Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Offline for a few weeks

Hello folks. Just a quick note to inform you all that I'm currently in the process of moving house. Further posting over the two weeks or so will be sporadic to non-existant. At least until we have broadband installed at the new pad.

I look forward to catching up with you all when I'm back online.

See you then,


P.S (Sorry about the picture. Couldn't find anything suitably Old School).

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The Ruin at the End of the World

 Ordinarily I would be prepared and willing to create a sandbox for my new setting from scratch. However, as I'm already running two regular campaigns (the Pendragon campaign and the Expeditionary Campaign) and a one-off game, that looks set to become a full campaign as well. That doesn't leave me with a great deal of time on my hands. Fortunately, there are a number of excellent Post Apocalyptic sandboxes already available out there. So I'm going to mess-around with one of the better (and in my opinion, the very best) pre-made post-apoc sandboxes out there: Darwin's World's “Ruin at the End of the World.”

Coming in at nearly 300 pages, the book evocatively details a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles with more than 200 wonderfully detailed encounter sites. The ruins as presented don't quite fit neatly into my imagined campaign setting however, so the sand-box needs some work to make it compatible with my campaign. Here's a brief list of the setting elements that don't really pan out for me:

  • Tech Level: Society has regressed to a medieval tech level in the supplement. I want to have more of a Fallout/Book of Eli/The Road/Vampire Earth feel as far as tech concerned. Like Fallout, high-tech weapons and equipment in a functional order still exist. Fire-arms are the order of the day, although pre-Rapture firearms are treasured relics. Most folk have to make do with cannibalised or hand-made weapons. Fortunately, this is an easy enough fix. I simply add more firearms to the creature stats and encounter tables.
  • Mutation: In the Darwin's World setting, survivors who display extreme physical mutations are the norm. As mentioned in the book's introduction, the “Ruin at the End of the World” takes this even farther: entire races of stable-phenotype, intelligent mutant creatures exist in the Ruins, soemthing of a departure from the rest of the setting. In this case, intelligent insect men bent on expansions (Bugs) and the pseudo-Roman Beastman Empire. This is a little more science-fantasy than I want in my admittedly science-fantasy/survival horror setting. So I'll have to tinker around with these factions a little. But just a little. The Beastmen will become an aggressive faction of mutant raiders who have enslaved the less obviously mutated survivors in their territory. And the Bugs? Well, I won't spoil the surprise, except to say that they will be a human faction with it's own shadowy agenda amidst the ruins. An agenda that includes abducting other survivors for some terrible purpose.
  • Supernatural Creatures: There are some supernatural elements present in the setting as presented, yet they are subtle enough not to clash with the rest of the Darwin's World setting  for a gamer that wants to run the Darwin's World setting as is. They're minor enough not to require any additional work by a Darwin's World DM if he doesn't want to include them. Me, not only do I want to include them, I want to expand on them considerably, while still retaining their subtle impact on the setting.

As you can see, the three elements don't quite fit with my “vision” of the setting are easy-fixes. On the other hand, the list of things I like about this setting are well, extensive, to say the least:
  • Other than the problematic Beastmen and Bugs, the rest of the factions detailed in the setting are, frankly, brilliant. Actually, the Beastmen and Bug's are pretty good as well, just not relevant to my Post-Rapture campaign setting. I'll have to change some of these other factions cosmetically, if only because I want to include descendants of marines and navy personnel from the nearby Naval Base as a faction. But at the same time I don't want to tinker with them too much.
  • The 200 encounter areas are simply fantastic. Very well detailed, and very nicely varied locations. One of the things I love about them is the “Old School” feel: relatively harmless encounters are interspersed with the occasional positively deadly ones. There is no geographical division of “threat levels” catering to characters of different experience levels. True, some areas are more replete with danger than others, but even in the more “civilised” parts of the ruins, great danger lurks round every corner.
  • Despite already having 200 Encounter Areas, there is absolutely space to insert more. A great many more in fact. Indeed, the setting includes a mechanism for randomly generating the content's of each un-keyed hex, making every single hex a potential adventure location.
  • The setting includes rules for travel through the ruins that, while simple, really capture the feel of travelling through a city where every second street might be blocked by rubble, barricades, crashed vehicles, radiation hazards and so on. Travel speed through the ruins is randomly determined -unless the characters decide to retrace their steps exactly.
  • The setting is based on the D20 rules-system, which (for me) would normally be a negative. Fortunately, I'll be using Cascade failure, which, as already discussed, has a high degree of compatibility with D20. So very little conversion work with be required, mechanics-wise.
  • There is a very, very excellent sub-plot running through a number of encounters. A sub-plot which might lead characters to stumble upon answers to several of the ruins great mysteries. Or, in my version, the very cause of the Rapture itself.
  • A minus for some folks but a plus for me: although the supplement lists several locations on the cities outskirts, it doesn't actually provide any keyed locations outside the actual city itself. Meaning I have even more room to bring in encounters, settlements and even whole factions of my design later.

Any future campaign played-out in the L.A Ruins of the Post-Rapture world would likely begin either inside, or just outside, the city. My present leaning is towards starting just outside L.A, on a hill overlooking the ruins of the city. That way, the first image of the campaign world the players will ever get to see is an astonishing vista of the entre city, laid out before them in utter abject ruin.

"Noooooooo. I slept too long."

Yeah Ash, you and the other PC's both.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Choosing the Post-Apocalyptic Rule-set

The third of a short series of posts on Post-Apocalypse gaming.

Now that I know what the main themes of my campaign will be, I need to pick a rule-set that will facilitate them all. Quickly skipping over the steps mentioned in my last post I can see that my themes include:
  • Religious, Nuclear and Viral apocalypse
  • Survival
  • Rebuilding
  • Advanced Technology
  • Mutation
  • Radiation
  • Supernatural Threats
  • Psionics
  • Intrigue
  • The Past-Becomes-The-Present.
A number of rules systems from an earlier Appendix N article (link) seem to be likely candidates. I'll deal with them in alphabetical order. There are plenty of other great game systems out there, including Sorcery and Super Science from Expeditious Press, Mutant Future from Goblinoid Games, After the Bomb, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and loads more. These are the one's I actually have in my collection or (in the case of Urutsk) I have either played or am about to start playing. So lets begin:
  • Aftermath is a gritty game of survival, where even finding a handful of shotguns shells can make an entire table of players cheer loudly. On the down-side, it's designed for a modern day apocalyptic setting and doesn't deal lend itself well to the inclusion of “pulp” themes such as mutation, advanced tech and the supernatural.
  • All Flesh Must Be Eaten is a zombie-focused system with some rules for the Supernatural, including characters faith based magic. Such powers would be rare in my post-rapture landscape and while supplements for more hi-tech settings exist, I just don't like the system. So this is a no.
  • Armageddon is a mid-apocalypse game in the sense that the world is going-to-shit around you. The war between good and evil has spilled onto the earth, with demons and devils joining mortal armies on the battlefield. It's an interesting setting, but again it's a more-or-less modern day setting. The option of playing a being of near-godlike power also risks taking the system beyond the post-apoc genre and into the realms of super-hero RPG's.
  • Atomic Highway: A Mad-Max style setting that positively encourages vehicle combat. Has options for including mutants in the setting but lacks rules for the supernatural or advanced tech. Has possibilities but leans too much towards vehicle-based gaming for my Post-Rapture setting.
  • Cascade Failure is a rules-system deliberately constructed to be usable in almost any post-modern or sci-fi setting. It takes the best elements of old school 3D6 games and the D20 system and mixes them together into a wonderful infusion. It has more of an old school flare than the hated D20 Modern, including, thank the designer, actual character classes rather than the frankly awful "favorite stat" based character classes of D20 modern. It has it all – psionic's, races, mutations, various tech levels and, best of all, rules for figuring out what an unknown tech item is and how to make it work. Something that far too many post-apoc systems completely lack, in my opinion. All that's missing are supernatural elements and vehicle rules (something which is going to change very shortly). Cascade failure is a very fast paced game system that suits the gritty-but-not-too-realistic style I'm looking for. As an additional plus it's (superficial) similarity to the D20 system nevertheless ensures that it should be relatively simply to convert material from D20-based systems (such as Darwin's world) with minimal effort. The strongest contender so far.
    And best of all, it's free to download here (link).
  • Darwin's World: A beautifully detailed setting for a post-apocalypse game. It has rules for everything I want in my setting except the Supernatural. However, it's a D20-based system which, as I touched upon in the previous entry, has it's pros-and-cons. On the pro-side it means that bolting on elements from other D20 systems will be nice and easy. On the downside, well, it's basically the D20 system. That being said, I very much appreciate the game's take on character generation. First the player selects a “race” based on how many generations of mutation run in the character's bloodline and then combines that with a social background (such as feral or tribesman) and finally, a class. These rules are a strong possibility, but I'm not fond of D20 as a rule-system. It's excellent in the fantasy genre but my really my thing otherwise. It also has a bare handful of character classes, an area in which I find it somewhat lacking when compared to Cascade-Failure. On top of that, it's puts way-more emphasis on mutations than I want in my campaign. Even so, this remains my second favorite option so far, if only because the setting is so lovingly crafted.
  • Dead Reign: Another modern-day zombie-apocalypse game. This time from Palladium. It's supplements include excellent tips for survival in the post-apocalypse world, including discussing safe scavenging techniques, small-unit tactics and effective scouting habits. An early Zombie Survival Guide, in other words. On the downside, this information is scattered pretty haphazardly among three books. Although a modern setting,  the fact it uses the Palladium rules-set lets me bolt in supernatural and hi-tech elements from other Palladium games such as Nightbane, After the Bomb, Beyond the Supernatural and RIFTS. Alas, Palladium games use a rule-system that is widely (and accurately) regarded as broken. An opinion I find myself in agreement with. A contender nonetheless, albeit not a strong one.
  • Eclipse Phase: I own the books, but I'm not overly familiar with the rules. However, the setting seems more post-human than post-apocalypse. If I had time I would give it a closer look but I suspect it's post-human focus would rule it out.
  • Exodus is a D20 game. Clearly inspired by Fallout and it's sequels, it's a D20 based system with all the pros and cons that entails. Frankly, if I was going to go with a D20 based system, I would go with Darwin's World rather than Exodus (and then nick lots of tech and critters from Exodus).
  • Fallout RPG: Would seem almost tailor-made. It's based on the game that shifted my gamer ADD into post-apoc mode after all. However the rules have no Supernatural element built in and the system it uses just seems, well, clunky. I can't put my finger on why I don't like the system. I just don't. A contender none-the less.
  • Gamma World: Ah, the great-grand pappy of Post-Apocalyptic gaming. Gamma World truly does have it all. It's been around for more than 30 years and undergone innumerable rules variations and down-right re-writes over the years. It's onto it's sixth or seventh edition I believe (I've long-since lost count) and has just been re-released using 4th ed rules. My biggest gripes with the newest version are: the Alpha mutation cards (apparently your character is so special she/he can develop, use and loose multiple useful mutations in a matter of hours) and the way it handles high-tech salvage. Essentiall you decide what ten things you would like your character to find over the course of his or her career and every time you locate a cache, you get to randomly determine (via a card draw) which one you wind up with. Only one use per item of course. And, yes all these powers artefact's are available in collectible card form. What a surprise. Removing those card elements from the game would leave a pretty decent system. Even if it's character generation system (worthy of a whole post in itself) makes it damn near impossible to create non-mutants characters.
    My favourite edition of the Gamma World RPG is the one that borrowed the Alternity rules system (5th edition, I think). This is a class-based rule-set and, like Cascade-Failure, was specifically designed for easy adaptation to any modern or sci-fi setting. I like the gritty combat system, which has a real feel of danger to it. Additionally, I already have the Alternity books for  psionics, supernatural creatures and unfamiliar tech. Factor in the systems existing, fairly  expansive mutation rules and it's easy to see why this is such a strong contender.
    Earlier editions of Gamma World have a little too much in common with Old School Dungeons and Dragons. I like the 3D6 system, but Cascade Failure is clearly an improvement on those older 36 DGamma World systems while Alternity has strengths of it's own.
  • Living Steel: We come to the first post-apoc game on my list which is specifically set on another world. In this case the apocalypse is an alien invasion. Characters are released from cryogenic suspension in order to help rebuild civilisation after the destruction of the Alien ship. It has a lot going for it, such as rules for building and managing a settlement. It also positively encourages troupe style play (with everyone having a stable of multiple characters to choose from). However, there is no supernatural element and, despite being a sci-fi setting, very little tech is detailed. Finally, combat is just unbelievably slow, realistic and deadly. Don't get me wrong, I like the system personally, but I doubt my players will have the patience for it. Especially not when a single gun-shot wounds means they will have to spend the next 3 weeks of game time playing a secondary character while their main one recovers. Sometimes you can take realism in a game too far.
  • Rifts: An absolutely fantastic setting which has it all: Hi-tech, Low-Tech, Magic, Psionics, the Supernatural, Gods, Aliens, Dimensional Travellers, Demons, Undead Creatures. You name it, it's in there. Alas, that's the problem. Too many things that need removed from the rules system to make it workable for me. Still an invaluable source of ideas and inspiration with literally several million words of background information and fluff in print. But it's easier to add rules-elements in than take things out. Given that the rules (it's another Palladium system, like Dead Reign) are broken to begin with, it's just not worth the effort.
  • The End is built on the premise that, “the Meek will inherit the Earth,” wasn't a promise, but a warning. The whole idea of the Rapture as the Apocalypse Event was inspired by a mixture of this setting and Stephen King's "The Stand". However, as much as I like this setting,I'm not that familiar with the rules. Certainly not familiar enough to run a game with them.
  • The Morrow Project: Another wonderful game from which I've lifted an idea wholesale (the Morrow Project itself). It's a modern post-apocalyptic setting triggered by World War III. The combat system is almost as brutal as Living Steel's and doesn't lend itself well to incorporating other elements such as mutations, high technology or the Supernatural. Finally, the existing tech provided in the rules is already somewhat dated (the game was written well over a decade ago). Lots of interesting source material to take advantage of, however, including the concept of Prime Base itself.
  • Twilight 2000: Like The Morrow Project, this is an excellent post-nuclear game. The system is quite deadly but relatively simple as far as combat is concerned and it has extensive rules for foraging and survival in the post-apocalyptic wilderness. Again, the tech provided is somewhat dated now. While tech from the Traveller sci-fi setting can be bolted on, combat just wouldn't have the right “feel” to it. Too realistic for a science fantasy, rather than a science fiction, setting.
  • Urutsk : I am very regretful to say that I don't (yet) know much about this rule-system at all, though the setting itself looks amazing. I've been following Time Shadows Urutsk blog (link) for some time now. Like my own home-brewed fantasy setting of Zama, Timeshadow has been gaming in the world of Urutsk for twenty-odd years. Unlike me, she has taken her game world from techological epoch to technological epoch and back again. Wheras Zama has always been a fantasy setting Urutsk has been the setting of fantasy, near-modern-sci-fi, hi-tech-sci-fi and post-apocalypse campaigns in it's time. 

    One thing that struck me more and more as I read through this list and wrote the above piece was how quickly I found myself comparing other rules-systems against Cascade Failure as my base-line. Having gone through the whole list, I'm convinced that Cascade Failure would be my best bet, though I intend to steal a lot of material from Exodus, Morrow Project and (most of all) Darwin's World. There's still a niggling voice in my head that whispers, "Alternity, Alternity," but the fact I enjoy Cascade failure so much (and knowing that Greg Christopher is working on a Cascade Failure based post-apoc system as wel speak) has swing me round. Who knows, perhaps Greg will even like some of what he in future blog posts enough to include the material in his new game. After all, I don't intend to leave-off doing any more post-apocalypse posts just because I haven't had a chance to game in my setting.

    Next: The Ruin at the End of the World

Monday, 12 September 2011

Campaign Design: Defining The Post-Apocalyptic Game World

 As you can see from even a brief perusal of the previous post, the term "post-apocalyptic" covers a lot of ground. Therefore, before you begin designing your campaign world, it's helpful to stop for a moment and ponder what exactly it is you mean to include. And what you intend to leave out.  In essence, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
  • Is this game going to be set in real-world earth, a future-earth, a past-earth, an alternative universe earth or another world altogether?
  • What was the "Event" that triggered the destruction the world?
  • What was the technology base pre-Event?
  • How long ago was the Event?
  • How far has civilisation recovered?
  • Who (and what) what Survived? Does your world have a place for Aliens? Mutants? Zombies? Robots? Supernatural Creatures? Psionic Powers? Magic? Scientific Enclaves? Do any Pre-Event power blocs or agencies survive?
  • What is the specific role of the characters in this world? If any?
  • Finally, given what you know about your world setting, what rules system would be best to use?
Right about now most of you are probably wondering, why the hell would I leave choosing the rules till last? Well, you can always tailor your sandbox to your favourite rule-system if you wish and then crowbar in house rules that would allow you to include zombies, demons and psionic powers into a game of Aftermath, for example. I prefer to create the setting I want and then pick the rule-set that would handle that setting best. To me, it's a more elegant solution than having to bolt on endless house rules. Your players will probably thank you for it.

Here's how I used these questions to establish my own post-apocalyptic setting:

Step One: Real Earth or Not-Earth? 
Having looked over the options and thought about my source material,  I've decided to stick with the real world for now. However, rather than having my "Event" occur in the modern day, I'll set the "Event" 200 years in the future. This will allow me to have lots of hi-tech gee-gaws and gadgets ala Gamma World scattered around the environment. It also raises the possibility of human civilisation having spread to the stars (or at least, elsewhere in the solar system) before the "Event".

Step Two: Defining the "Event".
Taking a page from the likes of Stephen King's 'The Stand", the movie "Legion" and RPG's such as "The End", I've decided that my worlds trigger event was nothing less than the "Rapture". Or at least, that's what the survivors decided to call it. However, I also like the idea of nuclear annhilation, supernatural monsters and "fast zombies" so I'm going to work these elements into the tale as well.

On one single day in 2222 untold millions of human beings simply vanished into thin air, leaving their empty clothes and personal effects behind them. Though confusion reigned, it took only a matter of hours for police and investigative reporters around the world to piece together some startling information: though those they dubbed the "Taken" had belonged to all manner of cultural and religious groups, each had been a devout practitioner of their own religious beliefs. In essence, the faithful had been taken away by a higher power. Those that remained behind were quickly dubbed the "meek" (those who professed to possess a religious afiliation but who were lackadaisical in their adherance to it's teachings at best) and the "faithless" (those who either belonged to no religion at all or who claimed to be devout but were instead somewhat hypocritical, rather than merely lax, in their beliefs). 

Shortly after this first revelation reports of the dead rising from their graves and attacks by supernatural, monstrous creatures straight out of Hell itself were wired, emailed and streamed all across the world. In desperation, nuclear powers launched missile after missile at their own and foreign populations in an attempt to stem the tide of evil. Strange and wicked plagues scoured the land, unleashing slow and painful deaths upon the multitide and driving the enraged survivors mad with angry, cannibalistic fury. Those who remained immune to the infections, or who managed to avoid exposure, destroyed themselves in an orgy of violent competition for food and resources. The word, as it's inhabitants had known it, ceased to exist.
Step 3: Pre-Event Tech-Base
I've already established that the Event happened 200 years in our future. So we'll say that there are an awful lot of old scientific gee-gaw's lying around just waiting to be discovered and repaired by enterprising types. These will include laser guns, robots, androids, A.I's, power armour, grav vehicles, inter-system space-craft and so on.

Step 4: How Long Ago?
The answer to this question will determine just how far civilisation has sunk (at one extreme) and how far it might have recovered (at the other). Most of my favourite post-apocalypse games seem to be set anywhere from eighty to two hundred years after the Event. I think in this case we'll go with eighty. Long enough for third and even fourth generation survivors to be running around (possibly with mutations) but not so long that old skills (such as the ability to make or repair firearms, some basic understanding of science, mechanics, telecommunications etc) have died out completely. There could conceivably still be survivors of the actual Rapture Event running (well, most likely lying or sitting) about the place. Either as the recipients of life-extending medical treatments or as revered elders who were only children at the time of the Rapture.

Step 5: Recovery/Current Tech Levels
Although sources such as the Postman, Eli and the Mad Max Films were all set either during or soon after the breakdown of society, I've always rather liked their feel. So we'll say that the majority of survivors have retained some level of “savage” (i.e modern day) technology. Lucky settlements have access to water purifiers, electricity, radios, a few working vehicles and the like. Warrior and soldier types are likely to possess a few treasured firearms and laser weapons but most normal folk make do with melee weapons and improvised or poor-quality firearms and block-powder weapons. A few lucky towns have specialist craftsmen with the skill, talent and resources to manufacture automatic weapons and cordite-based ammunition. This level of technology is merely the base-line. Extremes exist in either direction. Essentially, this world will have a lot in common with the Fallout series, with the major (and important) exception that it will lack Fallout's 1950's aesthetic.

Step 6: Who (or What) Survives?
Despite all the odds, millions of stubborn, tough and well-prepared (or even just lucky) human beings survived the radiation, the war, the disease and predation by ghouls and demonic beings to pass on their genes to a new generation. Unfortunately, so did many of the ghouls and demons. Moreover, those humans who did survive did not (for the most part) survive without at least some damage at the genetic level due to radiation. At first this damage resulted only in some minor deformities among children borne by survivors, most often leading to the death of the child concerned. Yet some mutated traits were advantageous and these were usually passed on to children of the second and subsequent generations, becoming more pronounced and dominant each time. Of course, the radioative and (perhaps supernatural) elements in the environment continued to affect each subsequent generation as well. Now many survivors bear obvious (but relatively minor) phenotypical mutations of one kind or another. These minor physical mutations usually grant some small advantages such as improved vision, thicker, radiation resistant skin and the like. Extreme mutations (such as functional, non-vestigial extra arms or tails, for example) are incredibly rare. At least in humans and other animals. Creatures with faster generational cycles (such as plants and most insects) have undergone some more extreme mutations since the Rapture. Most mutations however, pose a distinct disadvantage with regards to survival, though as radiation levels decrease and the generations pass disadvantageous mutations are becoming distinctly less frequent (but are still common). Some few individuals have even begun to develop minor mental powers such as telekinesis or telepathy.

In other words, unlike in settings such as Gamma World, Mutant Future and Darwin's World, obvious mutants (or obvious mutant humans, at least) remain the exception rather than the norm. In the current time frame anyway.

Threats to the survivors and PCs include: raider groups (human and mutant), ghouls (humans and mutant fast-zombies affected by the Ravvies virus), rogue robots, ancient military bases, multiple factions, mutated plant and animal life, secret societies and, scariest of all, supernatural threats such as demons.

Step 7: Where do the PC's Come In?
Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, two large factions of humans survive in relative safety: the Vault Dwellers (taken straight from games such as Fallout, Exodus and Darwin's World)  have lived for generations underground in relative ignorance of the terrors and depredations above. A second group, often referred to as “Popsicles” (by those few outsiders who know of them) also exist in remote, secret locations around the globe. These men and women are pre-Event humans who volunteered to be stored in cryogenic suspension in the event of cataclysmic emergency (though no-one could have predicted the form that the apocalypse actually took). These brave men and women  of the Morrow Project (yes, ripped off directly from the RPG of the same name) were supposed to awaken a mere decade after the Event in order to assist in rebuilding. Alas, Prime Base was destroyed mere months after the event and no recall signal was sent. Now, eighty years after the Rapture, the power-systems for the cryogenic storage tanks are running dry. Morrow Project teams all over the world are finally coming to life, face-to-face with the Herculean task before them: survive, re-educate, re-build.

It's my intention for the first group of PC's to come from either the Vault Dwellers or the Morrow Project. This will let me flesh out the sandbox bit by bit as the party explores their environment rather than having to create the whole sandbox before-hand. Later replacement PC's (or even whole parties) can come from anywhere in the sandbox that PC's have already explored. Restricting the first party to outsiders from a Vault or the Morrow Project gives the party a good reason to stay together. At the same time, it also explains the character's (and player's) general ignorance  of the setting.

I will add there is also a third and (at least) a fourth group of human individuals out there whose ancestors never experienced the torments of the Rapture. I'd say more, of course, but I intend to run this sand-box one day and can't risk spoiling the surprise for ym players.

Step Eight: Choose your Weapon (er, rules. I meant rules).
This is such an important step that I want to devote an entire post to it. The next post, will cover the available rules in my collection with some detail, looking at the strengths and weakness' of each in relation to the setting.

Post-Apocalypse Gaming: My Appendix N

About a week ago (right after my dual posts on 02/09/11) I made a huge tactical mistake: I booted up my copy of Fallout: 3 yet again. Naturally leading to a huge dip in productivity on the writing and blogging fronts. So now, given that the ravages of the weather have forced us to abandon tonight's scheduled OSRIC game, my thoughts are turning instead to how I would run my own post-apocalyptic campaign setting. What themes and influences would I use to shape my own little sand-pit? Well, here are the main sources of inspiration I've been using to fuel my imagination. Coming next: Creating a Post-Apocalyptic Campaign Setting (part one), wherein I actually set about taking elements from each of these sources to forge a campaign setting of my own.

Gaming Sources:
  • Aftermath 
  • All Flesh Must be Eaten
  • Armageddon
  • Atomic Highway
  • Cascade Failure
  • Darwin's World
  • Dead Reign
  • Eclipse Phase
  • Exodus
  • Fallout RPG
  • Gamma World
  • Living Steel
  • Rifts
  • The End
  • The Morrow Project
  • Twilight 2000
  • Urutsk
  • Arc Light
  • Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven
  • Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson
  • The Postman by David Brin
  • The War in 2020 by Ralph Peters
  • World War Z by Max Brooks
    Vampire Earth Series by E.E Knight

Video Gaming:
  • Fallout Series 
  • Robinson's Requiem
Film and Television:
  • Andromeda Strain
  • Ark II
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
  • Children of Men
    Event Horizon
  • I am Legend
  • Just about every Zombie Movie ever made
  • Mad Max Trilogy
  • Outbreak
    Survivors (BBC TV)
  • The Book of Eli
  • The Postman
  • The Road
  • The Stand
  • Twenty-Eight Days Later
  • Waterworld

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Breaking My Own Rule: Introducing a New Gamer with 4th Ed

As regular readers know, I make introducing new players to this hobby of ours something of a priority. Seven of the players who have so far made it to the table for the Expeditionary campaign are either brand new-gamers or gamers who dabbled once or twice many years ago.

Normally, when I'm introducing a new gamer to the hobby I start with an earlier edition of D&D (you know, an Old School type game) or an RPG based strongly on a computer game or book series they like (I got Aimee and Silv started in all this because they were Dragon Age fans, you may recall). The former group of systems because they are simple, easy to learn and essentially what most non-gaming adults our age think of when someone mentions roleplaying. The latter because it's often the desire to keep playing "beyond the game" that drives folks like Aimee and Silv to ask me to run a game for them.

Tomorrow however, I'm breaking my golden rule. What rule? The keep it simple, keep it roleplaying (not roll-playing) rule. Tomorrow, I'm introducing a new player to the hobby via 4th ed Dungeons and Dragons. 

Right about now, most of the ardently old school gamers who make up the vast majority of my blog readership have just about had a fit. They're probably roaring, "Why? Why?" Well this time the answer is also simple: When I've introduced other newbies to the hobby with Old School D&D (and it's clones) or settings based on computer games I've been playing to the expectations of these new players.

Well, that's exactly what I'll be doing today. You see, tomorrows "grasshopper" is a teenage girl who loves MMO's and World of Warcraft in particular. Now she doesn't love the roleplaying aspect of WOW. In fact, she doesn't even play on an RPG server and asked myself and my wife to create new characters on her PVP server rather than join us on our RP server. What she seems to love about WOW is the tactical planning, the tense combats, the puzzle solving, resource gathering and yes, indeed, the social aspect of raiding and belonging in a guild.

So, as far as I'm concerned, 4th ed is the perfect platform to introduce her to the hobby. The system can be light on roleplaying (using dice rolls to determine social skill challenges for example) although -I hasten to add- I don't subscribe entirely to the school of thought that states 4th ed rules kill roleplaying. As Blacksteel from Tower of Zenopus likes to point out, even when one 4th ed combat takes up an entire session (as seems to happen quite often) there's still room for plenty of witty in-character banter ala any action movie you care to name. But moreover, the social skills challenge framework should help coax her out her shell as far as "in-character" chat is concerned, which appears to be her main stumbling block when it comes to getting into the RP side of things. Plus 4th ed, with all it's similarity to a modern MMO, will have all the usual features she's come to expect from WOW: reusable powers, powers that generally only get used once per fight, tactical planning, long combats, concentration of fire, teamwork, strategy, "tanking" defender characters, "DPS" striker characters, controllers, healers and tough monsters that take a long time to put down.

So yes, as I've said before, there is no such thing as a bad game-system. Only game systems that you yourself don't enjoy. It's no secret that I prefer the more free-form Old School systems to more modern, rules intensive ones. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate 4th ed as a tactical simulation. I myself quit running my old 4th ed game because I got frustrated at clearing just two or three encounters in a session (as opposed to my usual eight to dozen encounters in OSRIC). Not because I wasn't enjoying those two or three encounters, but because I wanted to get a more done in the limited time we had available. I still think 4th ed is a pretty good system -and while as written it can seem to discourage role-playing social interactions in favour of settling them with dice rolls, I would say that's more of a DM issue than a system issue.

So, I guess the moral here is this: when bringing in a new player to the hobby, don't force your own prejudices and preferences upon them. Pick the game system or setting that you think is going to right for them -not you- and then gradually introduce them to your own preferences if you start to think they might be willing to give them a go. Remember, just because your introducing someone to the game it doesn't mean they will want to join you or your group permanently. Quite often, once they have the idea, they'll go off and doe their own thing and form their own newbie group from their own peers. Don't feel this is a bad thing or take it as an insult to your gaming style. You've shown them the way. But just as with most things in life, once you've shown someone the basics, they want to go off an explore gaming on their own terms. If that's what they want to do then encourage them. Offer them advice. Tell them to call you if they need another player. Give 'em some support.

So please, keep your eyes open. If you see someone who might be interested in exploring our hobby, please don't be shy. You'll doing our hobby -and by extension, yourself- a great service if you help to expand our numbers with a complete newbie -or, as is often the case- bring a stray childhood gamer back into the fold.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Death on the Lake: Pendragon Campaign year 486.

Sir Tywin of Stapleford,  played by Caroline
 Sir Godrick of Baverstock, played by Silv
Sir Galen of Woodford, played by Aimee
Sir Valiance of Steeple Langford, the spare.

While Earl Roderick and the majority of his knights will be riding with King Uther and Prince Madoc to hunt down the Saxons raiding near Colchester, the PC knights learn to their great disgust that they will remain behind to protect Salisbury. Nonetheless, come the summer they dutifully attend at Sarum where they once again find themselves placed under the command of the Marshal, Sir Elad. There, the news that Sir Leoric has been allowed to accompany the Earl, despite being one of the Marshal's own knights, only adds to their annoyance. The group had, it seems, been looking forward to the pagan knight's company as a means of alleviating their boredom on patrol. Splitting his forces into four, the Marshal assigned the player knights to patrol the southern border of the County. For several days they travelled from manor to manor, checking to ensure that the peasants were up to no mischief in the absence of their lords and that no noble lady grew too lonely or afraid in her husbands absence.

Yet in time, one misty morning, they came upon a strange sight indeed: an old greybeard, wrapped in goat-skins and carrying a worn crook, standing on the path at the base of a steep hill and calling out for someone called Bill. Immediately suspicious at finding such an old fellow out on his own in these dangerous times, the four knights approached warily, keeping an eye out for an ambush. It transpired then, that the old man was a goat-herd in search of his prize goat. Sneering, but expecting something of import afoot (perhaps even an ambush of some kind) Sir Tywin (currently the most glorious knight and, hence, the party leader) ordered Sir Valiance to remain behind while the others rode up the hill.

The knights soon heard the tinkling of a small bronze bell not far away, and caught flashes of something white furred and fleet through the trees. After kicking their mounts forward once the ground leveled out, they quickly came across the goat.

Hanging upside down


It's tail clenched in the meaty, greasy fist of a huge, three-eyed giant.

Without hesitation, seeing the feast before him, the giant tossed the terrified goat over one shoulder, uprooted a small tree, and charged the three knights. Immediately Sir Galen and Sir Tywin charged to meet it, but Sir Godrick again held back long enough to throw a spear at the beast. Meanwhile, down below, Sir Valiance spurred his horse through the trees at the first sound of combat.

It was indeed a vicious battle, with blows from his mighty club the giant knocked first Sir Galen then Sir Godrick from their mounts, though on both occasions the knights managed to remount and continue the fight. Sir Tywin however, took a blow to the head from the giants club that left him senseless -and careering in  terror back down the hill (having failed his valour check for a major wound), passing the astonished Sir Valiance on the way- and pursued by his hideously embarrassed -nay, mortified, squire. Sir Valiance came upon the scene just as Sir Godrick finally hacked through the massive creature's tree trunk. Valiance seized his moment to charge - his finely aimed spear point lancing through the creatures heart. Exhausted, Sir Godrick and Sir Galen (both down to just a few hit points each) slid from their horses. While Sir Galen rested, Sir Godrick tried to claim the giant's head as a trophy. Non-plussed, Sir Valiance pointed out that the final blow -the kill- had been his. And that by the laws of the hunt, the prize was his also. Sir Godrick relented and settled for taking some lesser trophy. Meanwhile, as a chagrined Sir Tywin rode back into the clearing (having downed the healing draught thoughtfully provided by his fae young wife) Sir Galen paused to examine the well and truly dead goat, it's back having been broken in it's "fall".

Determined to obtain some answers, four bloddied knights and their squires rode back to the old man post haste. Seeing them arrive, the old man chuckled to himself and spun round, triumphantly casting aside his guise. Arms spread-eagled, the elderly fellow revealed himself for who -and what- he truly was: The wizard. Merlin.

"Merlin! What trickery is this?" demanded an irate Sir Valiance, the giants bloody head dripping down his horse's flanks. The old wizard chuckled. " You have passed the test," he smirked, "oh... that's good! That's it. Yes. You have passed the test and now must come with me -to save this land from ruin. No questions. Follow me!"

And with that, the mysterious wizard, in his tall, silver skull-cap and wielding a dark-wood staff topped by a silver dragon design, stalked off into the forest. Unnaturally fast, so that the mounted knight had to hurry after.Yet even as they passed under the eaves of the trees, so, they felt refreshed, as though they had rested for a day or more under their leafy shelter.

"But Merlin? What must we do?" Called Sir Tywin, at the head of the four knights, while a perfect lake of clear, calm water came into view beyond the treeline.

"Do nothing!" the old wizard called back over his shoulder, not slowing his pace. "Rest in the arms of the dragon. Ah! No scratch that! Too late! Aha!" Turning back to address the knights, Merlin flicked both eyebrows up briefly before announcing with a great degree of flamboyant showmanship. "We're here!"

"Where is here?" Sir Godrick asked, but the old wizard simply chuckled and stalked off into the waters of the lake. Turning, he addressed the knights, still walking backwards into the water. "I am in the service of your King. Uther. What I do is for him and for the land itself. Do not follow me and allow none to do so. This is the doom I set upon you." With that, he faced into the lake once more, the water lapping about him ever higher until, engulfed, even the silver of his skull-cap faded entirely from mortal sight.

"Bloody wizard," someone muttered (probably a squire), to the general agreement of all. Yet the four knights did not have long to wait. Soon, they heard a strange sound, similar (but not quite the same) as the noise of horse-hooves splashing through water. It was then that a strange knight rode into view, armoured all in fish-scale and riding upon a tall, shiny-coated horse with fins for feet and a fish-tail instead of hair. The knight paused beneath the trees a short distance away. In a strangely guttural voice (like a man speaking under water) the knight demanded:

"Let me pass!"

When the reply came from the four knights that they would not, the fish-knight did not hesitate. He lowered his spear and charged. Sir Galen, this time, was the first to give spur to horse and took a hefty  blow from the charging knight's spear on his shield. Sir Tywin and Sir Valiance quickly followed, yet the knight's incredible skill and fine armour saved him from all harm. Meanwhile, Sir Godrick's mis-thrown spear missed the knight entirely and instead struck Sir Tywin a glancing blow to the back of his head, though fortunately turned aside by his helm. Realising the folly of throwing into such a close melee, he too spurred into combat with the knight.

Unnaturally fast, the strange knight proved himself a more deadly a foe even than the giant. Within moments the fish knight inflicted numerous  wounds on all four Salisbury knights. In desperation, Sir Godrick struck at the knight's horse. Outraged, fish-knight flicked Godricks sword aside effortlessly and, in a righteous, display of passionate fury at such a dishonourable display from the young knight, clove Godrick near in twain with a single blow.

For a single, horrified moment, Sir Galen, Sir Tywin and Sir Valiance paused in their efforts while their friend slide from his steed to the ground below. At this point, all three players declared their character's intention to "go mental" (or words to that affect). With now seeming like a good time to determine the Loyalty (Group) Passion they had earned from standing over Sir Valiance's unconscious form for three hours in the midst of a battle last summer, I had the players roll 3D6 to determine their knights' passion scores. Sir Galen rolled a mere 8, Sir Tywin a tragic 3 but, (appropriately enough) Sir Valiance generated a Loyalty (group) Passion of 15.

Knowing that I would grant them all a +5 bonus to their passion due to seeing their friend hacked down before their eyes,  two of the three surviving knights (all except Sir Tywin) tried to call upon their passion. Yet Sir Galen failed miserably. The young knight fell into melancholy, caring little even for his own safety as he slid from his horse and rushed to cradle Sir Galen's head in his lap. Sir Twyin meanwhile continued his seemingly futile attacks. Attacks that repeatedly failed to slip past the knights defence.

However, Sir Valiance did, indeed, in the words of his squire, "get blood-drunk mad-with-it". Drawing himself up in the stirrups, the huge pagan knight threw away his shield and grabbed his sword in both hands, utterly forgetting the axe that hung by his side (far more useful against a foe with a shield) so great was his fury! For the next five rounds, Sir Valiance and the strange knight battered one another repeatedly, with the stranger criting at anything above 16 and Sir Valiance critting on anything above 11. Sir Tywin, feeling himself  somewhat ineffective in the face of this fury from friend and foe alike (and in danger of catching a blow or two himself from Valiance's back-swing), pulled his horse back into the trees to observe a martial display the likes of which he had never seen. Finally, with a great heaving roar that sent birds flapping madly into the trees for miles around, Sir Valiance swung his blade in a mighty two-handed roundhouse blow and lopped the strange knights head from his shoulders. Instantly, horse and rider vanished in an explosion of black, salty ichor.

Merlin, perhaps unwisely, chose that moment to re-appear, a long, cross-shaped bundled swaddled like a babe in his arms. Utterly dry despite his near total immersion in lake water for nigh on half an hour, he stomped merrily up to the beach with a loud guffaw -and then stopped dead in his tracks!

"Oh..." the sorcerer observed, seeing the bloody carnage all about him: the fallen form of Sir Godrick, the weeping melancholy of Sir Galen, the many wounds of Sir Tywin and the ichor-drenched, enraged glare of Sir Valiance. "Oh. Oh indeed. Well, ahem, I am most sorry for your loss, worthy though that deathy might be. I really must be off. Mustn't disturb your grief. Farewell. Farewell and all that indeed -and great glory upon you for your deeds this day." With that, the wizard hustled off into the woodlands, disappearing from view far more swiftly than he naturally should, and leaving the surviving player knights huddled together to grieve.

That winter, they told the tale of Sir Godrick's death to his younger brother and promised to petition the Earl to allow the lad to be knighted early. Sir Godrick never did get to meet his pagan-born bastard after all (but that doesn't mean his brother wont) but the arrival of Sir Tywin's son Gwion (sired in the last winter phase) proved some consolation for the pagan knight at least. As did some other news:news that his wife was indeed, once again, with child. A child that, this time, his wife felt sure would be a daughter. While Sir Galen made some head-way in his flirtations with the unfortunate and oft-betrothed Lady Gwen, Sir Twyin, having learned already that his wife had a strange sense for such things, merrily spent the winter playing with his fine, strapping young son and dreaming of his promised daughter, Arianrhod. A fine, half-fae lass with raven-dark hair and a beauty to ensnare even the most jaded of kings.

Game Notes: Well, there it is. The single, most dreaded year in the early Pendragon campaign. The one year that's probably claimed as many PC's as the Battle of Badon. We very nearly had a TPK at the very first encounter, with all three PC knights down to single digits in hit points. As it was, it remained a close run thing right up till the end. One last hit could have killed either one of them. Even with Tywins healing draft and a completely improvised (i.e non-scripted) healing effect from Merlin the three PC knights went into that second battle with less hp than I would have liked. Even so, with only one PC death this year, I think the group as a whole can count itself lucky. They can now more easily comprehend just how brutal multiple combats are in Pendragon, just how deadly Passions are (and that the NPC's can call upon them too) and how quickly the tide can turn on a single dice roll. After all, even at the end of the game, that impassioned knight was never more than one hit away from killing Valiance (who actually started that duel with full hit points).

Silv took the loss of Godrick better than I expected. especially given how it always seems to be him who loses the first character whenever we play. Well, he'll know better than to try something dishonourable (like attacking another knights horse) next time.

No Painting Round-Up This Month

As you might guess from the title, there will be no pics of August's painted mini's. At least, not for a while yet. Between running two distinct campaigns, writing up game notes, writing encounters and locations for the OSRIC campaign, writing fiction and dealing with real life very little lead has been decorated in August.

My painting ADHD hasn't helped matters either. I have the last thirteen 15mm colonists half-painted and about a third of my fifteen 28mm lizardmen have been base-coated. I've sixteen 15mm Earth Alliance guys undercoated as well as seven 15mm civilian vehicles, three 15mm AFV's, forty-six 15mm Space Orcs and eight 28mm Foundry Argonauts all in various stages of prep or painting. Oh, not to mentioned thirteen ships from an eighteen ship Noble Armada fleet awaiting base coats. If I'd just concentrated one one or two things at a time I might still have reduced my lead mountain somewhat. Hindsight is perfect after all.

So I propose to combine September and Augusts painting efforts in a single post next month. In other words, there will be 62 painted miniatures to be photographed by the end of this month. Which means I still have to finish 45 miniatures to stay on target. Who wants to bet that I'll end up painting at least one miniature that isn't even on the prep table yet? You know, rather than finish the stuff I've already started.