Friday, July 21, 2017

[Uncharted Worlds] Pets in SPAAAACE!

A few weeks back Sean Gomes released the long-awaited Far Beyond Humanity supplement for his Uncharted Worlds RPG. FBH contains—among other things—rules for adding not only extranormal powers to one's UW campaign but also alien player characters. I haven't had a chance to read over the book carefully, but I did find my eyes drawn to one page in particular: the page in the "Commercial" chapter on beast Assets.

Ever since I played a Dwarf Hunter in World of Warcraft, I've been obsessed with pets for characters.  (Well, it's possible that watching The Beastmaster all those years on TBS may also be responsible for this predilection.) For example, the lack of a good Beastmaster Ranger option in Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons is a major factor in my lack of enthusiasm for those rules. Conversely, the awesome Animal Companion and Pet rules in 13th Age made that game an easy sell for me (as shown here and here). So finally getting pet rules for UW (something I missed during Sean's open development process for the book) makes me happy.

I'm also happy because the rules for beast Assets allow me to recreate famous science fiction pets right out of the gate.

For example, Kitty Pryde's beloved space dragon Lockheed is a cinch to make: start with a Class 2 Asset beast chassis (basic ability + 2 upgrades), the sort of chassis you'd take if you were going to make a critter-centered PC. A beast Asset can have either Natural Weaponry (one upgrade from the Melee Weapons table) or Natural Locomotion (something other than just walking). I could give Lockheed the Energy upgrade to represent his fiery breath—or I could give him Flying as a form of locomotion. In this case, I'm going to go with Flying because I can also give Lockheed a beast upgrade of Deadly to get the Energy attack. For my second upgrade, I take Tiny; Lockheed is always perched on Kitty's shoulder.

And that's it!

Anne McCaffrey's fire lizards are just as easy to make as Lockheed. Replace Deadly with the upgrade Bond, allowing Beauty and the rest of her flight to telempathically communicate with Menolly. No other changes are needed.

Finally, it turns out that you can make this guy with the FBH beast Asset rules:

Start with Natural Weaponry (the Energy upgrade to represent his lightning Pokémon powers) for free, add the Attuned upgrade (so that Pikachu can't be hurt by the electricity he channels), and then finish him off with the Summoned upgrade ("Pikachu, I choose you!").

A pet like Doctor Who's K-9 is better off handled as a PC built along the lines of the new Robotic Alien Form rules. For more simple critters, though, you are essentially set with this one page alone.

Monday, July 10, 2017

[Macchiato Monsters] Taking Character Creation for a Spin

Let's make a Macchiato Monsters player character!

1. Roll dice to generate ability scores.

The rules say to "Roll 3d6 in order" for the classic six abilities, but I haven't done that since rolling up my first character in 1980. I'll use Method I from the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide instead: roll 4d6 in order, dropping the lowest die each time. With a little help from Brock Jones's Online Die Roller, I get this array of scores:

STR 10, INT 12, WIS 12, DEX 14, CON 15, CHA 9

Right away I see that I'm looking at someone quite tough and fast with more than a modicum of cleverness and common sense as well. I am allowed by the MM rules to switch one pair of scores; in this case, I'll swap DEX for CON:

STR 10 (50%), INT 12 (60%), WIS 12 (60%), DEX 15 (75%), CON 14 (70%), CHA 9 (45%)

The parenthetical percentages above aren't officially part of the MM rules; I've just included them as a means of gauging the character's chances when trying to roll under a given score on an ability check.

2. Create a trait.

There are no set classes and races in MM, so I have lots of flexibility in choosing one free trait (race, occupation, background, or faction). For the sake of this character creation exercise, I'll make my life easy and go with the assumption of a standard D&D-esque fantasy world. High DEX and CON point me toward a roguish character of the dwarf/gnome/halfling variety. I like dwarves, so let's go with that for race. As for occupation, I'm going to steal a page from 13th Age and say that this character uses his thievish talents to recover treasures "borrowed" from the dwarves over the years. In other words, my trait is:


In game terms, this trait will give me advantage on ability checks related to "either repossessing" stolen treasures or being a dwarf. I could conceivably cram more information into that trait (e.g., "Repo Dwarf for His Subterranean Majesty" or "Repo Dwarf from the Pox Cities") to gain advantage in additional contexts, but my read of the MM community is that traits preferably consist at most of two elements combined. I'm more than willing to be corrected on this point, though!

3. Record hit die.

A straightforward step: all MM characters begin with 1d6 HD.

4. Choose two character creation options.

Here's where I can make choices that flesh out my character mechanically: enhance a score of 10 or less, write down an additional trait, gain a second hit die, undergo Magic Training to acquire two spells, undergo Combat Training to get a larger hit die and proficiency with bigger weapons and stronger armor, or undergo Specialist Training to get just about any other type of capability.

I'm not interested in boosting my STR or CHA, nor do I want to cast spells. "Repo Dwarf" covers everything I want in a trait right now, so I'll pass over that option as well. A second hit die is certainly in a dwarf's wheelhouse, but I am going to hold off on that now for reasons to be revealed in the next step of the process.

That leaves Combat Training and Specialist Training, and I'm more than happy to take both. One level of Combat Training raises my hit die to d8 and allows me to handle d8 weapons and armor; most rogue concepts could probably get by with d6 weapons and armor, but I envision dwarven rogues as packing more serious kit. As for "Specialist Training," I'm going to take "B&E" so as to be able to get through a locked door without a check once per day.

5. Roll hit points.

I haven't rolled hit points while playing D&D at first level since the 1980s—and I'm not about to start now. So I'll just take 8 HP and go my merry way. (The official MM rules allow characters to burn a permanent point of CON to get a reroll, so no one is stuck with 1 HP.)

6. Roll for languages.

At the start of play, characters check INT, WIS, and CHA to see what languages (if any) they know beyond their native tongue (or the common trade language). I rolled a 2 against my INT of 12, a 9 against my WIS of 12, and a 13 against my CHA of 9. So Dwarven and two other languages: the humans' Tradespeak for the first and Goblin for the second (since those little buggers are often in illicit possession of dwarven artifacts).

7. Roll for equipment.

The final step is probably the most distinctive of MM's character creation steps: equipment isn't purchased with randomly rolled funds (e.g., the traditional 3d6x10 of old school D&D). Instead, you receive a d20, a d12, a d10, a d8, a d6, and a d4 to roll on any combination of equipment tables (equipment and food, wealth and valuables, melee weapons, missile weapons, and armor). The idea here is that beginning adventurers are cobbling together their kit.

I want a shot at thieves' tools, so I'll spend my d20 on the equipment and food table. A natural 20 (!) gives me peppered cheese and cider (dR4), a fine horse, cartographer's tools (dR8), and torches (dR6). Clearly I'm on the trail of something big.

Since I didn't get thieves' tools, I may have to buy them. That requires cash, so I spend my d12 on wealth and valuables. Whew! A result of 8 gives me a leather pouch of silver (dR8). That won't get me high-end lock picks, but dR6 is better than nothing. (If I'm reading the price guidelines correctly, a pouch of silver isn't enough to purchase quality gear worth dR8 in value.)

Treasure thieves don't hand over their ill-gotten goods easily, so I need weapons. A d6 on the melee weapons table produces a hammer (d6), and a d8 on the missile weapons table results in a quiver of dR6 darts (d6). I feel like I need a bit more attack power, so I roll my d4 on the melee table and acquire ... a dR10 bag of polished rocks (d4).

Yipes! I hope my d10 pays off on the armor table. I roll a 7, good enough for a leather harness (dR6) that at least looks sufficiently roguish. That decision to take Combat Training doesn't seem so wise retrospectively, but I suppose that having 8 HP will let me live long enough to loot better-quality weapons and armor—right?

8. Put it all together.

Here's my character in pure game terms:

AUDO (medieval variation on the name of Emilio Estevez's character from Repo Man)

Level: 1
STR 10, INT 12, WIS 12, DEX 15, CON 14, CHA 9
Traits: Repo Dwarf
HD: 1d8
HP: 8
Abilities: Combat Training (to d8), Specialist Training: B&E
Languages: Dwarven, Goblin, Tradespeak
Gear: bag of dR10 polished rocks (d4), cartographer's tools (dR8), peppered cheese and cider (dR4), fine horse, hammer (d6), leather harness (dR6), leather pouch of silver (dR8), quiver (dR6) of darts (d6), torches (dR6)

I'm happy with these results. Going in order with the abilities made me choose a concept I probably wouldn't have considered (the classic defense of old school ability generation), and I'm fine with that. It's balanced by the character's freeform traits and training. In some ways I would have preferred the "pool of GP" approach to equipment, but I'm willing to bend in the direction of randomly determining gear (and the story behind said gear). Just don't try to make me give up my "4d6, drop lowest" and "maximum HP at first level"!

Monday, July 3, 2017

[Macchiato Monsters] Initial Thoughts

In December 2016, I purchased the ashcan edition of Macchiato Monsters, Eric Nieudan's in-progress contribution to the crowded OSR RPG scene. Because the new academic semester began a few weeks later in January 2017, I didn't have much of a chance to peruse the game until now. But I'm glad that I did.

What attracted me to MM was its freeform approach to classic Dungeons & Dragons. There are no character classes: characters are instead built by combining player-determined traits (e.g., "Retired infantry sergeant," "Elven illusionist," "Guild artificer") with a small menu of mechanical options (boosts to ability scores below 10, extra hit dice, additional traits, Magic Training, Combat Training, and Specialist Training). So the "Retired infantry sergeant" might take Combat Training to raise his starting hit die of 1d6 to 1d8 and qualify for weapons and armor ranked at d8. He could then use his second pick to add a hit die, giving him a total of 2d8 to roll for hit points. Magic Training would give the "Elven illusionist" two freeform spells: e.g., "Fairy glamour" and "Brilliant blast." (Spells could a variable amount of hit points to cast depending on the effect the magic-user is after.) And the "Guild artificer" could use his Specialist Training to build a "Clockwork companion" that could effect the course of the game once per day.

Equally freeform is the experience system. Characters improve by completing a number of in-character, party-determined goals equal to their next level. (Eric also suggests allowing each character to have a single personal goal.) In practice, this amounts to a level gain every n+1 adventures (where n equals the party's current level), but it does free the characters from coin-counting for XP even in the midst of more "heroic" adventures. (You're of course free to decide as a group that "Looting the Temple of Orcus" is the party's next goal—the mercenary instincts of murder hobos are not incompatible with MM.)

The three killer apps of the game are stat checks, advantage/disadvantage (adapted from Fifth Edition D&D), and risk dice (borrowed from David Black's The Black Hack and put to expanded use). Stat checks allow characters to take risks or escape danger by rolling under their current stat values on a d20. Find yourself poisoned at a banquet? Check your CON. Want to break the goblins' runic code? Roll under your INT. A result of 1 is a critical success; a 20, a tragic blunder. I like this system because it makes the raw ability scores matter and eliminates those pesky stat bonuses. Also, knowing that your 9 CHA gives you a 45% chance of impressing the king just feels better than having +0 to your roll.

Advantage and disadvantage let you roll two dice instead of one, taking the best result if you have advantage and the worst result if you have disadvantage. When making a stat check, "best" means picking the lowest die. When rolling damage, "best" means picking the highest result. As Fifth Edition fans know, advantage/disadvantage is an elegant way of getting rid of situational modifiers. In MM, it also gives you the functional equivalent of a skill system: the "Retired infantry sergeant" would have an advantage navigating the imperial bureaucracy, while the "Elven illusionist" would be at a disadvantage in that situation. The system also allows for a nice solution to two-handed weapons: wielding with two hands give you advantage on your damage rolls.

Finally, risk dice. As I understand it, their primary use in The Black Hack is to simulate dwindling resources or fragile gear. So a torch might be rated at dR6, with every roll of 1-3 (in MM) stepping the risk die down (and thus representing the torches burning out). MM expands their functionality across the game. For example, the encounter risk die is used to simulate the rate at which a random encounter takes place. As the die steps down, the monsters in the dungeon become increasingly alerted to the adventurers' presence. Monster morale is also handled by risk dice: monsters who lose morale once become increasingly likely to lose it again. Finally, to give just one more instance, followers are rated via risk dice as a means of representing their loyalty and capability. If you abuse your follower and make them take unnecessary risks, their risk die will eventually drop below dR4, costing you a retainer.

There's an awful lot more packed into the ashcan's 34 pages, but I think I've conveyed the gist of what makes MM so appealing to me. The game is definitely worth the $8 I paid for the print+PDF combo. I will be getting a chance to play in the next few weeks, so I'll report back then at how the game actually handles.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Awesome Dad Draws Awesome D&D Monster ABC

Check out this amazing D&D monster-themed ABC made by Imgur user "ungodlywarlock"! It's wonderful!

P. S. I used the "owlbear" page for this post's image, but the "mimic" page nearly took pride of place.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

[The Expanse] Babylon's Ashes

Just finished Babylon's Ashes, the latest installment in James S. A. Corey's Expanse series. I consumed the first five books in the series over the course of a week at the end of October/beginning of November, so there was no way I was going to miss this one—even if I had to wait until after Christmas to make sure that I didn't buy something I was also getting as a gift.

No spoilers here; I'll just say that I loved the book, taking less than a day to read it. All your favorites are back, along with a few surprises, and Avasarala comes up with some choice new profanities. Definitely recommended, even in hardcover (after reading the first five books in digital format, I decided I could commit to hardcover from this point on in the series).

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

[Ars Magica] Revised/Second Edition Available in PDF

So this happened last week: Atlas Games finally made a PDF of the much loved Revised/Second Edition of Ars Magica available for sale at Warehouse 23 (cost $15). Apparently a much loved copy of the physical rulebook was destroyed to make the scan: you can find some handwritten house-rules in the margins of pp. 40-41. There's also a small scanning artifact at the bottom of p. 35 (some text is distorted), but overall it's a perfectly usable scan. Would I love to get a POD version of this book? Yes, I would.

Why am I excited by this release? Because Ars Magica was my first introduction to serious campaign play. Back in 1994, my friend Mike Simpson launched the Deadfire Saga, the story of a bunch of misfit magi in a post-Order fourteenth century who come across anachronistic firearms. Hijinks ensued. We used the Third Edition version of the rules, the one from White Wolf that everyone likes to decry because of the True Reason mechanic (something that takes all of five seconds to excise, easily allowing folks to void any connection to the World of Darkness).

We were always hearing grumbling grognards complain about the liberties Third Edition took with the Revised Edition, lovingly referred to on the Berkeley Ars Magica mailing list as the OTE (or One True Edition). So I had long wanted to see just what the fuss was.

When I finally got a used copy of the rulebook, what I discovered was not the Holy Grail of Artes Magicae, but a perfectly wonderful version of the game that sat right in the sweet spot of mechanics and whimsy. The Fourth and Fifth Editions of Ars Magica are perfectly fine, but simulation of medieval reality to the point of generating mechanics for textual commentaries versus lab notes versus summae versus tractatus is not my thing. In Revised Edition, none of that has happened yet, and now Atlas has made sure that I can get an inexpensive copy of the Revised rules.

Maybe I'll run Revised Edition. At the very least I need to take the character creation rules for a test-drive here ...

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Brief Meditation on Marvel's Doctor Strange

Saw Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange last night in IMAX 3D. Totally worth the expense: this is the very rare film that makes effective use of 3D. In fact, I'd probably rate the film as one of my top three superhero picks, primarily because director Scott Derrickson actually connects the form of his film to its thematic content, playing games with sequentiality and time that gesture toward the ways that the comics page does the same. He doesn't make the valiant but doomed attempt to replicate the simultaneous spatiality of the comics page that we saw in Ang Lee's Hulk—instead Derrickson makes the linearity of cinema's temporal experience a means of exploring the plot's interest in immortality and causality.

Put another way, in Doctor Strange, this iconography:

Equals this iconography:

The bar has been raised for the filmic realization of comics, folks!