Thursday, 29 November 2012

Meet Seigwart

So, a friend of mine started running a WFRP game for us a little while ago, using pre-gens.  I think it's WFRP 2e.  We started out with some breaking and entering in a city-of-thieves type location, fought-off a burglar from the room we were squatting in, then hired-out to a noble to retrieve some artifact for a local robber-baron.

Anyway, I finally got to roll up a character(I wonder if the DM will let me play both him and the pre-gen, until one of them bites the dust).  I didn't really realize just how complex WFRP character creation is until now.  I once played in noisms' WFRP PBP, but he limited the character creation to a few basic questions.  The basic stats seem to be a combination of in-born abilities(Dex, Int, etc) and general skills(weapon skill, ballistics skill).  But then, there's also a separate skill system.  Anyway, meet Siegwart the Bawd.

By the way, is there a more Picaresque character class than Bawd?  I sort of doubt it.  He's not even a proper thief.  He seems to be more of a serial lounger with vaguely criminal tendencies.  I'm sure he's going to be fun to play.

My Starting profile didn't contain anything too remarkable, but at least his dodge blow, high initiative, and very resilient should make him hard to hit.  Also, I rolled him some nice starting funds, so I got him a crossbow.

Name: Siegwart
Race: Human
Gender: M
Alignment: N
Age: 28
Height: 5"6
Fate Points: 3
Career Class: Rogue
Current Career: Bawd
Career Exits: Bodyguard/Fence
Starting Profile:
M: 4
WS: 29
BS: 29
S: 2
T: 4
W: 7
I: 30
A: 1
Dex: 33
Ld: 33
Int: 37
Cl: 28
WP: 27
Fel: 34

Current Profile:
I: 40

dodge blow
street fighting
very resiliant
scale sheer surface

Languages: Old Worlder, Thieves' Cant

Leather Jack
Sturdy Clothing
Secret Purse
Steel Bar Mace
5 bolts

Seigwart does quite well for himself hanging around the bars, the gambling halls, and the houses of ill-repute in the city.  He knows many underworld characters and may act as messenger, informant, negotiator, or spy, despite not being a member of any particular gang.  Though not a hired killer, he grew-up on the mean streets and is tough and knows how to take care of himself.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Treasure Time

I recently got a shipment of goodies, care of Amazon.  Here's the goods:

1. Chessex Pound of Dice

I have to say, this is the way to buy dice.  Yeah, it's nice having a matching set, but this is both more economical and more fun!  There were some really weird ones included too, particularly among the d6's.  I was a little nervous about the quality, since they are supposed to be Factory Second, but besides a couple wonky-looking d12s, the vast majority look fine.  I split this 3-ways with my gaming group, which left me with 33 new dice.
2. GameMastery Flip-Mat: Basic from Paizo

We already got to try this out in a recent session.  I like it much more than our other two option: drawing on a small piece of paper and passing it around, or using cardboard dungeon-tiles.  Being able to draw on a large scale allows the DM to set-up encounters quickly and so that everyone can easily see.  I also got a set of wet-erase markers to go with these, and I already have dry-erase ones.

3. Chronicles of Amber, Volume 1

This was to complete the set, since I recently bought volume 2 at a used book store.  I started reading these and am loving them(though it's started to slow down a bit towards the middle of the second volume).

4. The Best of Robert E. Howard, Volume 1

 I bought Volume 2 over a year ago and loved it, so I decided to get Volume 1 too.  I really enjoyed the variety of stories: not just Conan, Kull, and Solomon Kane, but boxers, pirates, cowboys, etc.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Polish Resistance Character Generator

Combat Cybermodem: never write code without it!
Well, I put those Netrunner skills to work and made a character generator for Polish Resistance.  All it took was a bit of elbow grease and 450 lines of JavaScript.  The link is here(it's a little slow, give it a few seconds to run):

And if WWII era Poland isn't your thing, but you'd still like to use CP2020-light to run a game, the generator is configurable.  First make a copy of the generator to your own Google Drive.  Then, in your copy modify the skill and equipment lists to fit your game--no additional programming required :)

Here are the character creation rules for comparison.

And a couple sample characters I generated:

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Character Creation and Remote Gaming

So as long as I'm ranting about the downsides of character creation, here's another thing I noticed.  When playing via video-chat, character creation is a total pain(probably doesn't help when you're using your own customized system).  You can get through it but it takes time.  And it's awkward.  A player asks about some skill or dice roll and you're not looking at the same page, so it takes a while to understand the question and then for them to understand the answer.

Not to mention the logistics.  You have to send all the players character sheets, the list of skills, etc. and they have to open and read them, probably with multiple windows/tabs open at the same time.

OK, so one solution is to stick with something simple that everyone's familiar with.  Fair enough.  That at least solves the problem of questions, since no one should need to ask any.

The solution I find myself tending towards lately is random character creation.  Random creation is fun in it's own right.  You never know what to expect and it can be a fun process assembling the set of disparate numbers in into a living breathing character.  And it also saves a lot of time for video-chat games, players just need to click a button, give the character a name and maybe a sentence or so about who this guy is, and then print or save and you're ready to go.  Instead of 45 minutes of awkward questions and more-awkward silences on Google+.

So, DCC has a hilarious character generator that I would love to run a Google+ game session with sometime.  It's simple but has a lot of character.

As for the Polish Resistance game I've been running, my goal is to put my money where my mouth is and build an automatic character generator in the near future...

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

I Can't Be Bothered with Character Creation

So I had a realization while creating a character for the DnD Next playtest.  I just can't be bothered with the task of character creation.  Oh, I made one.  But I don't particularly relish spending the better part of an hour picking out specific skills and whatnot, especially with game sessions that last only 2-3 hours.

This wasn't always the case.  I remember as a teen buying TSR's Complete Book of Elves and spending DAYS reading and thinking about how to create my character.  (I likely spent more time creating the character than actually playing with him!)  Admittedly, this didn't eat into game time back then, since this was something I did on my own time.

But I guess that, in addition to having less time on my hands these days, I've learned from experience that the real fun starts with the adventure.  And character creation doesn't necessarily contribute that much to that.

Is this something that comes with age?  Or am I just impatient, wanting the adventure to start already?

Monday, 19 November 2012

Game Design Interview: Original XCOM

Speaking of XCOM, here is an interview where the designers of the new XCOM Enemy Unknown discuss the things that made the original XCOM UFO Defense great.  I found this video really entertaining and it has a number of good game design points.



Some interesting quotes from the interview:
  • "the Original game was, like, unforgiving...those kinds of games have a renaissance right now"
  • "succeeding in XCOM was like really succeeding"
One of the designers describes his introduction to the game.  He's all excited after hiring and equipping a squad of soldiers.  He even goes and renames them after his family members.  And then on the first mission four of them get killed in his first turn, walking out of the transport!

This reminded me of criticisms I've heard of later DnD products where enemies are carefully measured to be beatable by the party, as opposed to earlier products where character death lurked around every corner.

Meat Shields

They also describe the common XCOM tactic of bringing a few rookies along to act as 'scouts'.  They scout around, get shot by the aliens, and then your more valuable troops can pick-off the aliens now that you've located them.  In this way you can slowly build-up a team of hardened veterans, despite them generally being killable in one-shot.  (Of course, there are always those missions where you run out of rookies, or where you get flanked and your best guy gets killed!)

This struck me as similar to classic DnD where you hire Shield-Bearers as your front-line troops so that your valuable PCs are less-likely to die.


They also describe going on a night mission as a new XCOM player.  It's dark, you can't see much.  Plasma shots come out of the darkness.  And when you finally see the alien, it's strange looking and you can barely see it in the darkness.  And they expressed surprise that you could have such tension and horror in a strategy game.

I've written about this before, but for RPGs I think that Horror really comes down to DM-style.  How does the DM describe the encounter?  Does he present it with a sterile description: "you see 6 kobolds." Or does he build up the horror: first the party hears noises and a spear flying out of the darkness.  Then you can make out just the glowing eyes in the dark.  When you approach with a torch, you see a hunched creature, all teeth and claws, holding a bunch of primitive but razor-sharp javelins.  Creating an air of mystery/intrigue is much the same, giving clues the characters don't yet fully understand, etc.

Updating a Classic

They discuss a bit how they wanted to simplify the UI without sacrificing too much control.  And my opinion is that they succeeded in remaking a classic.  Their strategy in doing so was to assemble a design team of people with a lot of passion for and a good understanding of the original.  Then they could go and discuss what changes to make.

And it only took XCOM 8 sequels to get it right, so I can understand a little better what happened with DnD 4th Edition!

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

They finally did it.  They made a sequel to XCOM that does justice to the original!

OK, let's back-up a step.  For those of you unfamiliar with the title, 1994's XCOM: UFO Defense is a best-selling, critically acclaimed video game.  In it, the player commands the XCOM organization, tasked with combating the growing threat of alien invasion of Earth.  There's a major strategy and resource management aspect to the game, but the main activity is the turn-based, squad-based combat.  The player flies their squad around the world to different types of missions where they have to face-off against alien forces who outnumber and outgun them.

There have been a number of sequels, but none of them saw the same success, and more importantly, all of them have lacked the core elements that made the original great.  The game has a bit of a cult following till this day, and a number of fan-based projects exist to ensure the the original can play on modern computers, and to make clones of the game.

This month, however, Firaxis Games released a remake of the original, XCOM: Enemy Unknown.  I downloaded and played the free demo on Steam and, while there have been a number of changes, all the best elements of the original are there.  In particular:

  • Tactical Combat: great squad-based combat
  • Interesting Monsters: makes for fun variety and lots of room for tactics
  • Sandbox World: missions are randomly generated, so you don't know what to expect in advance and it's very re-playable
  • Character Improvement: squad improves over time
  • Good AI: makes for difficult combats
  • Character Death: makes for very tense battles


Tactical Combat 


The Tactical Combat in XCOM in particular is great.  This, incidentally, is one of the things that originally attracted me to the Cyberpunk 2020.  I think that the two main ingredients for this are weapon ranges and a powerful cover mechanic.  The result of these is that each side tries to flank the other in order to negate their cover.

Admittedly, there hasn't been much of this in Polish Resistance, but I just got some game mats and erasable markers, so maybe that will encourage more tactics in combat.

XCOM Links

Anyway, here's an entertaining review of the game.

There are some amazing videos of multiplayer sessions on youtube. Some real games of cat and mouse.  For instance:

Sunday, 11 November 2012

DnD Next Playtest 3

Well, it's been a while since my friend ran the last playtest, so while this is our 3rd playtest session, I think it might actually be the 4th playtest packet.

In Praise of the Character Sheets

First-off I would like to praise the blank character sheets.  We started out with updating our sheets from last time with the new rules.  With so many character facets to take into account(Race, Class, Background, Specialty), having a character sheet that keeps them separate really helps with keeping a handle on the whole mess.  I'm not saying that I like this direction of so much character detail, but I'm saying the character sheet made it much more manageable for me as a new player--I basically had to just read each facet's section and copy down a short list of skills/abilities for each.  I found this much more manageable than my old 4e computer-generated sheet which took me several sessions to really get a handle-on.  Basically I would say that DnD next seems to be better at Data Encapsulation.  Character Creation took a while but I would guess that it would get a lot faster as we get used to the system.  This as opposed to 4e which basically demanded a computer program in order to create characters(too many dependencies to manage manually).


Another new thing was combat "Maneuvers".  Each class can pick a short list of maneuvers, which are very similar to 3e Feats.  Basically they are dissociative abilities which are, in my mind, more associative than 4e abilities.  Things like Sneak Attack and Leap Attack as opposed to Cleaving Strike and Dragon Punch.  So I still agree with my observation in our first playtest that it looks like they are going back to DnD 3.5 and going-on from there.

Combat Speed

So the combat took fairly long, but I think it would get faster quickly as we get used to the system.  Again, slower than 2e, faster/simpler than 4e.  The skills/maneuvers are more associative than 4e, so the title gives you much more info about what the ability does.  As such, I only had to read the description once to remember it, so, closer to 3.5 Feats.

So I feel that DnD Next is shaping-up to be a move in the right direction.  Still not my DnD of choice to run, I would probably go with one of the popular retro-clones if I was running a DnD game, since all the additional skills and maneuvers don't really add much to the game experience for me.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Sandomierz Megadungeon Architecture

Old Town, Sandomierz
Nathan & noisms recently linked to a Megadungeon design guide. Some of the great maps there gave me the dungeon design bug, so I threw together the map below.  Basically I took a tourist map for the Old Town of Sandomierz, highlighted the relevant buildings for Polish Resistance, and added a side-view of different dungeon sections.  It starts with the Basement Level but then goes deeper.

I'm not sure exactly how to make this work with the Ad-Hoc Dungeon Generator.

Oh, and Life immitates Art.  Apparently the Old Town really does have an extensive tunnel system up-to 12m deep in some parts.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Trap: The Inverted Altar of Tziakohtzl

Adventurers will encounter a room with a square portal 3ft x 3ft cut into the roof.  If an adventurer attempts to climb into it, they will find that it leads to the floor of another, unlit room.  The floor is largely empty stone flagstones with a few closed stone doors around.  The high ceiling 100 ft above them is more interesting, with a large square stone 10ft x 10ft in the middle of the ceiling, directly above them.  The stone has the image of Tziakohtzl, the Trickster, carved into it.  There are also some large niches  high-up in the walls placed just below the ceiling.  While taking-in this scene they feel a strange weightless sensation.

If the character chooses to climb into the room, they must save vs. Death or immediately fall upward, splattering onto the stone altar above! (100ft of falling damage)  If they make the save, they manage to grab onto the ledge.

Indeed the portal is a magic one which actually leads to the ceiling of the Temple of Tziakohtzl, with gravity pulling in the opposite direction relative to the character's initial orientation.  Hence the strange weightless sensation as the character pauses halfway through the portal.

If characters manage to descend safely into the temple, they will be welcomed by the Priests there who will revere them as "Those who have outsmarted the god".  That said, they should be careful, since the priests love to play tricks themselves.