Thursday, June 29, 2017

Personal stuff

So the chemotherapy is done. Yay. Has been for some weeks. Got some colour back, should start back at work. Except.

Had my first CT scan to establish a baseline post-surgery. No sign of cancer where I had the Whipple, so that's good, but four black spots of unknown origin in the lungs. Sigh. My oncologist was careful to point out that they could be artifacts from a lung infection, or or something else, and not necessarily cancer (too small to tell).

So we'll give them three months to grow or disappear or whatever, and do another CT scan. (Going to CT scans every six months then isn't now doesn't the radiation risk). If they're cancer, they'll get bigger (growing is what cancer does), and we'll know. If they're not cancer, they'll stay the same or disappear.

I just wish this shit was easy, you know?

Unsolicited advice

Over in the G+ ICONS community, Jonata Sodre asked a question about novice heroes and adventures. I mis-interpreted the question and provided this, which might be of interest to others.

In ICONS, the Determination Points mechanism overcomes most of the problems from point imbalance. (I have not played enough Supers! REd to be sure if competency dice do the same thing, but I suspect they might.)

If you want the opposition to be easier and more suitable to beginning characters, I might consider doing some or most of these. Some of these are specific to ICONS, some are general to superhero games.
  1. When looking at the characters before-hand, try to guide them away from things that will require lists or designing on the fly. So Transformation (Animals) is not great (though you can use the list of animals in the rulebook), Summoning (from Great Power) might be a hassle (because you have to design the summoned beast). Summoning is much easier to use when it's duplicating guess at the stats of the animated thing, and go.
  2. Use minions. If there are bunches of disposable henchpeople with the minion rule, the heroes can clean them up, and be demonstrably effective (good for player morale).
  3. Make sure that the opposition has no damage resistance or force field, or if there is one, it's very low...level 1, 2, or 3. That's enough that no one will ask why the police didn't handle it, but low enough that a Strength 4 crimefighter who is punching should still do a little damage every hit.
  4. Make the final fight with a single opponent. Then the players act once each and the villain acts once (on each page). That makes it much easier for the player characters to win.
  5. Try and have something for every player to do, in the adventure. If the characters are created with point-buy, the abilities are hints as to what the players want to do. Somebody who bought Investigation as a specialty probably wants to investigate something at some point. In the same way, look at the Qualities as hints about the story things they want. The character design isn't always a clue—some people put stuff in there for completeness' sake, or "just because"—but it might be a clue.
  6. Remind the players that they can try and find out the villain's Qualities, and that those Qualities can help bring down the villain. (If they can't figure out how to do it, give them more hints, and don't charge them Determination for it.)
  7. At the same time, don't go nuts with creating Qualities. Sometimes, just rolling some dice to do it (technically, a maneuver) is sufficient. Sometimes you don't even have to roll dice: "Okay, your fire blast sets it on fire. The propane tank explodes." Or, "I want to hit him and knock him off balance." "You're stronger than he is, so just roll Prowess, and if you do, he's off-balance. Everyone can take advantage of that this page."
  8. If you can't think of how to do something in the game, say, "Sure, it'll cost you a Determination Point" and charge them a Determination Point, rather than stalling the game by looking it up. (I mean, it's better to know the stuff, but it's okay to have been wrong if everyone has fun. You can do it right next time.) If the player doesn't have a Determination Point, trade them Trouble or have them roll something.
  9. For beginning players and characters, simple is usually better. The thief is stealing hawk things, they there's a display of Egyptian hawk jewelry at the museum tonight, and the villain turns out to be an Egyptian god who is seeking the Staff of Horus. Fight ensues. The players lose or win; if they lose, they've learned Qualities that will help them win; if they win, that's great. Adventure's over. Yes, you can complicate it by having the villain be an  assistant to the Egyptian god and now they really have to face him, but do you need to?
  10. I always find the secret identity stuff fun. If you do, too, have a little bit happen for each secret identity. Someone important is leaving, someone has arrived and the hero has to look after them, whatever...but not too much. That kind of stuff is the most fun for the player, and other people are just watching.
  11. Something I found useful when playing online was to have everyone make old-style ICONS rolls (1d6-1d6), apply that to the power or ability, and get some idea of it relative to the villain. Then the GM (me) doesn't have to roll dice often (you don't have to go all the way to "players do all the rolls") and can pay attention to other parts of the game. So as GM I'd roll for a surprise attack, or for some NPC using a specialty or attacking, but I don't care if the player rolls for the NPC they're attacking. Just saves time for me, but you might not find it so.

That's not so much about making the adventure easier as it is general tips, but I hope it helps. Those work for me, and I hope they work for you.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Freedom Force!


My son has fond memories of Freedom Force, an old PC game I played when he was a child, and while he's recovering from having his wisdom teeth out, he said he might like to play superheroes. So I did up a bunch of the Freedom Force characters, and might eventually talk about why I made the decisions I did. For now, you can find them here. (It's a PDF.) It's not all the characters, and I might change my mind about them.

(In fact, I have fond memories of Freedom Force...I did a Freedom Force campaign back in the days of Mutants & Masterminds 1st edition. You might be able to find it written up (in part) on the Green Ronin site.)

Usual caveats, plus I'm sure that my interpretations of the characters reflect my play style for the game rather than how you play the game.

In general, I used the Freedom Force Wiki to remind me of what powers they had.  Still...
  • Things aren't as fine-grained in ICONS as in the game, so I distinguished Mental, Mystical, and Damage mostly. 
  • There's a 9 point scale that maps fairly nicely on to the ICONS levels (3 is average), though you might move anything labelled "Extremely" into superhuman. And I didn't give anyone Coordination 1, even if they were labeled a "Klutz".
  • As a real-time game, the speed of the characters was important. I checked to see whether the character might have Super-Speed and then ignored it.
  • Jumper was turned into Leaping if the character Strength was less than 7.
  • Lifter I just added 2 to the Strength.
  • I did Eve mostly because I had a 45-pt archer hanging around. I did her beauty as Aura (Stunning). 
  • Almost all melee attacks were left as functions of Strength; the characters can stunt things like Burst if the powers affect an area.
  • Any Acid power usually became Affliction, Confusion became Emotion Control or Mental Control (depending on other effects)
  • Some things became Telekinesis with the Limitation Up or Away (Alche-miss has two of these, Bullet does and Man O'War has Whirlpool).
  • If something did stunning and a little bit of damage, it usually became just the Stunning power. 
  • I ignored knockback.
  • For Alche-miss' various curse abilities, I used Probability Control (Bad Luck), figuring that the altered state matched pretty well with Trouble of a Lost Panel. I did add Alteration Ray (Phasing) as an extra, but I think on consideration it's just a special effect. The target loses a panel because they've been turned into as ghost.

I strove to have the characters come in at 45-50 points, with the Extras/Limits rules. That was a rough balancing act.

And I re-discovered Homing, an extra from Great Power.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Leech Redux


So I tried a conversion of Leech, from Champions, and it was okay...but last night I realized that I had used totally the wrong power. So let's try it with the actual rules, hey?

Leech (Frank Winston) — Transformed

Stealth (+1), Underwater Combat (+1)

  • Aquatic 4 (adds +1 to Coordination and Awareness underwater, gives Swimming 2)
  • Tough 5 (Damage Resistance 5)
  • Invisibility 3 Limit: Only when stationary [limit gives +2 to power level]
  • Leech-like (Super senses 1: IR vision Extra: Wall-crawling 1)
  • Leech's Various Ability Drains (Energy Drain 6 [test vs Willpower] Extra: Ability Drain Coordination Extra: Ability Drain Strength Extra: Life Drain Limit on Life Drain: Concentration  (Known stunt: Resistance to power drains)
  • Obeys all sorcerers
  • The light, it hurts us
  • Always attack the handsome & pretty first

And there I was trying to make Nullification cumulative and affect abilities, and heck, Energy Drain already does that.

And now Leech comes in at what, about 53 points? Reasonable for a rolled-up character. I'll have to try him out against someone. (Found an error. Fixed it, but now about 65 points. Not so reasonable.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Another untried adventure!

System: ICONS

A while ago (two years? Three?) I had an idea, so I scribbled it down. It's kinda a Silver Age idea, with the heroes' souls transported into toys so they fight in a playroom... Ah, it kinda makes sense. It's never been played, it's never had its rough edges sanded down or its logical inconsistencies pointed out, and it's long. (You can actually find it in the Google+ ICONS group if you scroll backward far enough.

<sarcasm>So far, it sounds ideal.</sarcasm>

I found it again just recently, as I was spending money I don't have to make Word work (because it suddenly stopped. Gah.) I formatted it using a new tool, as an experiment, so it isn't even lovely.

So I threw the adventure on my Google drive as a PDF, and here it is:

I think it's accessible to everybody. Let me know if it isn't.

Parts of it belong to Fainting Goat Games (and I thank them for giving me permission to include them), parts are (of course) ICONS. The parts that are mine are released under Creative Commons Attribution license.

If you look at it and have comments, I'm glad to hear them, but I'm actually not inclined to revisit the adventure. I might implement the changes I think I have merit, or I just leave the whole thing alone.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fights in superhero RPGs

There was a discussion of hit points and alternatives in RPGs over on Facebook, and it got me thinking.

I was thinking about what comic book fights are like, but I am by no means an expert. (And—even if this is what comic book fights are like—fights in an RPG are probably more common than in comic book stories. We'll touch on some of the differences between stories and RPG sessions later.)

In comic book stories, fights feed into the whole "yes, but" and "no, and" mentality of stories. Yes, you win the fight, but the problem is bigger or different than you thought. No, you lost the fight and now you face a death trap or a crisis of confidence or the public loses faith in you. The heroes get into bigger and bigger trouble until the final confrontation, typically in the last quarter of the story. (See also the three try-fail cycles.)

The most common result depends on the opposition. There are fights with minions, fights with villain lieutenants, and fights with villain bosses.

Fights with minions: The heroes almost always win fights with minions. The fights might show that the heroes are badass or tough. From a story point of view, they're a fine example of "yes, but"—yes, you defeat the minions but you still have to track down the next clue/deal with the lieutenant or big boss. Generically, it's "Yes, you win, but the problem is bigger or otherwise than you thought."

If the character loses to the minions, the bigger trouble is usually that the heroes get captured and put into a death trap, or have to deal with the big boss. (Which I guess is a "no, and" situation.)

Basically, your RPG should have a way of dealing with minions, letting the heroes take on many minions, though too many minions or minions with the right equipment could beat them.

Fights with villain lieutenants: Lieutenants can win or lose at any point, because there's the threat of the boss villain behind them. Usually in comic book stories lieutenants win or gets away in the first half of the story.

In some ways, you have the most freedom with lieutenants. (And when the players defeated the boss too swiftly, I have sometimes invented a bigger plot or a bigger boss who controls the villain they just defeated.)

In an RPG, if the bad guy loses in the first half of the adventure, sometimes it's because the bad guy is working for someone else or because the bad guy wanted to lose for some nefarious reason.

Fights with the villain boss: In comic book stories, the villain boss usually wins for the first three quarters of the story. If the villain boss loses in the first half of the adventure, then it's because there's some bigger plot. If the villain boss wins, it seems to me that in stories, that causes a crisis of confidence (for heroes like Spider-Man) or investigation (for heroes of the Golden Age). This is a "no, and" situation again: No, you didn't beat him, and maybe you shouldn't be doing this, or you need to find the next aardvark-themed crime so you can out exactly how to stop this aard-fiend.

Now, how this applies to an RPG depends on what kind of game you like to run or play. So I'll pick two extremes.

If you figure that story is what we cherry-pick out of the events after the game is over, then a standard combat system against bad guys is fine, and story is invented after the fact. Maybe three of the bad guys in a group fall, and the rest of the evening is about dealing with the fourth bad guy and the three replacements he hires specifically to take on the heroes. Generally in an RPG there's a semblance of narrative in that the villains get tougher as the campaign goes along. (This is a side effect of the zero-to-hero thing a lot of fantasy RPGs have.)

If you are more into narrative structuring, then you want to make the "yes, but" and "no, and" systems a bit more explicit, either by making the opposition more intense (the Doom Pool, for instance) or giving the heroes Fate Points when they lose a fight, or something. Narratively, whether the characters win or lose in the first three-quarters of the story, the end result is to get them in more trouble.

*I'm using structure here as defined by Larry Brooks. It's not the only way to tell a story, though Brooks asserts it is, but most comic stories follow it.
  1. The first quarter is set-up, where Something Goes Wrong—like a mysterious crime is committed—and we establish stakes and foreshadow the rest. In a drama, this is the point where we would introduce the interior problems that will keep the heroes from resolving things too soon. In a comic book story, we don't often do that.
  2. The second quarter is response, where the characters act, but they don't really have an idea of the problem. They don't know that the bad guys have a subsonic transducer that makes the victim suggestible.
  3. Then something happens at the half-way point, and they figure out what the problem probably is...but they have the wrong solution in this attack quarter. Maybe their solution is that it's magic, because done of the bad guys has a mystic gem.
  4. Then, in the last quarter, there's a resolution—the heroes recognize the real problem (and solve that pesky internal problem in a drama).
If you're more into tactics (like I am), you want to make sure that the system has the tactical choices to make it more than "oh, it's time for a 'yes, but' fight." (Really, the players should never feel that way.) Some systems try to define "losing" very broadly, so the combat system can be used for social combat as well as physical combat. I appreciate the thought, but the few examples I've seen seem to water down the combat so much that it doesn't seem to me like combat at all—just dice rolling. (Yes, a good GM can overcome these difficulties. When you learn the system from a book, it's sometimes hard to be a good GM.) Here, instant narrative system:
First quarter of the session
Whatever the PCs do, it sets them up for bigger trouble.
  • If the heroes win a fight, they get clues to the real problem.
  • If the heroes lose a fight, the consequences are bad and social.
Second quarter of the session
The characters respond to the situation in the first quarter.
  • If they win a fight, it reveals to them that the problem is bigger or different than they thought.
  • If they lose a fight, they investigate or quit, and suffer social reprimands in either case.
Third quarter of the session
They have some idea of what the problem is, and they attack it...but usually they're not quite right.
  • If they win a fight, it's usually by the skin of their teeth, and the real nature of the problem is demonstrated to them
  • If they lose a fight, they discover that their approach isn't quite right.
Fourth quarter of the session
Armed with this new understanding, they probably resolve the situation.
  • If they win a fight, that's great, and it closes out some problem.
  • If they lose a fight, then you just bought yourself a series...but usually they pull something positive out of it.

I don't really have a point to make here; I'm just thinking out loud. Comments and disagreements welcome.