Thursday, May 31, 2018

Sale: GM Forge

Check this out:

This is one I spotted on Steam today, the Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds alternative GM Forge is on sale today - and it has a couple pretty good reviews. This is a good link as well in the discussion forum on the differences between this and other software:

What I like about this one is if the GM owns the software players can join your game for free, without owning the software. No subscriptions either, and your content is stored on your machine. The software also supports Steam Workshop content, so there is the possibility of new games and adventures being modded in and packaged up for download. There is also talk of a stand-alone server coming soon, so you will be able to run this on another machine and log in to manage the game.


There are a couple complaints about the UI and also a learning curve, and I have got in and messed around and I can confirm that. It does feel (at the moment) just a little bit on the beta/early side of polish but I am sure that will get better as time goes on. The app also maximized on my large monitor and it was a huge space to manage, so I am hoping for a windowed mode (or a way to resize the app). It doesn't feel slick, but it does the job.

There are also some users making note of having to port-forward and expose IPs, but I am sure someone will write a FAQ on how to sort all that out and use a VPN service if you don't want your IP out there. Then again if you are running Internet/open games like that those are issues you should probably be thinking about all this before you start a game. Maybe someone (or the developer) will create a matchmaking service and we won't need to worry about this, so you never know.

This is also Windows only software at the moment on the GM side, but players can join anywhere they have a browser.


That said I like this one and it offers me a good alternative to other systems, especially for game designers who don't want to require potential new players to have to buy a virtual tabletop client (or sign up for a service) to try out a new game with the designers, or OSR referees looking for a group without too much commitment. To be fair, I believe Fantasy Grounds also has that join for free option, but it is in one of the more costly packages. This is cheap, functional, people with just a browser can join a game for free (like on a tablet), and it works well enough for me to dive in and support the project and keep tracking it.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Mail Room: B/X Essentials

Whoa, look what came in the mail this week - the first three books in the B/X Essentials series. They are the smaller 6x9 format and I love them in this size, and I am seriously more impressed with the printed copies than the PDFs for some reason. I just get a thrill from a printed copy and seeing that OSR font and art, that unique presentation that you are opening something inspired by another time and place, it is almost Tolkien-esque down to earth in a way and a feeling hard to describe.

Today's slick Adobe Indesign presentations are works of art in their own right, and it was a reason I collected as may Pathfinder books as I do (and the D&D 5 ones are pretty too). But they are almost unnaturally slick and polished in a way that I can only describe as 'Christmas coffee table books looked at once' and then left on the table as a prestige item.

I have owned games with such high presentation values I read them once and never played them. Video games too, so slick and full of themselves that I feel I just can't get into them and give them the time they 'deserve' just based on their slick style and flashy looks.

Familiar and Accessible

There is a level of familiar here that inspires me to play. Instead of pushing us away with production values our own creations could never attain, the simpler B/X style books with an occasional in-joke or strange piece of art is a more populist and accessible presentation and it appeals to me on a practical and game-creator level. The typography and layout isn't pretentious, it is familiar and welcoming. The books aren't coffee-table art pieces, they are working guides and feel like they are meant to be used. They are beautiful to me in an entirely different way than fancy art and slick layouts - they are beautiful in their utility and beer and pretzels 'pick up and play me' style.

I think another thought on this 'beautiful in a different way' feeling I am having with these books is everything is right where I expect it to be. I can find a rule quick. When I am looking for a rule, I always pick up the right book. The book on character creation is all you need to create characters. Spells are over there. The referee lives out of the core rule book, and these rules are so familiar that book is almost never needed outside of the rare special situation that comes up.

I can't wait for the upcoming B/X Monsters book, and I hope we get lists of magic items and treasures somewhere down the road. Another reason I can't wait is that I am a completest in collecting things, which means I will buy every book in this series no matter what. Druid, Bard, and Illusionist book? I know they are not B/X, but I am in. Planes book with demons and strange extra-worldly places? I am buying. I know at a certain point the original B/X source material will run out, but elaborations and 'how would B/X do this' done on the vast ocean of new B/X content would certainly be welcome to see, at least by me. And I also get this feeling of there are games in development based on these books that I will want to check out as well. Patience!

But yeah, there is a transcendent beauty here beyond presentation. Simplicity. Modularity. This feels like a well put together programming API for a computer programming language, but in this case for B/X gaming and as a base for all sorts of cool creations. Include what you want, and put aside what you do not want.

A Limited Focus Game Feels Good

Also, there isn't everything one would expect in these books, since they aren't everything and the kitchen-sink creations. Cleric spells go up to 5th level, and magic users go up to 6th. 7th and 9th level spells! I can't play this! Well, that scholarly presentation style and 'sticking to the source material' thing comes up and if those weren't in the original inspired by source material they don't have a place in a digest-style summary of what the original books were all about.

So the spells go up to 6th? That was 98% of the spells used in my games over the years so I don't really feel anything is left out, and I actually like that limited focus, and I have had several players who would welcome the high-level bad guys not being able to pop a wish spell. If I ever needed the higher level spells, Labyrinth Lord or any other B/X game is right there with them handy. Played as-is, this feels like a more gritty, medium-magic, and balanced version where spell-casting (and magic items) don't dominate the game as much as later editions.

Spells are still the 'magic I win button' in many situations, but I like them limited in uses, and I like their casters to be fragile. I also like a more limited spell list and forcing players to 'deal with what this world gives you' instead of having every favorite D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder choice at their hands in Hero Lab.

This B/X world has 34 cleric spells and 72 magic user spells, which would be quite a lot in a video-game. They are all the classics. Be creative and make due. Less is more and I get this feeling with less choices spellcasters will actually be more effective because there are less distractions and more impetus to be creative with the spells you do have. With my Pathfinder collection I feel 80% of the game dozens of books in are options I never use nor want (or will ever use).

It is a strange feeling when I think about it, I could play and run campaigns in B/X Essentials and not feel I am losing anything with a more-focused game. Plus, the game is built to expand, so if you want more just pull exactly what you want in.

Want Choices? Stay in B/X

Besides, if I want choices I will play Labyrinth Lord and have it all, relatively speaking, and still have a more focused and limited-choice game than a D&D 3.5 style game by far. Even when I want choice and complexity I can stay in a B/X framework with another game, and I do not lose anything at all. I am not switching rules systems and having to relearn everything, or deal with games that require a level of (time investment) system mastery that I feel are designed to keep you locked in because of money, time, and effort spent.

If I switch between B/X Essentials or Labyrinth Lord (or any other B/X system) I am not losing much, and they are all really mostly compatible with each other. I could play Barrowmaze Complete (designed for Labyrinth Lord) with B/X Essentials and it all just works. Spells work. Monsters can be pulled out of Labyrinth Lord and work. Traps work. Saves work. The hit points and AC scale is the same. Damages are mostly the same. Special magic items in LL and not in B/X work. The amount of times you really need to tweak or fix something I feel will be very, very low. Maybe there is a difference in a spell as written, but if you are playing B/X, use the B/X version.

The real difference? Labyrinth Lord goes up higher in levels compared to B/X Complete. Most classes go to 20 in LL versus 14 in B/X. If you play the higher-level areas of Barrowmaze this may come into play. You could always allow progression past 14 in B/X and crib from LL if that ever came up, no problem and that is what I would do.

The Focus is Creating

Whenever I buy something I always ask myself, "Can I picture myself running this?" I feel this one is a yes. But the real focus here is as a base for other games, and I feel that is where this series excels. If we were presented infinite options like a Labyrinth Lord, this would be less-useful as a base for creating new things. Again we go back to that simple computer programming API. Well-designed computer programming languages have this elegance to them, this simplicity, and this modular nature - and I see this here. Want to write a B/X sci-fi game? Really, 90% of your non sci-fi base rules specific work is done for you here, and all you need to do is extend and expand on options.

I would love my computer language to do everything for me and give me every option, but in doing that the language gets heavy and tied to specific file formats and functions. Here? This is a great, generic, basic system that covers adventuring, combat, and creating characters. It is presented in a modular format where you can totally cut out the fantasy elements. That is what you need to get started creating anything else, and the beauty is excess and extraneous options and fluff are not included. You add those, or you build a new game and do something new without being weighted down.

That's why I love this game and how it is presented and designed.

More soon as I open the books and read further.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Mail Room: Apes Victorious

My exploration of the Goblinoid-verse continues today with Apes Victorious, sort of an "inspired by" Planet of the Apes style game that meshes a bunch of 1970's pop-culture sci-fi elements together is a zany, crazy mix of genres and post-apocalyptic fun. This isn't just an Apes RPG style retro-clone, it brings in a cool race of under-dweller humans that seem like something pulled out of Sleeper, the Paranoia RPG, Logan's Run, or THX 1138. There are androids (I wish you could play one but it would not be hard to do that) like something out of the Six Million Dollar Man.

More 1970's Fun!

If I were to play this I would make some key expansions and pull in a couple more influences from the 1970's. I would definitely do an android race that either survived on their own or broke off from the under-dwellers, similar to the old Westworld movie's robots (one and two). Perhaps they were the survivors of an old robotic theme park and they are always seeking 'the creator' in some strange 'what it means to be alive' life mission nobody really understands.

I would add a human "utopia domed city space base" like something out of out of Buck Rogers or Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers for the astronauts. I would probably make this somewhere far away in an artificial environment that lives in a utopia and contact between old Earth and them is infrequent and forbidden. I would love to have an evil Mongol-inspired evil space empire out there (of limited size, like a rogue moon with several city domes) with an evil queen and her mute but muscle-bound body guards. Make them the mysterious source of expedition ships to Earth every few months and you can have all sorts of fun interplanetary action. Just not too frequent and not too large, the distance traveled is just too great for regular trips.

I would add a race of intelligent alien "plant spores" that create pod people, or perhaps have shambling plant people wander around worshiping the elder alien plant god known as 'Seed'. Their goal is to create more plant-controlled slaves with their alien seed pods, feed their evolved shambling mound forms, and bring their elder plant god from across the cosmos. Anything that creeps the players out and keeps them from wanting to sleep next to these alien pods (check your pillow and under the bed) is such fun I could not resist myself. Plant controlled apes and under-dwellers? Perfect, let them all fight it out, and the players won't really know who they are encountering until the other group all opens their mouths at once and lets out that blood-curdling scream.

Call it Apes Expanded. Anything that fit into a destroyed 1970's world would do. Starships and Spacemen I feel would be a tough fit because I wouldn't want them replacing the astronaut faction with "better astronauts." I would keep Alien, Star Trek, and Star Wars out of it, just because those three cultural juggernauts would also take over the game. This I feel works better with small, campy, out-there 70's sci-fi small box-office only.

None of this would be terribly hard using sources pulled from various Labyrinth Lord books and I feel it would create this fun sort of D&D style 'many inspiration' sort of mini-universe where a lot of ideas could fit in and players could find a niche and a conflict they could hang a character idea onto. It is more a big-tent approach that I feel made D&D so attractive, you could do everything from Conan to Lord of the Rings and everyone would be cool with those character origins and influences.

More soon on this quirky and fun-looking game, and I definately see it as an includive and big-box of campy fun.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

B/X Essentials

B/X Essentials! These are fun little books I found over on DriveThruRPG, and they are essentially a core rules set for B/X games split up into modular books. There are three of them out, and a fourth one is in the works covering monsters. Right now, there is a book for the base rules, a book for classes, and a book for spells (covering cleric 1-5 and MU 1-6). These are kind of what I wanted from the old D&D Essentials guides but never got.

Why another set of B/X rules? Why not? At this point, B/X is the closest thing the pen-and-paper gaming world has to UNIX/LINUX, with many different distributions and flavors available and they will be in print and be around forever due to the OGL.

What is cool about B/X is that it all works really similar to each other, adventures mostly are compatible, classes play alike, and even the math is more or less similar no matter what you play. You factor in things like the special features of a game, support, class books, and other flavor related items and you pick a favorite version and play. You could play in another game with a different B/X system and still know most of what you need to know.

The goal (as I read it) here is to publish a setting-neutral base game where you could use the framework to create any B/X flavored game from (or use to play the original), and more importantly kind of be a version-neutral reference guide and clean up the original B/X rules. These are noble goals, and let's say I wanted to make a sci-fi B/X style game. My options? Recreate the wheel and craft a new variant B/X system, or extend an already-published B/X clone like Labyrinth Lord. This is a third option, start with this and have just the basics, and then extend as much as you want in any direction.

I could also play a simple dungeon game just using these rules and be fine. It is all cool.

There is a text-only version of these for free, and you can pick up some printed books and the full-art PDF for cheap, which I did because I want to support this effort (and they are cool books). The art is very flavorful and cool in these books, I love the varied styles and humor here, and it does feel true to the old-school feeling of B/X and OSR.

I like this, sort of a setting-neutral and modular approach to B/X. I still like my Labyrinth Lord collection and that game is one I love and have an investment in, but I share the feeling sometimes all I want is just something simple, something basic, and something which doesn't start with the fantasy assumption and sits there like a blank canvas for my creations.

Make a B/X style gangster Noir game? Why not? This gives me a great basic rules set without all the fantasy baggage and my plate is clear to create a classes, equipment, and setting book covering the parts that are different in my creation. The base rulebook doesn't need to be touched, and all you need to play is Core plus the setting-specific book. You don't need to worry about ignoring clerics, magic wands, and orcs when you are out clinging to the running board of your Packard sedan with a tommygun in hand - you have the base rules and your setting specific book and you are all set.

There is nothing to ignore here and you can focus your playing and designing just on the world you create, and I love that modular design goal here. This is a cool effort, I am happily awaiting the monster book (which is in proofreading now and should be out soon), and I will continue to support this effort because I love B/X and the more the OSR the merrier.

Wargaming Roots: Wargame Complexity

A fun little snip on the design of the Tunnels and Trolls Adventures mobile game's "about" page strikes an interesting point here about the development of pen-and-paper games and the hobby's wargaming roots:
In 1975, as role-playing games were beginning their rise to popularity among the gaming community, Ken St. Andre found himself dissatisfied by the complexity and inaccessibility which rules systems of other games presented newcomers to the genre. Seeking a game with which to introduce his friends to the world of interactive storytelling, Ken set out to create a lighter and more flexible rules system which would provide players with greater latitude for heroic feats. He did away with the often times dauntingly complex stat sheets and tables found in the wargames from which the first RPG was descended, and created a game more inspired by the deeds of comic book superheroes. Ultimately, Ken named his game Tunnels & Trolls.
We have come a long way from the Chainmail "wargame" style rules to a more player-focused and I feel accessible B/X style, and then from there I feel we went deep into the wargaming side of the hobby again with D&D 3rd and 3.5 Edition, Pathfinder, D&D 4, and then D&D 5. Our wargame roots are clearly on display and this has spawned an entire group of games these days that are more accessibility focused than complex wargame focused.

More Complex These Days?

In some ways, I feel we are way beyond the complexity of the 1970's wargame-roots games, especially with Pathfinder, D&D 4, and software like Hero Lab. D&D 5 I feel took a step back from the abyss, but I still feel the older B/X games and their clones do a better job at controlling complexity and focusing the action more on the adventure rather than the character.
Some products make me smile, like the Pathfinder Strategy Guide, a great book that tries to tamp down the complexity of the base game, explain things to beginners, and make a complex system easy to use. But really, when I think about it, I get this feeling if the effort were put into making the system easier and not needing a book like this would be a more laudable goal. Games that are simple and accessible to beginners do not need how-to books.

Part of me likes the complicated game though, and there are fans of this hyper-detailed genre of gaming, again, hearkening back to our wargaming roots and having detailed World War II wargmaes with rules for jammed turret rings, smoke capacity, the ammunition capacity and depression limits of of bow-mounted tank machineguns. I have played wargames like those, and while the one or two times that level of detail comes up in a 6-hour game you may be happy to have these rules, more often than not I find rules like this slow the game down more than they do add value.

I feel the same with detailed character generation systems. Our tendency as designers is to add more, to make options for every possible character type and background, and through universal inclusivity we weigh the system down so much we end up needing multiple pages for one character. Genesys requires three sides of paper for each character, and that has hurt our desire to play what should have been a simple storytelling game. Pathfinder, the king of complexity, requires Hero Lab these days, and it is not uncommon for us to be printing out six to twelve sides of paper for each character.

Less is More

And I look at the single-sided one-page character sheets of Labyrinth Lord and other B/X games and I see a lot of wasted space, and that is a good thing. I could do a B/X character on a quarter sheet of paper and put four to a side and still have plenty of room. Back in old-school Traveller we put one character on two lines of a sheet of notebook paper.

We still had fun with those games because we ran fun adventures and we didn't need detailed character essays for each player to pour over. I get this strange feeling at times that games use complexity to drive interest these days, that somehow a detailed character generation system makes up for a lack of compelling adventures and stories. That is really an unfair statement for many games, but I see so many games that are 90% character creation systems and then assume everything else, story, adventure, and how to have fun comes for free.

I would rather play a game that was 10% character creation and 90% story and background. Call of Cthulhu and Dragon Age are good examples of modern pen-and-paper games that minimize the game rules while maximizing story content and background information. I would put T&T in this category as well, especially with the incredible world-book in the Tunnels and Trolls Deluxe Edition in the latest version of the rules.

B/X and Labyrinth Lord? These are more giant toyboxes with 10% character design and the rest of the 90% are monster, spell, and magic item lists. That toybox content is the story and background. There are times when I like this, since I make my own stories and worlds anyways, and other times when I miss having that world and story to play through (and save me the work).

How far off are the more modern games from the toybox model? It is a bit tougher to judge I feel, since you have a good portion of these games tied up in character design and it grows in size the more books you add to the system. My generic rule is: if a computer program makes character creation easy and error free, the character design system is heavy. If it takes me more than 5 minutes and a sheet of paper to design a character that is too long.

If you need to pass a book around the table for players to design characters you have dependencies in there that should be streamlined onto the character sheet (or eliminated from the game). If I play Pathfinder with a group again I would love to have class-specific character sheets, one for paladins, one for rogues, and so on...

Everything to Everybody?

It brings to mind the question, "How much character design do you need to tell a story?" There is a point where there is too much, where you are making a feat to cover a bonus to every possible action and interaction, such as a feat that allows you to call a truce during combat. These sorts of feats rub me the wrong way in two ways: this is codifying roleplaying and creativity, and you are adding unneeded complexity to the character design system. Without this can't roleplay this? When I am refereeing the game it becomes another added "thing I have to remember" in order to play when the one character in a thousand's player actually bought this feat and expects it to come into play.

In T&T or B/X? Hell, make a CHR saving roll or roll under Charisma at a minus whatever and we are done. In most every other game it is an ability score roll, the current situation, and referee judgment. Done.

In the 1970's wargames there was this tendency to start simple, and then balloon complexity with each new expansion and revision. Track performance in taiga and mud for armored vehicles. Fuel performance and ambient temperature. Snowshoe size versus snow type. Curvature of the Earth and muzzle velocity of off-board artillery. Most of the rules had some historical event behind them and they probably affected the outcome of some real-world battle somewhere...but there is a point where enough is enough.

If I equip my desert soldiers with snowshoes does that give them a movement bonus? If my winter partisans carry large desert water packs at what point do those freeze? Do I need a table for that?

And the more complicated wargame goes in the closet and the new game that was designed for fast and fun play goes on the table. That is where I am with Pathfinder. Completely bought in with both books and Hero Lab and we never play it really all that much. Great customers and lousy players.

Simple Games are More Fun for Me

So I come back to the old versions of games, the retro-clones, and some of the classics made back in the day where they saw this problem and designed against it. Labyrinth Lord and B/X. Tunnels and Trolls Deluxe Edition. Other classics. There are some new games, such as Savage Worlds and FATE, that attack complexity of character design versus story and those are worth mentioning too.

I see a collection of huge books for a gaming system and my reaction is, "I don't have enough time for these anymore." Instead of feeling bad I switch games that I do have the time for. I am sensing another round of boxing games up coming here soon. It is a sad thing but also a good thing, since it lets me focus on games I want to play (and it frees up space for more games, like Traveller's new edition).

My thing is, play what you love - and some people love the complexity. I have moods when I love all the detail and choices. Be happy if you can find people who love what you do and play with them. As my players dwindle and I find myself more and more alone, my tastes and needs change. I want less record keeping and design. I want solo play. I want smaller rules and tighter designs. I want more story and world, and less rules. I want attribute systems that handle many things, and less flipping through books to find a rule that handles a special case.

My tastes are changing more towards the retro-clones and classic games that I started the hobby with because those are what I love and where I find the most comfort.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Solo Play with Tunnels and Trolls, part #1a

...very cool stuff, the old solo adventures coming back as mobile games. You can create and level up characters, and reply adventures? I need to check this out. Plus they are working on an adventure creator for user-created content? Way cool.

Minus points, a lot of the adventures are in-app purchases, but you know...converting these over probably takes a lot of work and they have to get paid for their time and effort. Plus they are enhanced with art, sound, and music and those cost money. I can support buying them as they come out because I believe hard work and good products should be rewarded. As long as it isn't too much money, but I get it.

I would love to have something like this for the old D&D modules, like the A-series, Keep of the Borderlands, or S1. They beat you to it, Wizards!

Solo Play with Tunnels and Trolls, part #1

A sad topic, but one nonetheless I think about. One of my steady and long-time players is struggling to attend playing sessions. Our main group has been MIA for a while and it has been just me and him for a little while as we regroup, and he often doesn't want to participate due to several issues in his life. What if he goes his own way and I am a game-master without players?

Box everything up? Find new players? Hope for the best?

I blog and that helps, I have been at this too long to just give up, but I am coming to the realization changes are needed to keep my tabletop gaming mojo going.

Going Solo

The thought occurs to me to go solo for a while until I find a group. This is possible, and I would probably change my game to something more solo friendly and also find a way to share what I did with others, like here on the SBRPG blog. Something like Labyrinth Lord or Tunnels and Trolls 8.0, where I could just keep a character sheet by my computer, knock off a few encounters, and write them up for the blog every so often. T&T is the more solo-friendly option, as with B/X games they typically need a party to have the most fun (and many adventures are party focused).
I un-boxed my T&T 8.0 book last night, why I boxed this up is beyond me, and managed to knock over half of everything in my closet. Everything is fine save for a fluorescent light now that doesn't work, but that was old and was on its last flicker of life anyways so it was overdue for a replacement. Such is life and the constant replacement and maintenance of the things around us, it never ends and one should take it as part of the normal flow of things. Plus, that may be a sign from above - go forth and adventure to find the (replacement) light! A quest hath been discovered!

T&T was always a game that worked well with a single person or a small party of up to three (and run by one person). While some don't appreciate the abstract nature of the combats, I like them a whole lot and feel they are closer to fictional writer-ly combat where there is this unseen "tide of battle" determines who gets that last, critical blow in. The system also does a good job at simulating the wearing down of the losing side well, both in gear durability and in damage ability of the participants. In a lot of games a fighter or monster on turn one still has the same damage ability as on the last turn of battle, and that doesn't happen here since during combat monsters wear down and characters can wear down in both armor, weapons, characteristics, and health.

T&T is also simple, and I can "sim" any sort of dime-store paperback pulp fantasy setting easily with the rules, from Conan-style pulp fantasy to two-fisted Indiana Jones style adventure (just pick up the T&T compatible and excellent Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes game for seven dollars over on RPGNow for all you would ever need in a modern weapon and talent list). I can even play Buck Rogers style science fantasy with this rules set if I wanted, it isn't too hard to adjust the talent list to include piloting and a few other sci-fi skills, pick some damages for ray guns, and blast off to adventure using the three base classes and MR ratings for all of the space-bound foes. I need to do a conversion guide from MS&PE to T&T 8.0 later on here on the blog, and that sounds like a fun project to do. More on that later.

How to Start

There are so many solo adventures (some free, some very inexpensive) over on RPGNow as well for Tunnels and Trolls, and it really isn't much effort to play them with any version of the game. I could probably buy one of these (and I love supporting the authors and creators in the community, it is cool), and go through it a couple times to enjoy the creativity and fun they put into these adventures. I am probably done, and there is no real reason to think any further beyond that.

But I like coming up with silly ideas, and I would love a random adventure generator to have fun with for solo adventures. I will add this as another TODO item on my list since it would be fun to have an adventure creator to just kick around with as my character goes on dangerous expeditions, levels up, and possibly fails in his or her grand epic quest of randomness.

So Random! So What?

With published solo adventures, there is very little "so what" factor. You are playing through like a golf course, and you are seeing all the cool choices and entries that the author came up with. With a purely random game you get this "so what" feeling after a while that I get when I play a purely mathematical game - sort of like a rouge-like where it is just more a spreadsheet of numbers fighting each other with no real purpose or goal.

It is like spinning up a character and then fighting a numeric list of monster ratings without a story, monsters, encounters, or rhyme or reason - I mean, why? You can fight numbers and roll dice, hooray! That is what I want to avoid in a random adventure system. Some dungeon games I get off Steam are like this, I go into some hole in the ground, fight a couple rooms, and then eventually give up because it is more about making numbers fight numbers and there isn't any real sense of progressing a story or making an accomplishment.

I like getting treasure, upgrading my character, getting better weapons and armor, leveling up, combat, and succeeding against all odds - you know, the mechanical stuff. T&T's treasure tables don't seem well suited for random adventures, there is a lack of magic items, potions, and other cool loot that I may want to make my own tables to raise the level of game in this area. I like finding traps, parlay, puzzles, and jumping pits, so there has to be some interaction more than just combat in a system like this.

A really good random solo play system is a very hard thing to design, so maybe my wants here are going to outstrip what I should do is focus in on finding a great single-player adventure and playing through it solo. Or just finding some silly way of generating random adventures and go with the flow. There is a point where you have so much structure to random generation that you lose all the fun.

Challenge Level

Remember this?

50-50 challenge MR = (average party damage - 3.5) x 1.174

That formula is going to work nicely with creating Monster Ratings for my random system. I want to figure out the "starting damage" before the run (and not adjust up during play so upgrades found during the adventure are not minimized). And then use some sort of chart like this to determine MR for the fight:
  1. -20% MR
  2. -10% MR
  3. Average MR
  4. +10% MR
  5. +20% MR
  6. +30% MR
I wanted to bias towards tougher fights because upgrades will be found, smart tactics will be used, and I like putting a little fear into encounters. Half the chart is average or below, so these fights should be winnable. The other half of the encounter table should be the home of nightmares and lucky rolls. Also, avoiding a fight, parlay, and using sneaky tactics to gain an advantage should always be an option.

It needs to be tested, I really don't know, and in a long dungeon an "even" fight may be too hard after a series of them, so there is that to consider. This is one of those things where you really have no idea until you get in and watch the pain happen after five or six of these, and then test again because your first test may have been a fluke. And then test again because you need more data, and the first two runs could have been flukes.

That said, figuring out the MR of a fight is really the easiest part of the random solo adventure problem, and it is really just the beginning. This problem is not 5% solved yet, and there needs to be something more to this - even a off-the-cuff system needs some risk, reward, and failure system worked out that says "pass the check, something good happens; fail the check and something bad happens." Also, how does one determine the end or goal of a random adventure?

In part two, I will continue my ideas on this...or I may just try something and see how that works. You never know since you want to keep iterating when you do game development like this.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Mail Room: Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes

The other Top Secret and James Bond 007 role-playing game we played back in the day was the T&T compatible Mercenaries, Spies  & Private Eyes boxed set from back in the day. The rules are the same at (as I recall) the 5th Edition of T&T, and it worked well for what we used it for. This always felt like a game that did "movies other than James Bond" and we got a kick out of all of the realistic toned characters and adventures in this game, compared to T&T.

You can still pick a PDF of this up over at RPGNow for less than ten dollars, and for that it gives you a complete gear and item list mostly compatible with any version of T&T out there, including today's Deluxe T&T edition.

Realism Strikes!

But a part of me wishes this said "to heck with realism" and used the straight T&T ability score range. The game was limited to 20 levels, and you got two attribute points per level, and that all but made the higher level saving throws for most checks out of reach for most characters. We were lucky to have characters make level one or two SRs for anything, and as a result, the fun of high level saving rolls never really happened for us and the game, even at higher levels 6-12, felt like a low level game.

It was both a good thing and a bad thing for us. Yes, it was more realistic. The high-level weapons still were incredibly powerful and characters could never really 'toughen up' to face such firepower. Thinking back with hindsight, I like how T&T Deluxe handles missile weapons these days, even though I didn't see the wisdom in that adds-on-miss ruling when I first read it and wrote about it.

Today? Deluxe Plus Guns!

If I were to play this today I would just spin up T&T Deluxe Edition characters and give them guns. Warriors are soldiers and rogues are spies and leave it at that. I would use the normal T&T attribute raising rules and have characters with ability scores of 50, 100, or more. Ever see Sin City, Sucker Punch, or any of those Zack Snyder movies where normal humans turn into muscle-bound freaks or lithe angels of death who can wade through bursts of auto-fire untouched?

That. I want that.

So your brute enforcer literally has enough hits to take a shotgun to the face and it only leaves a couple scratches as he bends the barrel into a pretzel and proceeds to pummel the bar full of enemies through pulp, throwing some through solid walls, and flipping a car on its side as easy as a professional wrestler would with one hand (and a hidden cable winch). With "normal" T&T stat-flation and super-characters, I get that.

Yes, eventually guns cease to become as effective, but who cares? This is fun, and pretty soon it all breaks down into some testosterone-filled fist or sword fight with grunting brutes and endless vast broken fields of CGI rubble, just like the Zack Snyder movie feeling I want.

I would still use this book as a resource though. There are some skills easily usable as talents, and plenty of gear to ogle over and blast each other with. I know some would flip out over this, because a big part of the appeal was this game's more normal power curve and streamlined feel (and part of me agrees with that), but another part of me loves T&T's zany power level and I just need to try this "mod" and learn my lesson. Or have a lot of silly fun. Or both.

With how powerful the MS&PE weapons are rated, you are going to need every one of those points of super-powered ability scores just to survive. It makes me think the ability scores in the 50''s and 60's for a game like this aren't so overpowered as one would think. First level characters? Like extras in a movie. Eighth through tenth-level characters? The stars of that movie. So what they are high-powered and a bit super? Give them enemies that can roll just as many combat dice and T&T will balance that out, just as it does in fantasy.

I think I will coin the term 'modern fantasy' for these sorts of every-person super-hero type movies and games, where yeah, that looks like a normal person, but ones the slow motion hits and the rock music starts playing like something out of a John Wick movie, you are in the realm of fantasy power levels.

Compared to the Games of the Day

We mostly played TSR's Top Secret, but we did have the James Bond 007 game as well - but we didn't play that as much. We did play a lot of T&T and we liked the modern gear and guns, but we never really ran a dedicated MS&PE campaign - which I wish we would have. I would have loved these rules for a Gangbusters Noir-style PI and gangsters campaign, just because of the flavor here and focus more on mysteries and story than combat.

MS&PE using T&T Deluxe's rules? Yeah, Phillip Marlowe meets John Wu. Not so subtle, but it sure sounds fun. More on this later, but this is a fun find and a great resource for my upcoming T&T fueled mayhem. Or mistake. Or both.