Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Saturday, February 25, 2012
One thing I quite like about how Hollowpoint approaches genre emulation (or probably more accurately 'concept emulation') is that is acknowledges the difficulty of reconciling what appears to be a cool idea for a game on paper while noting disconnects with the realities of gaming. In terms of source material it points out that the overwhelmingly vast majority of stone-cold badasses work far better alone, while teams of ultra-competent professionals don't quite have that lust for the kill. Considering that RPGs are by-and-large co-operative this is an important point to address. Honestly, my go-to example would be the bad guys in Metal Gear Solid, the teams like FOXHOUND and COBRA could be perfectly modelled for games like this.
Hollowpoint's system is actually very much like ORE's system, using d6s instead of d10s. You will have a set of dice, roll the set and look for matches, the more dice in the set and the higher the number the better. The general aim is to wipe out your opponent's sets and have at least one set break through to damage them. Do that twice and you've taken them out of the encounter. This might be killing or wounding them, successfully browbeating them or exposing their shady dealings to the media.
If you look at the tags you'll notice that Hollowpoint is the first Voluntary Death game I've covered. This means that a character can't be taken out of the game without the player's express permission. They can be temporarily removed from the action, but they'll always come back unless you say so. This is to help create the right atmosphere with the game, having your character not be taken out like a chump until the right dramatic moment.
Characters all start off at the rank of Agent, which means they don't have any rank-based special abilities. Later they might become Operatives or Handlers, but starting characters are always agents.
You can add skills to the game or even replace them outright, depending on what you want the game to do. So, a game might have Seduction where that sort of thing is important or Magic in some kind of fantasy setting.
I have a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and 0 to assign to each of these stats. I want my character to be the ultimate master of disguise, on the level of Metal Gear Solid's Decoy Octopus. This suggests my highest skill should be Con, so I'll put the 5 there. Dig and Take should probably come next, since being able to get into places is fairly handy, so 4 and 3 there. Kill will be next for 2 and Terror will be where the 1 goes. As saddened as I am by this, I'm going to put the 0 in Cool, because while my character is awesome it's the subtle kind of awesome that doesn't lend itself to mind-blowing bravado. Don't worry, having a 0 doesn't mean you'll always fail as there are a couple of other ways to grab dice, one of which I'll address below.
The usual way in which a characters generate their traits for the first session is by answering five questions. I've done so below, with my answers/traits bolded.
For KC, I think a good, mission-neutral one would be My lost twin is working with the bad guys. Turns out there are two masters of disguise out there and considering no-one can tell them apart, having one of them secretly insert themselves into the team while KC is out performing a mission could be good drama.
I've been thinking a lot about music in gaming and how it can be used as a tool to both evoke and inspire. There are a few approaches where the steps I've outlined above could work, but I particularly like applying it to Hollowpoint because the basic idea of 'killing lots of people and looking awesome while doing it' is about as setting and genre neutral as you can get. Besides, any good action movie or TV series needs a great soundtrack. Imagine the difference between a game that opened with the Beastie Boys' Sabotage, Nero's Doomsday, Nine Inch Nails' Just Like You Imagined or Adele's Rolling in the Deep.
Monday, February 20, 2012
But the world they arrived to was changed. Reactionary forces had declared certain cultural forces to be corrupting influences on society. In the 2070s, the Ministries clamp down on all those forms of entertainment that might elicit emotions deemed too powerful, positive or negative. Rock and roll has been outlawed. Instead of coming to a world that would accept them with open arms, the Starchildren have been forced into hiding. They will not stand for it and more and more they're becoming not just the new faces of the underground rock and roll movement, but the spirit of a revolution to take back society.
It's one of those games which gives you exactly what you need to run with the premise and not a single bit more, which I kind of love. All the necessary fluff to run a game about a rock and roll revolution, starring extraterrestrials is there, with the only bit of fat being the Granger Society, a terrorist movement aimed at bringing down literary censorship. However, they do serve as the inspiration for the Blue Army, the Velvet Underground's more violent sister movement, and an army of book-loving anarchists is a pretty great.
Starchildren uses a card-based mechanic requiring a pair of full decks, jokers included. Each of your Stats and Skill is tied to a suit in the cards. You will have a hand of cards and when you need to determine the outcome of an action you place forward a card against one the GM draws. If the card's suit matches the suit your Attribute or Skill is tied to, you get the full Rank of the Attribute or Skill. Anything else will get you the Rank minus three. Highest rank wins. Face cards are worth the most and Aces are worth the least.
One thing I have to say I absolutely love is the system for gigs. The idea is that the band sets the difficulty of each song and how much Awe your band earns depends on both passing the song and how difficult the song was. The amount of Awe you have at the end of the show helps determine how much Fame you will get, which in turn can get you better gigs and possibly earn the interest of both the fuzz and the Velvet Underground. So, trying to pull off that show-stopper may be risky but it can be worth it in the long run!
Having said that, I want to try being something slightly different. Just because my character is glam rock doesn't mean she has to be a glam rocker (and yeah, I'll put her down as a she). My character tried the whole musician scene and it didn't hit off for her, eventually realising she preferred to work in the background. From there on, Deetz King set forth to become the ultimate roadie, the go-to lady for making great performances out of merely good bands.
I think Deetz started out as a Frontman, trying her time as a singer for a while before realising her true calling. This gives her access to Compose, Fashion, Impress, Lyrics and Vocals. Then she becomes a Technician in her goal to be the supreme roadie, giving her the Alertness, Computer, Drive, Knowledge (Journalism) and Repair (Instruments) skills. Finally, I see her as a bit of a Badass, a glare and a few stern words getting compliance out of the biggest wannabe rockstar so she can get the job done. This will give her Endure, Guts, Impress. Intimidate and Negotiate.
For her Frontman skills, I'm going to give the nine to Fashion (I need a good rank in this skill to help out the band's singer), the pair of sevens to Impress and Lyrics (helps with making a good impression on behalf of herself and the band respectively) and the fives to Compose and Vocals (these are the more direct skills required to be a good singer, not quite her forte). For Technician, the nine is going straight into Repair (Instruments), the sevens into Computers and Drive (helping out the keyboard players and getting the band around) and the fives into Alertness and Knowledge (Journalism) (these skills mainly reflect her general 'knows what is going on' ability).
Finally, the Badass skills. You'll note we have an overlapping skill, Impress. I'm going to assign it one of the sevens and then combine it with my previous seven to bump it up one rank to 8. The nine is going to go into Intimidate and the other seven will go into Negotiate, reflecting her talents for dealing with bands the easy and hard ways. Finally, the fives go into Endure and Guts.
Anyway, Starchildren has eight of these, four physical/mental pairs. Presence is your overt personality and charisma, while Appearance is how damn good you look and they're tied to the Diamond suit. Wit is your general cleverness and Speed how fast you are and are tied to Hearts. Perception is how good you are at noticing the world around you and Agility how good you are at reacting to it and are the attributes tied to Spades. Finally, the Clubs attributes, Will and Body are reflections of your mental and physical strength/fortitude receptively.
For ranks I have a Jack, a ten, an eight, three sevens, a six and a five to assign. Straight off the bat, my Jack is going into Wit, which helps with a whole bunch of skills that are really important for Deetz, including the ones she uses to fix up the band's stuff for gigs. Next up the ten is going into Perception and the eight into Presence, which pretty much covers all the areas I want her to be good at. So, she's smart, aware and forceful with her words. The three sevens are going to go into Body, Will and Appearance, indicating that she's reasonably tough and bound to occasionally turn heads. That leaves the six, which can go into Speed and the five for Agility. The way Deetz figures it, if you're good enough at whatever it is you do then lightning-fast reflexes aren't going to be something you need much of.
Finally, I have to alter a couple of these on account of being a Starchild. Starchildren have this otherwordly awesomeness and inhuman beauty to them, which is reflected by increasing my ranks in Presence and Appearance twice each to 10 and 9 respectively. However, as I indicated above they're also fragile and a tad addled from space travel, which sees my Body and Will dropping to five.
The first are my Action Cards. In combat you have an action deck comprised solely of everyone's action cards and a couple of Jokers. Whenever one of your action cards is drawn, you get an action and when the second Joker is drawn the round is over. The number of action cards I get are determined by my Speed and a Speed of six gets me two action cards. Which cards they are don't really matter, but I call dibs on the Ace of Spades and Jack of Hearts, just because.
Next up is Movement. Interestingly, I can't seem to work out what unit of measurement the number is supposed to correspond to here. Ah well. This attribute is also derived from my Speed, which gives Deetz a Walking Distance of 4 and a Running Distance of 8.
Finally there are my Damage Thresholds, how many points of damage one can take before suffering various penalties. Violence is actually quite brutal in Starchildren and if someone pulls a gun there's a good chance someone is going to end up dead or at least brutally maimed in a round or two. This one is worked out from my Body. Deetz will be suffering from Trauma if she has taken 9 points of damage, Injury if she has taken 11, Blackout if it's 27 and Overkill if she takes 42. To put that in perspective, a knife will deal 15 points of damage with a single attack.
There are really only two Edges I want here. The first is Feared. This lets me pick a skill and gives me an Advantage Card whenever a use it, a free card draw that I may add to bolster my chances with the skill. I'm going to pick up the Rank 5 version for the Impress skill. Deetz' rep precedes her, leaving many fledgling rockers a bit in awe of her. The second Edge I'm going to pick up is Velvet Membership. This gives me access to the rock underground movement, which I can exploit in various ways once per session.
Now, I need to pay those off. I'm going to start by trading in my Alertness rank. My Perception attribute is high enough that I should be OK without it. Then I'll grab the Hunted Flaw at Rank 5. Organised crime has sadly got a lot of sticky fingers in the rock scene what with both being illegal and Deetz has earned the ire of one or two local bosses by telling them exactly where they can stick it when offered business opportunities.
Also, screw it, I'm spending $50 to get 100 condoms, because Deetz is a champ. “I keep every bit of this band in working order, including the performers, savvy?”.
The leaves me with $4100 in spare cash. Hell, I'll be generous to the book and deduct $1000 from that for various tech gear.
Friday, February 3, 2012
Apologies, this section will be short and the previous section was omitted entirely because by and large Dungeons and Dragons 4E is the same game as 3.5. I'll be making a lot of references to my previous post, especially in regards to mechanics. Released in 2008, the (not exactly) fourth edition of the world's most popular roleplaying game was and still is the subject of much contention.
Probably its most notable feature was the focus on balance. As great as 3rd edition was, the sheer volume of rules material meant a lot of unintentional disparity in power between classes. I saw this crop up from time to time in my own games. In an effort to fix this, 4th edition attempted to ensure that all classes could contribute to most challenges. In my opinion they succeeded quite admirably. There are many who feel that in an attempt to ensure no class would outshine the others that a lot of creative spark was lost. The other major aspect is the addition of much tactical depth to the combat system. The language of the rules, particularly the use of Squares as a measure of distance was also a way of pushing people towards using a battlemat and miniatures (although it is quite simple to run the game without either), another turn off for many.
There are people who claim that 4th edition is a miniatures boardgame with roleplaying rules, that it is a game of combat, all combat and nothing but combat or nothing more than a tabletop iteration of World of Warcraft. I'm going to be generous and call these people misinformed. 4th edition is a perfectly serviceable RPG, one that I enjoyed playing and no doubt will enjoy playing on occasion in the many years to come.
Step 1) Choose Race
Race in 4th edition follows a far more standardised template. They'll get a +2 to two different Ability Scores (racial penalties have been done away with entirely), +2 to two different Skills, some kind of Racial Power and a few extra misc bonuses. All of the mainstays are here, although Elves have been conceptually split into two different races, with the race bearing that name being your typical tree-hugging archers and the Eladrin as immortal, otherworldly mages.
I'm going to create a Dragonborn, because I absolutely adore them. Why did it take so long for an edition of D&D to let you play a dragon person from day one. Dragonborn are big, strong, honourable. In the default setting (which doesn't have an official name, but has been nicknamed Points of Light or PoLand) they once controlled a gigantic empire which feel into decline after an extended war with the Tiefling empire, a race of humans who sold their souls to infernal beings for power. They're now mostly nomadic wanderers who serve as swords for hire. I'll cover most of their bonuses in the following steps, but I will note that they get a +1 to all attack rolls when they are Bloodied (when they have lost at least half their Hit Points) and they get to add the Constitution modifier to their Healing Surge Value (which I'll get to later).
Step 2) Choose Class
Once again, your Class is your professional adventuring role. 4th edition brought back all the previous classes (although some, like the Druid and Monk, were left out of the core game and introduced in source books) as well as introducing the Warlord (tactical commander who motivates and inspires) and the Warlock (person who has made bargains with supernatural entities for arcane power). I think, just like my previous character, I'm going to play against type and make my dragonborn a Rogue. After all, who would expect a member of a big-strong warrior race to be a cutpurse? Rogues are good at sneaking about, stealing everything that isn't nailed down and dealing with traps. In fights they tend to lurk in the shadows, looking for a good opportunity to stick a dagger in an enemy's back.
Each of the classes has both a Power Source and a Role. The power source serves no real mechanical purpose but gives you an idea of how the class does what it does, be it power from the gods, nature, magic or pure skill. In my case, the rogue's power source is Martial., meaning that my powers and abilities are all the result of intense training and skill rather than some supernatural force.
The Role of a class helps explain what kind of ways the character excels in a combat situation. It bears some similarities to terms like Tank or DPS in MMORPGs, although they function a bit differently. Rogues are Strikers meaning they concentrate their attacks on big single targets. In the rogue's case, this is achieved through the use of their Sneak Attack ability, which lets them do extra damage when they have Combat Advantage against an opponent. Combat Advantage is obtained in a number of ways, such as when your opponent has been Flanked or has been knocked Prone off their feet and normally only give a +2 to attacks against them.
I should also note here that Rogues get the First Strike ability, which means they automatically get combat advantage when attacking any opponent who hasn't acted yet in the fight and Rogue Weapon Talent, which gives me a +1 to attack rolls with Daggers and increases the damage of Shuriken (ninjas stars) to 1d6.
One last thing I need to do here is pick which Rogue Tactic I use. Rogues fall into one of two broad types (at least in the core), Artful Dodgers, who tend to be dashing, swashbuckler types and Brutal Scoundrels who are more like back alley thugs. I figure being a big, hulking dragon person lends itself well to the latter, so that's what I'll pick. The benefit here is that I get to add my strength modifier to damage whenever I sneak attack and I may get some added bonuses to certain powers later!
Step 3) Determine Ability Scores
Ability Scores haven't changed in 4E the old six are still there, performing the same function. While we rolled last time, in this iteration Point Buy is the standard method, so we'll be using that. I start off with the scores 10,10,10,10,10 and 8 and have 22 points to improve them.
Rogues really want a good Dexterity score, so I'm going to spend 16 of my points straight out of the gate to improve that to 18. As a Brutal Scoundrel I also want a decent Strength score, so I'll spend a further 2 points to up that to 12. I'd also like my character to have a good force of personality, so I'm going to put 2 points into Charisma, upping that to 12 as well. I don't really want a penalty anywhere, so I'm going to put the final 2 points into that 8, which ups it to a score of 10, which means 10s for my Constitution, Intelligence and Wisdom scores.
Dragonborn are both hulking reptilians and also confident and assertive. This is reflected in their +2 bonuses to Strength and Charisma, which means my total for those score goes up to 14 each.
Step 4) Choose Skills
How Skills work tends to change from edition to edition. Not only did 4E consolidate a lot of skills from 3.5 (for example, Swim, Climb and Jump are now all functions of the Athletics skill), skill ranks are gone completely. Instead, characters in 4E are simply Trained or not, with training giving you a +5 in the skill and making you eligible for certain Feats and exclusive functions of the skill.
One thing that hasn't changed is that rogues get more skills than anyone else. I automatically get training in Stealth (sneaking about) and Thievery (all purpose larceny from picking locks to disabling traps to picking pockets). I then get training in four more skills from the list. I want my dragon person to be more of a 'member of society's criminal underbelly' rogue than 'dungeoneering trapsmith' rogue, so I'm going to pick Streetwise (getting info off the streets and general city knowledge) and Intimidate. I'm also going to grab Athletics and Perception, to ensure that he's alert and ready for anything. I'm also going to note here that as a Dragonborn my character gets a +2 to History and Intimidate.
Step 5) Select Feats
Feats haven't really changed since the previous edition, although characters do get a lot more of them (one every couple of levels). I'm going to take Dragonborn Senses, which along with giving me a +1 to Perception checks also gives me Low-Light Vision,.which lets me see twice and far as a human in conditions of low-light, like torches or moonlight.
Step 6) Choose Powers
Every class gives your character a selection of Powers, abilities that are primarily certain combat maneuvers but can also be used elsewhere. Powers come in four categories, depending on how often they can be used, At-Wills, which can be used all the time, Encounter, which can be used once within an abstract, self-contained conflict or challenge like a fight, chase scene or negotiation, Daily, which can only be used once before a six-hour rest is required and Utility, which is not time dependant but is a non-combat ability. What your powers are depends on class, although this is just assistance for visualising them rather than having any mechanical effect. Martial classes, for example, get Maneuvers, Arcane classes Spells and Divine classes Prayers
At first level I get two at-will powers, an encounter and a daily. Because I'm a rogue, all my combat powers will get to add my Dexterity bonus of+4 to attack rolls and will get to add my weapon's Proficiency Bonus. For my at-wills, I am going to pick Riposte Strike, which not only damages my opponent but lets me perform a brutal counter-attack if they attack me before my next turn and Sly Flourish, an attack that adds my considerable Charisma bonus to damage. For my encounter power I'm going to pick Dazing Strike, which Dazes my opponent for a single turn, letting them only perform a move or attack action (normally they could take one of each). Finally, my daily power will be Easy Target, which not only does considerable damage, but means that my opponent grants combat advantage and Slows them, reducing their movement speed to 10ft per round until they successfully Save. Unlike the previous edition, saves this game are a flat 10 or more on a d20 roll which are made at the end of each turn.
Finally, I'll note here my racial power, Dragonbreath. This power, which can be used on an encounter basis, lets me breathe a gout of some kind of elemental energy that damages a bunch of people. I have to decide what ability score I use with this power, in this case Dexterity. I also have to pick what kind of damage it does and I'm going to choose Acid. I like the image of my dragon person spraying a gout of melting acid at opponents, Jurassic park style.
Step 7) Purchase Equipment
Every character in 4E starts off with 100gp to spend on starting equipment. Right off the bat, I'm going to be grabbing my rogue a Short Sword for 10gp. Because I'm proficient with it, it gives me +3 to all attacks, it deals 1d6 points of damage and as a Light Blade can be used with all my rogue powers. Next up I'll grab a suit of Leather Armour for 25gp, which gives me a +2 to my Ar4mour Class. As a rogue, I'll definitely need a set of Thieves Tools fir another 20gp. Finally, I take a Standard Adventurer's Kit for 15gp, which includes all the basics I'll list later. That leaves me with 30gp to spend on sundries later.
Step 8) Fill in the Numbers
In this step we work out all my character's combat statistics.
First, let's tackle Hit Points. Characters in 4E have more hit points than ever before, but then again, so do monster. As a rogue, I start off with 12 hp plus my constitution score, for a total of 22.
The main way characters recover hit points is by expending Healing Surges. Since hit points are an abstract mechanic of your fighting readiness, healing surges are a measure of your inner reserves and spending them allows you to gain hit points. This can be done once per combat independently, but surges may also be spent through use of abilities like a cleric's spells or a warlord's motivation. I get a number of healing surges per day equal to 6 plus my constitution modifier, so 6. My Surge Value, the number of hit points I regain by spending a surge, are equal to half my bloodied value (remember, that's half my total hit points), rounded down, for a total of 5. As a dragonborn I would normally get to add my Constitution modifier, but that's +0, so no chance.
In 4E, the previous edition's Armour Class and Saves have been rolled into a standard statistic called Defenses. When an opponent rolls an attack against you, it targets the appropriate defense. Like AC, defenses start off at 10 and then get to add appropriate modifiers. Armour gets to add the higher of dexterity and intelligence as well as my armour bonus, for a total of 16. Fortitude adds the higher of Strength and Constitution, for a total of 12. Reflex adds the higher of Dexterity and Intelligence, not to mention the +2 I get from being a rogue, for 16. Finally, Will gets the higher of Wisdom or Charisma, for 12 again.
Last bit, Initiative. Nothing special here, it's equal to my Dexterity bonus of +4.
Step 9) Roleplaying Character Details
So, I know my character is a sneaky, street-smart dragon person, but who do I actually want them to be. Well, I've decided that my character comes from a large city, the Greyhawk, Sharn or Lankhmar of whatever world the game would be set in. His parents (yeah, I've decided it's a he) are accomplished adventurers. They decided that when they had their clutch they'd leave the eggs in the care of old adventuring contacts and associates around the city, leave them to fend for themselves and see how they turned out. My dragon dude was given to their rogue buddy and thus was pretty much destined for a life of shady doings. He mostly works as a strongman for legit gigs, but he's not afraid of helping out a protection racket or tomb robbing here and there.
In terms of appearance, he's a bit skinny for a dragonborn, but he still easily tops 6.5 ft. He's covered in glistening black scales and his 'hair' (they're a bit closer to those things an axolotl has) is a murky brown. His snout and claws are oddly elongated for a member of his species. He quite likes dressing up in understated clothes that manage a nice contrast with his scales.
Oh, I should probably give him a name. Looking at the example names in the book, I'll go with Balasar. Let's add an honorific, he's known as Balasar of the Biting Wit, a coy reference to his acid breath. He's a bit of a smart-ass and
Alignment in 4E has been stripped down to five points, doing away with Chaotic Good, Lawful Evil and all Neutral alignments, replacing them with Unaligned. That's the one I'm picking for Balasar. He's not particularly fussed about helping people or hurting them, just enriching himself off rubes.
Balasar worships Erathis, goddess of civilisation. This is because he's a creature of civilisation and even sees crime as a natural part of the city ecosystem. Why he wouldn't call himself religious, he's weirdly philosophical about this sort of thing, a by-product of many debates with a cleric of the goddess who tried to push him and other young vagabonds towards the straight and narrow.
The Finished Product
Balasar of the Biting Wit
Level 1 Dragonborn Rogue; Unaligned
Strength 14 Dexterity 18 Constitution 10 Intelligence 10 Wisdom 10 Charisma 14
HP:22 Healing Surges:6 Surge Value:5
Armour Class:16 Fortitude:12 Reflex:16 Will:12
Skills: Athletics +7, History +2, Perception +6, Intimidate +9, Stealth +9, Streetwise +7, Thievery +9
Feats: Dragonborn Senses
At Will: Riposte Strike (+7; 16d+4, if opponent attacks, immediate interrupt +5 1d6+4), Sly Flourish (+7; 1d6+6)
Encounter: Dazing Strike (+7; 1d6+4, opponent dazed until end of next turn)
Daily: Easy Target (+7; 2d6+4 opponent grants combat advantage and is slowed (save ends))
Equipment: Short Sword, Leather Armour, Backpack, Bedroll, Flint and Steel, Pouch, 10xTrail Rations, 50ft Rope, 2x Sunrods, Waterskin, 30gp
Languages: Common, Draconic
How I'd Run It
I guess I should elaborate on that whole kaiju idea I briefly mentioned way back when I started this blog. So, 4E's tactical combat element as well as the fan community's penchant for reskinning (that is, using the mechanics and changing the fluff, for example saying a crossbow is a gun or dwarves are mole people or what have you) made me think it would be perfect for a game about giant monsters messing up each other's shit and causing a lot of collateral damage. The game, titled Kaiju Megateam Go! would be about a United Nations team of government controlled monsters who are deployed against similarly sized threats, alongside Kamijira, the king of lizards, who isn't controlled but shows up anyway (in mechanics terms, he's a dragonborn sorcerer). Instead of treasure, monsters get Infamy, which is gained by beating giant monsters and “accidentally” destroying important structures. I'm still working out the kinks, but I think the idea has potential.
Also, while I'd use 3.5 to run the Xcrawl idea in my last post, for running that setting straight I'd definitely use 4E. The tactical depth of combat would allow for some amazing set piece encounters. Monsters being built as individuals works well too. In what other edition would a troll wrapped in barbed wire with the ability 'Give me a V!' work so well?
Finally, I promised my best friend when 4E came out I'd run a campaign for him. I still haven't fulfilled that promise. Maybe I'll get around to running a straight fantasy game with it. Or, maybe I can just make the same promise with the next edition and hope I can get away with it then as well. ;)