Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Werewolf: The Apocalypse

This post is going to be a little longer, because I've got a lot to say; in fact, I don't know that I'll even get to creating a character. I've got a long history with Werewolf, so sit tight.

I discovered Werewolf not long after it was originally published, in 1994 - the year the 2nd edition was published (1st was published in 1992). I was in my freshman year of high school, in a Jesuit prep school, and all of 15. I was looking to branch out from D&D, and I wasn't a big fan of White Wolf's (because that was Werewolf's publisher, White Wolf Publishing) flagship game, Vampire: the Masquerade. In Vampire, the characters play, obviously vampires, tortured beings who live like nocturnal parasite, slowly sucking the life out of humanity as they wait for the world to end. That was too angsty for me; nerdy teenager though I was, I was a much bigger fan of anger than angst.

In Werewolf, you play (wait for it) werewolves - 10-foot-tall furry combat machines, even the weakest of which can flip cars and tear enemies in half. And man, are you angry. The world you live in - the World of Darkness - is a dark reflection of our own. Vampires stalk the nights; evil lurks in the darkness. Where we may call some corporation in our world evil, there is a truly evil corporation in the World of Darkness, called Pentex - the size of Microsoft, McDonald's, and Wal-Mart combined - and it serves the forces of evil wholeheartedly. Werewolves were set as the guardians of the world and the natural order, and through hubris, poor planning, and internecine warfare, they - the Garou - have become outnumbered and outgunned.

But still, they fight. To the last breath, to the last man, they fight. Even though they are outnumbered and overwhelmed, and their backs are to the wall, they refuse to lay down and give up. Here, let me quote the text from the back cover of the book:

These are the final days-
The signs are clear:
Even our pups know
That this is the age of the Apocalypse!

The Humans have Corrupted the Earth
Destroyed the Trees
Slaughtered the Beasts
Choked the Air
Poisoned the Soil
Clogged the Waters
Unleashed the Eternal Fire

Now, the Wyrm rises
To Eclipse the Moon
Devouring all within its grasp,
Hunting the hunters.

There is no garden to which we can flee.
There is nowhere to hide.
The end is upon us.
-When will you rage?

The Garou would not go gently into the night, and that appealed to teenage me. I was angry, and it gave me a channel for my anger. I liked the idea of great warriors, outnumbered and fighting an almost certainly hopeless battle, throwing themselves into the face evil, daring it to choke on their bodies. They divide themselves into tribes - mostly along relatively ethnic levels, oddly - and into something approximating classes in other games, determined by the sign of the moon. They came in three varieties, even- homid, descended from humans; lupus, descended from wolves; and metis, the bastard children of two werewolves.

Throughout high school, I ran a multi-year Werewolf campaign; Jacob Greyfang, Demeter Fastfang, Hans Bloodfang (yes, the fang theme was overused, but we were high-schoolers), Kills-with-Claws, Melissa Stevens the kinfolk mage, and Alyjah the necromancer fought the forces of the Wyrm across the globe - from New York to Los Angeles, from the Amazon to the Russian steppes. They warred against the insidious evils of corporate greed and against monsters who could eat tanks for breakfast. It was a great time in my life, and one I remember fondly; my main e-mail address is still based on my character's name.

Now it is 20 years later, and the 20th Anniversary Edition of Werewolf: the Apocalypse has just come out. updated for a more modern world. It's a little less punk, but it's still the game I loved. Now Garou can arrange attacks via social networking, but so can the forces of the Wyrm. The green movement has been a blow against evil, but evil has gotten some good punches in - global terrorism, banks too big to fail, and the Deepwater Horizon spill, to name a few. The Garou still fight their fight, and there is a glimmer of hope for them. PErhaps the Prophecy of the Phoenix won't come to pass after all. Oh, what's that? Here it is:

Prophecy of the Phoenix

Phoenix took me.
Carried me in his claws.
High above the world.
So that I could see beyond tomorrow.
and I looked.
I beheld the future.
I saw the decimation of our kin. Hunted beyond hunting, death beyond death, to the last one. There were no more children, or grandchildren, or fathers, or mothers. This was the first Sign Phoenix game to to me, that the Children of the Weaver, the Humans, would give to us, The Garou.
And I looked.
And I beheld the future.
I saw the Children of the Weaver birthing. A great tide of Humans, rising. I saw more and more, until Gaia groaned at having to carry them all. Their houses overrunning, their rakes raping, their hands clawing at the parched earth, trying to feed from Her. This was the second Sign of the last days, that the Phoenix Showed me, that the Humans would do.
I looked again.
I beheld the third Sign.
So many. So many children. So many Humans. And they Fell against each other, one to one, and the Wyrm brought forth corruption and gave each a measure. And the strange Fire I saw. out of control, the great Plume Rising over the wilderness, spreading death where ever it shone, in the dark and cold land. And I heard the agony of the Seas as She keened, for some drunken fool had poured a lake of black death out upon her.
I turned my head away in disgust, but I could not help but look again.
And I beheld, then, the fourth Sign.
The Wyrm grew powerful; its wings fanned the breezes of decay. It spread its diseases and they were horrible: the Herd became afflicted with diseases of the head and the blood. Children were born twisted. Animals fell sick and no one could cure them. In these final days, even the Warriors of Gaia could not escape the palsied talons of the sickness-bringing deathbird.
A tear in my eye, I looked again, and the Phoenix showed me the fifth Sign.
I saw other Plumes rising like death-spears towards the beautiful sky. piercing it, letting Father Sun burn and parch Gaia. The air grew hot; even in the darkness of Winter it was warm. The plants withered in the sun. A cry of pain and disease arose from the dying forests; as one the relations cried tears of mourning.
Then, as though a veil were torn, the sixth Sign showed itself to me.
In these last days, Gaia shakes in rage. Fire boils from the depths. Ash shrouds the sky. The Wyrm skulks in the shadows made by these...and rears to strike. The old ones are gone; the Guardians of the pathways and the Crossroads are finished. In these final days, the sixth Sign will make itself known in the Packs that form. Each Pack will have unto itself a Quest, a Sacred Journey it must perform. Such is the will of Gaia.
And I saw the Sky turn black, and the moon was as blood.
And the seventh Sign I glimpsed, though I could not look on it in full. But its heat I could feel.
The Apocalypse. The final days of the world. The Moon was swallowed by the Sun, and it burned in his belly. Unholy fires fell to the ground, burning us all, twisting us and making us vomit blood. The Wyrm had made itself manifest in the towers and the rivers and the air and the Land, and everywhere its children ran rampant, devouring, destroying, calling down curses of every kind. And the Herd ran in fear. And the Dark Ones, Children of the Wyrm, crawled from their caves and walked the streets in daylight.
I turned my head from the sight. Phoenix told me: "This is as it shall be, but not as it should."
Phoenix left me then.

Now, I cannot dream. I can only remember the Signs, each one in perfect detail. These are the last days. May Gaia have mercy on us.
This is the Prophecy of the Phoenix, the anthem of hopelessness that awaits the Garou. five signs have come to pass, with a sixth imminent - and the seventh means the end of all life, or at least all life worth living. Doesn't that make you angry? Doesn't that make you want to rip the minions of evil apart?

Well, now's your chance.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

I'm a big Marvel fan, so I was excited when the new Marvel RPG came out a couple years ago. I even wrote an old blog post about it; you can check it out, entitled Make Mine Marvel. It was made by Margaret Weis Productions, which had some very cool success with games based on the Leverage and Smallville TV shows; the Marvel game was a branch of their basic system, called Cortex Plus. It's designed to pretty narrative and freeform, trying to emulate the action on a comic book's pages as well as it can; thus you can have characters like, say, Hawkeye in the same group as Thor and still have both of them have moments to shine.

One of the interesting choices on the MHRP game's part is that, instead of designing and creating your own characters, the default assumption is that you will play an already established Marvel character. The main book has a total of 23 choices, while the supplements expand that out to around 150 choices. There are ways of altering the existing datafiles, or fudging them to create similar character, but there isn't a big system in place for creating characters of your own. Not that you can't - there are methods to do so - but it isn't the focus.

Given that the character you play is likely to be an already-existing Marvel character, instead of going through how to create a character I'll go over what the given character information means. Being a huge Captain America fan, I'll be using Captain America as my model.

Captain America (Name, pretty obvious, right?)

Solo d6, Buddy d8, Team d10
(Affiliations are a measure of how well a hero acts with others - when solo, with a buddy - like Bucky for Cap - or with a team, like the Avengers. Cap is clearly at his best with a team)

Lead By Example; Man Out Of Time; Sentinel of Liberty
(Distinctions are defining character traits, backgrounds, or catchphrases summarizing the hero and his or her outlook; they can either be used to get a Plot Point, when used negatively - Cap using Man Out Of Time when stuck using the Internet, for instance - or add a d8 to a roll when used positively, like Cap using Sentinel of Liberty when protecting the American dream)

Power Sets
Super-Soldier Program: Enhanced Durability d8, Enhanced Reflexes d8, Enhanced Stamina d8, Enhanced Strength d8
Vibranium-Alloy Shield: Godlike Durability d12, Weapon d8
(These are the powers a hero typically makes use of; Cap was the first, and only, supersoldier, giving him enhanced - but not superhuman - abilities, and he has a unique shield, made specially for him; each power set - and you can have two, normally - has its own set of abilities, and each has a set of special effects and limits to help make them more unique in play)

Acrobatics Expert d8, Combat Master d10, Covert Expert d8, Psych Expert d8, Vehicle Expert d8
(Specialties represent skills, knowledges, and special training that heroes have beyond the level of the average person; Expert level is pretty common among heroes, but MAster means the character is among the best in the world in that particular area - Cap is one of the greatest hand-to-hand combatants in the world, and thus a Master)

Mentor the Hero
1 XP: When you choose to aid a specific hero for the first time
5 XP: When you aid a stressed-out hero in recovery
10 XP: When you either give leadership of the team to your chosen hero or force your chosen hero to resign or step down from the team
Avengers Assemble!
1 XP: When you first lead a team
5 XP: When you defeat a foe without any team member becoming stressed out
10 XP: When you either convince a hero to join a new Avengers team or disband your existing team
(Each hero has one or two Milestones like these, specific to them; they are how a hero advances between sessions, episodes, or issues whatever you prefer to call them. The 1 XP choices tend to be easy, the 5 XP ones somewhat harder, and the 10 XP spots involve a difficult choice that closes out the Milestone and opens a spot for a new one)

There are also writeups for a character's history, personality, and abilities, but those aren't important here; all the important mechanical aspects of the character are covered, and I think Cap's writeup shows that it's a relatively simple and open system.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Iron Kingdoms

Iron Kingdoms is an RPG based in the world of the Warmachine and Hordes miniature wargames. Instead of leading a battlegroup of figures on a field of war, you play a single character apiece. Iron Kingdoms is set in a fantasy world that has reached an interesting level of technology - somewhere beyond steam technology and firearms, with a good helping o magic mixed in. There was a d20 version of the setting back when D&D 3.5 was still in print, but the current version is a stand-alone game produced by the same company that produces the miniatures games, Privateer Press.

In any case, I'll be trying to create a specific character today - a Paladin of the Order of the Wall, a paladin who follows the Menite faith - in Iron Kingdoms, Menoth is like the Old Testament god, full of fury, not caring so much for individual people as for the species as a whole. He gave humanity four major gifts - Fire, the Wall, the Law, and Agriculture. Nowadays, many people in the Iron Kingdoms follow the much more human-friendly Morrow, but some are still concerned with the old faith, and protecting those who still follow it - that's where the Paladins of the Order of the Wall come in.

The first step to IK character creation is choosing a race. The race choices are human, dwarf, gobber (kind of underclass, tech-friendly goblins), Iosan (elves from a fallen empire), Nyss (rugged, cold northern elves), Ogrun (ogre-like, honor-bound friends of the dwarves), and Trollkin (strong, tradition-bound relations to the trolls). Much as I'd like to play a Trollkin, or a human can be a Paladin, so I'll go with that. As a human, my starting stats are Physique 5, Speed 6, Strength 4, Agility 3, Prowess 4, Poise 4, Intelligence 3, Arcane *, and Perception 3. As a human, I can also add 1 to Physique, Agility, or Intelligence - I'll go with Agility, because I know it is the stat that governs reflexes.

Step 2 is archetype. My choices, as human, are Gifted, Intellectual, Mighty, and Skilled. Gifted is an archetype that gives me access to magic abilities, and I'm not going for that; I also don't feel like being an intellectual, so that leaves Mighty and Skilled. I like the idea of being a great warrior, so I'll go with Mighty. The Mighty archetype gives me an additional die on melee damage rolls, which I like. It also grants me a choice of one of a number of abilities - I'm not going to go through them all here, but the one I will choose is called Righteous Anger - when one or more characters friendly to my character are damaged by an enemy attack within my command range (the range at which a character can effectively command others), I gain +2 Strength and +2 Armor for one round.

Step 3, I choose two careers. Careers grant me my beginning skills and talents; choosing two gives me a chance to branch out from just a single area. One of my two careers has to be Paladin, and because of that, my second choice has to be one of the following: Aristocrat, Horseman, Investigator, Man-at-Arms, Military Officer, Priest, Ranger, Soldier, or Warcaster. I can't choose Priest or Warcaster because I didn't choose the Gifted archetype, but I didn't want those anyway. I think I'll actually go with Military Officer, because I want to be a good warrior and commander. Because of the Paladin career, I gain the Specialization (Firebrand) and Stone-and-Mortar Stance abilities, the Order of the Wall Connection, the military skills Great Weapon 1 and Shield 1, and the occupational skills Command 1, Etiquette 1, and Lore (Menite faith) 1. I also get a weapon, the Firebrand, and full plate armor and a shield. As a military officer, I gain the Battle Plan: Call to Action, Natural Leader, and Team Leader abilities, the Hand Weapon 1 and Great Weapon 1 military skills, and the Command 1, Medicine 1, and Navigation 1 occupational skills, as well as 100 gc (gold coins) and an officer's uniform.

Step 4 is increasing stats - I get 3 points to add to any of the stats established in the first step. I need Strength 5 to use a Firebrand in one hand - and since the Firebrand can light people on fire, as a special weapon of the Order of the Wall, I want to use ti in one hand, while also hitting people in the face with my shield. So, one point goes to Strength. Prowess determines natural ability with melee weapons, so I'll put a point in that; the final point I'll put in Intelligence. That leaves me with step 5, finishing touches. I can purchase additional gear, but there's nothing I want right now, and much of the rest would only be fully fleshed out with a group, so I'll just call my character Heremon and head to the summary.

Archetype: Mighty
Race: Human
Careers: Paladin of the Order of the Wall, Military Officer
Faith: Menite

Physique 5, Speed 6, Strength 5
Agility 4, Prowess 5, Poise 4
Intelligence 4, Arcane *, Perception 3
Willpower (Phy + Int) = 9

Great Weapon 2, Shield 1, Hand Weapon 1
Command 2, Medicine 1, Navigation 1, Etiquette 1, Lore (Menite faith) 1

Righteous Anger, Battle Plan: Call to Action, Natural Leader, Team Leader, Specialization (Firebrand), Stone-and-Mortar Stance

Full Plate   Spd -1, Def -3, Arm +8
Shield        Spd 0, Def 0,    Arm +1

Firebrand  Melee Attack 4, POW + Str 12
Shield        Melee Attack 5, POW + Str 5

DEF (Spd + Agl + Per + racial + equipment) = 10
ARM (Phy + shield modifier + Armor modifier + other) = 14
Initiative (Psd + Prw + Per + equipment + other) = 13
Command Range (Int + Command skill + ability modifier) = 8

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The One Ring

In honor of it being J.R.R. Tolkien's birthday, I figure tonight I will create a character from the most recent (I think) game based on his works, The One Ring. It's a game published by Cubicle 7 Entertainment, a company that also publishes the RPG Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, among others. The One Ring is basically a game about groups of adventurers in Middle-Earth, traveling the lands, delving dungeons, and fighting monsters in the span between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. It has some really interesting mechanics, and I'd love to go into them, but this is just an exercise in character-building, so I'd advise anyone who finds the character creation system interesting to look into the game further.

For character creation in The One Ring, there are two main categories, with a number of choices in each. The first category is selecting a heroic culture. Your choices as a player here are Bardings (from the rebuilt city of Dale), Beornings (followers of Beorn the skin-changer), Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain (speaks for itself), Elves of the Mirkwood (ditto), Hobbits of the Shire (and again), and Woodmen of the Wilderland (frontiersmen of the North, friends of Radagast the Brown).. I'll go with a Beorning for now. Now, I record the Cultural Blessing of the Beorning (Furious: when a Beorning is wounded in battle, he ignores the effects of being Weary and Miserable for the duration of combat)) and the skill list. It's a fair list, and I don't make any choices here, so I'll hold it for the summary at the end. I do choose one of two weapon skillsets: either Axes 2, Spear 1, Dagger 1 or Great-spear 2, Axe 1, Dagger 1. I'll go with the former, because I like axes.

Next, I select two Specialties from this list: Anduin-lore, Beast-lore, Cooking, Fishing, Mountaineer, and Storytelling. I'll go with Beast-lore and Storytelling; he likes to hunt and tell stories about it. Then a choose a Background; I have six options - Child of Two Folks (father from the mountains, mother from Mirkwood), Errand-rider (messenger for the Beornings), Head of the Family (new head of your family after your father disappeared), Light-foot (you are light on your feet and a good spy), Keeper of Tales (family tradition as a skald and storyteller), and Voice from the Past (you love the ancient tales and songs). I like the idea of the Voice from the Past, so I'll choose that; it means my basic attributes will be Body 7, Heart 4, Wits 3, my Favoured Skill is Song, and I choose two Distinctive Features from this list: Generous, Grim, Proud, Robust, Steadfast, Tall, Vengeful, and Wrathful.I'll go with Generous and Steadfast.

Next, I enter the Customize My Hero category. First, I choose my character's Favoured Attributes. For this, I add 3 to one attribute, 2 to another, and 1 to a third. I'll add 3 to Heart, 2 to Body, and 1 to Wits, giving me 9 Body, 7 Heart, and 4 Wits. Next, I use 10 experience to improve various skills, like the ones I got as a Beorning. I'll add 1 to Riddles for 2 points, raise Song to 2 for 3 points, raise Inspire from 1 to 2, and Battle from 0 to 2 for the last 5 points. Then I choose a calling - kind of a career. My choices are Scholar, Slayer, Treasure Hunter, Wanderer, and Warden. I like the idea of a roaming story-gatherer, so I'll pick Wanderer; I can choose two skills from either the Custom (Courtesy, Song, Riddle) or Survival (Explore, Healing, Hunting) groups as favoured; I'll go with Hunting and Riddle. I also get the Trait Folk-lore, and the Shadow Weakness Wandering-madness (wanderers travel without ever really settling down, but also run the risk of never finding anything to live for - what if the road goes ever on and on forever?).

Then I generate my Endurance (physical well-being) and Hope (spiritual health) scores; based on my Heart score, my Endurance is 31, and Hope is 15. Then I prioritize Valour and Wisdom - either Valour 2 and Wisdom 1, or Wisdom 2 and Valour 1. I'll go with Valour 2, Wisdom 1; this gives me a Reward. As a Beorning, my choices are Giant-slaying Spear, Noble Armour, and a Splitting Axe; since I like Axes, I'll choose that. Finally, I choose Gear and Fatigue. my travelling gear depends on the season. My Splitting Axe is Encumbrance 4, my spear is Encumbrance 2, and my Dagger Encumbrance 0; for armor, I'll take a mail shirt (Encumbrance 12) and an iron and leather cap (Encumbrance 2), for a total Encumbrance of 20. This means that, if during play my Endurance goes below 20, my character becomes Weary, meaning it is harder to roll successes. So, I will name my character Bodvar, and then head to the summary.

Bodvar, son of Hrolf
Experience: 10
Valour 2, Wisdom 1
Cultural Blessing: Furious
Calling: Wanderer
Shadow Weakness: Wandering-madness

Specialties: Beast-lore, Storytelling, Folk-lore
Distinctive Features: Generous, Steadfast

Body 9, Heart 7, Wits 4
Common Skills
Awe 3, Athletics 2, Awareness 2, Explore 0, Song 2, Craft 1, Inspire 2, Travel 0, Insight 3, Healing 1, Courtesy 0, Battle 2, Persuade 0, Stealth 0, Search 1, Hunting 3, Riddle 2, Lore 0

Weapon Skills
(Axes) 2, Spear 1, Dagger 1

Splitting Axe

Mail shirt
Cap of iron and leather

Now, in a regular game, a Fellowship would also be created, but that would require several other characters, so I'll leave you with that tantalizing bit of information in the hopes that more people will show interest in this fascinating game.