Sunday, October 10, 2010

What's in a name?

  I was talking to my Mom the other day and I was sharing how a couple of the players in my gaming group had left the group to do other things. Her comment was "Perhaps they finally grew up" and that struck me as being really unfair to the hobby of RPGing. That comment was interesting because it tells me that she thinks that RPGing is something that only Kids do, that Adults have "Adult" hobbies. Knowing the kind of hobbies my mom has had through the years, I find it funny to think that if I was building Dollhouse miniatures that she would be better with that than my playing RPGs.

  Later, I was reading and posting on the Hero System forums. The thread was an amusing one "DM Says / DM Means"   I expressed my dislike of the term Dungeon Master being used in games outside of Dungeons and Dragons. My preference being the more generic Game Master (or GM). I started to think about it and about how childish both terms sound when said aloud. Also I started to think about how perhaps the language we use in our games influence how we and our players perceive the game.

  With this epiphany I finally stared to understand why many rules lite RPGs change some of the gaming jargon that we have been using for years. Suddenly being a Storyteller didn't sound quite a pretentious, mostly because that is what most GM's do. They tell interactive stories. They setup the Plot, Antagonists, Supporting Characters, the feel of the world, everything but the Protagonists (aka the Player Characters). Sometimes GM's forget that they are presenting an INTERACTIVE story, that the PC's are the Main characters of the game. Perhaps if those GM/DM's saw themselves as a "Storyteller" or "Adventure Host" that there might be less bad GM's.

How different are games that are run by Storytellers and who has a Troupe for players? I really don't know, I imagine that the grass is greener on the otherside of the fence. I have to imagine because I prefer one the of the more rules heavy games out there Hero System AKA Champions. Now Hero is no where near as complex as people assume that it is. Being an old School Universal system, it carries baggage from it's early days as a Super Roleplaying game.

I guess my other contention is that some of those old school terms (ie GM/DM) lead others to perceive this as a childish game. Is it time for our hobby to grow up a bit and try to go beyond those adolescent power fantasies? If so, how do we do this and not change the games we love into something that isn't fun anymore. Perhaps this is something that my generation of gamers can't change. That it's something that the next generation or the one after that will change.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why Fantasy Steampunk

                I am sure that my players are wondering about this question as they are working on characters.

As I was thinking about what to run I had a number or Criteria that I had to keep in mind. 1) Keep the genre easy for new players to understand so I gain player buy in of the campaign concepts. 2) To have something that could be run at short notice. 3) To be something both familiar and alien at the same time.  4) To have something that another GM could step into and run a decent game without long briefings being required.

Our group just ended a longish and fun Fantasy Hero game that left me both feeling good about how it ended, but also sad because it ended. This caused a bit of apathy toward running any fantasy game. I started to work on a SciFi campaign that was/is to be a fusion of StarWars, Serenity/Firefly, and Traveller. It became clear to me that it was going to take me too long to get that game together to run. Also SciFi games don’t appeal to all gamers. So I started to think about another game to run. My next idea was to run a slightly modified (translated to Hero) version of Ral Talsorian’s Castle Falkenstein. It was the first Steampunk that I had encountered and played. I like some of the concepts of the game, but gaming in 19th century Europe never interested me. I always wanted to run Castle Falkenstein in America with an old West feel. So I took that idea and ran with it.

                I decided that players would probably have an easier time dealing with non-humans that they were confortable with, and not the Mythological Faerie. So I just decided that D&D style (Tolkein) Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, and Halflings lived in Europe and had mostly integrated themselves into the Human Countries/Kingdoms. That some of the fantasy races had already colonized the Americas during their diaspora (going to the west as Tolkein’s elves did). So there would be Fantasy races that were fully integrated into human society, and ones already living in the Americas to contrast against. The races here would be living in harmony with the native American Humans. So the Native Elves, Orcs, etc would also be in conflict with the European settlers who have been around for the last 100years. Some of them would be fighting along side of the Native American tribes who are trying to be left alone.

                Another difference is the fact that Magic works. Big spells like Fireballs and other D&D staples. I am thinking that those spells are only castable by a small minority of people. This small minority along with the power of firearms being the reason that casters didn’t dominate warfare. I am thinking that the rarity will be along the lines of everyone knows of an individual in town that can cast some sort of minor spell. People who can cast large spells are few and far between. There are also denominations of the Christian Faiths that see magics as a gift from god and can cast devine spells like healing and blessings. Though only the most pious and gifted can do so. The non-christian gods of the Native Americans and Non-Humans can also grand healing spells. etc.

                So far I have decided that History has gone the pretty much the same. I am thinking about some little changes to history. Not enough to be really different, but big enough that it would need some sort of explanation. As I am still deciding on things like a Elvish American territory that is east of the Mississippi. A piece of land that is carved out of parts  4 or more states that are forested areas. I also have to decide what this heavily protected bit of forest would have done to the US Civil War and how it was fought.

                So hopefully something will grab my players and we will be able to have a fun game.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Creating Hero System Characters 101

Creating Hero System Characters
by Jenevieve DeFer AKA Tasha

Hero System Characters 101
It is pretty common for someone to look at the Hero System rule book and be totally overwhelmed by the options inside. Usually first characters are a mish-mash of powers of wildly varying power levels and are not really suited for play. After seeing this come up time and time again on the Hero Games forums I thought that it was time for me to try and answer this question once and for all. So I created this little tutorial and guide.

1) Learn everything possible about the campaign.
ie What Genre, What kind of adventures will be run (ie Action, Political, soap opera etc). Does it take place in one spot (ie one city) or will there be travel? How often will characters be engaging in combat? How serious is the game (is it comedy, Tragedy, high drama or something in-between?)These questions give you a direction for the design of your character. It will allow you to make a character that will fit within the GM's campaign.

2) Come up with a basic idea of what the character is beyond adventuring.
ie Marine Corps Sniper, High Society Socialite, College Professor, News Reporter etc. This gives your character a life outside of adventuring and gives greater depth to their background. This step also can give you ideas for people who may be attached to the character both for good or bad (ie a Dependent or a person Hunting the PC) Write these ideas down.

3) Now work on the character's Adventuring side.
Wizard, Healing Priest, Person turned into metal, Thief/Rogue, Person who can create fire effects, Warrior. Be general at this point, specifics come next. Also think about quirks that will make this character different from any other character of your type(s)

4) Take those generalities and be more specific.
Write out what the character can do in plain english (don't even worry about opening a rule book yet). This step is VERY important for Super Heroes and for Spell Casters. Done right this will both help with writing up powers and will suggest weaknesses.Make sure that this list shows what you want your powers to DO. Fiery Body from being possessed by flame elemental is a good start, but you need to write down specifics of what the Character does with that Fiery body. The more specific and detailed the writeup the easier it will come to write up powers.
ie Fireperson the flaming superhero
a. Can project bolts of fire
b. Body's fiery aura can vaporize bullets and is resistant to heat effects
c. Being made of fire makes character lighter than air and allows her to fly
d. can see heat (ie Infrared Vision)

5) Discover the power level of the campaign.
You need the Point levels of the campaign (ie 350pt supers, 150pt Heroic normals).
Find how powerful should your attacks be (ie 10d6, AKA DC10, AKA 50pt attacks) and also the average and maximum Active Point values allowed for any power. Then find what the Dex and SPD range is and what the average number for both of those are. Average and maximum OCV, DCV, OMCV, and DMCV (for 5e players the last two are Mental combat values). Maximum and average PD and ED also maximums for unusual defenses (ie Power def, Mental def, Flash Def). The average is important as it tells you what most PCs should have for that ability, so you can decide whether your character should be above or below that value.

6) Start writing the character up using the rules.
This is where you open your Rule books and Genre books. I recommend starting with skills. See if you can find a write up of your profession in the genre book. Most of the professions have some sort of package that lists out skills (and complications) that are appropriate for that profession. You may think of more. Next work on Perks (things like favors, contacts and licences), Go onto Talents, then Powers. When you start to write up powers go back to your list of what your powers should do, then find the power in the book that best fits that write up. Start with the abilities that translate easy. (ie Can project bolts of fire; sounds like either a Blast or a Killing Attack Ranged or it can be both if you like).
b. This is also a good time to buy Int and Presence. Keep in mind that 3s and 8s are breakpoints and will save you points.

7) Now balance the character so they fall within the points budget.
This is a great time to see if some of the powers can be purchased in a Multipower. Also think of limitations on your powers. ie"Power requires a Roll" is a good limit for beginning heroes. Also think of weakness in those powers. ie Fire powers probably don't work under water or in Vacuum. This a good time to lower stats that you were kind of wishing for but don't break the character's concept to lower (ie Presence can be a good stat to lower). If you cant come under budget, then go onto the next step. You might find ways to save more points in the proofing stage

8) Proof the character vs campaign limits and power levels.
These question are to reality check the character so they aren't a total wimp or over-powered.

a. Do I have at least 1 attack power that is straight up dice of damage? (ie Strength, Energy Blast or Ego Attack). This means one attack power that has no advantages ie NND, Armor Piercing, Penetrating etc. If your powers all have gimmicks you can find yourself in situations where the character cannot damage their opponent(s) at all, which can make for a frustrating gaming experience.

b. Are my defenses = 2x to 2.5x the average damage dice (AKA Damage Class) being thrown in the game? (ie if the campaign is based on 50pt (10d6 powers), then I should have from 20-30 Defenses.

c. Can the PC take one attack at campaign average Damage Class with an average damage roll and not be stunned? (ie have my Con Score exceeded by damage taken after defenses) 1d6 does 3.5 average stun. so 3.5 x 10d6 = 35 stun on average - PD or ED (lets go with 20) and you take 15 stun which means that you need 16 Con to not be stunned by an average hit (round to 18 to take advantage of figured chars).

d. Do I have enough STUN to take 2 - 3 average attacks? ie using the numbers above the character takes 15 STUN per hit and should have 30 STUN to 45 STUN

e. Do I have enough End to use my most common attack + end using defenses + movement for one full turn? ie ((Sum Attack End Cost + Defense End Cost + Movement End cost/2)* SPD). Your movement end is halved is because you take half moves during any phase you attack.

f. Do I have a movement power that is faster than 12m/phase? or is moving slowly ok for the character concept. There is nothing more annoying in a Champions game than being the only character that is moving base movement. In a Heroic level game even moving a couple of meters more than base can be a huge advantage.

g. If your character has ego powers remember to have Mental Defense at 2x to 2.5x the dice of Mental Attack (not the dice of Telepathy or the other mental powers). The character should have around 20-30 Ego and OMCV and DMCV around 5-7. Most people never buy their DMCV above the base of 3 or their ego above 10. You can bank on this being true in all campaigns with the exception of ones that are all mentalist based. So take advantage of that fact to save points. For Telepathy, Mind Scan, Mental Illusions, and Mind control, you can reality check these by using the formula 3.5 x dice rolled -10 (avg ego). On a 10d6 attack you roll a 35 on average, subtract 10 for avg ego and get 25 which means that you get +20 effect on most rolls (with a -1 on breakout rolls on +20 effects to boot). 6d6 averages 21 which gets +10 vs most targets

h. Your CV scores should be at least campaign average. OCV should be at campaign average or average +1

i. This is a good time to buy any other Characteristics that I haven't talked about above.

9) Does the character still fit the points budget?
If you are under budget go to Complications/Disadvantages which is the next step. If not, then really look hard at all of your powers and skills and see if there are things that can be cut (and purchased later when you get exp). Also, see if there are extra limitation you can place on your powers to help save points.

10) Start putting together your Character's Complications (AKA Disadvantages).
Go back through your notes and see if any complications jump out at you. If the PC was a crusading lawyer or reporter perhaps some criminal is hunting the character. Perhaps you know that the character is curious, and/or has strong convictions against killing. Perhaps that body of flame has a weakness against cold attacks. Complications are good for the character. They give the GM something to grasp onto to help write adventures that involve the character beyond just being there. Don't be afraid to have that weakness to alien glowing rocks, or Ice attacks, have a sweet curious Aunt May, or a Wife/Husband,Girlfriend/Boyfriend. These things make your character interesting, not your powers and skills. If you are really hurting for ideas go to this site, it's a real nice resource for Physical, and Psychological Complications along with Social Complications Masterlist of Limitations

    a)Write your Compications all down in plain English just like you did for your powers. Open the book to the Complications Section (or Disadvantages if playing 5eR or earlier).
    B) Use the things you wrote down and see what Complications from the book fit best.

11) Transcribe the Character onto a character sheet Make one copy for you and one for your GM. If you use a program like Hero Designer it can make the whole process easier by taking the math out of the equation for you. Check it out on the Hero Games Web store. It’s inexpensive and makes character generation very easy. It also works for making both 5th Edition and 6th Edition characters.

12) Go through your notes and write down your character’s background.
ie Job/Career in other words what the character did before they started adventuring. A background can be anything from a bullet pointed list of events all of the way up to a short story. Make sure the GM receives that background along with the Hero system character sheet. You are done and if you have followed all of the steps you should have a well-rounded character that isn't a total wimp. A character who can contribute both inside and outside of combat, and has a background that the GM can use to write adventures that include the PC in the plot.

Congratulations you have finished your character!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Painting Miniatures for the Beginner

  Often when I bring my miniatures to a game or show them off in my showcase. I find that people comment that they don't have the talent to paint. I always tell them it's a skill and not completely about talent. That most people can learn the basics of miniature painting. Perhaps it's because people think that highly skilled painters were always great painters. The reality is that most skilled painters learned good techniques for making minis look good.

  I know from experience that most people can be taught some basic skills in painting that will allow them to produce decent looking minis for gaming. Perhaps later (when my computer is fixed) I will post some of my thoughts on painting for beginners and some techiques for beginners that will help make their miniatures look pretty decent. Instead of that, I will post some links for folk who wish to learn how to paint.
Reaper Miniatures's How to Paint Kits  Come with paint, brushes, 2 minis and instructions for painting the minis each of the 4 sets expands on a techique for painting a type of thing (ie Armor, Cloth, Fur, Skin etc). Nice way to come into the hobby.
Vallejo Game Color Paint Set: Intro Set (16)  no instructions with this set, but it comes with full sized bottles of paint, and gives you a decent selection of basic colors.

Most Game and Hobby stores have books that cover painting miniatures. Techniques for painting military model figures work just as well when you are painting fantasy and scifi white metal minis.

Till, next time :D

PS feel free to comment and ask questions

Also please give your business to your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS), I like to support small businesses.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Miniatures for Gaming

It seems like many gaming groups use dice, colored pawns, disks, counters and other objects as playing pieces for their RPG sessions. In this day and age of collectable minis, downloadable standups and old school metal minis. Using something so abstract just seems silly.

I find that eBay is a great source of  miniatures of all types. Most gamers don't know that one can find common minis from the plastic collectable miniatures games here for as little as $.25 a miniature.

So If you are looking for Fantasy (ie Mage Knight and Dungeons and Dragons minis), Star Wars, Superheros (ie HeroClix) Ebay is the way to go.

Oh and if you don't care for the way the mini is based (ie MageKnight and HeroClix) it doesn't take much work to pop those minis off their "Clix" base and reglue them to a 25mm disk or a 25mm magnetic base.

Printable standups

Precis Intermedia, PI's Disposable Heroes are minis that you print out on your inkjet or Laser Printer. The economy here comes when you print large amounts of the minis you like. If you don't want to waste ink/cardstock then they also sell the same artwork preprinted on cardstock.

Worldworks Games sells printable scenery pieces and has a collection of standups that can be printed out

There are other free sources of standups available. Google can be your friend in finding them,

Board Games

Many board games have nice game pieces that can be used as miniatures for RPGs.

Hero Scape has nice booster sets that have nice minis that don't seem to cost a bunch. Check discount stores and eBay for deals on older sets. Sometimes an otherwise bad game will have great pieces that can be salvaged for your RPG fun.

I'll talk about traditional minis and getting into the hobby without spending a ton of money later.

Tasha :D