda sucked. I'd figured your dicepools a little differently than the others. Smodem (the engineer Manu played) had a little bit of the same problem.

In fact, your "Analysis Paralysis" consequence was "inspired" by the fact that when I'd tried to figure out if I'd made that character unplayable or not, I was unable to come to a strong conclusion. Had 6 or fewer players shown up, I would have recommended him being skipped, but since we had a larger turnout than expected, that wasn't an option.

His stats were pretty blandly arranged at about 50% in everything except Science, IIRC. Most of the other characters had 4 skills above 70% and 4 skills below 30%, so they were much better at certain types of actions. Instead, your character was just kinda lackluster across the board. It was a poor design decision, and I knew it, but had already expended more energy than I should have for a one-shot. That's part of why later I gave you so many "bonus" dice for having your alternate-timeline-self with you, to try to shake up your stats and hopefully get some more interesting rolls out of him.

Aside from your character issue, though, I will also acknowledge that I may have abstracted and streamlined the system down so far that most of the good stuff had bled out. That was much less beefy and crunchy than even my Everhammer version, for example.

So, yeah, to some extent that could have been done with a single d6, or with just a static pool for all tasks like one die of every color plus 2 extra blue.