Sunday, February 26, 2017

Thoughts on Fate Accelerated Superheroes

I certainly could be mistaken, but to the best of my knowledge there's not a Fate Accelerated Superhero RPGVenture City, a type of cyberpunk superhero setting, and Daring Comics RPG, a more traditional superhero RPG for Fate. Admittedly. Fate Accelerated is a variant of Fate Core, but I think there's a great opportunity for a Fate Accelerated Superhero game. Fainting Goat Games does have a Villains Accelerated supplement which is a listing of supervillains in Fate Accelerated, giving a good example of how one might realize such characters.
. Off the top of my head, I can think of two main Fate Core products -

Like most Fate campaigns, it would be important in a Fate Accelerated superhero game to get general agreement on the type of game you're looking for. One could have cosmic superheroes like the Green Lantern Corp down to street level superheroes such as Batman and Daredevil. Of course, comics like Justice League have put Batman and Green Lantern together, but that too is a campaign agreement that would need to be reached.

What I like about a Fate Accelerated superhero campaign is the ability to leverage aspects as permissions - aspects can be used for Green Lantern's power ring, Daredevil's super senses, etc.

The recent Dresden Files Accelerated gives an idea how one might add a bit of crunch to such a game. Where Dresden Files Accelerated has mantles to define various types of characters, a superhero game might have something like archetypes - bricks, speedsters, energy projectors, etc.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mr. Chekov, Plot a Course for Trappist-1

What an amazing age we live in with NASA reporting the discovery of seven terrestrial planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1 with at least three and possibly all of the planets in its habitable zone.

Now that doesn't necessarily mean any of the planets have life. In our solar system there are three planets in the habitable zone - Venus, Earth, and Mars. Obviously Earth is a pretty good place to live and living on Mars is something that might be feasible some day. Not so much Venus however.

What is amazing is while the star is relatively close - 39.5 light years from Earth - it is well beyond our abilities at present to even come close to being able to make a trip. While at Warp 6 it's a little more than two months away the fastest spacecraft made by humanity thus far would take well over a hundred thousand years to get there. Bit of a bummer...

I've rather enjoyed a lot of science fiction which treats the laws of physics realistically and still manages to tell a great story. One of my earliest hard science fiction reads was Arthur C. Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth. In it the Earth had been destroyed by the sun going nova. Knowing it was going to happen, humanity, unable to find a way to make interstellar travel feasible for live humans, sends seedships of embryos and later just DNA code and raw materials, in hopes of propagating humanity, with the newborns to be raised by robotic parents. At least one of the worlds has its experiment succeed, with Thalassa establishing contact with Earth, though it is lost after some 400 years. In the meantime, just a century before the destruction of the sun, the weight problems which prevented practical interstellar travel for live humans are solved. It is too late to get all of humanity off the Earth but a fleet of ships does escape. One of them, the Magellan, stops at Thalassa, bringing us the plot of the book.

Ursula Le Guin cheated a little bit, allowing for instantaneous communication but leaving the speed of light a limit on travel. Realistically, even getting close to the speed of light is a massive problem but we at least know it is physically possible. 

Looking at all the debates around abortion and stem cell research today, I wonder what we as a species would do if the only way to have a chance of insuring the survival of humanity would be to send such seedships into the universe, hoping for the best. What would it be like for a generation of humans to be born to no parents? Would religious books be sent with them? In Clarke's book, they were not. What would a colony with just one religion be like? Of course, many holy books make reference to other religions. As a gamer, I could imagine a fascinating RPG with characters being among the first generations of humans on a new world.

Image Credit

Creative Commons Attribution International
This artist’s impression shows an imagined view from the surface one of the three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth that were discovered using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. 
ESO/M. Kornmesser

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Grokking RPG Systems

Grok means "to understand," of course, but Dr. Mahmoud, who might be termed the leading Terran expert on Martians, explains that it also means, "to drink" and "a hundred other English words, words which we think of as antithetical concepts. 'Grok' means all of these. It means 'fear,' it means 'love,' it means 'hate'—proper hate, for by the Martian 'map' you cannot hate anything unless you grok it, understand it so thoroughly that you merge with it and it merges with you—then you can hate it. By hating yourself. By this implies that you love it, too, and cherish it and would not have it otherwise. Then you can hate—and (I think) Martian hate is an emotion so black that the nearest human equivalent could only be called mild distaste. 

Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land introduces the term "grok" which is a bit difficult to understand - I've always viewed it as a full and total understanding of something. I'm also realizing that this is a novel I began in college but never finished and have added it to my reading queue in embarrassment....

I'm in the process of trying to grok the Fate RPG. I'm getting close - it's a system I've wrestled with for a while but I'm beginning to get it. What I've noticed is there are certain RPG systems that I just totally get. I could not play it for five years, hand me an adventure to run or a character sheet and I'd be ready to go right away (maybe give me a little time to read an adventure if you need me to run it but I'd not need time to reread the rules).

I think there's only a small number of games that meet that qualification for me. The first is of course D&D. I'd classify D&D as any version of it prior to the 3rd and any of the clones of older versions. I'm pretty close to grokking other versions of D&D, but the extreme crunchiness of 3.x tends to frustrate me when it is time to prep an adventure. That said, I'd include Dungeon Crawl Classics in my kit of grokked games.

The next game would be the D6 system. The original Star Wars RPG of course fits into this but my mini-Ghostbusters game was a blast. It was extremely easy to just pick up and play - and I'd play it again in a heartbeat.

The last of my grokked systems would be Chaosium's BRP System, especially in Call of Cthulhu. After two 7th edition campaigns I'd say that even a fairly major revision didn't break my brain. It's one of those systems that even with derivations of it like Mythras, picking it up is easy and the game is very playable.

There's also a few systems that I'm probably close to grokking. D&D 3.x and 5th edition probably fit in this category - I know them well but I definitely need a bit more time going over rules before playing them. FASA's old Star Trek and Doctor Who games are there as well - I think I played them so much in the 1980s and 1990s that even to this day I probably could run them pretty smoothly. I'm working on getting to a grokking of Fate and am thinking I'm pretty close which pleases me, given I'm really looking forward to a Dresden Files Accelerated or Atomic Robo game sometime.

Hero/Champions is probably my challenge - it's a super crunchy game that in some ways appeals to the data scientist in me - but also challenges me with the "is it worth the work" question. I might have a bit of an extended break from graduate classes in the late spring/summer time frame so it might be a good time for me to wrestle with it a bit... We'll see. I really do want to try Golden Age Champions at some point.

Monday, February 13, 2017

FAE Star Wars Actual Play: The Hunt for Admiral Bayran

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away....
Star Wars: Tales of Rebellion
Episode I:The Hunt for Admiral Bayran

It is a dark time for the galaxy. The evil Emperor Palpatine has destroyed the OLD REPUBLIC  and the Jedi Knights, guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy. In the Republic's place is the EVIL GALACTIC EMPIRE.

In this darkness, Senator Bail Organa secretly works against the Emperor, supporting the REBEL ALLIANCE. He has dispatched a team of Rebel Agents to Shesharile 5 in the Minor Cluster to meet with a rebel spy to see what help the Rebellion can give to that impoverished world.

Unknown to these agents, word has spread that the Admiral Bayran, a war criminal of the Clone Wars, has been hiding on the nearby forest world of Yelsain. The admiral's hidden shipyard was never found after the Clone Wars. If he could be persuaded to work with the Alliance, that shipyard could be used in the service of the Alliance....

Cast of Characters:

  • R2-C4 - Rogue Imperial assassin droid
  • Gaven Stark - Idealistic former Imperial army officer
  • Marcus Doha - Veteran Clone Trooper who has lived an active life since the Clone Wars

Scene 1: Rendezvous on Shesharile 5
A dark and stormy night. The moon Shesharile 5 is in open rebellion. Not so much against the Empire but against everything. It is filled with rage. Its economy in tatters, gangs rule the streets.

At Griff's Bar, to the sounds of angry industrial music, the rebel agents meet with Lt. Jun Chon of the Imperial Star Destroyer Magistratus. He tells them that there is likely little to be done for Shesharile 5 - Captain Zodin of the Magistratus will likely begin a full bombardment any day and the survivors will be used for slave labor. But... One bit of intelligence might have some hope. One of the gang leaders, a middle-aged Twilek woman named Akuna, was recently captured by Imperial security. In return fo her life she revealed she had shuttled the notorious Admiral Bayran to the settlement of Tavik's Landing on Yelsain. If his legendary hidden shipyard is true, perhaps it could be leveraged against the Magistratus and used in service of the Rebellion.

The agents left in a hurry as explosions rocked the streets and Imperial Stormtroopers and AT-DPs marched the street. Poor Chon was crushed by a collapsing wall. It looked grim but C4 was able to use its knowledge of Imperial procedure to bluff its way past the stormtroopers...

Unfortunately, security was not good at the police station where Akuna was arrested. While the valuable prisoner was brought to the Magistratus, word leaked of his initial questioning. Even now bounty hunters were on their way to Yelsain to capture Bayran before Imperial Security could...

Scene 2: Skirmish at Tavik's Landing
While much of Yelsain sided with the Republic during the Clone Wars, the planet, with its rugged individualism was far from united - lacking even a capital or central government, the people of Tavik's Landing were very pro-Separatist during the Clone Wars. 

With Yelsain's lack of security (people are responsible for their own security), C4 stayed behind at their ship while the others went to the Moot, the tavern at Tavik's Landing. It was a much nicer place than Griff's. Like the rest of the Moot, it was built around one of Yelsain's gargantuan trees, high off the ground. After some talking they found themselves talking with "the Governor", the unofficial leader of the Landing. She was a middle-aged going on elderly woman who had fought against the Republic during the Clone Wars.  She was hesitant to give up anything she knew about Bayran and also figured out quickly Gaven and Marcus were once military. Their tense negotiations were interrupted by the door being kicked in by the Mandalorian bounty hunter Jodo Kast and his ally, the assassin droid IG-79 in search of Bayran. A firefight broke out. The droid tried to take the Governor hostage, thinking that would cause the Rebels to surrender and get them it and Kast the information they needed. After much fighting (including Marcus blocking a flamethrower with a table), Gaven took Kast out, his jetpack going out of control and sending him careening down to the ground far below. IG-79 calculated its odds as having diminished and departed.

The Governor began rethinking the value in keeping Bayran's secrets. And it became moot as they saw a Imperial landing craft heading towards the location of Bayran's homestead...

To be continued...

GM Notes
  • We were planning on continuing tonight (February 13) but real world (tm) has blocked that. So tune in in two weeks... (Plus time required for writeup)
  • C4-HK is inspired by both K-2SO from Rogue One and looks like one of the HK droids from Knights of the Old Republic. We'll assume the blueprints were found.
  • After playing the adventure I realized I got the name Tavik's Landing from a location in the city of Sharn from the Eberron setting for D&D. Oh well. Sounds like a good name for a settlement.
  • We've not quite specified the exact year the game takes place in, but it is pretty close to A New Hope. At some point they'll likely go visit Alderaan and see it is not there.
  • I'm making use of some stuff from my previous game set in the Minos Cluster, though I anticipate the characters will visit other locations as well. 
  • The combat using Fate was nicely dramatic and didn't feel repetitive, something I'd worried a bit about.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Remembering Role Aids

One of my more humorous moments explaining a gaming book occurred in the mid-1980s. I was in the back seat of my grandfather's car flipping through Role Aids' Elves book while we were stuck in traffic on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. My grandmother asked what I was reading and I showed her the book. She misunderstood the title and thought I was reading a book about Elvis, not Elves. To this day when I look at the cover of that book I keep thinking it does kinda look like he's getting ready to rock...

Since the 3rd edition of D&D Wizards of the Coast has embraced third party adventures, though they were perhaps a bit less receptive in the 4th edition era. They had made the discovery they made their most money on books that everybody bought - rulebooks and supplements. Adventures might be needed but they didn't make nearly as much money.

Prior to that, the original owners of D&D, TSR, was rather draconian about allowing 3rd party products. They did license miniature figures, but to the best of my recollection, they never allowed any official 3rd party products outside of Judges' Guild and actually worked rather hard against them, going so far as to institute rather draconian policies towards fan-made material in the early days of the internet. Mayfair Games' Role Aids is one of the few 3rd party lines I can think of from the TSR era. I know that Kenzer and Company had a pair of Kingdoms of Kalamar books and I remember a series of class books from Bard Games. 

Back in the day I had quite a collection of Role Aids books. They had a bit of a dance renaming various stats to avoid running afoul of TSR's trademarks - Hits to Kill instead of Hit Points, Skill instead of Level, etc. They were unsuccessfully sued by TSR in 1993 and TSR eventually bought the line.

Like any other series, the books were of varying quality. Some of their books were straight out adventures (often loosely connected into a campaign) while others were longer books, serving as both sourcebooks and adventures. In the early 1990s they published some fantastic supplements on Demons that I made extensive use of in my gaming.

My favorite book from the Role Aids line would have to be their Wizards book, covering various wizards from legend and fiction, often with introductory sections written by the character's creator. This book introduced me to the works of Robert Lynn Asprin, Roger Zelazny, and Marion Zimmer Bradley, as well as making Babylonian mythology come alive with its section of Gilgamesh.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Graphic Novel Review: Give Me Liberty

I've been on a bit of a dystopian kick of late. One of the works I've read, for the first time in ages, is Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons' Give Me Liberty.

Originally published in 1990, Give Me Liberty tells the story of Martha Washington, born in the year 1995 and primarily taking place in 2009 through 2012. It takes place in a dystopian America, ruled by the initially popular President Rexall, elected in 1996. Her father is killed in protests following his election. She and her family live in the Carbini-Green housing of Chicago. In this America, it is essentially a prison for impoverished African-Americans. Rexall, a strong conservative, is re-elected in 2000 and 2004, with the 22nd Amendment being repealed. Elections are suspended in 2008 due to the possibility he might lose.

The Green is a hellish environment for young Martha - and for anyone else. She eventually finds her way out after she suffers a mental breakdown after witnessing her favorite teacher murdered - and her killing his killer. Her time at a mental health hospital is brief due to budget cuts, making her homeless. She eventually finds her way into PAX, an American "peacekeeping" force which accepts everyone, no questions asked. She's just a young teenager when she joins up.

Much of the story is centered around America falling apart. Rexall is put into a coma after a fire-bombing of the White House, with most of his cabinet killed, putting the unlikely liberal Howard Nissen in the presidency. He signs peace treaties, sends PAX (and Martha) to preserve the rain forests of Brazil, grants land to Native American protesters, etc. However, America continues to fall apart under the pressure of hate groups, fast food megacorporations (who object to the protection of the rain forests), the Middle East, an insane surgeon general (you'll have to read it), etc.

There's a strong element of satire in this - for example, fast food megacorporations have giant burger-mecha fighting in the rain forests...

This being Frank Miller, the humor is very politically incorrect. Rereading it recently, I found myself uncomfortable with things like "the Aryan Thrust" - a gay Nazi hate group. Or with radical feminists forming a new Confederacy in the south...

With those huge caveats, it makes for a rather interesting read - it's interesting when you push away the crude satire how much the dysfunctional United States of the comic rings true today. Just remember you are dealing with Frank Miller - though thankfully not the caricature of himself he became in later years (All-Star Batman and Robin, Holy Terror).

The comic also brings to mind Mayfair Games RPG Underground!, which also took place in an America falling apart, a setting also dosed with dark humor. Published a few years after Give Me Liberty!, I always felt it took a number of cues in tone and art from it.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Fate Accelerated and Old School Rulings

As I thought about what to write about today, I was mentally going through my old school RPG collection as well as some of my newer games like Fate as well as thinking about some some conversations in my gaming group of late.

One of the reasons that some of the older incarnations of D&D and their clones have a certain appeal to us is the flexibility they give you in what your characters can do. Newer versions of D&D introduce a lot of detail into your character with feats and skills. I've found they work well but have also seen cases where they can inhibit outside-the-box thinking. One of the challenges on the older school side is in making rulings - when a player has a rather off-the-wall solution, there's often nothing on the character sheet that would help you adjudicate resolution.

Interestingly, I'm finding in Fate Accelerated a nice compromise. In it, the players actions tend to fit in one of four categories (overcome, create an advantage, attack, defend) but it is up to the player each time to define how they do that action - using their approaches while taking into account the circumstances. For example, making a Forceful defense against a flamethrower is not something you'd often expect - however, with a veteran clone trooper taking a large table and interposing it between him and his attacker the action becomes much more reasonable.

I don't think I've found my "one true system" - I'm pretty sure it doesn't exist. When the DCC version of Lankhmar comes out I'm pretty certain I'm going to want to play that for example. And I still want to try running a Hero System game at least once.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Star Wars Rebels as an RPG Inspiration

One of the challenges I've seen people have with RPG settings like Star Wars is how to make the player characters have an important role. After all, it was Luke Skywalker who blew up the Death Star and redeemed Darth Vader. Won't the players always be in the shadow of that.

Personally, it's not a problem I've had - it's a big galaxy with a lot of opportunity for heroism. One of my longer campaigns spanned the timeline of the entire original trilogy, ending with the characters being commandos infiltrating the second Death Star. Unbeknownst to the movie audience, the Emperor had a deflector shield within the Death Star designed to protect the core. This assault team had to disable the shield in order to allow the Rebel ships to reach the core. Of course they ran into their arch-nemesis, High Inquisitor Tremayne, guarding the internal shield generator, allowing for a climactic battle. The characters got to join the dancing Ewoks when all was done.

The animated television show, Star Wars Rebels provides a great inspiration for a Star Wars RPG. It covers the crew of the Ghost, a Corellian freighter whose crew are Rebels against the Evil Galactic Empire. It begins five years before the events of A New Hope, though the timeline has advanced over the three seasons of the show thus far. The show starts fairly slowly, centered around the planet Lothal, with recurring villains and our heroes developed over time. In the second season the characters are part of the larger Rebel group but are also forced to flee Lothal as they attract to much Imperial attention, barely surviving an encounter with Darth Vader. The third season ups the stakes further with one of the characters beginning to be tainted by his experimentation with the Dark Side of the Force. Certain characters from the classic trilogy appear as do characters from Rogue One and The Clone Wars animated series.

The main protagonists seem like the characters of an RPG campaign. The owner of the Ghost, Hera Syndulla, is a fully clothed Twi'lek female and a dedicated freedom fighter. The other leader of the band, Kanan Jarrus, is a former Jedi padawan who survived Order 66. He is put into the awkward position of training the Force sensitive teen, Ezra Bridger, an orphan who they encounter in the pilot. Rounding out the crew is the Mandalorian Sabine Wren, the Lasat Zeb (based on original concept art for Chewbacca), and the grouchy astromech droid Chopper.

Their adventures range from personal ones, dealing with elements of their backgrounds, to grander adventures fitting in with the overall Star Wars canon - for example, they are unknowingly involved in denying  a shipment of crystals tot the Death Star, delaying its completion. The characters themselves undergo changes - former adversaries join with them, they suffer injuries which do not vanish in the next episode, young Ezra becomes tempted by the Dark Side, etc.

At some point in the future I might do a deeper dive and/or review, but if you ever find yourself in need of a Star Wars Rebellion game, Rebels makes for a fine inspiration (in addition to being enjoyable viewing).

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Campaign No-Prize - Yelsain in the Clone Wars

I don't believe Marvel still does it, but I remember at least as late as the 1980s Marvel would give out No-Prizes. A No-Prize was an envelope indicating it contained a No-Prize, mailed to the winner. It was an empty envelope... How could you get a No-Prize? It was given for finding an error in a comic but then explaining how it wasn't really an error.

In this week's Star Wars game the characters spent time on the forest world of Yelsain in the Minos Cluster. I've presented Yelsain as a Libertarian paradise - no real laws, though everyone is real polite and well-armed. I explained in the game how they fought for freedom from the Republic on the side of the Separatists during the Clone Wars. Made sense.

Then I went over my notes from the previous campaign which had been set in the Minos Cluster:
During the Clone Wars Yelsain remained loyal to the Republic, despite the bulk of the sector breaking away. The Separatists “conquered” Yelsain numerous times, each time discovering Yelsain impossible to govern. The people of Yelsain hate the Empire and make no secret of that fact. They refuse to pay taxes to the Empire. The Empire collects a 20 percent import and export tax to make up for this lost revenue, though there is constant rumbling about trying to collect at gunpoint. 

So how to reconcile? Well, I never contradicted the fact they hated the Empire. But how to explain pro-Separatist attitude of Yelsain in the previous adventure?

Well, the Libertarian paradise that is Yelsain seems to allow this - indeed, my notes refer to them as practically anarchists. It seems to reason that Yelsain could have been on both sides during the Clone Wars. While for the most part it was considered a Republic world, both sides could lay claim to its loyalty, with a shadow government on Yelsain pledging allegiance to the Separatists. This happened in the American Civil War, with Kentucky being represented in both the Union and Confederate Congresses.

See, not a mistake. I meant to do it what way...