Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Superhero Team Up Issue No. 1

Tonight I trotted out Prowlers & Paragons for my kids to run them through a quick introductory session.  It worked out well, although the dice were all over the place.  Mac played Kroxigor, a monstrous reptile-man while Macy played Menagerie, a shape-shifter.

Kroxigor (illustration from Arkhamverse)
Kroxigor was one of the passengers on TransGlobal flight 246 which was attacked by the mysterious chemical gas.  Menagerie was actually a dog in the hold of the plane, now able to turn into a human.  Another passenger, a petty criminal, also gained powers which he used to burgle the nightclub where Kroxigor (prior to his transformation) was working as a bouncer.  In trying to stop the burglar, Kroxigor turned into his reptilian form and with Menagerie's help managed to recover the money, even though the burglar escaped using his elongating powers.

art by Phil Cho
Need answers about what has happened, Krox and Menagerie seek out Dr. Tom Gilcrest, the scientist who investigated the initial attack and a employee of Equinox Labs.  While meeting Dr. Gilcrest, the lab is attacked by Kesarex, a mysterious supervillain who intimated that he was not from Earth.  As the two heroes battled Kesarex's Shadow Warriors, Kesarex downloaded data from the lab's computers regarding the flight's passengers and teleported away.

Kesarex, illustration by Phil Cho
The game was such a huge hit that Mac immediately wanted to know when I would be running the game with the group.

A Campaign Introduction

So I've been noodling around with the idea of doing a supers RPG campaign, possibly using Prowlers & Paragons, my most recent lightweight supers RPG purchase.  It's like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying with balance.

In terms of the campaign itself, I have been thinking that it might be interesting to provide a kickoff event that could serve as a shared origin and the beginning of plot gears turning.  But how to share that with all the players?

So I made this player handout.  I had to look around until I found a good picture (from a Flash comic book) that I could Photoshop to show the airline flight.  I'm still using Distinctions from MHR to help the players get a handle on certain things, like NPC's or campaign locations.

Now, to see how the game works...

Monday, December 28, 2015

The early 2015 Recap

It's highly unlikely that I am going to do any gaming in the next three days (especially with guests in my house) so I thought I would get an early start on the "year in gaming" posts out there.

Most of 2015 was spent with my trotting out the new fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons and running it in about every ethos you could imagine: mini-dungeons, mega-dungeons, wilderness adventures, urban adventures...  We are not done with the campaign yet, but it'll happen soon.

In addition to D&D I also ran a session or two of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying with the infamous Deathwish Brigade for the kids, and of course ran the homegrown RPG that is the hallmark of the annual EOW event.  I also trotted out Champions (Hero System, fourth edition).

What's surprising, when I looked over the last year, is how many RPG's I played.  Ultimate Hero, Cypher, Fate, EOW, D&D 5E, and Space d6.  What's really cool is that out of the seven different RPG settings in which I've played, four were from people in my own gaming group and three of those were first-time GM's.  So at least in my own little corner of the RPG-verse, things are growing.

What does 2016 hold?  Beats me, really.  There are now five people in my gaming group who have run a game, and a sixth who has expressed an interest.  Another person in the group has been running a campaign on the side for just himself and his wife.  The days (years) of either me or J Evans running "the game" for the group might be ending, to be replaced by a much more pluralistic culture where there are lots of different games being run all the time.  Now scheduling all that nonsense is probably the least cool thing about it...

I don't think of this blog as being particularly active, but 2015 was the blog's best year to date in terms of visits, clocking in 12675 hits at the moment of this writing of this post, or an average of 1,056 hits a month.  That's a lot of great support from all of you, and I really appreciate it.

I hope all of you have a great time in the year to come.


Friday, December 25, 2015

My Christmas Present

It might look boring, but I'm pretty excited about this...

It is an Office Depot Portable Clipboard Storage Case.  Now I know office supplies are not the sexiest Christmas presents ever, but I am a sucker for a) cool office stuff, b) stuff that holds other stuff, and c) stuff I can use for gaming.

It also has this weird meaning for me about what would be the ideal amount of stuff to haul around for a gaming session.  My own personal disposition likes traveling light: not having loads of sourcebooks or a gazillion dice, etc.  Just pick up the case and off to wherever I'm running my game.  For whatever reason, that appeals to me.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Friday night game recap: sometimes they come back!

Rachel is continuing to run her "Walking Dead" style story using the FATE system, although which each session more things that aren't very "Walking Dead" are making it into the game.  For example the zombies appear to be more cogent.  And they can metamorphose. And there's some kind of weird alien minotaurs running around.

This is kind of interesting for me, as a player, because it has that element of "what the heck?" that horror games should have.  I noticed in the last session that people were saying "well, we know what zombies are, right, because we've seen zombie movies.  So we shoot them in the head."  This is contrary to The Walking Dead series, where zombie is never used and there seems to be no pre-existing mythology, popular or otherwise, about zombies.

So it's not so much a zombie game, it's a wide-open horror exploration game, which is infinitely superior in my book.  Anyways, here's a few photos...

Police hold off the zombie horde
Various players take in the action
Rachel illustrates how the zombies attack

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A First Look at Prowlers and Paragons

For a long time I've been in the market for a new supers RPG.  Since running Marvel Heroic Roleplaying a few years ago, I've been looking at other games, including some that had been passed by the general public, e.g. DC Heroes Third Edition or Silver Age Sentinels.  This was based on the notion that supers RPG's are so niche and so under-performing as a general part of the RPG world that just because the game wasn't making a splash didn't mean it wasn't good.

Plus, I have my own tastes about what I like in a supers RPG, which I've touched on from time to time here, but to summarize I like a game that feels like a comic book, doesn't get bogged down in too much detail, but allows for PC growth and development in a tangible game-system way.  I also don't want to spend hours on character creation using a spreadsheet.  For that matter, it would be an added bonus if it could also accommodate a large number of players and didn't have glaring options for power-gaming.

So I'm basically looking for a supers RPG unicorn, I guess.

Some time I will go into my troubles with the one commercially successful supers RPG out there, Mutants and Masterminds, but not today.  Today I want to kick the tires on a supers RPG that came out a couple of years ago but of which I had not heard until this week: Prowlers & Paragons, by Lakeside Games.

The game is pretty straightforward in a lot of ways.  PC's are defined by "Traits" which encapsulate both skills and powers from other systems, ranked by a number of d6's rolled.  For every even number you roll, you get a success.  Roll a 6, get a success and roll again with a chance to get another success, including another 6, which can be re-rolled and so on.  Compare your number of successes against a target number or the number of successes your opponent gets to determine if you succeed or fail.

PC creation is basically assigning d6's to Traits.  There are "Mundane Traits" that are essentially stats like Might and skills.  The assumption is that PC's have a 2d6 in those by default, so the first d6 spent on them gives you 3d6..  "Super Traits" are the powers, and while you don't automatically have them, the first d6 gives you 3d6.  There are also "Perks" which somewhat unusually are a combination of traits that would be considered in some games powers (like Animal Forms or Super Senses), perks (like Luck or Wealth), or the odd stat (like Lightning Reflexes).  In general Perks are a "you have it or you don't" kind of trait, rather than the scaleable Mundane or Power Traits.  This reveals a certain perspective on the comic book genre by the creators.  Take for example the Perk "Time Travel."  You pay 4d6 and get this Perk, which allows you to travel through time.  For an additional 2d6 you can have it be a gate.  I guess the theory is that you can either travel through time or you can't, and there's not really much of a sense of a way that someone could travel through time at a higher level. Other examples are Invisibility, Wall Crawling, or Precognition.  There are positive and negative modifiers to the traits that either increase or decrease the total cost, which is pretty typical of supers RPG's.

Interestingly enough, there are really onto two "attribute" traits: Might and Will (both Mundane).  Any sense of intelligence is covered through specific skills, while personality qualities are covered through the Mundane traits Charm or Command.

Starting PC's of a typical level are given 36d6 to spend, with a max of three traits at 10d6.  Note that many Traits are not bought on a 1-to-1 basis.

So a quick rundown on combat.  Contested roll of d6's, depending on the offense trait (e.g. Blast or Might) and the defense trait (e.g. Athletics or Armor).  If the attacker scores higher, the difference in successes is the damage.  That means that the game does not distinguish between the powerfulness of the attack and its tendency to hit (a quality it shares with MHR, but is different from M&M).  In a forum I read a comment by the designer that this is intentional, and reflects a perceived quality in comic books of powerful bricks like the Thing or the Hulk rarely missing in hand-to-hand combat, plus removing another step and a lot of complexity out of combat rules.  It's a level of abstraction that some might dislike, although I think I'm okay with it.

In terms of defense, there's active and passive traits when it comes to defense.  Active traits have a negative modifier (removing dice from the roll) if they have to be used repeatedly in the same combat turn.  Passive ones do not.  There are also some offensive powers than can be used defensively in some circumstances, like Blast, which for +2d6 can be used as an active defense against ranged attacks.  Drilling down a bit, let's look at some examples of how similar powers compare and what they are meant to represent.

Might vs. Strike.  Might is your straight-up superstrength, and can be used to attack, and determines how much you can lift.  It can only be used defensively when it comes to grappling or resisting the trait Ensnare.  Strike, on the other hand, represents any melee-combat damaging attack like claws, swords, or most importantly martial arts attacks.  It can be used (with the additional cost) as an active defense against ranged attacks, unlike Might.  In the same forum discussion, the author stated explicitly that Strike (in conjunction with Athletics) was supposed to represent the Martial Artist superhero who can chop through bricks but isn't superhumanly strong.  I figure Strike is also the catch-all for things like super-speed punches and the like, since there is no trait that reflects that power.

Toughness vs. Armor.  Here's where the "Active" and "Passive" Defense comes into play.  If you are using an active defense, you have an increasing penalty for every attack you defend against after the first one in a single combat turn (called, appropriately enough, a "page").  Armor is a passive defense, and stays the same regardless of how often you are hit.  In the book, Armor could reflect actually physical armor, a force field, etc.  Toughness is an active defense, and so can be overwhelmed by multiple attacks, which makes it less useful than armor as a trait, except that Toughness determines how quickly you recover health, so that's the trade off.

This is going long, so let me start to wrap up with two more concepts: Resolve and Adversity.  Every PC takes three flaws, which are basically disadvantages common to most supers RPG's.  For every flaw you have you don't get more dice to build your character (a common conceit) but you get a Resolve point, which can be used for various benefits: stunts, extra actions, quick healing, etc.  You gain Resolve points in play as a result of having your flaws come into effect or intentionally failing a critical roll.  The GM's version of this is Adversity, and works roughly the same way.

There's a lot of other stuff in there about how to run a supers RPG campaign (nothing too innovative for people familiar with the genre) and a surprising amount of material about gear, vehicles, NPC's and the like that you wouldn't think would be in a rules-light game, but provide a lot of stuff with which GM's can play.

But the true test of a game is in its playability, so I plan on taking this game out for a test drive soon with a handful of players, and will report back what I find.  Comments and questions encouraged!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Double feature gaming recap: Ladies' nights!

So pretty much since this gaming group began, all those years ago when I answered a flyer in my FLGS, there have been two GM's: myself and the guy who comments on this blog as "J Evans."

Not too long ago, my son decided he wanted a crack at running a game, first using a Free RPG Day module and then his own one-shot of a "Fallout" game using d6 Space.  Shortly thereafter, J Evans' son decided to take a crack at running an actual campaign, a D&D 4E campaign that has been meeting about once a month for the past few months.

That seemed to open the floodgates.  My daughter decided she wanted to run a fantasy one-shot, just to see what it was like, and despite being the youngest person in the group they went for it.  I served as her assistant, helping her run combats and citing relevant rules when necessary.

Then, Rachel, another member of the group, wanted to try a mini-campaign of a totally different genre: a "Walking Dead" style zombie game using FATE.  I was excited to take FATE out for a spin, and also curious to see how one of the most detail-oriented players would be as a GM.

In the FATE game I played Doug Spohler, Rural High School Science Teacher.  I felt Doug needed a character sketch on his sheet.

My daughter's game was fun, although sometimes she would go down the rabbit hole of knowing what was going on in the game but not communicating it to us.  Rachel's game was also fun, even though the group was pretty large (eight players, which is more than what I usually schedule at my table).  Rachel will play a second session later this month, so I hope this maybe evolves into something more.

I think it is cool, though, how after several years players feel comfortable enough to try their hand at running a game.  It is a different feel from behind the screen, and a couple of people have mentioned how much they appreciate what a GM has to manage, and how player's behavior impacts what they do.  So in addition to some new gaming opportunities, we all might become better roleplayers as well!

Over at Strange Vistas