Modifying Uncharted Worlds ship combat to resemble “The Expanse”

Uncharted Worlds has a Move called “Shields Up”. It’s a pretty simple move to resist damage. But ships in The Expanse don’t have shields. So what the heck do we do?

PDCs to max!
Attempt to shoot down incoming torpedoes; roll 2d6.

On a 10+, you eliminate the most dangerous torpedo attack pending.
On a 7-9, you defeat the incoming attack but the next attack takes -1 (include any previous negatives).
On a 6-, the PDCs have failed to protect and the torpedo hits.

But what about railguns?

Defensive Maneuvers
Roll, pitch, and move along the thrust vector; roll 2d6

On a 10+, you dodge the incoming railgun attack. Yay!
On a 7-9, take half damage.
On a 6-, you take full damage.

OK not exciting, but that’s about all they do in the show.

Alternate skill resolution systems

I was thinking today about different ways to implement a skill system.

The question I asked myself was: how often did I “fail” a “test” at work?

Ok, I get it, developing ecommerce software in Perl is hardly an epic adventure that our PCs regularly face, but there are parallels:

  • A fantasy group haggling with a merchant
  • A scifi group working on fixing the stardrive or whatever
  • A cyberpunk group fencing stolen data

So relative to those sorts of tests, I thought about the Powered by the Apocalypse “success with complications”. That’s pretty interesting, but not quite what I was thinking about.

The mechanic I was envisioning probably exists in many systems: it’s a question of time. How long does a task take to succeed?

This goes back to my thought about work. I rarely failed but some of the time, it took me a considerably longer time to complete the task. Still other times, I had a sudden flash of inspiration or just a solid work day and knocked out whatever was on my plate. Similarly, adding more people to a task often helped (and sometimes hurt – you can’t have 9 women birth a baby in a month).

I think this resolution method applies mostly to professional or vocational skills, not “instant” actions (although, if you’re a professional locksmith …).

Still, something to think about when working out how your PCs tackle a task.

Motivations of the Big Bad

Another thing I think about a lot of the time is the motivations of my Big Bad. I’m running out of ideas for something new.

An example is Justice League. (Spoilers, I guess.) The motivation of Steppenwolf is to find these 3 magic mcguffins, and then use their power to “terraform” the planet into his. (His ecology is apparently lots of fire and yelling, none of those awful plants or animals)

This is really dumb, because it presumes that for some reason there’s not a lot of interesting places to terraform. We’re talking about a universe with both Old and New Gods, and dimensional travel and all sorts of other things, AND probably the Drake Equation. So … why the hell does he even need Earth? Just find a rock in the habitable zone you need, and use the boxes to “clean it up”. No muss, no fuss, and no pesky Atlanteans and Amazons messing with you.

In other words: this is an example of a Big Bad whose motivation is dumb. He’s a garden-variety sadist with a magic McGuffin. That’s boring.

Another funny thing to think about is how any attempt to bring forth some “new dark age” will always end up creating a boring, bureaucratic empire. Your glorious dark legions will run out of things to conquer, and will spend most of their time trying to get those layabouts in the GleepGlorp mountains to pay their goddamned taxes. I mean, what else can happen, once you’re on the throne? What the hell else would happen had Sauron won? He’d have plowed over the gentle agrarian Hobbits in favor of factory farms, and you can’t just kill them all because those Orcs of yours are hungry.

So I’m thinking a lot about the idea of a kind of aging Dark Lord. He conquered the known world with fire and steel and his evil magics, every hero fell before his loathsome might. But now, it’s a thousand years later. The players take the role of higher-ups in his regime. They have to deal with all sorts of unusual problems: reports of a rebellion (turns out it’s just a play, but the regime refuses to listen – and wants the “rebels” exterminated), politics (those pesky taxes and the functionaries who collect them), and what happens when your death-dealing shock troops run out of enemies. As a kind of complication, the players may work for a kind of Chaotic Evil regime but they themselves are not really evil at all.

It might get boring, or it might be hilarious. I can’t decide.

It’s the end of the world as we know it

Post-apocalyptic settings are numerous in RPGs: here’s a good feature on quite a few of them.

They mostly feature the “fun stuff”: mutants, dungeon crawls, weird tech, a nuclear war, and so on. Something awful happened; the world changed; I need to dress in leather, chains, and old tires, and fight to survive against waves of bloodmurder fuckvikings.

Rebuilding the “world that was” is a central theme to a few of them: The Morrow Project, for example, and in a roundabout way, Traveller: The New Era.

One of the themes I don’t see explored, and wish I could, is the idea of emptiness. How do you build and populate a meaningful game world that is empty, and cold, and lifeless, and barren?

Without the requisite bloodmurder fuckvikings (or whatever) is it just a series of “collect food and clean water” skill checks, until you die? Could all that emptiness be turned into a kind of meta-mystery?

ICRPG: nearly perfect

So I picked up ICRPG a while ago, but haven’t had the time to really sit down and digest it. I’m pretty peeved I didn’t, because it’s amazing.

ICRPG can be thought of as 3 things:

  1. a broad methodology for tabletop gaming (“the index card method”)
  2. a set of rules, suited to but not required for, the above
  3. a bunch of actual gaming (tabletop and online) assets for #1

The rules itself are solid: a roll-over, d20, bonus-based minimalist system. If you’re used to a system like 5E or Pathfinder, you’re going to be a little lost – ICRPG has very little in terms of rules, preferring to let the basic mechanics and group decisions drive everything.

It also assumes you have a fair amount of existing material to adapt; there are plenty of good spell lists in 5E, after all.

Players/groups who expect great detail are going to be disappointed: there’s a basic “everything does the same damage” system, for example (shared by the brilliant WFRP). I consider it a feature, but some will see a bug.

The “index card method” is another great idea. In brief, it tries to bridge the gap between highly detailed tactical play and purely abstract theatre-of-the-mind. In my opinion it succeeds perfectly. Perfect foot-by-foot maneuvering and range calculation slows down gameplay in any group that’s not already committed to wargaming.

You can break down a large area into “sectors”, you can represent groups occupying said sectors, and still have “champions” and individuals occupying space. It works really well!

The art design and quality of the materials is excellent. I can see the argument that the art style may not be your thing – it’s kind of abstract – but I dig it and I think it’s really, really good value for the money. (If you want extremely detailed and specifically designed art, it’s going to cost you!)

Anyway, it’s really good and worth a look, especially at the price.

A review: Dungeon Fantasy (powered by GURPS)

On the surface, Dungeon Fantasy (hereafter, DF) is pretty simple:

  1. Take GURPS
  2. Remove anything not relevant to a generic fantasy milieu
  3. Remove anything that’s not, well, generic
  4. Streamline and simplify any rules you have left
  5. Bundle together a bunch of stuff into generic fantasy tropes (e.g. a “bard” class)

As they point out, the entire game is fewer words than Volume 1 of 4E. When I say “remove” or “simplify”, I mean it.

Most of it is easily and quickly recognizable as GURPS; the edit job is very good. Anyone with a few games of GURPS under their belt will quickly and easily make sense of it all. The streamlining is also very good, so people who were intimidated by GURPS will have no trouble picking things up.

It makes you ask the question, though: who is this for?

Experienced GURPS gamers have little need for a generic rules-light fantasy game.

[Sidebar: I struggled over the term ‘rules-light’. Even in its slimmed-down form, DF has more rules than what usually passes for rules light in the latter half of 2017. That said, compared to GURPS is practically Apocalypse World, so maybe rules-light is the best descriptor.]

A very experienced GURPS group might be doing something like a big custom setting with massive customization. GURPS makes one-shots very difficult. If nothing else just telling everyone the parameters for character creation can take a ton of effort! DF takes all that and lets you do simple exploration/dungeon crawl fantasy games.

Inexperienced gamers in search of more crunch but hesitating to take the plunge into the very heavy game system of GURPS will benefit from the simpler rules, that they can later switch to if it pleases them.

Overall, I like it, but I’m uncertain just how much staying power it has compared to a full-fledged GURPS game. Once you’ve run a few one-shots and leveled up a few characters, what then?

Edited to add: I forgot to mention a couple of points. First, production design and quality are as you’d expect from SJGames: really good. The books have a somewhat minimal style with good (but not great) art. The text is clear and readable, “scannable”, and everything is indexed and easy to find.

Second, the more I think about it, the more I like it. My initial “what then”, the more I think about it, gives way to an organic “sandbox” style of gaming instead of the big, up-front games we’re used to. Maybe that’s good.

“Troupe” style play

Back in the dark ages, there was a really fun game called “Ars Magica”. It was set in “Mythic Europe”, a semi-historical version of late “dark ages” Europe (~1100AD, give or take) where magic was real.

The idea was that each player controlled a group of characters: a Mage, who was incredibly powerful; a Companion, who was more or less like a regular fantasy RPG character; and a coterie of grogs, who were semi-expendable cannon-fodder (but who could, over time, grow to power and become full-fledged companions).

I have looked around and not seen any system for more traditional AD&D/3E/Pathfinder; the rules are strongly aimed at regular party groups.

What got me thinking about this is Darkest Dungeon, which is one of my favorite games (despite its tendency to provoke cursing fits that would have George Carlin asking me to “tone it down a little”). To a lesser extent, another game I love, Guild of Dungeoneering.

In it, you command a company of mercenary dungeon delvers, who die QUITE OFTEN. However some grow to considerable power.

I was wondering how to run a desktop version of that; a kind of “you get d4 new recruits every ‘phase'”, kind of thing. The question is how to keep everyone connected to the story, I guess.