Monday, February 29, 2016

Developing a Superhero Campaign: Finalizing System Considerations

After a lot of discussion and examination we've come down to our final candidates for a superhero game system - and also we're narrowing in on elements of the campaign and the setting.

Our two final candidates are Supers! and some form of Fate.


I've talked about Supers! before. In its favor is a very straightforward game engine. When you want to do something you determine what stat it is you want to use and you roll a bunch of six sided dice, based upon that stat. That stat could be some skill, a superpower, your ability to resist something, etc. It encourages some creative narration, especially in that you typically can only use an ability to defend once per round. See below for an idea of a Supers! set of character sheets, as excerpted from the game:
As one can see, the game is emphasizing simplicity when it comes to stats.


There's a number of different Fate games. I'm considering three of them. They are:

  • Daring Superheroes
  • Fate Core with Venture City
  • Fate Accelerated
The first of those two are fairly traditional Fate games with the addition of superpowers. I like the idea of doing a Fate game and I like the crunchiness level of those games, but I'm also thinking of perhaps dialing back the complexity and going for a Fate Accelerated game, either using the Venture City powers (which, though meant for Fate Core, would move easily to Fate Accelerated) or using Four-Color FAE, a series of blog posts I've stumbled upon. 

To give an idea what we are talking, I'll be excerpting some character sheets. From Venture City one can find superheroes like this sample speedster:

Finally, for an example of a Fate Accelerated Superhero, check out the following example of Batman taken from Batman: Year One. This comes from the aforementioned Four Color FAE Blog at The G*ddamn Batman (Batman Year One via FAE).


.


Aspects
  • High Concept: Billionaire playboy by day, crime-fighter by night
  • Trouble: I lost my childhood in Crime Alley
  • Other Aspects: I’ve trained a lifetime for this

Approaches
+3 Flashy
+2 Quick, Clever
+1 Sneaky, Careful
+0 Forceful

Stunts
  • Because I am the Heir to the Wayne Family Fortune, I gain +2 to Flashily Create an Advantage when my wealth and good looks might be of help.
Refresh: 3

Extras
Mansion on the edge of the city, Hot sports car




So what's the verdict? A player in my group suggested that "simple is good" and I like that idea. I really like the idea of aspects helping drive a superhero narrative but I'm mulling over whether they are right for our gaming group. And if so does the slightly crunchier Fate Core fit us better or the wide-open Fate Accelerated. And if aspects look like they will end in lots of tears, then Supers! is absoluyte

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Developing a Superhero Campaign: Evaluating Systems Part II

I received a number of useful comments from my previous post as I consider systems for a possible superhero game.

With that in mind, I've eliminated several games and have a few more to consider.

Eliminated:

  • Hero System/Champions: I'd love to try this out but I sense this is creating more work than I want at this case - only about half the players in the group have any experience with the Hero System coupled with a need to run the game on a virtual tabletop.
  • Mutants & Masterminds: Certainly lighter than Champions, but truthfully I'm trying to keep things a bit on the lighter side.
  • Wild Talents: One of my favorite games, running it on a virtual tabletop is a bit more complicated than I'd prefer, with everyone needing to roll simultaneously and ordering everything accordingly.
Still in the running is Daring Comics. I'm still in the process of digesting the game but I've been liking it so far. I do need to consider if I want to run such a strongly narrative game, with its economy based on Fate Points and Aspects.

With that in mind, there's a few more I'm considering:

Guardians/Sentinels of Echo City



I've had a number of OSR games recommended to me, with the big two being Guardians and Sentinels of Echo City. Having given them a lookover, I'm going to say they are both fantastic games. Guardians is based on the original edition of D&D while Sentinels of Echo City is more like early 1980's D&D. 

To be honest, I didn't buy the idea of using D&D as a basis for superhero games. However, both of these systems have implements a simple and elegant way of doing so. Sentinels uses a single class while Guardians uses multiple classes to represent characters such as gadgeteers, martial artists, power specialists, etc. I find myself a little partial to Guardians - mainly due to the implementation of multiple classes and what appears to be a more moderate power curve.

Supers!



Supers! is one of those games I've had a digital copy on my cloud drive for years without ever giving it more than a basic look. 

Supers!, much to my surprise, has a bit of a resemblance to the D6 system. Characters are surprisingly freeform, with the only locked stats being various resistances a character has. They also have fairly open aptitudes and powers. All of these are ranked with D6. One thing I really liked is a character can use any power, resistance, or attribute to resist an attack. The catch is, with a few exceptions, a character can only use a given ability once per round for this purpose. This would seem to require an interesting amount of creativity instead of the usual attack-dodge-dodge-attack sequence. I can picture Daredevil using his radar sense to dodge one attack, whipping out his billy club to deflect another, etc. 

BASH!



BASH! is the final game I'm considering and the second game whose title has an exclamation point. Must be a superhero thing. Character have three stats is BASH!: brawn, agility, and mind, rated on a scale of 1 to 5, as well as powers and skills.

When making a stat roll, you roll 2d6 and multiply it by your stat. This suggests some pretty big gaps between stat ratings, much like Mayfair Games' DC Heroes of the 1980s and early 90s. It's definitely a rules-light game, though a bit crunchier than Supers!

Current Thinking

No, that's not the name of a game... Right now I'm leaning a bit towards Supers!, but I'm still in the process of digesting Daring Comics. 

As far as setting goes, right now I'm leaning pretty heavily towards a pre-modern game. In superhero terms, early Bronze Age at the latest - early 1970s. However, I'm also mulling over a 1930s or 1950s Golden or Silver Age game. I wouldn't be working at exactly emulating the comics - I wouldn't want a Comics Code compliant Silver Age game but rather something more akin to DC's New Frontier, with a more realistic view of the time period without giving up on a general sense of optimism. Similarly the 1930s were a tough time in history, with Depression and Fascism. I like the idea of running a game in a setting not dominated by computers and instant technology and with the social problems of an era being safely in the past.




Friday, February 19, 2016

Developing a Superhero Campaign: Evaluating Systems



I'm continuing thoughts on a possible superhero campaign, this time focusing on system.

I'm going to be thinking about systems with a few criteria. They are:
  • My thoughts on the system
  • How well a fit it is for my group
  • Any possible hiccups running the game with Roll20
  • The availability of the game
My group consists of people who have all played a decent number of systems and genres. Some are pretty knowledgeable on rules and gaming history while others are more of the "here's what I want to do, tell me what to roll" style. We've dabbled in Fate-style games in the past - I like them quite a bit but I'm not 100% certain we're a great fit for such a strongly narrative style of play (though as I've said before, when Dresden Files Accelerated comes out we are most definitely taking it for a spin). We've made use of Roll20 for our gaming, with players concentrated in Massachusetts but with a number located further south. The character sheet tools for Edge of the Empire have really spoiled us, handling initiative tracking, skill resolution, criticals, etc. 

So, with those preliminary thoughts out of the way...

Champions Complete


It's obvious that Champions needs to be considered. It's one of the classic superhero RPGs and one that I really do want to try out. It's definitely old school, not going for any of this narrative stuff. It's a tremendously flexible system, one that's been used for campaigns ranging from barbarian warriors to cosmic superheroes.

It's also a bit intimidating, what with it's NND, OAF, RKA, Post-Segment 12 recoveries, aborting to an action, VPP, etc. I've a little experience with it - I seem to recall playing a post-apocalyptic one-shot where the GM used the 4th edition Champions in conjunction with a copy of Danger International. My poor biker got run over by a fuel truck and died a horrible death.

While the 5th and 6th editions of Hero were absolutely terrifying (a 6th edition Champions game would require two rulebooks plus a genre book), I'm finding Champions Complete to be a lot more manageable. What I need to decide is it manageable enough for me - certainly not a gaming novice, but far from experienced at Hero and needing to teach about half the players. In its favor, the other players definitely do have experience with Champions and related games. I do have Hero Builder software which will definitely help with churning out NPCs and possibly PCs as well.

It's support at the virtual tabletop level is so-so. There's a Hero 6th Edition character sheet for Roll20 but I don't believe it does much for combat tracking, something that would be very handy in Champions, with its 12-segment turns with characters having phases on some of those segments depending on their Speed.

It's something I'm definitely considering while staying aware of my own lack of experience with it. Were we to use it I anticipate keeping things at a low power level, something akin to your typical Golden Age of Comics hero, with perhaps a single power or tightly group set of powers.

Mutants & Masterminds


While newer than Champions, Mutants & Masterminds has been around long enough to have a 3rd edition. One of the survivors of the d20 boom and bust cycle of the early 2000s, M&M has definitely moved quite a ways away from its D&D 3rd edition starting point, though you can certainly still see it in the game's DNA. It has characteristics reminiscent of D&D, though M&M foregoes the traditional 3-18 range and just uses the stat modifier. It has saving throws and skills, but no hit points (making use of "damage saves" and various wound levels).

Like Champions and other Hero games, M&M is effect-based. A blast of fire is essentially a ranged attack with fire as a special effect. I've heard it described as doing perhaps 80% of the work of Champions with perhaps a third of the work required.  

Looking at Roll20 support, it is quite bit more developed than Hero 6th Edition, though to be honest it probably doesn't need it as much in any case.


Daring Comics


Technically not out, though I do have a PDF copy of this due to Kickstarting it. Hmm, this is probably something I should review. Daring Comics is a superpowered Fate game. There have been a number of very focused efforts for making a superpowered Fate game but I believe this is the first one to fully embrace the universe of comic books.

It is most definitely a Fate game, which brings with it the challenge of the narrative aspects of that style of gaming. In its favor, the tropes of superheroes are very well known which would likely help with aspect creation, as opposed to a genre where you are explaining the basics of the setting to the players.

Daring Comics is pretty flexible, to the extent it has entered into consideration. I'm still in the process of digesting the rules, but so far it seems like something that would definitely work, should we be so inclined as to go the Fate route. Fate is well-supported on Roll20 which is a bonus.

Wild Talents 


I debated whether to include this - I decided to as it is a game I like a lot. What I need to figure out is if it is right for my current group.

Wild Talents makes use of the One Roll Engine. Essentially you roll a bunch of dice and are looking for matched sets as well as for high numbers. In combat, the die roll represents hit location, with 10 being the head, while the number of matches (the width) indicates damage. It's a somewhat "gritty" game, working, in my opinion, best at the Daredevil/Batman/Spider-Man/etc. power level - as this is what I generally prefer, that's all to the good.

It also has a unique way of building powers, allowing for some very interesting builds.

However, in my experience it required a decent amount of bookkeeping - looking for matched pairs, everyone rolling all at once, etc. Sadly, Roll20 support for it is nonexistent. Yes, technically I could get off my lazy butt and do it myself, but working full-time, being a husband and dad, and going to grad school part-time makes it a bit unlikely I'll be making any hobby-related updates to github in the near future. I might do a bit of Googling to see if anyone has made a combat manager for Wild Talents.


Others

There's a few other games I'm thinking about but aren't currently in the core group. That could change, as I am doing a fair amount of flipping through. Off the top of my head this list includes:
  • Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (MWP)
  • Marvel Superheroes (TSR)
  • Icons
  • Savage Worlds
Thinking Businessman Copyright: keeweeboy / 123RF Stock Photo
Other images taken from front covers of RPG products.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Developing a Superhero Campaign: Inspirations For Superhero Gaming



I've been giving some more thought to a potential supers game. It still might not come to anything, but it's a fun exercise.

Currently, I'm engaging in a bit of a catch-up on Arrow and The Flash. I've also seen the bulk of the first two seasons of Agents of SHIELD, but I'll admit to having lost interest. I'm also caught up on Daredevil and Jessica Jones. I mention all of these as of late I've found superhero television shows offer good inspiration on how to build a superhero game. Why not comic books? For me at least, I've found that comic books of late have been far to centered around "events", with dramatic shake-ups of the status quo, massive crossovers, and stories in one book being dependent on those on another.

On the other hand, television shows, even when part of a larger universe, are nevertheless largely self-contained. Arrow and The Flash will occasionally have characters from one show appear on the other and they even do the occasional crossover between the two shows, though even crossovers are still far more self-contained than you'll find in your modern comic book. Similarly, Daredevil and Jessica Jones are influenced by events in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe (for example, the rebuilding in Manhattan as a result of the alien invasion in Marvel's The Avengers) and Claire Temple has found her way to both Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

All of the shows I've mentioned have made use of the "big bad" concept pioneered in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - there is an overall villain who must be defeated. Initially, the hero or heroes might not be aware of who that is and they need not behind every story (though in a tightly linked campaign they might very well be).

From a gaming perspective, this model has a lot going for it. It allows for a GM to link his or her adventures together and have some sort of mental template for the opposition the heroes might face. This doesn't preclude going a little bit afield - for example, Daredevil's first season, while maintaining Wilson Fisk as the main big bad, also made use of The Hand. The Flash deals with both the "metahuman of the week" and further develops the story-line of the Reverse Flash.

Of course, GMs need to be aware of certain genre contentions that often work better in comics or television than they do in gaming. For example, comics and shows will often allow the hero and villain to have an early skirmish which will either involve our hero losing horribly or ending inconclusively, with the baddie getting away. I've learned that if the PCs get to engage your big bad, you must be prepared for them to win - or to die trying. Similarly, you will want the PCs to all be roughly equal, whereas many shows feature the hero and his or her supporting cast.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

RPG Review: Star Wars - Edge of the Empire



Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh... everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?
- Han Solo, Star Wars IV: A New Hope

In my somehow close to 35 years of gaming there's certain types of games I've played a lot of. There's D&D of course, as well as related games such as Dungeon Crawl Classics and ACKS. Over the past several years I've played a ton of Call of Cthulhu. Though it's been a long time since I played it, in the 80's, 90's and early 00's I played a ton of Star Trek, mainly by FASA and Last Unicorn Games, though with some Decipher as well (my group was among the playtesters for the Decipher Star Trek). And a ton of Star Wars.

I've played pretty much every incarnation of Star Wars. I played the West End Games version of Star Wars since it came out until well after it went out of print and even did a one-shot of it last year. It's one of my all-time favorite games. I played all of the Wizards of the Coast versions - it took them a while to get it right, but I think they did a great job in their final version, the Saga Edition.


I avoided the Fantasy Flight Games version for a while. I was a bit intimidated with the funky dice, especially given that the bulk of my gaming is done via Virtual Table Top and I wasn't certain how well that would work. But with a (knock on wood) reasonably stable gaming group we took it for a spin last spring and summer and then again in November. It's been nice having something go on for a while. I've been noodling with the idea of a changeover when my current semester of grad school ends in the early spring but even were I to do so, it would be with the intent of picking it up again - probably when the advertising and media frenzy for Star Wars: Rogue One takes off next fall...

So what's the deal with Edge of the Empire? I'll note that my review is about this - though I own the sister games Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny, we've been playing Edge of the Empire. EotE is one of three Star Wars games published by Fantasy Flight Games. They are all compatible with each other but are all also complete games - it is a setup reminiscent of the manner in which Last Unicorn Games handled their Star Trek license back in the 90's. Edge of the Empire is about Han Solo-type characters - people operating on the fringes of the galaxy. Smugglers, scoundrels, bounty hunters, mercenaries, scouts, etc.

It's a thick book, over 450 pages long. It is nicely illustrated with artwork appropriate to this corner of the Star Wars galaxy. I don't recall and can't find photographs in the book - everything is drawn in full color - very nicely done as well. A major annoyance for me is that Fantasy Flight Games' license only allows for physical books, there is no pdf-version of the game or its supplements. That said Fantasy Flight Games does have an official dice-rolling app for Android and iOS. Also there is an amazing, though unofficial, Star Wars sheet for Roll20, handling all the funky dice.

We'll get to the funky dice shortly, first we'll go over characters. Characters are built primarily around three types of abilities:

  • Characteristics - Your usual types of ability scores, things like agility, willpower, etc. Your rating in your characteristic determines the number of green ability dice you roll when attempting a task.
  • Skills - A boost above your characteristic in certain tasks. For example, if you are untrained in computers you would simply roll your intellect rating, a bit like the old D6 Star Wars. A rating in a skill transforms the green ability dice into yellow proficiency dice and/or adds extra green or yellow dice.
  • Talents - A bit like feats in D&D, lets you do things like gain bonuses under certain circumstances, reduce penalties, bend the rules a little.
So back to the dice. I've already mentioned ability and proficiency dice, used for raw ability and skilled ability respectively. There's also blue boost dice which indicate some positive bonus. Opposed to these are black setback dice (for negative circumstances), purple difficulty dice (for setting a task difficulty) and red challenge dice (for the most severe difficulties/circumstances).

When making a roll you are trying to collect successes and advantages, with the dices having symbols for these (and better dice allowing for more of these). Successes simply say whether you succeed or not. Advantages are used to get things like critical hits, bonuses to an ally's upcoming roll, or other special effects. A special type of symbol is a triumph which is both a success and a type of super-advantage.

On the "negative" dice are symbols which cancel these out - failure, threat, and despair. A threat is a bit like a fumble in most games - something went wrong. And opposing the triumph is despair. If, for example you were to roll four success, two failure, zero boosts, and one threat, your final roll is two successes (meaning you succeeded in your task) but with one threat (something went wrong - maybe for example you hacked into a computer but left a sign that you were there).

Your character starts with a profession and has a single specialization in that profession. This dictates what talents you can buy with experience and what skills cost the least to improve. As an example, bounty hunter is a career with specializations like assassin (bounty hunters who try to kill their targets) or gadgeteers (bounty hunters with lots of toys). You can buy new specializations, though the number of specializations you have increases the cost for new ones, as does picking a specialization outside your career. 

There's different types of opponents - opponents like minions are pretty useless on their own but they can group together (like a bunch of stormtroopers). Other types of characters get more like PCs - for example some lack a stun pool (characters can take both stun and wound damage), making them easier to take out in a fight. Others are pretty much just like PCs.

Space combat is designed much like regular combat, which is a nice thing - no need to learn two totally different systems. 

Beyond standard stats you have things like motivation (why you adventure) and obligation (at the start of an adventure the GM rolls dice to see if anyone's obligation comes up - like Han Solo running into Greedo looking to collect a debt. You also have Destiny - the ability to control events. There's a pool of light side and dark side points. If you spend a light side point it gives you some bonus (sometimes mechanical, other times narrative) and then becomes a dark side point. The opposite happens when the GM spends a dark side point. The number of dark and light side points is set at random at the start of each session.


That's the 30,000 foot view. It's a fairly crunchy game but it is also a rather narrative one. In combat, the system of advantages and threats is pretty well defined but outside of combat there's a lot of GM judgement called for.

I've found it plays well - combats don't drag forever (a problem I had with D&D 4th edition) but they also don't end immediately. The game definitely captures, at least for me, the Star Wars feel. It requires a GM able to think on his or her feet when it comes to translating dice but there is a lot of guidance provided. I've got the bulk of the supplements, and while they are handy, the game is absolutely complete by itself. It doesn't support Jedi characters though it does have the Force Sensitive Exile specialization, a specialization that is universal (i.e. belongs to effectively every career). This is not a character who is going to be leaping out of pits or deflecting blaster bolts, but it is one who can pull blasters out of hands or use Jedi mind tricks - at least eventually. You can also pull in Force-users from Force and Destiny, a game dedicated to that very purpose.

A few caveats should be noted. First, there is a bit of a learning curve. There is a Beginner Game for all of the Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars RPGs and, though they lack character creation, do a great job of introducing concepts gradually. Even were you to forego those games, that is a good way to go - I waited a while, for example, before introducing Destiny. It is also worth noting that the game was written prior to the canon reshuffling, meaning some elements of it are now in the "Legends" continuity. 

Overall, it makes for a fun game, which is the highest praise I can give any RPG. 




Thursday, February 11, 2016

Comics Review: New Frontier



Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier is a somewhat unusual concept. It bridges DC Comics' Golden Age and Silver Age. It makes the assumption that characters first became active the year their first appearance was published - for example, Superman began his career in 1938 and Batman in 1939. The comic takes us from 1945 to 1960. It does not suppose parallel Earths - there is no Earth-1 or Earth-2. The Batman of 1960 has been active for over twenty years (as a 40-something year old myself, I wish him luck).

New Frontier begins very dark, with superheroes becoming distrusted - the Justice Society disbands in the face of the paranoia at the start of the Cold War. Some heroes try to continue operating in this environment and we see the grim end of one of them. The only three who continue operating are Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Superman and Wonder Woman work for the government, enforcing US foreign policy, while Batman is rogue.

However, things slowly improve. The Martian Manhunter begins operating in Gotham City. Barry Allen becomes the Flash. The Challengers of the Unknown are formed. A former Air Force Pilot, Hal Jordan, becomes a Green Lantern. The endpoint Darwyn Cooke had in mind was The Brave and the Bold #28 -the first appearance of the Justice League of America.

While the comic gradually builds up to a happy ending, evoking John F. Kennedy's New Frontier speech, Cooke also stays true to history. We see the brutal racism that was once accepted. Hal Jordan is wracked with guilt and shows signs of PTSD over being forced to kill a North Korean soldier in hand to hand combat, especially given this occurred after the armistice went into effect, something he was unable to communicate.

What Cooke manages to do is combine the optimism of the Silver Age with the reality of the 1950s. It's a difficult feat and he succeeds fantastically. One panel can have Batman threatening J'onn J'onzz and another have him questioning what he has become after a kidnapped child is terrified of him. He reflects on how he wanted to frighten criminals, not children. Unsurprisingly, Robin shows up shortly thereafter. Cooke juggles a few gazillion characters and manages to give them all their fair share of time and character development. And the art is absolutely gorgeous. It evokes the period well and is a joy to look at.

There's a few things that don't work. For example, there's some hiccups in the timeline, with Eisenhower president in 1952- he won election then, but did not become president until January of 1953. Hal Jordan as a pacifist fighter pilot definitely stretches belief and is something I don't think was necessary for his story arc. (Essentially, in fighter combat Hal never fired his own weapons but rather set up enemy fighters for his wingman to take out.) Hal's philosophy is he was willing to die for his country but not kill for it.

Overall, I find these concerns to be relatively minor compared with the joy of reading the story - and experiencing the art as well. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

At the Dawn of an Age of Wonders - Some Thoughts on a Superhero Campaign



I received some discussion, both within and outside my gaming group when I mentioned my desire to at some point dive into Hero System and Traveller. I've a few further thoughts on those two settings and I figured I'd explore them a little bit more. The earliest I see a new game would be the late-March/early-April time frame, fitting in with my grad school schedule.

Given I'm currently doing a science fiction game I figured I'd mull over some thoughts about superhero campaigns. It may just be a thought exercise but what GM doesn't like such exercises...

I've grown to think that what one sees in superhero television shows of late make for a good model to emulate. I've been working my way through Arrow and The Flash of late (I'm about a year behind...) and have also seen the Netflix Daredevil and Jessica Jones series and I've found I really like the feel of such shows. In these settings the heroes are not unique but they are extremely special. In a fantasy RPG you have the luxury of starting small, with the characters beginning in a village and slowly gaining familiarity with the world around them. I think that is a good model to follow in a superhero setting. The challenge with starting small is that in a world with global communication superbeings are going to be a known entity pretty quickly. And when I say global communications, it doesn't have to be the Internet - newspaper wire services would be sufficient to see a story spread across the globe pretty quickly.

To my mind, the best options are to have a campaign at the dawn of a supers age or to have a campaign where supers have been rather rare. The DC Comic Earth 2 did both of these - issue #1 started with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Robin. And that's about it. Issue #1 then removes all of them from play, setting the stage for a new "Age of Wonders".

Consider shows like The Flash where an accident gives both the hero his powers as well as creates his opposition. This is a great way to kick of a campaign, with everything being new to everyone. I also like the Hell's Kitchen as portrayed in Daredevil and Jessica Jones - in the aftermath of alien invasion as seen in The Avengers, large parts of New York City were destroyed and are being rebuilt, though Hell's Kitchen is a nest of corruption. The alien invasion also has a nice effect of being a major point of divergence and doesn't correspond to any historical event. It also makes for a great explanation as to the source of superpowers. It can be set at any time in history and can even be a campaign unto itself.

So picture this... an invasion, from far, far away, maybe even from another universe. It is defeated, but entire cities are in ruins and being rebuilt. Some sort of mystical or biological virus was released into the atmosphere, the key to unleashing superpowers in a very select few, much like the virus in George R. R. Martin's Wild Cards. There's rumors of aliens still loose in the cities, but hopefully that's just rumors. It needn't have even been a successful invasion - picture a single invasion ship arriving out of control and slamming into New York City, spilling its pollutants into the atmosphere. Or a transdimensional portal briefly opening and unleashing a plague of chaos, only to close again. In both cases it's not so much an invasion but an event which would go on to have a longer-term impact as humans begin manifesting powers. And always the worry of the aliens returning. If there's not some who survived and are trying to reopen the connection home....


Image Credit - Earth 2's Flash (Jay Garrick)

Friday, February 5, 2016

Gaming White Whales: Campaigns I Really Want to Run Someday


He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him. I'll chase him round the Moons of Nibia and round the Antares Maelstrom and round Perdition's flames before I give him up! 
- Star Trek II Channeling Moby Dick

I've been gaming since the early 1980's so I've run and played in a lot of games. But there's a few games I've never really gotten the chance to run or play in much more than a few standalone games here and there.


I've mentioned Traveller a few times in this blog. I remember seeing those little black books at my gaming store in the 1980's but never got into it. Over the years I've picked up a number of the books for it and have a pretty complete digital collection of the original game. It does have a few challenges. The first of which is having a bit of trouble selling it - it does have a reputation of being "the game where you can die in character creation". There's also the challenge of the Imperium, a massive setting which has become synonymous with the game. Truthfully I'd be inclined to toss out the Imperium beyond what was implied by the earliest books and go with a Firefly-inspired game. You're out in the boonies, you're in a massive Empire, though one which exerts minimal control over planetary governments, to the point where one world can go to war with another - so long as Imperial revenue doesn't suffer. Good opportunities for mercenaries, exploration, trade, and general adventure.




Some day I'm gonna get a Hero System campaign going. It might be in the gamers' retirement home, but it will be done. It's not a surprise I've not gotten much more than a one-off here and there with Champions and other Hero games - it is a powerful system, but it can be very intimidating with all its options. My recollection is that once you've got a character it plays rather easily. Reading the backer in-development copy of Aaron Allston's Strike Force I'm intrigued how Allston ran his Strike Force campaign, using ancient prehistory of the setting as an excuse to use Fantasy Hero, using Champions for his modern day games and trashing the planet with a World War 3 which unleashed many science fiction elements. It seems an interesting way to link various games together. Were I to run a game I'd be inclined to use a low-power game like Justice Inc. as a way to ease into it. You've got your pre-superhero setting which, should the game go well, you can make as the next stage of the campaign. Or further out at the beginning of the superhero age - starting out with low-powered superheroes.

There's hope - I'd gone years without ever running a Call of Cthulhu game only to find myself playing it more than any other game over an extended period. Though I've gone about a year without a Cthulhu game. I'm ready for that.

This is what happens when I have an extended break between game sessions - I get to think of ideas I want to try out...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Thin vs. Doorstopper RPGs



Currently I'm GM-ing a Star Wars Edge of the Empire campaign. It's rulebook clocks in at 448 pages. The first RPG I owned was the D&D Basic Set which was 64 pages long. Now admittedly it only covered three levels but with another 64 pages in the Expert Set you get up to 14 levels. TSR published a number of RPGs that ranged in the 32 to 64 page length - off the top of my head I can think of Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Gangbusters, Marvel Superheroes, Metamorphosis Alpha, D&D Basic/Expert, Top Secret. Sometimes there was a brief 16 page book which would have very basic rules with it or be full of tables. And sometimes there would be a second set that would supplement the first - for example Star Frontiers had Knight Hawks and D&D had Basic and Expert.

From today's perspective, those were some pretty light games. Though at the time it didn't seem like that. I especially played a ton of Marvel Superheroes and Star Frontiers back in middle school.


What's better, the mammoth games of today or those briefer games of the 1970's and 80's? Unsurprisingly, I think the answer is "it depends". Edge of the Empire, for example, provides a ton of options and guidelines. You can make a very customized character with experience set developing very special options for your character - a demolitionist who can shield himself from explosions, a Force-user who excels a disarming foes, etc.

On the other hand, a game like Gangbusters left a lot to player and GM-judgement. For example, while there are the basic details of criminal activity, if a player wanted to build his or her own syndicate then there will be a number of judgement calls to make. If your character becomes known for a certain weapon it's more a function of role play - there typically is no mechanical bonus your character would get.

Both types have challenges - making rapid judgment calls can sometimes backfire on you or go "wrong". But a rules-heavy game can lead to a sort of paralysis while you try to figure out the "right" way to do something.

One thing which did surprise me was when I flipped through Gangbusters there was an awful lot condensed in that 64-page book. You absolutely could run a long campaign with it. Which isn't surprising, considering the number of campaigns run from games like Original D&D or Traveller with just the first three books.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Could Cruz have said "Allahu Ackbar"? Acceptable Expressions of Religious Faith in the United States

"Let me first of all say, to god be the glory."
- From Ted Cruz's victory speech in Iowa


"I’m a Christian first, American second, conservative third and Republican fourth. I’ll tell ya, there are a whole lot of people in this country that feel exactly the same way."
- Ted Cruz while campaigning for Iowa

I keep on reflecting on the fact that not only was what Cruz said acceptable but was said with the expectation that it would garner him votes. And he's almost certainly right.

I want to be clear that I don't think an American should have to hide his or her faith. Or lack of faith. But I'm picturing if would have been acceptable for a Muslim candidate to have said "Allahu Ackbar" under similar circumstances. Would it have been ok to have said "all glory to Satan"? We know the answer. The mere suggestion that then-Senator Obama was a Muslim was something that had to be refuted. I think former Secretary of State Colin Powell had the best response I'd ever heard to such an accusation:
I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian.  He's always been a Christian.  But the really right answer is, what if he is?  Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America.  Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?  Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America. 
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine.  It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave.  And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone.  And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death.  He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith.  And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey.  He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.  Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way.  And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know.  But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.
 Meet the Press, October 19, 2008


I'm thinking about the Kareem Rashad Sultan Khans of the United States. Had he lived he'd be 29 at the time of the 2016 election, more than old enough to run for Congress. In 2024 he'd have been old enough to run for president. He died for his country and so he can't. But he was also a Muslim. And in the America of 2016 he couldn't because of the mere fact he was a Muslim. Not by the Constitution, which explicitly forbids a religious test. In today's American we would not elect a Muslim. His policies would not matter I assure you. I hope in 2024 that will no longer be the case.



Again, is it illegal for Ted Cruz to praise God? No. But it is embarrassing that a public Christian declaration is beneficial while a Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu declaration would be disqualifying for the presidency. To say nothing of having no religious beliefs. And every State of the Union the president, when saying "God bless the United States of America", is excluding many Americans. A Hindu cleric was greeted with protests when he came before the United States Senate as a guest chaplain. Representative Bill Sali of Idaho later suggested that having such a prayer would cause God to stop protecting the United States. A Representative.

To be honest I don't think there should have been a Hindu prayer in the Senate. Nor a Christian prayer. Nor a Muslim prayer. Nor a Satanic prayer. The easy solution would be to not have official prayer in the Senate. But if you do have one, then all really need to be welcome.