Saturday, August 25, 2012

Played Star Trek (Last Unicorn Games)


I've owned this game for a very, very long time and with my mini-convention coming up was thinking about doing a Star Trek scenario.  I wanted to try it out, however, and decided to run a one-shot using the Last Unicorn Games version of Star Trek.

I'll say first off that PC creation is a cinch and only takes a couple of minutes if you use the pre-made packages for their early childhood, training cruise, etc.  There's enough options for ship positions to round out a five-person party easily without someone having to be "Ship's Counselor," which I think would be a dull position in most cases.

I will say that the dice mechanics, as it played out in the scenario I designed were odd.  When you want to make a skill check you roll the number of dice equal to the applicable attribute, pick the highest die (they are all d6's) and then add the skill rating value.  So if you have a skill rating of 2 and an attribute rating of 3, you roll three d6's, pick the highest (say, a 5) then add 2.  One of the die is a "drama die" which when it is a 6 you can take the 6 and then add another die value to it.  If it is a 1 and all the other dice are also 1's, then you have a critical failure.  That means that you have a 1/36 chance of a critical failure when your attribute is a 2, but a 1/216 chance if your attribute is a 3.  With a target number of 15 being "impossible" you actually have a much greater chance of doing something impossibly well in this game versus doing something incredibly badly.

Furthermore, from a statistical standpoint having 3d6 to roll versus 2d6 seems to provide a pretty substantial advantage that has most of the target numbers for the game in single digits.  With "5" being a common maximum value for stats, I guess it makes sense, but once again it is one of those games that seems to have interesting curves in its probability charts.

Like people have been saying about pretty much every iteration of Star Trek, the game does suffer from the odd convention regarding phasers.  In the sole man-to-man combat of the game one player beat everyone else's initiative roll, drew her phaser and said "wide dispersal pattern, heavy stun!"  That dropped all of the opponents in a single shot.  For prospective Star Trek GM's, you may want to just set aside any notion of protracted gun battles, at least on a personal scale.  Ship-to-ship combat, on the other hand, could go multiple rounds and was pretty engaging as all the PC's had a particular role to play during the battle.

It terms of roleplaying, it was head-and-shoulders above anything we've done in 4th Edition for a while, but despite this the group said that they wanted to go back to D&D on the next gaming session.  It might serve as a palate cleanser, though, should the need arise again.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Earth 3: the Age of Wonders


     Since World War II, there were always those guys.  The ones that got dressed in tights and Halloween costumes and hurled exploding frisbees at each other.  Mystery men.  Daredevils.  Acrobats.  Brave heroes and diabolical villains, but very, very few could actually be called "superheroes."  There were always rumors, legends, and stories about people with powers beyond those of normal humans, but few believed them and fewer turned out to be true.
     Then came the Age of Wonders.  An incredible trinity of beings came into the public light, and thankfully all three of them were on the side of humanity: the alien, the sorceress, and the genius.
     Unquestionably the Celestial was the most powerful and least human.  His first appearance at the turn of the century truly began the Age of Wonders.  Possessing incredible powers including godlike strength, the ability to fly through space, and the control of cosmic energy, the Celestial was literally quantum leaps ahead of anything that had been seen before.  At first people wondered if he was an angel, but he later revealed that he was a visitor from another world looking for a new home.  His relentless dedication to saving lives, preventing disasters, and fighting evil endeared him to his adopted world.
     Mystic declared herself to be the "Sorceress Supreme of Earth" when she appeared not long after the first appearance of the Celestial.  She would go on to say in later conversations with the authorities that "certain great powers" had determined that this was the time for her, and the truth about magic, to be revealed to the world.  If anything Mystic's powers were even more incredible than the Celestials, and thousands began to attempt to study what had previously been only the stuff of legends.  But no one could do what Mystic could do with a simple gesture and word.
     Without a doubt, however, the most popular hero of the Age of Wonders was Genesis Knight.  There are those who think that because Genesis Knight was, for all intents and purposes, a normal human being (albeit one in an unbelievable suit of high-tech armor) that people felt the most connection with him rather than the others.  Maybe it was because he was the most charismatic, most engaging, and most willing to deal with the press of the three.  Maybe it was because a man in a suit of armor that granted him incredible powers and weapons fed that dream that many people have of a future of spaceships and adventure.  In any case, Genesis Knight provided a needed element to the three "Wonders," a sense that humanity still had a place in the world.
     After these three, supervillany became a thing of the past.  Oh, there were supervillians like Mandlebrot, the Atomic Skull, and the Unholy Pact.  But against any or all of the Wonders, they never stood a chance.  Other superheroes were out there, but they were often in the shadows, paling beside the other three.
     Then came Invasion Day.  A mysterious device appeared in New York City which opened a portal to...somewhere else.  And from that portal poured an army of alien soldiers, vehicles, and monsters.  It happened so suddenly that the American government could not respond with any kind of coordinated defense.  All that lay between the alien horde and the deaths of the inhabitants of one of the world's largest cities was the Wonders.
     They fought for hours, employing the full extent of their various powers against the numberless invaders.  Finally the three managed to win, but only at the ultimate cost.  Mystic was killed defeating an alien leviathan.  Genesis Knight guided a nuclear warhead through the portal and into the alien mother ship, obliterating it.  And the Celestial was killed destroying the alien device and closing the portal.  New York City, and the entire Earth, was saved, but the three greatest heroes humanity had ever known were gone.
     Now, five years later, humanity has begun to feel the loss of its protectors.  Supervillains have begun to appear once more, and they have ruthlessly crushed any sign of resistance.  The newspapers carry stories of men and women in colorful costumes found dead in alleys or in their homes.  People have begun to pray for a new age, of new wonders, and of new heroes.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Earth 3

I've written but not posted about five different blog posts weighing the pros and cons of using licensed universes for superhero RPG's, but I realized each time that the article's content was so obvious that it didn't really need to clutter the blogosphere (short version: licensed universes are familiar to players, yet difficult to shoehorn new PC's into).
My deliberation back and forth had me to the point where I wondered if I should even more forward on running a Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game when I had a bit of brainwave (no pun intended) thanks to the good people at DC Comics, namely Earth 2.


For those who don't know, as part of the wholly loathsome "52" quasi-reboot/retcon/fiendish-plan-to-alienate-readers.  DC Comics started from scratch with their characters, but then promptly created an alternative universe in order to continue to milk money from people like me who liked the Justice Society of America.  Hence, Earth 2.
The basic plot is that the three greatest heroes of Earth: the ersatz Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman are all killed during an invasion of Parademons from Apokolips.  There are a handful of other heroes (Supergirl and Batman's daughter Helena, aka "Robin," who got knocked over to the main universe to become Power Girl and the Huntress) but no one of serious note.  Five years later, new heroes begin to appear: the Jay Garrick Flash, Hawkgirl, the Atom, and the Alan Scott Green Lantern.  Side note: DC Comcis decided to make the new Scott Green Lantern a homosexual, beating Marvel for "least important character possible coming out of the closet" and even making their gay superhero in another dimension, lest his gayness infect the mainstream universe.  Dorks.
Like so much of the 52 reboot, I am sorely disappointed, especially because of the weird way that most of the superheroes in Earth 2 have to wear bicycle helmets for some reason.  Possibly because in Earth 2 they have stricter OSHA standards.  But, BUT...!

I like the idea of a "new generation of heroes" as the groundwork for a superhero campaign, especially if I can make it one that straddles the two universes of DC Comics and Marvel Comics, making my universe have faint "echoes" of those universes.  Think the Amalgam Universe from a few years ago, with the serial numbers filed off.
I also like the idea of having a trio of fairly iconic-style heroes dying, then leaving a huge gap in the world for new heroes to emerge.  My trio will be largely figures of mystery, with the public knowing very little about them aside from their heroic identities.  That way player PC's can make up their own connections to the heroes (e.g. the Huntress to the Earth 2 Batman) or use them for future plotlines.
For villains, I'm going to assume that most villains were, until five years ago, either captured by the original trio, killed during the invasion fighting for Earth, or off the radar.  That way I can introduce villains without working too much about backstory, but maybe allowing PC's to use some "transition scene" time to research their opponents.

More later, comments welcome.
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