Friday, September 22, 2017

Paragons of Virtue

Some folks know that I was a playtester for FFG's Genesys RPG system. Heck, it was my Fallout hack for Edge of the Empire at GamerNationCon 2016 that helped kickstart the idea in Sam Stewart's brain in the first place. 

Since the playtest, and having access to the Beta Rules and formats for these things, I've updated my Fallout: Edge of the Wasteland rules to conform with the Themes format in Genesys. That theme is 99% ready to go, and will be shared to the masses the moment the book starts falling into the hands of it's fanatical followers. Since Genesys was updated to "at the printers" on FFG's "Upcoming Releases" website, it seems like we might get the book before Christmas. Hopefully January at the latest. When it does drop, my Fallout Theme will be accessible here and on the D20 Radio Blog for everyone's enjoyment.

With that project just about done, I've been pondering other themes to work on and hopefully have ready for "the gamer nation" when Genesys hits. I'm helping out with a Dresden Files and Wizarding Worlds theme, but I wanted another project for myself as I undergo cancer treatments and recovery. Some of the current frontrunners are G.I. Joe, MASK, Rifts, and Robotech. I'll probably get to those eventually, but there was one theme that has risen above all others and begs to happen sooner than later.

So, hopefully by the time Genesys drops in December (January?), gamers will be able to adventure not only in the wastelands of the Commonwealth or the Capitol Wastes, but also speed, soar, or swing through the urban canyons of Paragon City, dispatching villains and criminals of all four-colored flavors.

Yup; my next Genesys Theme is going to be...

Stay tuned, and may the dice be with you.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review of "The Haunted City"

This August I had the opportunity to go to GenCon 50. Not just to attend, but also to run games for Fantasy Flight Games. It was a wonderful time and an amazing experience; "10/10 would do again" to use the phrase. With one exception, every session I ran was for Genesys, FFG's new generic rulebook based on their Narrative Dice system. It occurs to me that I never did any sort of post-GenCon commentary or review of the module, the system as presented, and my thoughts on it all.

The adventure is called "The Haunted City", and was written by one of the many "Tims" of FFG (Tim Cox if I remember correctly). The adventure is set within FFG's Runebound setting of Terrinoth. It involves a murder investigation that ends in Nerekhal, a fortified city with a sordid past of being a nexus of infernal power. There's a possibility of folks to play this module in the future, so for now I won't go into too many details about the plotline so as best not to spoil it.

First up are the characters; they're a motley bunch of named heroes from Runebound; Alys Raine, Syndrael, Leoric of the Book, Thaiden Mistpeak, Pathfinder Durik, and Ulma Grimstone. Experience-wise, these were some advanced characters; they had 190-210 XP in addition to their starting XP. This gave them a host of skill ranks, a bevy of Talents, and each of them had a Heroic Ability (something that's akin to Signature Abilities for those familiar with the Star Wars RPG, but not quite as powerful). Most of the characters were seemingly really fun to play, I didn't have anyone who came up to me afterwards with comments that their character felt lacking.

My only real criticism about the characters are that they had a huge amount of abilities and options to choose from. Since the system is still technically in closed Beta, it doesn't allow for anyone to really have any familiarity with the talents presented. I know that only one person ever used Thaiden's "Wraithbane" talent, preferring to use his crossbow in just about all situations. Several players mentioned that they forgot or didn't realize they had certain options, probably due to the wide variety of them. However, I can say that pretty much everyone did find the "intended combos" for each character; Alys is able to absolutely smash eveything with her Warhammer, and then layer on even more damage with her "Justice of the Citadel" talent.

Each character also has Strengths, Flaws, Desires, and Fears. The idea behind those mechanics are for situations where these qualities would be a benefit, they add Boost Dice to the roll. For situations where they would be a detriment, they add a Setback die to the roll. Since this was a new mechanic and concept even for me, I actually missed having that come into play more often. Also, unlike the Obligation/Duty/Morality mechanics in Star Wars, every character has 4 of these qualities to keep track of. It was a little daunting, and I probably missed several opportunities to influence the game with these abilities. Still, it was handy to have them, and just about every player of Durik was shying away from the truly supernatural threats and challenges in the module.

As I mentioned before, each character had a Heroic Ability, something new that looks a lot like Signature Abilities in Star Wars. The ability is spelled out with a few descriptors such as Name, Origin, Ability, Upgrades, and Effect. There also seems to be a tracking for Total Ability Points earned, and Ability Points available. Presumably, one will be able to earn Heroic Ability Points and spend them on a variety of effects. I really like Ulma's ability to simply activate (for 2 Story Points) and take an Incidental action to defeat an entire minion group within short range. Every group had her use this to great effect in the module. It basically lasts for 2 rounds, which seems appropriate.

One of the biggest questions before and after GenCon was how magic was going to work. Is it skill based? Do you buy spells like you do Force Powers in Star Wars? How are spells cast? How are they designed? Is there a list or something? The public got their first glimpse at Spells thanks to Alys and Leoric.

Spells are, in fact, skill based, with 5 different schools to chose from; Arcane, Divine, Primal, Runes, and Verse. We only got to see Arcane and Divine in play with this module. Alys was limited to one spell per encounter, while Leoric could toss spells all day long as long as his Strain holds out. Casing any spell costs 2 strain, which is a pretty good balance point to help reign in mages. Leoric's signature spell can hammer an opponent for 9 damage at medium range, and crit them for a +30 on the Critical Injury table for only 2 advantage; and he could do that every round. I did have one player nearly knock himself unconscious during one particularly nasty fight thanks to taking a lot of strain, so it works pretty well.

Each caster has a few spells to play with, with no real insight as to how spells are acquired (yet). The spell outlines the effect, and the difficulty to cast it. With the exception of Leoric's signature spell, each spell has a list of additional effects they can layer on to the spell at the cost of increasing the casting difficulty. Some spells can take additional targets, or increased range. I really like the way the Developers handled this, it makes the bigger flashier spells able to be cast at all levels, but you definitely want to be a skilled (or Intellectual) caster if you're going to increase the difficulty of the spell to 5 purple difficulty dice (a Formidable difficulty).

The last details that were included were updates to how Defense works. It used to be a complex chore to figure out if certain effects or qualities added to defense. In Genesys they simplify it to "granting Defense" or "adding to Defense". Some armor grants Defense, a new base line for other effects to add on top of. Cover also grants Defense, so it doesn't stack with armor. The Defensive weapon quality adds to defense, and there's no limitation on how many sources of Defensive you can benefit from. This meant that Syndrael became a true tank, able to get a Defense of 3 thanks to her Sword (Defensive 1) and her Large Shield (Defensive 2).

Aside from this, the rules played pretty much the same as Star Wars.

"The Haunted City" was a fun module to run, full of twists and turns and unique, well thought out characters for the heroes to interact with. It's a somewhat rail-roady adventure, but for a convention module that's supposed to fit into a 4-hour time slot, it's understandable and forgivable. Even so, if you're not careful the players could turn the adventure into a 5 or 6 hour adventure, which is great if FFG releases this for others to play in their own homes.

Sam Stewart and his team have made a winner here. I'm really looking forward to Genesys hitting the shelves, and finally being able to talk about all the things I can't talk about right now. Until then, we at least have these bits of insight into Genesys to gnaw on.

May the dice be with you.

Sam Stewart meeting his appreciative public

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mapping the Scene #1 - Offworld Transport Facility

Welcome to the first of what will hopefully be a series of articles that talk about gaming maps and diverse uses for them in your games. It's no secret to anyone reading this blog that I'm a huge fan of Christopher West and his Maps of Mastery store*. Chris has been working in the gaming cartography business for over a decade now, and has produced several beautiful maps for the Star Wars Miniatures game. More recently, he's taken many of those themes, made them more IP-generic (i.e. filed off the Star Wars details), and expanded his catalog of sci-fi (and fantasy) maps. What we have now is an ever growing resource for maps suitable for gaming in a variety of settings.

Mapping the Scene

So what is the point of this series? I really enjoy Chris's maps, and I haven't run a game session in recent memory where I haven't used at least one of his maps. They're diverse in their usefulness, some more than others. My goal is to pick a specific map from the current Maps of Mastery catalog and showcase some neat ideas and scenes that it can be used for. I'll try and go through as many unique ideas as I can from a variety of settings; fantasy, steampunk, historical/weird war, modern, and of course sci-fi (...interesting list, huh?) I want to give my readers a resource for using these maps in scenes and encounters for their games, as well as provide a challenge to exercise my own creativity and try to come up with outside-the-box scenarios and stories for these maps.

Today we're going to start with one of Chris's earliest maps (of Mastery!), the Offworld Shipping Center from his Mass Transit mapset.

It's a classic, glorious map, with rail cars, cargo bays, control centers, hazards to play with, and even a neat shuttle laid out in the landing bay. The map connects to other maps in the Mass Transit series in a variety of ways, allowing GMs to make truly huge areas for the players to stomp around in.

But what can we do with this map, by itself? As far as utility goes, Chris does give many of us access to overlays for his maps, especially .pdf copies of them. We get an overlay to remove the shuttle and make that an empty landing bay, for instance. With some of the other Maps of Master products, we could leave the bay empty or throw in some more barrels and crates, or a different vehicle, or even turn it into another command and control center.

Speaking of control centers, we've got a nice little cluster of terminals and displays in the center of the map. This is an optimal location to control all aspects of the map's mechanical mechanisms; retractable bridges, security fields, locked doors, cargo cranes, even turbo-lifts could be controlled from these stations. There is a second control station just outside the control center. This leads into the landing bay, so it's optimally used as a security checkpoint that anyone who arrives has to approach before access to the rest of the facility is granted. The orange light on the wall could be used as a weapon or other scanning device, letting the person behind the protected glass know if the person is carrying weapons, or is human, or whatever the device is scanning for. This security station probably has access to locking and unlocking access doors on the map, and maybe control of the fuel depot.

There are two other wall terminals on the map too, one down by the security gate across the railway, and another in the upper left near the south entrance to the fuel depot. If the GM wants these to actually be used, they could be utilized in a more local means to interface with the main computer for the map (if networking is a thing) or individually to operate the security gate or lock down the fuel depot. The depot has a lift, which those controls just outside the room could control.

That's the layout, now let's talk about what you can do with this map in any given setting.

Fantasy: Okay, we probably can't do anything with this map in a fantasy setting...or can we?

This map is actually pretty useful for a city or fortress in a fantasy setting that could allow for such a thing (Eberron comes to mind). We'll say that this is a section of a dwarven fortress, one that is moving valuable minerals from deeper within the mountain to transit points where they will either be smelted (ores) or sorted (gemstones). It works better if we use the empty landing bay to remove the shuttle from the pad, but everything else works fairly well. The control center isn't really computerized as much as it is a series of records and bookkeeping files that outline productivity within the mines or possibly even troop disbursements for shipments elsewhere in the kingdom. Elevators become closets or storage rooms where weapons and supplies are kept. The fuel depot stores water for animals or possibly even alchemical substances to power artificed devices used for transportation. The railway can be used as-is, if there's ever a race in fantasy that would use rail-cars, it's the dwarves (or gnomes, I suppose). The security checkpoint is magically warded, with scrying sensors that detect magic, races, and illusions.

Game Use: Your PCs may need to infiltrate the fortress or mines by sneaking in the cargo holds, or bluffing their way past the security checkpoint. They might not be looking to get into the fortress any further, maybe they need something from the bookkeeping center, such as maps, schedules, or inventories. Maybe the bookkeeping center is the objective, and there's a magical scrying crystal that someone wants the PCs to steal for some nefarious scheme.

Steampunk (and Weird War):  For this we have Dr. Fornazio's Aeronautical Cargo-dome! Various airships, gyrocoptors, and rotor-planes from shipping companies and privateer fleets utilize the Cargo-dome to transfer goods ans services. Built into the side of the Rockies, the various aircraft arrive at the landing bay where they offload their cargo. Servicemen and specialists who work for Dr. Fornazio secure the cargo in two holds near the landing bay, while the pilots of the craft check in with security. If their ship needs fuel, it can be arranged for at this time. After a brief waiting period in the cargo hold, the goods are moved to a steam-powered train system that carries the cargo into the mountain to be secured in protected vaults.

Game Use: A Steampunk adventure could include raiding the Cargo-dome in hopes of securing an item from the cargo hold before it can be moved into the more secure mountain vaults. Perhaps the fuel depot is the target, and a hopeful independent freelancer sees the Cargo-dome as a prime target for theft of petroleum (or whatever your world's aircraft are powered by). Maybe the objective is deeper within the mountain, and the PCs need to defeat the evil Dr. Fornazio's Elite Security Magistrates to gain access to the inner vaults and the even more deadly dangers within!

Modern/Sci-fi:  I'm going to try to come up with something different here. This isn't an Offworld Shipping Center; it's a missile loading bay on a warship. Missiles are loaded from a secure hold off the right side of the map along the tram-line. The freight cars are actually missile packs or even giant torpedoes, that are configured before launch in one of two preparation bays (the Cargo Holds).  Once the missiles are ready to launch, they are moved along the track to the loading cranes, which can move along ceiling-mounted trams to either of the two launch tubes along the left side of the map. The Control Center is the master loading system and fire control station for this particular launcher. In such a scenario, I'd make the landing bay the storage bay for additional munitions and armaments.

Game Use: PCs might have to infiltrate this section of the ship to place explosives of their own, or prevent a missile with a bio-weapon from being loaded and fired from this launcher. Either that, or they're on defense, trying to prevent enemy saboteurs from destroying this launcher (and possibly the whole ship).

So there we have it; the first of my "Mapping the Scene" articles. I hope you find it useful, or at least entertaining. I know it certainly helped me look at this map in a different light, and increases the odds that I'll use it in the future for a variety of games.

May the dice be with you!

*- One final note; Chris West is a phenomenal artist, cartographer, and gamer to follow. In addition to his Maps of Mastery storefront, Chris is also on Patreon. Currently, anyone who supports him on Patreon is receives a series of exclusive maps on a monthly basis. As of now he's giving us various tiles for a modular-configured Starship (which is 3 months away from being officially finished, but you could always reverse the image on a few tiles and have a complete vessel now). Maybe I'll take a stab at drafting up Star Wars RPG stats for this and a few other vessels Chris has designed and laid out on his various maps.