Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Revisiting Aftermath!

 So I have been going back and taking a look at Aftermath! as a generic system. Having over 20 years of experience with the rules makes it an easy thing, plus we learned this game when we were kids so a lot just comes naturally.

First up, why? I like the system with the hit locations, special effects, and detailed combat. This is something that GURPS sort of gives me, but there is a whole lot more work involved. Sectional armor plus hit locations is a fun minigame to play, and if you have characters with cool armor sets made of different materials and protective values you get a really interesting simulation.

Bullets and damage are fun in this game, more so than GURPS. You get all sorts of fun special effects, but simplified from something as complex as Rolemaster. Also, a d20 (roll low) dice mechanic with a heavy reliance on ability score saving throws. Damage is straightforward with special effects that cascade out from rolled-for special effects (and is also expandable easily).

The system is also very calculated and math-like, once you get through what gets added to what to fill in what spot on the character sheet you are done. All your chances of success are on your character sheet. The system plays well from character sheets, and the special cases apply equally given situation X or Y. In fact, the game comes with a handy combat flowchart so you can't really get lost on how combat works.

Golden Age Sci-Fi

I wanted to use this game for something along a golden-age sci-fi game, but more gritty and realistic. If I have advanced aliens I will just generate them as age-group 5 characters and give them a ton of skills. My rule is +5 to ability scores and 10 skill points and eliminate rolling for development and attribute points. I purposefully avoid the Operation Morpheus generation system because it is way too bloated, and 10 skill points gets me a great starting character with room to grow.

For talents I assigned the following: -2, -1, 0, 0, +1, +2, and +3 to the seven values. I didn't roll since this lets me define strengths and weaknesses my way instead of randomly. You could roll random, your choice.

So in summary 80 attribute points, 25 talent points, 10 skill points, one firearm skill, literacy (x2), tech use (x2), culture (x2), two survival skills, and brawling.

Tech Use, Culture, and Literacy are Relative

Also, keep Tech Use, High Tech Use, and Literacy relative to the cultures. Tech Use becomes Earth Tech or Space Tech, and you pick your starting culture's Tech Use skill. This makes Martians have to learn how to use telephones, while Earthlings need to figure out Martian transport tubes. High Tech Use? Well, again, culture relative if you go there and really only applicable for the "super advanced" technology of the day, such as computers in the 50's and something like technology that was lost or theoretical to the Martians. 

Literacy and culture work similarly, Earth and Space, but let everyone read English and only roll for odd cases such as who Shakespeare or Guulilinak is in reference to classic literature of the planet. Culture is also similar, what is rock and roll and what is the Martian hoopa hop would be good areas for rolling.

Remarkably Flexible

One thing I love about Aftermath (that we knew all this time) is how remarkably flexible the game is to modify. This is a common trait to many old-school games, and I find a lot of the modern games are very easy to break and throw way out of balance. Some games exist to be completely out of balance and are further ruined by 3rd party content. The older games feel more grounded in "chance of success" and "consequences" and don't have these huge structured frameworks of class designs (that are never play tested well unless they are ancient and time-tested like B/X) bolted on them.

I can swap out the skill list. I can pare it down. I could put Gangbusters or Star Frontiers skills in there. I could do a decent Space Opera with the system. I could play fantasy. The post-apoc genre sits on the border of sci-fi and fantasy, and is grounded in modern day, so the system does everything reasonably well. I could do steampunk fine, and the whole BAP/MNA/PCA action system feels like clockwork mechanics anyways so it would thematically fit (and it isn't as complicated as I remember, just a phased initiative countdown system).

Plus you get vehicles and things that go boom. As kids, this killed D&D for us because we got to play with the big action-movie toys, real cool war stuff, and it just felt grand and epic, while being rooted in rules that were easily accessible from a single character sheet.

Simple and Fun

The system feels good to me. Likely because we used to run games that lasted years, and we played every day with a fast-and-loose version of the rules where we ignored hex maps and handled everything verbally. The characters start weak and grow to heroic proportions.

A fun system I am very comfortable using, and it feels like a great "mess around" home system with a lot of potential for random effects and outcomes in combat.

I am happy again going back, and that is something I didn't expect after spending nearly 20 years away.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Swords & Wizardry vs. Labyrinth Lord

Above are three great discussions on the differences between Swords & Wizardry (S&W) and Labyrinth Lord (LL), and yes I know, so many have moved on to Old School Essentials (OSE) as their B/X game of choice. But I recently got into Swords & Wizardry just because of all the cool games based on it and wanted to check out the base rules out and to see why the game inspired so much hacking and custom games that started with these rules.

In short, Swords & Wizardry was the old-school hacker's paradise before Old School Essentials came along and built B/X as a modular experience. In S&W a lot is left up to your imagination and interpretation (like the old days), and the game is even supplied as a MS Word doc (so I have heard, I have not found the current link yet) so you can remix and rebuild the game any way you would like.

So a plethora of games were released using S&W as a core rules set, including a lot of the X! games mentioned previously, a WW2 game, and many others.

In regards to community choice, it does feel as if Swords and Wizardry came first, that was replaced by Labyrinth Lord, and that was replaced by Old School Essentials. Dungeon Crawl Classics still is in there somewhere doing its own thing. I get this feeling the more your game emulates the original rules and acts as a replacement for them, the easier you are to replace when the next cool thing comes out. Games that do their own thing (DCC and others) tend to stick around and maintain fans.

One Save to Rule them All

There is one feature of Swords & Wizardry that I feel is a genius simplification: the unified, singular saving throw number. You get one saving throw that improves as you level, and there is no chart reference or odd progression for this or that. No difference between saving versus spells or a wand. You just "save" and that is that, and there are optional "plus this versus that" sort of exceptions, like a class getting a save bonus versus something or the other.

You can even use the saving throw as a backdoor skill roll. Would a magic user know how to read those runes? Saving throw. Would an assassin know the handiwork of another assassin? Saving throw. Could a ranger or druid identify a plant? Saving throw. Basic Fantasy has a skill roll mechanic like this, but this way feels much more unified and sane.

I like the one save concept a lot, and it makes the "save versus..." charts on many other games look like unneeded minutia and cruft. I just ask myself why do saves really need to differ by a couple points in either direction for all these classes when you could just average them all out and give a bonus or penalty to a couple situations per class and be rid of all that complexity and have more flexibility.

It makes me wonder why the original designers of D&D felt the need to divide saves like this and if that was even the right choice or just pointless detail. If you wanted a species to be magic resistant, give them a plus on magic saves. Make that stack with a class also magic resistant for another plus. Or give assassins a bonus on just poison saves since they nick themselves constantly. Or give clerics a save versus opposing alignment (good or evil) magic.

You get a lot of flexibility here and a lot more options when designing races and classes versus having to print, update, and reference dozens of tables of saving throws. And these tables are huge, slow, and require a lot of recording and bookkeeping.

The one save number rule alone makes me a fan.

Very AD&D and Close to LL

Before Old School Essentials came along many were split between Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord for the mixed D&D and AD&D sort of mash-up experience. Then we had a lot of great B/X games released and rapid development of base games and new experiences. With the "advanced" companions for OSE coming out this year I suspect both S&W and LL are further going to be relegated to hardcore fans, but both always given props in the community.

You also have the demons in here where OSE's advanced edition removed them, so if you wanted the classic AD&D style experience with the demons and devils being the evil masterminds of wickedness in the world either LL or SW are great choices for your game.

S&W does feel like a 70's version of AD&D to me, sort of a stripped-down, pre-basic/expert set version of the rules with quirks and balance through taking away some of our standard assumptions (like all classes getting a STR modifier to damage in B/X land; only pure fighters get that damage bonus, and not rangers or paladins). The more tricky social classes (bards and illusionists) are not here, and this is feels like more of a retro-retro clone with some of our B/X assumptions turned on their heads.

It does challenge some of those B/X assumptions we have come to feel are genre standards, and it helps show you that breaking some things in B/X cannon (like the saving throw tables or assumptions of ability score bonuses) can actually make a better or at least more interesting game in some ways.

I feel it also highlights one danger of homogenizing on one B/X rules set as a standard, and forcing every B/X design to account for everything in one rules set over all others. Personally, I am happy owning, reading, playing all these B/X games and S&W makes a fine addition to my B/X play and game design toolkit.

Missing Bards and Illusionists

For some not having these classes is a deal breaker, and LL does not have a bard class either. Though I found a great S&W bard here:

...and I am sure if you really wanted an illusionist you could always use LL's, or find another one like this one that took me seconds to search for:

This is S&W, the community of hacking is your friend and will fill in most of what you need. And there is also B/X to pull from as well. Since S&W is closer in spirit to the old days you are supposed to mod and hack and get playing. It is a different attitude from the "complete" type games like Old School Essentials where all of what you need is in the books (but you can mod there as well, TBH).

Still Worth Having

For all the game hacks and games created off this base, I still feel S&W is worth owning and playing, or at least as a companion resource to games based off of the core system. The system feels more 1970's D&D than Labyrinth Lord's early 80's AD&D feel, and that is something to consider. LL feels more like a nod to today's B/X conventions, while S&W keeps things old school (and thus has a more distinct identity in my feeling, especially when LL is compared to OSE).

There is also a lot of great high-quality content written for the game and worlds of content to explore here, and it is all B/X so it can be reused anywhere you eventually end up. So while OSE is the current game of the moment for the B/X world, I still feel S&W is a strong choice with some cool custom games developed from the core rules.

While I do like OSE a lot, I don't feel I need to play it exclusively. I will probably change my mind when the advanced books arrive, so there is that.

I could see myself designing a game originating on this rules set over Labyrinth Lord or even Old School Essentials, just because the system is designed to be ultra hackable and modifiable. There isn't much baggage here once you strip everything out beyond a handful of core B/X style conventions. OSE does a great job modularizing things, but S&W lets you tear down to the metal and rebuild.

The PDF is free too, so the price is right. I picked up the softcover too, just to have the book, and it was a great deal - and something I will be using.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Beyond Belief - X! Games

Here is a sweet find. On my investigation into "why play Swords and Wizardry?" (coming up) I found eight absolute gems of B/X pulp-comic gaming. These are each complete mini role playing games covering the topics of different pulp comics (which they pull public domain art from, which is cool).

I was looking for a B/X implementation of the classic Top Secret game, and I found Lies and Spies X! a cool retro-pulp spy game with an assortment of G-Men, spy, and other cool B/X style modern archetypes that go up to 6th level and play with a system that is B/X compatible (but more along the Swords and Wizardry style of theme).

After that I found Superheroes X! a cool low-powered early-pulp golden age superhero game that is compatible with all of the games in the X! lineup and gives you an interesting mix of characters, powers, and heroes. Wow. Cool stuff!

But it doesn't end there. We have retro Buck Rogers, Red Planet, and Flash Gordon style games with Jarkoon - Adventures on Planet X! and Space Adventures X! two genres I really love. You have all sorts of cool scientists, astronauts, space adventurers, diplomats, and other sci-fi B/X goodness in these books. Oh, and they are compatible with the other books in the X! lines as well.

Want pirates and cowboys? We got those too with The Eerie West X! and Screaming Seas X! with a pair of strongly themed games set in those periods too. I am sure the western game could be a cool "out west" supplement for the other modern games like spies or superheroes, since those comics assumed the Wild West kept going up until about 1970. And again, all compatible with each other.

Let's round out the collection with Terror Tales X! and Uncanny War Stories X! two more genre specific games of terror and two-fisted paranormal WW2 battle stories. If you ever wanted to run a quick game from stories ripped out of 1960's horror comics these would be my go-to games. Again, these are all compatible with the others in this set, and you can also just pull in your Swords and Wizardry or B/X content as you see fit.

Barebones but Cool

The presentation on all of these is very bare bones, the games run about 20 pages and they look more like nicely formatted MS Word documents than they do professionally laid out publications. There isn't too much in the way of fluff either, these get right down to the basics and stay there. But in that lies their charm, they are someone's homebrew notes for running cool and fun variant pulp-comic book games with the B/X rules across a wide variety of subject matter and they are all interchangeable for a whacky and zany "World of X!" style experience in the Swords and Wizardry style of universe.

I can see how some might be turned off by the presentation, but I see it as a cool throwback to the days of dot-matrix printed rules and shared content among gamers of house rules and homebrews. Would I want these someday to be redone and professionally presented? Of course, but without exposure that is never gonna happen. These remind me of the systems that were on sale in the classified ads of the old Dragon Magazine in the back, quirky, small press, and labors of love.


I do want to see more of these. Savage jungle style adventures. Ones where you play as vampires, mummies, Frankensteins, or werewolves. 1950's monster movies where you battle blobs and giant insects. Time travel. Samurais and ninjas.

I would also like to see the Uncanny War Stories one cover a wider range of content, from WW2 through Korea, to Vietnam (the cover image), and an option to remove the magic elements, but I could house rule that just as easy.

Starting Points

They are also infinitely expandable with your own house rules, gear, classes, monsters, and spin on things. Run a battle between a World War II squad and a red dragon. Have space explorers crash land on cowboy world. Run a superheroes versus pirates game. Pull the demons in from Swords and Wizardry and have them fight paranormal investigators - or G-Men. Or pirates.

Oh, and the PDFs are only a couple bucks each, less than a cup of coffee. What is not to love?

B/X is a wonderful world to explore, find gems in, and play in. The ultimate generic system is B/X, and you can find games that go off in so many creative and cool directions with a little digging and the desire to try something new and cool.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Mythic Game Master Emulator

My intent was to use Mythic GM Emulator (MGME) with Genesys to augment that game's situational based dice, but the more I read this, the more I realized that I didn't need the special dice or Genesys itself. I could get by fine without the overlaying system of Genesys and just use something simple like B/X as the core game and let MGME do all the heavy lifting.

Yes-No and Probability

The way the system works is interesting. This isn't a rule system, but more of a framework for determining the answers to yes-no questions given a probability you assign to the question being a "yes." You can go even, somewhat likely, very unlikely, a sure thing, impossible, and so on with the probabilities, and this is all modified by a global "chaos" type factor that goes higher the more things get out of control and goes lower the more the players get things under control.

There are limits to the types of number of questions you can ask to avoid cheesing the system, and it is recommended you avoid asking the question "do I find a suitcase with a million dollars in it?" in every scene. They say two questions per scene is a good number, like "is the room empty?" and if no "are these the goblins that escaped?" You answer questions until you figure things out, setup the encounter with the system of your choice, and go from there.

For the most part, you go by logic and what you would expect, but the system is engineered to throw you curveballs every once and a while to keep things interesting, As a solo-play system I can see this working well.

Random Events

When doubles are rolled and the singles digit of the doubles is less than the 1-9 Chaos Factor, a random event occurs.- so every question asked of the fate chart has the possibility of throwing a curveball into the story with every question asked. I like this since it puts some danger on asking questions for 5-10% of them having a possibility to throw a wrench into the works.

These can be decided on the spot, or there is a flavor table where you can roll two random words to help you interpret the event, such as "inform-ambush" meaning your group gets advance word of an ambush happing to themselves or others.

Adventure and Scene Frameworks

There is also a basic scene framework to build encounters with that string together for an adventure. You setup a scene, there are some chances for it to go off the rails from what you expected, and you begin the yes-no process to setup the situation. This felt like a section I would pass over, but one thing caught my eye - when a scene is setup, a 1d10 is rolled and compared to the current Chaos Factor. This roll can either alter or interrupt the scene you have planned in your head.

With an altered scene, what you thought was going to happen in the scene is changed in some way. The goblin fort you planned on attacking is empty. The lost starship everyone assumed crashed is actually intact. The casino the super criminal is supposed to be at is holding a carnival festival. Your assumptions about the setup for the next scene in your head are not correct, and you are forced to change them.

With an interrupted scene, you don't even get there. The goblins ambush you before you even get to the fort. You get a distress call from a remote moon before you ever get to the planet with the lost starship. Your superspy never gets to the casino, and instead, they are locked in the back of a runaway taxi as it careens towards a cliff!

You then play out the original, altered, or interrupted scene. After that, you make changes to the story threads (updating, starting, or stopping the threads in the adventure), the character and NPC lists, and update the current Chaos Factor either positively or negatively (depending on if the characters were in control or out of control).

I like the concept of story threads here. You can start with stop the goblins from attacking traders on the road. You learn of the goblin fort and you add, destroy the goblin fort. You learn of a kidnapped merchant being held for ransom and you add, rescue the merchant. You destroy the fort and rescue the merchant, so you cross those threads out, but you learn of the goblins were being paid by an evil cult to attack the merchants, so you add investigate the evil cult to your story thread list. Perhaps you find a map the goblins had with the location of a strange ruin, so you add investigating that to your story thread list as well.

I Like This, Well Put Together

This is a fun story framework system I can see myself using. It is interesting, lightweight, and it doesn't get in the way of the underlying rules with all sorts of special talents, abilities, and qualifiers. There isn't a lot of scaffolding here except for the Fate Chart, Chaos Factor, two ways of creating Random Events, and one-of-three possible Scene Setup rules. Just four pillars to consider when thinking about what happens next, and a solid yes-no method for creating the low-level details.

Very nicely done, and hlighly recommended for those into solo play.