Friday, February 24, 2012

RIFTS SAGA: Theorycrafting

So as I mentioned a while back, I've been working on a D20 Version of RIFTS for most of this century.  Ever since D20 Modern came out years ago, specifically the D20 Future supplement (written in part by Rodney Thompson!  Woo!), I've been trying to put the square-peg of RIFTS through the icosahedron-hole of the D20 system.  Since then, D&D 3rd edition became 3.5, and then 4th Edition.  Star Wars went Revised, and then SAGA Edition. 

And then "GM" Chris Witt went and made a Fantasy setting using the SAGA edition rules.  He threw together a 145 page document that beautifully turned a Sci-Fi setting into a Fantasy setting, and it works.  It works well.

The biggest help to my effort is the conversion of a lot of Jedi/Force Talents and Powers into magical spells and abilities.  Seeing that sort of transformation really helped me come up with ways to handle both magic and psionics, two huge aspects of RIFTS.  Another aid actually came from the most recent episode of the Order 66 Podcast, where they reviewed a Force tradition known as the Shapers of Kro Var.  All of thier Force powers are based on the manipulation of the 4 classic "elements", and slapping a new flavor/descriptor onto Force powers as a way of explaining their effect.  Force Slam is now "Heat Slam", where you send out a blast of heat and ash.  Surge is based on fluidity of motion, and a partial transformation into water.  Even some of their talents fit perfectly into Bursters, Warlocks, and Elemental Fusionists.

I'm getting side-tracked.  Apologies.

The Basics

So where do I begin?  At the beginning of course, with "Chapter One: Character Classes".  This chapter will go over the various races that are prevalent in RIFTS Earth, specifically focusing on those races found in the region of the old "American Empire".  Dog Boys and Psi-Stalkers are in there, of course.  There's the catch-all "D-Bee", which will look a lot like the Near-Human from SWSE's last book, The Unknown Regions.  In addition there are the specific, named D-Bees in Rifts Soucrebook One, Coalition War Campaign, and the Tolkien Under Siege campaign.

You'll notice I didn't mention Dragons.  Those who recall Rifts will remember that players could play actual full-blown dragons (oddly enough, they were sorta underpowered compared to other classes.)  Today I actually came up with a couple ideas on how to work them and handle them.  Could actually work.  More on that another time.

So after you choose your race, you move on to Archetypes.  Not classes, Archetypes.  SAGA is pretty open-ended about how you build your character.  You can multi-class freely, taking "a little from here, a little from there" to make a character that fits your mold.  Talents come on every odd-numbered class level, and define what your character's abilities are.  That's where you get the most of your neat Jedi Abilities, your Sneak Attacks for Scoundrels, your party buff powers for Nobles, and your survival abilities from Scout.  Talents are where you define your character.

"I'm a FEATURE!"

In RIFTS, your characters are really front-loaded with a lot of abilities that define their Occupational Character Class (or Racial Character Class).  A lot of abilities.  Some classes, like Cyber-Knights, Shifters, and Mind Melters do gain more powers as they go up in levels, but most of them get the majority of their defining abilities at level one; like Ley Line Walkers, Juicers, Crazies, and Glitter Boys.

I did go out an make a bunch of Class Specific Talent trees for several classes, but I didn't just want to turn all of the inate abilities into Talents.  For one thing, that would mean that a lot of the "feel" for an O.C.C. wasn't fulfilled until much later in play.  In addition, it would likely mean that the player would be choosing talents from that specific Talent Tree only, and foregoing just about all of the talents from their classes that they select.

So I developed Archetypes; character choices that define what you are in the world of Rifts, and grant you a couple defining abilities or features for your chosen life, and open the door to allow you to enhance your abilities granted by that Archetype.

Here's what it looks like if you choose the Cyber-Knight archetype;
You’re a wandering, modern-day knight-errant, traveling across the land helping those in need.  Your zen-like training has allowed you to focus your body and mind into a lethal warrior, but your moral code of honor tempers your actions.
Because of the Cyber-Knight’s reputation as protectors of the weak and oppressed, as well as the Cyber-Knight’s own Code of Chivalry, many people in the world will naturally expect a Cyber-Knight to help in times of need.  Their legend as valiant protectors able to fight against seemingly insurmountable odds and win has infused the populace of Rifts Earth with the expectation that a Cyber-Knight will fight against any tyrant as long as the cause is just.  This can cause an inconvenience in some cases, and a huge problem in others.

In addition, many villains may intentionally goad or instigate a Cyber-Knight to action and attempt to kill them in honorable (or dishonorable) combat, either to prove themselves and establish a reputation or simply to nip a potential problem in the bud.
Benefit: You are able to manifest a Psi-Sword, creating a blade of psychic energy from your hand.  The base damage of the blade is 2d8 damage (psychic and energy).  You are able to manifest the Psi-Sword as a swift action.
You also gain the Cyber Armor at no cost.

Cyber-Armor: You have surgically implanted plates of metal and impact-resistant plastic fused to your body.  You gain a +1 natural armor bonus to your Reflex Defense, and Damage Reduction 1/-.  If you gain damage reduction from another source, such as from the Elite Trooper Prestige Class, the two forms stack.
So the Archetype not only gives you two of the signature features of the Cyber Knight, the Psi-Sword (which sounds a lot like a lightsaber, doesn't it?  Hence the similar damage profile) and the Cyber Armor, but it also hints at the Role Playing consequences of choosing this Archetype.  As you travel the world the GM would be negligent not to have every hard luck case in the immediate area try to get the Cyber-Knight to help them with their problems.  These problems could be trivial, like resolving a dispute between two farmers, or extremely hazardous, like the mayor who's townsfolk are being taken and slaughtered by a local vampire coven.  Players should expect these side effects of choosing that archetype, and GMs should use these opportunities for balancing out the benefits for taking the archetype.

Characters who take the Cyber-Knight archetype gain access to the following Talent tree.  Life Force Talents in Star Wars SAGA edition, any time you gain a talent in any Class, you can choose a Talent from your Archetype Talent Trees instead of one from Talent Trees accessible by that class.

PSI-SWORD Talent Tree
Improved Psi-Sword:  When you make an attack with a psi-sword, it deals an extra die of damage.  In addition, you sword now has the “Magic” quality in any situation where that quality is beneficial.
Pre-Requisite: Shape Psi-Sword
Shape Psi-Sword: You can change the physical and cosmetic characteristics of your Psi-Sword to suit your needs.  You can add a +1 enhancement bonus to attack rolls, a +2 enhancement bonus to damage rolls, or increase the weapon’s size by one step (increasing the damage die by one step and requiring you to use the weapon in two hands).  Also, you can shape your psi-blade to appear as a great sword, a rapier, a battle axe, a dagger, a spear, a pole, a mace, or any other melee weapon without moving parts (no flails or similar chain weapons.)  Finally, you may change the color of your psi-blade to any of the following: blue-white, yellow, orange, purple, violet, red, dark blue, or green. 
Any number of these changes can be done with one Move action, and last until the psi-sword is dismissed or another Move action is used to re-shape the Psi Blade.

Split Psi-Sword: You gain the ability to create a second psi-sword.  If you have the Shape Psi-sword talent, you may change both weapon’s characteristics with the same Move action.
Pre-Requisite: Dual Weapon Mastery I
Create Psi-Shield: Your ability to forge a psi-blade has given insight to creating a psi-shield.  The psi-shield is a glowing plane of psychic force that provides cover from attacks.  You gain a +2 deflection bonus to your Reflex Defense from any melee attack as long as you are not flat-footed.  Additionally, you may designate a single opponent within line of sight as a Swift Action to gain cover from them until the start of your next turn.
This first Talent tree allows a Cyber-Knight to focus on improving their powers with the Psi Blade.  The idea here is no two Cyber-Knights are equal.  Not every Knight should have the exact same abilities and power level as every other Knight.  Some are going to be better with their blade, others with Zen Combat, and even others with more traditional martial studies (i.e. Talents from the Soldier class).

The Improved Psi-Sword is a no-brainer.  If I were to leave it without a pre-requisite of  Shape Psi-Sword, it would be the first talent people would take.  I wanted it to at least require some investment into the tree to get the bonus damage and Magic quality.  The other talents grant the Cyber-Knight the other aspects of the Psi-Blade presented in RIFTS Ultimate Edition, paired Psi-Blades and/or a Psi-Shield.

ZEN COMBAT Talent Tree
Cloud Sensors: You gain Concealment against any cameras, electronic surveillance devices, and sensors.  This also applies to opponents attempting to target you entirely throug such systems (such as those in power armor, robots, using electronic scopes, and radar tracking systems) instead of using the naked eye.  A Cyborg or similar character with both eyes replaced with cybernetics or bionics always suffers this effect when viewing the Cyber-Knight.
Pre-Requisite: Combat Awareness 

Combat Awareness: You may select one target within line of sight as a Swift action.  That target is denied any Equipment bonuses for any action taken against you.  If they attempt to attack you with any weapon that does not have the Archaic quality, you add your Charisma bonus to your Reflex Defense. 
Pre-Requisite: Base Attack Bonus +3

Improved Combat Awareness: As Combat Awareness, except this effect extends to all opponents attempting to attack you, not just a single target.
Pre-Requisite: Base Attack Bonus +8, Combat Awareness

Improved Resilience: Due to your unique nature, your Cyber-Armor can improve through natural martial training.  Your Damage Reduction increases by 1, and your Natural Armor bonus increases by +1.  You may take this Talent multiple times, each time the bonuses stack.
The Cyber-Knight's Zen Combat was first introduced in the Siege of Tolkieen Chapter 4: Cyber-Knights sourcebook.  In that we learned that Cyber-Knights apparently have the ability to detect when technological weapons and equipment are being used against them, and this awareness helps them face off against such empowered foes.  I actually kinda like this addition, so I really wanted to capture the feel of that benefit with this talent tree.  Not every Cyber-Knight would have this, but a fair number of them could.

I almost wonder if the benefit of Cloud Sensors is too good.  It's only Concealment (-2 to attacks) and not Total Concealment (-5), but with the right combination of talents it could be really nasty, allowing the Cyber-Knight to sneak attack a lot of opponents.

But that's the basics; choose an Archetype and then build your character with the classes you take afterwards.  Maybe you take Soldier for the great Hit Dice, Base Attack Bonus, and impressive feats list.  Or Scoundrel to get talents from the Fortune Talent Tree and good skill choices.  Or the Noble class for party buffs and social talents.  Or maybe you dip into the Mage class from GM Chris's Legends conversion and ramp up your Psionic powers* (and get access to the Deflect talent).

It's a start.  I think for the next few posts I'll introduce more archetypes and share how classes in RIFTS are converting over to RIFTS SAGA.

Until next time; 20 side up,1 side down.

* "Wait," you might be saying. "Go into the Mage class for improved Psionics?"  That was a tease, folks; one I may go over next time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Updates from the Rim

It's been too long since I've posted here.  I felt it was time to take a moment to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and go over a few items, projects, and percolations currently running through my grey matter.

Kickstart My Heart

Much ado going on in Kickstarter these days.  First, if you're reading this blog and aren't taking part in the historic Order of the Stick Book Reprint Drive, then you're a pod person and will be visited shortly by our specially trained exterminators to purge your corrupting influence from our planet.

The bigger (to me) news is that D20 Radio, the fine podcasting network that hosts the Holocron 2.0 podcast I co-host, has finally started it's game production company.  "Edition Wars" is an awesome beer 'n' pretzles game where you are a Gamemaster trying to get 6 PCs to come play your game.  Other players are other Gamemasters, trying to steal your PCs so they can start their own game.  You fight with special abilities like Merch, Snark, and Blog in a valiant, cut throat quest to make sure your game is supreme.  I really want to get this game, but that's not going to happen unless folks back it on Kickstarter.  So by all means, go and pledge a few bucks.  Or go and pledge a few more and get some neat swag with it.


This weekend will be likely filled with the sounds of cutting cloth, curses over being stuck by pins, and the rythmic thumping of a serious sewing machine.  My fiancee is working to finish my father's Ben Kenobi costume for the Rebel Legion's annual apperance in the Soth Boston St. Patrick's Day parade on the 18th of March.  Alongside that, she wants us to get moving on my Jedi Consular costume for Pax East, a few weeks later.  There's a lot to do, but that's okay!  I'm helping!

(...this can't possibly end well...)

In all seriousness, I want to help with this, more than just throwing down the cash for the fabric for the outfit.  I've got quite a bit to puzzle over, including a final decision on if and how I want to illuminate the "runes" in the cloak.  Part of me wants to cut out the runes and line the backing with reflective fabric.  Part of me wants to line it with semi-transparent fabric and use EL Tape behind that, to actually make it glow.  I'm not sure, but I need to decide this weekend so we can factor that into the creation plans.

I've outsourced the odd "Crotch Detonator" belt the outfit has to Nick Perry, better known in the Steampunk Community as "Mardigan" of Mardigan Enterprises.  He was excited looking at the design, and I know he'll do a good job.

Sadly, my Tax Return wasn't as large as I hoped, so my want to have a yellow double-bladed lightsaber for the outfit have been put on hold.  That being said, my local sabersmith Randy was able to put in some awesome electronics for the SWTOR Lightsaber, and it looks phenomenal.  Someone is likely to hit me with a "Pic or didn't happen" or "This thread is useless without pictures", but this isn't a thread and the saber should be unveiled with the proper costuming.  So "mleh!" to you!

Must Be March...

It seems to me that every year for the past few years I get a bug in my system.  An urge to put effort into a project that probably doesn't deserve the effort one puts into it.  I have been trying, nigh-unsuccessfully, to do a SAGA/D20 version of RIFTS (by Palladium Books).  I got pretty far along with it last year...I think.  Maybe it wasn't last year, but I know I got it to a single playtesting stage at some point in the last two years.

Trying to convert RIFTS to any other system displays the original game's greatest offender; a total and complete lack of balance among the character classes.  There's really no point trying to codify it; no RIFTS characters are created equal.  You're either...

A full-conversion cyborg tricked out with massive amounts of internal weaponry and external artillery
A souped-up juicer who's life expectancy is still exponentially longer than the expected lifespan of your campaign
A guy who can melt brains, concrete, and steel with their mind
A wizard that can summon demons and travel through dimensions
A power armor pilot with a gun that shoots through planets
Some schleb wilderness scout who has a high-tech bow
A dude who explores ruins for old books. 

All this is at level one.  See a disparity there?  How the hell do you balance that? 

In the past, I've thought that the only real way to even attempt it is nerf some of the more powerful classes, eliminate some of the weaker ones, or dilute everything until it's no longer Rifts.  But is that really fair to the feel of Rifts? 

I have to admit, I tend to lump Kevin Siembeda (creator of RIFTS) into the same category as Kevin J Anderson and Rob Liefeld most of the time, but Kevin did make a pretty special game, here.  The system was borderline broke-tastic from day one, and only got worse with every single book released there after in the now massive RIFTS library, but at it's core RIFTS is a real fun world to play in.  I really got a kick out of the RIFTS games I ran, and the players seemed to have a good time (admittedly, they were my brothers so who the hell knows if it really was any good).  So I keep coming back to it, hoping that I can find that one piece that unlocks the barred doors that have kept me from getting such a game onto the table.

Or the Virtual Table, as it were.

So in-between two Star Wars Games, an Earthdawn game, idle work on my Longshot game (which is likely getting pushed out to 2014), the podcasts, The Old Republic, creating a couple costumes, and a wedding in a year, I'm finding the time to try to make Rifts work.

...what's that definition of insanity?  You keep doing the same thing but expect a different result, or something like that? 

Might as well get that M.O.M. conversion installed in my brain-meats.