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RPGs, science fiction, fantasy, gadgets, and anything else that comes up.Daniel Stacknoreply@blogger.comBlogger408125
Updated: 18 hours 42 min ago

Entire Campaigns in a Single 24-Mile Hex Inspired by Regal Rome

Sun, 03/26/2017 - 15:46

I am currently working my way through Mary Beard's SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. She covers Rome from its legendary founding to the point where all free people of the Empire were granted citizenship. She closely examines the legends of very early Rome such as the founding by Romulus and Remus, the Regal period, and the early Republic. For all of these periods we have no contemporary written history, being forced to rely on archaeological evidence - any written histories of those periods were written centuries later.

What I found striking was her description of warfare in the period around the end of the monarchy. She wrote:
Military activity is another good case in point. Here geography alone should give us pause. We need simply look at the location of these heroic battles: they were all fought within a radius of about 12 miles of the city of Rome. Despite the style in which they are recounted, as if they were mini-versions of Rome against Hannibal, they were probably something closer, in our terms, to cattle raids. They may not even have been ‘Roman’ engagements in the strict sense of the word at all. In most early communities, it took a long time before the various forms of private violence, from rough justice and vendetta to guerrilla warfare, came fully under public control. Conflict of all sorts was regularly in the hands of individuals with their own following, the ancient equivalents of what we might call private warlords; and there was a blurry distinction between what was conducted on behalf of the ‘state’ and what on behalf of some powerful leader. Almost certainly that was the case in early Rome. - Beard, Mary.  SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. Liveright Publishing Corporation. New York. 2015. Kindle Edition.
As I read that it struck me what a perfect sort of environment that would be for an RPG. It is difficult to get out of our modern mindset as far as nation go/ Here we see examples of independent warfare being conducted in a region the size of a single 24-mile hex in many fantasy role-playing games. I have visions of an extremely detailed regional map, detailed enough to show small hills, large buildings, et. A village is not represented by a dot in a hex but actually portrayed in a map - something like USGS maps. Not everything needs be totally known by the characters, even in such a "small" hex. My own commute to work is a 15 mile car ride and there is countless space along the sides of the highway that I've no idea what is there. For all I know there could be a cave complex to an orc lair along the ride. Seems unlikely, but one never knows.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Fate Accelerated Star Wars Character Stats

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 01:03
I thought it might be interesting to post some stats for our Fate Accelerated Star Wars characters. The game is set in the time leading up to Rogue One and A New Hope, with our heroes working for Bail Organa.

These stats are before any milestones are accounted for.

Gaven StarkRefresh: 3
Fate Points: 3

High Concept: The old ways are gone and it's up to me to bring them back.
Trouble: It may not earn me a medal but it will sure to get me noticed
Other Aspects: I know my way around a blaster
[two more aspects open]

ApproachesCareful: Mediocre (+0)
Clever: Average (+1)
Flashy: Good (+3)
Forceful: Fair (+2)
Quick: Fair (+2)
Sneaky: Average (+1)

StuntsChest full of medals: +2 Flashy attack with a blaster

Two more available without reducing refresh

Growing up at the end of the Clone Wars, Stark had an idealized vision of the Old Republic and believed the Empire was a noble continuation of it. He served many years in the Imperial Army with distinction but came to realize that the Empire was a force for evil and corruption.

Marcus DohaRefresh: 3
Fate Points: 3

High Concept: Senior Mercenary Captain
Trouble: Sole Caretaker of Rane Thanewulf
Other Aspects: Former Champion Swoop Racer
[two more aspects open]

ApproachesCareful: Average (+1)
Clever: Fair (+2)
Flashy: Average (+1)
Forceful: Fair (+2)
Quick: Mediocre (+0)
Sneaky: Good (+3)

StuntsRecon Master: When performing reconnaissance use Sneaky to Create Advantage at +2

Two more available without reducing refresh

Marcus served with distinction during the Clone Wars. At the end of the Clone Wars he adopted an adolescent daughter who was orphaned in the fighting. After she grew up he took on a variety of roles in the galaxy from swoop racer to mercenary. After the death of his daughter he became the guardian of his granddaughter.

R2-C4 [AKA BT-C4]Refresh: 3
Fate Points: 3

High Concept: Assassin droid masquerading as an R2 unit
Trouble: Wanted by the Empire
Other Aspects: Still an astromech, though not the most reliable one
[two more aspects open]

ApproachesCareful: Fair (+2)
Clever: Good (+3)
Flashy: Fair (+2)
Forceful: Average (+1)
Quick: Average (+1)
Sneaky: Mediocre (+0)
StuntsFrag Grenades: Once per session, R2-C4 may attack using Force up to three zones away by tossing a fragmentation grenade. This attack targets everyone in a given zone, friend and foe alike, and deals a 1-shift hit at minimum to each target, even if the targets successfully defend against the attack

Two more available without reducing refresh

Part of the BT-1 series of assassin droids, R2-C4 was designed by the Empire as part of the Tarkin Initiative. The BT-1 series always had a streak for independence and while C4 remains quite dedicated towards the violence it was programmed for, it has redirected that violence against the Empire.

R2-C4 is heavily armed with a blaster projector, vibroblade, and grenade launcher. It has the normal series of R2-unit accessories though some compromises in quality have been made to make room for its weaponry.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Fate Accelerated - Thoughts After Two Star Wars Sessions

Sat, 03/18/2017 - 01:40

Owing to winter storms, sicknesses, and internet outages I've not gotten as much gaming as I'd like to have this calendar year. However, we've managed to generate some Fate Accelerated Star Wars characters and completed a single two-session adventure. Next game is in a few days, probably a one-session adventure.

I've not achieved perfection in running Fate Accelerated, but I'm definitely getting the hang of it. Unlike my earlier attempts with Fate, aspects are getting used frequently and there are frequent spends of Fate points. So far it has primarily been player character aspects that are getting used plus consequences so an item to work on is getting situational aspects in play as well. However, this is quite an improvement from my earliest attempts which saw minimal aspect use.

I was a bit worry that approaches would be a difficult mechanic for us to grok - mechanically it's straightforward enough, where the way you do something takes precedence over a skill list - but it's worked pretty well. All the characters are reasonably competent as a result - if there's something they want to do, I generally let them try it. A nice feature of this is when there is a challenge, the players don't all look at their sheets to see who has the highest rating in a given skill.

Right now my plan is for several more Star Wars adventures as we get greater familiarity with the system. I'm itching at some point to play some Dresden Files Accelerated or going back to Dungeon Crawl Classics at some point, but I want to get some more mileage out of Star Wars and work out any mental kinks I might have with this system. Plus we need to get to the destruction of Alderaan...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

FAE Star Wars Actual Play: The Hunt for Admiral Bayran Part II

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 02:55

[Part 1]

Cast of Characters:

  • R2-C4 - Rogue Imperial assassin droid
  • Gaven Stark - Idealistic former Imperial army officer
  • Marcus Doha - Veteran Clone Trooper who has lived an active life since the Clone Wars
Scene 3: The "Rescue"

Admiral Bayran had a small treetop estate that was under assault from a small force from the Imperial Sentinel landing craft - an AT-ST, a small squad of stormtroopers, ISB Agent Kerrin Malloch, and Malloch's prisoner, the Twi'lek criminal Tel Akuna.

The three managed to distract the Imperials with a combination of explosions, fire, and blaster fire. R2-C4 used its rockets to fly up to the estate and "retrieve" Bayran - the aging Rodian was not enthusiastic to be rescued, but a blaster (set for stun) helped convinced him. There was a bit of chaos as Doha's granddaughter, bored with waiting in the ship, was checking out the battle and was nearly in the line of fire, but she was retrieved without injury. Most of the stormtroopers were slain, though Malloch and Akuna did get away.

Scene 4: The Hidden Shipyard

After a period of enhanced interrogations and negotiations, Bayran was persuaded to give the coordinates for his hidden shipyard - a large rogue planetoid in the Karterus Nebula in the Minos Cluster. Rather than report back to Senator Organa they flew on to the the shipyard - if they could reactivate a Separatist warship they might be able to destroy the Magistratus before it could devastate Shesharile 5 (Stark was a fan of bold actions that would get him noticed).

Bayran explained the problem was a droid had been left in command of the shipyard - IG-100-K3. It might be a bit finicky after over 15 years. As it turned out, it was on the homicidal side. They managed to trim the odds significantly when R2-C4 hacked into the the computer control and took over the basic battle droids. They did have to engage K3 but in the end were triumphant. With that accomplished, they reactivated and reprogrammed a Trade Federation Battleship in relatively good repair and went on to Shesharile 5 where it did indeed destroy the Magistratus. It was unclear if another Star Destroyer would return to complete its mission but at least they had bought the world some time. And they had a shipyard just waiting to produce warships for the Rebellion...

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Film Review: Hidden Figures

Sun, 03/12/2017 - 04:30

As a kid who obsessed about the space program back in the 1970s and 1980s, it's embarrassing (but not surprising) that I had no idea who Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson were. I became familiar with Mrs. Johnson when President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. The three were African-American women who worked as computers at NASA and its original organization, NACA. This was the era when a computer was a person, not a machine.

Hidden Figures, based on the book of the same name (which I've not read but is now on my list), is the story of these three women. It's fictionalized, with some composite characters, some events reordered, but at its core it shows us three remarkable woman who were essential in getting the United States into space. Its primary focus is Katherine Johnson, who was a master of celestial navigation. We see the challenges they faced with the casual sexism and racism of the era. The film has a ton of heart - in just two hours we really get to feel the lives of these woman and their families.

I found the film loaded with amusing moments but also tragically sad moments. I think one sequence of dialogue really summed up the tragedy for me:
Karl Zielinski: Mary, a person with an engineer's mind should be an engineer. You can't be a computer the rest of your life. Mary Jackson: Mr. Zielinski, I'm a negro woman. I'm not gonna entertain the impossible. Karl Zielinski: And I'm a Polish Jew whose parents died in a Nazi prison camp. Now I'm standing beneath a spaceship that's going to carry an astronaut to the stars. I think we can say we are living the impossible. Let me ask you, if you were a white male, would you wish to be an engineer? Mary Jackson: I wouldn't have to. I'd already be one.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Legacy of Ned Stark

Wed, 03/08/2017 - 03:30

As part of my Master's program in Strategic Analytics, I'm taking a management class on Organizational Leadership and Decision Making. I'm working on a research paper which has to include characteristics of leadership and a leader, either someone we know or someone famous, who exemplifies them. I'm writing about Abraham Lincoln but I have to confess I was sorely tempted to write about Eddard "Ned" Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire. (Spoilers for A Song of Ice and Fire through A Dance with Dragons).

Ned gets a bit of a bad rap. He certainly made mistakes and wound up paying with his life for those mistakes. But his mistakes were mistakes of being an ethical man, a man who would do all he could to spare the lives of children, even the children of his enemies. And he was determined to do what he felt was right, such as supporting the claim of Stannis over that of his brother Renly even when it would have been to his advantage to have supported Renly.

Ned is removed from the game of thrones in the first novel of the series. But what I find fascinating is the legacy he left behind. The people of the North respected the Starks. Even the traitor Theon comes to see how well treated he was by Ned Stark. Perhaps the most powerful message is when the men of the North march on Winterfell in A Dance With Dragons in the hopes of rescuing who they believe to be Arya Stark. Hugo Wull put it best:

“Aye, men are dying. More will die before we see Winterfell. What of it? This is war. Men die in war. That is as it should be. As it has always been.”  Ser Corliss Penny gave the clan chief an incredulous look. “Do you want to die, Wull?”  That seemed to amuse the northman. “I want to live forever in a land where summer lasts a thousand years. I want a castle in the clouds where I can look down over the world. I want to be six-and-twenty again. When I was six-and-twenty I could fight all day and fuck all night. What men want does not matter.  “Winter is almost upon us, boy. And winter is death. I would sooner my men die fighting for the Ned’s little girl than alone and hungry in the snow, weeping tears that freeze upon their cheeks. No one sings songs of men who die like that. As for me, I am old. This will be my last winter. Let me bathe in Bolton blood before I die. I want to feel it spatter across my face when my axe bites deep into a Bolton skull. I want to lick it off my lips and die with the taste of it on my tongue.” Martin, George R. R.. A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5) (pp. 561-562). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. To be honest, I'm not certain that Ned did lose at the game of thrones. Would Tywin's bannermen be loyal to him after his death? Would Balon Greyjoy's? They'd likely remain loyal to their houses if the house kept its power. But Ned inspired a loyalty that none could match - men are marching to their likely deaths to save their lord's young daughter. House Stark is no more so there is nothing in it for them - nothing but loyalty and vengeance. Ned Stark, executed falsely as a traitor in the first book continues to motivate men four books later. That is a leader.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Crew Accommodations on Star Wars Vessels

Mon, 03/06/2017 - 03:15

Back in January I wrote about how in the Star Wars universe, hyperspace travel seems more akin to an airplane trip than a trip by ship. You are typically not talking a journey of days - several hours most likely, with a worst-case trip being akin to a trip from say New York City to Tokyo. A direct flight would be around 14 hours, something with connecting flights would be perhaps a day and a half.

What does this mean for starships in a galaxy far, far away? If you look at deck plans of such starships you will often see a lot of crew accommodations. In many cases, I'd argue they are unnecessary or, at the very least. more than is required. If you are, for example, a light freighter captain, you are something akin to a truck driver. A bunk or two is reasonable - you might have an overnight trip or you might find yourself in a very crowded spaceport or you might just need to save a few credits. But a large portion of your ship dedicated to crew accommodations cuts into your cargo space. Now for a journey of days or weeks, as you might find in science fiction settings like Traveller, The Expanse, or Firefly, that's something you will likely need. You and your crew are going to practically live on your ship for long periods of time.

That's not to say that some ships wouldn't need good crew accommodations in the Star Wars universe. A naval vessel such a Star Destroyer spends a lot of its time on patrol in a given system; the crew of such a ship will be living on their ships for months at time. Similarly, a ship that spends a lot away from civilization needs good accommodations and a royal starship or yacht likely would as well.

I think, for example, that the blueprints of the Millennium Falcon do a good job portraying a ship that's primary focus is cargo carrying, albeit tricked out to be a bit of a combat monster and able to run blockades. Below is a set of plans that I believe originally appeared in Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars Gamer magazine and has been reused in various forms since:

As can be seen, there's not a lot of space dedicated solely for the crew - a bunkroom and a small lounge area within the main hold.
Variations of this have been published in various forms, with the assumption the Falcon is rather tricked out. There's one version with no crew accommodations at all aside from a pair of bunks in the main hold and a small bathroom attached. Another version replaces the bulk of the hold space with passenger bunkrooms. And a compromise, considered the "stock" version is rather similar to the Falcon, focused mainly on freight but having a single bunkroom (and a more sensible corridor arrangement):
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Improvement Through Study in RPGs and the Real World

Sat, 03/04/2017 - 03:57

Some RPGs, such as Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying, have a mechanism by which you can improve skills by a program of study, costing both time and money. Similarly, in some versions of D&D some training is required to move up a level.

As a kid I must admit I thought that was a pretty easy way to get improvements. The main caveat is such characters cannot be involved in other activities during that period. As I near the end of the fifth class in my Master of Science in Strategic Analytics, something I am doing while maintaining a full-time job, being a husband and dad, gaming, and blogging, I've got a real appreciation for just how difficult accomplishing that is. I've a side blog dedicated to politics that I've needed to put in stasis as I work on keeping up with all of this - not for lack of ideas, but for lack of time.

Now that I think of it, there are a few games or supplements that actually take place at a school. I remember Last Unicorn Games has a Starfleet Academy campaign setting for their Star Trek: The Next Generation game. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was often assumed to take place at a high school or college. There's often the idea of a "Hero High" in superhero RPGs. And though there's no RPG for it, Hogwarts of Harry Potter fame would make for a great campaign setting. And it has the funky time travel device that Hermione used to double up her classes. I could use that around now...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Film Review: Rogue One

Fri, 03/03/2017 - 03:26
This post is loaded with spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars story. 

Having had some time to digest Rogue One I've discovered it ranks up there among the top tier of Star Wars films. I'd rank it up there with Empire Strikes Back and would say it simply a great movie. I have to confess my expectations weren't terribly high when I saw it - I thought it would be an enjoyable movie and I did take the whole family opening night (actually a 7 PM "midnight showing" the night before it opened).

What is it that worked so well?

First and foremost, it was a movie that told a story. It wasn't trying to build a cinematic universe or making certain it had hooks for sequels. I think, for example, that Amazing Spider-Man 2 was so focused on building a franchise it neglected its first priority in making a great movie. As a result, Rogue One was able to focus on delivering a great movie. It was able to be brave and let the characters sacrifice their lives for the Rebellion.

It also beautifully balanced avoiding continuity lockout while satisfying dedicated fans. You didn't need to have seen the prequels to appreciate the film. I suspect you could probably enjoy it without A New Hope but I think the main assumption of the audience is that they know A New Hope begins with Princess Leia, having the plans to the Death Star, is aboard a ship being pursued by Darth Vader's Star Destroyer.

But if you know more about the universe there is more for you to see. We get to see Darth Vader's castle on Mustafar from Revenge of the Sith. There are elements from The Clone Wars and Rebels. We get a satisfactory answer as to how such a big design flaw made it into the Death Star.

With an almost entirely new cast, I found myself rapidly coming to admire them. They weren't perfect - Jyn had lost faith in having a cause while Cassian was a dedicated Rebel - but one who had performed so many morally compromising acts in the name of a greater good. We saw true faith in the Force in Chirrut despite not having the Jedi's ability to use it. It's a lot easier to believe in something supernatural when you can move objects with your mind. It is another thing to put your faith in the Force while under blaster fire, hoping to stay alive long enough to enable the Rebels to beam the plans to a Rebel ship. We see Baze having lost faith in the Force but nevertheless staying with his friend and fellow Guardian of the Whills, Chirrut, and in the end he finds his faith again. We see Bodhi, a pilot who was "just doing his job", facing the moral consequences of the weapon he had a part in building. He's no warrior but he too gives everything he has in gaining redemption. Even our droid is filled with personality - for all his snark and sarcasm, K-2SO is so clearly dedicated to Cassian.

And every single one of them dies. Why? Because the film wants us to know the Empire is dangerous and evil. There's no Ewoks coming out of the trees to save them. These stormtroopers have deadly aim. All but Cassian and Jyn die at the hands of stormtroopers. And the men in charge of the Empire are evil, casually wiping out cities and even their own troops with the Death Star. When now we hear Princess Leia says "this is our most desperate hour" in A New Hope, we absolutely believe it. The Empire has built a weapon that at low power can destroy cities and at full power, entire planets.

Let's not forget Darth Vader. He is an unstoppable force against the Rebel soldiers in the close of Rogue One - the only victory they can get is getting a copy of the plans aboard the Tantive IV before he kills them all. Yet we also get a sense of the man he is - having his fortress at the place of his greatest defeat, engaging in a dark humor as he chokes Krennic and warns him not to "choke on your aspirations".

I've found even two and a half months after seeing Rogue One I'm still thinking about it. While I greatly enjoyed The Force Awakens I've come to the conclusion, much to my surprise, that Rogue One is a superior film. That's not to take away from the joy of seeing old friends again and making new ones in The Force Awakens but Rogue One had an intensity and desperation that made it stick in my mind.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Thoughts on Fate Accelerated Superheroes

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 03:23

I certainly could be mistaken, but to the best of my knowledge there's not a Fate Accelerated Superhero RPGVenture City, a type of cyberpunk superhero setting, and Daring Comics RPG, a more traditional superhero RPG for Fate. Admittedly. Fate Accelerated is a variant of Fate Core, but I think there's a great opportunity for a Fate Accelerated Superhero game. Fainting Goat Games does have a Villains Accelerated supplement which is a listing of supervillains in Fate Accelerated, giving a good example of how one might realize such characters.
. Off the top of my head, I can think of two main Fate Core products -

Like most Fate campaigns, it would be important in a Fate Accelerated superhero game to get general agreement on the type of game you're looking for. One could have cosmic superheroes like the Green Lantern Corp down to street level superheroes such as Batman and Daredevil. Of course, comics like Justice League have put Batman and Green Lantern together, but that too is a campaign agreement that would need to be reached.

What I like about a Fate Accelerated superhero campaign is the ability to leverage aspects as permissions - aspects can be used for Green Lantern's power ring, Daredevil's super senses, etc.

The recent Dresden Files Accelerated gives an idea how one might add a bit of crunch to such a game. Where Dresden Files Accelerated has mantles to define various types of characters, a superhero game might have something like archetypes - bricks, speedsters, energy projectors, etc.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mr. Chekov, Plot a Course for Trappist-1

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 03:48

What an amazing age we live in with NASA reporting the discovery of seven terrestrial planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1 with at least three and possibly all of the planets in its habitable zone.
Now that doesn't necessarily mean any of the planets have life. In our solar system there are three planets in the habitable zone - Venus, Earth, and Mars. Obviously Earth is a pretty good place to live and living on Mars is something that might be feasible some day. Not so much Venus however.
What is amazing is while the star is relatively close - 39.5 light years from Earth - it is well beyond our abilities at present to even come close to being able to make a trip. While at Warp 6 it's a little more than two months away the fastest spacecraft made by humanity thus far would take well over a hundred thousand years to get there. Bit of a bummer...
I've rather enjoyed a lot of science fiction which treats the laws of physics realistically and still manages to tell a great story. One of my earliest hard science fiction reads was Arthur C. Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth. In it the Earth had been destroyed by the sun going nova. Knowing it was going to happen, humanity, unable to find a way to make interstellar travel feasible for live humans, sends seedships of embryos and later just DNA code and raw materials, in hopes of propagating humanity, with the newborns to be raised by robotic parents. At least one of the worlds has its experiment succeed, with Thalassa establishing contact with Earth, though it is lost after some 400 years. In the meantime, just a century before the destruction of the sun, the weight problems which prevented practical interstellar travel for live humans are solved. It is too late to get all of humanity off the Earth but a fleet of ships does escape. One of them, the Magellan, stops at Thalassa, bringing us the plot of the book.
Ursula Le Guin cheated a little bit, allowing for instantaneous communication but leaving the speed of light a limit on travel. Realistically, even getting close to the speed of light is a massive problem but we at least know it is physically possible. 
Looking at all the debates around abortion and stem cell research today, I wonder what we as a species would do if the only way to have a chance of insuring the survival of humanity would be to send such seedships into the universe, hoping for the best. What would it be like for a generation of humans to be born to no parents? Would religious books be sent with them? In Clarke's book, they were not. What would a colony with just one religion be like? Of course, many holy books make reference to other religions. As a gamer, I could imagine a fascinating RPG with characters being among the first generations of humans on a new world.
Image CreditCreative Commons Attribution InternationalThis artist’s impression shows an imagined view from the surface one of the three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth that were discovered using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1615a/ESO/M. Kornmesser
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Grokking RPG Systems

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 00:23

Grok means "to understand," of course, but Dr. Mahmoud, who might be termed the leading Terran expert on Martians, explains that it also means, "to drink" and "a hundred other English words, words which we think of as antithetical concepts. 'Grok' means all of these. It means 'fear,' it means 'love,' it means 'hate'—proper hate, for by the Martian 'map' you cannot hate anything unless you grok it, understand it so thoroughly that you merge with it and it merges with you—then you can hate it. By hating yourself. By this implies that you love it, too, and cherish it and would not have it otherwise. Then you can hate—and (I think) Martian hate is an emotion so black that the nearest human equivalent could only be called mild distaste. 
Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land introduces the term "grok" which is a bit difficult to understand - I've always viewed it as a full and total understanding of something. I'm also realizing that this is a novel I began in college but never finished and have added it to my reading queue in embarrassment....

I'm in the process of trying to grok the Fate RPG. I'm getting close - it's a system I've wrestled with for a while but I'm beginning to get it. What I've noticed is there are certain RPG systems that I just totally get. I could not play it for five years, hand me an adventure to run or a character sheet and I'd be ready to go right away (maybe give me a little time to read an adventure if you need me to run it but I'd not need time to reread the rules).

I think there's only a small number of games that meet that qualification for me. The first is of course D&D. I'd classify D&D as any version of it prior to the 3rd and any of the clones of older versions. I'm pretty close to grokking other versions of D&D, but the extreme crunchiness of 3.x tends to frustrate me when it is time to prep an adventure. That said, I'd include Dungeon Crawl Classics in my kit of grokked games.

The next game would be the D6 system. The original Star Wars RPG of course fits into this but my mini-Ghostbusters game was a blast. It was extremely easy to just pick up and play - and I'd play it again in a heartbeat.

The last of my grokked systems would be Chaosium's BRP System, especially in Call of Cthulhu. After two 7th edition campaigns I'd say that even a fairly major revision didn't break my brain. It's one of those systems that even with derivations of it like Mythras, picking it up is easy and the game is very playable.

There's also a few systems that I'm probably close to grokking. D&D 3.x and 5th edition probably fit in this category - I know them well but I definitely need a bit more time going over rules before playing them. FASA's old Star Trek and Doctor Who games are there as well - I think I played them so much in the 1980s and 1990s that even to this day I probably could run them pretty smoothly. I'm working on getting to a grokking of Fate and am thinking I'm pretty close which pleases me, given I'm really looking forward to a Dresden Files Accelerated or Atomic Robo game sometime.

Hero/Champions is probably my challenge - it's a super crunchy game that in some ways appeals to the data scientist in me - but also challenges me with the "is it worth the work" question. I might have a bit of an extended break from graduate classes in the late spring/summer time frame so it might be a good time for me to wrestle with it a bit... We'll see. I really do want to try Golden Age Champions at some point.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

FAE Star Wars Actual Play: The Hunt for Admiral Bayran

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 00:36

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away....
Star Wars: Tales of Rebellion
Episode I:The Hunt for Admiral Bayran

It is a dark time for the galaxy. The evil Emperor Palpatine has destroyed the OLD REPUBLIC  and the Jedi Knights, guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy. In the Republic's place is the EVIL GALACTIC EMPIRE.

In this darkness, Senator Bail Organa secretly works against the Emperor, supporting the REBEL ALLIANCE. He has dispatched a team of Rebel Agents to Shesharile 5 in the Minor Cluster to meet with a rebel spy to see what help the Rebellion can give to that impoverished world.

Unknown to these agents, word has spread that the Admiral Bayran, a war criminal of the Clone Wars, has been hiding on the nearby forest world of Yelsain. The admiral's hidden shipyard was never found after the Clone Wars. If he could be persuaded to work with the Alliance, that shipyard could be used in the service of the Alliance....

Cast of Characters:

  • C4-HK - Rogue Imperial demolitions droid
  • Dajo Tochiki - AWOL Clone Wars pilot trying to fly beneath Imperial sensors
  • Gaven Stark - Idealistic former Imperial army officer
  • Marcus Doha - Veteran Clone Trooper who has lived an active life since the Clone Wars

Scene 1: Rendezvous on Shesharile 5A dark and stormy night. The moon Shesharile 5 is in open rebellion. Not so much against the Empire but against everything. It is filled with rage. Its economy in tatters, gangs rule the streets.
At Griff's Bar, to the sounds of angry industrial music, the rebel agents meet with Lt. Jun Chon of the Imperial Star Destroyer Magistratus. He tells them that there is likely little to be done for Shesharile 5 - Captain Zodin of the Magistratus will likely begin a full bombardment any day and the survivors will be used for slave labor. But... One bit of intelligence might have some hope. One of the gang leaders, a middle-aged Twilek woman named Akuna, was recently captured by Imperial security. In return fo her life she revealed she had shuttled the notorious Admiral Bayran to the settlement of Tavik's Landing on Yelsain. If his legendary hidden shipyard is true, perhaps it could be leveraged against the Magistratus and used in service of the Rebellion.
The agents left in a hurry as explosions rocked the streets and Imperial Stormtroopers and AT-DPs marched the street. Poor Chon was crushed by a collapsing wall. It looked grim but C4 was able to use its knowledge of Imperial procedure to bluff its way past the stormtroopers...
InterludeUnfortunately, security was not good at the police station where Akuna was arrested. While the valuable prisoner was brought to the Magistratus, word leaked of his initial questioning. Even now bounty hunters were on their way to Yelsain to capture Bayran before Imperial Security could...
Scene 2: Skirmish at Tavik's LandingWhile much of Yelsain sided with the Republic during the Clone Wars, the planet, with its rugged individualism was far from united - lacking even a capital or central government, the people of Tavik's Landing were very pro-Separatist during the Clone Wars. 
With Yelsain's lack of security (people are responsible for their own security), Dajo and C4 stayed behind at their ship while the others went to the Moot, the tavern at Tavik's Landing. It was a much nicer place than Griff's. Like the rest of the Moot, it was built around one of Yelsain's gargantuan trees, high off the ground. After some talking they found themselves talking with "the Governor", the unofficial leader of the Landing. She was a middle-aged going on elderly woman who had fought against the Republic during the Clone Wars.  She was hesitant to give up anything she knew about Bayran and also figured out quickly Gaven and Marcus were once military. Their tense negotiations were interrupted by the door being kicked in by the Mandalorian bounty hunter Jodo Kast and his ally, the assassin droid IG-79 in search of Bayran. A firefight broke out. The droid tried to take the Governor hostage, thinking that would cause the Rebels to surrender and get them it and Kast the information they needed. After much fighting (including Marcus blocking a flamethrower with a table), Gaven took Kast out, his jetpack going out of control and sending him careening down to the ground far below. IG-79 calculated its odds as having diminished and departed.
The Governor began rethinking the value in keeping Bayran's secrets. And it became moot as they saw a Imperial landing craft heading towards the location of Bayran's homestead...

To be continued...

GM Notes
  • We were planning on continuing tonight (February 13) but real world (tm) has blocked that. So tune in in two weeks... (Plus time required for writeup)
  • C4-HK is inspired by both K-2SO from Rogue One and looks like one of the HK droids from Knights of the Old Republic. We'll assume the blueprints were found.
  • After playing the adventure I realized I got the name Tavik's Landing from a location in the city of Sharn from the Eberron setting for D&D. Oh well. Sounds like a good name for a settlement.
  • We've not quite specified the exact year the game takes place in, but it is pretty close to A New Hope. At some point they'll likely go visit Alderaan and see it is not there.
  • I'm making use of some stuff from my previous game set in the Minos Cluster, though I anticipate the characters will visit other locations as well. 
  • The combat using Fate was nicely dramatic and didn't feel repetitive, something I'd worried a bit about.

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Remembering Role Aids

Sun, 02/12/2017 - 02:25

One of my more humorous moments explaining a gaming book occurred in the mid-1980s. I was in the back seat of my grandfather's car flipping through Role Aids' Elves book while we were stuck in traffic on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. My grandmother asked what I was reading and I showed her the book. She misunderstood the title and thought I was reading a book about Elvis, not Elves. To this day when I look at the cover of that book I keep thinking it does kinda look like he's getting ready to rock...
Since the 3rd edition of D&D Wizards of the Coast has embraced third party adventures, though they were perhaps a bit less receptive in the 4th edition era. They had made the discovery they made their most money on books that everybody bought - rulebooks and supplements. Adventures might be needed but they didn't make nearly as much money.
Prior to that, the original owners of D&D, TSR, was rather draconian about allowing 3rd party products. They did license miniature figures, but to the best of my recollection, they never allowed any official 3rd party products outside of Judges' Guild and actually worked rather hard against them, going so far as to institute rather draconian policies towards fan-made material in the early days of the internet. Mayfair Games' Role Aids is one of the few 3rd party lines I can think of from the TSR era. I know that Kenzer and Company had a pair of Kingdoms of Kalamar books and I remember a series of class books from Bard Games. 
Back in the day I had quite a collection of Role Aids books. They had a bit of a dance renaming various stats to avoid running afoul of TSR's trademarks - Hits to Kill instead of Hit Points, Skill instead of Level, etc. They were unsuccessfully sued by TSR in 1993 and TSR eventually bought the line.
Like any other series, the books were of varying quality. Some of their books were straight out adventures (often loosely connected into a campaign) while others were longer books, serving as both sourcebooks and adventures. In the early 1990s they published some fantastic supplements on Demons that I made extensive use of in my gaming.
My favorite book from the Role Aids line would have to be their Wizards book, covering various wizards from legend and fiction, often with introductory sections written by the character's creator. This book introduced me to the works of Robert Lynn Asprin, Roger Zelazny, and Marion Zimmer Bradley, as well as making Babylonian mythology come alive with its section of Gilgamesh.

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Graphic Novel Review: Give Me Liberty

Wed, 02/08/2017 - 03:51

I've been on a bit of a dystopian kick of late. One of the works I've read, for the first time in ages, is Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons' Give Me Liberty.

Originally published in 1990, Give Me Liberty tells the story of Martha Washington, born in the year 1995 and primarily taking place in 2009 through 2012. It takes place in a dystopian America, ruled by the initially popular President Rexall, elected in 1996. Her father is killed in protests following his election. She and her family live in the Carbini-Green housing of Chicago. In this America, it is essentially a prison for impoverished African-Americans. Rexall, a strong conservative, is re-elected in 2000 and 2004, with the 22nd Amendment being repealed. Elections are suspended in 2008 due to the possibility he might lose.

The Green is a hellish environment for young Martha - and for anyone else. She eventually finds her way out after she suffers a mental breakdown after witnessing her favorite teacher murdered - and her killing his killer. Her time at a mental health hospital is brief due to budget cuts, making her homeless. She eventually finds her way into PAX, an American "peacekeeping" force which accepts everyone, no questions asked. She's just a young teenager when she joins up.

Much of the story is centered around America falling apart. Rexall is put into a coma after a fire-bombing of the White House, with most of his cabinet killed, putting the unlikely liberal Howard Nissen in the presidency. He signs peace treaties, sends PAX (and Martha) to preserve the rain forests of Brazil, grants land to Native American protesters, etc. However, America continues to fall apart under the pressure of hate groups, fast food megacorporations (who object to the protection of the rain forests), the Middle East, an insane surgeon general (you'll have to read it), etc.

There's a strong element of satire in this - for example, fast food megacorporations have giant burger-mecha fighting in the rain forests...

This being Frank Miller, the humor is very politically incorrect. Rereading it recently, I found myself uncomfortable with things like "the Aryan Thrust" - a gay Nazi hate group. Or with radical feminists forming a new Confederacy in the south...
With those huge caveats, it makes for a rather interesting read - it's interesting when you push away the crude satire how much the dysfunctional United States of the comic rings true today. Just remember you are dealing with Frank Miller - though thankfully not the caricature of himself he became in later years (All-Star Batman and Robin, Holy Terror).
The comic also brings to mind Mayfair Games RPG Underground!, which also took place in an America falling apart, a setting also dosed with dark humor. Published a few years after Give Me Liberty!, I always felt it took a number of cues in tone and art from it.
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Fate Accelerated and Old School Rulings

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:02

As I thought about what to write about today, I was mentally going through my old school RPG collection as well as some of my newer games like Fate as well as thinking about some some conversations in my gaming group of late.

One of the reasons that some of the older incarnations of D&D and their clones have a certain appeal to us is the flexibility they give you in what your characters can do. Newer versions of D&D introduce a lot of detail into your character with feats and skills. I've found they work well but have also seen cases where they can inhibit outside-the-box thinking. One of the challenges on the older school side is in making rulings - when a player has a rather off-the-wall solution, there's often nothing on the character sheet that would help you adjudicate resolution.

Interestingly, I'm finding in Fate Accelerated a nice compromise. In it, the players actions tend to fit in one of four categories (overcome, create an advantage, attack, defend) but it is up to the player each time to define how they do that action - using their approaches while taking into account the circumstances. For example, making a Forceful defense against a flamethrower is not something you'd often expect - however, with a veteran clone trooper taking a large table and interposing it between him and his attacker the action becomes much more reasonable.

I don't think I've found my "one true system" - I'm pretty sure it doesn't exist. When the DCC version of Lankhmar comes out I'm pretty certain I'm going to want to play that for example. And I still want to try running a Hero System game at least once.
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Star Wars Rebels as an RPG Inspiration

Sun, 02/05/2017 - 02:05

One of the challenges I've seen people have with RPG settings like Star Wars is how to make the player characters have an important role. After all, it was Luke Skywalker who blew up the Death Star and redeemed Darth Vader. Won't the players always be in the shadow of that.

Personally, it's not a problem I've had - it's a big galaxy with a lot of opportunity for heroism. One of my longer campaigns spanned the timeline of the entire original trilogy, ending with the characters being commandos infiltrating the second Death Star. Unbeknownst to the movie audience, the Emperor had a deflector shield within the Death Star designed to protect the core. This assault team had to disable the shield in order to allow the Rebel ships to reach the core. Of course they ran into their arch-nemesis, High Inquisitor Tremayne, guarding the internal shield generator, allowing for a climactic battle. The characters got to join the dancing Ewoks when all was done.

The animated television show, Star Wars Rebels provides a great inspiration for a Star Wars RPG. It covers the crew of the Ghost, a Corellian freighter whose crew are Rebels against the Evil Galactic Empire. It begins five years before the events of A New Hope, though the timeline has advanced over the three seasons of the show thus far. The show starts fairly slowly, centered around the planet Lothal, with recurring villains and our heroes developed over time. In the second season the characters are part of the larger Rebel group but are also forced to flee Lothal as they attract to much Imperial attention, barely surviving an encounter with Darth Vader. The third season ups the stakes further with one of the characters beginning to be tainted by his experimentation with the Dark Side of the Force. Certain characters from the classic trilogy appear as do characters from Rogue One and The Clone Wars animated series.

The main protagonists seem like the characters of an RPG campaign. The owner of the Ghost, Hera Syndulla, is a fully clothed Twi'lek female and a dedicated freedom fighter. The other leader of the band, Kanan Jarrus, is a former Jedi padawan who survived Order 66. He is put into the awkward position of training the Force sensitive teen, Ezra Bridger, an orphan who they encounter in the pilot. Rounding out the crew is the Mandalorian Sabine Wren, the Lasat Zeb (based on original concept art for Chewbacca), and the grouchy astromech droid Chopper.

Their adventures range from personal ones, dealing with elements of their backgrounds, to grander adventures fitting in with the overall Star Wars canon - for example, they are unknowingly involved in denying  a shipment of crystals tot the Death Star, delaying its completion. The characters themselves undergo changes - former adversaries join with them, they suffer injuries which do not vanish in the next episode, young Ezra becomes tempted by the Dark Side, etc.

At some point in the future I might do a deeper dive and/or review, but if you ever find yourself in need of a Star Wars Rebellion game, Rebels makes for a fine inspiration (in addition to being enjoyable viewing).
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Campaign No-Prize - Yelsain in the Clone Wars

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 04:05

I don't believe Marvel still does it, but I remember at least as late as the 1980s Marvel would give out No-Prizes. A No-Prize was an envelope indicating it contained a No-Prize, mailed to the winner. It was an empty envelope... How could you get a No-Prize? It was given for finding an error in a comic but then explaining how it wasn't really an error.

In this week's Star Wars game the characters spent time on the forest world of Yelsain in the Minos Cluster. I've presented Yelsain as a Libertarian paradise - no real laws, though everyone is real polite and well-armed. I explained in the game how they fought for freedom from the Republic on the side of the Separatists during the Clone Wars. Made sense.

Then I went over my notes from the previous campaign which had been set in the Minos Cluster:
During the Clone Wars Yelsain remained loyal to the Republic, despite the bulk of the sector breaking away. The Separatists “conquered” Yelsain numerous times, each time discovering Yelsain impossible to govern. The people of Yelsain hate the Empire and make no secret of that fact. They refuse to pay taxes to the Empire. The Empire collects a 20 percent import and export tax to make up for this lost revenue, though there is constant rumbling about trying to collect at gunpoint. Oops.
So how to reconcile? Well, I never contradicted the fact they hated the Empire. But how to explain pro-Separatist attitude of Yelsain in the previous adventure?
Well, the Libertarian paradise that is Yelsain seems to allow this - indeed, my notes refer to them as practically anarchists. It seems to reason that Yelsain could have been on both sides during the Clone Wars. While for the most part it was considered a Republic world, both sides could lay claim to its loyalty, with a shadow government on Yelsain pledging allegiance to the Separatists. This happened in the American Civil War, with Kentucky being represented in both the Union and Confederate Congresses.
See, not a mistake. I meant to do it what way...

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First Experience with Fate Accelerated Star Wars

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 02:05

Last night we had our first experience at using Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) to run a Star Wars game. This was my third attempt at running a game using some variant of Fate. An Atomic Robo game went ok while an attempt at a homebrew urban fantasy game using FAE didn't really work out.

It will require a few more game sessions before I declare absolute victory but this session definitely did go far better than previous attempts. The session itself was a little rough on the technical side - one player was having sound issues (times like this I miss having an in-person group) so had to drop out and another had to leave a bit early. Real world stinks.

I'll do a writeup of the session itself at a later point, this is more focused on my experiences running the game. The game is a pre-Episode IV Star Wars game, set a vague amount of time prior to Episode IV (close to it, but we've not fully nailed down if it is a few months or years). They are Rebels going on missions for Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan. The fact their home base is Alderaan might make keeping the exact date fuzzy a feature as opposed to a bug... We've a demolitions droid, an ex-Clone Trooper, a former Imperial Army Officer, and a Clone Wars fighter pilot who went AWOL after his brother was killed by Order 66 (he apparently has some minor Force sensitivity, but not enough to have been taken in by the Jedi Order - and nothing he can consciously control). The first session dealt with them tracking down a Separatist Admiral who had managed a secret shipyard in the Minos Cluster - the Empire wanted him for war crimes, the Rebellion wanted him in the hopes of getting access to the lost shipyard.

This time around I made it a point to do a lot of compelling of Aspects and encouraged the players to spend Fate points and create advantages like crazy. One player was a Fate veteran (more than me actually) which helped but also making all the Aspects on the table very clear. As you can see from the screenshot above, I wrote down all the Aspects - scene aspects and NPC aspects.

One thing that I hadn't anticipated is a fairly competent character in Fate is pretty tough and difficult to take out - a battle with bounty hunters searching for the Admiral took a bit longer than I had anticipated, but Jodo Kast and IG-79 were dealt with. One thing which pleased me is we managed to not make the game a constant stream of "I use my best approach" declarations. The compat was actually quite a bit more tactical than I've experienced in other games - for example, the ex-Clone Trooper managed to do a Forceful defend from a flamethrower fired at him by throwing a large tavern table between him and IG-79. It felt like something one might see in a grittier Star Wars film such as Rogue One.

What will I improve upon in further sessions? First, I now have a better idea how tough a character is in Fate and I know a bit better when to dial things down or up. Second, I did notice we didn't make too much use of scene Aspects - I might have the NPCs leverage them a bit next game to draw better attention to them.

Overall, I have to say I'm rather pleased with how this went.

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Prepping My First Fate Accelerated Star Wars Game

Mon, 01/30/2017 - 03:14

Assuming all goes well we'll be trying out a Star Wars game using Fate Accelerated for our next game session.

This has been a rather busy two weeks - the new semester has started for my part-time pursuit of my Master's, my wife is taking an advanced course in pursuit of her professional teaching license (she currently has her initial license), I've begun a new role at work, and took my daughter to her first political protest. I had a lot less time to prep for this adventure than I normally do.

So what have I learned? Fortunately, it looks like prepping a Fate Accelerated (and presumably a Fate adventure in general) doesn't seem to involve as much statting up of characters. Given stat generation is incredibly quick in Fate (making the major NPCs took maybe a minute each) what I realized is I've a bit more freedom to allow my players to run off the beaten path and adapt on the fly.

What I am nervous about is getting the flow of Aspects and Fate Points right. That's been where I've had the most problems in the past.
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