Monday, June 17, 2024

Autoduel GURPS/Champions 2024

I am working on converting Classic Car Wars to a 3d6-or-less system, such as GURPS or Hero System. The ideal goal is to use the 3d6 system for the to-hits, while everything else—damage, handling, combat, and vehicle designs—still use the Car Wars system and keeps the "metal underneath" the same.

Damage is going to scale. Car Wars to Champions is a 3-to-1 scale, so 1d6 Car Wars is 3d6 Champions. Car Wars to GURPS is more like 18-to-1, based on the 0.50 cal. M2HB (7dx2) and the 66mm LAW (6dx6). So if a LAW in Car Wars does 2d6, that is 36d6 in GURPS, and the 0.50 MG in GURPS does 14d6, which is close enough to 18d6, so 1d6 in Car Wars, which matches the MG damage.

To-hit modifiers in both games are doubled. So, if firing at the front of a car is a -1 in Car Wars, that is a -2 in Champions or GURPS. Use Car Wars for all to-hit modifiers, with the only exception being the OCV and DCV modifiers in Champions - the driver's OCV and target driver's DCV do apply to the to-hit roll (if they have Combat Driver skill otherwise it is zero), as they do in Champions. This was a cool rule in the Autoduel Champions days, where a driver's abilities could make the vehicle harder to hit.

Do not do size and range modifiers with either system! Stick with Car Wars' range and to-hit to calculate the final CW to-hit modifier, then multiply by two.

To-hit modifiers for weapons are based on a Car Wars 7+ to-hit number. Every point above or below is a +/-2 modifier to hit when using the gun. Targeting computers factor in as usual, so a hi-res target will give a -4 to-hit modifier (lower is better).

For handling, use the Car Wars Control Table. If you get a 'safe" result, do not make a driving skill check. If you get a number 2 through 6, that is your negative modifier to your driving skill check to avoid a roll on the Crash Table. So if your vehicle is at 60 mph, and you have a current -2 HC, the number on the chart is 2, so you need to make a driving skill roll at a -2 to avoid a Crash Table roll. HC resets as it does in Car Wars.

With GURPS, the combat turn is one second, and you usually get one attack, so this is a very clean conversion. The Hero System rules use a Speed system from 1 to 12 and a 12-second turn. This does not work that well in Classic Car Wars, and the old Audoduel Champions' way of handling it is allowing characters to make a vehicular weapon (not hand weapon) attacks every second (like SPD 12) but zero out OCV and skill bonuses on non-acting phases.

This means an SPD 4 character in the Hero System who acts on phases 3, 6, 9, and 12 and gets their full skill and OCV bonuses on those phases only. They can attack in phases 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11, but at an OCV or zero.

Hero System DCV always applies; this helps balance the "firing every phase" issue below!

Stick to the Hero System phases when making hand weapon attacks or using superpowers. So that SPD 4 characters can make a hand weapon or superpower attack every 3 seconds. This is a change from Car Wars, but given the games, it makes sense. This also puts people on foot at a more significant disadvantage than vehicles since they can get fired at every phase.

This has stayed the same since Autoduel Champions, and letting characters keep their full DCV (even in non-acting phases) helps balance this out and keeps superheroes from being sitting targets by a stream of per-phase machinegun fire. Haying for a DCV of 6 is going to be a huge benefit when the attacking vehicle is acting off-phase, and the attacker can't use their OCV and skill bonuses.

Movement should be done in Car Wars, with everything in mph, including foot movement. I know this will mess up Hero System movement rates, where characters only move during their phase, but we are entering "simulation land," where all foot movement is done per phase.

Hero System uses meters, so do a rough conversion and multiply by 3 for feet. For simplicity, assume Hero System "meters per turn" equals "miles per hour." Most characters in Hero System move 12m, which is about 12.5 mph in Car Wars, which is running speed foot movement (Car Wars Compendium). If a character has a running superpower of 40m per turn, he runs at 40 mph, and all movement is done according to Car Wars (every second).

Speaking of Autoduel Champions, we were sort of inspired by this project since we played it a lot in the 1980s. We had our own Traveller-like system for our game, but having Champions' superpowers convert easily was a huge plus. It allowed us to do the mixed superheroes and Car Wars campaign we loved.

And you can tell we played many of these games since these conversions are very natural for me to bust out as I think through how the games are played.

If I were to do our game today, our Traveller-inspired 2d6 system, I would skip all the newer versions of Cepheus and go straight for the digest-sized Cepheus Light. The skills are 99% compatible with Car Wars and are all 2d6 and N+ compatible. The personal combat rules can be used instead of the ones in Car Wars. The only rules I would add are the optional Traits system (30 XP to buy a new one) and the Cepheus Enhanced Edition rule for raising an ability score (3x new level in XP).

Why Cepheus Light and not one of the newer versions? I don't need anything in the newer versions. It is digest-sized and feels like a Car Wars book. The game even has a "cargo" system that works directly with Car Wars to haul loads between cities (Grav Vehicles would be Auto Parts or the cars themselves).

Those three are really all you need. Another benefit? If you need a simplified RPG for Battletech, that works just as nicely. For Battletech, you may want to use a more complete and modern edition since you will get a lot of extra "sci-fi stuff" you will use, but for Car Wars, Light is all you need.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Goodbye, Pathfinder 1e

My Pathfinder 1e books are in storage now.

I tried running a GURPS campaign, but meh. I was fighting the world more than I was having fun. With this much work, I would create an original world and have fun there instead. Dungeon Fantasy needs its own world and setting, which I have and will talk about soon.

Theme park worlds were excellent in the 2010s. Today, it is a cultural appropriation city. I would rather have a dedicated Egypt setting and Fantasy Africa than this. Everywhere you go, a Fantasyland, Adventureland, or other Disney-like little theme park area sits there and says, "Not Ravenloft, not Egypt, not Vikings, not science-fantasy, but close enough!"

Dedicated settings where it is one world, all Norse, with races and cultures that fit in that world, are far more immersive than this messy mix of everything, every culture, every race, and every culture. They end up being buffets of low-quality food but with great choices. At the end of the meal, you end up feeling sick.

Theme park worlds are also a source of the rot within the hobby, inviting in endless expansion books, grift opportunities, and encouraging every player to pick an "alien" background and nothing fits together; no one has to be a part of the culture of the world, and everyone is a special something or another. Pathfinder 1e was going there with the Advanced Race Guide, and there were far too many player races in the game by the end of the edition.

I would rather play in a Norse-themed world, where I have to read about the cultures, understand the diverse peoples, and make some hard choices on who my character is in this world. You play D&D or Pathfinder 2, and you will get the person at the table wanting to be a talking plant or Muppet and be the goofball when everyone else is trying to play seriously.

Theme park worlds invite everyone to be "the outsider," and they just feel touristy. Once you get the tourist, the planar crowd is not far behind, and then everyone is a particular "someone from somewhere else," at that point, I don't care about their characters since the players are not showing any effort to care about the world I am running.

One of the most toxic trends in modern gaming is escapist identity marketing; the game has to support being an anything tourist, and everyone that plays wanders through a theme park.

At this point, most locals look at the PCs like the locals look at tourists who wander through, destroy things, and take all the parking places.

Runequest's Glorantha killed the Pathfinder Golarion theme park for me. There are "elder races" here, but most of the backgrounds are a variety of diverse humans and mixes in between. There is much diversity here; you must read and care about the world to unlock it.

The world has a few themed areas that aren't blatantly "theme parky" like other worlds. These cultures may mirror some on Earth, but they are ultimately their own, with history and plenty of detail and flavor. And there is a ton of history to read. Runequest describes the world in one book, and there is a unique two-volume set if you want to dive deeper.

The Great Wheel and Pathfinder's Golarion have become far too cartoony and childish for my taste. I outgrew them. They are turning into this mass market; look at the cute things, smug heroes with attitudes, and mass market experiences that any 3D Hollywood animated movie for kids is these days. Both feel like Pixar or Dreamworks animated movie games; the worlds are bland, too much steampunk, and uninteresting. Some of the worlds rely too much on the old guard remembering them, and they are currently unsupported and left to decay.

Pathfinder 1e was visually appealing because of the "rule of cool" art. All of that has been erased and feels like a hangover in the setting today, a party the company wants to forget happened. The art can't carry a campaign setting alone, though. It is also dated and a little silly, and I prefer stylistic realism with a more serious tone. Even the remastered art tries too hard, feeling strangely surreal and unrealistic. Final Fantasy swords larger than a body belong in video games for kids. This is fantasy, but I outgrew that style when I gave up my PlayStation 1.

Give me a serious-toned world with history and a defined set of cultures and backgrounds, and let me enjoy digging in deep and being rewarded for my research.

And I was a super fan of Pathfinder 1e, and it all fell apart. I realized I had outgrown it, and there were better things to spend time with. The whole theme park thing made me cringe. I don't want to play in a rip-off of ancient Egypt, and Castles & Crusades has a Fantasy Egypt campaign guide where you can play in the actual setting in a fantasy context. There is far better out there, and a dedicated setting will make players invest in the setting with their background choices rather than play "another Dragonborn."

I am not selling the PF 1e books, but they are stored away and out of my mind.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

14mm d6 Dice

I like the 14mm d6 dice.

Standard dice are 16mm; either the boxy board-game style or the rounded Chessex-style ones (12 to a case) are familiar.

Then there are the tiny 12mm dice, typically sold in blocks of 36. These are small for gaming but great for games that require you to roll handfuls of six-sided dice, like Tunnels & Trolls.

Then, there are these mid-sized 14mm d6 dice. These highly playable, perfectly sized, light, but still readable dice make me want to play 2d6 games. The giant dice are so heavy they can disturb cardstock counters or cardboard pawns, while the lighter dice don't feel like they are large enough to feel like a meaningful 2d6 roll.

The 14mm dice, with their unique appeal, make me want to play. I am still determining what this is and where this feeling comes from, but the mid-sized dice have a special place in my gaming experience.

I don't get this with the 12mm dice; they are a bit on the small side and can be easily misplaced. On the other hand, the 16 mm is a bit large and can be cumbersome to handle.

But these have the right feeling and size to make me want to roll them.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

HARP: Spells are Skills

HARP has a unique spell mechanic, where each spell is a skill. This reduces the number of spells a character can learn, which is generally a good thing. The spells magic-using professions know there will be fewer, and characters will focus on a few to rise to higher levels of skill ranks.

In games like Against the Darkmaster (AtD) and Rolemaster, the focus is on each 'spell skill,' a list of spells that grants you more and different related powers as you level up. Among them, Rolemaster takes the crown for its intense spell system. Each spell skill reaches its pinnacle at level 50 of power, unleashing insanely powerful, world-changing effects that top the list.

HARP has spell scaling, where you can add effects from a list in the spell to add abilities, damage, functions, or targets to the spell being cast. Each of those costs extra power points, which raises the skill level needed, and also armor will add to the power necessary to cast a spell. Against the Darkmaster has these spell scaling effects, which they call warping. Rolemaster does not (AFAIK).

Against the Darkmaster's magic system is the most straightforward, offering a sense of simplicity and ease. With the least amount of bookkeeping required, players can focus more on the game and less on managing their spells.

Rolemaster is the most in-depth, with the most potent magic systems that scale insanely. Rolemaster is the "power caster" sort of game, while HARP is a close second when you factor in unlimited levels in both games. I feel HARP can scale power higher once spell scaling is appropriately abused. I say abused because that is the fun of the spell game with those scaling effects.

HARP is in the middle, with more bookkeeping since each spell is a skill. But this reduces the number of spells overall, with a suggestion of half-casters having 15 spells maximum while casters have 30. That is still a significant number of spell skills to track at higher levels, and I can see needing a supplemental spell sheet once a caster gets up past level 6.

HARP and Rolemaster have no maximum level, while AtD has a maximum of 10.

Other games that use individual spells as skills are GURPS and Dungeon Fantasy, though the level to cast and power point costs aren't usually changing as a casting factor, nor are they used to power up - though some you can cast with more power points to increase the effects.

I like spells as a skill and being able to level them up. If I play a wizard who specializes in fireball, raising the level of that high while mostly maintaining other spells at practical levels, that is my choice, and it makes my wizard unique.

In HARP, I can specialize in the arcane bolt spell, which costs 3 PP to cast for its 1d10 and 50' range, which takes a minimum skill level of 3 (matching the power points needed). For +3 PP, I can increase the damage by +1d10 (5d10 max). I can spend +4 PP to hit an additional target. Adding +1 PP will get me an extra 50' of range. So, at a skill level of 20, I could cast one mana bolt out to 500' doing 5d10. Or, I could do 1d10 damage to 5 targets out to 100'.

I paid the development points to make my arcane missile awesome; why can't I enjoy the benefit of specialization? A higher skill level will increase your chances of getting spell results that double or triple your spell's damage or effect, especially when modifiers are added to your roll for situational modifiers. That level 20 spell is a +70 modifier on the table, plus your stat bonuses and doubled effects start at a roll of 151+.

In HARP, becoming a gunslinger with arcane bolts and dishing out 10d10 or even 15d10 crits is not hard.

That is cool.

That makes me want to play a caster.

And unlike a game like Dungeon Crawl Classics, those high-end results do not need specialized random charts to create. These are built into the task resolution system.

Friday, June 7, 2024

But, the Most Technology is the Most Fun!

Do I really want to play in a Bronze Age setting?

But I will need more technology than that to play fantasy!

There were no colossal sailing ships, crossbows, plate armor, lances, saddles, catapults, windmills, gears, water wheels, compasses, universities, banks, blown glass, printing presses, gunpowder, playing cards, or even iron smelting.

Even though Runequest has more magic than D&D, many people get hung up on the lack of iconic fantasy equipment when trying to play in a setting like this. It is a challenge, and if you put yourself in a "Conan" mindset, things start to make a little more sense, giving you a frame of reference that people can watch movies about and get an idea of what is going on.

It isn't Conan directly, but when you tell them Conan, people don't think of Arthurian Knights and catapults, so it is a good starting point. Another good starting point is Greek culture, movies like Hercules, and films set during the time of Greek gods. Again, this isn't Ancient Greece, but that level of technology and civilization gives people something else to think about and keeps Merlin and Gandalf out of their minds.

Too much fantasy these days is this sloppy stew of Renaissance concepts, Robin Hood, King Arthur, Harry Potter, Ren Faire, Final Fantasy, and even Lord of the Rings. You get fantasy art with people with modern haircuts and hair dye and that smug movie-poster look on their faces doing something impossible in that rule-of-cool style art, holding a sword outsizing their body, which means nothing. I am not against fun and expressing yourself, but most of today's fantasy art is this commercialized, childish, comic-book-style, Instagram-influenced, AI-art-looking tripe.

It is meant to sell you collector's market books.

A Bronze Age setting lets you strip that all away. Even in Runequest, the setting is primarily human but has a wide variety of actual diversity. Many games say "diversity" but hide it with anthrophonic animals, planar races, puppet races, intelligent plants, cat-headed fur-covered humans, or dragon people. Do you want to be diverse in Runequest? Pick a culture, race, and skin tone; there you go—you are diverse. There is no hiding under a sports mascot costume or foam rubber alien mask.

This game is not about your gear, funny shape, planar origin, or silly animal voices. Sometimes, I feel 5E has become "the cosplay amateur theater game" more than it is about stories, quests, dungeons, monsters, treasures, exploration, or even the world. The selfish notion of "identity" is the only thing that matters, followed by hamming it up with a funny voice. I like creating unique characters and acting in character, but many streaming shows take this too far to the point of clownery.

And when the game becomes all about "you," the people of the world, world, story, and even death take a back seat.

Similarly, people get wrapped up in gear. The typical "dungeon outfitting" of sorting through gear lists and adjusting encumbrance takes over the game, where you get into this puzzle-game-inspired gameplay. Hammer and spikes solve the "jam the door shut" puzzle. A ten-foot pole solves the "pit trap problem." The rope solves the "climb down the shaft" puzzle. Runequest has some of that, but in most situations, you will use skills, roleplay, cast magic, and avoid fights. The OSR "puzzle shopping" isn't as important here.

The list of Runequest equipment includes only a dozen tools and pieces of exploration gear, plus a few pages of prices for other common (non-adventure) goods and services. Even in the equipment book, adventure gear goes a page and a half, and it isn't the sort of "stock your pack" lists that many OSR games get into where you need to start buying dozens of ordinary items just to be able to have an adventuring pack.

But what is there to do if the game is about something other than the gear or technology? If I had to be human, I would be bored! I need to travel the world, to go to the outer planes, to have fun!

D&D teaches you many bad habits. The D&D 4E "planes at level 10" has to be one of the dumbest ideas Wizards has ever foisted on the hobby, which is still being pushed today. Everyone has to be a special something. Campaign settings are boring. Plane-hopping is the only fun. Magic is like superpowers.

The truth is, you will have more fun with less.

Your family, your kin, your home, your tribe, or your town are the heart of who you are. Who is your blood? Who are your people? You can play a loner and wanderer type, but establishing a connection somewhere becomes a goal. Are your people building a settlement in a new land? Do you look different from others in the tribe? Are you an outsider? How do you win their trust and become accepted? Are you being chased by people you escaped? What is happening today that threatens your home?

With the distractions of magic superpowers, gear shopping, steampunk technology, unique backgrounds, and planar travel out of the way, you can focus on the story.

Your story.

The story of your people.

The story of events in the world.

You can care so much about options and choices they bury you.

There are times I find players who need all those colorful ornaments, rules, plate armor, classes, and backgrounds to hide behind, so they have to come out and get into their character more. I had a player who only played Dragonborn forced to play a human, and he discovered he enjoyed being forced to make something he thought was uninteresting into something he loved. The same thing happened with a player who only played plate-wearing paladins. Who are you without the armor and holy powers?

What is your story?

Strip it all away and tell me who you are.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024


Westlands is an interesting 2d6 game. It does traditional fantasy fantastic, but it has a few issues.

The Unskilled penalty, a significant minus 3, can be challenging to locate as it's only mentioned in the sorcery chapter in an example. This needed to be mentioned early on when skills were discussed.

The character creation lays out a Stamina and Lifeblood statistic (Stamina taking damage first and healing the fastest, then Lifeblood), and the damage system talks about subtracting damage from END first, then STR and DEX. Then, the monsters have no Stamina or Lifeblood values. The game started with this new life pool resource (STA + LB); it sort of wasn't edited cleanly in the damage chapter (and both systems were included), and by the end of the book, it was forgotten, and things fell back to the three-stat damage tracking system.

To avoid confusion, ignore Stamina and Lifeblood and use the three statistic damage tracks laid out more clearly in Sword of Cepheus.

This is a bizarre game. It seems like a game created to patch issues in Sword of Cepheus since it is very similar, but it does its own thing in some places. It is not a waste of money since many areas, such as new talents and races, are expanded. So, if you play Sword of Cepheus and want house-rule expansion material, this is a solid book.

The game works well with Sword of Cepheus, and SoC seems better proofread and tested. At times, Westlands feels like the author's notes on how their group played SoC, and at other times, it doesn't. A second edition of SoC is coming out very soon (July-August 2024), and here is the Kickstarter to track progress:

Westlands has more traits and better monster statistics, which SoC 2 is also implementing. The original SoC rules do monster stats in a very hard-to-use UPP, such as C7G456, where Westlands lists the easier-to-use statistics.

Westlands does more straightforward sorcery (skill checks), whereas SoC relies on Talismans (casting bonus) and Foci (spell charges). If you don't like either system, mod it to something you like, such as having magic drain a mana statistic you calculate (INT + Sorcery skill level) at 1 point per circle level. Then, it damages the character after that pool is drained.

In comments on the DTRPG page, the Westlands author says he is demoralized by the OGL disaster. It is tough when games like this, which people poured their hearts into, are destroyed because of Wizards and their greed - for games far removed from any d20 ruleset! This is a 2d6 system and has nothing to do with Wizards or the SRD, yet it used the OGL and here we are. SoC 2 looks like the way forward once the Kickstarter is done, but WL is still an excellent game that needs a lot of love and fixing. I don't know if it will ever get it.

The OGL issue caused actual harm to many people and communities. It was far worse than any "words cause hurt" issue and wrecked the dreams of thousands of creators and even more people in those communities.

D&D died the day they pulled the OGL.

I have moved on to better things.

Wizards can put anything into the Creative Commons, and I thank them for being so generous. It will be a long road back, but the hurt is still here. What needs to happen is an OGL 1b license that adds two words - perpetual and un-revokable, and grandfather in everything published under 1.0a.

This needs to be fixed to heal that hurt. Even if Wizards abandoned the OGL forever, they should set it free, along with every work of art that used it. This one thing would end the OGL hurt forever and make it right. And they have no reason to hold onto the OGL anymore, they are moving on with what they do best.

And this would unlock the door for me to look at books from Wizards again.

The world of 2d6 gaming is like Linux, you have dozens of great games, all with the same base, and they keep revising and coming up with new ones all the time.

Foci are strange in the Sword of Cepheus game. Still, if you remember the old AD&D "spell components," this could just be said: "foci are components" and then allow for the rechargeable foci that SoC has added to the game, while the one-use ones are traditional components. A fireball spell in AD&D needs sulfur and saltpeter as spell components, so in SoC, you could say that one-use foci for fire spells are the same.

Westlands is like a "reaction game" to the original Sword of Cepheus, trying to expand and patch the first version into a more traditional fantasy game. Sword of Cepheus 2 is the next game coming down the road, and it looks to one-up them both with the lessons learned. I still like Westlands, flaws, missing rules, inconsistencies, and blemishes regardless.

Both work together well and are great inspiration and source material for 2d6 fantasy gaming.

Again, like Linux, 2D6 gaming is what it is: all compatible with minor differences here and there. Pick a distro and play.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Kickstarter: Voidrunner's Codex

The Voidrunner's Codex has launched a Level Up A5E version of science fiction, and I backed this since I like 5E sci-fi games and am still looking for a solid one. If they have the A5E improvements to social and exploration, that will be perfect, and they will support hex-crawl sci-fi games. If not (and I don't see why they wouldn't), those are easy enough to port in.

A solid CR+0 5E sci-fi game is something of a rarity. What I like about this is equal attention is being paid to starships, and many 5E sci-fi games ignore that part of the game or just do a few pre-built ships and say, "Meh, it is not really important."

One whole book is starships and rules. That is serious support.

Level Up Advanced 5E is one of my pair of Community 5E games, and I am currently supporting in my campaigns. This is not a high-power CR+1 5E like ToV and "all books" D&D. This is the 2014 balance level, and it feels good. To have a sci-fi game like that is my Starfinder replacement.