Friday, November 22, 2013

Character Highlight: Louis CK, Bard (FAE)

Louie, in his natural state...
Ah the bard, the bastard of fantasy games everywhere! He's not good enough at casting spells to substitute for the wizard, he's not good enough to be your primary fighter, and he lacks the skills to do all the stealth/trapfinding/lockpicking your thief or ranger has in the bag. Sure, he can heal a bit, but he's no cleric! He's the jack of all trades, but the master of none, and your party will often grumble when he can't do all the stuff other classes do. To top it off, no matter how you flavor him, jokes about floppy hats and jinigling bells never go away.

Alas, poor bard!

The next time you feel like playing a bard, make his shortcomings the focus of the character! Afterall, he can do a lot right? Who else uses his shortcomings to his advantage? Well, none other than the master of self-deprecation, Louis SzĂ©kely!

Armed with a strong sense of self-loathing, your hate is his strength. Need a boost in combat? Perhaps snarky observational comedy will put you over the edge! Have to charm your way past the armed guards to get into the necromancer's castle? Louis CK has you covered with some fart/poop/fat jokes to completely disarm them! Fear not, my powerful band of adventurers, this bard is armed with the power of COMEDY!

Louis CK, Bard
There's no such thing as a cheap laugh.
Aspects
High Concept: The Bard Of New Amsterdam
Trouble: I Know The Enemy And It Is Me
Other:  Jack Of All Trades - Master Of None (Except Failure), The Power Of Comedy

Approaches
   +3 Clever
   +2 Careful, Flashy
   +1 Sneaky, Forceful
   +0 Quick

Stunts
  • Because I was a Surrealist Comic, I gain a +2 to Sneakily Attack or Overcome when Astragaloid Pyuria Admits Shrimp Tire Iron.
  • Because I Eat A Lot Of Junk Food, once per session I can reroll any Defense against a Food-Borne Or Poison Attack.
  • Because I am Experienced With Hecklers, I gain +2 to Cleverly Defend when someone tries to Charm, Coerce, Intimidate or Trick me.
Refresh: 3
Stress: OOO

Consequences
   Exasperated (2)
   Discouraged (4)
   Fuck It         (6)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Character Highlight: Iron Man via Fate Core

Damn, it's good to be a super hero. 
Ever since I noted that Fate Core supported supers, I've been posting up supers for Fate. 

It's no secret that FAE is my preferred flavor of Fate in general, but I have recently been trying to shore up some love for Fate Core as it is the mothership for the current version of Fate. 

With these ideas in mind, here is my take on Iron Man/Tony Stark using the 'out-of-the-box' rules from Fate Core. Note that the build below assumes a massive +11 Refresh for Stunts/Extras.

Iron Man (Fate Core)
  • Aspects
High Concept: Billionaire playboy turned Armored Avenger
Trouble: Smartest guy in the room..and he knows it
Other Aspects: Soul of an artist, heart of palladium; I can make it better!; It’s lonely at the top
  • Skills
+4 Crafts
+3 Lore, Resources
+2 Drive, Rapport, Shoot
+1 Athletics, Fight, Notice, Will
  • Stunts
Tech Genius: Adds +2 to Crafts or Lore when dealing with high-technology.
Charming Scofflaw: Tony’s reputation as a rake helps in certain circles. Gain +2 to Rapport when dealing with parties that might find a handsome billionaire genius attractive.
Alternate Armor: Once per session, Tony can reallocate his Extras below to represent an alternate armor design, provided that story permissions grant access to his tech.
  • Extras
Iron Man Armor: When in his Iron Man armor, Tony Stark has access to the following effects:
  • Gold-Titanium-Alloy Armor (3): Grants Armor: 4 vs physical stress. He is also immune to environmental stress up to and including the vacuum of space, provided that his life-support system is online.
  • Super-Strength (5): The armors servos greatly enhance the users physical strength. Add +6 to Overcome via Physique while in the armor, and Weapon: 4 to physical attacks.
  • Weapon Systems (2): Targeting enhanced weapon systems make the Iron Man a formidable opponent. Add +2 to Shoot at Weapon: 4 when using the armors systems.
  • Combat Computer: Add +2 to Fight or Athletics once per Exchange, when used in Defend or Attack actions.
  • Spectrographic Scanners +HUD: The Iron Man armor features an on-board computer (JARVIS) driven spectrographic array. Enables +2 to Overcome when sensory superiority can be a factor.
  • Terrestrial Flight: The Iron Man armor is capable of Mach-2 speed flight: gain +2 to Create an Advantage via Drive while in the armor.
Refresh: 1
Physical Stress: OO
Mental Stress: OOO-O
Consequences

  • Mild (2):
  • Moderate (4):
  • Severe (6):

****

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Actual Play Report + Review: Dungeon World - 1st Session and Impressions pt3


Logo from the beautiful Italian version of the game!
Continuing where we left off from my first and second posts, here are my continued thoughts and AP from my group's first session playing Dungeon World.
***
The small crevice opened up by the dwarvish miners was just wide enough for a single body to pass through at once: and even this made for a tight squeeze.

As self-appointed protector of the party Naeriel was tempted to go in first, but when she peered out into the darkness without she saw nothing; only her hearing gave her any impression of the contents of this new area, filled with the sounds of the clanking and clamor of iron against stone.

Backing out, she allowed the dark-elf Briza to take a glance instead, as her eyes were able to see as if day in the pitch-black gloom.
Apparently Dungeon World elves don't get infravision...bummer.
Moving stealthily through the opening, Briza pokes her head out and peers within:

Her gaze rapidly adjusting to the nigh-absent light of the room, she views a vast columned chamber which could only be described as being carved out of the earth; almost like a natural cave but clearly worked by human or human-like tools, with evidence of the work of picks and shovels throughout.


The apparent origin of all of this industry was in plain view as well. Lining the walls and working with picks and shovels were strange man-sized figures, covered only in bandage-like wrappings that covered their thin and emaciated bodies.

Disturbingly, their eyes were covered in the same wrappings, which like the rest of their filthy grave-clothes-like raiment was covered in mysterious sigils. Only their mouths were completely free of the wrapping, and these revealed agape and drooling jaws (complete with lolling tongues) to a one.

Turning away from this disgusting sight, she peered down further into the vast hall where she could just make out the faint flickering of torches, as well as the sound of guttural voices punctuated by the cracking of a whip. Apparently the 'workers' had overseers, and by the regularity of the sound of the whips, cruel ones.

Not risking being seen (although it wasn't certain that the mummy-like figures could 'see' at all), Briza lithely moves back through the entryway to report what she had seen to the party.

When questioned whether or not the workers she saw were truly alive or undead (a serious point of interest to Naeriel, who needed to know exactly who she might be fighting), Briza had to say that she did not know.

What she did know for certain was that the cruel overseers she heard were definitely goblins: although she did not speak their tongue, she knew the sound of it well. And goblins are the exact sort of minion that a lich-lord might hire as well.
At this point we started discussing marching order, D20/OSR style. Naeriel wanted to go first, since she was by party role the tank: but the thief Jagelio was by far the best at sneaking about, so it was decided to let him explore before everyone else popped in. Naeriel's bond demanded that she look after him though, so order was decided at Jagelio, then Naeriel, then Briza, followed up by Emen.
Jagelio took to the shadows; disappearing completely from view like he was a shadow himself. Following behind, Naeriel cautiously traveled from pillar to pillar, moving towards the dim light and sounds produced by the cruel goblin overseers.

Soon she became separated from the group - in the dim to absent light it was hard to gauge relative position, and she had no idea where Jagelio had gone to (as usual for the thief). Swiveling around a last pillar, she found herself face to face with one of the goblin overseers!
At this juncture I started rolling a lot of 6 and under results....hilarity ensues!  
For a brief instant, the goblin simply stared agape at this new interloper, too shocked to take action. Then, suddenly it opened it's overly toothy mouth and began to scream! As if called to action by this sound, slowly but with determination the workers stopped their toil around the hall and began to shamble in close upon the elf.

Naeriel was seized by an uncharacteristic uncertainty: if these creatures are alive and somehow ensorceled to serve these cruel masters, it would be wrong to do violence to them. Holding her sword up in a defense stance, she freezes in hesitation as the shambling workers close ranks on her.

But the cruel goblin had no hesitation at all; still screaming loudly, it raises up the whip in it's hand (the whip itself appearing to be crafted from bones), bring it down hard up on Naeriel. She is able to block the brunt of the attack with her sword, but the tendril still reaches around to strike her arm: rending her elvish woven armor and drawing blood.

Cringing from both the pain as well as the embarrassment of being caught off-guard, Naeriel quickly counter-attacks the horrid goblin with her two-handed blade. But between the pain of her new wound and the now crushing presence of the still closing ensorceled workers she loses her balance..and the sword flies free from her hands, clattering onto the cold stone floor.
Nasty little gits, really. 

At this moment, Briza has finally made her way to see the commotion caused by Naeriel's discovery. Without hesitation she channels the powers of her attuned element, causing a dagger of purest ice to fly from the focal point in her forehead and impaling the shoulder of goblin that had assaulted Naeriel but a moment before, causing it to drop it's whip.
The goblin looks now towards Briza with a mix of shock and anger, lurching towards her...only to be stopped when a hurled dagger flies out of the darkness and into it's forehead. Almost comically, the creature stops for the briefest moment before dropping dead where it stands. Jagelio's handiwork.
Meanwhile, Naeriel is scrambling to pick up her sword. From the darkness, she sees a second goblin began to run towards it as well. The race is on!
Moving lithely through the grasping hands of the workers she comes to almost...almost just!..grasp it, before being caught finally in the grip of the circling mindless mob. Once in their clutches, they began to mercilessly tear and rend at her flesh with their sharp, unclean nails, dragging her away from her prize and salvation.
A note here about Dungeon World's initiative system: there isn't one. During all of the action outlined here rather than taking turns we took 'screen time' where the players took action. The GM Gary balanced this well, giving the action a highly cinematic quality. Very cool.
Seeing that his comrade was in trouble, Emen finally joins in the fray. Calling upon the dark powers at his disposal, he curses the goblin reaching for the sword, making one of it's healthy legs now lame. The goblin trips and falls before it is able to grab onto Naeriel's ornate elvish blade.


But the exercise of these dark forces comes at a high price: suddenly the nearest shambling workers turn their shrouded faces towards the necromancer in unison, and began lurching towards him with clearly violent intent!
At the same time, Naeriel finally breaks free of the vicious grasp of the workers, the somersaults forward and swiftly takes back up her sword.
Rising to her feet in single fluid motion, she points the blade at the goblin who had been lunging at it but a moment before and asks rhetorically:
"You wanted this?"
..before stabbing the creature with it through the heart. The creature dies instantly. A clean, quick death: Naeriel's forte.
As the workers close in on Emen, the necromancer quickly works to animate the nearby corpse of the goblin recently felled by Briza and Jag. Daggers fly out of the darkness - Jagelio again- but their numbers are too many and quickly Emen is encircled by the shambling workers...
As she pulls her sword from the fresh corpse of the goblin, Naeriel realizes, that she is also surrounded by a closing circle of shambling workers. Already covered in wounds and still uncertain whether it is right to slay them, she steels herself for the very worst...
Briza is torn...the necromancer is surrounded, but so is the party fighter. She knows she must take action, but she hears Emen say:
"Uh...undead shamblers. I'm working on it..."
And with that decides to aid Naeriel. Summoning the power of cold again using her focal point, she covers the ground in a thick sheen of black ice, sparing only the 5ft circle where Naeriel stands. The shambling workers (revealed as undead per the necromancer, who should know) slip and fall over one another in unison.
Calling again upon the black forces that power his craft, Emen reanimates the corpse of the goblin taskmaster as his thrall. With a flurry of action the creature is able to buy Emen some space with the biting of teeth and the slashing of claws before disintegrating: having worked so quickly, the animation magic made the vessel unstable. Once again the shambling zombies begin to close in...
Naeriel's elvish eyes might still struggle with the gloom, but her long elvish ears work just fine here: she heard the necromancer state that these enemies were undead..and therefore fair game!
Taking up her 'Circle of Death' stance, Naeriel makes sure that she has a firm grip on her sword, then makes a single deadly whirlwind strike upon the surrounding zombies, still tripped up or stilled upon the ice.
The carnage is gruesome: everywhere lifeless limbs and heads are hewn asunder, black ichor spraying carelessly onto the icy dungeon floor. When she arises from the single long strike like a dancer exiting a pirouette, the entire mob of them lies before her, mangled and defeated.
The necromancer, however, is in no position to view this exercise in martial prowess, as he is now surrounded by his own mob of attacking zombies. Together they claw and rake at his flesh, while Jagelio fires daggers from some hidden spot in the shadows, and Briza summons her element again to come to his aid...

Seeing that the battle is not yet won, Naeriel jumps onto the ice, using it to skate over to where the mobbed necromancer stands. She arrives and her blade strikes true: and together the trio manage to slay the last of the zombie workers.
Meanwhile, the last goblin overseer, seeing as he is horribly outnumbered decides to make a run for it. But he doesn't get far before two swift daggers (Jagelio again) pierce him in the leg and head, ending both his escape and his life.
With the last of their opponents still, the party takes a moment to reflect and take inventory. Both Naeriel and Emen are worse for wear: especially Naeriel, who is now covered in red weeping gashes where her beautiful elvish armor has been torn.
And this is but the first room: what other terrors might the lich's tower hold within?

Continued in part 4!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Character Highlight: PunPun (FAE)

Back when D&D 3.5 was still young, WOTC had a thriving message board community. Of note was the Character Optimization forums, a wonderland of ingenuity! Originally conceived of as a place for you to work out your character concept, it was quickly overrun by optimizers, and WOTC was forced to split the forum into Character Development (fluff) and Character Optimization (crunch).

Strange and wondrous things could be found in this place, where math majors went to work using spreadsheets calculate your Power Attack bonus and how to best make some Chosen of Mystra with 10 actions per round and a sweet Figurine Of Wondrous Power: Obsidian Camaro. In this seething cauldron of nerd-heroin, no published rule was safe; no splatbook neglected! For years, the Cleric and Druid fought for the title of Most Likely To Give Your DM Hives.

Sometime thereafter, around 2005, a thread was created called 'Incentive to Play a Kobold.' A poster named Khan_The_Destroyer came up with a build that would forever change the universe. Hither came PunPun, green-skinned, fiery-eyed, viper familiar in hand, a wizard, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to ravage the patience of every GM under his omnipotent feet!

PunPun 1

Aspects
PROTIP: Don't Google image search PunPun at work.
High ConceptKobold Divine Minion 1/Wizard 1/Master of Many Forms 3
TroubleI Will Make Your GM Hate You
OtherImmune To All The Things, You Can Shove Your GM Fiat

Approaches
+30 Clever
+30 Forceful, Careful
+30 Flashy, Quick
+30 Sneaky

Stunts
  • Because I can Manipulate Forms At Will, I gain a +20 to Forcefully Overcome or Attack when I change shape.
  • Because I Legally Exploit All The Books, I can change my Aspects, Approaches and Stunts At Will.
Refresh
Stress
Consequences
  • Exasperated Sigh (2):
  • Goddammit, NO! (4):
  • Kicked From The Group (6)
You can read the original PunPun post here. Of course the community, being as it is, could not just let PunPun be; many tried, and all failed to defeat him. The best part would be the multitude of posters chiming to express their dismay at trying to convince their DM to let them play PunPun, despite the original poster expressly stating that he is a thought experiment and never meant to be actually played. This is a good thing, as allowing him in your game is directly analogous to Robert Oppenheimer's dismay at witnessing the Trinity test!

This is the only known photograph of PunPun in play.
1Note - while Pun Pun may be legal in D&D 3.5, he's certainly not in FAE; here he functions as a conversion.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Actual Play Report + Review: Dungeon World - 1st Session and Impressions pt2

A continuation of my earlier post about playing Dungeon World: part 1 available from the link.
I'm going to start this post about Dungeon World by not talking about Dungeon World (stay with me here, there's a point to this...)

Instead I'm going to talk about Feng Shui.

For those otherwise unaware, Feng Shui is a RPG created in the mid-nineties by the talented Robin Laws. Tied in with the same universe as the equally fun Shadowfist CCG, it was designed to emulate the fast and furious cinematic action of Hong Kong action movies, as well as works inspired by them (notably John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China).

Sometime in 199x (those years all kind of flow together for me at this point) I had the opportunity to play a game of Feng Shui with Jose Garcia, who had co-designed the Shadowfist CCG.

Now by this point I had been playing and running RPG's for over 10 years, starting with D&D 'red box' and launching from there to AD&D 1e/2e, Marvel Super Heroes, Paladium, DC Heroes, etc. So I thought that I knew my way around an RPG by then, thank-you-very-much.

But in the process of creating a character and playing the game with Jose and our group, my eyes were opened not only to a new school of RPG design, but an entirely new way of thinking: one where the GM is there to say 'yes', and not 'no'. One where the entire game was there to facilitate the kind of gonzo things you might like to do in a game, if only the rules would let you.

To provide an example, when creating my character I came to the table with just a few ideas:
Jose: So what sort of character do you want to play?
Me: I want to play an ornery Chinese waitress that yells at her customers in broken English, when not beating down bad guys with her Kung Fu.
Jose: Sounds good! There's an archetype that should work for that here...
Me: Oh, also! Is there a shtick that lets me run over people's heads? Because I want to do that.
Jose: Not in the book....but, there should be! I was thinking about making that a shtick called 'Grass Gliding' that allows you to cross surfaces that normally wouldn't support you. You want to take that?
Me: Yessir!
Needless to say, at some point during the adventure my character wound up in a narrow hallway with an army of angry mooks between her in the exit. So my little waitress just jumped up and ran over their heads to the door. In that moment, the dream became the reality. :-)

That session opened up my eyes to new possibilities in playing RPG's in general: what has become largely the 'new school' of RPG design popular today. When the game didn't have a rule to support what I wanted to do, the GM simply made up a new rule. Then he set up a scenario where exactly that skill came in handy.

So this has become my litmus test for any RPG, whatever the genre, whatever the system is:
"Is this as much fun to play as Feng Shui?"
And with the first session of Dungeon World behind me now, I can say that for this system the answer is an unqualified 'yes!'

With this thought out of the way, let's get on to the details of our game:


  • Step 1: Character Creation

Character creation in Dungeon World is a snap. The process is:
  • 1. Choose a Class. The main book has the classic Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Thief and Wizard as available choices.
  • 2. Choose a Race. To simplify things, available races are listed by Class. Each race selected grants a special move only available for that race. For my Elvish fighter, this granted her the ability to change one weapon to Hack & Slash using Dex rather than Str as the modifier. 
  • 3. Choose a Name. Honestly, this took almost as much time as the rest for my group. Fortunately, I had a name ready.
  • 4. Choose Look. I also had a picture ready, so no issues there.
  • 5. Choose Stats. You can assign these scores to your stats: 16, 15, 13, 12, 9, 8. 
  • 6. Figure Out Modifiers. Your modifiers for Moves are based on your stats, so this is important. Since 16-17 grants a +2 bonus to die rolls, this should be assigned to your logical core stat. 
  • 7. Set Maximum HP. Your maximum HP is equal to your class’s base HP+Constitution score. You start with your maximum HP. As a Fighter with 13 Con, I started with 23 HP.
  • 8. Choose Starting Moves. These are the superpowers that largely define character competence. More on this as we get to gameplay. 
  • 9. Choose Alignment. Kickin' it OSR style! Good, Neutral, Evil, Lawful and Chaotic. For our game, the whole Chaos/Order paradigm was ignored, so we were allowed any non-evil alignment. Since there were no Clerics or Paladins in the group, we all took Neutral, naturally. 
  • 10. Choose Starting Gear. Each Class gets an available gear list to choose from. My Fighter automatically had a Signature Weapon on hand, so I chose light armor and extra adventuring gear. Much to my liking, the 'adventuring gear' is assumed to have the flinklock, 30ft rope, oil, etc. that you would assume that it would have. Easy-peasy. 
From start to finish, the whole of character creation took about 30-40 mins, even accounting for a player (Shay) who joined us late. 

The characters we came up with were:


  • Naeriel Bladesong, Elvish Fighter. Played by yours truly. She lives in the Parish of Andulan: her homeland now swallowed up by the City of Dis. An elvish duelist, she lives only to find worthy opponents and thus carry on the songs of her ancestors in battle.

  • Emen Graycastle, Human Necromancer. Played by Jim. A suitably creepy character, he lives in the now run-down castle of his father and may be the last survivor of his world. He sees death as merely the continuation of life's journey, and summons the corpse of his now dead girlfriend to aid him when in danger. 




  • Briza Adaragon, Drow Chaneller. Played by Meriam. Another visitor to the mysterious City of Dis. As a Channeler, she serves as a conduit to elemental forces that she doesn't truly control (in this case, the elemental power of ice). As a dark elf, she can see in absolute darkness just as well as in daylight.





  • Jagelio, Human Thief. Played by Shay. He came to Dis when following a 'mark' around a corner: the alleyway somehow led to Dis, and he hasn't been able to figure his way back. Not that he minds very much...he's a pragmatist at heart, and there's always plenty of work to be found in the city. 

Note that Emen and Briza's character classes are from the Grim World supplement, and not the main book. 

The GM established that we were already operating as a group, so we skipped over the whole 'meet cute' adventure that is semi-standard for the genre.

The Bonds feature really helped to reinforce this: notably, Naeriel looked after Jagelio and suspected that Briza wasn't really all that fit for dungeoneering, whereas Emen appreciated Naeriel's propensity to leave fresh corpses behind for him to exploit.


  • Step 2: The Setup
As noted in the earlier post, the GM established that we were operating in the City of Dis as 'Freebooters': the sorts of folks that take dangerous jobs that no normal person would even consider. 

He even provided the following image for what a gathering of Freebooters might look like:
A typical group of adventurers (Freebooters) in the city of Dis.
Half guild, half social-club, the Freebooters are who you go to when you want something done that might involve some wetworks and a little B&E. Just our sort of people!

We were also established as currently living in the Ditchwater Slums (see the map linked above), which is exactly what it says on the tin. Naeriel's home of Andulan lives between the slums and the palace, serving as a vast central park of sorts. 


  • Step 3: The Heist
“So, what do you do?”
 The above phrase is really key to Dungeon World: the GM creates the situation and adjudicates, but the players are meant to drive the action. Which is awesome.

In our game, the GM Gary embraced this idea fully and handled it like a champ:
Gary: You are hired by a temple in Dis to recover an item. Describe the temple, and the item.
Me: Ummm....well it's a temple to a foreign god, unknown to all of us.
Gary: Sure. What god?
Me: Uh...let's say that it's a Temple of the Nameless God. In fact, it is forbidden to speak the name of the god, or even what it looks like. Only the Hierophant of the order is allowed into the inner sanctum where the idol of the god resides.
Gary: OK, cool: I like it. And what item was stolen?
Shay: Maybe it's a book?
Gary: Great: so you are going to recover a stolen book?
Me: But! When we are hired we are warned by the priests to never look at the contents of the book.
Gary: Cool! Describe the priests: what are they like?
Me: Hmm..they serve an unknown and faceless god, right? Maybe they wear masks themselves then...
Gary: What sort of masks?
Me: Black masks that entirely hide their faces. They are unknown, like their god. And hoods as well; so when you gaze at them, all you see are shadows...
Gary: Great, great: I like it!

With this, the GM established that player creativity was a big part of the game. Then he moved on to full traditional GM mode:
Gary: The book was reportedly stolen by a Lich, that lives in an impenetrable dark tower within the city. Legends tell of dark dealings within, and also that the tower is defended by a series of fiendish traps. 
What do you do?
How bad can it be, really?
Since breaking into things and dealing with traps seemed largely the purview of the party thief Jagelio, we deferred to his wisdom in this matter.

Shay (as Jag) decides to come up with a foolproof plan to break into the tower: he rolls the dice for a Discern Realities roll....and gains a total of 6, which counts as a failure.

The GM declares that Jagelio is convinced that the only way in is to dig under the city and create a tunnel into the tower. He is so convinced, in fact, that he convinces the party that this is the only way to achieve their goal, and to share their reward with dwarvish diggers who will make the tunnel.

Now all the players at the table knew that Jag had failed his roll, but we had agreed to go with thief's plan, so that's what we were doing. For his part, Shay role-played this quite well:
Shay: C'mon guys: I've looked at all the angles. This is the only way to do it: I have a good feeling about this!
For over a week, the dwarvish hirelings dig, and dig, and dig some more: with ruthless precision they carve their tunnel into the earth. The dwarves in question are not the ruddy and brusque dwarves of Tolkien's stories: they are straight out of Norse mythology, with pale bluish skin and weird glowing eyes. Only their professionalism and the fact that they are working for our pay gives us some solace that these creatures are not a threat to us.

Finally, they carve their way into an opening into the tower: and with this final break, they conclude their work is done, stopping only to take their pay as they head down the long tunnel and into daylight.

But for our hardy adventurers, this is just the beginning of their task. Steeling themselves for anything, they prepare to go through the newly created breech and into the unknown....
Continued in Part 3!

Actual Play Report + Review - X-Wing Miniatures Game (FFG)


Last week my friends and I took our first crack at Fantasy Flight Games' X-Wing Miniatures, and fun was had by all! I have two disclaimers to get out of the way first.

  1. I am not a miniatures gamer.
  2. Luke Skywalker is a wuss.


As always with a FFG game, Ameritrash wins initiative!
It was to be a simple training session. Luke and Wedge would escort the rookie through a series of maneuvers in his Y-Wing. During the Clone Wars, Gold Squadron Pilot was a simple passenger ferry pilot, bussing travelers back and forth down the Koros Trunk Line. He was competent, but not exceptional; when Imperial Intelligence imprisoned his brother for treason, he joined the Rebellion. They emerged from hyperspace near Farwell Station, and began a series of simple drills. The Y-Wing didn’t handle all that differently from the ferries he piloted, and he was growing more comfortable by the moment. That all changed when a squad of TIE fighters came screaming from out of the station’s shadow!

We chose a big round table to set up our fight on. The Empire entered combat led by Darth Vader in his TIE Advanced. Hopefully his targeting computer didn't need fiddling with this time. At his side was the incomparable fighting ace Soontir Fel (ancestor of future Emperor Roan Fel?) in his TIE Interceptor and two mook TIE/LN pilots codenamed Back Stabber and Dark Curse. They set up on one end of the board, and surprised the Rebel squadron who had no idea they were hiding behind a glass of Jameson's whiskey.

Our erstwhile heroes were led into combat by that whiny baby Luke Skywalker in his X-Wing. On his wing, striking fear into his opponents, was the great Rebel hero, pilot-beyond-compare, everyone's favorite drinking buddy, Wedge Antilles in his own X-Wing. Gold Squadron Pilot helmed the Y-Wing.

X-Wing Miniatures is a turn-based game, but with a twist. Instead of each side performing their actions at once, actions are performed based on a pilot’s rank. During the Planning Phase, each ship chooses a maneuver in secret, selecting it from a dial of actions on a counter, which is then flipped down. During the next step, the Activation Phase, each counter is flipped up revealing the maneuver the pilot plans to take. One by one, going from least experienced to most experienced, the player has his pilots perform their chosen action. Kudos to FFG as you don't use a ruler or measuring tape, but rather choose the appropriate template-thingy that corresponds to the maneuver you are pulling off. 

FUN FACT: Loner is only one letter away from Loser.
Vader, unafraid of that loathsome coward farmboy, instructed his line to move forward at the fastest possible speed. Despite Wedge's insistence on meeting force with force, Luke decided to peel off to one side and try to flank the Imperials.

Wedge wanted to say something in protest, but the words got stuck in his throat. ‘Really’, he thought, ‘who was the bright guy who put Luke in charge? What aspect of moisture farming granted him a brilliant tactical mind? I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home. Right. Womp rats aren’t outfitted with twin ion engines and laser cannons’. Wedge shook his head and readied to protect the rookie.

As none of the ships were in range to attack, we moved on to round two, which is when SHIT GOT REAL. After the Activation phase, the ships entered into a chaotic mass. The randomness of revealing your hidden maneuver really makes things interesting, as now each ship had different vectors and different fire arcs. At the end of the Activation Phase, each pilot has an action to take. Unlike your maneuver, your actions are not determined secretly in advance, so you can choose them in response to where your ship ends up positioned. There's are several actions you can take. You can only take one of these actions if your ship has the appropriate icon on its base or on the pilot card. For example, a standard TIE Fighter gets the ability to do a Barrel Roll, but not an X-Wing.

  • Acquire a target lock on an opponent 
  • Focus (expending focus can make your attack rolls better or help you avoid getting hit) 
  • Evade
  • Barrel Roll
After these actions are declared, you move on to the next step, the Combat Phase. This time, combat initiative is determined by the highest skilled pilot on the board. If an opponent is in your ship's fire arc and in range (and we get a handy cardboard range meter to use), you roll the appropriate dice, modify them as necessary, and then do damage. Each ship comes with a default set of weapons and defenses that determine these results, but there are additional modifications you can purchase and outfit a ship with to increase your shields, give you proton torpedoes, etc. X-Wing minis uses the custom dice that seems to be FFG's trademark these days, and your attack dice results are cancelled by the corresponding defense dice results. Any hits still showing then are translated into damage, which is applied to shields first and then the hull. Pretty straightforward stuff!

Fel calls this maneuver "The Wedgie."
Luke peeled off on a vendetta against his dad, like the petulant child he is, leaving only Wedge to assist the new pilot in his bulky Y-Wing. After the maneuvers were executed, Wedge was in some serious trouble. 

Soontir Fel and the other TIE/LNs converged on Wedge and the Y-Wing. Fel instructed them to fire on Wedge, and they took out his shields. Coming straight at the damaged X-Wing, the seasoned Imperial pilot made short work of Captain Antilles, and across the galaxy, a million teen-aged girls hearts were broken. Wedge's last though before meeting his end was 'Dammit Luke, I hope that princess you are always going on about turns out to be your sister, you fucker.' ILM supplied a suitably epic explosion.

It all happened so fast. Gold Squadron Pilot could barely keep up with the readouts on his display and the movement outside his cockpit window. His ornery astromech driod just made things worse with its impatient beeps and whistles. Sailing through the fireball that was once Wedge, he found himself surrounded by a swarm of enemy fighters. Closing his eyes, he wrenched the throttle and tried to peel away - and maybe stay alive.

This is a good place to talk about the maneuvers a bit. You have four basic types, a gradual turn (90 degrees), a hard turn (45 degrees), straight, and the Koiogran Turn (an Immelmann Turn). Each of these maneuvers have four flavors corresponding to the distance achieved by the maneuver. Each of these maneuvers is located on a dial at the base of the maneuver dial. As each ship type handles differently, some of those maneuvers are red, while some are green. If you perform a red maneuver you take one strain and cannot take another red maneuver until you clear that strain; the green maneuvers allow you to clear that strain, but are quite basic with limited tactical advantage. 

If your maneuver would end up placing your ship in a space occupied by another object, you stop short of the object and end up losing your action. Alas, this is what happened to our hero, poor Wedge Antilles.
The next round had Vader dog-fighting with Luke, while another TIE/LN peeled off to assist. Luke kept getting hit and instead of doubling back to help the Y-Wing fend of Fel and the other TIE/LN, he kept spending his action to have his R2 unit repair his shields. He couldn't touch the Sith Lord. Each named pilot has a unique ability they can use. Luke's reads: When Defending, you may change 1 of your Focus results to an Evade result. Luke gets a boost when he's trying to get away? On brand! Vader, on the other hand, has a much more versatile ability: During your "Perform Action" step, you may perform 2 actions. He can focus AND gain a target lock, making him a powerful attacker; he can evade and focus for the best of both worlds, among other things. Despite being shot at multiple times, Vader never took a hit.

On the other side of the battlefield, our rookie Y-Wing pilot tried whatever he could do to avoid being blown to pieces. The Y-Wing is slow and maneuverable, but has lots of shields and can take a ton of damage. Fel has this very cool ability that lets him get a free focus when he takes strain; he used this to great advantage to put him in position to attack the hapless Y-Wing. 

Gold Squadron Pilot knew it was going to be over soon. He wasn't upset per se, it was, after-all, quite the ride. How many people get to fly with the great Wedge Antilles? How many people have the opportunity to fly such a beautiful machine? He only wished he'd had a chance to put his affairs in order first. His zen-like state suddenly disappeared when his commander chimed in over the con. "Hey Rook, I just realized I have some..uh...Jedi training I need to finish. I'm out - first round is on me later!" Anger welling, the rookie decided to ingore the Imperial ships pounding him into submission, and blast the Hero of Yavin straight to hell. If he had only communicated that to Soontir Fel, perhaps the Imperial ace would have let him live. As the Y-Wing broke apart, Luke's X-Wing made the jump to hyperspace.

The game probably took us about three hours to play. As none of us had any clue what we were doing, that's probably much longer than it normally would. One to two hours is probably more representative, depending upon the number of ships involved. Though the Empire won easily, much of that can be attributed to the randomness of the dice rolls. If we played it 10 times, I'd bet money that the tally would be 5-5.

The starter set comes with two TIE/LNs and one X-Wing, with a number of pilots and upgrades you can install onto the ships. I've heard that you really want to start with two sets of the beginning box, so that you have a wide range of customization options available. The base set is priced at @ $30, which is a pretty decent price for three well-built, very detailed miniatures. FFG has already launched a number of expansions with even more ships; you can see those here. This summer they announced the first capitol ships for the game, and they are glorious!

Oh hello! Is that money? I'll take that, thank you very much.
Even if you are not a miniatures gamer like me, this is a blast. There's a nice balance of crunch, tactical maneuvering and flavor without overwhelming with detail. There's lots you can do with the game besides a straight up combat; it would be quite easy to come up with any number of scenarios and missions, from escort duty to eliminating a well-defended target and bugging out. As with all of FFG's Star Wars products, it captures the feel of the movies very, very well. I highly recommend it, just make sure you can stand Luke's incessant whining and cowardice.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Actual Play Report + Review: Dungeon World - 1st Session and Impressions pt1

Let me start this post with a bit of a confession: I have been rather skeptical about Dungeon World in general.

This is not because I am not on-board with the new-skool of narrative-driven RPG mechanics: my love of the largely narrative-driven Fate is well documented.

Nor is it because I am skeptical of the whole OSR flavored games movement on the whole. Hell, I started with D&D 'red box' (complete with the awesome Larry Elmore cover!). So I cannot be anti-OSR: OSR is part of my origin story, son. I am of the old-skool, by definition: it's in my blood.

That being said, looking through Dungeon World at my FLGS I saw the following problems with with it:

  • Layout. Good layout makes or breaks the presentation of a game for me nowadays. Dungeon World could use some help in this regard, IMHO: there's a lot of wasted space in that book,
  • Class-based characters. Remember what I said about being pro-OSR above? This is largely true...but I've moved on. I want to play the character that I envisioned at the table, not some template that some remote game-designer thought was appropriate for the game. 
  • Everything in the game revolves around the classic six stats: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Charisma, Wisdom. Ho-hum. We are going to party like it's 1979, it seems.

But...when my friend Gary invited me to join a game using the Dungeon World engine, I could hardly say no: Gary is a good yegg, plus I have come to trust in his abilities as a GM and all-around idea guy.

Since what makes or breaks any RPG is the table + the game master, I decided to put aside my skepticism and give the system a go.

For the game, Gary presented the following environment:
THE CITY OF DIS 
The city of Dis is a dungeon that connects all other dungeons. Its sewers and cisterns sink their roots into the underworld. Its pinnacles and spires grasp at the celestial spheres and have begun to spread across the face of the moon. 
To the west are the docks that gnaw at the elemental reaches, where ships come and go on the seas of fire, air, and water. And in every direction are the planes, tiny as a small fiefdom or large enough to seem infinite, but all in great peril.

The city of Dis is a living thing, hungrily devouring all the planes it touches. In the lost or forgotten parts of any decadent civilization—its deserted ruins or squalid sewers—Dis has already begun its conquest, absorbing and remaking things, but also taking on the traits of the worlds it digests. 
Adventurers aware of this invasion use the city’s beachheads to travel between the planes, simply by journeying through Dis. The city has already consumed dozens of planes, and refugees from countless worlds fill its streets. 
Where else is there to go? Plus, grotesque as it is, Dis now contains the last remnants of their homelands.
A largely empty map? Money!

The environment itself is entirely a 'dungeon' as well, per the game notes:
Everything is a dungeon: The PCs’ residences, the streets they walk, the plane of fire, the thieves guild headquarters, the sewers beneath the city, any given wizard’s tower, the astral sea, the path that leads from one plane to another, the lesser hell of slicing, even the wild places... these can all be dungeons. 
This is Dungeon World. The entire setting is basically one giant dungeon and the players merely travel from one portion of it to another, including all the planes that make up existence. Thinking of it in these terms will help you avoid wandering or unfocused play. 
The world is a dangerous and exciting place, no matter where you are. While everyone has adapted to living in this world of dungeons, threats remain constant.
 Well, now I don't know about you, dear reader: but this is definitely My Bag, Baby. Clearly the environment itself allows for a wide variety of different character types. The sky is the limit here! I can play anything!

So with these limitless possibilities, what did I choose?

I chose an elf.

In particular, I chose this elf:
Elf booty's got soul: elf booty knows to rock n' roll. 
This is Naeriel Bladesong aka Naya Hushblade, a character who I have statted out in three systems so far (links below), but have yet to play in any active game. My character description is as follows:
An elvish duelist, she lives only to find worthy opponents and thus carry on the songs of her ancestors in battle.
I also added the embellishment that her elvish homeland of Andulan was swallowed by by the city of Dis, becoming the Central Park of the city. The GM liked this idea, and this now became part of the city map (Andulan was now a 'parish' of Dis).

As she is a 'Duelist' in my fiction, the Fighter template for Dungeon World seemed to be the best overall fit for her. When choosing alignment, I chose 'Neutral' as the description seemed to fit my character concept quite well:
  • Neutral: Defeat a worthy opponent.
Plus, my concept of her being an agile fighter rather than relying on brute force was well-supported as well:
  • Elf: Can always treat two-handed swords as if they had the precise tag (Dex-based action)
I was also pleased to find that although characters lacked the 'aspects' granted by Fate (more on this later), via the system of 'Bonds' she was able to tie into the party in variety of ways that fits her role as party protector. So far, so good!

At this point it is probably good to cover the basic mechanics of Dungeon World:
  • You have series of basic moves available, as well as those offered by Class: Hack and Slash, Defy Danger, Defend, Spout Lore, Discern Realities, Parley, & Aid or Interfere; all of the above are What They Say on the Tin: H&S is Fighting, Defy Danger is dodge/avoid, Defend is defensive actions, Spout Lore is declare knowledge (Int), Discern Realities is Notice/Investigate, Parley is CHR based actions, and Aid or Interfere is related to Bonds.
  • For any move, roll 2D6+modifier: a result of 1-6 is a failure, 7-9 is success at a cost, 10+ is an unmitigated success. 
  • Damage is class rather than weapon based -  weapons simply grant narrative bonuses. As a Fighter, Naeriel rolls 1d10 for her damage rolls. 
As mentioned above, there is also the mechanic of Bonds: this is manged in play, and ties the character to the group. For Naeriel, her Bonds are as follows:
  • I have sworn to protect Jagelio.
  • I worry about the ability of Briza to survive in the dungeon.
These 'bonds' ties her to the party in a unique way, and allows for XP gain in play as well. As mentioned above, this game-play mechanic is very cool, and reinforces Naeriel's party role as a defender. 

Overall? I like the system a lot. More thoughts on the system in play can be found in Part 2, where I cover actual game-play. 

In the interim, feel free to check out Naeriel/Naya's stats as expressed by Fantasy Craft, Mutants & Masterminds and Dungeon World via the links below.

Story Time: Hall of the Mountain Lord pt 4

Continuing from Part 3, here is the fourth part of the ongoing story: enjoy!
The Desert
***
With nothing more to do or say there, Adara and Hamim quickly finished their bread and tea, and made their way back out into daylight. The wind had finally died down a bit, and the gold of the sun and the azure sky could now be seen in their glory.

Adara mounted on the camel with Hamim walking alongside, they were still within visual distance of Lacan's home when they noticed a lone figure running after them.

Adara stopped the camel mid-trot with a well placed mark of her riding-stick, while she and Hamim awaited this vision to catch up with them. It was clear from his speed, as well as his reddish cloak, that the runner was the boy Zorab well before the sight of his face made this point completely obvious.

After a minute or two the racing figure of Zorab finally met up with the two travelers. Panting for breath in the desert heat, he said: "Whew! Thank you for stopping. You two move quickly!"

"How can we help you, Master Zorab?" asked Hamim.

"Ah!" said Zorab "You speak! But you ask the wrong question. It is I who have come to offer my help to you."

"Help?" asked Hamim "What help might you give us?"

"Hamim" rebuked Adara, gently. "Please, Master Zorab. Please do explain yourself."

"My Master is wise" noted Zorab, "..but wisdom is not all in this world. I think that together we can save your brother,"

"How?" inquired Adara, her breast now refilled with an abandoned hope.

"What?" asked Hamim: "Who are you now? We just spoke to your teacher and master, and he told us the very opposite! Who are you to fill our ears with such promises?"

"Mister Hamim" said Zorab gravely, looking the serious boy now straight in the eye:

"Please do not underestimate me due to my manner. I have seen such things the likes that mortal men pass off as mere legend. I have dispensed with such horrors that your very nightmares dare not even generate. I assure you that this sort of thing- exactly this sort of thing, actually- is the very territory by which I live, the very air that I breathe. And I should ask you not to question me in such matters."

Something about the boy's gaze made Hamim shudder, and now fall silent.

"But" interjected Adara "Your Master said that it is impossible..."

"And as I said just now- he is very wise" confirmed Zorab, "As is your Imam. But wisdom is not all in this world. Wisdom is simply the knowledge of the past, applied to the present. To see the world in wisdom is to see with the eye that sees itself. But one cannot see the whole world, with only this one eye."

He continued "To find your brother, we must follow his path. You will need me to find this path, I think. And I will need you to take me to him, as you two are associated. The link that refuses to let him go is the link that shall redeem him."

"Well..." he said, now sounding a tad less confident - "In theory. But we should definitely give it a go! So.....how about it?"

"We place ourselves in your hands, Master Zorab" said Adara "I can trust that we can trust you?"

"Of course!" said Zorab, enthusiastic. "It shall be a grand adventure! I am sure that we will do well. We should not dawdle- meet tomorrow morning? I suggest that you pack for four-days journey, just in case."

"Wait," said Hamim, awoken from his spell "Milady, we are really going to trust this....boy?"

"Yes, we are. And I do" she confirmed. "Zorab, I am putting my faith in you. Where and when shall we meet again?"

"By the town well, at first light tomorrow" stated Zorab "We will go to the place of Shamal's summoning, which I assume that you know. We should go on foot, so carry only that which you truly need; I will make sure to do the same."

"First light then" she affirmed. And with that, Zorab headed back to his Master's house, and Adara with Hamim to the house of her father.

----------------------------------------------------------


The moon stood high in the sky, bathing the valley in the hue of it's pale fire.

Then, ever so slowly the light of Eos - the sun's first rays- rose in the east, staining the eastern sky in it's royal crimson and gold. It was in this new light that Adara and Hamim, accompanied by their one camel, found themselves at the well. Hamim drew from it's waters, mostly operating by touch and memory in the semi-darkness. 

And so they waited, as the light continued to rise triumphant in the sky, banishing the moon into obscurity for another day. Soon would be dawn's Call to Prayer, which would stir the entire village to waking.

"Where is he?" wondered Hamim aloud. "Has he forgotten us? We stole away from home in silence- a shameful thing - and he does not have the decency to come?"

"He will be along shortly" said Adara. But her voice ended in a note of uncertainty now.

Then, finally, a small figure appeared on the horizon, moving not particularly quick in their direction. The figure became clearer and clearer as he moved ever more close; first the red of his cloak, then his blondish head, then his brown and handsome face, then his heavy lidded eyes. 

Seeing Hamim and Adara waiting, he waved, yawned, and smiled at them weakly - saying: "Good morrow to you."

"Good morrow" replied Adara.

"You are late", scolded Hamim. 

"Ah! Yes. Sorry!" apologized the boy, looking bashful in his tiredness. "I was up all night thinking what all I needed to bring. I got started out a bit late, I am afraid. But I am sure that I have everything."

"What all do you have?" asked Adara, curious. 

"I packed much of it half-asleep, so I am not 100% certain about all of it. Hmmm..." he said, rustling through his pack. "Many scrolls. Bread- important! Tea leaves; water. And....ummm...ah? What's this?" he asked aloud. He reached in with his hand, then pulled it out carrying a brass bell of foreign-make.

"Oh, that's pretty!" noted Adara.

"Why would you bring such a thing?" asked Hamim "You told us to pack light."

"It is a brass bell of Qinyan make" explained Zorab. "And I can't recall why I brought it now. It made sense last night...."

"If you cannot recall, how do you know that you need it?" asked Hamim, somewhat exasperated. 

"Oh, I do my best thinking half-asleep. That's when my Dreaming Eye is most alert. I am sure there is good reason to have it."

Then, "Speaking of which- why is there a camel? I recall saying that we should travel on foot."

"It is half a day's journey" said Hamim. "I would not let her ladyship travel on foot that long! Should she blister her feet, like some nomad?"

"Ah, no. I see your point there...I suppose we will simply have to look after the camel as well, somehow." He seemed to think on this a moment, then said "We will make do. So....shall we get going?"

"Yes, please" said Adara. And so they began their way to the hills of Shamal's last sighting, Adara on the camel's back now, with Hamim and Zorab walking alongside; the town soon tiny in the distance. 

Adara knew that it was now time for the Call to Prayer, but however strong the lungs of the cryer, no matter how she strained to listen she was unable to hear the voice.

"I have not missed the Call since I was very young, or very sick", noted Adara with regret. 

"The Goddess is forgiving", noted Zorab. "We shall meet her again, when her disc is at it's zenith in the sky."

And so they made their way along, deeper into the wilderness, as the little town disappeared completely behind a dune.

--------------------------------------------------
End Part 4

Friday, November 8, 2013

Plug And Play: Character Highlight - Fatal Accelerated Enterovirus (FAE)

The world is a disaster of epic proportions. Governments have struggled to respond, and devastated populaces have resorted to violence and looting just to survive. The pandemic of 1918 is small potatoes compared to this viral outbreak. Need a villain for your FAE game? Stand back in awe of the awesome cataclysm caused by the -

Fatal Accelerated Enterovirus!

Aspects
High Concept: Deadly Biosafety Level-4 Viral Pandemic
Trouble: Kills Its Host Quickly
Other:  Highly Infectious, Grotesquely Disfigures Host

Approaches
+3 Quick
+2 Flashy, Sneaky
+1 Forceful, Clever
+0
 Careful

Stunts
  • Because I am Transmitted Through Airborne Inhalation, I gain a +2 to Sneakily Attack when I am among large groups of people.
  • Because I Express Hemorrhagic Pustules, I gain a +2 to Flashily Attack when someone comes into direct contact with my host.
  • Because I have a Rapid Incubation Rate, I gain a +2 to Quickly Defend when my host is being treated.
  • Because I have a High Mutation Rate, once per session I can remove my highest consequence.
  • Because I am Globally Endemic, once per session I can make an attack on any living creature. With success, the creature becomes infected, but not contagious; when I succeed with style, the creature becomes instantly contagious.
Refresh: 3
Stress: OOO

Consequences
  • Suppressed (2):
  • Vaccinated (4):
  • Eliminated (6)