Sunday, June 24, 2012

Avatar and Godwar

So this weekend I watched the series finale of Avatar: The Legend of Korra (which, if you did not watch, go watch it right now. Immediately. Stop reading this, it will be here when you get back. No, you don't have to watch the previous Avatar series, this stands on its own. Yes, it's that good) and as with every time I watch Avatar cartoons, I think how I would structure the combat in an rpg. For those unfamiliar with Avatar in general (WHY? I SAID GO WATCH IT! THE ORIGINAL IS ON NETFLIX! GO! GO NOW!) the world has magic based on the four elements called bending and is carried out using martial arts with each element having its own visual style. In addition to the four core elements there are advanced skills like Lightning Bending (advanced fire), Metal Bending (advanced earth), Blood Bending/Plant Bending (advanced water), and Sound Bending (advanced air, not seen in the show, mentioned in an interview with the creators as a lost art). Each of these forms has very few unique abilities ( for example water is the only one that can heal), while all share certain basic things (they all can attack, block, etc) though at different levels of effectiveness. Fire, for example, is much more effective offensively than Air while Air is better at mobility, and Earth seems to be the most effective for defense. Some abilities are rare but shared; for example both Air and Fire can fly, though it seems to be a far more advanced skill for Fire than Air as only the most powerful Firebenders can do it.

Also recently I have taken to watching kung fu movies and templar movies while working on the elliptical to keep myself from realizing how terrible exercising is. This mixture of genres has made me realize something about my long gestating project Godwar (which you can read about here, here, and here). I've commonly described it as Occult Superheroes of the 15th century, but I now realize that's not the most apt description. It's really more of a kung fu game from a European cultural basis; instead of unlocking the secrets of kung fu and chi, characters get their crazy powers from more occult sources like the Holy Grail, and then use this power to take on vast armies, beat incredible odds, etc. I also wanted more the cultural/political conflicts that come up in kung fu than the hero vs. villain dynamic more common in superhero stories.

Now, what do these two ideas have to do with each other? Previously I've been going with sort of a Spirit of the Century/Over The Edge style system where players make up their own abilities and rated them using a pool of options. Then during gameplay players would draw five cards each round and allocate them to different abilities, up the the ranking of that ability, to accomplish tasks (so I can put up too three cards in Champion of the Edinburgh Templar Lodge when I want to attack someone or try to use my notoriety to impress people). Problem this is abuseable as not all abilities will be created equal (as Harbringer's Over the Edge game demonstrated when my character's Marine ability was useful far out of proportion to some other abilities) and without some sort of currency system ala Spirit of the Century fate points I'm not sure it will work well. So, new idea: steal my ideas for Avatar for Godwar.

Most of the characters in GodWar would have access to a primary power set; this could be Templar (super tough thanks to drinking from the Holy Grail), Angel, Hermetic Wizard, Gearsman (clockwork robot), etc. Each of these would have rankings in a number of different common abilities, such as Templar having high ranks in Toughness, Melee, and Defense while Hermetic Wizard has high ranks in Confining, Information, and Summoning. These would overlap, with both Gearsmen and Templars having high Toughness. The rankings in these abilities would be how many cards you can assign to them each round for tasks, so a Templar is going to brute force his way through and use melee combat while other combatants may choose other options. I'm thinking the list of abilities would be like Melee, Ranged, Defense, Information, Toughness, Confining, Healing, Movement, Stealth, Social, Mechanical. I probably need more, but I want to keep the list small. Players could raise these over time with experience points.

Also each power set would have a set of special moves, some of which are shared with other power sets while others wouldn't be. For example both Templars and Angels would have some sort of “come back from the dead” special move, while only Diabolists could summon demons.

Lastly players would have a number of traits that are descriptive phrases and modifiers that can be applied to abilities when they are appropriate. This means when a trait is applied the player can allocate more or fewer cards to that ability. This would usually be a +/-1 modifier, though larger it possible. Again some sort of currency like fate points may be good here.   

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Last Knights of Camelot: Giant Robot Combat and Keeping Everyone Involved

So a few weeks ago I picked up a number of PDFs from RPGnow since they were having a big sale on everything in your wishlist. I picked up a number of games, two of which I have read a good deal of at this point, those being Remnants and Spellbound Kingdoms (written a guy I used to play D&D with when I lived in NYC). Both of these have very interesting mechanical bits, and have put me to thinking about my old game, Last Knights of Camelot.

The basic idea for Last Knights of Camelot is a post-apocalyptic re-telling of the King Arthur mythology where one of the few surviving forms of technology are armour suits, which are effectively giant robots. Most have long ago run out of ammunition, so instead carry massive swords, maces, and other simple weapons (only the best pilots can managed bows). These armour suits are the height of military power available in the setting; one such suit can defeat hundreds of infantry in open combat and the true power of a king is how many armour suits he can bring to his banner. The men who pilot theses suits are knights, using their massive war machines to secure power, fame, wealth, etc. They meet in tournaments and the battlefield, trampling underfoot those unlucky enough to get in their way. These armor suits are maintained by Squires, many of which are genetically engineered to have inborn training in advanced technical arts, creating a caste of highly valued mechanics who are the only ones who can keep these ancient machines functional. There are several other types of knights as well such as rail knights (command giant war trains), blade knights (have helicopters), wagon knights (drive tanks), etc. Magic exists, but it is a rare and dangerous force. I once called the game a feudalpunk setting, but then realized that was a horrible idea and stopped.

When building a group of player characters for Last Knights of Camelot, each character takes a role in supporting the group's armour suit. While a group could could not have a giant robot, why are you playing this game if you don't want a giant robot? If a group wants to have more than one armour suit it is possible, but each suit must have its own knight. You'd just be splitting resources between the two suits.

Players should each choose one of the following roles to represent their place within the group and how they relate to the group's armour suit. When the armour suit enters combat the entire group jointly controls it, each player making choices and rolling dice according to the facets of operation covered by his or her role. Such choices and roles may reflect choices made or actions carried out before the battle, but that only come to fruition in the battle field, such as acquisition of supplies or spreading terrible tales of the deeds of the armour suit to inspire fear in its enemies. This system is designed so all players in the group will have a hand in the action when it comes time for the thirty foot tall robots to pull out their swords instead of everyone looking bored while the knight kills everything.

My thought is to also include a Song of Ice and Fire-esque system for the organization that supports the armour suit and the characters and each role would have an impact on that.

If the group has fewer than four players theGM may allow players to take an additional role; but the total, number of roles should be in the 4-6 range. Note groups will not have someone in every role; this is expected, though every group should have a Knight and Squire. Without someone to drive and fix the armour suit, not much is going to happen. The roles chosen also help determine the flavor of the group; a group with a Knight, Squire, Lord, Bard, and Priest may well be a noble household, while a group with a Knight, Squire, Merchant, Captain, and Gunner may be a mercenary company lucky enough to have an armor suit.

Knight: The knight operates the armor suit, usually from a cavity in the chest. The knight may make one action each that can be a move or an attack using a melee or ranged weapon. The knight also makes defensive rolls involving Armor Suit Operation skill checks, like dodging. The target number to hit the armour suit is determined by the knight's Armor Suit Operation skill. The Knight chooses one melee weapon for the armour suit. +3 Armour Riding, +2 Gunnery, +1 Tech

Squire: The person responsible for maintaining and repairing the armor suit. Squires do not normally ride with the Knight into battle, but instead watch nearby so they can quickly make repairs as needed. The Squire makes all resistance rolls for the armour suit based on his Repair skill and may spend one action per round activating systems in the suit, like repair drones and emergency power supplies, or change power allocation in the armour suit. The Squire can choose one Armor, Frame, Power, or Gadget upgrade for the armour suit. +3 Tech, +2 Craft, +1 Armour Riding

Gunner: Gunners operate weapon systems within the armour suit, usually riding along in it with the Knight but some suits also have remote weapon systems that can be operated outside the suit. The Gunner may take one action each round to fire a ranged weapon of some type. The Gunner can choose one ranged weapon system for the armour suit (which it comes with enough ammunition to fully reload it six times if it requires ammunition). +3 Gunnery, +2 Perception, +1 Tech.

Lord: The Lord is usually a noble of some sort who technically owns the armour suit and bankrolls the enormous funds needed to keep one operating. Such individuals do not ride in armour suits, but instead keep an eye on their people from nearby. Lord's provide leadership, inspiration, and fear to motivate their followers. The Lord can reroll one failed skill check made by another group member once per round using the Lord's Social skill. The Lord can choose one upgrade of any type for the armour suit. +3 Leadership, +2 Wealth, +1 Social.

Bard: The Bard spreads word of the armour suit's deeds plus helps the armour suit recognize enemies by identifying their heraldry. Once per round the Bard can make a Heraldry check either to inspire fear in enemies due to its reputation (which the Bard is assumed to work between battles to spread) or to identify one aspect of an enemy armour suit, such as upgrades, favored tactics, etc (“Watch out, that's Sir Erebus! His rocket lance is known throughout Northumberland!”). The Bard can select one Reputation upgrade for the armour suit. +3 Heraldry, +2 Social, +1 Perception.

Merchant: The Merchant is one of the struggling middle class or one of the few non-nobles who have fought their way to the upper class of society. Such individuals usually work to fund armour suits and make sure they have the parts needed to stay in the field. Merchants can reroll one Repair, Computer, Armor Suit Operation, or Gunnery skill check per round made by anyone in the group on behalf of the armour suit using their Wealth, representing money spent on higher quality parts and supplies. Merchants can select one upgrade of any type for the armour suit. +3 Wealth, +2 Contacts, +1 Subterfuge.

Scout: The Scout surveys the battlefield before the armour suit takes the field when possible, identifying terrain threats like pits, rivers, and bogs. Before each battle the Scout can make a Perception check; for each success the scout can put one piece of terrain on the battlefield as long a it makes sense in the area. The Scout should make all Perception checks to detect enemies. +3 Perception, +2 Stealth, +1 Survival.

Priest: Most priests who accompany armour suits are Christians, the remain worshippers of older faiths rarely having the power and tech knowledge to keep one running. This does not mean all priests are Christians by any means, but most are. The Priest can reroll any failed Willpower or Toughness checks made by group members in the armour suit using his Willpower, assuming they are of the same faith or at least respect the faith of the priest. +3 Willpower, +2 Social, +1 Leadership.

Captain: While armour suits are the major power in modern combat, infantry, cavalry, and siege engines have their place. Captains are the commanders of such units, bringing to bear troops to support the armour suit in the field. The Captain begins with one unit of troops, which he can apply three upgrades too, or use an upgrade to get an additional unit of troops. These can be fielded along with the armour suit in battle, but if not properly prepared (such as using terrain created by the Scout) they'll likely get massacred by opposing armour suits. +3 Leadership, +2 (skill used by one of the Captain's units), +1 Willpower.

Druid: One of the few arcane practitioners of the older religions of Briton, druids use the magic of natural cycles to create supernatural effects. They rarely are found accompany knights, but can be found supporting tribal champions and other less “refined” operators of armour suits. Each round a druid can inflict an environmental effect on the field of battle, such as calling in a fog or turning a terrain square to a bog, but doing so drains the druid. This means each attempt gets harder and will require the druid to rest extensively after the battle. +3 Arcane, +2 Survival, +1 Willpower

Roles Still Being Worked on:
Rogue: Maybe some sort of sabotage attack?

Smith: While Squires maintain armour suits, smiths are those technical geniuses who still have the tools and knowhow to build armor suits from scratch. +3 Craft, +2 Tech, +1 Toughness

Wizard: Practitioners of magic are rare, a few can be found supporting armour suits. They usually lend support in the form of enchantments on the armour suit itself. +3 Arcane, +2 Willpower, +1 Lore

Upgrade Types
Armour – Armour plating, reactive armor, etc.
Computer – AI assistance, targeting computers, etc.
Electronics – ECM suites, communications.
Frame – Size, strength boosters, etc.
Power – Power generator and control system.
Sensors – Infra-red, radar, etc.
Weapons – Huge swords, ballistas, artillery pieces, missiles, lasers, etc.   

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Games I've Read Recently - Remnants and Spellbound Kingdoms

So as recently I picked up some games recently that I found mechanically interesting and had inspired me to put some words into Last Knights of Camelot, which I am composing a post about currently. I figured I would detail what I found so interesting in another post:

Remnants: This game is a very rules light post-apocalyptic rpg where the main form of pre-apocalypse technology that survives are giant robots called ishin. These giant robots may be mechanical or magic, no one knows and no one knows how they work. They repair themselves if damaged, can replenish their own ammunition and drones, and new ones cannot be built. Basically the ishin are giant magic artifacts from a previous age. No one knows what the apocalypse was, or really much of any history. It's a wonderfully open setting that you can take in a billion directions if you want. The ishin are generally 12-20 feet tall so they're not super huge/powerful, but they are the most powerful tools of war available.

The cool things about the system is how the ishin advance and how players control them.
  1. At character creation all characters gets separate pools of points to get normal skills and ishin skills, so you don't have “this guy is awesome in his robot but sucks everywhere else” problems. Also stats affect ishin skills in such a way that characters are all equal, so the guy without good physical stats can still be an awesome pilot. Piloting an ishin really relies on that indefinable thing that so many anime mecha heroes have.
  2. Ishin get more powerful by suffering damage. Any time your ishin takes enough damage to be knocked out, it goes to sleep for eight hours and wakes up tougher. Any time you pull off some amazing move or really risky stunt you get Duress, which you can use to get upgrades for the ishin that sort of organically grow out of the suit as it adapts to the pilot's needs. So players have this interesting drive to push their ishin to the limits to keep advancing.  If a pilot dies the suit goes to sleep for eight hours and resets itself to factory defaults, i.e. starting stats.
I do wish the rules had more meat to them in some cases, like weapon types and damage, mech upgrades, etc, but its a game with an immense capacity for tinkering and customization. It would be a great game for an anime style mecha campaign and for some reason I keep thinking of Nausica of the Valley of the Winds since the ishin are very similar to the ancient war machines in that story.

The other game I picked up that I have read thus far is Spellbound Kingdoms written by Frank Brunner, who I played D&D with when I lived in NYC and is a good guy. Spellbound Kingdoms is a fantasy game that has two mechanics thus far that I love. The basic system is you build a die pull from your stat, skill, etc, take the best die and compare it to a target number, but the inspiration rules and combat rules really make it stand out (there may be more awesome bits, but I haven't finished reading it).

  1. Like many games, SK has a mechanic for causes that are important to the player, like relationships, deeply held beliefs, etc that can add to rolls in certain circumstances. These are called inspirations, and their use in play is cool enough. If you take a lot of damage in social contests you can take damage to your Inspirations, or people can attack them directly by killing beloved family members, trying to cause you lose faith in your religion by exposing corruption, etc. The awesome part comes up when you get an Inspiration above 4, which is not difficult at all really if you want to go for it. Once you get an Inspiration to 4 or higher, due to the magic of the world you cannot be killed (well, you can be, but you will come back somehow, you can't be taken out of the game permanently). So as long as you are fervently dedicated to a cause you cannot be killed unless your dedication to that cause is damaged (i.e. brought below 4); as long as your true love lives and you love her you cannot be stopped forever as you'll find a way back to her. So villains have an in world mechanical motivation to tear down the world around the heroes as opposed to just attacking them directly, and since this applies to villains to the heroes can't just kick the enemy's door down and make with the stabbing. While yes, unrealistic, I love the sort of narratives that could develop.
  2. Combat in SK is all about fighting schools and styles, something I think Harbinger would love. When players enter combat they choose a fighting style to use, each of which requires training to use anything other than the most basic elements and specific gear. Each style has a page sized table with a series of circles laid out in a irregular grid; each circle is an action you can take during a round. For example, a move may let you attack a target and move, attack with both two weapons, aim a bow, make an insult to damage your opponents Mood and boost yours, etc. Each of these moves has different effects, such as the aim action boosting the die size of a ranged attack made on the next round. You can start in a limited selection of starting moved called balancing moves, but from there you can move to any move in the same column or row in the grid as your maneuver last round. As I said the grids are irregular, so there are spaces and branches, thus to get to their ultimate moves of a style may take four or five rounds of maneuvering to get there. It looks like an excellent way to do a fencing heavy sort of game.
You can get the combat primers at the Spellbound Kingdoms website that will get you the basics of the combat map system.  I definitely recommend getting it and it is a meaty 300 page tome.  

I haven't been able to play any of these games yet, but I've been thinking of stealing Samhaine's rotating game group in order to try them out.