Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Flavor of Space Battles

I am currently planning a space opera campaign, to be set in a distant future. Unlike the previous game that was set in the Star Trek universe, this one is set in a universe of my own creation.

I want the characters to be space travellers. I want them to have their own ships. I don't want them to be able to get on the phone with headquarters to request more stuff, so perhaps they'll be merchants, or pirates. Either way, it's obvious that there will have to be space battles.

Oddly enough, while I dislike combat in a sword & sorcery RPG being handled as a miniatures tactical board game, that's exactly what I want in space combat. Maybe it's because that zero-drag Newtonian motion is so unlike anything that we have on earth that it becomes interesting.

Anyway, the main question that I'm battling (heh heh) with right now is the flavor of those battles.

In the space opera genre, there seems to be three main flavors of space battles. Not coincidentally, each corresponds to a war movie:

  1. Midway (or maybe, Baa Baa Black Sheep if you remember that TV series): This flavor of campaign is marked mainly by carriers and fighters. In this type of campaign, player characters would probably be fighter pilots--each one launching his own fighter from a huge carrier to break through the lines of enemy fighters, and attack the main enemy fleet. This is the style of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. The benefit of this style of play is that space combat becomes just an extension of personal combat--each PC has their fighter, and each makes their own offense and defense rolls, and each takes their own damage. It's very easy to write the rules.
  2. PT-109: This is the type of campaign in which ships--be they destroyers or battleships, or even armed merchant vessels--fight each other directly. While fleet actions are certainly possible, in the campaign most combat would be the PC's single ship against one or two enemy vessels. In this flavor, PCs are usually all crew members of the same ship, filling different roles such as the Captain, Pilot, Gunner, and Engineer, each somehow contributing to the combat effectiveness of the vessel. This is the style of most episodes of Star Trek. The challenge with writing these rules is that you need each PC to have a meaningful role in the combat, otherwise the other players mentally check out while the captain and GM play a board game.
  3. Hunt for Red October: In space terms, this is a situation where ships are hard to detect. Kind of like if the cloaked Romulans went to war against the cloaked Klingons. Instead of worrying about the accuracy of the gunners to hit the enemy ship, the focus shifts toward a big game of cat-and-mouse where you attempt to detect the enemy ship without giving away your own location. You see this in the old submarine movies where they "run silent, run deep", and they debate whether or not to use a sonar "ping". Instead of action scene, you have a lot of tension scenes. PC roles are the same as the Pirates, but the Gunner becomes a sensor operator (the sonar man in the old sub movies). This shares the same disadvantages ad #2.

Number one was ruled out by one of my players. That leaves two or three. Currently I'm leaning towards the second flavor.

Edit: Original post had formatting errors due to copy/paste retaining HTML. Tidied it up but didn't change content.

Friday, April 19, 2013 Another Virtual Tabletop

I've posted multiple times about my quest for a virtual tabletop solution.  At the time I had been using ScreenMonkey, and was happy with it.

Then I picked up the September issue of Knights of the Dinner Table magazine.  In the editorial Jolly Blackburn mentioned another solution in  As I said, I've been happy with ScreenMonkey, but I like to check out "new shinies", so I did.

You may recall a few posts back that I said I was thinking about writing a plug-in for Google Hangouts to facilitate die rolling.  Now it looks like I don't have to, as supports voice and video chat natively.

So the game moved over to Roll20 for a few trial sessions, and I have to say we won't be going back.  The move to voice (we don't use webcams) has sped up the game to near-tabletop speeds, and has added 100% to the enjoyability of the game.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Wood Elf

I'm hoping to get my brother into RPGs, so for Christmas I gave him a copy of Frank Mentzer's Player's Manual from the 1983 basic set of Dungeons & Dragons.  I chose that particular edition because the opening pages are the best introduction to the hobby that I've ever seen anywhere.

Well, it doesn't make sense to give him a book if I don't plan on running a game, so I gathered a few friends and started a weekly old-school D&D campaign.  My goal is to use this campaign to introduce him to the hobby, then switch over to my re-write of Dekahedron.

One of the players--James--wanted to play a Ranger.  But Rangers were in AD&D, not D&D.  So I split the difference and made a new race for him: The Wood Elf.  If the original D&D elf is a hybrid fighter-magic user, then the wood elf is a hybrid fighter-druid, which is exactly what I think a fantasy ranger should be.

Here's the write-up:

Wood Elf

RequirementsWisdom score of 9+
Neutral alignment
Prime RequisitesStrength
5% Experience BonusStrength of 13+ *and* Wisdom of 13-15
10% Experience BonusStrength of 13+ *and* Wisdom of 16+
Hit Dice1d6 per level up to 9th level
10th level, + 1 hit point, and Constitution adjustment does not apply
Maximum Level10
ArmorRestricted to organic-based armors only (Leather armor)
shield permitted if made only of wood and leather
WeaponsAny, but must be entirely constructed of organic materials
Save asElf of the same level
Fight asElf of the same level
Special AbilitiesFighter Maneuvers (Lance Attack, Set Spear vs. Charge; at 850,000 XP, Combat Options for Fighters);
half damage from dragon breath at 1,600,000 XP;
extra languages (elf, gnoll, hobgoblin, orc);
1 in 3 chance to detect and follow tracks in the wilderness;
immunity to ghoul paralysis;
Druid spells;
Most Cleric spells

More so than the other Elfin sub-races, Wood Elves are one with nature. They live in isolated communities scattered throughout The Dreadwood, each lead by a self-proclaimed Elfin Princess. Unlike the more common Elves that dwell in great forest-cities, Wood Elf communities are intentionally kept small in order to reduce the environmental impact on the local area. When a community gets too large for the local area--usually when it reaches a population of 500 or so--an Elfin Maid will be named Princess and gather a group to form a new community.

Like the other Demi-Human races, most Wood Elves do not adventure. Those that do are almost always from the Priest-caste, which is presented here. They go out into to the wider world sometimes to spread their views on nature love, and other times to judge the other races for their treatment of the Wood. in fact, some believe that the Cataclysm that gave rise to The Dreadwood was caused by a Wood Elf ritual as an attempt to restore their view of "natural balance."

Wood Elf priests are not limited bludgeoning weapons like the Human clerics, but any weapon that they do carry must be 100% organic, with (for example) no stone or metal parts. For example, the arrows used by Wood Elf priests are often tipped with ivory arrow heads, costing twice as much as normal arrows.

While Wood Elf priests can technically wear any type of armor, the requirement that it be 100% organic effectively limit them to cloth or leather armor with a wooden shield. There are rumors of other types of armor made from organic materials, but such things are rare.

Wood Elves may cast any Druid spells supported by their current level. They may also cast any Cleric spell that does not relate to good, evil, law or chaos. For the number of spells per day, see the level progression chart.

Level Progression

Spells per day by level

*Per The Dreadwood house rule, 1st level clerics and Wood Elves receive 1 first-level spell every-other-day.

EDIT: I forgot to mention it earlier, but I used an excellent article, "Building the Perfect Class" by Erin Smale to help me determine the XP progression.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Jumping on the OGL Bandwagon

I've said it before, but one of my most favorite games is Big Eyes, Small Mouth (also known as BESM).  The rules are a kind of cross between a simpler, easier version of Hero System and a more fun, less crunchy version of GURPS.  The greatest failing of the game is that its publisher (Guardians of Order) went tango-uniform a number of years ago, and the title went to White Wolf, a publisher who has let it languish.  It is only available for purchase as over priced (IMHO) PDF files

Before they went kaput, however, Guardians wrote a D20 port of the game, and released that under the Open Gaming License (OGL).  While the game was released as BESM D20, there was also a trademark free version called "Anime D20".  (Note that it's only free of the BESM trademark, and that it still carries WOTC's "D20" trademark and related licensing burden).  I happened to be reading Anime D20 this past week, and it struck me that I could get rid of all the D20 cruft and have a pretty good approximation of the original BESM game.  This version would be covered under the OGL, so I could distribute it freely--even publish it, if I were so inclined!

So this is my next gaming project.  It needs a name.  For the time being I'm calling it Dekahedron 2.0 (Dekahedron is a public domain RPG that I wrote years ago.  More importantly, it happens to be a domain name that I own).

So do I start a new blog for the project? Or do I use this one?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Background Questions

In the Star Trek game we're in the process of converting the characters from Risus to Tri-Stat dX. While I like the open-ended freeform approach of Risus, the current group likes the structure provided by additional rules.

Tri-Stat dX is basically a generic version of the Big Eyes, Small Mouth (also known as BESM) RPG. Like BESM, it was originally published by Guardians of Order and is now owned by White Wolf. I've been a fan of BESM's character creation for years now, and have been looking forward to a chance to run it again. I picked the generic version because it's legally available as a free download.

When making characters, the players are given additional points if they provide a background story.  Background narratives are ok, but most of them tend to read pretty much the same (why are so many player characters orphans?) and they lack the details I want as a GM to make the story more relavant to the characters.

To that end I developed the following questions that the player must answer about their character in order to receive the background points.  I have little doubt that I probably encountered some of these questions in various places over my many years of gaming, but that's how life works.

Anyway, here's my list.  I hope you find it useful.  Feel free to add you own questions in the comments!

  • Why did you join Starfleet (or whatever works for the specific campaign)?
  • What are your long term goals?
  • What are your immediate goals?
  • What is getting in the way of achieving these goals?
  • Name three things that you don't want others to know about you
  • Who would you be willing to risk your life for? Why?
  • Who would be willing to risk their life for you? Why?
  • What temptation(s) are the hardest to resist (or motivate you the most)? (Sex, Food, Wealth, Praise & adoration, Booze/drugs/etc,Gambling, Power, Leisure time, etc)
  • Three people (or groups, I suppose) who dislike you, including
    • What bad thing they would like to see done to you (killed,  killed at their own hand, tortured and killed, left penniless, publicly disgraced, etc)
    • Why do they feel that way?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Who's the fairest of them all?

Once of the players had a conflict, so the Star Trek campaign was put aside for a couple months.  During that time Pete and I played T&T instead.  Now that Jim's back, though, it was time to get back into the Trek universe.

The first session was horrible.  Two months is a long time, and people's memories and notes were conflicting.  So this week I just popped a mini reset--the characters woke up in the Mirror Universe.  I don't like what the studio did with the DS9-era Mirror universe, so I popped them back to the TOS-era.  It would be too trite to send them to the Enterprise, but still wanting there to be familiar surroundings I placed them aboard the U.S.S. Constellation under Commodore Mathew Decker from the episode "The Doomsday Machine".

The session went well, I think.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A New (Virtual) Tabletop

While face-to-face gaming is, by far, the best way to play, it isn't practical when when the players live 400 miles away. That's why we play online.  Once we agreed to play, I decided to search for a software platform to enable us.  I made a brief list of requirements:

  • It must be free for players.  While I don't mind paying as the GM, I'm not going to make my players pay for the "pleasure" of sitting around my table.
  • It must support players using Windows.
  • The player interface must run on older computers.
  • It must be easy for the players to install.
  • It must be scriptable to allow me to program custom dice rolls as I play games that use different dice techniques than is standard in most RPGs (such as the sum of the lowest y dice of x dice thrown).
  • Optionally, but ideally, the GM interface should support Mac. 

My first choice was GRiP, as I played with it before.  It was a great system and it supported scripted online character sheets. With it I could, for example, program it in such a way that a player could just click on his strength and GRiP would automatically make a saving roll for that stat! As a benefit, I had previous played in the developer's Traveller campaign. in the end, however, I ruled it out.  I couldn't (at the time) find a current download link, and I had long since lost my registration code.

I briefly considered OpenRPG, another virtual tabletop platform that I had used before.  I ruled it out, though, because at the time it would have imposed a heavy installation burden on my players. Not only do you have to install the program itself, but you have to first install Python, and then the Python bindings for the wx toolkit. While I'm a techie and wouldn't mind that, I felt it was too much for my very non-techie friends.

The search eventually lead me to ScreenMonkey. ScreenMonkey seemed almost ideal.  It supported programming custom commands. Players use a standard web-browser to connect, so there's no special client or installation concerns. And it offered a free trial. The only "problem" is that the GM program is windows only.  I had recently installed a Windows partition on my Mac, though (in order to play the Star Trek Online MMORPG), so it wasn't a show-stopper.

I installed the trial, and had Pete see if he could connect.  Everything went without a hitch, and we were set!  We scheduled the first game and went off to prepare. Meanwhile, I installed some security software and bought a new wireless router. then when game night came, no one could connect.  Oh no!  I troubleshot for hours, but to no avail.  the only thing I could figure was that the connection was being blocked, either by the firewall and/or by the router.

I eventually gave up and settled on good old-fashioned IRC. I selected the network because not only were they both gamer friendly and bot-friendly, but they also had a web-based IRC client that would allow Pete to log in without installing any special software.  I downloaded rbot and wrote some custom scripts to support T&T's "DARO" saving rolls and spite damage rules. that's how we've been playing ever since.

Just last week when we sat down to play, rbot wouldn't launch.  It looks like some dependency somewhere got changed, and that broke the whole thing.  This distracted me during the game as I was multi-tasking the whole time, trying to fix the bot at the same time I was running the game.

Coincidentally, there was recently a firmware update to my router, so I decided to try ScreenMonkey again. Much to my pleasure, it worked!  So I wrote a quick DARO script to get a hang of its scripting language (VBScript), and it looks like we have a new winner!

I've heard that both Skype and Google Hangouts have APIs that will allow me to add dice rolling.  I think that might be my next project, as voice gaming should play faster than text based gaming.