Monday, November 18, 2013

Delving Into Dungeons

If you've been reading this blog over the last year or so, you've been along with me on the ride towards focusing my attentions on mastering a small set of systems. Since deciding that single-system mastery was not for me, I've been working towards assembling a triad of systems, each one meant to scratch a different itch of (very loosely defined) simulationism, gamism, and narrativism.

My simulationist system of choice is Basic Roleplaying; my gamist system of choice is Savage Worlds. I've been running most of my games since 2012 in either of those two systems and each time I do, I feel increasingly sure that I made the right choices in those regards, and feel less and less inclined to run new or unfamiliar systems. I've had a tough time picking the right system to fill that third slot, though.

For a while, I was pretty sure that system was going to be FATE, but that's seeming less and less likely now. Count me as one of those people who just aren't terribly engaged by the system - there's nothing there that really reaches out and grabs me and slaps me across the face until I run a game with it.

Furthermore, there's been a sort of competing agenda for that third system slot outside the GNS triad. Instead, there's been the idea of choosing a dedicated fantasy RPG system as a sort of "my D&D." To that end, I took Pathfinder for an extended test drive, and I've seriously considered B/X D&D. I'll probably buy the Fifth Edition D&D core books when they come out next year, let's be honest. But, again, none of those systems were really capturing my imagination or long-term interest. I've definitely been feeling the itch to get more D&D-style gaming back into my life, though.

A few months back, I picked up a copy of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG with some spare trade credit I had with Noble Knight. I gave the system a pass back when it came out in 2010. At that point, I was coming to the end of my initial arc of interest in all things OSR, the DCC RPG just seemed like another in an endless line of retro-clones, and I was feeling completely disinterested in yet another D&D knockoff.

It's a pity, really, that I rushed to judgment, because the DCC RPG was one of the first of that second generation of clones, the ones that weren't merely retreads but spoke with a distinctive voice of their own. Reading through the rulebook now, I was immediately taken in by the game's charms and resolved to run something as soon as I could.

Using the excellent "Anomalous Subsurface Environment" sandbox/megadungeon, I did just that, also integrating the LotFP "Tower of the Stargazer" adventure for the infamous character funnel portion of the campaign. The DCC RPG did not disappoint: it dripped with pulpy flavor, and its mechanics were simple enough that integrating material written for other clones, often on the fly, was a snap. (I also adapted some monsters from Raphael Chandler's Teratic Tome.) Check out this list of character deaths amassed over just four sessions of play(!):

Mindus (13 XP; 1st-level Dwarf) – Killed by a Farrago
Cutter Timberbone (12 XP; 1st-level Warrior) – Killed by a Farrago
Kevin Costermonger (9 XP; Costermonger) – Killed by Canus, Lord of the Hounds
Iminix (Gnome Vagrant) – Killed by chess ghost.
Chongrilar (Dwarven Herder) – Blown up.
Manotaur (Con Artist) – Blown up.
Anuk (Caravan Guard) – Blown up.
Kromlek (Gnome Sailor) – Knocked down stairs by gout of blood.
Marquanos (Wizard Apprentice) – Blown up.
Aram (Weaver)- Killed by chess ghost.
Glendale (Healer) – Blown up.
Argosa (Jeweler) – Strangled by animated corpse intestines.
Chemnis (Elven Forester) – Sucked through telescope, transported to far-distant world, consumed by mossmen.
Mo’care (Corn Farmer) – Brained by a Halfling supremacist.
Morghani (Locksmith) – Throat slashed by a Dober-Man.

Good times.

In the end, though, I let the campaign come to an end and decided to set the DCC RPG back on my shelf, because I've finally found my third system of choice. It quite nicely scratches both my indie-narrativist itch and my "FRPG" itch. Followers of my actual-play blog will probably already have an inkling that that system is Dungeon World, as I posted a recording of a one-shot I ran a few weeks ago.

DW's another case of a system I've been more or less ignoring in spite of the hype, and much like DCC RPG I'm glad I finally decided to give it a look. It works perfectly for that distilled D&D experience I've been looking for. It's also highly mod-able, and my mind is already aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention, which is to say I'm looking forward to getting a more thorough grounding in the basic game so that I can then start hacking it apart and rebuilding it.

But what's even more exciting to me is that DW is built on the so-called "Apocalypse World Engine" - the same system has fueled its eponymous post-apocalyptic adventures, teen angst, monster hunting, and more. It's not quite as much of a "generic" system as BRP or Savage Worlds, but it's close enough for my purposes.

So there we go: three more-or-less generic systems, each scratching a different gaming-experience itch, and one of which is also a "my D&D"-style system. Perfect!

Hopefully the interest and inspiration will hold and I can continue on my path towards system mastery. Considering where I was when I started out on this journey, I've come a long way and feel like it's really helped me focus on and highlight what I enjoy about gaming and what I want out of my gaming experiences.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

[Rifts:2112] Fresh Brain Droppings

With the release of BRP Mecha, I've found my thoughts increasingly returning to my Rifts:2112 project. Statting up mechs and power armor was one of the stumbling blocks in my ongoing mechanical conversion process, and BRP Mecha has excellent guidelines in that regard, obviously. (Although I'll only be using some parts of the book's systems, as its focus is more on running anime mecha campaigns in the vein of Robotech or Voltron.) As before, mechanical conversions spark thoughts on setting development, and I figured it was time to fire up a post and throw out some of the latest ideas and see which ones stick.

One thing I've noticed in the course of following along as other people develop a published setting into their own personal vision (as with Scott Driver's gone-but-not-forgotten Wilderlands OD&D project), is that, after a certain point, the developing setting comes loose from its original moorings and increasingly the personal vision shares less and less in common with the original example. I feel like I may just be getting to that point now.

For example, my initial plan was relatively modest in its re-imaginings, only implementing minor changes to bring the world of Rifts a bit more in line with a "realistic" sensibility that I favored. More and more, though, I've changed and modified things to the point where I'm thinking about making some pretty broad-brush alterations.

For example, I'm seriously considering dialing down all my creative focus into the North American region and not concerning myself much, if at all, with the rest of the world. Frankly, back in the day, I was surprised that the official line of supplements skipped over the Atlantic so early on and started detailing England, Africa, and Europe so quickly - there's so much going on in North America, even in the original core book, that the line could've stayed there for a good dozen supplements or more.

Insofar as I am thinking about Europe, I'm thinking about ditching the whole "New German Republic" thing altogether and probably just cludging in Palladium's other great post-apocalyptic European setting, Mutants in Avalon. This would make the British Archipelago the focus of any sort of remnant civilization in Europe, and relegate most of the continent to monster-haunted wilderness for the mutant knights to go questing in. I'd retain the Rifts vision of Russia as another, far-distant center of civilization (sort of like, in the original Arthurian mythos, the distant "Roman Empire"), but at this point I'm thinking the only other locus of human dominance aside from the American Midwest and Mother Russia would be Japan (where all the cool mecha get to go). My vision of "purestrain" human centers of survival is getting increasingly grimmer, evidently.

But back to North America. My ideas for some of the basic foundations of the setting have been undergoing some changes there, as well. Like, across the board, I'm thinking of toning down the tech just a bit. For example, making any anthropomorphic mech taller than a suit of power armor into a major rarity; the Ulti-max (supplied by intergalactic arms dealers, as per my re-imagining of Triax) and the Glitter Boy (bestowed to selected champions by enigmatic Powers) being the only major examples known.

Because, honestly, how could I not include this?
All Coalition mechs are arachnid, in the style of the Spider Skull Walkers or the URR-1. Most other factory outfits manufacturing any kind of mechanical suit are confined to power armor. Gone are things like the UAR-1 Enforcer or the NG V7 Hunter - "generic" bipedal mecha. At least among human manufacturing capabilities. With aliens like the Kitani, all bets are off.

Because, again, how could I not include this?
It's the sort of thing that'll be decided on a case-by-case basis as I work my way through my source material, but as a general rule, it's mostly about refocusing on power armor, tanks, sky cycles, and the like.

I've had some other thoughts on the Coalition, as well. Like, what if I combined Emperor Prozek and A.R.C.H.I.E. and made the Emperor of the Coalition a giant A.I. brain? Those A.R.C.H.I.E.-bots always reminded me of Coalition Dead Boys anyway. This would allow me to play up the whole Rush in-joke, too, as I could make the Coalition's highest-rankers into a caste of tech-priests administering to the God-Emperor, S.Y.R.I.N.X. (Synthetic-Yield Research Intelligence [Neuronet-X] - thanks for acronym, +Zak Smith!).

Oh, and speaking of Dead Boys - a comment from way back in 2010 on my initial Coalition post got me thinking about re-imagining the look of the Coalition's military elite. The skull-face armor has always been a bit of a giveaway as to who the baddies are; but the Helghast from Killzone II retain a suitably "Dead Boy"-ish look without being quite as over-the-top EVIL, and nicely fitting my more "realistic" post-apocalyptic/dystopian sensibilities:

Handily, as I've had the idea to do a "Space Marine/Imperial Guard" split of the Coalition forces for some time now, Killzone II also provides suitable imagery for the Guard half of the equation in the form of their ISA infantry:

So I think a "Coalition II" post is in order, obviously. Another post I want to write is on Lone Star. I'll save the details for that post, but I'm envisioning a slight re-arranging of the geopolitics of the southern end of the Coalition States and an opportunity to talk about how I hope to incorporate yet another book from the After the Bomb series, Road Hogs.

Lastly, I've been giving some thought to doing a post on the Coalition's enemies - I haven't written much, if at all, on Lazlo, the Federation of Magic (such as it is in my setting), or Tolkeen. The former two will probably be encompassed in a single post, as I view them as opposite sides of the same coin - the "good" magic-based society, and the "bad" one.

Tolkeen, though, deserves a post of its own. I understand and accept that, from the beginning, Tolkeen existed to be the country that's there for the Coalition to invade and conquer. Keeping in mind that I never read the Coalition War Campaign books (and don't intend to), Tolkeen always came off a bit bland, like a "Lazlo West" if you will. For a country called Tolkeen, centered (in my re-imagined setting) on a rift in Gary Gygax's basement, we can do better.

As I'm most likely ditching the New German Republic, I see Tolkeen as being a worthy recipient of the D&D-fantasy/alchemy/steampunk mashup vibe I'd originally placed there. In fact, I could do a lot worse than by adding to what I've already got by mercilessly looting the Iron Kingdoms setting, taking the best parts, filing off the serial numbers, and calling it Tolkeen. I'll give it some more thought, but I like the direction that it's headed . . .

Rifts®, The Rifter®, RECON®, Splicers®, Palladium Books®, Phase World®, The Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game®, Megaverse®, Nightbane®, The Mechanoids®, The Mechanoid Invasion®, Coalition Wars® and After the Bomb® are Registered Trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. Heroes Unlimited, Beyond the Supernatural, and other published book titles, names, slogans and likenesses are trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. and Kevin Siembieda.

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