Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A look back at Space Opera, pt.2

Part 2 - Personal Combat

I think the best way to grasp the beautiful insanity of Space Opera combat is to go through a single attack step by step. Our subject is Trooper Borman of the Terran Union Guard. Trooper Borman is armed with a 7mm blaster rifle, the standard weapon of Terran light infantry. A platoon of Azuriach CAP (combat armour, powered) troopers is approaching across the scarred battlefield. The Azzies are equipped with jump belts and are moving quickly. Trooper Borman has to make every shot count.

Trooper Borman sights up an approaching Azzie and at about a half a klick, he fires off a burst. He’s prone and the target is at medium range, so his base chance to hit is 60%. He and his company are under fire from enemy mortars, however, which gives a -10% penalty. Borman has blaster rifle/5 skill, which gives a +10% modifier. The target is moving fast, which gives a modifier of -25%. Therefore, his hit % is 35%, but he fired a burst, so he gets three attack rolls and hits on one.

Next, hit location is determined. The roll indicates a lower abdomen/groin hit. Ouch! That could hurt. However, he still has to penetrate. The Azuriach Imperium believes in the power of heavy infantry and its troopers are among the most heavily-armoured to be found anywhere in explored space. Borman’s target is wearing a Marauder-class PAPA (power-assisted, personal armour) unit, so he needs a 7+ on a d10 to penetrate. He rolls an 8, his lucky day.

Having successfully wounded his enemy, Borman now has to determine how severely. He rolls a d20 with a +2 wound factor modifier for his weapon. He gets a 15, a critical wound for a lower abdomen shot. The damage is 2d6+13 pts., but there is also a 12% chance of an instant kill. He fails on the instant kill check, but still does a lot of damage. The Azzie CAP trooper fails his Shock CR and goes down. The impact of the crash probably finishes him off.

So, to summarize, a successful attack in Space Opera will require, a hit roll, a hit location roll, a penetration roll, a wound severity roll and a damage roll, with an instant kill roll being a possibility as well, a minimum of five rolls. Needless to say, on the GNS plot, Space Opera is firmly entrenched in the simulationist corner


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A look back at Space Opera, pt.1

In my early days of tabletop rpging, I always played with the same group of guys. We went to school together, we were friends from a time before we had ever heard of D&D and as far as we knew, the only company that made games was TSR. Now, that's not to say we only played Dungeons & Dragons. We had a spirited Star Frontiers campaign going for awhile and even gave Gamma World a try (although we found that one a bit silly). Anyway, my gaming horizons began to expand after my first gaming convention. It was Halcon, in Halifax, Nova Scotia and it was probably around 1983. I decided to run a Gamma World game at the convention (after extirpating all the talking chickens and other annoying aspects of the game setting). I had a group of guys sign up for my game who were already playing together. It was like I was a guest GM at their home game. They completely destroyed my game, but I learned a lot about running a tournament game and it turned out, these guys were pretty cool. They even invited me to join their group. Now, my regular group of guys were playing pretty sporadically at this time, so I decided to take them up on the offer. I was a student and a nerd, so I had all the time in the world for gaming. Heck, I probably could have participated in half a dozen different games at the same time back then. Anyway, these guys played a foreign game from an unheard-of publisher. That game was Space Opera and the publisher was Fantasy Games Unlimited. It was like a whole new world had opened up for me. Then I started reading the rules and it was like "What the F...! You guys play this?!" So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the most complicated game system I have ever played (and yes, I did play it, for months).

Part 1 - Character Generation

Chargen starts out pretty straightforward with the selection of character class. There are only six classes and this will be the last time I will ever have to use the word "only". The classes are Armsman, Tech, Research Scientist, Medical Scientist, Engineering Scientist and Astronaut. The Astronaut is sort of a jack-of-all-trades type of character which incorporates combat and technical skills sets together. The others are fairly self-explanatory. Your choice of class gives you a number of points that you can use to top up some of your rolls in the next stage, which is the generation of personal characteristics (i.e. attributes). There are 14 such characteristics. Yes, 14. They are Physique, Strength, Constitution, Agility, Dexterity, Empathy, Intelligence, Psionics, Intuition, Bravery, Leadership, General Technical Aptitude (GTA), Mechanical Aptitude (MechA) and Electronics Aptitude (ElecA). Each is determined by a percentile roll which is then converted to a value between 1 and 19 using a table. For some stats, bonus points provided by the character class are needed to get the highest scores.

After generating personal characteristics, homeworld characteristics are generated and these can result in further adjustments to personal characteristics. For example, high gravity worlds give bonuses to strength and agility, while simultaneously reducing physique. Planets with extreme climates tend to give constitution bonuses.

Next comes the determination of the character's race. It is a veritable parade of furries, as a variety of manimals (Canines, Felines, Ursoids, Saurians, Avians, Pithecines) stand shoulder-to-shoulder with humans and humanoids to defend the galaxy from the various evil squid-people, crab-people and bug-people. Of course, this being Space Opera, one doesn't simply choose a race, one must qualify by having suitable personal characteristics. Humans and Avians have no prerequisites, so lousy dice-rollers always have a refuge, but if you have the stats, you can play the awesome Ursoids (bear-people) or most desired of all, Transhumans (supermen that resemble Vulcans). The more difficult a race is to qualify for, the more benefits one derives from it. Thus, a player lucky enough to have rolled great personal characteristics will be rewarded with even more benefits. Although it is nearly impossible to achieve, if a player is lucky enough to qualify for a Transhuman, he will truly dominate.

Calculation of the various derived characteristics is next. These include carrying capacity (Transhumans are nearly as strong as Ursoids), damage factors (i.e. hit points, Transhumans rule), stamina factor (again, Transhumans have the advantage) and movement (Transhumans can run as fast as the cat-people and for as long as the dog-people). There are also a ton of other things like shock resistance, fatigue, wind, balance and initiative, but you get the idea.

Career experience is determined next and this is somewhat reminiscent of Traveller, although with far fewer steps. The number of tours is determined by a single roll and any service may be selected if the PC has the required personal characteristics. A roll is made for each tour to determine promotions and then severence benefits are calculated.

Finally, skills are purchased. Each character receives a certain number of skill points determined by his personal characteristics and the duration of his service as well as a small number of randomly-rolled general skill points. These may be used to purchase skills, most of which have 10 levels each and some have prerequisites. For example, taking a level in Hyper-Dimensional Physics requires equivalent levels in both Nuclear Physics and Force Field Physics as well as a minimum intelligence of 13.

Watch for my next post as I describe Space Opera combat. You will not believe it.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rippin' on Marvel Super Heroes, pt.2

Zack and Steve continue their analysis of TSR's Gamers Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Abomination Thru Dreadnought. Considering there are four such handbooks, I hope they don't pummel a deceased equine on this one.

Marvel Super Heroes


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Second dispatch from PaizoCon

Derobane-bane has been rubbing shoulders with some big names in the business. Yesterday, he played in a marathon session with Erik Mona behind the screen. Erik Mona was the former editor-in-chief of both Dragon and Dungeon magazines and is now head publisher for Paizo. D described Mr. Mona as having prodigious stamina, showing no signs of fatigue after nine hours of DMing. He also said Mr. Mona is very skilled at bringing his NPCs to life.

After his marathon gaming session, D later found himself having a discussion at the lounge with a friendly British guy who turned out to be none other than Wayne Reynolds, the artist most responsible for the Pathfinder style. He produced the cover art for both the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and the Pathfinder Bestiary, as well as the famous (and, in some cases, controversial) iconic portraits.

My envy is growing by the day.

Update: Let the games begin


Friday, June 18, 2010

First dispatch from PaizoCon

Our own "Derobane-bane" and frequent commenter "Tayloritos" are in Bellevue, WA this weekend for PaizoCon 2010. We have received our first dispatches from the guys. They've met fellow gamers from Montreal, New York and Manchester (England, I presume) and last night, Tayloritos had supper with Dave Gross, author of several Forgotten Realms novels for WotC and more recently, the upcoming Prince of Wolves for Paizo. Mr. Gross is an expat American living in Edmonton.

Keep those updates coming, guys.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Eclipse Phase and CthulhuTech reunited

The well-publicized flameout of Catalyst Game Labs and the subsequent departure of Posthuman Studios (Eclipse Phase) and Wildfire (CthulhuTech) led to much speculation about the future of those games. Fortunately, some former employees of Catalyst have come to together to form a new publishing company called Sandstorm and it has lured back both companies. Happy days are here again.


Rippin' on Marvel Super Heroes, pt.1

Zack and Steve are back (finally) and they have something to say about Marvel Super Heroes. I am fairly indifferent to most everything about the superheroes genre, but its inherent homoeroticism seems like fertile ground for mockery.

Marvel Super Heroes


Monday, June 14, 2010

The latest purchase from my FLGS, pt.12

Pathfinder Chronicles: Classic Treasures Revisited

The latest release in the Pathfinder Chronicles line delves into ten of the greatest and most iconic magic items in the history of D&D; the bag of holding, the helm of brilliance, the deck of many things, the cube of force, the vorpal sword, the well of many worlds, the sphere of annihilation, the staff of the magi, the horn of Valhalla and the figurines of wondrous power. This lavishly-illustrated, 64-page book contains a wealth of information (and a fair bit of useless filler) on each of these items.

Each entry includes a reprint of the description of the base item as presented in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, followed by a "Utility" section describing how the item may be used. This section is fairly handy because it describes a few uses that some players maybe haven't considered, although if any party has a spare Type IV bag of holding that they use to carry water, they might be a bit too well-equipped.

Next is a section called "Related Items/Spells". This section is clearly filler. Why yes, now that you mention it, a handy haversack is rather similar to a bag of holding. Thanks for pointing that out.

After that is a section entitled "Campaign Role". This bears a lot of similarities to the "Utility" section, but there are some additional bits of useful stuff in there for DMs because it provides additional tactics that a villain might use against the party if he was in possession of the item or ways to defeat a party which relies on such an item too heavily.

The crunchiest section is next, that being "Variants". Each item has several different versions with stat blocks. Some of these are simply variations on a theme, like the helm of electric radiance, a variant helm of brilliance which employs electricity-based spells instead of fire-based ones, but there are some pretty interesting artifact-level items in there as well. My favourite is Shelana, the Mother Deck, an intelligent, superpowered deck of many things that is believed to be the precursor to all lesser decks (nitpickers will note that the entry on the Mother Deck is not actually in the "Variants" section, but has a section all its own, see below).

The next section deals with details of each item related to the Pathfinder campaign world of Golarion. This is largely historical detail which may be of some interest to DMs using this setting.

Finally, there is a loose section describing various odds and ends associated with each item. Spells, feats, extra-powerful unique versions (like the aforementioned Shelana, the Mother Deck), alternate theories on the origins of some items, etc. This a mixed bag with some really cool stuff and some pedestrian bits. Your mileage may vary.

Overall, Pathfinder Chronicles: Classic Treasures Revisited is a decent offering. If it sounds like something that interests you, I suspect you won't be disappointed. If, on the other hand, this sounds like something of limited value, you will find more than enough wasted space between the covers to confirm your suspicions. I give it a thumbs-up, but not a wholehearted endorsement.


Monday, June 07, 2010

Thinking about Birthright

The Birthright Campaign Setting was an attempt by TSR to introduce empire-building into AD&D. Although the execution was remarkably sound, the idea never really caught on and the line was unable to set itself apart from more popular settings at the time. Still, I think it is worthy of praise, so I do so now. In some ways, the setting is very conventional. The PC races are the same, although often with a twist. For example, there are five human races, the Anuireans, the Brecht, the Khinasi, the Rjurik and the Vos. They are modeled on High Middle Age French/Normans, Hanseatic League/Venetians, Arabs, Celts/Norse and Russian/Tatars respectively and each has racial ability adjustments, just like non-humans. The races tend to mix less than in standard D&D campaign settings and, in fact, many elves are murderously hostile towards humans.

Beyond the superficial differences related to races, gods and classes (i.e., true wizards are very rare), there are two basic concepts in Birthright that set it apart from other settings. The first of these is bloodlines. Centuries past, a great battle took place in which both mortals and gods took part. The most powerful of the deities was the evil Azrai and the only way he could be defeated was through the combined sacrifice of all the other gods who opposed him. The resulting release of divine energy blasted down upon the battling mortals below. Those closest to the gods, the earthly lieutenants of the gods themselves who contested atop Mount Deismaar, absorbed so much of the divine essence, they became gods themselves and took over for the deceased gods they followed. Beyond that, many of the lesser, but still potent mortals, absorbed smaller amounts of divine energy and became blooded. Blooded individuals (called scions) enjoy special powers from their bloodlines. These bloodline powers resemble spell-like abilities or feats and the strength and derivation (i.e. which god's essence was absorbed) of one's bloodline determines the strength, number and types of bloodline powers that manifest. Bloodlines can also be strengthened by way of bloodtheft, that is, the killing of other scions (in a precise manner). As such, many weaker scions are advised to hide their bloodlines lest more powerful scions choose to slay them for their bloodline strength. The most powerful scions tend to be evil because they are typically imbued with the bloodline of Azrai, the most powerful of the gods, and because they have few qualms about wanton bloodtheft. Over time, the effects of their bloodlines tends to twist them into monstrous form. These abominations, called awnsheghlien, are generally extremely powerful versions of more common monsters, such as The Gorgon or The Vampire. Many of the more powerful awnsheghlien even rule their own kingdoms.

The second unusual aspect of Birthright derives directly from the first. Regency is power that a blooded ruler derives from the land and peoples he or she rules. This power can be used for the benefit and expansion of the ruler's holdings, which, in turn, may enrich his bloodline. There are four types of holdings, law, temple, guild and source, and it is typical for different regents to control and draw regency from different holdings within a kingdom. For example, the king may control some or all of the law holdings (depending on how tyrannical his rule is) in his kingdom, while the guildmaster controls some of the guild holdings and a large multinational church may control some or all of the temple holdings. Source holdings are magical in nature and are controlled by wizards through the use of ley lines. A powerful wizard may control source holdings from several lands across the continent. Since few unclaimed territories remain, expansion is typically achieved at the expense of other rulers. There are rules for mass combat, which are functional, if a tad clunky, as well as more treacherous means of conflict resolution, like assassination and subterfuge. Many of these actions could lend themselves to role-playing, making it possible for groups to play alternate non-regent characters working in the service of their regent characters.


The Drow War: A Review

I've always been a fan of adventure modules, I had a ton of them back in 1st edition days but I've managed to stay rather restrained in recent years. The other day I came across a super adventure. It spanned levels 1-10 in 256 pages, while books two and three went from 10-20 and from 20-30 respectively.

Now the title seemed rather cheesy. Drow War? How cliche can you get but I took a closer look at the first two books and I'm so glad I did. Drow War: Book 1: The gathering of the Light by Adrian Bott is great. The setting is supposed to be transferable but probably would not be worth the effort. The characters themselves are called the Starchosen and are sent by the forces of light to combat the rising darkness (the Drow) in a prophesied conflict that occurs every thousand years.

The adventures themselves are well written and interesting with a good variety of environments. Most adventures have multiple solutions and there is often so much to do that the heroes will have to pick which problems they wish to solve as they are often on a time limit and won't be able to do everything.

The adventure has two massive battle that the heroes will be able to take part in and influence the outcome. Each part of the adventure is influenced by what came before so the DM will have to keep decent notes to ensure that things run as they should.

A major part of the quest line was for each hero to recover their soul item. This is an item that each hero carries and it powers up as they do (usually a sword, shield or armor but rules for other items were present.)

There are a few problems with the book. I haven't tested the mass combat rules but I noticed the way that the command score was generated and I didn't like it. If the party lacks a fighter, your command score is going to be poor. Some of the maps were a bit confusing and I think at least one was missing. There were a few typos but nothing that could not be figured out.

Its almost half a decade old now and was written for 3.5 so to convert it to Pathfinder would require a bit of work. I think the effort would be worth it. There are lots of great ideas packed into this book and it might be fun to give a shot someday, although I think I'd actually prefer to run the second part which I may review later. I would have to find some way to give the players all of the background they'd be missing from the first book however...