Thursday, 11 September 2014

PowerFrame Land Vehicle Test

After Monday night's wargame playtest, we also did a little playtesting of PowerFrame's Vehicle rules.


The guys had previously made up characters for a Final Fantasy inspired techno-fantasy setting, so we could include both magic and a variety of vehicles in the same game. In the first test session, Sasha, Dave, and Tony's characters had attempted to raid a newfound ruin to uncover lost treasures, but had barely survived an initial encounter with hostile goblins. They withdrew to civilisation, and returned (with Mickey replacing Dave) just in time to see another crew loading up their car with plundered loot and pulling away from the site.

They gave chase along an unsealed road and partially cross-country - despite the rough terrain, Mickey in his sportscar quickly caught up to the opposition and started taking pot-shots out the window. Tony in his 4WD was lagging a bit, but just managed to catch up at the end after Mickey nudged the opponent's car to a halt with a PIT manoeuvre. Sasha's van was never really in the chase, with a poor acceleration, but he managed to get it up to top speed. At the end, just for fun, he attempted to jump over a large offroad depression and failed the roll spectacularly, almost totalling the van and injuring himself.


The driving rules worked fairly smoothly, although I had to make a few spot rulings using my expansive system knowledge. At the moment the Vehicle rules are fairly sparse, because I don't have room in the book for a detailed treatment of each different vehicle type. However, after this test session, I have a better idea of what needs clarification, expansion, or reference to the relevant rules.

One thing that needs to be constantly checked during play is what the movement in hexes means in real-world terms. Travelling at 5 Hexes per Turn doesn't sound like much, but when 1 Hex per Turn is 30 km/h, that's actually 150 km/h (around 95 mph). So long as the players understand the speed conversion, they can develop an appreciation for the results of attempting too many manoeuvres at once. Ground vehicles get a penalty to manoeuvring when moving 90 km/h or faster, although I might need to increase the rate at which the penalty increases to avoid low-skill drivers routinely burning around at well over 100 km/h.

The current draft of the rules includes one free 60º change of direction each turn (or 90º if travelling at 2 Hexes or slower). This seemed to work pretty well, since it removes the need to make a roll every turn just for driving in a straight line or cornering slightly. However, I may have to put in a clause requiring a roll if both speed and conditions apply a penalty – for example, in off-road conditions, or when the road is wet or icy. Perhaps I could simply require a roll for [driving with one free corner] if the total penalties reduce the driver's Ability to 0 or less?

We still need to test out the rules for skates and bikes, boats, planes, and powered armour.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Wargame Playtest 1

Last night I got together with +Sasha+Michael and Tony to do some playtesting. We started off with the tile-and-card wargame I've been developing (as discussed briefly in my last post).

Some of the tiles and unit cards.
I'd written up three colour-coded factions with six units each. At the moment there isn't a particularly strong and cohesive flavour to each faction; I'm just trying to get down as many unit concepts as I can to test out as much of the game as possible.

  • Mickey got the Red Faction, which is based around heavy cavalry and two units of medium infantry. They also currently have pikebreakers, crossbows, and a bargain-bin "convict legion".
  • Sasha got the Green Faction, which has longbow archers, skirmishing rangers and berserkers, a unit of pikes, medium cavalry, and conscripts.
  • Tony got the Blue Faction, which has harquebusiers, mounted archers, heavy infantry, light infantry (with javelins), chariots, and a fairly well-equipped militia.

I acted as impartial referee and observer, and the guys played through a round-robin of three one-on-one battles using 10 points of troops (2 to 4 units a side).

Sasha vs Tony

The first battle was fought on a 4x4 area map dealt out at random by Mickey. It was a learning experience for all involved, so it was really a case of throwing units at each other and seeing what worked.

Sasha fielded Rangers and Berserkers, with a reserve of Longbows and Conscripts. Tony fielded Harquebusiers and Mounted Archers, with a reserve of Light Infantry and Militia.

Both sides suffered losses, but in the end Sasha emerged the clear winner.

Mickey vs Tony

We extended the map to a 4x5 area, so the whole map couldn't be dominated by a single ranged attack. I set up a fairly symmetrical map around a fortified town.

Mickey fielded Pikebreakers, Crossbows, and Medium Infantry, with a Convict reserve. Tony fielded the same forces as in the previous battle, but started with all units arrayed on the field.

Tony took the advantage, using his mobile cavalry to take over the tower and setting up his javelin-throwing Light Infantry atop an escarpment. Red Crossbows and blue Harquebusiers fought it out on one side of the map, but the Crossbows were routed thanks to withering fire. With the advantage of position, ranged attacks, and experience, Tony held the advantage and forced Mickey's forces off the map without losing a single unit of his own.

I began to think that ranged units may be decisive, and also noticed that a longer map meant it took the melee units longer to engage the enemy while suffering ranged assault. I also noticed, after the battle was over, that Mickey's Medium Infantry's defence values were lower than they should have been, probably from an earlier draft of the rules (as they are the "standard" unit that benchmarks the rest of the system).

Mickey vs Sasha

Tony set up a 4x5 map filled with horrible terrain. Much of the map was chopped up by cliffs, walls, and deep water that couldn't be entered.

Mickey fielded his Heavy Cavalry and newly-corrected Medium Infantry. Sasha fielded Berserkers, Cavalry, and Conscripts, which only cost 9 points (but there's currently no 2-point cost Green unit).

In the first turn, the Red Infantry charged across the map and obliterated the Conscripts. Sasha's remaining units attempted a pincer manoeuvre, but the Berserkers got tied up in the complex terrain. They wasted a lot of time, and by the time they got back, the Red forces had managed to dislodge Sasha's Cavalry from the narrow pass and push them into the corner of the map. When the Berserkers launched an attack from the tower onto the Medium Infantry and pushed them back, the Infantry chose to move and box in the Cavalry - which meant the Green Cavalry suffered a Fall Back result and were Routed off the map. The Berserkers were mopped up in short order.

Conclusions

One victory per player is a good result, I think - it shows that there's no fatal flaw unbalancing the system. I'll need to run some more controlled tests though, to see if range, numbers, or quality are overwhelming advantages. Even if I find that something is exceptionally useful, though, it should hopefully just be a matter of tweaking the cost to compensate.

Some of the battles were fairly one-sided, but I think that's a reasonably natural outcome. Once a side is taking advantage of the terrain, has command of the field, outnumbers the enemy, and applies the right units against the right targets, victory is all but assured. The battles themselves are relatively brief, and if I develop the game for extended campaign play it is possible for an outclassed army to withdraw and concede defeat in order to conserve their forces.

I only made a couple of notes for rules revisions. Firstly, Ranged Attacks can't be used on adjacent Units. Second, a Unit that Falls Back must move into an Area with the fewest adjacent enemy Units; this will prevent losing ground from being used as a manoeuvring advantage (as Mickey did against Sasha), since it is meant to be a bad thing.

After the game I also introduced the guys to my idea for Commanders. They are rated from 1 to 3, and you get to pick as many points of Commanders as you have units in your army. Commanders are basically cards that let you break the rules in small ways, like activating a unit twice or rerolling an attack. Each time you use a Commander, you flip their card face-down. At the start of each round, you get to flip one Commander face-up again.

I did mention my concern that you might end up with the same mega-useful Commander being spammed every round. Sasha suggested that maybe you get one coin each round, and you can pay as many coins as a Commander's cost to flip them face-up. That would give some depth to the decision; do I flip a moderately useful Commander this round, or wait until I can bring my big Commander into play?

All up, I'm quite pleased with the way things played out. Everybody picked up the basics of gameplay pretty quickly. Nothing was obviously broken, and we didn't end up with any situations that strained the bounds of credibility. I'll run a few controlled tests on my own, but other than that it looks like I can move on to developing and refining themed army lists and playtesting Commanders.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

September Status

Sorry for the lack of posts lately; I've been working on a lot of stuff lately, and haven't found the time to write about it!

It looks like I've pretty much lost the impetus to write detailed Actual Plays - and most of the time if I try to write a brief AP it turns into a long one. I think, if anything, I'm more likely to write about impressions, thoughts, and problems with games, rather than detailed accounts of the sessions themselves.

After its successful Kickstarter, I've been working on various things for Fear the Living. I've made up a couple of record sheets and gone through two editing passes of the game document. I'm currently working on the layout so we can move on to the final pre-production stage. It's only taken a month to get to this stage, so hopefully it might be completed in another month or so? We're also waiting on art though, so I guess that might slow things down a bit.

I've been slowly plugging away at the art for PowerFrame, although not as much as I should. There are still a lot of art-worthy gaps to fill, and a few outstanding essential pieces (chapter heading-bars, and the cover). I'm thinking I'll concentrate on those and a couple of other pieces to fill large annoying gaps in the layout, and release it on DriveThruRPG. Since it's currently aimed at PDF-only, I can always update the file if I get the chance to add more art later.

I'm also about to do another round of art for the Strays RPG, though, so I guess that will eat up most of my art production time for the next little while...

In the meantime, since I've been working on art and editing, my game-mechanical brain has been chewing over a couple of new projects: Thunder Hunters, which I discussed part of previously, and a currently unnamed tile and card based wargame.

Oh! I also ran my first session of Dungeon World a couple of nights ago! It went pretty well although we only had two players. The Cleric and Paladin formed a low-ranking Inquisitorial unit, investigating a skeleton-infested floating tomb.

Thunder Hunters

I haven't done too much more on Thunder Hunters, since +Annette keeps dutifully reminding me to work on PowerFrame instead.

I have pretty much decided to go with the option of combining stats so you only roll one dice pool against your opponent's target number (also made from two combined stats). So to stab something, you add Hit+Might and roll that many d6 against your opponent's Agile+Vigour. Rather than reducing hit points, Successes indicate what sort of effect you have on the target - anything from missing and overextending yourself, to manoeuvring, inflicting minor wounds (in the form of stat penalties), and finally lethal or defeating blows.

One interesting thing I've come up with, is to have larger creatures use larger dice. So people use d6, but Allosaurs use d8, and Tyrannosaurs use d10. This makes larger things scarier, and also provides a tactile sense of struggling against a larger creature.

Another thing I've been mulling over has been the idea of Spirit Points. The original idea was that killing creatures releases Evil Spirits that plague the tribe or allow the GM to develop the ecosystem to introduce new threats; however, I need to make sure the economy isn't set up to necessarily de-incentivise fighting dinosaurs, which is part of the appeal of the game. I do want to reflect what happens when you upset the balance of nature, but the balance can also tip too far against the tribe and threaten to overwhelm them if the wild isn't fought back to some extent. I'm still thinking over ways to implement that, although I'm not actively thinking about it right now.

Tile Wargame

I've had the idea for this sort of wargame for a while - you use tiles for terrain to create a variable battlefield, and cards to represent units. It's set at a medieval tech level, since I want the basics of infantry, archers, and cavalry. However, there's nothing which would prevent the representation of early firearms and cannons as well.

The main mantra is "No Modifiers", although what that really means is "the players don't have to remember to add any modifiers during play." All of a unit's melee and ranged defence scores are listed on the card, with different ratings for each of the six types of terrain they might be standing in. Attack scores are generally fixed, although some units may have alternative attack scores against different types of enemy units, or against units in specific terrain.

I've based the terrain on the types described in The Art of War - Open (plains, fields), Entangling (forests), Temporising (swamps, bogs), Precipitous (hills, elevations), Narrow Passes (canyons, bridges, streets), and Fortifications (castles, towers, walls). Each terrain tile has a movement cost for the three forms of movement - foot, hoof, or wheel.

Units don't track hit points or anything like that - I want to keep the bookkeeping to a minimum. Instead, we abstract the unit's condition. They start in Solid formation, and if they take a certain strength of attack they become Broken - you flip the card over, which describes the unit operating at reduced capacity. A Broken unit that suffers harm Falls Back and gives up its space; if it takes more damage after that, it's Routed and removed from play.

I've been slowly putting together a playtest set, although as my printer's out of ink I've been hand-writing blank unit cards on ivory-board. The entire game exists on a sea of floating modifiers, so I want to be able to erase and rewrite the details if I decide something needs to be changed. It's taken me a while since each unit has a lot on its card, but I just about have three small armies ready to do some local playtests.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Working Towards Diversity

PowerFrame uses a set of four Game Helper characters, who act as the subjects of rules examples. They are kind of "iconic" characters, although given it's a universal game they tend to dress up as lots of different characters.

Here is the first group I came up with:

Alex, Chris, and Sandy
(with Soggy at lower left)
In the interests of diversity, I included one male, one female, and one androgyne. I included one Caucasian, one Asian, and one dark-skinned person. I mixed up gender assumptions a little by having the male with long hair and the female with short hair. All of the Game Helpers also have names that could be either male or female. The fourth Game Helper, Soggy, is a shapechanging blob that takes on the roles of monsters and adversaries in the examples.

Personality-wise, Chris likes strong and straightforward characters, Sandy likes playing support characters, and Alex likes playing mysterious characters and using the more complex optional rules.

These have been the Game Helpers for a few years now, but I recently looked at them critically and noticed I was playing into certain stereotypes and cultural assumptions.

  • Chris - the 'main' character - is a white male. He's also forthright and direct, preferring 'power' options in the game.
  • Sandy, while dark-skinned, has blonde hair. While this is pretty common in anime (and also reflected in Japan's 'Ganguro Girl' style), it's a form of exotification. She's also gentle, prefers playing support roles, and likes the simple parts of the system.
  • Alex is an androgynous and inscrutable Asian who likes complex rules. That pretty much speaks for itself.


Realising that some of these elements were as problematic as the issues the group was meant to address, I went back to the drawing board and designed a new group.

Alex, Chris, and Sandy
(with Soggy at lower right)

  • The leading character, Chris, is now a black female who likes to kick butt and take charge. Given I'm from Australia, her look is inspired by Australian Aborigines.
  • Alex is now a male Asian, who likes to take on social roles and be the party negotiator. This is a subtle shift from the 'support character' personality that used to be in this slot.
  • Sandy is now a Caucasian androgyne who likes playing mysterious characters and engaging with the advanced rules. Ze also now has a fuller body-type and glasses.


Are there still issues? Certainly there are some, but with only three characters there's limited conceptual space to be much more inclusive. Sandy could be seen as a 'sexless fat nerd' stereotype, or as a being inclusive of people with different body-types. The only disability represented is Sandy's glasses, which is a pretty minor thing.

I hope that this second group is a better example of diversity and representation than the first. If you have any suggestions as to how I might improve the situation, I'd love to hear some feedback!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Travelling Onward

I'm slowly putting together the artwork for PowerFrame, starting with the essentials. Each chapter has a full-width illustration at the top. This is one I've just finished for the Travel chapter, so I thought I'd discuss Travel in PowerFrame a bit.



PowerFrame's Travel rules are detailed and comprehensive, based around a World Map made up of 20km wide hexes. Here's a sample page, which discusses how to use the World Map in play.


Land hexes are made up of both Topography and Vegetation, which can be combined to represent almost any environment - from Arid Flat to Jungle Mountains. Some weirder combinations create specific terrain; Arid Swamp represents a salt marsh, and Frigid Swamp becomes tundra. Personally I am quite fond of Forest Mesas.

In addition to the basic Terrain and Water icons, there are other markers for settlements, fortifications, sites, ruins, caves, mines, cliffs, beaches, roads, streams, rivers, cataracts, waterfalls, and oases.

Once you have a map together, the rest of the Travel rules respond to the variable terrain as the party travels over it. While you can skip stuff that's not important to your game, you can use the full rules to play a procedural hexcrawl and explore a fantastic landscape. There are rules covering Weather, Encounters, Getting Lost, Movement, Vision, and Exposure.

  • Weather is influenced by the terrain, and other factors such as season and latitude. It's based on separate sliders for Temperature, Water, and Wind.
  • Encounters provide general suggestions, since it's a universal system. The terrain affects your chances of encountering either Creatures or Characters. I've tried to make sure each Encounter is more than just flavour, and the Character Encounters have hooks to help get the PCs involved.
  • Getting Lost is a possibility in some terrain, with mountains and forests disorienting and misdirecting travellers. Use of the appropriate Abilities will make sure you go the way you intend, and don't just walk in circles.
  • Movement uses the characters' normal Movement rate on the World Map over a 12 hour period. However, travelling too much can sap Endurance, so it's often wise to slow down a bit unless you really need to be somewhere.
  • Vision is a key element when exploring new areas. As the party progresses, the GM can fill in the Players' Map with just the areas they can see. You can usually see all the adjacent hexes. Some terrain and weather obscures vision, but mountainous terrain can be seen from further away than usual.
  • Exposure is a risk if the weather is particularly hot or cold. It drains Endurance, which can make travelling more difficult and eventually prove fatal.

This flexible and adaptable system is designed to help you create and explore your own worlds, whatever they might look like.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Attacking and Defending

There's a stylistic divide between combat styles that I usually like to see represented - the difference between a light, nimble, agile warrior, and the heavy, slow, strong warrior. Since I'm currently thinking about a game called Thunder Hunters where you get to hunt dinosaurs, it's a topic that's been on my mind.

This is me talking through my current design problem, so it's going to get a little long and technical.

In my PowerFrame RPG, characters have Attack, Avoid, Damage, and Toughness ratings. Attack opposes Avoid to score a hit, and Damage opposes Toughness to figure out the severity of the hit. In PowerFrame, the attacker and defender make opposed rolls, so there's a total of four checks for a successful attack. For Thunder Hunters, I'd like to try and cut that down a bit.

I'm also currently working with a d6 dice pool system. Stats would be rated from 1 to 6, which represents the number of dice you roll. Your opponent's stat is the target number you need for success.
For example, with an Attack of 4 against Agility of 5, you'd roll 4d6 and count one Success for each die that rolls 5 or more.

Two Rolls


To capture the fast vs tough divide, my initial thought was to have four stats that determine basic combat performance:

  • Attack, from a skill you can develop.
  • Damage, probably defined more by the weapon than the wielder.
  • Agile, representing mobility.
  • Robust, representing resistance to damage.

That's pretty much the same setup as PowerFrame, but the system works a bit differently. The defensive Agile/Robust are static target numbers, so that halves the required number of rolls.

  • The attacker rolls Attack, counting Successes against their opponent's Agile.
  • If they score at least one Success, the Attacker adds the Successes to their Damage and rolls that many dice against their opponent's Robust.
  • Successes against Robust allow you to create advantages or wear down your opponent. Enough Successes allow you to inflict a Kill result.

Advantages


  • It's possible to model things that are hard to hit and accurate but weak and fragile, and at the other extreme model things that are easy to hit and dodge but strong and tough. It's also possible to model things that are other mixtures (accurate and damaging, but slow and vulnerable), or even good or bad in all categories.
  • It's easy to use different stats to deal with different attack types (for example, you dodge both a strike or a grapple with Agile, but use different stats to resist their effects).
  • This spread of stats provides more dials that can be fiddled with in combat, potentially resulting in a richer simulation.

Disadvantages


  • You still have to roll two dice pools.
  • Two rolls to resolve an attack might not be consistent with the rest of the system, reducing things outside of combat to a simple single roll.
  • With only 1 Success needed to result in a damaging attack, the chances of dodging outright quickly become very slim.
  • Perhaps in the end, making two rolls is just a longer way to arrive at a singular probability?


One Roll


I am also experimenting with a different approach. The only two stats are Attack and Defence, with Successes on a single Attack roll resulting in combat advantage.

Weapons, armour, and other equipment would let you modify your Attack pool or reduce that of your opponent.

Advantages


  • You only need to make one roll, so resolving an attack is fast.
  • It's consistent with other single-roll non-combat skill usage.

Disadvantages


  • You need different resistance stats to deal with different types of attack (wound, grapple etc). Since you need these stats in the two-roll system anyway, I'm not sure if it's a disadvantage. However, something irks me about having a bunch of monolithic defence stats rather than being able to see the separate components (Strike Defence and Grapple Defence would both contain a measure of agility).
  • You lose the fast/accurate/strong/tough divisions. There's only dangerous/tenacious. While I think this could work very well for a game where the expected opposition is similar in capability to the PCs, I think in a game where people hunt dinosaurs it may not offer enough scope to describe the capabilities of different creatures.



At first blush it seems like a reasonable approach to have small Theropods be low Danger and low Tenacity, and larger ones such as Tyrannosaurus be high Danger and high Tenacity. It seems fine to be able to kill smaller raptors more easily and struggle to overcome a T-Rex. However, something was bugging me.

Then I thought a bit about traps. Imagine a spiked log swinging through the jungle. It scatters a pack of raptors; if it hits them it'll kill them, but they are small and agile and have time to get out of its way. Now imagine it swinging towards a T-Rex. It probably doesn't have time to get out of the way, but the wounds inflicted may not be fatal.

Ideally, this is how I view combat: against small, fast opponents there should be a low chance of hitting for a lot of damage. Against larger, slower opponents there should be a high chance of hitting for a little damage.

Where the single roll falls down is that against small enemies a dangerous attack has a high chance of doing a lot of damage, and against larger enemies it has a low chance of doing a little damage. The accuracy probabilities are out of whack. If we consider it in relation to the log trap example, it'll probably work almost as well against the T-Rex, but it will obliterate the pack of raptors.

In the end, using one roll won't replicate the probability of the two-roll method if we care about the effects of accuracy and damage, agility and toughness. That said, in many cases even a high Agility won't allow you to evade an attack altogether. If you're either going to get 1 Attack Success + 4 Damage against Robust 3 (average 3 Wounds), or 3 Attack Successes + 4 Damage against Robust 5 (average 2 Wounds), it's almost worth reducing it to one roll for simplicity's sake anyway.

Options


I'm still mulling over the pros and cons, looking for options I might have missed.

It might be possible to apply damage and toughness as set numbers on top of the initial Attack roll, or based on it somehow. This would cut back on one of the rolls, but I'd have to make sure the numbers work and it's not too dull.

I might be able to define defensive stats by combining two other stats: Against strikes, use Agile + Robust. Against grapples, use Agile + Might. It would require me to rethink the way I'm setting up the stats, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

There's this weird thing where I imagine an attack from a raptor and a T-Rex. The raptor is smaller and faster, but the T-Rex has much greater reach and a huge attack zone. Even disregarding the lethality of the hit, I can't see it being any easier to dodge the bite of a T-Rex than to avoid a man-sized raptor. So, it seems like Attack rating may actually go up with size, rather than down.

That also plays into my current Action Point system - I want to make being chased by a T-Rex daunting, by having it cost more to dodge its attacks. This sort of feeds into the feeling that I could reduce things to a single roll. If I reduce accuracy with size, it would be easier to dance around a T-Rex for days. If I reduce its attack rating, I'd have to come up with some other mechanism to drain AP.

Things are all up in the air at the moment, and I really need to get some stuff down on paper and see what happens. I think I'm probably going to work on the two roll system, but I'll keep an eye on it and see if I could somehow collapse the necessary stats to use the one roll method.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Finished Writing PowerFrame

Today I have substantially finished writing the PowerFrame RPG!

That's not to say it's ready for release, though.

What next?

The document is currently 231 pages long, and I'm aiming for a total length of no more than 240 pages. Although I've written all the rules for the current content, I could add some more sample spells (or maybe take some out), and I'm considering whether or not to add some sample helicopters, lighter-than-air ships, and spaceships to the Vehicles section. If I do that, I will have to write a few additional paragraphs of specific rules for them. Apart from that, I also need to put together an index.

In addition to any content tweaks or additions, I need to go through line by line and do a final proofreading and editing pass. I know it's not that wise to edit your own work, but this is a labour of love so I can't afford to hire anyone else to do it. I'm pretty good at catching errors though, so hopefully there's not too much to fix. I think the main thing will be that, given the few years between starting and finishing, I may have changed the way I present certain information or use the formatting, so I'll need to audit the document for consistency.

The other major tasks are to produce good versions of several stand-in diagrams, and to draw and colour many illustrations. I suspect the illustrations will take a substantial amount of time, so it will be at least a few more months before it's ready for release.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Rolling Along

In further PowerFrame RPG vehicle work, I've pretty much written up the details for skates, skis, surf/snowboards, a variety of pushbikes, and also horse-drawn vehicles such as carts and wagons.

Skates/boards and pushbikes give the user a new Movement Rate based on one of their Abilities - Acrobatics or Bike. Although movement is potentially much faster than walking, you can't just change direction on the spot or necessarily come to a dead stop safely if you're travelling at speed. Another major factor for all these vehicles is the gradient. They are slower going uphill, and faster downhill. I haven't bothered creating a detailed range of grades - up, down, or flat is enough.

Carts and wagons are drawn by animals (or, in the case of hand carts, people). I know most people ignore encumbrance rules, but PowerFrame has a fairly simplified system. Wheeled vehicles reduce the effective weight of carried items, and pulling too much stuff reduces your speed of travel. While you can just quick-reckon it, when it's important you can figure out exactly how fast a pair of horses can pull your fully-laden wagon.

Still to come: motorised ground vehicles, sailing and motor boats, and aeroplanes!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Power Armour in PowerFrame

I've been working on PowerFrame's Vehicles section - the final bit of writing. I'm presenting some basic templates for various types of vehicles, including skates, pushbikes, motorbikes, cars, tanks, boats, planes, and power armour.

I spent today writing up Power Armour. This is the first vehicle type I've completed. Although you might think it would be easier to start with cars and bikes, there are several factors that actually make powered armour relatively straightforward.

Oddly enough, I don't have all that many pictures of power armour.
This illustration of the Amethyst Warrior from the techno-fantasy PowerQuest setting is over a decade old!

Firstly, PowerFrame is built around the human average. Pretty much everything is rated based on how it compares to human capabilities. Since power armour basically just augments the pilot's own capabilities, it's not that hard to describe in game terms. Something like a car is trickier to model because it moves so much faster than a human (thus requiring a whole new Hex scale), can't turn on a dime, and takes more than one Turn to reach top speed or slow down.

Secondly, power armour has been in the game since its inception. The original PowerQuest setting (from which the PowerFrame system takes the inspiration for its name) was a fantasy world where the technology from a crashed spaceship had become integrated into culture and legend. Finding and reassembling the components of a suit of legendary power armour was the aim of the main campaign arc. The overwhelming power of this armour set the upper limits for equipment performance, and formed the basis for high-tech gear when I detailed more generic futuristic source material.

Lastly, I'd already done a lot of work running the numbers for power armour a couple of years ago. It took me a while to get around to, because I had to calibrate the stats for armoured vehicles so they'd make sense compared to personal firearms, and because I had to simultaneously revise the stats for heavy weapons. Once I'd eyeballed the numbers and floated them past the existing armour and weapon stats, I had a reasonable range in which to define powered armour and vehicles such as tanks and mecha.

Technically a small mecha, about Size 2 in PowerFrame terms.
(From District 9, image not mine!) 

Power armour has appealed to me for a long time, and its representation in PowerFrame is inspired by anime such as BubbleGum CrisisAppleseed, and Ghost in the Shell. In live-action movies, the power armour in District 9 is one of the coolest representations I've seen in years. Despite potential real-world battlefield issues, power armour gets to be the "katana" of the future - cool, exotic, and with unrealistic performance expectations.

I ran a very short game involving powered armour to make sure the rules were functioning as expected. I actually went really in-depth and made a detailed system for describing power armour and mecha in various sizes and configurations, and with mixed component weights. It creates good output, but it's pretty complicated and really requires a spreadsheet during the construction stage, even though the output is relatively straightforward. After the test game, I decided to remove the separate Structure values for each component, and just have a single Structure total.

In the Book


Unfortunately I don't think I have the space to include full power armour construction system in the main rulebook. For starters, if I did that I'd have to write similar systems for cars, bikes, ships, planes, and spaceships, and the page count would blow out. It's a bit of a shame to fall back on the assumption that all power armour is designed around humans, but to be honest PowerFrame does get a little awkward when dealing with creatures like centaurs from a Hit Location perspective.

The book will feature two pages detailing seven different "frame" weights, from Ultra-Light to Ultra-Heavy, all at Size 0. These are basic exoskeletons, but the players or GM can equip them with various types of armour, weaponry, and other systems to create a complete suit of power armour.

The listed suits are pretty advanced models, but it's a simple matter to dial them back a bit to represent older models, or boost them to represent truly over-the-top supertech armours.

There are also rules for increasing the suit's Size, so you can easily modify the existing templates to create "landmates" and mecha. I can also use the spreadsheet to work out reasonable baselines for other large vehicles such as tanks, ships, and spaceships.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Freelancing

It's been over a month since my last post here. I have several Actual Play posts partly written up, but haven't mnaged to finish them off. I've been directing my creative energies elsewhere, and to good effect!

Firstly, I've made a good push towards finishing the text for my PowerFrame RPG! I only need to put one example into the Mysticism section and that's done (pending revision or adjustment). However, the perfectionist in me insists that I add a Vehicles section too. That's going to be a few pages with some basic templates and piloting instructions, but I won't have room to include comprehensive lists or creation rules.

Secondly, I've actually been getting a bit of work as an RPG freelancer! I have a few jobs on the go at the moment.

I'm doing some writing for Combat Description Cards. It's an interesting project, but coming up with so many different ways to describe attacks can be taxing at times! We're almost done with descriptions for the main decks.

I'm drawing pictures of fuzzy animals for Wordsmith Games' Strays RPG, due to be Kickstarted soon! I'll post some of the pictures once I'm allowed to.

I'm also waiting on the Kickstarter for a zombie game called Fear The Living; if it's successful, I'll be doing editing and layout. I know zombies have been done to death and back again, but having only recently watched the entirety of The Walking Dead, this game will save me the trouble of writing my own Apocalypse World hack for the zombie apocalypse! It's half dealing with zombie chaos, half dealing with the other survivors, which is a mix I'm looking forward to exploring.

I'm also waiting on the Kickstarter for Fragged Empire, for which I'm hoping to provide editing services. I've already gone over the website text, including the short story and species information. The author's also a graphic designer, so the layout and presentation is already really slick, and he has some stunning artists on board.

I'll post links to the Kickstarters once they go live!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Planning Scenarios

I've been slowly writing the GMing chapter for my PowerFrame RPG. It definitely requires a different set of brain-muscles than writing rules; it's slower, and I have to spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to say and how to explain it. In the end I just have to bite the bullet and write it out messily just so I can identify the points I'm trying to make. Then I go back and edit it a few times until it's organised properly and doesn't waffle too much.

The following excerpt is the first-draft of a section on how to plan scenarios.


Planning for the Journey


Designing a scenario is a lot like planning a surprise holiday for a group of friends. You probably have some idea what they like, and have some locations and activities in mind, but if you get too absorbed in planning a strict itinerary you might discover your fellow travellers have other ideas about what they want to do and where they want to go.

Some travellers are happy with the simplicity of a guided tour, while some prefer a flexible tour with optional side trips, and others would rather to go off the beaten track and find their own way. Players can be just as varied, so it’s useful to discuss how much they would like to contribute to the game’s direction.

Sometimes the players are happy to go along for the ride. If your group is like this and you know them well, you may be able to plan linear scenarios based on a series of events. Other groups might become frustrated if you force them to stick to a planned scenario regardless of what they want to do, because it robs them of the sense that their actions can affect the world.


Consult the Players


Probably the first place to start when looking for scenario ideas is to ask your players if there are any things they really want to see come up in the game, and find out if they have any plans or goals their characters are interested in pursuing.

Once you know the general direction the players would like the game to go, you can prepare material that’s less likely to be ignored or avoided.


Get to Know the Situation


To avoid excessive planning before the game and frustration during play, try to develop a broad understanding of the situation and the area in which the game is happening (see below for more advice). This way, you’ll have a reasonable idea how to respond regardless of the direction the PCs decide to go.

If the players are big on following their own plans, you should try to be flexible and accommodating. However, this doesn’t mean you have to abandon your prep work. Like a tour guide, you can point out locations, people, and events that may be of interest. The PCs might encounter signs of a situation that is unfolding without their involvement.

In any case, it’s generally better to give the players a hook and see if they bite, rather than jamming it down their throats.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Breaking the World

Since one of the main players in my last Apocalypse World game has bowed out, it doesn't look like The Pit is going anywhere. I am starting to feel the desire to MC another game though.

Last time, I had problems getting the players to feed me enough information about the shape of the world. I mainly wasn't asking the right sort of questions; they were too open, leaving people floundering for a good answer, and often letting them put their characters in comfortable situations. I didn't ask enough leading questions that channelled or suggested an answer, and I didn't pop any situations on them as fait accompli - I always gave them the option to demur and deny what I was offering.

I'm never sure how to set up the actual world for Apocalypse World. Asking the players what the world's like seems to mainly result in not-very-weird post-nuclear-war worlds. I don't want to come to the table with a complete pre-built world, but I may approach the next game with an apocalypse in mind so I have something to fall back on and colour my input. Of course, if the players come up with something of their own, I'll run with that instead.

Another thought I had was to use the same sort of list Hardholders use to define their holding - get the group as a whole to pick options off a list and discuss them to establish what's fundamentally wrong with the world. I based the options off the lower tiers of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

There’s never enough - food, water, shelter, comfort. People take what they can from those who can’t hold onto it. Everything decays, and the only thing that stays the same is the fact that nothing else does. 
The world is broken in other ways too - wrong, dangerous, fundamental ways - and people adapt as best they can. As a group, answer 3 of the following questions, talk about the whys and the wherefores, and also what you can do to safeguard yourself:
  • What makes breathing a problem sometimes? 
  • Why is the water supply hazardous?
  • What’s wrong with the food supply?
  • Why do you need protective gear to go outside?
  • What makes trying to have kids difficult?
  • Why can’t you stay in one place for very long?
  • Why can you never let your guard down?

What do you think? Are there any other questions you'd add to the list? Would you frame the options differently? Keeping in mind that it's basically world-building training wheels for me as an MC, do you think the whole thing is an unnecessary exercise? How do you do it? Is there a better approach?

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Bestiary: More or Less?

I've made good progress on PowerFrame's magic system, although there are still a few wrinkles to iron out before it's properly complete. I might blog about that when I've sorted through the options a bit more. In the meantime, I've been filling in some details in the Adversaries section - Races, Archetypes, and Creatures.


For Races I currently have Elf, Dwarf, Goblin, and Minotaur, which take up a page in total. I might add another page if anything comes to mind, but I'm fairly happy with giving people a few examples to work from and leaving them the tools to make their own.

For Archetypes I currently have Warrior, Archer, Town Guard, Police/Security, Modern Soldier, and Bandit. They take up half a page each. Again, the system contains tools for making your own Archetypes, so I think just a few examples is a good start.

I started on Creatures yesterday. My previous group had put quite a lot of work into creating a Bestiary, which featured many detailed renditions of real-world animals. I myself did quite a bit of research on big cats and statted up seven versions across six species (lion and lioness get separate stats). On top of that, we have three types of bears, a few dogs, boars and domestic pigs, monkeys and apes, big game, and a swathe of domesticated livestock.

I'm trying to decide how much detail to put into the main rulebook. I had started out creating a format that condenses several species of information into a single statblock, but I'm not sure if the level of detail is worth it. Thinking about how I've presented the Races and Archetypes, I'm considering stripping it back and having one example each of a few different groups - an archetypal big cat, bear, wolf, predatory bird, snake, and shark.

On top of that, I'll include some monsters to give people an idea of how to create fantastic beasts and what the expectations and limitations are.

If I find the time, or there's sufficient demand, I can always release a more comprehensive Bestiary as a PDF supplement later on.

What do you think? Given that PowerFrame's a bit of a do-it-yourself toolbox, would you prefer just a smattering of examples and access to the tools? Or would you prefer more detailed and comprehensive information up-front?

Basically, does the difference between a leopard, cougar, jaguar, cheetah, lion, and tiger matter to you?

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Rippers: Chapter 5

It's been a while, but we finally reconvened for a new session of Rippers! +Annette's been busy with work, but particularly wanted to have a game on the weekend of her birthday. +Michael reported in sick, but bravely soldiered on and joined us via Google Hangout to avoid spreading his illness around.
  • +Annette plays Gregory Pratchett, an alienist with a gift for physically battling the forces of darkness. His encounter with a werewolf led to the Rippers showing an interest in his talents.
  • +Michael plays William Baker, a Professor of Archaeology who uses knowledge as a weapon. On his expeditions across Europe he began uncovering signs of the occult. In Eastern Europe, one of his parties was all but wiped out by a vampire. He was kicked out of Cambridge for publicly airing his views on the supernatural, losing his tenure and his marriage. The Rippers recruited him shortly afterwards.
  • James plays Douglas, a mysterious cloaked gadgeteer with a modified crossbow whose fiancée was killed by a werewolf on their wedding day.
    Previously, all three Rippers followed Lord Maybrick to his country estate in an attempt to recover the heart of a rare Mesopotamian Mummy. The direct approach failed, so they are attempting to sneak back inside... although at the end of last session, they had just set fire to a carriage and two Mummies in the stable yard.


    Given the commotion they have just ignited at the back of the East Wing, the Rippers sneak in the front door. Soon after entering, they hear a gunshot from upstairs - however, their minds are on other matters. Reasoning that the Mummy Heart is probably in a secure location, they head for the West Wing and the library.

    They search the library quickly and thoroughly. Douglas finds a secret passage as a neatly-dressed man in a top hat runs past clutching something. Pratchett and Baker pursue him, also hearing booted feet coming from the same direction as their quarry, while Douglas investigates the passage.

    Pratchett and Baker catch up with the top-hatted gentleman and attempt to snatch the canopic jar he's carrying. The struggle spills out onto the back lawn, where they are soon joined by three thugs dressed as footmen who assist Top Hat. The gentleman utters some arcane phrases in Ancient Egyptian and summons an otherworldly servant from the ground.

    Meanwhile, Douglas' investigation of the passage is stymied by a lack of illumination. As he returns to the library to look for something to light his way, he hears the fracas outside and hurries to join the fray. He discovers that some of Maybrick's serving staff are also fighting against Top Hat's thugs. Top Hat loses the jar to Pratchett, and draws his sword in an attempt to get it back. Baker is struck a grievous blow by one of the thugs, who pays the ultimate price at Pratchett's hand.  As most of Top Hat's minions have fallen, he flees but is shot down on the way to the stables by a hail of bolts from Douglas' crossbow.

    Maybrick's staff reveal that the gentleman is Sir Conrad Leek, and also that he shot their master; the butler is currently providing medical attention. The Head Maid wants them to stay to speak with Maybrick when he recovers, and requests the return of the jar, but Pratchett implicates their master in its theft and informs them the group will leave immediately.

    The Rippers return by carriage to the London Lodge, deliver Leek to the cells, and debrief Shackleworth and Van Helsing. They are congratulated for their return of the artefact. Investigations will continue into Leek's cult, and Van Helsing will deal with the Maybrick situation.

    The Rippers have proved their worth to the organisation, and Van Helsing offers them the opportunity of their own Lodge. However, they turn down the offer, content to keep working under orders as they have been.


    Rather than tracking Experience Points too closely, I've basically been giving them half an advance every session. Since this session made a good conclusion for the current story arc, and would be a good spot to start them off with their own Lodge as they became Seasoned, I gave them a whole advance this time.

    However, they turned down the offer, both in and out of character. The players are happy to be given assignments with enough leeway to use their own initiative and preferred methods, and just concentrate on hunting down and eradicating evil, without the need to bring additional responsibilities and the worries of resource management into the mix. The "run your own Lodge" system is a unique element of the Rippers setting, but it's not one the players are keen on at this juncture. They might decide to give it a try later on, though.

    I actually went against the expectations I'd laid out at the beginning regarding pulling punches and character death. In our first game I'd used the Heroes Never Die setting rule to take PC death off the table. For Rippers however, given the visceral and brutal nature of the setting and the foes they would be facing, I'd said that I wouldn't fudge the rules to save lives.

    Then I did just that, when a damage die exploded several times in a row against poor Professor Baker and he was faced with taking four Wounds at once from a cultist Extra. Although he might not have died, I reduced the blow to three Wounds, which effectively took him out of the fight anyway.

    The main factor influencing my decision was that he'd Soaked against the immediately previous attack with a total Vigour roll of about 26, giving him more than enough Raises to Soak the one Wound he was going to take but also leaving him out of Bennies.

    The other factor was that I was concerned about the difficulty of the fight - at the start, due to Douglas' absence, it looked like it would be two Rippers against Wild-Card Leek, three Cultists, and a summoned Bodyguard! I gave Douglas an opportunity to join in, and also had Maybricks' combat servants help out. Even so, it was a close thing when Baker went down. In hindsight I probably shouldn't have been overly concerned; rather than worrying about what makes for a good and balanced fight, I think Rippers is more about what the situation demands. If the good guys end up outnumbered and out of luck, that's the way it goes. Leek was in a hurry to leave anyway, so it's unlikely he would have stopped to finish them off if all the Rippers had been incapacitated.

    Anyway, I talked to the group about it afterwards, and they didn't seem to think their sense of fun or challenge had been betrayed. In addition, two of them currently have back-up PCs in case they feel like a change or suddenly need a new PC. I'll try harder to toe the line in the future, but I am by nature a fairly soft-hearted GM.

    >>> To be continued!

    Thursday, 20 February 2014

    Basilica Construction Log 2

    Today I finished gluing together all of the main superstructure of the model Basilica I'm making as Anima Tactics scenery. Updates since the previous log are the completion of both towers, the inclusion of stairs inside the towers, the addition of corbels to hold up various removable roof segments - and, of course, actually gluing the upper works together rather than just dry-fitting them.

    Aerial front view of the fully-assembled Basilica.

    Still to do are various railings, windows, doors, and column details. Most of these will be made from 1.5mm plywood, but I didn't manage to complete and cut the designs for these pieces before I stopped working somewhere with a laser engraver. Once I get the designs together, though, I'll email them through for the guys to cut and post back to me. I also need to paint it, but obviously I'll need to wait until the final details are assembled.

    Aerial side view.

    Aerial rear view.

    I've included Celia in most of the pictures to give you a guided tour and provide a sense of scale.

    The imposing facade (although I forgot to add the Church symbol for this shot)

    The front doors.

    View from the entrance, looking up at the vaulted ceiling.

    Sunlight streaming through the choir windows.

    Slightly less blinding shot from the front entrance.

    The building comes apart to allow access to various floors during a game. The entire upper works come off, as do the transept roofs and bridges, and three additional storeys of towers.
    You can just see the plywood Church symbol on the front.

    Fully disassembled into its separate pieces.

    Celia on the transept bridge (transept roof removed)

    In the following series of photos, you can follow Celia up the stairs to the top of the left tower.

    On the ground floor, the tower stairs are accessed from an arch at the end of the aisle.

    The first floor provides access to the aisle rooftop, and also has an arch overlooking the nave (not shown).

    The second floor stairs are fully enclosed.

    The third floor provides access to the main rooftop. It's also the top of the staircase.

    The fourth floor is a bell-tower, and can only be reached by climbing or leaping.
    The Church symbol on the front is more clearly visible here.

    The very top of the structure, the tower roof is accessible only by climbing or leaping.

    I've recently started introducing some new friends to Anima Tactics, and I'm looking forward to playing a game on this scenery now the majority of it is together!

    Saturday, 8 February 2014

    Ryuutama: The Swamp Witch

    This is a continuation of the journey from Millane to Frog Hollow. James didn't make it this time, but we had two new players. The start of the session involved creating and equipping characters for Geoff and Tony, and levelling up Mickey and Sasha's characters who'd made the journey last time.


    I'd mapped the area around Frog Hollow, and built in some potential quests and destinations. It made for a bit of extra work, since I wasn't sure where they would decide to go, but I prefer to give the players a choice rather than tell them "you're going here." I didn't actually get the time to fully detail all the quests, but I had enough of an idea what was going on that I could wing it.

    In many of my games, I've set up XP so everyone gains experience and levels at the same time regardless of whether their character has been present or not. For games such as Savage Worlds, it's more important for everyone to have similar capabilities so they can face the same challenges and contribute meaningfully to combat. However, in Ryuutama experience is directly tied to the number and difficulty of journeys undertaken, and I think it fits the style of the game better to have characters gain XP and level separately based on their individual experiences. The exponential XP requirements mean that hopefully regular players won't get too far ahead, and the increases in capability are mostly fairly subtle.
    • Geoff plays Walker, a Merchant/Magic character based in Frog Hollow. He knows Summer magic, and his personal item is a broken pocket-knife.
    • +Michael plays Yamahaki, a Minstrel/Attack character. His personal item is a silver flute that he can't play, a gift from his father.
    • +Sasha plays Nisonoya, a Hunter/Technical character who wants to see Frog Hollow's zoo to catalogue many different creatures. His personal item is a necklace.
    • Tony plays Adelric Heathcraw, a Noble/Attack character and disreputable scion of the small noble family that rules Frog Hollow. He wields a katana and wakizashi, and his personal item is a cracked monocle.
    Mickey acted as the party's Diary Keeper, and wrote up his own Actual Play too.


    Since James wasn't present, I said that Karin had separated from the others when they arrived in town to deal with her personal pilgrimage. Yamahaki and Nisonoya go to the tavern, where they meet Walker and Adelric, and sample the local specialty, Froghollow Ale.

    The local brewmaster offers them a job. A witch in the swamp is turning people into frogs, which is hampering their ability to harvest Froghollow Ale's secret ingredient - in fact, they are down to the last few barrels! He offers 500 gold each if they can go into the swamp and stop the witch!

    Since he is also enthusiastically discussing the menagerie, Nisonoya is approached by a man who works there. He mentions that the menagerie is always after new creatures, and they'd heard tale of a dangerous creature roaming the rocky wastes some days to the northeast. The zoo would pay 4000 gold for a live creature!

    Since the swamp is closer, the group decides to deal with the witch first. The next morning, they set off into the swamp during a sweltering hot day. Everybody suffers from the hard journey, and the confusing environment and loud calls of frogs and insects disorients them and they make poor progress.

    By evening, only halfway through the swamp, they come across a mysterious forest of giant mushrooms. Adelric has heard tales of this mysterious place, said to confuse and disorient travellers. Yamahaki takes the lead in setting up camp; at Nisonoya's suggestion they carve a hut into the stalk of a giant mushroom, and despite the environment they enjoy a superb night's sleep!

    By morning the party is fully refreshed, but their condition is mostly low apart from Adelric who always seems to be in tip-top shape.


    Geoff had to bow out early at this point, so I said Walker was feeling a bit under the weather. While still able to follow along, he wasn't able to participate in skill checks or combat. We basically had him following along with the pack-chocobo.


    The travellers head into the imposing mushroom forest as it starts to rain. They make excellent progress, but at one point find themselves in the company of four large Poison Toads! The creatures leap to the attack, surprising poor Adelric and managing to poison Nisonoya as well! Adelric revises his stance and the combat starts to turn in their favour. Although the front-line fighters make good progress against the Toads, it's Yamahaki's crossbow that finishes most of them off.

     By noon they reach the centre of this mysterious forest that, by all rights, shouldn't even fit inside the swamp. They come across a clearing with a massive toadstool mansion in the centre, and knock on the door. A young witch on a broomstick flies out of an upper window and asks if they've come to be turned into frogs as well! They negotiate, discovering that the witch has turned people into frogs because they have been taking too much rag-weed from the swamp and damaging the ecosystem. In the end they reach a compromise - the villagers can harvest one cartload of rag-weed a month, and the witch will return the townsfolk that have been transformed.

    Satisfied with the deal, the travellers return and camp at the mushroom hut they carved the night before.


    Since the "mushroom hut" was the result of a Critical Camping Check, I let them have the result of a standard Success on their Camp Check this night without having to roll for it.


    The next day they manage the hard slog through the foggy swamp and make it back to Frog Hollow by lunchtime, bringing with them a few villagers they found wandering around having been returned to human form. The brewmaster reluctantly accepts the deal they've brokered, coming up with plans to cultivate the rag-weed in the town and maybe turn Froghollow Ale into a boutique microbrewed product. He also pays them an extra 200 gold each to keep the secret ingredient a secret.


    We wrapped the session up there, with the group looking at capturing the dangerous wild beast for the menagerie next time. Adelric and Walker advanced to Level 2, while the other two are most of the way to Level 3.

    I did have my Ryuujin, Gerubera, written up and following the party. She's a Green Dragon, but her goal is to see the travellers gain strength through adversity so she doesn't like providing much direct help. I chose the Bénédiction "Elite Enemy", which I would have used on a Poison Toad if they'd ended up fighting the witch. I also would have used it on the mysterious monster that the menagerie wants, if they'd decided to do that quest first. Her Réveil is "Gift of the Dragon" which provides extra food and water, something they haven't needed yet. As it was, I didn't have to intervene at all, so Gerubera remains at a distance.

    I wanted to see the travellers dealing with very difficult terrain, and also wanted to make it more than a day trip to the middle of the swamp and back. The magical mushroom forest was a "space within a space" that I used to make the journey a little longer. They only had to travel half-way through the swamp, then half-way through the forest, but because they got a little lost it ended up being a three day round trip.

    They actually fared pretty well despite the Topography difficulty on all three days being an 11. It was hard going, and most of the time people lost half their HP from Movement, but they did OK. It might have been a different matter if they'd battled the witch and lost more Health.

    Condition and Statuses featured more heavily this time, thanks to the Poison Toads' attacks causing Poison 6. Since several characters happened to roll a low Condition that day, I was actually able to see a Status effect sticking. Nisonoya was affected by the poison straight away, and remained poisoned the next day partly because his penalised Strength made it harder for him to roll a good Condition. Adelric was hit with Poison 6 while he had Condition 14 so it had no immediate effect, but only rolled Condition 4 the next day - so apparently it took a while to set in.

    I wasn't sure how the game would fare, dealing with small side-quests from town hubs, considering it's built around three-day journeys between towns. I wasn't sure how to deal with Town Threats like the witch as part of a standard journey, unless the standard Ryuutama setup means I'd make them go through the Swamp and have them run into the witch then. However, doing a short day-trip there and back makes the journey about the same distance as a regular journey, so it all worked out pretty well.

    I'm looking forward to the next session, although given the episodic nature of the game it is eminently suitable for picking up and putting down on a whim.

    >>> To be continued!

    Sunday, 2 February 2014

    Ryuutama: Millane to Frog Hollow

    Due to player availability, I ended up starting a three-player game of Ryuutama instead of continuing our Apocalypse World game.

    The party's Diary Keeper has posted an account of the journey, so I'm going to focus more on how I prepped and ran the game.

    GM Preparation

    Ryuutama normally relies on the GM to plan out the journey over about three days, including the weather and encounters. Day 1 will be Rainy Grassland, Day 2 will be Cloudy Hills and an encounter with five Mob Beasts, and so on. This allows the difficulty of the journey to be tailored to the capability of the party.

    However, I like the idea of giving players a choice over their route, so I made up a simple hex map. Unlike my solo game though, it was designed with a Level 1 party in mind rather than being entirely randomly generated. To get from their starting town of Millane to their destination of Frog Hollow, they'd mostly have to pass over Grassland. I put in an area of Hills and Woods, but the main feature was a Swamp. The group would have the choice of a three-day journey if they went through the Swamp, or a four-day journey to go around it.


    Also in the spirit of hexcrawl, I noted down the weather forecast for a few days. Regardless of where they are each day, there will be specific weather in effect for that day. I started out with Rain, then Cloudy, then Fog, then any additional days would be Clear. I set it up this way so on the second day, if they kept to the Grasslands, they'd have to ford a swollen stream. If they took to the more difficult Hills it would be drier.

    Lastly, I made up a simple random encounter table. Each day there's a 1 in 4 chance of an encounter. Since I wasn't sure how much of a challenge I could throw at the party, I picked one Level 1 or 2 monster for each type of terrain, along with a random number encountered.

    Characters

    Making character is pretty quick and easy, but equipping them takes somewhat longer! I prefer to go with the full equipment options rather than the simplified "Picnic" rules, so everyone spent a while shopping for gear and supplies.

    • James plays Karin, a Healer/Technical character on a family pilgrimage to Frog Hollow. Her personal item is a pink scarf given to her by her mother before she set off.
    • +Michael plays Yamahaki, a Minstrel/Attack character. His personal item is a silver flute that he can't play, a gift from his father.
    • +Sasha plays Nisonoya, a Hunter/Technical character who wants to see Frog Hollow's zoo to catalogue many different creatures. His personal item is a necklace.


    I made them take one bad attribute on their free starting weapon, so Karin has a gross great-axe (covered in gore), Yamahaki an uncool crossbow (with fluffy dice), and Nisonoya a gross wakiszashi (the handle is covered in sticky goo from a slime monster). Karin managed to buy a suit of gross uncool smelly light armour, although I forgot to ask what that was like. Nisonoya ended up with a pair of smelly climbing shoes. Apart from that, they managed to buy most things without having to take any negative tags to reduce the cost. They even pitched in to buy the Party Kit, including a pack animal (chocobo).

    I meant to make up a Ryuujin, but was so busy assisting with character creation that I forgot! It's definitely a Green Ryuujin, but is obviously following the characters at a safe distance this time around. I don't think the Ryuujin can do much to affect the first journey anyway, unless it spends Life Points, since they usually don't gain slots to put powers in until Level 2.

    Town Creation

    I established a few details about their destination - the village of Frog Hollow (pop. 300) was founded where a swamp meets grasslands. I then wrote down the other town questions on scraps of paper and each of the players chose one to fill in. I then fleshed out the remaining answers.

    The players decided that Frog Hollow featured a zoo, a church, and a brewery. The local specialty is Froghollow Ale, made with a secret ingredient. The town is threatened by a witch in the swamp who's been turning people into frogs.

    I concluded that it was an Aristocracy, ruled by a small local noble family. The town is permeated by the dark bluish-black of swamp mud, but highlighted by the friendly golden glow of lanterns. The funky smell of yeast and rotting vegetables lies over the village like a blanket.


    Day 1: Grassland / Rain

    The characters are all inhabitants of Millane, a town with cobbled streets, windmills, and white plastered houses with terracotta roofs, surrounded by lush farms, fields, and boundless grasslands. For various reasons, they have come together to travel to the village of Frog Hollow which is about four days away.

    Shortly after they set off, it began to rain. Yamahaki had a fairly low Condition roll for the day, but as I experienced with my solo game Condition didn't really become a factor throughout the journey. They succeeded on all their Travel rolls (some only just), and even tracked and defeated a poor solitary Mob Beast.

    Day 2: Hills / Cloudy

    Since the plains were still sodden from the rain yesterday, the group decided to head up into the hills. They found their way okay, although Karin got a bit worn out from travelling. Although they avoided the flooded river on the grasslands, I put a landslide hazard in their path. Luckily they spotted signs that the hillside was unstable, and hung back just as the earth gave way and slid across the path! Using rope and climbing gear, they managed to cross over the landslide and continue safely on their way.

    Day 3: Grassland / Fog

    From the hillside, the group could see out across the swamp. Frog Hollow lay on the other side; they could get there by evening if they went straight through the swamp, but they opted to take the longer route around through the grassland. Nisonoya had been catching small game as they travelled, so they were in no danger of running out of food.

    The grassland was swathed in fog, but even so Nisonoya found the tracks of a Mob Beast pack. They opted to track them down, and defeated them all. Karin sustained a minor injury, and also rolled the only Fumble of the journey while attacking with her great-axe. Nisonoya managed to harvest the Mob Beasts' fangs. I made him roll once for the group rather than once per beast, and as he rolled exceptionally well I granted him one High-Quality Fang as well.

    Day 4: Grassland / Clear

    As we were running low on session time, we skimmed over Day 4. Movement and Direction checks were both made, but I didn't check for an encounter. They arrived safely at Frog Hollow as the sun was setting.


    Conclusion

    We didn't have time to do any roleplaying at their destination, or do much end of session bookwork. Everybody gained 210 XP for the journey, so they'll level up before we start the next session.

    I found it to be an enjoyable game, lighthearted and with laughs and cheers around the table. It made a stark contrast to our recent tense first session of Apocalypse World the week before!

    I would like to see Condition come into play, so I may need to plan some more difficult journeys and do a bit more reading up on monsters so I can offer a bit more of a challenge. I have a feeling that the next session might involve dealing with the swamp witch, but although it's difficult terrain it's really only a day-trip. If I throw in some complicating factors, though, it might form a decent adventure.

    Before the next session, I'll also write up my Ryuujin properly. Since I've overseen one journey, it'll go to Level 2 and actually get some slots for powers.

    >>> The Swamp Witch

    Wednesday, 29 January 2014

    Ryuutama: Ashes to Ashes, Day 3

    This is the continuing chronicle of my unorthodox solo Ryuutama game. The previous posts are PreparationDay 1, and Day 2.

    • I play Clover Hartfeld, a Technical-type Hunter. She's on a journey to take her brother's ashes home from the town of Polem to Feruto.

    In the morning I awoke feeling completely refreshed. Yesterday's fog had lifted, but thick clouds shadowed the desolate plains. However, I knew that if I travelled well today I would make it home, so I set my resolve and began what would hopefully be the last leg of my solemn journey.


    Today I rolled randomly for the weather and got Cloudy. As with the previous day, the topography is Wasteland, so my general target for travel checks will be 6. Even with my +1 from yesterday's Critical Camping check, Clover's condition today only came to 6.

    Since there's only a little of the journey to go, and my MP was fully restored, I opted to Concentrate on the Movement/Travelling check and got a total of 15!


    Halfway through the day I came across the tracks of some small monster. I decided to track it down rather than waiting for it to ambush me, and soon I spied two puppet-like Evil Souls from a vantage point on a low rock shelf. I leapt to the attack, skewering one in a single blow before it could react! I deftly dodged the second one's jerky attack and effortlessly pinned it to the dirt with my spear. The creatures' bodies dissolved into gas and blew away, leaving nothing behind. I was simultaneously relieved that it hadn't been something more dangerous, and disappointed that I was unable to collect any materials.


    I wanted to run a simple combat encounter today, but didn't want to overwhelm my poor lone character. I initially decided to randomly choose a single Level 1 monster, since I had a single Level 1 character, but it quickly became apparent that it was no match for her so I threw in a second one to give them a bit more of a chance.

    With a couple of decent rolls (plus Accuracy bonuses from using the objects in the landscape, and Damage bonuses from having used my tracking skill on them), they went down in one hit each. Initiative is used as your passive defence in combat as well as deciding action order, so it didn't hurt that I had an Initiative of 12 (2d6+1). With 2d4 Accuracy the poor little things had to roll a Critical (double 4) to hit me; actually, the rules as written don't say that a Critical is an automatic hit, either.

    If I had been hit, the Evil Souls' attacks would have inflicted [Tired: 6] on me. This normally reduces Spirit by one die type, but since my Spirit is only d4 it's not allowed to get any lower.


    I headed off again, eager to finish my journey. As the sun began to set behind the clouds, I spied the rooftops of Feruto. I was home.

    I broke the sad news to our parents, and delivered Taragon's ashes to our family shrine. My parents were saddened to hear of their son's demise, but were relieved that I had returned safely despite the difficulty and danger of travelling alone. The village gathered a feast to welcome me home, but it was a melancholy meal. There were many toasts and tales of Taragon's bravery.

    That night, I was grateful to sleep in a soft bed in the safety of my home.


    That's it! Journey's over. I made it home in one piece.

    Level Up

    Clover gained 210 XP for this journey; 200 because of the Difficulty 10 Forest on day one, and 10 for defeating a Level 1 monster. She goes up to Level 2 and gains a stat increase. I'm torn between putting up Dex (to d8) or Spirit (to d6). I'll probably go for Spirit, just so she doesn't have any obvious weaknesses.

    I get 3 points to divide between HP and MP. Since Clover's not a Magic Type (and will probably add Attack Type once she gets a secondary Type), I'll put all 3 into HP for a total of 19. Her Carry also goes up by 1, to 15.

    Impressions

    I know I've missed out on a bunch of stuff by not playing in a group. The purpose of my test was to get a feel for the basic travel and combat rules, and see how the system "feels" in play. I'm sure it will be different with more players generating the world as a group, developing friendships between their characters, and overcoming hardships together.

    The mechanics by themselves are simple and cute, and create a feeling that jibes with the feelgood, dinky atmosphere the game's attempting to create.

    Looking purely from a mechanical point of view, the Movement, Direction and Camping checks are all simple pass/fail. This means that more difficult Topography makes it more likely you'll fail, but don't increase the severity of the failure. There isn't much difference for a starting character between a sunny Forest (10) and a Mountaintop during a Blizzard (19), but as proficiency increases it becomes more likely that you might succeed at more difficult checks.

    On the other hand, the chance of a Critical (maximum or 6 on all dice) or a Fumble (1 on all dice) depend entirely on the character's stats and are not at all affected by Topography. It's equally likely for a character to Critically succeed (or Fumble) on a travel check in Grassland (6) as in a Jungle during a Storm (17).

    The rules don't actually say if a Critical always counts as a Success, or if it's possible to roll a Critical while still Failing against the target (rolling, say, a double 6 on 2d6 against a target of 14). I kind of assume that a Critical always succeeds.

    Anyway, those are only general observations about the system, neither here nor there. I think with a full party, the ups and downs will create an interesting orchestra of little successes and failures from a chorus of simple yes/no inputs.

    Having completed this short "scout ahead" I feel more confident about running a game for a group. I would still like to read some example scenarios to get an idea for what might go on besides travel and the occasional combat. I guess simple social encounters, quests, problems, local obstacles to overcome (flash floods, landslides, fallen trees, bridges out), "set-piece" landscape features and the like would help to add variety and spice things up. I should also read through the bestiary and get some more ideas about where and how to use monsters in the game.

    I hope you enjoyed my brief sojourn. When I run a full game, I'll be sure to post the Actual Plays (or transcripts from our Diary Keeper).

    Thanks for reading!