Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Human Occupied Landfill

Game Premise
In the incredibly distant future, space has been colonised and all inhabited planets are ruled by the Confederation of Worlds (C.O.W), an empire presided over by Emperor Rupert and the Church ™. It's treason to suggest that life in COW is anything less than perfect and the people who rule it fair and awesome, so I'm not going to do so.

Of course even the most enlightened empire needs a place to store its refuse, whether that refuse consists of snack wrappers and used diapers or criminals and political, 'social deviants'. Thus, a small world on the very distant edge of the Confederation has been designated the one-stop dumping ground for trash, dubbed Human Occupied Landfill or H.O.L for short. It is on this garbage filled crapheap world of intrigue our insane rant about a bunch of weirdos with a penchant for violence epic tale of heroism takes place.

Game Overview
If you want a serious game about mature themes that is easy to read and presents information in a clear and concise manner, this is not the game for you. Human Occupied Landfill is written for comedy as much as it is playability, so it's presented in a handwritten format that crams text into every corner and the writing is full to the brim with tangents and intentionally sloppy editing. The art is very much reminiscent of the Tank Girl comics and the humour is the kind that doesn't just reach for low-hanging fruit but would quite eagerly leap on the chance to make a crude quip about low hanging fruit.

The mechanics are fairly simple, roll 2d6, add modifiers and check the chart. If you roll a 15 or more then it's a success. If you roll snake eyes (pair of ones) you automatically fail (and the GM is encouraged to make your failure as painful as possible) and if you roll boxcars (pair of sixes) you get to roll again and add.

Technically there aren't character creation rules in the corebook. The idea is that you're supposed to play as one of the characters presented, ranging from parodies of Dirty Harry and the Hulk to oblivious nerds to killer clowns to paedophile priests (yes, really). If you want to make your own you're supposed to just work out something reasonable with the GM. The rules I will be using here were presented in the game's first and only supplement, BUTTery HOLsomeness, although since that book adds extra characters that include a murderous, cannibalistic potato and the goddamn Pope you might just pass over it altogether.

The Character
Step 1) Pick a Totem
Your Totem, despite being named after an animal and having an astrology-style psychoanalysis of your character, merely serves as the base template. It determines your starting Stats, which in HOL are Meat (brawn and toughness), Mouth (charm and social ability), Feets (moving fast and kicking things), Nuts (courage and guts) and Greymatta (general smarts). It also determines your starting kudos, which are the resource I'll be spending to roll on the tables which make up the bulk of character creation.

Technically I could choose my totem here, but I'm going to roll randomly on the chart, just to get into the spirit of things. Turns out my character has a Platypus totem, apparently meaning that they like randomness in all things and derive most of their joy from schadenfruede. It also means that all of my starting stats are at 1 and I get 20 kudos to spend later.

Step 2) Early You
Where you come from is important, so in this step we're going to determine what Homeworld my character originated from and what their favourite Pudding flavour is (just because). This could net me a small boost to my stats, a few more kudos or even a free roll on one of the charts.

Rolling on the Homeworld chart, my character originally came from Orlando IV, the retirement planet. This will net me 100 Chits (currency) for every chart I roll on, and I get two free rolls on the Galactic Shopping Network chart before I start! Sweet, I'm loaded. I'm going to be greedy and assume my two free rolls will net me 200 chits. My two rolls net me one weapon of the GM's choice and 5000 chits. For the weapon, since I have no GM to supervise me I'm going to take an offshoot of The Harbinger of the Void, the custom plasma weapon wielded by Led Pighp, a small boy and the game's mascot. It has an Attack of 20, which is added to my attack roll to determine the Anguish Factor which will cause the weapons Damage of 6 to be multiplied by a certain amount. Without even rolling I can do 24 damage with this bad boy and everyone, everyone has 20 hit points, so my opponents had better hope either I roll poorly or they have a lot of armour. Super loaded and super equipped already, a great start.

On the Pudding chart I discover a weakness for Chocolate (seems fair). This will net me an extra 4 kudos.

Step 3) Charts Up the Ass
Yes, that's what this step is called. No, they aren't kidding, this is going to be lengthy. Basically, I begin rolling on charts. Every result will lead me to more charts. Most charts will require me to spend Kudos to keep rolling, and I can also spend kudos to either roll on the Chart Chart to even more to go to a specific table. I'll keep doing this until I run out of Kudos. Once I get below 6 kudos, however, I have to make a Gump Roll, rolling a d6 equal to or under my remaining kudos. Fail to do so and I have to go straight to the HOL Chart, which will end my rolling spree. When I've finished, any remaining kudos I have may either be spent to increase my stats on a one for one basis or my Skills on a five for one basis.

I have 24 kudos to blow, so let's get started! My first roll on the Chart Chart puts me on the Soap opera chart, a good source of drama. This chart won't cost me any kudos. Rolling here it turns out my character has royal blood, which may come in handy but also means my Meat is reduced by 1.

This takes me to the Loinage chart, the chart of auspicious lineage and costs me 1 kudo. I'm the Seventh son of the seven sons of some pop culture reference I don't recognise, meaning once per game I may spend one Gift of God point (a point that usually lets you ignore a very messy death) to essentially change the narrative how I please.

This in turn would take me to the Ham chart, the chart of ham, but a quick view of the possible results sees that unlike actual ham everything is pretty dire. I'm going to spend 2 kudos to go back to the Chart Chart, which in turn will get me to the Mentor chart, costing me 1 kudos. I was trained up by some kind of asteroid cowboy, which lets me shoot twice per round every second turn.

Now the Technology chart, 1 kudos again. Turns out my character has the Turn Radios into Howitzers skill at 4 (the general McGuyvering skill).

This brings me to the All You Can Eat chart (I'm down to 19 kudos presently). Turns out I really love pudding, letting me choose my own favourite pudding flavour. I'm going to switch Chocolate to Indian, which reduces my kudos by 4 but gives me +2 to Greymatta. Oh, it also gives me Spot Watsit (a dangerous looking critter that resembles a squashes marshmallow) at 5.

Parental Misunderstandings, a free chart! Because of my parents' hedonistic lifestyle, I turned to the church. I will go out of my way to help the church and get free lunch at the Church and Munch on my birthday.

Yay, back to the Galactic Shopping Network! I get another 5000 credits for this roll. Hell, I love this chart so much I'm going to spend 4 kudos to roll on it again. I get a set of limited edition commemorative plates that will go up in value 100 chits every game session.

Hhhmm, my stats aren't amazing, so I'm going to spend another 4 kudos to go straight to the Stat Gain chart. This result nets me an extra 4 meat.

The Bad Monkey chart seems ominous, so I'm going to spend 2 kudos to avoid it. However, that means I have to make a Gump roll. Unfortunately, I fail. This will take me straight to the HOL chart. However, turns out I avoided HOL for my first crime and go to the Stat Gain chart again, nabbing myself another 3 meat in the process!

I fail the Gump roll again, so back to the HOL chart. This time I don't avoid the planet, get +1 kudos and am done rolling.

I'm going to put the remaining 3 kudos I have into 10 points in Shooting Symbols of Divine Right and 5 into Get Someone to Do What You Want By Droning Endlessly About the Obligations of Serfs. Both of these are actual skills, albeit renamed to suit the character, something the rules encourage. Oh, I should also tally up the chits I received from my charts, for another 1,100 credits.

Step 4) Make Sense of This Mess
This isn't an official step, but what the heck I might as well get a coherent concept out of this. So, my character is a member of the royal bloodline, can alter reality (sort of) and is filthy rich. He's quite brawny and moderately smart. OK, so, a small corner of HOL is packed with scions of Emperor Rupert's bloodline. They think that they've been sent to tame the planet's miscreants and win favour in the court. In fact, they've been sent there to die messily, their every move entertainment for the court. Algernon VIII, not quite as inbred as the rest of them, has kind of realised this, and that's why he's decided to find folks to team up with instead of taking on his various cousins solo and getting himself killed.

The Finished Product
Algernon VIII

Greymatta: 4
Mouth: 1
Meat: 8
Feets: 1
Nuts: 1

Skills (stats already factored in)
Get Someone to Do What You Want By Droning Endlessly About the Obligations of Serfs 6
Shooting Symbols of Divine Right 11
Turn Toasters into Howitzers 8

Total Armour: 8
Bent: Fucked up and not enough branches in his family tree
Oldness: Around about the time Duchess Beatrice became the star of 'Tipsy and Titled in Tijuana', most watched program among college teens that decade.
Sex: Not unless you're from the right family (probably his)

Excaliblowdicus (20/6), Commemorative plate of birth (current value 100 chits), 2,100 chits, royal finery of sorts.

How I'd Run It
The characters you create by randomly rolling tend to fall on the lame side, so I might just have players pick from the books or come up with an appropriately fucked up concept. I actually wouldn't mind doing some kind of extension of what I've come up with for Algernon, have all the characters embroiled in the Royal Heir deathmatch in some fashion. Heck, one of the characters in the book is a gameshow host, I could have the party be members of the production team, making events interesting and occasionally stepping in to royally wreck some snotty Marquis' offspring like the house robots in RoboWars.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Game Premise
Bad people killing bad people for bad reasons.

The name's Bond. James Bond.” - James Bond

Good, bad, I'm the guy with the gun.”- Ash, the Evil Dead 
I can kill you with my brain” - River Tam, Firefly

Those of you lucky enough to have your lives, take them with you. However, leave the limbs you've lost. They belong to me now. “ - The Bride, Kill Bill Vol. 1

At the end of the day, as long as there's two people left on the planet, someone is going to want someone dead.” - The Sniper, Meet the Sniper

Game Overview
RPGs are a fairly violent medium in terms of subject matter. Hollowpoint is a celebration of that violence, specifically the kind where the people indulging in it look awesome doing so. It's a tribute to the action heroes who make us wish that we too could be idolised for having pack-a-day smoking habits and triple figure body counts instead of seen as dangers to society that need to be put down. It doesn't really have a default setting premise (apart from a loose idea of 'the agency', a group of modern agents who keep the world's biggest illicit organisations in check) thus the use of quotes in the beginning.

One thing I quite like about how Hollowpoint approaches genre emulation (or probably more accurately 'concept emulation') is that is acknowledges the difficulty of reconciling what appears to be a cool idea for a game on paper while noting disconnects with the realities of gaming. In terms of source material it points out that the overwhelmingly vast majority of stone-cold badasses work far better alone, while teams of ultra-competent professionals don't quite have that lust for the kill. Considering that RPGs are by-and-large co-operative this is an important point to address. Honestly, my go-to example would be the bad guys in Metal Gear Solid, the teams like FOXHOUND and COBRA could be perfectly modelled for games like this.

Hollowpoint's system is actually very much like ORE's system, using d6s instead of d10s. You will have a set of dice, roll the set and look for matches, the more dice in the set and the higher the number the better. The general aim is to wipe out your opponent's sets and have at least one set break through to damage them. Do that twice and you've taken them out of the encounter. This might be killing or wounding them, successfully browbeating them or exposing their shady dealings to the media.

If you look at the tags you'll notice that Hollowpoint is the first Voluntary Death game I've covered. This means that a character can't be taken out of the game without the player's express permission. They can be temporarily removed from the action, but they'll always come back unless you say so. This is to help create the right atmosphere with the game, having your character not be taken out like a chump until the right dramatic moment.

The Character
Step 1) Rank
I'm going to be making my character within the context of the very loose default setting. So, my character is an operative of The Agency, a shadowy conspiracy that keeps the world's biggest and potentially most destructive criminal groups, warlords and terrorist organisations in check.

Characters all start off at the rank of Agent, which means they don't have any rank-based special abilities. Later they might become Operatives or Handlers, but starting characters are always agents.

Step 2) Skills
These are the only hard mechanical stats your agent will have. They're actions you will be able to perform and your rank in them is how many dice you get to your pool while performing those actions. The default six are Kill, used when straight up murdering dudes, Take, used for stealing things, Terror, used for putting the fear of you into folks, Con, used to tricking people, Dig, used for finding info and finally Cool, used for pure awesome things like disarming a bomb at the last second or walking away from explosions.

You can add skills to the game or even replace them outright, depending on what you want the game to do. So, a game might have Seduction where that sort of thing is important or Magic in some kind of fantasy setting.

I have a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and 0 to assign to each of these stats. I want my character to be the ultimate master of disguise, on the level of Metal Gear Solid's Decoy Octopus. This suggests my highest skill should be Con, so I'll put the 5 there. Dig and Take should probably come next, since being able to get into places is fairly handy, so 4 and 3 there. Kill will be next for 2 and Terror will be where the 1 goes. As saddened as I am by this, I'm going to put the 0 in Cool, because while my character is awesome it's the subtle kind of awesome that doesn't lend itself to mind-blowing bravado. Don't worry, having a 0 doesn't mean you'll always fail as there are a couple of other ways to grab dice, one of which I'll address below.

Step 3) Name
Apparently if I haven't given my character a name I'll do so here. So, my character is always in disguise and no one bar maybe one or two folks actual knows their name or even their original appearance. Thus, my character's best-known pseudonym is KC, the initials of their call sign, Karma Chameleon.

Step 4) Traits
Every character gets five Traits, items, skills, attributes or anecdotes that make your character stand out amongst the riff-raff. In game, these traits can be sacrificed in order to give you an extra two dice to a pool or protect you from a successful hit. You have to explain how it relates in order for it to apply. In the case of a physical thing, like a favourite hat or a gadget, that thing has been used or destroyed. In the case of something like an anecdote or a scar, you're 'using up' the moment, because let's face it, nobody wants to hear the same story about how you got that scar twice. You get new traits to replace used ones every session.

The usual way in which a characters generate their traits for the first session is by answering five questions. I've done so below, with my answers/traits bolded.

1. I wear a black suit over a clean white shirt and a skinny black tie. No hat and well groomed. Nothing to make me stand out except chewing gum
2. I don't have a lot of scruples but I would never hurt children
3. That one time in Utah I took a souvenir. It was a monogrammed lighter
4. This is a hard job, but I love it because I'm the last person you expect.
5. I'm a pro and I know I'm a pro because I always have a cover story

Step 5) Complications
You might choose to have a Complication that ties your character into the story. Something like being related to the crime boss you're supposed to be taking down, or having massive gambling debts that the stash you guys are going to take sure would help fix. Generally these should be mission specific and can be vetoed by the GM.

For KC, I think a good, mission-neutral one would be My lost twin is working with the bad guys. Turns out there are two masters of disguise out there and considering no-one can tell them apart, having one of them secretly insert themselves into the team while KC is out performing a mission could be good drama.

The Finished Product
KC, Agent
Kill 2
Take 3
Terror 1
Con 5
Dig 4
Cool 0

Chewing Gum
Never Hurt Children
Monogrammed Lighter
I'm the Last Person You Expect
Have a Cover Story

KC's evil twin is working with the enemy.

How I'd Run It
This concept I'm giving the working title 'Music to Die to'. Step 1: Come up with a stock set of pre-generated PCs with basic stats and personalities (the mysterious loner, the hotheaded youngster on a quest for vengeance, the joker who enjoys this whole killing business way too much) and two or three basic scenario outlines and major NPCs. Step 2: Find an interesting song. Step 3: Tailor the setting, genre and all the other scenario colour based so that if the game were a movie or TV series then you could use that song as the opening theme or trailer soundtrack.

I've been thinking a lot about music in gaming and how it can be used as a tool to both evoke and inspire. There are a few approaches where the steps I've outlined above could work, but I particularly like applying it to Hollowpoint because the basic idea of 'killing lots of people and looking awesome while doing it' is about as setting and genre neutral as you can get. Besides, any good action movie or TV series needs a great soundtrack. Imagine the difference between a game that opened with the Beastie Boys' Sabotage, Nero's Doomsday, Nine Inch Nails' Just Like You Imagined or Adele's Rolling in the Deep.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Starchildren: The Velvet Generation

Game Premise
The game of rock and roll revolution
When we started transmitting radio waves out into the universe it was theorised that it might eventually lead to contact with extraterrestrial life but we had no idea how profound it would be. An alien race heard our transmissions, specifically the music of the 70s, and it changed everything for them. It inspired them to take a generations-long pilgrimage to our world. They even changed their physical appearance to more resemble us. They were the Starchildren and they came to rock.

But the world they arrived to was changed. Reactionary forces had declared certain cultural forces to be corrupting influences on society. In the 2070s, the Ministries clamp down on all those forms of entertainment that might elicit emotions deemed too powerful, positive or negative. Rock and roll has been outlawed. Instead of coming to a world that would accept them with open arms, the Starchildren have been forced into hiding. They will not stand for it and more and more they're becoming not just the new faces of the underground rock and roll movement, but the spirit of a revolution to take back society.

Game Overview
Rock and revolution are two themes that go together like chocolate and peanut butter and Starchildren is the RPG that focuses on the glam rock angle of such a premise. It is essentially the game where you play as Ziggy Stardust, only this time he brought along Maxwell Dean and a few thousand of his friends and they're the faces of a revolution. Of course, there's nothing that forces you to overthrow society and one of the things I like about this game is you could just throw away the aliens and futuristic dystopia and have a game about a band's ascension to rock fame and inevitable spiral into decline and hedonistic self-destruction.

It's one of those games which gives you exactly what you need to run with the premise and not a single bit more, which I kind of love. All the necessary fluff to run a game about a rock and roll revolution, starring extraterrestrials is there, with the only bit of fat being the Granger Society, a terrorist movement aimed at bringing down literary censorship. However, they do serve as the inspiration for the Blue Army, the Velvet Underground's more violent sister movement, and an army of book-loving anarchists is a pretty great.

Starchildren uses a card-based mechanic requiring a pair of full decks, jokers included. Each of your Stats and Skill is tied to a suit in the cards. You will have a hand of cards and when you need to determine the outcome of an action you place forward a card against one the GM draws. If the card's suit matches the suit your Attribute or Skill is tied to, you get the full Rank of the Attribute or Skill. Anything else will get you the Rank minus three. Highest rank wins. Face cards are worth the most and Aces are worth the least.

One thing I have to say I absolutely love is the system for gigs. The idea is that the band sets the difficulty of each song and how much Awe your band earns depends on both passing the song and how difficult the song was. The amount of Awe you have at the end of the show helps determine how much Fame you will get, which in turn can get you better gigs and possibly earn the interest of both the fuzz and the Velvet Underground. So, trying to pull off that show-stopper may be risky but it can be worth it in the long run!

The Character
Step 1) Descent
The first decision I have to make is whether my character is going to be a Starchild or an Earthling. Starchildren are prettier than people and have special alien powers, but they're also a bit flimsier (there's a lot of references to how they're in awe of our tolerance for drugs, alcohol and other toxins). Needless to say, I don't think I'm going to pass up an opportunity to be a glam rock alien, so my character will be a Starchild.

Having said that, I want to try being something slightly different. Just because my character is glam rock doesn't mean she has to be a glam rocker (and yeah, I'll put her down as a she). My character tried the whole musician scene and it didn't hit off for her, eventually realising she preferred to work in the background. From there on, Deetz King set forth to become the ultimate roadie, the go-to lady for making great performances out of merely good bands.

Step 2) Backgrounds
People go through a variety of experiences, jobs and roles in their lives and Starchildren reflects this through your Backgrounds. The main effect of backgrounds is to give you a list of 3-5 Skills which will be given rankings later. Earthlings get four backgrounds, while Starchildren only get three to reflect their limited time here on this planet.

I think Deetz started out as a Frontman, trying her time as a singer for a while before realising her true calling. This gives her access to Compose, Fashion, Impress, Lyrics and Vocals. Then she becomes a Technician in her goal to be the supreme roadie, giving her the Alertness, Computer, Drive, Knowledge (Journalism) and Repair (Instruments) skills. Finally, I see her as a bit of a Badass, a glare and a few stern words getting compliance out of the biggest wannabe rockstar so she can get the job done. This will give her Endure, Guts, Impress. Intimidate and Negotiate.

Step 3) Skills
Now that we know what skills Deetz has we can determine how good she is at each of them!With each set of skills for each background, I can assign one a Rank of nine, two a rank of seven and the final two a rank of five. Every skill has a corresponding suit and as long as I play a card of said suit when checking the skill, I get the skill's full rank.

For her Frontman skills, I'm going to give the nine to Fashion (I need a good rank in this skill to help out the band's singer), the pair of sevens to Impress and Lyrics (helps with making a good impression on behalf of herself and the band respectively) and the fives to Compose and Vocals (these are the more direct skills required to be a good singer, not quite her forte). For Technician, the nine is going straight into Repair (Instruments), the sevens into Computers and Drive (helping out the keyboard players and getting the band around) and the fives into Alertness and Knowledge (Journalism) (these skills mainly reflect her general 'knows what is going on' ability).

Finally, the Badass skills. You'll note we have an overlapping skill, Impress. I'm going to assign it one of the sevens and then combine it with my previous seven to bump it up one rank to 8. The nine is going to go into Intimidate and the other seven will go into Negotiate, reflecting her talents for dealing with bands the easy and hard ways. Finally, the fives go into Endure and Guts.

Step 4) Attributes
Y'know, this may be the first system I've ever had where your character's general Attributes are worked out after you figure out their skills or proficiencies. Interesting side note.

Anyway, Starchildren has eight of these, four physical/mental pairs. Presence is your overt personality and charisma, while Appearance is how damn good you look and they're tied to the Diamond suit. Wit is your general cleverness and Speed how fast you are and are tied to Hearts. Perception is how good you are at noticing the world around you and Agility how good you are at reacting to it and are the attributes tied to Spades. Finally, the Clubs attributes, Will and Body are reflections of your mental and physical strength/fortitude receptively.
Every skill is tied to an attribute, so when testing for that skill (or just plain checking against the attribute, such as using Body to lift something) I can use the attribute's rank if I have the card of the appropriate suit.

For ranks I have a Jack, a ten, an eight, three sevens, a six and a five to assign. Straight off the bat, my Jack is going into Wit, which helps with a whole bunch of skills that are really important for Deetz, including the ones she uses to fix up the band's stuff for gigs. Next up the ten is going into Perception and the eight into Presence, which pretty much covers all the areas I want her to be good at. So, she's smart, aware and forceful with her words. The three sevens are going to go into Body, Will and Appearance, indicating that she's reasonably tough and bound to occasionally turn heads. That leaves the six, which can go into Speed and the five for Agility. The way Deetz figures it, if you're good enough at whatever it is you do then lightning-fast reflexes aren't going to be something you need much of.

Finally, I have to alter a couple of these on account of being a Starchild. Starchildren have this otherwordly awesomeness and inhuman beauty to them, which is reflected by increasing my ranks in Presence and Appearance twice each to 10 and 9 respectively. However, as I indicated above they're also fragile and a tad addled from space travel, which sees my Body and Will dropping to five.

Step 5) Secondary Attributes
Now that I've worked out my main attributes, I have a few Secondary Attributes to work out.

The first are my Action Cards. In combat you have an action deck comprised solely of everyone's action cards and a couple of Jokers. Whenever one of your action cards is drawn, you get an action and when the second Joker is drawn the round is over. The number of action cards I get are determined by my Speed and a Speed of six gets me two action cards. Which cards they are don't really matter, but I call dibs on the Ace of Spades and Jack of Hearts, just because.

Next up is Movement. Interestingly, I can't seem to work out what unit of measurement the number is supposed to correspond to here. Ah well. This attribute is also derived from my Speed, which gives Deetz a Walking Distance of 4 and a Running Distance of 8.

Finally there are my Damage Thresholds, how many points of damage one can take before suffering various penalties. Violence is actually quite brutal in Starchildren and if someone pulls a gun there's a good chance someone is going to end up dead or at least brutally maimed in a round or two. This one is worked out from my Body. Deetz will be suffering from Trauma if she has taken 9 points of damage, Injury if she has taken 11, Blackout if it's 27 and Overkill if she takes 42. To put that in perspective, a knife will deal 15 points of damage with a single attack.

Step 6) Edges and Flaws
Here we have the game's misc advantages and disadvantages. Like skills and attributes, each is assigned a rank. In order to get an Edge, you either need to trade in a skill or pick up a Flaw of the equivalent rank.

There are really only two Edges I want here. The first is Feared. This lets me pick a skill and gives me an Advantage Card whenever a use it, a free card draw that I may add to bolster my chances with the skill. I'm going to pick up the Rank 5 version for the Impress skill. Deetz' rep precedes her, leaving many fledgling rockers a bit in awe of her. The second Edge I'm going to pick up is Velvet Membership. This gives me access to the rock underground movement, which I can exploit in various ways once per session.

Now, I need to pay those off. I'm going to start by trading in my Alertness rank. My Perception attribute is high enough that I should be OK without it. Then I'll grab the Hunted Flaw at Rank 5. Organised crime has sadly got a lot of sticky fingers in the rock scene what with both being illegal and Deetz has earned the ire of one or two local bosses by telling them exactly where they can stick it when offered business opportunities.

Step 7) Getting Equipped
Starting characters have $5000 to spend on various bits and pieces. Sadly, the one bit of gear I do want, a toolkit to fix stuff up for shows, is not listed in the equipment tables despite being something the example character in the book possesses! Ah well, I'll just say she has the necessary equipment and more money for me. While certainly not much of a fighter, Deezt doesn't want to be caught completely unprepared, so I'm going to equip her with some Heavy Boots (good for kicking) for $50 and some Padded Clothes for $300.

Also, screw it, I'm spending $50 to get 100 condoms, because Deetz is a champ. “I keep every bit of this band in working order, including the performers, savvy?”.

The leaves me with $4100 in spare cash. Hell, I'll be generous to the book and deduct $1000 from that for various tech gear.

The Finished Product
Deetz King
Presence 10 (Fashion 9, Impress 8, Intimidate 7, Vocals 5) Appearance 9
Wit Jack (Computers 7, Knowledge (Journalism) 5, Lyrics 7, Repair (Instruments) 9) Speed 6
Perception 10 (Compose 5, Drive 7) Agility 5
Will 5 (Guts 5, Negotiate 7) Body 5 (Endurance 5)

Edges: Feared (Impress) 5, Velvet Membership
Flaws: Hunted (Organised Crime) 5

Action cards: Ace of Spades, Jack of Hearts
Movement rate: 4/8
Damage Threshold: 9/11/27/42

Gear: 100 Condoms, Heavy Boots, Padded Clothing, Tech Gear, $3100

How I'd Run It
A lot of the game fiction is in the form of interviews and historical texts covering the early 2070s from later decades, where it's obvious that the Velvet Revolution was successful, the Ministries have been overthrown, the Starchildren have revealed themselves to the world and everything is back to the not quite perfect but still rocking normal. I want to run a game that takes this perspective, a get-together special, series of interviews or perhaps a 'Behind the Music' style documentary about one of the bands that took part in the Velvet Underground, that comprised of the PCs, obviously. Each session would start with a sort of 'let me tell you about the time when...' and then examine various highlights, starting with the band getting together.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dungeons and Dragons 4E

Game Overview

Apologies, this section will be short and the previous section was omitted entirely because by and large Dungeons and Dragons 4E is the same game as 3.5. I'll be making a lot of references to my previous post, especially in regards to mechanics. Released in 2008, the (not exactly) fourth edition of the world's most popular roleplaying game was and still is the subject of much contention.

Probably its most notable feature was the focus on balance. As great as 3rd edition was, the sheer volume of rules material meant a lot of unintentional disparity in power between classes. I saw this crop up from time to time in my own games. In an effort to fix this, 4th edition attempted to ensure that all classes could contribute to most challenges. In my opinion they succeeded quite admirably. There are many who feel that in an attempt to ensure no class would outshine the others that a lot of creative spark was lost. The other major aspect is the addition of much tactical depth to the combat system. The language of the rules, particularly the use of Squares as a measure of distance was also a way of pushing people towards using a battlemat and miniatures (although it is quite simple to run the game without either), another turn off for many.

There are people who claim that 4th edition is a miniatures boardgame with roleplaying rules, that it is a game of combat, all combat and nothing but combat or nothing more than a tabletop iteration of World of Warcraft. I'm going to be generous and call these people misinformed. 4th edition is a perfectly serviceable RPG, one that I enjoyed playing and no doubt will enjoy playing on occasion in the many years to come.

The Character

Step 1) Choose Race

Race in 4th edition follows a far more standardised template. They'll get a +2 to two different Ability Scores (racial penalties have been done away with entirely), +2 to two different Skills, some kind of Racial Power and a few extra misc bonuses. All of the mainstays are here, although Elves have been conceptually split into two different races, with the race bearing that name being your typical tree-hugging archers and the Eladrin as immortal, otherworldly mages.

I'm going to create a Dragonborn, because I absolutely adore them. Why did it take so long for an edition of D&D to let you play a dragon person from day one. Dragonborn are big, strong, honourable. In the default setting (which doesn't have an official name, but has been nicknamed Points of Light or PoLand) they once controlled a gigantic empire which feel into decline after an extended war with the Tiefling empire, a race of humans who sold their souls to infernal beings for power. They're now mostly nomadic wanderers who serve as swords for hire. I'll cover most of their bonuses in the following steps, but I will note that they get a +1 to all attack rolls when they are Bloodied (when they have lost at least half their Hit Points) and they get to add the Constitution modifier to their Healing Surge Value (which I'll get to later).

Step 2) Choose Class

Once again, your Class is your professional adventuring role. 4th edition brought back all the previous classes (although some, like the Druid and Monk, were left out of the core game and introduced in source books) as well as introducing the Warlord (tactical commander who motivates and inspires) and the Warlock (person who has made bargains with supernatural entities for arcane power). I think, just like my previous character, I'm going to play against type and make my dragonborn a Rogue. After all, who would expect a member of a big-strong warrior race to be a cutpurse? Rogues are good at sneaking about, stealing everything that isn't nailed down and dealing with traps. In fights they tend to lurk in the shadows, looking for a good opportunity to stick a dagger in an enemy's back.

Each of the classes has both a Power Source and a Role. The power source serves no real mechanical purpose but gives you an idea of how the class does what it does, be it power from the gods, nature, magic or pure skill. In my case, the rogue's power source is Martial., meaning that my powers and abilities are all the result of intense training and skill rather than some supernatural force.

The Role of a class helps explain what kind of ways the character excels in a combat situation. It bears some similarities to terms like Tank or DPS in MMORPGs, although they function a bit differently. Rogues are Strikers meaning they concentrate their attacks on big single targets. In the rogue's case, this is achieved through the use of their Sneak Attack ability, which lets them do extra damage when they have Combat Advantage against an opponent. Combat Advantage is obtained in a number of ways, such as when your opponent has been Flanked or has been knocked Prone off their feet and normally only give a +2 to attacks against them.

I should also note here that Rogues get the First Strike ability, which means they automatically get combat advantage when attacking any opponent who hasn't acted yet in the fight and Rogue Weapon Talent, which gives me a +1 to attack rolls with Daggers and increases the damage of Shuriken (ninjas stars) to 1d6.

One last thing I need to do here is pick which Rogue Tactic I use. Rogues fall into one of two broad types (at least in the core), Artful Dodgers, who tend to be dashing, swashbuckler types and Brutal Scoundrels who are more like back alley thugs. I figure being a big, hulking dragon person lends itself well to the latter, so that's what I'll pick. The benefit here is that I get to add my strength modifier to damage whenever I sneak attack and I may get some added bonuses to certain powers later!

Step 3) Determine Ability Scores

Ability Scores haven't changed in 4E the old six are still there, performing the same function. While we rolled last time, in this iteration Point Buy is the standard method, so we'll be using that. I start off with the scores 10,10,10,10,10 and 8 and have 22 points to improve them.

Rogues really want a good Dexterity score, so I'm going to spend 16 of my points straight out of the gate to improve that to 18. As a Brutal Scoundrel I also want a decent Strength score, so I'll spend a further 2 points to up that to 12. I'd also like my character to have a good force of personality, so I'm going to put 2 points into Charisma, upping that to 12 as well. I don't really want a penalty anywhere, so I'm going to put the final 2 points into that 8, which ups it to a score of 10, which means 10s for my Constitution, Intelligence and Wisdom scores.

Dragonborn are both hulking reptilians and also confident and assertive. This is reflected in their +2 bonuses to Strength and Charisma, which means my total for those score goes up to 14 each.

Step 4) Choose Skills

How Skills work tends to change from edition to edition. Not only did 4E consolidate a lot of skills from 3.5 (for example, Swim, Climb and Jump are now all functions of the Athletics skill), skill ranks are gone completely. Instead, characters in 4E are simply Trained or not, with training giving you a +5 in the skill and making you eligible for certain Feats and exclusive functions of the skill.

One thing that hasn't changed is that rogues get more skills than anyone else. I automatically get training in Stealth (sneaking about) and Thievery (all purpose larceny from picking locks to disabling traps to picking pockets). I then get training in four more skills from the list. I want my dragon person to be more of a 'member of society's criminal underbelly' rogue than 'dungeoneering trapsmith' rogue, so I'm going to pick Streetwise (getting info off the streets and general city knowledge) and Intimidate. I'm also going to grab Athletics and Perception, to ensure that he's alert and ready for anything. I'm also going to note here that as a Dragonborn my character gets a +2 to History and Intimidate.

Step 5) Select Feats

Feats haven't really changed since the previous edition, although characters do get a lot more of them (one every couple of levels). I'm going to take Dragonborn Senses, which along with giving me a +1 to Perception checks also gives me Low-Light Vision,.which lets me see twice and far as a human in conditions of low-light, like torches or moonlight.

Step 6) Choose Powers

Every class gives your character a selection of Powers, abilities that are primarily certain combat maneuvers but can also be used elsewhere. Powers come in four categories, depending on how often they can be used, At-Wills, which can be used all the time, Encounter, which can be used once within an abstract, self-contained conflict or challenge like a fight, chase scene or negotiation, Daily, which can only be used once before a six-hour rest is required and Utility, which is not time dependant but is a non-combat ability. What your powers are depends on class, although this is just assistance for visualising them rather than having any mechanical effect. Martial classes, for example, get Maneuvers, Arcane classes Spells and Divine classes Prayers

At first level I get two at-will powers, an encounter and a daily. Because I'm a rogue, all my combat powers will get to add my Dexterity bonus of+4 to attack rolls and will get to add my weapon's Proficiency Bonus. For my at-wills, I am going to pick Riposte Strike, which not only damages my opponent but lets me perform a brutal counter-attack if they attack me before my next turn and Sly Flourish, an attack that adds my considerable Charisma bonus to damage. For my encounter power I'm going to pick Dazing Strike, which Dazes my opponent for a single turn, letting them only perform a move or attack action (normally they could take one of each). Finally, my daily power will be Easy Target, which not only does considerable damage, but means that my opponent grants combat advantage and Slows them, reducing their movement speed to 10ft per round until they successfully Save. Unlike the previous edition, saves this game are a flat 10 or more on a d20 roll which are made at the end of each turn.

Finally, I'll note here my racial power, Dragonbreath. This power, which can be used on an encounter basis, lets me breathe a gout of some kind of elemental energy that damages a bunch of people. I have to decide what ability score I use with this power, in this case Dexterity. I also have to pick what kind of damage it does and I'm going to choose Acid. I like the image of my dragon person spraying a gout of melting acid at opponents, Jurassic park style.

Step 7) Purchase Equipment

Every character in 4E starts off with 100gp to spend on starting equipment. Right off the bat, I'm going to be grabbing my rogue a Short Sword for 10gp. Because I'm proficient with it, it gives me +3 to all attacks, it deals 1d6 points of damage and as a Light Blade can be used with all my rogue powers. Next up I'll grab a suit of Leather Armour for 25gp, which gives me a +2 to my Ar4mour Class. As a rogue, I'll definitely need a set of Thieves Tools fir another 20gp. Finally, I take a Standard Adventurer's Kit for 15gp, which includes all the basics I'll list later. That leaves me with 30gp to spend on sundries later.

Step 8) Fill in the Numbers

In this step we work out all my character's combat statistics.

First, let's tackle Hit Points. Characters in 4E have more hit points than ever before, but then again, so do monster. As a rogue, I start off with 12 hp plus my constitution score, for a total of 22.

The main way characters recover hit points is by expending Healing Surges. Since hit points are an abstract mechanic of your fighting readiness, healing surges are a measure of your inner reserves and spending them allows you to gain hit points. This can be done once per combat independently, but surges may also be spent through use of abilities like a cleric's spells or a warlord's motivation. I get a number of healing surges per day equal to 6 plus my constitution modifier, so 6. My Surge Value, the number of hit points I regain by spending a surge, are equal to half my bloodied value (remember, that's half my total hit points), rounded down, for a total of 5. As a dragonborn I would normally get to add my Constitution modifier, but that's +0, so no chance.

In 4E, the previous edition's Armour Class and Saves have been rolled into a standard statistic called Defenses. When an opponent rolls an attack against you, it targets the appropriate defense. Like AC, defenses start off at 10 and then get to add appropriate modifiers. Armour gets to add the higher of dexterity and intelligence as well as my armour bonus, for a total of 16. Fortitude adds the higher of Strength and Constitution, for a total of 12. Reflex adds the higher of Dexterity and Intelligence, not to mention the +2 I get from being a rogue, for 16. Finally, Will gets the higher of Wisdom or Charisma, for 12 again.

Last bit, Initiative. Nothing special here, it's equal to my Dexterity bonus of +4.

Step 9) Roleplaying Character Details

So, I know my character is a sneaky, street-smart dragon person, but who do I actually want them to be. Well, I've decided that my character comes from a large city, the Greyhawk, Sharn or Lankhmar of whatever world the game would be set in. His parents (yeah, I've decided it's a he) are accomplished adventurers. They decided that when they had their clutch they'd leave the eggs in the care of old adventuring contacts and associates around the city, leave them to fend for themselves and see how they turned out. My dragon dude was given to their rogue buddy and thus was pretty much destined for a life of shady doings. He mostly works as a strongman for legit gigs, but he's not afraid of helping out a protection racket or tomb robbing here and there.

In terms of appearance, he's a bit skinny for a dragonborn, but he still easily tops 6.5 ft. He's covered in glistening black scales and his 'hair' (they're a bit closer to those things an axolotl has) is a murky brown. His snout and claws are oddly elongated for a member of his species. He quite likes dressing up in understated clothes that manage a nice contrast with his scales.

Oh, I should probably give him a name. Looking at the example names in the book, I'll go with Balasar. Let's add an honorific, he's known as Balasar of the Biting Wit, a coy reference to his acid breath. He's a bit of a smart-ass and

Alignment in 4E has been stripped down to five points, doing away with Chaotic Good, Lawful Evil and all Neutral alignments, replacing them with Unaligned. That's the one I'm picking for Balasar. He's not particularly fussed about helping people or hurting them, just enriching himself off rubes.

Balasar worships Erathis, goddess of civilisation. This is because he's a creature of civilisation and even sees crime as a natural part of the city ecosystem. Why he wouldn't call himself religious, he's weirdly philosophical about this sort of thing, a by-product of many debates with a cleric of the goddess who tried to push him and other young vagabonds towards the straight and narrow.

The Finished Product

Balasar of the Biting Wit

Level 1 Dragonborn Rogue; Unaligned

Strength 14 Dexterity 18 Constitution 10 Intelligence 10 Wisdom 10 Charisma 14

HP:22 Healing Surges:6 Surge Value:5

Armour Class:16 Fortitude:12 Reflex:16 Will:12

Skills: Athletics +7, History +2, Perception +6, Intimidate +9, Stealth +9, Streetwise +7, Thievery +9

Feats: Dragonborn Senses


At Will: Riposte Strike (+7; 16d+4, if opponent attacks, immediate interrupt +5 1d6+4), Sly Flourish (+7; 1d6+6)

Encounter: Dazing Strike (+7; 1d6+4, opponent dazed until end of next turn)

Daily: Easy Target (+7; 2d6+4 opponent grants combat advantage and is slowed (save ends))

Equipment: Short Sword, Leather Armour, Backpack, Bedroll, Flint and Steel, Pouch, 10xTrail Rations, 50ft Rope, 2x Sunrods, Waterskin, 30gp

Languages: Common, Draconic

How I'd Run It

I guess I should elaborate on that whole kaiju idea I briefly mentioned way back when I started this blog. So, 4E's tactical combat element as well as the fan community's penchant for reskinning (that is, using the mechanics and changing the fluff, for example saying a crossbow is a gun or dwarves are mole people or what have you) made me think it would be perfect for a game about giant monsters messing up each other's shit and causing a lot of collateral damage. The game, titled Kaiju Megateam Go! would be about a United Nations team of government controlled monsters who are deployed against similarly sized threats, alongside Kamijira, the king of lizards, who isn't controlled but shows up anyway (in mechanics terms, he's a dragonborn sorcerer). Instead of treasure, monsters get Infamy, which is gained by beating giant monsters and “accidentally” destroying important structures. I'm still working out the kinks, but I think the idea has potential.

Also, while I'd use 3.5 to run the Xcrawl idea in my last post, for running that setting straight I'd definitely use 4E. The tactical depth of combat would allow for some amazing set piece encounters. Monsters being built as individuals works well too. In what other edition would a troll wrapped in barbed wire with the ability 'Give me a V!' work so well?

Finally, I promised my best friend when 4E came out I'd run a campaign for him. I still haven't fulfilled that promise. Maybe I'll get around to running a straight fantasy game with it. Or, maybe I can just make the same promise with the next edition and hope I can get away with it then as well. ;)