Friday, December 31, 2010

Rogue Trader, Part 2

Back when I was in high school, in the dark ages f the mid-90s, I got into playing the miniatures wargame, Warhammer 40,000. A science-fiction wargame set int he grim darkness of the far future, there were any number of factions to play. Nominally on the good guys side were the Imperial Guard, the standard human armies of the tens of thousands of Imperial human worlds, and the Space Marines, essentially super-powered monk-knights with power armor, the elite of the elite, the warriors sent into the toughest fights to face the most terrifying foes. I was always fond of the Eldar, the 'space elves', looking to outrun the reach of the gods of Chaos and survive as a race.

Rogue Trader is one of three tabletop games set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe; the first was Dark Heresy, about acolytes of an Imperial Inquisitor doing their master's grunt work, trying to save the Imperium of humanity from heresy, aliens, and other assorted mischief. The third is Deathwatch, where you play part of a squad of the aforementioned Space Marines, committing commando raids and secretive operations into dangerous territory for the good of the Emperor. Rogue Trader, however, is a different animal altogether.

While the human Imperium in the 40k universe is generally portrayed as superstitious, xenophobic, and sometimes fanatical, Rogue Trader is the one of these that is not like the others. Rogue Traders are privileged traders, merchants, privateers and such that are given special Warrants - signed by the Emperor himself, supposedly - to go beyond the bounds of the Imperium, looking for ways to expand the grasp of humanity - and make themselves rich in the process. Think of Rogue Trader as Star Trek - but the ships are kilometers long, with crews in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, and while Rogue Traders do boldly go where no others have gone before, they don't do so just for the joy of exploration - they do so to make money. And because of their Warrant, they have carte blanche to do what they want - they can associate with proscribed alien races, attack planets, and defy the authority of other Imperium officials in pursuit of their job. This makes Rogue Traders, for the most part, a more free-wheeling, liberal group than other human of the Imperium - though that's not saying much.

Even the standard character types conform to the types of officers and characters you'd expect to see on a Star Trek bridge crew. FIrst, you have the Rogue Trader - head of the crew, the captain of the ship, bearer of the Warrant - the big cheese. Then you have the Arch-Militant - head of the ship's security forces, master of arms, general security officer and soldier. The Navigator - the man whose special talents allow him to navigate the hellish Warp, which allows mankind to travel between stars - is the navigation officer. The Astropath - who blinds himself to augment his psychic ability, which allows him to communicate at intergalactic distances - is the communications officer. The Explorator, a tech-priest who worships the Omnissiah, a technologically divine version of the Emperor, harbors all the secret and divine knowledge of forbidden technology - making him the equivalent of the science officer. The Seneschal, who handles logistics, commercial operations, and is generally the Rogue Trader's right hand, is the first officer. The Void Master, who has mastered one or more of the ship's systems, such as gunnery, the helm, the ship's sensors, or smaller craft, fills a number of roles.

In one of their newer supplements, they added options for players of Rogue Trader to play one of two alien species - a big deal in the 40k universe, since most humans fear anyone non-human, and even those humans who have been mutated by radiation or other problems. The Kroot are a race of alien mercenaries, who consume to corpses of their fallen foes - and who can use the DNA of their foes to alter future generations of Kroot. Though primitive, the Kroot are effective mercenaries, but the real surprise is the inclusion of Orks. In the 40k universe, Orks are the closest thing to a universal plague - they are born from fungi, grow larger through combat and confrontation, and fear nothing. They live to fight - and are something like a cross between an English soccer hooligan and a Terminator. Some can be pacified for short times with promises of combat, or transport to combat, or things to help them in combat, but they have no other joy in life but to fight.

Personally, I'm hoping that, in the future, Rogue Trader supplements add Eldar to the races that can ride along with a Rogue Trader - mostly because I always liked the Eldar, they were an interesting take on the whole idea of elves. I like Rogue Trader, even if I never get a chance to play it, because of the atmosphere of the 40k universe, the idea of being the command crew for a ship big enough to house a small city, and the way to game looks like it would run. Personally, I've always been fond of playing characters who hit, shoot, or otherwise destroy their enemies, but I could see myself getting into playing an Explorator Tech-Priest, or maybe a Void Master gunner or pilot. Any game that tempts me into playing outside my standard character type is one that I want to play, and Rogue Trader is pretty high up on that list.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Scion, Part 2

Back in early November, I did my whole character creation thing for Scion, a game where you play the modern children of ancient gods. I'm looking at actually playing Scion for the first time in a long time now, so I thought I might come back to it. It doesn't hurt that the first Scion book is one of the few I was able to bring with me on 'vacation' to Florida over Christmas break.

I've been interested in mythology for a long time, probably since before middle school. Mostly, I focussed on the myths surrounding the Greek and Norse gods, because they are two of the most well-known Western mythological groups. I've also been into White Wolf as a game company for a long time - since high school, at the very least, where I ran a long-running game of Werewolf: the Apocalypse, as well as some other, shorter games, like Project Twilight. That means I've probably had about 15 years of experience with the Storyteller system - which is a little depressing personally, but not terribly relevant.

Bringing mythology together with the Storyteller system was a big deal for me when I first heard about it; I hadn't really thought about it before, but a game about modern mythic heros and demigods really hit a chord. Initially, however, after reading the books I wasn't too thrilled about the system. Looking at the way powers were divided - the personally focussed epic attributes, and the more wide-ranging divine powers - I thought the game wasn't really all that balanced.

Of course, after I thought about it for a while, I realized that was the point. There's no reason a Scion focussed on fertility god powers should be as effective in combat as a Scion of a war god. And even a Scion of a war god can choose to either focus on personal combat powers - in which case he'll take epic physical attributes - or on causing others to be better in combat, in which case he'll take powers in the War purview. Balance is not one of the key ideas of Scion, because mythologically, the gods were never balanced - they were each focussed on their own area.

The mechanics in some ares of Scion are a little crazy, yeah, but a lot of that only happens when you start getting to the higher power levels. Epic attributes, for example, grant automatic successes on certain types of rolls, and they increase geometrically - Epic Stat 1 gives 1 auto success, Epic Stat 2 gives 2, Epic Stat 3 gives 4, and so on. This is fine early on, while Scion is still played in the Hero stage, but near the end of Demigod or God, the geometric successes mean that someone with, say, Epic Dexterity 7 is essentially guaranteed to defeat someone who only has Epic Dexterity 6. That's because the person with Epic Dexterity 7 has twice the automatic successes of the person with Epic Dexterity 6. But this is easy enough to change by just making the automatic successes and such progress in a linear fashion - Epic Stat 3 gives 3 successes instead of 4, and Epic Stat 4 gives 4 successes instead of 8.

After that, there's only a couple of other problems with Scion, and some of them are only going to come up if a player knows the Storyteller system well and how to game it. Scion uses a stat called Legend, for example; it represents how well-known and powerful your character is, and you can't progress to the next power level - from Hero to Demigod, or Demigod to God, without Legend. Now, in theory, though the base level of Legend is 2, you can push it as high as 4 during character creation - and this means you only need a minimum of experience points to push it to 5, and thus Demigod level. But a character who does that is bypassing everything else, and the GM has an easy way to delay the switch to Demigod - the jump in levels requires a visitation by the Scion's divine parent, and a confirmation by them that the character is ready to move up in the world.

It seems that a lot of the mechanical problems of Scion can be solved - but in most cases, they can only be solved with a good GM who pays attention and players who try to follow a particular theme rather than trying to game the system. I know I've been guilty of that before, so I don't count myself out of that group, but I generally try to keep to the spirit of the game. So I am looking forward to being able to play Scion again in the near future, even if I am playing the combat monkey in a group full of characters who can likely lead my character along by the nose. Because half of the fun of gaming, at least for me, is the interaction with the group, and it'll be a crazy time in a group playing the children of gods.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Eclipse Phase

It's been a while since my last entry, but in my defense, it's been busy - the end of the semester with papers due, the new expansion for World of Warcraft, and being down with my family in Florida for the holidays, away from most of my books - and the ones I brought, I've already done characters for. But now, after Christmas, I have at least a couple new games to enter, and tonight, I'll be doing one, called Eclipse Phase.

Eclipse Phase is a science fiction RPG, set a century or two into the future. As time went on, people developed greater and greater technology, and some even moved out into space to colonize and mine and develop there. Soon enough, seed AIs - AIs that could improve and learn on their own - were developed, and not long after, they got angry. They slowly started conflicts that spread into wars, and those wars began to consume the world - and even after humans realized it was these AIs, called TITANs - Total Information Tactical Awareness Networks - they still fought each others. When things looked worst and the TITANs were winning, people fled the earth in droves, both in human form and in digital uploads of their consciousness, and the TITANs followed - and then, for whatever reason, they disappeared through the Pandora Gates, moving into unknown areas of the universe.

Now, humans survive in forms that are often hard to see as human - they have moved into a phase of transhumanism. Minds can be transferred into new, genetically engineered - or entirely robotic - bodies. They can be stored digitally. They can be backed up, in case a body - called a morph - is killed. The mind may not even be human - it may be a carefully controlled AI or an uplifted animal. Humanity, lessened to half a billion from a population of over 8 billion, now lives among the stars, unable to return to an Earth war-torn, ecologically wrecked, and still infested with some TITAN constructs. Split into many nation-states, hypercorporations, and factions, with economies of both money and reputation, doing things as varied as exploration of planets, searching for alien artifacts, negotiating with the alien Factors, trying to reclaim the Earth, fighting for your favored faction, or trying to find out what the TITANs wanted and where they went, the characters of Eclipse Phase have their work cut out for them.

Eclipse Phase uses a percentile system, using 2d10 - one as the tens die, one as the single digit die; the aim is to roll under. For this character, I think I'll want to make an explorer-type character, because exploring this kind of setting sounds fun, and risky. Explorer will be my character concept, then. Next, I choose my Background, from a list provided; I'll make my character one of the first generation of Original Space Colonists; this means that when I get to skill selection, I will add +10 to either Pilot: Spacecraft or the Freefall skill, +10 to a Technical, Academic, or Profession skill of my choice, and then +20 to a Networking skill of my choice. Some backgrounds have a disadvantage, but not this one.

Next comes my choice of Faction; there are quite a few, but I have to choose one. I think the one that fits me best will be the Titanian faction, the faction of the Titanian Commonwealth's socialist cyberdemocracy. This gets me +10 to two Technical of Academic skills of my choice, and +20 to the Networking: Autonomists skill. As with backgrounds, factions can have disadvantages, but not this one. Now, I get to spend some points. There are 7 aptitudes: Cognition, Coordination, Intuition, Reflexes, Savvy, Somatics, and Willpower. I have 105 points to spread between them. For simplicity, I will put 15 in Cognition, Coordination, Reflexes, Savvy, and Somatics. I will put 10 points in Willpower, and then 20 in Intuition. I then gain my natural Language skill at 70 + my Intuition score; I'll take English, and so it will be rated at 90. I then start with a Moxie stat - a representation of my ability to face down challenges and overcome obstacles - of 1. I have 5,000 credits to purchase gear, and 50 Reputation Points to spread between the reputation networks of my choice - I'll put 20 points with Firewall, the default PC organization, and 30 points with the Research Network, a group of scientists, explorers, and researchers.

Now, I get to spend a lot more points - 1000, to be exact. I spend them to buy skills, Moxie, aptitude points, money, or reputation - as well as an initial body, or morph, to start in. It costs 1 points per skill point up to 60, so I'll start there. I'll take 30 points each in Academics: Astrosociology and Academics: Astrozoology, as well as Academics: Xenolinguistics - I'll designate these three as the targets for my background and faction skills, too. Then I need to take 400 points worth of active skills - those skills which require physical activity. I'll take 30 in Fray (fighting), and 20 points in Freefall. Then 40 in Freerunning (to help me get around on my own). Since I'm an explorer, I'll want a few points in Investigate; I'll spend 20 there. I'll spend 15 points in Kinesics, too. I want to be able to patch myself up, so I'll spend 25 in Medicine: Paramedic. I'll want to be able to find my way around, so I'll spend 40 points in Navigation, and 10 in Pilot: Spacecraft. I'll put 40 points in Perception, as well - nice to se what's going on most of the time, right? I'll put another 25 in Kinetic Weapons, so I can shoot at things a bit. Then I'll put 30 in Infiltration, so I can sneak around - why fight when you don't have to? I'll put 25 more in Pilot: Groundcraft, so I can make my way around on the ground, 40 in Scrounging, and spend my last 40 of the 400 with 30 in Hardware: Groundcraft and 10 in Climbing.

I'll spend 60 points to increase my Moxie by 4, up to 5. Then 50 more, to add 5 points to Somatics, to raise it to 20. I'll reserve 50 points for my morph. This leaves me with 365 points. Now, while I had to spend 400 points on physical skills, I need to spend 300 on Knowledge skills. I've already spent 90, so I have 210 left. I'll start with Interests: Gatecrashing (I want to know all I can about the mysterious Pandora Gates) at 40. I'll also take Interests: Sci-Fi Aliens at 40. Then I'll put 20 in Networking: Firewall, and 20 in Networking: Autonomists. Then I'll put 30 each in Profession: First Contact, Profession: Surveying, and Profession: Smuggling Tricks (sometimes, you just have to make ends meet). That's all my Knowledge skills, but I'll spend a few more. I'll put 20 in Language: Mandarin, and 20 more in Networking: Scientists, and 30 in Academics: Memetics. I have 70 points left; I'll spend 50 to get both of my current reputations up to 50, and the last 20 on the Fast Learner trait (I improve skills and learn new ones in half the time it normally takes) and Situational Awareness (I maintain continuous partial awareness of my surroundings, making me hard to distract).

Now, with my 50 remaining points, I choose my morph; personally, I like the Olympian morph - it's kind of like having your body be like Captain America. It has a decent Durability and Wound Threshold, and gives me +5 Coordination, +5 Reflexes, +10 to Somatics, and +5 to Willpower. It comes with the Basic Biomods, Basic Mesh Inserts, and Cortical Stack implants This actually only costs me 40 points, but I'll keep the last 10 points for a rainy day.

Then I choose my gear, using my 5,000 starting credits. For armor, I'll buy a basic VacSuit, and for a weapon I'll buy a Kinetic Assault Rifle. I'll buy a few more implants for my morph - the Adrenal Boost, Direction Sense, Enhanced Vision, Medichines, Oxygen Reserve, and Temperature Tolerance. these will help me as an explorer to survive harsh environments, and sometimes harsh people. Then I'll buy an assortment of other gear - Backup Insurance for 1 month (so I can get a new body if I die suddenly), Breadcrumb Positioning System (like GPS, but in SPACE!), a Diamond Axe, Electrogravity Net, Electronic Rope (like rope, but with power!), a knife, portable lidar/radar system, radio booster, shelter dome (fancy tent), spindle with spindle climber, tactical network software, traction pads, and an ultitool (Leatherman x Swiss Army Knife + space tools).

Finally, I choose motivations. These are three ideologies, goals, or other reasons I have to do what I do; whether I follow the ideology of a cyberdemocracy, subscribe to hypercapitalism, or pursue knowledge of nano-ecology. The book has a list, but also encourages you to find your own; for this, I'll go with the book's list, and choose Alien Contact, Exploration, and Nano-Ecology. And so, at the end, my character will look like this:

Titanian Explorer
Background: Original Space Colonist
Faction: Titanian
Morph: Olympian
Motivations: Alien Contact + Exploration + Nano-Ecology

COG 15
COO 20
INT 20
REF 20
SAV 15
SOM 30
WIL 15

Moxie 5
WT 8
DUR 40
DR 60
INIT 70 (80)

Academics: Astrosociology 55
Academics: Astrozoology 55
Academics: Xenolinguistics 55
Academics: Memetics 45
Climbing 40
Fray 45
Free Fall 35
Freerunning 70
Hardware: Groundcraft 45
Infiltration 50
Interests: Gatecrashing 55
Interests: Sci-Fi Aliens 55
Investigation 40
Kinesics 30
Kinetic Weapons 45
Language: English 90
Language: Mandarin 40
Medicine: Paramedic 40
Navigation 60
Networking: Autonomists 55
Networking: Firewall 45
Networking: Scientists 35
Perception 60
Pilot: Groundcraft 40
Pilot: Spacecraft 35
Profession: First Contact 45
Profession: Surveying 45
Profession: Smuggling Tricks 45
Protocol 25
Scrounging 60

Fast Learner
Situational Awareness

Firewall: 50
Research Network Associates 50

Armor: VacSuit
Weapon: Kinetic Assault Rifle
Implants: Adrenal Boost, Basic Biomods, Basic Mesh Inserts, Cortical Stack, Direction Sense, Enhanced Vision, Medichines, Oxygen Reserve, Temperature Tolerance
Gear: Backup Insurance (1 month), Breadcrumb Positioning System, Diamond Ax, Electrogravitic Net, Electronic Rope, Knife, Portable Lidar/Radar Sensor System, Radio Booster, Shelter Dome, Specimen Container, Spindle with Spinlde Climber, Tactical Network Software, Traction Pads, Ultitool

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd Edition

Sorry for the delay; between Thanksgiving, the imminent expansion of world of Warcraft, and finishing up schoolwork for the semester, life has been pretty crazy lately. On the upside, for anyone who reads this, I seem to have an additional copy of the Hellas RPG basic book; let me know if you want it, because it'll go to the first person who asks.

On to the game for today. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is, like Rogue Trader, based on a big wargaming property owned by games Workshop, though WFRP is based on their fantasy game, Warhammer Fantasy Battles. It takes place in a world that is in continuous upheaval; dark elves assault the ancient kingdom of the high elves, dwarves are under continuous siege from orcs and goblins, and the great human empire, modeled largely on the provinces of medieval Germany, must deal with many threats - undead at their borders, orcs and goblins besieging their dwarven allies, skaven (evil rat-men) under their feet, and the insidious forces of the Chaos gods all around and within. The characters in WFRP don't start out as great heroes, just people in many normal walks of life; heralds, valets, outlaws, mercenaries, rat-catchers, and many others. They fight against the forces of evil, or join them, as they see fit. It's nto high fantasy, but more grim, gritty fantasy roleplaying; there are few magic swords here, btu there is the very real possibility that you will end up dead in a ditch, or converted and mutated by Chaos. But it's all a part of survival in the Warhammer world.

For character generation, I start with race. I have four choices; I can be a human, a proud citizen of the Empire; a dwarf, an ally to the humans, in their lands for trading, fighting, or both; a wood elf, comign into human areas looking for aid against the creatures that invade the forests; or a halfling, a race much like the hobbits if they had been taken over by humans and didn't care. I think I'll go with human, as it is the standard. This gives me the skills Common Knowledge (The Empire), Gossip, and Speak Language (Reikspiel), as well as two random Talents; I get night Vision and Hardy. After that, I generate my characteristics, which are Weapon Skill, Ballistic Skill, Strength, Toughness, Agility, Intelligence, Willpower, and Fellowship; as a human, all of these are determined by a roll of 2d10+20. I end up with, in order, 28, 33, 25, 34, 30, 22, 37, and 24. I have 1 Attack, and have 11 Wounds. My Strength Bonus is 2, my Toughness Bonus is 3, my Movement is 4, and I start with 3 Fate points.

Next, I get to determine my profession. There are 60 choices, though some are only for certain races, and I can either determine this randomly, or choose one by myself. I think I'll just choose for myself, and I'll pick a Profession that is a classic in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying - the Rat Catcher. As a Rat Catcher, I gain the skills Animal Care, Animal Trainer, Concealment, Perception, Search, Set Trap, and Silent Move. As Talents, I gain Resistance to Disease, Resistance to Poison, Specialist Weapon Group (Sling), and Tunnel Rat. I also gain the profession's starting equipment: a Sling with ammunition, 4 Animal Traps, a Pole with 1d10 dead rats, and a Small but Vicious Dog. As my first career, I get one free advance; I'll use it to add 5 to my Agility. Also, when I finish this career track, my choices of new careers to enter are: Bone Picker, Cat Burgalr, Grave Robber, Jailer, Shieldbreaker, and Thief. It seems I am quite the low-life, but then, I do spend my days wandering in the sewers killing rats. My final character looks like:

Race: Human
Current Career: Rat Catcher
Previous Careers: None

Age: 25
Eye Color: Brown
Hair Color: Copper
Weight: 150 lbs.
Height: 5' 10"
Star sign: The Gloaming
Birthplace: Middenland

WS 28, BS 34, S 25, T 34, Ag 35, Int 22, WP 37, Fel 24

A1, W 11, SB 2, TB 3, M 4, Mag 0, IP 0, FP 3

Skills: Animal Care, Animal Training, Common Knowledge (The Empire), Concealment, Gossip, Perception, Search, Set Trap, Silent Move, Speak Language (Reikspiel)

Talents: Hardy, Night Vision, Resistance to Disease, Resistance to Poison, Specialist Weapon Group (Sling), and Tunnel Rat

Trappings: Sling with ammunition, 4 Animal Traps, Pole with 1d10 dead rats, Small but Vicious Dog

And now I am ready to go out in the world, likely to be killed horribly. Unless I fight rats, that is.