Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Unknown Armies - UK?

As anyone who have had come into contact with Unknown Armies probably know, it's known to be a very American game. Not only is the Occult Undergound as described in the game mostly focused on what's happening in the USA, it's also grounded in Americana and the mythological landscape of North America.

I have seen a few attempts to broaden the scope of UA, mostly by including magical traditions from the Old World, and emphasizing things the like influence of the roman catholic church. None of these attempts have really felt convincing to me. Even though we have another relationship to time in this part of the world, nobody is that obsessive about having a cultural heritage that goes back for a thousand years. That's just how it is. It feels forced in a game text.

Lately I have been reading a novel that made me think of UA again. My wife mentioned before Christmas that she'd love to get Kraken, by China Mieville, and since the cover text made me curious I bought it. Having read most of it I think it is a very interesting take on modern magic. Things have mythical resonance and meaning in that book in a same kind of way like the obsessiveness of postmodern magic does in UA. Pop culture is not only an American thing, but some things like Londonmancers are an interesting twist. There are even the magical incarnations of memory, and time, in the Angels mentioned in the book.

Maybe it can be argued that what makes UA what it is, and not just Mage minus the new age and powered by BRP, is Americana. Still, I think Kraken could be a very cool basis for an Unknown Armies game in e.g. The United Kingdom. Take a peek at it if you dig UA. It is far from the best book by Mieville, but it's definitely worth mining for ideas.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rethinking the spear trap

Inspired by the table (I rolled a 5) I suddenly realized that on way to make the old chestnut, the spear trap, interesting would be to have a room with a spear trap, sprung. The wall of the room opposite from where the characters enter you have a door. This door is rigged with some kind of alarm. When the alarm goes off, the snake people in a room close by arrive to the party.

Now, imagine a fight in a room with spears sticking out of walls, floor and/or ceiling. Let's also suppose that the opponents are more than one, quick and dextrous. They can probably dodge these spears quite easily, or maybe slither around them. Maybe they even trip and push the player characters towards the sharp spikes.

That would be a far more interesting use of the old spear trap, and a way to make a bunch of weaker monsters more fun to fight.

How about that?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

An addition to the wiki - shields

I guess most of you have heard of the wiki by now? It's a very handy collection of some of the best contributions in the blogging community of handy and cool stuff for your game.

Following the very useful table Zak posted the other day, I rolled a '2' and updated the wiki with something cool.

I think of the most of the really cool things out there have been put up there, but since I feel it's bad form to post a link to my own blog I did dig out something else which I think was missing, namely the genre fitting post by Trollsmyth called Shilds shall be splintered. Enjoy!

So, why did I pick that? I did it because it is such a small tweak that gives a minimal additional power to that 1d6 Hits level 1 character, which is one thing many gamers have a problem with. Also, it happens to feel very much like a proper sword and sorcery thing to have in your game, without going all wire fu and gonzo just to up the ante and action level of the game. Just like intended it additionally shift the focus to the shield as a useful and important tool for the warrior, and not just a forgettable nudge to your AC.

GURPS through a FATE lens

I have been thinking about GURPS a lot lately, and it feels like it wont leave my head.

GURPS is a very crunchy system, and while I have no fear of crunchy systems (I did start out with MERP and Rolemaster after all) something scares me off GURPS. That something is character generation. One problem with point buy systems is that it necessitates a lot of thumbing through the rules books, and recalculating and juggling numbers around. That takes time. I hate that part.

Still the allure of a generic and universal system have never left me. While I have never actually played GURPS, I imagine it could be pretty smooth in actual play. So, how do I take out the points while keeping the customization possibilities? Today I got this idea of merging GURPS with FATE.

FATE, Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment, doesn't only have the worst name ever, it's also a pretty slick game system. Even better, I have played it, and enjoyed it. FATE is a game engine, an outgrowth of FUDGE, that can be used for lot of different settings. It almost start to sounds like "generic and universal", doesn't it? I took a stab at combining the two flavours.

Step one. Roll your stats, ST, DX, IQ and HT, on 3d6 - in order. That's your basic stats, and you can calculate Move by averaging HT and DX, or something similar.

Step two. Now pick your Aspects. This is where we bring in FATE. You can have any kind of trait as an Aspect. It could be a personality trait, an advantage or feat like Advantages in GURPS. The important thing is that this is a defining aspect of your character, and from this you generate your skills. Eyeballing it I'd say you pick three Aspects for a 100 pts GURPS character. Maybe add another one per 25 pts?

Step three. Now you get to pick skills. My first idea was to say you get a bunch of points to spread around. Then I remembered the idea was to get rid of points, and decided on picks instead. Make of it what you will, it's all for free on my blog, right?

So, skills. I suggest you now pick five skills per Aspect. Make them all relate to the Aspect in some way. The rating is eight to start with, and if you spend more of your picks on the skills they get +1 per pick. Got that? If one of your Aspects are a Power of some kind, like magic or psionics, you get 5 free "skills" for free, at rating 6, before spending picks.

Step four. Roll 3d6 x 10 for money. Or credits or dollars or whatever you want to call it.

How's that for a slimmed down GURPS? What? How to use those aspects? Well, this is what I'm thinking.

For every Aspect you have, you can once per game day invoke it to add +2 to any skill roll, i.e. 3d6 against your skill rating. Once every session you can invoke it for +3. Take your pick. The gamemaster can do the same to give you a penalty of -2/-3 instead. What helps sometimes hinder, right? Untrained skill use I'd say you roll 3d6 against a relevant stat -4, or 10 if that's lower.

Will this work? Will it feel like GURPS? I have no idea. Feel free to test it and tell me. Some days I feel like tinkering with rules, but I seldom get a chance to play test them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What do we do when we play?

I remember seeing this a short while back, and I saved the quote. Well put, well put indeed.
We don't explore characters; we explore dungeons.
 It makes a hell of a lot of sense to describe old school play like that. Sometimes I think some people don't appreciate how much can be contained in the idea of role playing.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Why aren't there any good rules for martial arts??

Since I'm a practitioner myself, and since I have been on a kung-fu movie spree of late, I've started to wonder why there are no rules for fluid, quick and colourful martial arts action?

The rules there are, in different rules sets, are are either too involved to feel at all like Brave Archer by Chang Cheh (like GURPS) or just to damn flavourless (like Rolemaster or unarmed combat in AD&D (the horror!)).

Are there any good wushu rules out there that is fun and quick, and wont bore me to tears or lull my non martial arts friends to sleep?

I'm thinking of dice, cards or something else unorthodox to base it off. Damned if I know what to make of it! I've even tried myself even if that was just a toss off first draft.

Monday, March 7, 2011

[DragonQuest] Shields will be splitered!

I found this reading DragonQuest yesterday:
[18.3] Grievous Injury may result if the successful Strike Check is 5% or less of the Modified Strike Chance. 
A figure who suffers a Grievous Injury while wearing armor has the Protection Rating of that suit of armor reduced by 2 until repaired. Optionally, a figure who is also carrying a shield can choose to have the shield cloven and spare his armor. A cloven shield is useless.

Shields will be splintered, eh? I really like the idea with ablative armor, like in older T&T editions. Try that one out with D&D and let me know how that works! Should drain some money from those rich coffers.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

How to get XP

Today I read a short note about a groovy house rule, where you got XP for inflicting and receiving hits. Only. (I wonder where that link is gone?) This got me thinking about way back when I was playing MERP/Rolemaster. In MERP/RM you get XP for each mile travelled, for spells cast and for maneuvers rolled for. It also had that pet hate of mine, XP for delivering the killing blow. In group that meant an insane rush when the monster stared to stumble and become stunned. Realistic maybe, but cowardly. It felt like you got XP for just about everything and it was quite a book keeping effort.

What can you give out XP for that makes sense? It will affect play, like XP for gold does. These are mine ideas for your classic S&S game:
  1. XP for gold spent
  2. XP for hits taken
  3. XP for sites and wonders visited and explored
  4. XP for new facts learned from NPCs
How about that? I'm still undecided about XP for spells invented or magic items enchanted. The latter I'd prefer to be the domain of NPCs and the former makes me think more of Ars Magica than S&S.

Some thoughts on character empowerment house rules

Today I read this blog post, about Gary Gygax's house rules for D&D. Reading that I was thinking back to how the rules for T&T have changed over the years.

For those of you who have read 5th ed. T&T and then compared it to the latest edition, the reaction might have been negative. It's not like the later editions of D&D, but even though the rules have stayed mostly the same there have been a shift in tone. Just looking at the list of 1st level spells known to a newly rolled up delver makes that clear.

Just like the rules Gary used, linked to above, the latest T&T edition is empowering characters, especially at lower levels. I think this is a sign that the old style long term campaign play have fallen out of favour. I know that Ken no longer have a regular group. Do anyone of you know if Gary had one during the later years? When you mostly play at conventions, you don't slog through from level 1 to name level, it just makes sense e.g. to start at level three with max hit points.

Now, would anyone claim that this is not old school enough? I know that some people have argued for long campaigns to get a proper feel for "the old ways". While I can appreciate that, I want to emphasize that two founders of the hobby apparently play differently.

Yeah, I know. It's silly, isn't it? I don't know if this is just me trying to somehow make myself feel better about the fact that I don't seem to be able to get a group to commit to long term play. At least I'm in good company.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Another thought on GURPS

From my last post on GURPS, it seems like there are some interesting things to note about the game.

Nobody I've heard, either now or back when 4th ed. GURPS was released, seemed to think the new edition was such a big thing. Add to that the fact that they went to hard cover only and I wonder if SJG limited the market just there. I've heard it said many times that hard covers sell better, but I'm wondering if that is true when the game isn't evolving as much as D&D was when 3rd ed and 4th ed came out. Is GURPS maybe a little too true to its roots?

It would be really interesting to know how the transition from 2nd ed. GURPS to 3rd ed. worked? I was there, but I wasn't at all connected to the business side of things. Not like everyone is today in the era of the information highways.

Also, how about those GURPS Compendiums? It has been said about many games that they have been to cumbersome, but I'm starting to wonder if GURPS didn't in fact implode from its own weight. I guess 4th ed. was an attempt to fix that, but maybe the timing was off.

The last thing which have struck me is the most ironic thing of all. What if GURPS is too good at being GURPS?

Think about it. If the game truly is the Generic Universal system you can use for anything, then it is the end of all games. Roleplaying games are really totally nonsensical from a business perspective. Once you have the rules, the only thing you need is your imagination. In perpetuity! Core rules should be prices higher, probably. Now imagine if you can use one set of rules for everything.

What if GURPS is just too good at being GURPS?
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