Friday, October 23, 2020
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
It seems to me the more complicated the rules, the less control over the narrative a player possesses.
It is an interesting theory, and some in some games you don't have to look far to find examples of this. In the Pathfinder supplement Ultimate Intrigue, you needed a feat to call a truce during a combat. That feels like something a crafty player should be able to come up with, make an offer, and have the referee call for a CHR roll or ruling on the spot given NPC motivations and the adventure.
We throw down a bag of treasure and look at the attacking kobolds. We got a deal? We can make this mutually beneficial to both sides. Work with us and there could be...more...
In B/X, make a CHR roll if the referee thinks this has a chance of working, maybe raise the difficulty based on the offer. And then we are on our way. No social combat system needed. Those ability scores are good for something, after all.
But in general, the more rules players are beholden to, the less control they have over the world in general. Because there will always be a rule sitting out there somewhere saying you can't do something, when it should be up to improvisation and your skills and ability scores. Even a skill layer takes away options. Star Frontiers used a lot of base ability score checks for climbing, swimming, weight lifting, dodging, spotting hidden items, and other physical actions closely tied to ability scores - and there were no companion skills to punish the unskilled. This was pulp sci-fi, if your doctor was strong they could lift a heavy log off someone and play continued. Make a STR roll and let's keep playing!
The new edition of Traveller and the athletics skill comes to mind, which bothers me slightly. It essentially modifies what should be ability score rolls. To me, a skill is a specialty outside of an ability score - not a skill for using an ability score. Skills need education, training, and practice. Ability scores should be what comes naturally and need no skills to use. If I have a high STR, well, of course I can lift weights. There is a level of detail there I feel is not needed.
This is why games with long lists of skills feel like they destroy the usefulness of ability scores to me. What is your STR, just a modifier to STR skills or does it have any practical use on its own? Why even have a STR score if it does nothing without an attached skill? Games like this devalue the base ability score set and slow up play by forcing reference for every action attempted during play.
What is the skill for that?
A system like B/X, and especially one like Old School Essentials where B/X ability score checks are ruled into the game, and skills are not used in the system (or are optional) make that set of ability scores even more powerful. You have a high DEX? Well, that obviously includes some DEX skills like balance, knife throwing, jumping, and a bunch of other cool DEX things you learned through life. An ability score in a system without skills automatically comes with built in skills.
And you don't need to keep a huge list of them, calculate percentages, level them up, and use your ability scores as modifiers. Now, in B/X some activities (like thief skills) are special cases because they require special training, and that is understood when you begin play. But for everything else, a referee ruling and a creative player plan is all that is needed.
If the game had more rules to control every possible action? More reference, more flipping through the book, slower play, and the less things your character can do without making some choice to be good at one thing while not being good at others. There are times I like the complexity. There are others that say, I rolled a high DEX, let me do all these fun DEX things without punishing me with choosing which DEX things I want to do good versus not-so-good.
Let my high scores mean more, please, and save the skills for really specialized trainings, and not the everyday heroic things pulp heroes do.
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
- Add Car Wars to Champions
- Add Helicopter Rules to Car Wars
- Add Superpowers to Car Wars
Champions: Car Wars
Car Wars: Helicopters
Car Wars: Superpowers
The End of an Era
Champions Allows Talented Normals
Blinded by the Marquee Lights
Monday, October 19, 2020
Booze is the Vice
Make the Era Yours
Story > Character
Sunday, October 18, 2020
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Very Fiddly and Chart Based
High Ability Score Breakage
The 007 Game
Sandbox Dungeon Crawls
OSR B/X Spy Game?
The TSR Percentile System
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Friday, October 9, 2020
Character Sheet Needed
Some Professions = Specialty Heavy
Skills as Ability Scores?
I Understand Why
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Chernobyl. The space shuttle Challenger. Iran-Contra.
Top Gun. Aliens. The second year of the Nintendo Entertainment System.
We were still crayoning the dice.
Gamma World 3rd Edition.
I got this one in the mail recently, and my preference for the pre-Wizards editions is 2nd, 1st, 3rd, then 4th. That said, this is a very complete version of the game (with errata) and recommended, and it keeps a good balance between mutations and gear. The artwork is often stunning.
A big addition is the action table - used for every roll in the game and a precursor to the simpler one used in Marvel Superheroes. A lot of the game feels shoehorned into using this table, and the rules bloat as a result - the damage section goes nearly six pages and gets into all sorts of detailed Aftermath style conditions and effects - burns, infections, radiation, system shock, stuns, sunburn, steam, frostbite, electrical damage, rotting, and all sorts of other effects where my mind shuts down and begs for a simple hit point damage system.
In the PDF there is a rules and errata supplement we never got, and this features the cryptic alliances missing from the book (years later I get these I know) - and some major clarifications for the action table's results. Plant mutations are given. We get a price list. A large vehicle and equipment list. Complete is an understatement here.
I like this version of the game, we played it, but this is where it started to decline for us. Again, our group was still big on Aftermath, and even that game felt more streamlined than this one with its d20 roll-under mechanic. Having to go to the d100 chart for every roll in the game felt cumbersome for us, it worked for a while but we grew tired of it quickly. The chart did provide for a lot of special results and levels of success, but Marvel Superheroes (MSH) did this soon after with a much more simplified table and mechanics. This (along with the Indiana Jones game) felt like the beta-test for the more unified and simpler tables later on.
That said, I wish the mutations could have been handled like MSH powers - they would have been much more powerful and usable, and honestly, mutations should be the superpowers that equalize the balance between the old age and the new. I like the fantasy elements, but the beginning of worshipping on the altar of the ancients begins here, and our losing interest because the conflict becomes a scavenging arms race.
All that said, this is probably the best reference guide on classic Gamma World out there, if you can forgive the bloat in the rules and the errata adding critical parts of the game that were left out. It does feel like some of the 4th Edition's "gear worship" is sneaking in here, as you look at what is highlighted in the art and theme of the game. Gear are the game's magic items, and those are your primary route to power and influence.
I wish they would have kept this to the D&D rules, which again is why Mutant Future is so appealing to me these days. I don't want to learn (or re-learn) a new set of rules to play this, and honestly, Gamma World is better off the similar it is to the current version of D&D on the shelf - just because this is a niche genre, and having rules that match what everyone plays makes it easier to find players. This is why OGR versions appeal to me so much these days, I am not asking five or six people to spend money, read hundreds of pages, and learn an entirely new game for a night of fun. There is the retro kitsch factor to this game, but for my tastes being able to play with a larger pool of potential players (and compatible material) is a huge plus.
Even back in the day I feel this would have been a better plan for the game. Make it an alternative experience, one rooted in and supported by the current version of the game, but keep the rules people know. I feel recently, Starfinder made a mistake like this in changing things too much, and you were forced to learn a new set of rules to play. Alternate games, especially from companies with hit games, should pull from standardized or current shipping sets of rules. More potential players is a good thing.
More on this one soon, and it is fun to have a printed copy in my hands again.
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Monday, October 5, 2020
When we first got the original Boxed set of Gamma World, it felt like a strange, new game. This version lacked the fantasy elements of the 2nd Edition and beyond, there were no elf, fairy, gnoll, or dragon equivalents, but it remained this strange offshoot of AD&D for us that felt like an entirely new experience and world.
Admittedly, the game did not really take off for us until 2nd Edition Gamma World, as the fantasy elements were familiar enough to create some interesting differences between "new world" and "old world" ways. This version felt strangely like the box cover, strange explorers in some strange technicolor land of danger and sinister mutants. There was this feeling of human descendants coning out of vaults and exploring the world, much like a precursor to Fallout by many years for us, and that pitted the new world versus the old and began that conflict in our Gamma World games.
The fantasy elements in 2nd Edition did solidify that conflict, and give the "new world" a familiar fantasy-style face. The fae-like lils were troublemakers, there were elf-like grens, talking animals, and many more of the fantasy tropes present creating a rich and interesting contrast between new worlds and old. The new world was a messed up fantasy world pulled into the ruins of the old civilization. The old world were thinking computers, humans, robots, and the way of living in the past.
Also worth mentioning is the first module Legion of Gold, which includes rules for conventional firearms, has some cool pieces of interior art, and features a campaign setting and a collection of adventures and locations. Including "normal" guns dials back the settings futuristic feeling just a tad, and I prefer the more sci-fi version where you can't find M-16 rifles and M1911A1 pistols lying around. By the time we get to Gamma World 4th Edition, we have nearly every Call of Duty style weapon represented, and I feel that game loses the feeling of "wrecked future society" once you put in Uzi SMGs and all sorts of other weapons. I mean seriously Gamma World 4th, why do they still have tasers when stun ray pistol and rifles are on the same list?
Wrecked future society! Please give up the modern weapons and simplify the gear lists! It is way too easy to fall into an Aftermath or Mad Max style feeling and play with these 1970-2020 weapons lying around.
Back to 1st Edition, and I hope Wizards puts out a 2nd Edition reprint soon, since that version is close to GW 1st while introducing the fantasy elements. No idea what is holding this up, but I am keeping my hopes up. As it is, I have the Fantasy elements in 3rd and 4th well enough, but I like 2nd Edition and that was the version that took off for us and captured our imagination. 3rd Edition is where it went downhill for us, and that felt replaced by Marvel Superheroes.
All that said, I would probably just play Mutant Future with the Gamma World creatures and special gear items pulled in. Nothing beats the basic, OSR feel and simplicity of that basic rules set. It works like most everything I know, and I am not sitting here trying to read and comprehend a set of rules that changed with every version of the game.
In my feeling, Gamma World should have kept close in rules to the current version of D&D - always. It felt like they chased unique mechanics to make the game fun, instead of putting that work into making the game fun. The setting as well, you cannot have a great game without a setting with a clear conflict, characters, and an overarching metaplot to drive interest.
If I were to pull in fantasy elements, I would probably use the Labyrinth Lord collection of creatures as my base, strip the magic off them, add mutations, and make the mutations and origin a random type with the start of every campaign. The fairies? Based off plants in one game, mutants in another, robots in another, cyborgs, psi-creatures, or any other origin I roll for the origin chart with powers rolled and tweaked to match. The psi-fairies would have a lot of standard mental powers, probably be incorporeal glowing purple things, and fly around at night.
And every game would be different, yet share the same fantasy-style elements with an unpredictable factor. The new world? A fantasy world come to life through the "new power" brought to the world. There are some things in Gamma World that feel like classics, but to tell you the truth, I could probably clone them, improve them, and make better versions inside of Mutant Future. Again, you want to be careful to not overshadow the new versus old fight, and balance those additions with that power struggle.
Part of the problem with turning Gamma World into a fantasy "paint by numbers" game is you lose the unpredictability that is a core attraction of the game. What is that fish and why is it swimming above the water? It can talk? Uhhh...I know the game and every monster in the book but I don't know this! And then, the inevitable "run back into the cave" statement with the fantasy Gamma World always comes up, "Why aren't we just playing fantasy?"
This is what randomizing the fantasy monsters powers, origins, intelligence levels, and other aspects brings to the game. The game is not supposed to be predictable. Players are supposed to poke, prod, observe, and try things. They are supposed to figure things out. Is that monster a possible friend or is it trying to eat us? Even the technology to a degree should be mazing and unpredictable. Why does this laser turn things different colors based on a color wheel on top and do no damage? What is that good for? That type of device? In my players' hands? Probably cause more damage than a Mk VII blaster. Players love this stuff.
Perhaps I need to create a book for my ideas and publish it. That is the beauty of OSR, to take what came before, and make it your own. And you are not forced to learn rules that kept changing, getting bigger and more complicated, and took away the focus from story to mechanics.
Sunday, October 4, 2020
So my printed copy of Gamma World 4th Edition came (with the Judge Dredd looking cover), and I can see the seeds of the "Wild and Wahoo" mood of the next (D&D 4th) version of the game. This version still gives you a serious play option, which is nice.
I also see a lot of gear, and so much when you toss in the Treasures of the Ancients book the gear almost feels like it takes over the game. We have page after page of gear in perfect working order, and while needed, it makes me feel that the pre-ruin world is more important than the one which came after. I feel this is a huge problem, I get this feeling that the player who creates a cool "dandelion person" mutant plant is going to see the power and usefulness of their mutations pale in comparison to having the best power armor, a Mk VII blaster, and a legion of death-bots following them around.
In my feeling, there has to be a conflict between the old world and the new one. The old world is civilization, technology, and ancient artifacts and weapons. The new world are mutations, new lifeforms, psionics, and powers that can meet or exceed the devices the ancients came up with. Here? It feels very old-world biased, like the only way to get better is to grab better loot, and thus - the ancients were right and your new world - mutations, intelligent plants and animals, and psionics alike - kind of suck.
I need mutations that can be developed and equal the power of those Mk VII blasters and micro-missile launchers. I need cyborgs trying to mix old and new worlds to disasters results. I need psionics that eliminate the need for old-tech, or beat it at its own game.
The game has artwork from previous editions, like the 3rd and missing 2nd, so it does have value if you wanted to convert these to Mutant Future or use it as a sourcebook. If I were using it as a sourcebook I would be very careful not to let "all this cool gear" overshadow how the new world is now, and take over the game by making it a loot collection game.
You risk solving the inherent conflict of these future-apocalypse worlds by saying, "everyone had it good before all this, scavenge junk until you rebuild that."
Also, the book is very, very dense. We have long two column solid text blocks for page after page, with some repetitive header art on the top of every page that is nice - but it gets old and it feels lazy to have the same image, page after page, when I would have loved this header mixed up. Maybe a robot-themed one, a mutation themed one, and some different headers to help visually separate the sections of the book. As it is, there is an eyeball with weeds on the top of every page, and it feels like 90's desktop publishing.
It is nice to have this book, it is nice to have this information preserved and collected, but I feel there are some problems here that need further discussion in regards to previous editions, and also the retro-clones of today - especially in direction and theme. More soon.