'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Back to the Pulps. Clark Ashton Smith.

Yesterday, August 14, is a day that marks the anniversary of the passing of Clark Ashton Smith. Smith became known to me through reading Robert E Howard. CAS is often spoken in the same sentences that name Robert E Howard and Howard Phillips Lovecraft. He was a common contributor to Weird Tales at the same time as the other two, often being referred to as part of a trio of weird. Like Howard he was a member of what has come to be known as Lovecraft's literary circle.

If you haven't read any Clark Ashton Smith I highly recommend you pick up some of his work and get to know him a little. To help you with that I found a website containing a fairly large repository of his writing, "The Eldritch Dark, The Sanctum of Clark Ashton Smith" and I am going to link some of my favorites below for you to check out.

Here we have five stories to read and a website full of many many more. I myself have only read a small portion of this author's work but you should give him a shot if you haven't. You will be rewarded with a myriad of strange and fantastic worlds the likes of which you have not seen before.



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Expanse RPG: The Zone, Part 1: The Basics.

I first encountered this idea in Conan 2d20, which isn't surprising since it was the RPG that brought me back to this hobby. I've seen it used a spatial idea in other games since then, which isn't to say Conan was the first, just the first to me.

When not playing theatre of the mind, games like Pathfinder use a grid or a measurement to move miniatures around and determine if they can attack. ie Thogar, my warrior can move 20' in a turn and a square is typically 5 feet, allowing my character to move 4 spaces in a turn.

Zones allow us to understand our spatial relationships but remove the idea of moving 4 squares or 5 squares. It gives up some granularity and some level of tactics, but gives us a fairly nice bridge between the boardgame/wargame feel of a grid/measurement based system and a theatre of the mind.

If you are unfamiliar with a zone, you can think of it as a spatial area where some action might take place. It's size isn't *THAT* important but should probably make some sense given the encounter. If we take a generic tavern we might have 4 or 5 zones.
  • The Bar.
  • The Front Entrance.
  • The Tables.
  • The Fireplace.
  • The Dark Corner.
Instead of measuring your 4 or 5 spaces a character can generally use their standard action/move to simply move from one zone into another. Moving around inside a zone is generally a simple/minor/half-move action depending on the game you are playing. Yes it removes the ability to do tactically think about where a character is moving and if they will trigger attacks of opportunity or similar. Yes it removes the ability of some players to be a little faster than others. What it does give you is a fairly simply way to spatially show about where players and their antagonists are located in an environment.

You can also fairly easily define areas that are slower to move through by simply making those zones a little smaller. Consider the following graphic showing a road flanked on either side by dense forests. Without specifically counting squares we can see that the road is a faster way to travel and in this case, twice as fast.

You can further make the environments interesting by adding skill tests or increased difficulties to the zones. In Conan 2d20 perhaps the forests add +1D to all skill tests including combat unless they are at home in the forest. In something like ICRPG where you set a TN for the room, you could now set it for each zone instead. Perhaps the zone is on a cliff edge and requires a dexterity test to not slip and another once slipped to not fall off the edge? As you can see it has the ability to add a lot of environmental factors in pretty easily.

You can define these zones with terrain as normal, although this is often the most challenging way to do it as terrain will often bleed together and where a zone is exactly can be difficult for a player to see, especially if they are used to a grid or measure based system. Another way to define a zone is with a set of simple index cards, and I would be remiss without mentioning Runehammer's collections of index cards that make excellent zone markers. Currently he is up to four collections of these cards, with volume 3 being sci-fi oriented.

Our next installment is going to look at how I am thinking of implanting this with Expanse given the full set of Modern Age rules. Things may change but it will give us a good starting place on how to implement this awesome and simple system in our games.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Modern Age: Making a Character.

Now that we've had a quick look at the print edition of Modern Age, I thought I would go a little more in depth into various parts of the rulebook. Starting off this series: Characters.

Without characters the players would have no real ability to interact with the world and without that our story is going to suffer. It makes sense to start our look at these rules with character generation.

As most RPGs characters are defined by a list of attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom, Intelligence, Constitution and Charisma....No wait that's D&D, a game I haven't really played in close to 25 years. Although I admit to a few pathfinder sessions. It's funny to me that I can still recall the attributes from that game. These are of course NOT the attributes used in Modern Age. Modern Age uses the following attributes to define a character

  • Accuracy - Aim, precision, ability to use ranged weapons.
  • Communication - Social skills, personal interactions.
  • Constitution - Health and fortitude.
  • Dexterity - Hand-eye coordination, reaction time.
  • Fighting - Close combat/melee weapons.
  • Intelligence - Reasoning, memory, problem solving.
  • Perception - Ability to use the characters senses, how observant they are.
  • Strength - How strong the character is.
  • Willpower - Self control, discipline.

BUT before we get around to generating your alter-egos physical and mental abilities lets do one thing first, which is actually listed as step 1 of character creation in the rule book. The first thing we need is a basic concept. Having an idea of the campaign you are going to play in will be an important thing to know. If your adventures are set in the south American jungle, choosing a street wise private eye is probably not your best choice.

Knowing the group is going to play a group trying to rid the city of crime in a gritty 70s/80s type cop show, we will choose that street wise private investigator as our basic idea for our character.

Now that we have our basic idea we can determine our stats. The base method of determining this is to roll 3d6 in order and consult a table. This will generate a stat from -2 to 4. It also include the ability to swap any two rolls to more closely meet the character as he or she develops. They include two other methods, one is random and one is a point build system. I am in favor of point build systems in a lot of cases. I like the idea of allowing a player to build the character they like and want to play.

Using the standard method of rolling 3d6 in order we come up with the following for stats.
  • Accuracy - 2
  • Communication - 0
  • Constitution - 2
  • Dexterity - 3
  • Fighting - 0
  • Intelligence - 1
  • Perception - 2
  • Strength - 2
  • Willpower - 2

Once we have the attributes figured out we figure out our characters social class, background. These are a few simple rolls or choices and will give the character a random bonus as well as an increase to an attribute, a focus and a talent.

My rolls for my class and background roll out as follows....
Social class: Outsider
Background: Bohemian
Background Bonus: Acrobatics

Bohemian grants +1 Communication, One of two different focuses, keeping our character in mind we will choose Communication (Performance) and one of two talents. We will again choose Performance. Our roll of Acrobatics grants us that as a focus.
  • Communication - 1, Performance
  • Dexterity - 3, Acrobatics
Talents: Performance.

The next step we are going to complete is the characters profession. Again it is a simple roll or a choice. The profession will give you another focus and another talent as well as the characters base health and resource score.

For a profession we roll Survivalist.
This grants us another focus. We will choose Accuracy (Pistols)
And another Talent. We choose Tactical Awareness.
Our base health, as this is a physical profession is 20+Con, or 22.
  • Accuracy - 2, Pistols
Talents: Performance, Tactical Awareness.

Once we have our abilities, background, social class and profession we need to determine what drives the character. As the rest of the steps this is a pretty simple set of rolls and will give you a description of the things that drive your character as well as a quality and a downfall. You will also gain a new Talent and the ability to improve something, from a list of 3 things.

Our characters drive is Builder. You are someone who wants to create something lasting. A foundation, community etc. How you get it? That is less important.
We again get another Talent and we will choose "Maker".
We also get an improvement. Right now our Resource score is 0, so we will move that to 2
At this time now that we have a better understanding of our character we can swap out two abilities, but I think ours are looking ok, so we will leave them as is.
  • Resources - 2
Talents: Performance, Tactical Awareness, Maker.

Equipment in the game is a basic set of starting equipment your character might actually have. Is she a PI? She might have a low budget office, cell and computer. Maybe a pistol. The game lists starting equipment as clothing, equipment and weapons in line with the character. It is in general a pretty open thing that will need to be discussed with the GM. Money in this game is handled in a very abstract way, so you won't be buying 50 feet of rope and deducting 10gp from your character sheet.

A basic set of equipment that fits our character and current abilities.
Equipment: Basic simple clothing and tie. Pistol. Cell phone. Older cool car.

We have a few more stats to figure out which are just simple derived stats based on a base + ability. ie Health is determined by your profession and now we learn your health is that base + your characters Con. We determine health, defense, toughness and speed this way.

Our final derived stats look like this:
  • Health - 22
  • Defense - 13
  • Toughness - 2
  • Speed - 13

The penultimate step in character creation is a little more abstract. Determining a few goals as well as relationships and strengths of those relationships. Did someone save your life? Would you take a bullet for someone? Does someone have to die? The number of these is determined by your characters communication skill.

  • Goals: He's seen too much crime in his life. All he wants to do is to take down as many bad guys as possible.
  • Goals: Form a group of men and women that can act outside the law to take down criminals and others.
  • Relationships: Close relationship with a detective on the police force.
  • Ties: This will be some ideas about how this character knows the other PCs in his group.

Finally name and describe your character. Figure out who he or she is exactly. Once that is complete you have your first character for Modern Age.

Name: Jim
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 189lbs
Age: 31

And finally the completed character. Overall I found the system easy to learn and follow along with. I hope you have a better understanding of how a build might look.

Name: Jim
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 189lbs
Age: 31
Early middle age, shabby clothing,
dark slightly curly hair.
  • Health - 22
  • Defense - 13
  • Toughness - 2
  • Speed - 13
  • Accuracy - 2, Pistols
  • Communication - 1, Performance
  • Constitution - 2
  • Dexterity - 3, Acrobatics
  • Fighting - 0
  • Intelligence - 1
  • Perception - 2
  • Strength - 2
  • Willpower - 2
Resources: 2
Equipment:
Clothing, tie
Pistol.
Cell phone.
Older cool car.
Talents: Performance, Tactical Awareness, Maker.
  • Goals: He's seen too much crime in his life. All he wants to do is to take down as many bad guys as possible.
  • Goals: Form a group of men and women that can act outside the law to take down criminals and others.
  • Relationships: Close relationship with a detective on the police force.
  • Ties: This will be some ideas about how this character knows the other PCs in his group.
WeaponAttack BonusDamageROF/RNG/CAP/RELOAD
SA Handgun+42d6 -B-W-SA/55yrd/5 cap/minor

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Modern Age: Print Edition.

Over the past few weeks I have been delving into the new Expanse RPG by Green Ronin Publishing. When it was Kickstarted we learned it would be based on Green Ronin's Modern AGE, a ruleset for modern adventures based on their AGE system.

I wanted to pick up the rules and looked at the PDF on drivethrurpg, but ultimately I ended up ordering directly from Green Ronin in order to get a copy of the printed rules. For me PDFs have a place but to learn and read a system, very little beats a physical book.

My copy of the physical rules showed up yesterday and I wanted to share my initial thoughts of the book itself and in the coming weeks maybe delve a little deeper into my thoughts on the system itself since it is what the Expanse is based upon.


So first up is the volume itself. Looks good, nice cover, hardback edition of the rules. Nothing to complain about here, a solid first impression of the book.

Despite being shipped with a large amount of packing material in an undamaged box far larger than the book, I still had a little damage due to shipping from somewhere along the line.

Not ideal but not a deal breaker for me. One of the hazards of ordering on-line. I will note the game was shipped from Alliance Distributors, not from Green Ronin itself.

It's possible I could launch a complaint and maybe even get a new book, but this one works and the damage is so minor to me that pursuing that line is a waste of my time.



These next two images are just a couple of quick screenshots from the interior of the book. Nothing new for me here as I have seen the pdf. However I will say the paper seems high quality. It doesn't feel cheap. However the binding leaves me uncertain, some places in the book it feels tight and in others loose. That is to say I can lay the book open on some pages and not on others. I am not sure it will fall apart, it just gives me a little pause.

Art wise I like it but don't love it. I love some of it, but not all of it. They do list twelve interior artists so it's possible I just like some of their skills more than others. I believe this is simply a personal preference. It is well executed and in full color. Nothing to complain about.

Throughout the book are a series of color coding geared to take the game through it's three flavors: Gritty, Pulpy and Cinematic. I think it is a nice way to lay out these options that is clear, concise and immediately tells the reader that this is a place where we can change the overall feel for the game. Even with the color coding each entry is clearly labelled as to what it represents.

This page is detailing character advancement over the course of the game based on these three styles of play, but there are also entries on how damage is applied etc.



The book has a two page index which appears to be comprehensive, although I have not used it so I can't actually confirm how comprehensive it is at this time. Either way it is better than not having an index at all, a direction some publishers have chosen.
Finally we have a few pages of character sheets and quick reference and initiative sheets for players and NPCs. The character sheet is plain and maybe a little unimaginative, but for a generic system that makes some sense. It is ALSO easy to ready and reference.

To better understand my opinions of the book I have summarized it over a few metrics, scored out of 5.

  • First impression: 85%. Good solid book.
  • Book quality: 85%. High quality paper, good cover. I am not 100% convinced of the binding.
  • Organization: 90%. I like how it is organized. It seems clear. It has an index.
  • Art: 80% The art is good, but for me, not mind blowing.


FOUR SKULLS OF MY ENEMIES!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Expanse Rpg. Miniatures?

The quick start presents the rules from a "Theatre of the Mind" perspective. They do mention miniatures and how to convert speed onto a grid scale, but this isn't Savage Worlds. However if you are like me you like miniatures and an excuse to buy more is a good thing!

At present there are no official Expanse miniatures. There are of course various sci-fi and near sci-fi collections out there. I made an attempt to go out and find a few of those and categorize them into areas they might fit into the universe of The Expanse.

This is far from a definitive list and most links will take you to whole collections of similar figures. I also realize these might not be the most ideal miniatures for your vision.

If you have some others you think would make awesome Expanse figures drop me a comment!


The Executives and Politicians


These make up the higher end of government and business. Characters like Chrisjen Avasarala, Sadavir Errinwright and Jules-Pierre Mao.

Men in Black
Copplestone Castings
Francis
Hasslefree Miniatures


Star Helix and Other Security Firms


The private security of the belt and inner planets. Guys and gals with guns, also investigators like Miller

Cops and Paramilitary
Em4/Moonraker
Suits
em4/Moonraker
Gov't Types
Heresy Miniatures


MCRN/UN


The Military. Naval officers, Marines, etc. Bobbie Draper of the MCRN Marines is an example.

Nova Corp
Reaper Bones
Troopers
Em4/Moonraker
Inspectors
Heresy Miniatures
Admiral Edwards
Hasslefree Miniatures


OPA


Militia types representing the loose knit organization of freedom fighters and terrorists

Citizen Militia 1
Copplestone Castings
Scavengers
Copplestone Castings
Scavenger Heros
Copplestone Castings


Civilians

General people living and working on Mars or Earth

Newsteam
Copplestone Castings
Modern Civilians
Old Glory Miniatures


Player Characters

The Holdens, Nagatas, Burtons and Kamals of the universe

Anti-heros
Heresy Miniatures
Laran Jax
Hasslefree Miniatures
Danica
Hasslefree Miniatures


Company list

A list of the companies used in picking a few miniatures I felt might fir into the Expanse. I am sure there are others with these manufacturers as well as others. Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Expanse RPG. The Churn.

Kenzo: It must be nice, having everything figured out like that.
Amos: Ain’t nothing to do with me: we’re just caught in the Churn, that’s all.
Kenzo: I have no idea what you just said.
Amos: This boss I used to work for in Baltimore, he called it the Churn. When the rules of the game change.
Kenzo: What game?
Amos: The only game. Survival. When the jungle tears itself down and builds itself into something new. Guys like you and me, we end up dead. Doesn’t really mean anything. Or, if we happen to live through it, well that doesn’t mean anything either.

We got another Expanse Extra yesterday. That is a new mechanic from the RPG that isn't in the quick start. This time the Churn is detailed. This is a mechanic to simulate things going from bad to worse. It will add tension and consequence to the adventure. For me it is similar but different to the role Doom plays in Conan 2d20.

In 2d20, doom stands as a pile that gets added to when various things occur. The GM can then spend that to make bad guys more powerful, introduce more bad guys or just in general make things hard on the players. It is a mechanic designed to simulate the flow of Robert E Howard's epic tales of Conan.

The Churn, although implemented differently, is essentially a mechanic with the same goal in terms of the flow of the story. Things are going well for the players, they have this in the bag. Suddenly the rules change on them and what was easy now becomes difficult.

In it's essence "The Churn" is a running total, when characters do certain things a point is added to that total. When it reaches 10 there is a chance a Minor Stage 1 Churn event happens. If it doesn't happen, the total will increase. When it reaches 20 a Major Stage 2 Churn event may occur. If no event is triggered it continues to increase until it reaches 30, here we have a chance of an Epic Stage 3 Churn event. As you can see each time we get to 10, we check for an event, the level of event increases as the multiple of 10 increases. If you get to 10 points in stage 3, an Epic Stage 3 event occurs. No matter when the pool is triggered it resets to 0.

My first impression is that the Stage 1 events are a little weak IMHO, more choice here would be great. However since I haven't played I don't actually know how fast these things will get generated and it might happen several times in an encounter, and if that is the case it is probably fine.

Either way I am a fan of this style of mechanic. The fact that accumulating The Churn means something bad is going to happen may add enough tension all on it's own to make players a little squirrely.

Be sure to check out my other articles on the Expanse RPG!

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Expanse RPG. Let's Get Advanced!

Continuing my look at the quickstart rules for the Expanse RPG, I wanted to circle back and look at skill tests. Like many games the skill test is the core of the game, anything a character wants to do, of consequence, is generally resolved with a skill test roll by the player.

In many games that boils down to non-combat characters doing their shining moment in a roll or two, leaving combat characters rolling a lot and being more engaged in that way within the game engine. Although conflict is a very important part of RPGs and narratives it can leave some characters out in the cold so to speak.

When RuneHammer Games released ICRPG he included an effort system. You could assign 10 effort points to a task, say translating runes, your party member with the ability to translate could now be a more active part. Now it wasn't a roll with a pass/fail, now it was a matter of time before the runes could be deciphered. Adding in combat with this added even more tension. It is a cool mechanic and it was the first time I had personally encountered it's use.

Wait? Why are we talking about RuneHammer? I thought this was about "The Expanse RPG"? The Expanse has a similar system called "Advanced Tests". These are generally described as more advanced test. In this case the GM is going to assign a TN as well a success threshold. When a player rolls for their character and succeeds the drama die is added to a running total, and once that total meets or exceeds that success threshold the test is successful. Of course each attempt at the test consumes time and perhaps resources depending on the test.

ok. Lets take a look at this in action!

Noelle


Intelligence: 2
Focus: Technology


Deep in Ceres station Noelle and her crew are attempting to hack into a computer system. The right information can make you wealthy.

Things haven't gone well for our heroes though and they are pinned down at the access node by Star Helix operatives. Reinforcements are most certainly on the way. As it turns out Noelle is a bit of a whiz with computers and they decide to attempt the hack despite the presence of the security officers and their guns.

The GM has set this encounter to allow the Players to escape if they desire. For every round they stay an additional D4 guards take up position firing on the players, to a max of 5 operatives. We will assume Star Helix has enough man power to essentially keep throwing low level operatives at them.

The GM sets the computer system hack as an Advanced test with a Threshold of 10, and a TN of 13.


Round 1:
Noelle gets to work attempting to bypass the security system while her crew and Star Helix exchange fire. Her players rolls 1,4,(4) = 9 + 2 Int + 2 focus = 13 = SUCCESS! 4 is added to the running total.
The remainder of the round is her crew and Star Helix rolling and attempting to kill each other. Some of her crew take damage, and one or two SH operatives are dropped.


Round 2:
The crew calls back as the desperately hold off SH, "HOW MUCH LONGER!!??"
Noelle, while working as fast as she can yells back, "I'm in! Almost there!!". Her players makes another roll to work on the system. This time her roll is 3,6,(1) = 10 + 2 Int + 2 focus = 14 = SUCCESS! 1 is added to the running total.
Noelle curses under her breath as ICE work to stop her attempts at access in the main database. Star Helix continues their onslaught as more guards turn up to help capture the renegades.


Round 3:
A Star Helix officer gets a bead on Noelle and fires at her, the bullet glances off the bulk head just to the right of her head, her fortune holds as she continues to work against the computer. This time her roll is 2,1,(6) = 9 + 2 Int + 2 Focus = 13 = SUCCESS! 6 is added to the running total, brining it to 10. Noelle lets out a whoop as she successfully breaks into the system. The gun battle continues, Star Helix continues shooting, their bullets finally finding their marks as the luck of Noelle's crew begins to run out.


Hopefully, if you haven't used a system like this, you can see how it can engage a non-combat character more thoroughly into the game beyond the simple roll to pass/fail their key skill. I think the concept can make the game a lot more fun for everyone and allow a cooler and more interesting skill test interaction.

Be sure to check out my other articles on the Expanse RPG!