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Alien Rope Burn
Dec 5, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!
Bull Rushing is at least subtly better than normal d20 because, for one, it knocks the loser over, and two, getting knocked over is subtly worse to have happen to you in Fantasy Craft.

The other is that, unlike Pathfinder, you can try and Bull Rush one foe into another foe for a domino effect, or knock people into objects. If you do so, everybody involved in the Bull Rush (including yourself) takes your unarmed damage. Which would seem to be an even trade, but a warrior is more likely to have damage resistance, and if you want to dedicate yourself to the art of bowling, you could cushion your armor to reduce the damage.

Fantasy Craft can lend itself to some truly weird builds because of stuff like this. I take the Unborn species (man, I loved they used the word "species" or "origin" instead of "race"). This makes me a construct, so I can ignore subdual damage. I take Strength at 16. I get a free "Enlightened Skill" which raises my cap; so I take Athletics and max it out. Then I take Shield Basics. I take Skill Basics: Athlete. I thusly can Bull Rush at 1st level at +15, and take no damage when slamming people into things while hurting them in return. (A weird key point: don't take Unarmed Forte- that makes your unarmed attacks lethal, and you'd no longer be immune.)

As you may have guessed: I am the Pusher Robot.


May 13, 2013

Give me a rifle, one round, and point me at Berlin!

FBH991 posted:

No, you don't get it, according to Kevin, what Tolkeen should have done was abandon their city and flee off into the North West, abandoning their infrastructure and becoming a nation of refugees, hounded by both the coalition (who, being genocidal fascists with air transports seem unlikely to let them go) and by the various dangers of rifts earth, so that 20 years from now they can get killed again by the now far more unstoppable Coalition.

Kevin Sambieda is the guy who looks at strawmen pacifists in conservative gun novels or poo poo like Sword of Truth and goes "yep, these are the good guys, why is anyone against them?"

Cults: Palers, pt. 3

Degenesis Rebirth
Primal Punk
Chapter 3: Cults


The Palers realized that, hey, there should me more dudes like us. So Revivers set out of the bunkers to free their brothers and sisters. Traveling by night (suns hurts like a bitch when you and your previous generators spent their entire lives in their parents' basement) and orienting themselves by old RG maps, they wore Sun Discs “that bore the dispenser command codes and other artifacts, signs of awe and proof of their origin.”


Every dispenser they found made their hearts swell. They were not alone.

See what I meant about the strange use of “dispenser?”

The memetics made Palers greet Revivers like old friends. They opened doors locked long ago and uploaded new codes into their disks. Their quest felt holy. However, at some point, they ran out of “dispenser locations” marked on the map. Revivers returned to their homes as heroes, but nobody wanted to follow in their footsteps (...was it because there were no more bunkers to discover?).

“Several years ago” (I assume it's before the date of the game), a map showing a new kind of dispenser that has never been seen before, appeared. It was 'Gusev,' 12 of 44, and it was stuck smack dab the middle of Chronicler territory in Noret. So now the Revivers are back on the road again, exchanging burnt out artifacts for information, being a bit more polite when asking for stuff, not being all high on the 'Chosen One' status and so on.


It doesn’t always work, but without help, they will not find the 44 bunkers. Maybe that’s the divines’ last test. Yes, the liberation must be truly at hand!

Gamer emerges from his basement, 2019 (colorized)



The Guardians that became the Palers were Recombination Group's best, implanted with Getrell's memetics (brain washing). But their loyalty wasn't enough for the rich poo poo, and the Sleepers were supposed to be the real beneficiaries of his planning. Who are they – rich bastards, scientists and engineers, soldiers? The fact that they arrived in some luxury points at the burgeoisie, but only the bunker systems really know. However, the machines have lost power and can't really provide the answers.

Most of the “information” now comes from Jaquar, a possible sleeper that Hellvetics found in the ruins of Laibach:


“Do you see this 100 here? Goes all the way down to the bone. Even right into the drat soul. Don’t touch it! I am, no, I was a socio-cyberneticist. Others built roads; I programmed groups of people. Advanced memetics. What year is this? No. That can’t be. That can’t be! Only weeks ago... I met a 300. That shouldn’t have happened.”

He also told them about the Exalt, “all the blood and gore, the endless labyrinth and the grinder.” Exalt was supposed to be their temple which would, once again, separate the wheat from chaff (probably would have been better to do it before freezing the sleeper). He also raved something about “Free Spirit equipment,” even if he didn't know what it was.

He died in a locked room in an Alpine fortress. The Hellvetics that prepared his body for funeral uncovered many pinpricks that seemed to hint that he was constantly drained for blood. Spooky!

All in all, that's some evocative writing, even if the whole MEMETICS!!1! is getting tiresome.

Also, the book doesn't address the fact that the 100s-through-500s should be waking up by the time of the game, which would probably mean that a lot of Palers are seeing their “gods” wake up.


Side-sections! The memetics (sigh) that make Palers stick together makes them disdain the outsiders. However, traders still try to trade with them. You are liable to just get robbed, but if the Palers chuck some artifacts your way, you can make a lot of money off the Chroniclers.

Hunters in the Night

The food in the bunkers is running out. The algae from the tanks either tastes awful or is poisonous. And the stores from which food was rationed ran out. But there exist regularly-refilled stores on the surface – and there's no rationing.

That's how Palers perceive human villages, see. Many Palers bled the villages they looted dry, making them disappear – and thus lead to the collapse of their own tribes. Oops. Also, sometimes the villages fight back or get Vojavodes to help.

Smarter Palers – like the ones from Fermat and Thalus bunkers – actually practice sustainable raiding and looting. They have a schedule, which allows the villages to bounce back before they get ripe for raiding again.

Just shows that degenerate progeny of brainwashed corporate slaves have a better understanding of sustainability than corps themselves.

The original idea for the panty raid in Revenge of the Nerds was a lot darker.

On the other hand, this just raises more questions about the initial number of the bunkers if some were abandoned by Guardians early on, others died out due to unsustainable looting, and so on. Underground facilities that house hundreds of people and have support systems to keep cryopods operating for hundreds of years have to be expensive and hard to build, you know. On the other hand, Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale.

The Day After

The Palers believe that once the Sleepers awaken, they will cleanse the world with bygone tech, elevate Palers to a priest caste, and they'll all live in abundance served by abovegrounder slaves.

Secret Language

Side-section! Palers use their own secret war tongue for communicating when regular folks are around. Those languages are different from bunker to bunker. So at least there's some nod to the real possibility that different bunkers would have evolved differently.

Sleeper Prophets

So, as you may have gathered, the hundred-y tattoos mark how long after the Eschaton a Sleeper is to awaken. The 100 series woke in 2173, when the Palers weren't yet fanatical devotees. The 200ers were greeted by 100% moon-worshiping savages.

Such Sleeper Prophets now roam in Europe, doing all sorts of tech miracles. Some Palers abandon their own bunkers (and their own “sleeping gods”) to follow the Prophets, becoming Halos.

It's kinda interesting how these Sleeper Prophets have yet to be mentioned anywhere else and have had so little impact on the world with 5 waves (out of 9) of them supposedly being around. Heck, this doesn't even factor in the whole “Reviver” and uncovering new bunkers stuff, which seems to have taken place isolated from the Prophet-thing.

The Triszyklikon

The Trypronounceitklon

Side-section! The Triszyklikon is a palm-sized disk, black, smooth, hard as glass. The pic related etching is seen a at certain angle. Nobody knows what it does – it doesn't act like a Sun Disk – and it is said to sink into the skin of your palm. It was supposedly found in Exalt, in a room “the size of the globe,” and there are many more ridiculous theories besides.

Palers don't know what it is, but they still hold it as a revered artifact that only the most honored get to carry from bunker to bunker and try to unlock stuff. Hey, it looks like a key, you know!

Next time: the sublime hierarchies of moles

By popular demand
Jul 17, 2007



A common question that I’m asked when I am on GMing panels at conventions is “How long should my notes be for a session?” My answer for this is always the same: As long as you need them to be to comfortably run your game. Less experienced GMs often need more (and more detailed) notes because it makes them feel comfortable GMing. More experienced GMs often require fewer notes because they fill in the gaps with their improvisational skills . What GMs often fail to do is to review their skills and attempt to trim down their notes as they grow in experience.

Don't say that, don't ever say anything like that! this sort of advice would have sent 12 yr old me into a neverending loop of anxiety and despair attempting to prove to myself how 'experienced' I was.

"Writing lots of notes can be a great thing, but don't be afraid to just improvise when you feel it would work better."
there, was that so hard your gracius GMness?

Mar 9, 2012
Time for more furry nonsense!

World Tree: A Roleplaying Game of Species and Civilization

Part 4: Civilization cont'd

This section is mostly stuff that's already been covered, except from the perspective of how primes study the gods. The gist is that even though it's possible to just go ask the gods directly, they hardly ever give a straight or consistent answer, so there's still a mess of conflicting theologies. Since understanding the gods would mean understanding magic, the primes still try really hard.

The Noun Gods are a little more likely to get directly involved in mortal affairs, but even they usually insist that primes take the protagonist role. Flokin can burn an extra-dimensional monster off the tree, but it'll refrain until someone actually asks it to. If you want a god's help in doing something, you have to go in person. That is, you need to have an adventure. Just going on the quest at all seems to attract the attention of the god, and they'll decide if the task of meeting them will be difficult or easy.

Occasionally the gods will ask something of mortals. "Here" doesn't need any help destroying a threat to the tree, but he might deputize some primes and send them to go gather information, or evacuate people from the area, or just clean up the mess afterward. Refusing a god's direct request is considered ungracious, at best.

The gods don't pay a lot of attention to individuals, usually. But it is possible to please or offend a god, whether by extreme effort or just chance. Usually this means that god's magic art works better or worse for you, but sometimes a particularly happy god could grant you a direct boon, or a really pissed off one can inflict a horrible curse. Both cases are vanishingly rare.

Belief is irrelevant. The gods know they exist and they don't need confirmation from you. Magic will work the same even if you don't believe in the gods. Atheists exist, in the sense that some people believe the gods aren't "divine," just very powerful, which is a defensible position. There's no particular concept of "sin", in the sense of actions that are taboo solely because a god says so. If the gods wanted to forbid something, they'd just make it a matter of natural law, like how a Herethroy can't eat meat.

The gods do not demand sacrifices, except for cley spent to cast spells. On the other hand, an offering might attract the god's attention and make them more favorable to you if you've got some kind of big request to make; a lot of ritual magic is based on this.

An individual god isn't omnipotent, although they're by far the most powerful entities in the world. Collectively, they might be omnipotent, since everything in the world comes from them, but they don't operate as a hive mind or in perfect concert. They're also not fully omniscient. They can know the answer to any question, but they have to know to ask. If one of you godkillers wanted to conspire against the gods, you could get away with it indefinitely so long as you never attracted their attention, but the moment they learn what you're up to then all of your plans and machinations become an open book.

Most people aren't particularly religious, in the sense of feeling a deep personal connection to the gods. Some people do, and they tend toward the priesthoods. Priests are mostly in charge of knowing what kinds of offerings make the gods happy and how not to piss them off. Fewer still take on a life of actual devotion to a god, and they're not well rewarded for it.


This chapter has the impossible burden of describing prime social structures. Even though the primes are the same in body and spirit wherever in the world they're found, they developed too many different ways of living to enumerate. There's some generalities, though.

Mostly, primes live in small city-states with centralized rule. The rulership varies wildly from city to city. Hereditary rule, republics, guild councils, or whatever other arrangement you can imagine probably exists and is made to work. But the basic shape is usually a walled city for safety, ruling over the surrounding countryside that brings in the food and resources. The World Tree is very big and the population isn't very dense, so even when a nation grows very large it's still often broken up into districts or provinces for the sake of administration, so they end up behaving like city-states anyway.

Cities are important. If possible, primes live in cities, or near enough to cities to benefit from their protection. Even in civilized parts of the World Tree, there are monsters living no more than twenty or thirty miles away, among the Verticals. Cities are always walled, and the walls are always a pain in the rear end. Walls are designed to keep monsters out, but monsters live on the Verticals where they can climb or fly anyway, so you need really good walls. And walls that are really good at keeping monsters out aren't good at letting primes in and out for their business. Intentionally helping a monster through a city wall is called doorwaying and is one of the few universally abhorrent crimes.

For the most part, walled cities really are for defense, not population control. City guards are usually more concerned with watching out for monsters than keeping the peace internally.

Laws are very regional. There's a few core principles handed down by Reluu, but they're not even as comprehensive as the Code of Hammurabi. They're basic commandments about protecting the weak, not murdering without reason, and similar principles that are probably so obvious they didn't really need writing down. Beyond that, law is some combination of custom, popular opinion, and edict. If something bothered a lot of people enough, or one really important person, then it becomes a law.

There's not much of a concept of universal "rights." If you find yourself in court, how fairly you're treated depends mostly on your social status. If you're poor or a Khtsoyis, then you're probably not going to be heard. If you're rich or powerful, then the court will probably try to find a resolution that doesn't upset you too much. Of course, none of that matters much if you manage to piss off a crowd large enough to take matters into their own hands.

Crimes against property; theft, embezzlement, vandalism, and the like; are common. How severe the crime is considered to be depends on who you steal from. Stealing from your own neighborhood is considered despicable, and only the most desperate resort to it. Stealing from the wealthy is considered less heinous than stealing from the poor; at least in the eyes of an angry mob. On the other hand, the wealthy are much harder to steal from, they can hire guards. Stealing from foreign merchants is hardly a crime at all, more like a civic duty.

Crimes against people; assault, murder, kidnapping, etc. (rape is notably NOT brought up in this discussion, at all); are generally a matter for families and communities. Most people have a gang or a family to back them up, or at least avenge them. Rassimel are less likely to have this support, and are disproportionately victimized. When a situation does come down to violence, it often escalates into feuds and vendettas, sometimes expanding to involve multiple groups who start taking sides. Hopefully, some mediator will find a way to broker peace before things get out of control, an innocent bystander gets hurt, and an angry mob or the city guard crack down on everyone involved.

Crimes against institutions, like smuggling, are ironically one of the safer ways to crime. Yes, the duke says that dodging tariffs is a crime and yes you'll be punished if you're caught, but no angry mob ever tore someone apart for selling goods at a five percent discount.

Some things are generally not considered crimes. Most victimless crimes, like drug use or prostitution, are often not considered crimes at all, just distasteful. A few things are crimes even though the "criminal" has no control over it. Being born a cley vampire marks you as a criminal for your entire life, even if you never steal a single cley. In some villages, Herethroy both-females are in the same position.

Guilds and Orders
Blah, blah, they're medieval-style guilds. That is, they exist to protect the wealth and exclusivity of their members. Many of them span entire branches of the World Tree, especially guilds related to trade, but most guilds are only small, local affairs. Guilds exist wherever a group was able to establish a monopoly of something, and they guard that monopoly jealously.

The major exception is the Healer's Guild, one of the grand guilds that reaches out to the entire World Tree. The Healer's Guild admits anyone capable of meeting their standards, guarantees the competence of their members, upholds a code of ethics, and tries to make sure doctors are available wherever needed. They also don't fuss about holding a monopoly; if you want to perform medicine without paying guild dues, they won't interfere so long as you're actually helping people.

Knight-guilds and orders are NOT an exception. They're just like merchant guilds, but the monopoly they try to hold is on martial training.

War on the World Tree is mostly shaped by how primes have access to magic. A single powerful mage can destroy an entire city, but most of the citizens have enough magical powerful to survive the city's destruction. Massed warfare is currently not common; it's better to rely on a few elite warrior-mages. Bound magic may change this eventually.

Most wars are boundary skirmishes over territory. Two neighboring city-states want the same village to fall under their domain, so they go to war. In this case, neither side is willing to commit to too much cost or risk. There's no point taking over a town if it cost you more than just building a new town somewhere else. In these disputes, war usually takes the form of a ritualized battle, possibly a duel between two champions, or a contest between knight guilds. Loss of life and collateral damage is low; often the nobility of the entire region will come and spectate.

If hatred runs deeper, or a duel fails to settle matters, a city may seek to destroy another. Destroying the city itself, as mentioned, isn't that hard, but most of the people will survive and now they have a strong motivation to destroy your city, and by the time the dust settles half of both populations are dead, the cities are uninhabitable, and the neighboring cities renew their preference for dueling.

Against non-primes, all bets are off. Ten thousand cyarr, or a single nendrai, may decide to assault a city, and in this case every able body joins the body.

I like to think this Chesewick is related to the crimeboss Chesewick from the earlier story.

Social class is more or less on two axes; profession and status. Your profession is what you do, and there are fewer barriers to doing whatever job you want to do than you might expect. If a Sleeth demonstrates she can do the job of mayor, she can become mayor; but she might easily never be given the chance to prove herself.

Status is partially affected by your profession, but also by a lot of other things, as demonstrated by Chesewick's example there. Wealth, species, family, personality, deeds, and so on. A cani slave might hold a higher social status than his Khtsoyis owner.

Some words are reserved as badges of high status. An adventurer is barely a profession, and doesn't hold much status, but a hero is held in high regard. The only way to become a hero is to do hero things until people start actually calling you a hero.

I'm feeling motivated, so I'll bust out one more entire chapter.
Chapter 5: Ketheria

This chapter is really long, and consists of a timeline of Ketheria (the main "continent" of Prime civilization), then a more detailed description of major historical events, then even more detailed description of major political entities. Then there's an even MORE detailed description of a city called Treverre, which is a bog-standard median-in-most-respects city. There's plenty of stuff for a gamemaster to pick out for campaign ideas in here; since it's all in terms of setting up the conflicts without dictating how those conflicts will turn out. On the other hand, there's not a lot of interesting stuff for the purposes of this F&F readthrough. If I feel like people are still interested for some reason when I've covered everything else, I'll come back to this chapter, otherwise, MOVING ON.

Mar 13, 2012
The Sythyry livejournal stuff kind of expands a lot of the society stuff (while having a lot of furry quasi-erotica scattered through it) - if all the authorial footnotes scattered throughout are put together, the messed up injustices and so-on are pretty much explicitly there for player characters to fight against. Which actually makes me like the setting a bit more, I guess. It's certainly better thought out than HSD.

It could do with dialing back the furry horny levels a few notches though.

Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.
Spycraft 1e

Death To Spies

So, at some point or another, some rear end in a top hat in a jumpsuit with a beret or a ski mask (depending on how classy of a supervillain you're dealing with) is going to see you. They're going to push a button. And then there's going to be a lot of loud noises and a whole squad of their buddies aiming AKs at you. Alternately, you're going to line up the shot and try to carefully take a guard down with a silenced pistol only to remember this is d20, and that doesn't happen, and really having a silenced weapon is mostly a waste of time because it takes 7 hits to kill people unless you crit, all while the same guard is hitting the aforementioned 'call for more AKs' button and is yelling 'REQUEST TO ENGAGE'.

What happens then? Mostly normal d20 combat, but with a few interesting wrinkles. Spycraft has the unenviable position of trying to do cinematic superspy action in d20, a relatively slow paced system that isn't really built to accommodate automatic weapons, rocket launchers, or sniper rifles. Spycraft tries to deal with this by using a Vitality and Wounds system to try (futilely) to solve the 'are hit points meat' question and to use the relatively low chance you actually take a Crit to simulate all the cool near-misses and narrowly blocked punches of a cinematic fight without going 'you missed, you missed, you missed'. You get a ton of Vitality. Your Wounds remain linked to your direct Con score. You only take Wounds when you run out of Vitality, or when someone Criticals you. Note that even 'Minion' enemies still (potentially) have significant Vitality. A Minion (weakest kind of enemy) can be dropped with any Crit, though; no need to roll Wound damage, they just go down the first time they take a hit that would make them bleed.

Critical Hits do not multiple damage in Spycraft. Very little does. Crits do require you to spend Action Dice to activate them, though; otherwise, you just rolled well and probably hit the guy. Note that only a 20 is an actual automatic hit; if you had a Crit Threat of, say, 17-20 with a sniper rifle, rolled a 17, but you were shooting at a hard to hit guy who was in heavy cover and you were under suppressive fire so you still missed, you can't activate a Crit. This rarely comes up. If you needed an 18+ to hit someone in the first place shooting at them at all was probably kind of foolhardy. Note that Crits will include your Sneak Attack damage (meaning a foe could eat +Xd6 Wounds, which is not good), and that while a Fixer needs to be within 1 Range Increment to Sneak Attack, the Range Increment on a sniper rifle can be pretty long...

Another important thing about Spycraft: Unlike D&D, where usually physical combat defaults to melee and ranged is more of a specialist thing (still works fine, just a normal fighter has so much Multiple Ability Dependency already that they'll tank Dex and use heavy armor) Spycraft basically makes guns the default weapon. Melee takes serious specialization to even begin to approach guns; a d6 combat knife is one of the most common melee weapons, and melee in general does significantly less damage than guns without plenty of Feat investment. When you could just pick up an AR and blast away for 2d10 (or 4d4+2 if using MAG) why invest precious points in Strength so that you need to close distance, too? It's not like you're likely to easily take someone down quietly, given the other effects of d20 and people taking multiple hits to go down. Which is actually kind of a problem for a spy game, not having easy ways within the rules to quietly subdue guards.

Another curious thing: Guns do a shitload of damage at level 1. Later on, though? You'll be kind of underwhelming compared to a D&D character. This is because you don't have magic items or magic spells; no-one will ever really get a better AoE option than the 2d10 Frag Grenades (or 3d10 RPG shots) you started out with, even if some characters will buy Feats to improve them some. You have very few sources of bonus damage to your guns. They'll still work fine at high levels, especially as you'll likely have more ways to hit more often and you'll probably have better crit chances to drop mooks quick, but guns start off feeling extremely dangerous (imagine you're a Fixer with a low Con for 9 Vit and 12 Wounds; those 2d8+2 5.56mm M-16s look pretty lethal right now!) and eventually fall off a bit.

The high damage is also why I say a character with a decent Defense should never wear armor if they can only wear light armor. 2 points of DR from your low profile tuxedo liner is not going to save you compared to giving enemies -10% to hit or whatever. Better to stay in cover and dodge as much as possible if you can't wear serious armor. Light and Medium armors just aren't really worth the tradeoff past low levels; at low levels, light armor and a helmet will surpass your class Defense Bonus and will help you survive early firefights. But at low levels, you also don't have the money to buy the armor. I get that they really wanted to make 'action heroes don't usually wear armor' attractive in a d20 system and to have a 'class bonus' that scales with level, and I do appreciate it, but the way armor as DR interacts with combat for anyone but Soldiers can be sort of weird in how much a light bullet proof vest gets you shot.

The other twist on d20 combat caused by all the gunplay is that a map is even more essential than it is in D&D, since you're going to be using cover and lines of fire. A lot. Cover is very helpful and powerful. Always fight from behind cover if you can! If you don't, you're just begging to get shot up. If you can fight around a corner for 75% cover, you're at +7 to Defense. That means enemies are effectively getting -35% to shoot you. Even hiding behind a chest high wall (friend to all gunfighters) gets you +4. Fighting from an actual bunker or prepared firing slit? +10. As everyone who has played X-COM knows, you want those full shields as often as possible and standing out in the open should make you wince reflexively. This means a GM needs to design combats so that you can move around and flank peoples' cover and stuff, because two sides trading fire from behind +4 to AC 50% cover is just going to drag out a d20 fight, especially at low levels when you're all having trouble hitting each other anyway. Maps are essential to making the most of this combat system.

Another important thing: Characters have a lot more offense, a lot faster, compared to D&D. Even at high levels, when you have to take some penalties to hit to get more than 2 attacks a round? You'll still generally be more accurate than a D&D character and their 'effectively my 4th attack is at -15 to hit' nonsense. Plus, one of the first core combat feats for every fighting style is 'attack 2 times as one half action once a round, at -2 to both'. Characters can multiattack while staying mobile much easier than D&D. You can also just take two Standard Attacks from day 1, level 1. You also get additional combat options like Aiming (+1 to hit for 1/2 action) and Bracing (+2 to hit for 1/2 action, but you need a solid surface). One fun Feat is Perfect Stance, which makes you Aim and Brace in one action even without a solid surface any time you Aim and Brace; +3 to hit for a half action spent setting up approaches the level where it can actually be useful, especially if you were using a sniper rifle, which need to aim before firing to get their high Threat. You also get the option to provide Suppressive or Cover Fire; this takes no attack roll and simply adds to an ally's Defense (+4, and it's a Dodge Bonus so it stacks with everything) for 5 of your bullets, or gives an enemy -4 to hit for one round for 5 bullets. This is there so the Snoop hiding behind cover who can't hit poo poo with their 1/2 BAB can still lean their pistol over the table and pop off shots to make life easier for the Soldier walking forward with an MG and a pile of Kevlar. It's a good option! Naturally, Feats can improve this, but the base action is already useful for all agents.

The issue is the enemy can do that too, so if they outnumber you they can kinda pin you down. Also, if you don't move to cover while under Suppressive Fire the people suppressing you get to make an actual attack, too. You still suffer the same penalties, you also just get shot for not putting your head down when a hail of bullets came your way.

How does Spycraft handle automatic weapons? Here's where the Soldier/Wheelman having awesome to-hit compared to others can really shine. You can fire Bursts on a standard attack, getting your choice of +1 to hit (Wide Burst) or +2 to Damage -3 to Hit (Narrow Burst, Meh) for the cost of using 3 bullets an attack. A Feat can give +1 Damage and Hit when using either kind of Burst, but eh. You only really take Controlled Burst because it leads to Controlled Strafe and then to HAIL OF BULLETS (Fire all the bullets, attack up to 4 times a round with an automatic gun) so at least the Feat Tax got you something semi-useful. You can also Strafe. You designate X number of squares, all adjacent to one another on a wide facing. Then you take -2 to hit for every square you fired at (-1 if you have Controlled Strafe), use 2 bullets a square, and roll a single attack. Compare that to the Defense of everyone in the line you were shooting at (you can sweep through empty squares to get to non-adjacent targets, but you have to use bullets and take to-hit penalties for each) and anyone hit takes a hit. Then roll damage once and use that for all those hit. Any big targets take +2 damage for each facing of theirs you strafed, and you can only crit one target. In practice, it's fine for Soldiers but you really need a map to make Strafing work. Autofire picks a single foe and fires X 'volleys' of 3 rounds each for a full action. You take -1 per volley fired, and then hit the target once per 4 you beat their Defense by (up to the number of volleys fired). In practice, unless you have amazingly favorable odds, you're better off just shooting twice or something; Autofire's chances of scoring more than 2 or 3 hits are very low since you effectively need -25% for every extra hit.

Most characters just stick to Burst and Strafe. But then thing is, Burst is useful enough that it immediately gives automatic weapons the small edge they need to stand out compared to a semiauto pistol; getting +1 on command at the cost of a little ammo is very worthwhile for most d20 characters. So yeah, generally, automatic weapons are implemented in a way that doesn't fundamentally break d20's action economy and that gives you a couple useful extra options. Meanwhile, a sniper rifle has high crit if you're aiming, and a shotgun just attacks 2 adjacent targets a shot without any of this strafe rigamarole and with good damage. In general, there's an argument for every gun type and a genuine reason to consider using a shotgun, AR, pistol, MG or sniper rifle. The SMG gets to sit out in the rain and be sad about just being a shittier AR, though. Poor SMGs. They always suffer in these games. Still, this is one of the reasons I find the MAG annoying; you had good reason to use just about every gun in the game previously. Then it reduces the utility of MGs by making them do the same damage as ARs (they're still generally better just for the ammo cap, though it also added a dumb rule where if you don't have a loader for your belt you take penalties from belt scrunches and misfires), gives ARs the same damage type (lots of d4s) as shotguns, and generally makes you pick one 'best' rifle, pistol, etc from each category but I've already complained about that.

Another nice thing: Remember how you needed Feats to actually do things like trip people without getting AoOed in normal D&D? Not so, here. You want to shoot a guy's gun? The to-hit might be kind of hard, but no Feat required. In general, Spycraft also does away with Attacks of Opportunity; melee is instead 'sticky'. If someone is engaged in melee and doesn't have the Feats to escape it (Mobility) they can ONLY take a 5 foot step away from their attacker and can't actually disengage. So instead of someone just ignoring an AoO and running past your melee character, if they don't have the Feats to flee they're just stuck the minute someone engages in a melee combat. As you might imagine, this raises the utility of melee a bit!

In general, Spycraft's combat feels good for a d20 game. The additional wrinkle of being much more gunfight based gives you more to do with movement and lines of fire and cover if you're playing with a map (and you should be). Everyone being able to double attack if they don't move, and do it at no penalty, means the various 3/4 BAB classes can still pull their weight in a fight even if the Soldier leaves them in the dust for individual combat prowess and the Wheelman is second in line. Even your terrible-at-combat terrified IT nerd who is just waiting for the program to break through the mainframe while their buddies hold the enemy off can still snap off Cover Fire or Suppressive Fire with their pistol, and they're still hard to hit. So everyone can do something useful in a gunfight, no matter how bad you are at it; Suppression/Cover really do add a nice option for less able characters and are really significant moves even with 0 Feat investment. It's still d20 Combat with no magic, but it makes it work. Crits also add a lot of tension to a fight.

Also don't forget Action Dice! You can throw these babies at anything in a fight. Saving throws, attack rolls, damage rolls, healing yourself, adding directly to Defense for one round...they add another nice dimension to a fight. One issue that can come up, though? The GM's Action Dice are always d12s no matter what size the players have. Which can get a little ridiculous when your players spend a d4 and you get a d12 to throw at them. I get the GM having higher dice; they overall get fewer of them than the players to start, and they need to be spending them a lot. But having them be d12s regardless of what size the players are at right now means that early on GM Action Dice can be pretty much insurmountable if they decide you're going to miss a guy or that a guy's going to hit you. It's a bit of a bugbear in an otherwise fantastic element of the system.

Next Time: Action Dice, in detail

May 13, 2013

Give me a rifle, one round, and point me at Berlin!

By popular demand posted:

these buddies saved my spaceship more times than I can remember

Well, it's either them or the toy robot.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

FATAL & Friends
Walls of Text
#1 Builder

Sig: Manual of the Primes
City Lives

We get a set of lists of weird minor Heritages, Factions and Powers – all of them are just a sentence or two after a name, to give you inspiration for coming up for your own stuff. They can be pretty good, though. Some examples:
Cuttles, which are large squid people who are known for brilliance and snarkiness.
Dwarves, who are communal by nature, breed very quickly and are always digging out new warrens for their kids.
Hounds, large glowing intelligent dogs that hunt criminals and protect holy sites.
Weavers, friendly talking spiders who weave enchantments and historic events into their webs.
The Miasmics, a faction dedicated to moving bad smells out of the rich parts of Sig.
The Homewreckers, a faction that focuses on bankruptcies, liquidations and dissolving partnerships, financial or personal.
The Order of Babylon, a mercenary band of freebooter guides and translators.
The Living Forge, a Power once chained and forced to make weapons, who now only allows herself to build tools of peace.
Rarya, Empress of the Seven Thunders, a Power who hurls lightning bolts at oathbreakers across the Primes.
Ulu, the Satisfied Prince, a Power who teaches that the three holy virtues are comfort, self-interest and conflict avoidance
Dialect, a predatory language of ancient times that became a Power when it consumed the language of the Primordials.
The Choir Invisible, a small pantheon of minor Powers who have banded together to watch over their shared faithful by leaving secret messages and omens in graffiti

Anyway, the City Between! It is the platonic ideal of a city, thousands upon thousands of lives all crammed together into one place. Some locals have had roots here for generations, others are newly arrived. Huge amounts of resources are consumed daily to keep the place running, and all kinds of culture clashes happen. There are three major zones in the city – the Hive, which is the largest area and is home to the poor, abused and outcast. Tetherward, which is mostly working class neighborhoods and industrial areas. And Highspire, the home of the wealthy and the powerful.

The Hive is a place of poverty and squalor, and is also home to the majority of Sig’s residents. For all its wealth and glory, most live in broken-down shanties, refugee communities or rickety tenements. The Hive is not a nice place, and misfortune is the norm. Dozens of distinct ethnic and religious communities exist throughout it, some newly arrived and others long hated. Day laborers, beggars, plague victims and refugees rub shoulders here, and it’d be a terribly bleak place if not for its small joys. Those do exist, though – a good roasted rat, children at play, the occasional stroke of luck. Hope lives on, as best it can. The Hive is divided into four main neighborhoods.

First, the Breeding Warrens. This is a cesspit, the worst of the worst, where refugees, victims and orphans do their best to make their lives. This is the home of last resort, for the most desperate, even by Hive standards. The buildings are made of scrap and rubble scavenged from richer areas, and under the pervasive scent of wood smoke, there are the clear odors of raw sewage and rot. A viscous slime that appears to coat most of the area is the main reason why the Cleaners have yet to just burn the place down as trash. Here, unwanted visitors end up dumped. Refugees fleeing genocidal demons, those broken by horrors out on the planes, that kind of thing. A small orphan community has established themselves in a ruined guildhouse to keep themselves safe from crime, and the other people of the Warrens try to look after each other as best they can. Frequent if inconsistent donations from temples or former residents keep many alive.

Each neighborhood presented also has an example NPC, and they’re all interconnected. The Warrens have The Lost, a half-Revenant, half-Cubi member of the Teachers’ Guild and worshipper of Edana of the Pact. Their strengths are Face of the Departed and Sex Worker, their weakness is Disturbing. The Lost is weird even by Sig standards, born of a Cubi and their Primal lover, who died before their time. This mixture means that anyone who looks at the Lost sees one of their dead loved ones – perhaps a mother, lover or sibling. This rather disturbing effect offers many opportunities for the Lost, and often gives a second chance to those who feel they’ve lost everything. The Lost teaches orphans in the voice of their late parents, offers comforts by night to those who lost lovers, gives a chance for last words of all kinds. They have something to offer everyone. The Lost is angry at Brok the Damned, who is drinking himself to death. They long to comfort Brunet the Mythender, who clearly lost much. They are professional rivals with Calvyn the Shoulder, who offers a different sort of comfort.

The Stacks make up the majority of the Hive. They’re crowded even in the best of times, and space is a luxury. The area is well known for its massive apartment complexes, usually four to five stories tall. They are makeshift things, lashed together out of scrap metal and splintered wood, and the makeshift apartments within are held together by rotting walkways, fraying ropes and prayer. It will surprise absolutely no one when they inevitably burn down. The Stacks are basically a walled village or mini-city in their own right, with their own small market, surgeon, smithy and even community of potters. Childcare is communally taken care of, with all adults caring for all children. Rumors flow through the Stacks with amazing speed, and secrets are hard to keep in such close company. Grudges and diseases spread equally well, and the wisdom of community elders is required to prevent the easily triggered disasters.

Sachi the Aegis is a Devahil, independent of the Factions, and devoted to Morkanah, the Sheltering Stone. Her strengths are Intimidation and Honest Broker, her weakness is Overprotective. She grew up as an orphan in the Stacks after her parents died in a factional war, and she ended up essentially raised by the community, doing odd jobs to keep her apartment block together. She put out fires – real and metaphorical – and organized crews of kids to raid other, more prosperous areas of the city for resources. She kept the weeping plague out of her block, preventing massive loss of life. Now, she is among the most respected Stacks block leaders, representing their community in dealings with power outside the Stacks. She might be a bit overzealous in keeping folks safe from the factions, but can she be faulted for it? Sachi is currently looking to hire mercenaries to take down Ghreeju the Stump after he brutalized one of the local elders. She’s fast friends and drinking buddies with Kinish the Crow. She’s got a bad feeling about Dzini the Peaceful and her rumor-spreading.

The Rat Farms keep much of the city fed, and they offer jobs to many in the Hive. The farms provide most of the cheap meat and fur for Sig, because the rats are renewable and in great supply. The ratherds breed them and guard them against poachers, who are common in the Hive. It’s often the best work a refugee can get, if you don’t mind the occasional ratborne plague. The rats are kept in ramshackle houses with leaky roofs and molding walls, unfit for human habitation even by Hive standards and prone to collapse. Most of the rats are raised in a central apartment complex, known as the Cage, which the older workers tend to find very entertaining. The other houses of the area are used as worker homes or buildings for related industries, such as abattoirs, tanneries or furriers.

Kilku Ratface is a Feral wererat, a member of the Farmers Association and a devotee of Calla the Wise. His strengths are Ratwhisperer and Wererat, his weakness Judgemental. He’s quite possibly the ‘verse’s most fashionable wererat, a dapper and well-dressed man that runs the furriers and leatherworkers of the Farms. He is responsible for clothing most of the city and he’s a huge fashion snob with a particular love of broad-brimmed hats. His shiny black fur is a great contrast to his vividly colored scarfs, and despite overwhelming prejudice and frequent mockery, Kilku is now one of the city’s greatest authorities on modern fashion and clothing design. At his core, his love of fashion is born from his belief that it can be a path to respectability. No matter where you’re from, a well-made suit or elegant fur coat can make you important. Kilku is the personal confidant and fashion consultant of Ramella, the Golden Heir. He can’t stand Slichk the Slime because of her filthy, slovenly habits. He’s got a crush on Aradarai the Sharp but has been cruelly rejected whenever he’s made advances.

Scholar’s Folly was originally a neighborhood designed by well-meaning cultural anthropologists belonging to the Sage Collegium, but they ended up learning rather too much in the process. It’s a section of the city broken down into dozens of small cultural enclaves for immigrants, each of which is fighting its neighbors. Makeshift barricades and vigilant watches keep the communities relatively safe from each other, but every week or two there’s another border skirmish or romantic entanglement that threatens to trigger a street war. Each enclave uses various tools to keep their culture vibrant and alive – most speak their own private languages, tell stories of their lost homelands (usually either Primes long forgotten by others or Planes that have lost the tether) and cook their traditional meals of all kinds. Their music, clothes and dances are all firm expressions of cultural identity and shields against outsider cultures. As a result, the area is frequently visited both by curious scholars and wealthy tourists, who often become rather too meddlesome.

Calvyn the Shoulder is of strange and unclear heritage, a member of the Cleaners and a devotee of Myn the Questioner. His strengths are Counsellor and Memory Trader, his weakness is Tragedy Junkie. Calvyn is a listener, here for anyone with a story. He runs a small teahouse that smells strongly of jasmine and has a huge reputation for discretion. For those who have been through hard times, he offers a chance to share their story, no matter what it is, and a shoulder to cry on (hence the nickname), with plenty of tea to remain hydrated. Each week, dozens make appointments to see him and speak to him, leaving feeling much better. Not all of this recovery is his listening skills, though. As his mother before him, Calvyn has the power to extract memories from the willing. For those that want it, he removes the memories of pain and suffering, bottling them up for sale to collectors, enchanters or demons. He has not seen Brok, one of his best customers, for some time. He’s sold way, way too much bottled resentment to Dzini the Peaceful. He extracted Elakin’s memory of having a family, for they all died during a period when Destruction held the Ideological tether.

Next time: Tetherward

Halloween Jack
Sep 12, 2003

La morte non ha sesso

Night10194 posted:

I find the issues often crop up when something doesn't examine that part of itself, or is ashamed of it and tries to layer sexual menace and muck all over it to make it 'mature'.
You rang?

Vampire: The Masquerade (2nd Edition)

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Setting
Interlude: A History of Face Grabbing
Chapter 3: Storytelling
Chapter 4: Rules
Chapter 5: Character


Acts of injustice done
Between the setting and the rising sun
In history lie like bones, each one.

--Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Porphyria’s Lover”

Chapter Six: Chronicle

This chapter is about crafting the campaign and fitting the player characters into it. Oh, I’m sorry, it’s about crafting a chronicle for your troupe. The advice given here is a mixed bag. Some of it is innovative, some is woefully of its time, some is just strange. But you can’t say that Vampire suffers from the “But what do I do with it?” problem that often befalls unique games. This chapter provides many seeds for campaign themes, roles for the player characters, individual storylines, and conflicts to set them up.

Vampire was written before it became common practice to use the first meeting as a “jam session” where the players create characters together and the GM solicits player input to build the setting. The GM is advised to ask the players about their characters and incorporate that into the chronicle design, but also discusses chronicle design as if you are doing this while the players create their characters, so the procedure is a bit murky.

Hm. Well, there really ought to be a handrail here.

Elements of a Chronicle

The foundational element of a chronicle is its Motif...and Vampire’s understanding of that word is very broad and very weird. In narrative art, “motif” usually describes specific, recurring symbols. The appearance of smiley faces and clocks in Watchmen, the phrase “Valar morghulis” in Game of Thrones, and many of John Williams’ leitmotifs are famous examples.

Vampire does give some appropriate examples, like an outdoor statue or a rambling bum who gives cryptic insights. But it understands motif to mean “anything that recurs in a story,” so most things the Storyteller does are part of the motif. The overarching theme of the campaign? Motif. Your conversational style with the players? Motif. House rules? Motif. Everything you do to establish theme, mood, and atmosphere is part of one big Motif.

The book has already gone over these topics separately and together, so I don’t know why it’s so confused here. Maybe this is what happens when you split the “how to GM” stuff into separate, disconnected chapters.

After motif comes Setting. I think this is one of the game’s greatest but least acclaimed virtues. Its “Gothic-Punk” aesthetic requires that it be set in a city, it is perfectly clear why Kindred need to live in cities, and it wants you to create an urban setting that, to invoke a hoary cliche, is a character in itself. That said, little space is devoted to discussing how to bring a city to life. You’re advised to purchase travel guides and contact the Chamber of Commerce, along with some vague advice about adding historical and geographical detail as you go.

More important and complex than the mundane geography and politics of the city is the Kindred power structure. You must answer questions such as how many factions are involved and their standing with one another, who are the most important Kindred, and whether the Prince is a dictator or a puppet or something in between.

The player Characters are a vital element in themselves. You should ask the players how their characters know each other and make sure that they have a reason to stick together beyond being allies of convenience. You can use the “Prelude” method we discussed earlier to fit the PCs into the campaign setting. It acknowledges that while Kindred society is rife with intrigue, a campaign that’s nothing but the PCs backstabbing each other won’t be about anything or go anywhere...unless that’s what everybody wants! There is some solid advice here about catering to the players’ instincts instead of trying to herd cats; if they’re “incorrigible anarchists” then poo poo, let them play anarchs!

But this is quickly followed by advice to use “a system of rewards and punishments,” i.e. experience points and the Humanity rules, to tame uncooperative players. No! Bad game! Bad!

While this is a game of moral dilemmas and “personal horror,” you still need Antagonists to fight. They suggest having a big, chronicle-defining archenemy who is diabolically evil. This could be the Prince, an ancient Methuselah secretly controlling the city, or something more mundane. You should nurse the players’ hatred by having the villain thwart their endeavors. They suggest making the villain very powerful--not to slap the coterie around, but so that the coterie has to play it smart, do the legwork, and erode the villain’s power base.

Another way you can play it is to have a group of enemies who are more on the coterie’s level, so that personal rivalries can emerge. One suggestion is a Sabbat pack whose members are a dark mirror to the PCs. Sounds like a really fun idea for a one-off, since in the corebook, the Sabbat are just characterized as crazed Satanic spree killers.

The last element is an overall Scheme for where you want to chronicle to go. Vampire has a reputation for being very railroady, to the point of inspiring other games to follow suit. But it says up front that your chronicle will probably be very different from the initial concept, and if it isn’t, you’re being too controlling. So the scheme is just a rough outline, a tool to help you manage the pacing and maintain the atmosphere, so that the chronicle has a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. It’s particularly important to stage a grand finale when you’re ready to wrap it up.

This section also touches on the possibility of setting chronicles in the distant past, versus setting it in the modern day. While a historical chronicle can allow for months, years, even decades of downtime between sessions, a modern chronicle will be much more day-to-day and week-to-week...because Gehenna is approaching! I’ll go into more detail on Gehenna later. I’ve long thought that Vampire contains a handful of big themes, and no single chronicle has room for all of them. Gehenna and its theme of impending millennial doom--and all the related metaplot--is one of those Big Themes that some groups will make their game all about, and others will completely disregard.

Anyway, Caine did 9/11.

Grandma was a punk rocker

Chronicle Archetypes

Like I said, Vampire isn’t lacking in the “what do I do with this game” department. They provide a list of over a dozen models for a chronicle to follow.

Gang: You’re a vampire street gang. Your turf is your hunting ground, which you protect from mortal gangs and poaching Kindred. You’re anarchs openly defying the Prince, but you have to respect the Traditions at least enough to keep the Justicars from coming down on you. Interesting possibilities include being affiliated with mortal gangs that the players get to characterize and lead, or being elder-sponsored “counterterrorists.” gently caress the police.

Wanderers: Hey, Near Dark is one of the best vampire films ever! Unlike most Kindred, you are nomads, roaming the earth in search of blood and a safe place to sleep. This makes for a picaresque chronicle where the PCs are concerned with the basics of survival, rolling into a new town only to be forced out in order to stay one step ahead of trouble. Wherever they go, established Kindred will resent their presence, and they’ll have to tangle with Lupines sooner or later. (The 2nd edition was published in the same year as Werewolf, so all we know about werewolves is “they control rural areas and they hate vampires.”)

Rock Band: Vampire is excitement! Vampire is adventure! Glamour and glitter, fashion and fame! Yeah, so maybe your whole band was Embraced by the same vampire, or you got together later. You have to decide who plays what instrument according to stereotype. And if you’re successful, you have to figure out how to go on tour when the only safe way to travel is in a shipping container.

Refugees: You came to this city fleeing something bad. You’re probably not supposed to be here and the established Kindred probably regard you as trash.

Historical: This is where the seeds of the Dark Ages line were planted! While you can play in any era, the obvious choice is medieval Europe, since Kindred society still follows a model of feudal vassalage today. You’ll probably be playing members of the nobility, but that just means that you’re caught between servitude to monstrous elders and fearful, restive peasants.

Primogen: You are the primary (perhaps only) Kindred of a medium-sized city. This chronicle emphasizes power and responsibility instead of being a pariah surviving on the margins. The Storyteller has to contrive crises for the PCs to deal with, which will typically involve external threats from factions of Kindred looking for a new city to make their own.

Prince’s Brood: The coterie are all the childer of the Prince, who may be a noble who sees them as heirs or a monster who sired them to be disposable pawns. This chronicle calls for giving the PCs more points, but they also have the thankless job of doing the elders’ dirty work while controlling the discontent anarchs.

Mortal Politics: Control of local government institutions is a huge asset for Kindred. The PCs will be involved in mortal political campaigns, leveraging their Backgrounds to handle the aboveboard stuff and using their vampire powers to commit all sorts of ratfucking.

High Society: The coterie is part of high society and concerned with its scandals and intrigues. This overlaps with some other archetypes so much that it seems like a weak premise on its own.

Archons: The coterie are the minions of a Justicar, one of the high officials that keep the Camarilla intact. You are powerful and feared, traveling from city to city cleaning up messes to maintain the status quo. It’s suggested that you use the premise to introduce moral dilemmas and minor crises that hint at big-picture conflicts.

Fanatics: The coterie is part of a violent extremist group, like IRA partisans, Muslim fundamentalists, or eco-terrorists. LOL no one would ever actually do this. (I don’t know why people in the 90s though “eco-terrorists” is something that really exists.) Bits like this are where you start to see the emergence of obsessively edgy character options that no one actually played--at least, not with the same group more than once.

Cult: The coterie has started a cult so they can have minions and easy access to blood. The game is up front about the fact that this is an Evil Campaign even by its own standards, and the coterie are abusing and cheating these people. The Humanity rules should be central to this chronicle.

Patrons: The coterie are the patrons of some mortal organization like a business, a charity, or even a sports team (The Bad News Brujah!). You’re do-gooders, and you have to balance that with being a bloodsucking freak. The more you succeed, the more is expected of you.

Other World: If you want to set your game in a cyberpunk future or a Tolkienesque fantasy, they’re not going to come to your house and stop you.

Peas! I love ‘em!

Creating a Story

The section on creating storylines and individual sessions shows a more nuanced understanding of storytelling elements, instead of mashing a slew of concepts together as “motif.” Again, belying the game’s reputation for being railroady, it advises you to give the players a pressing problem, then get out of the way and let them deal with it. It also advises you to find inspiration in newspaper headlines, because “vampires are behind many major disruptions in the world, so the repercussions of their conflicts are sure to end up in the news.” How much influence Kindred have over world-historical events is something White Wolf would go back and forth on through the history of the product line.

Every story needs a theme, which Vampire understands to mean a moral or philosophical question that is posed but not answered. Given examples are grouped into categories like Love, Hate, Chaos, Morality, and Society, and are big-picture dilemmas like “How is love both a weakness and a strength,” and “Are there any ultimate moral truths?”

Conflict is the basis of any story. While Vampire deals with a lot of internal moral and psychological conflict, that’s difficult to deal with in a group setting, and most of the given examples are conflicts with enemies who want to kill you or aggrandize themselves at your expense. It does note that Kindred are political animals and their conflicts don’t always have to come to violence. There’s a list of sample conflicts, which overlap a great deal.

Kindred vs. Lupines, Kindred vs. Hunters, and Camarilla vs. Sabbat are about fighting off an irreconcilable enemy that wants you dead. As I’ve said, Lupines and the Sabbat haven’t yet been detailed beyond “they’re bloodthirsty and they hate you.”

Humanity vs. Beast, Sanity vs. Madness, and Survival vs. Justice are about those mostly internal struggles. These are clear concepts, but how to realize them in a session is an open question.

Kindred vs. Kindred, Clan vs. Clan, and Kindred vs. Prince concern intrigue within Kindred society. Factions fight each other for influence over mortal affairs and control of hunting grounds. The Prince’s dominion in these matters is not always a sure thing.

Anarchs vs. Elders and Elder vs. Elder bring in that punk element of generational conflict. Kindred politics are worse than mortal politics in every way. The interests of the old and young can’t be reconciled, the elders mostly reproduce to use their children as pawns, the old want to hang onto power forever, and they have all the advantages except numbers.

Kindred vs. Society and Kindred vs. Victims concern the Masquerade. The PCs might find themselves hunting mortals who fight back, and threats to the Masquerade can’t be easily solved with skulduggery and magic powers.

Kindred vs. Unknown and Kindred vs. Magi are both “make poo poo up” categories. I only bring it up to point out that the book mentions mages, but tells us even less about them than about werewolves.

The advice on plot concerns principles for sketching an outline and then handling the pacing of the session. You must begin sessions by setting the scene for the PCs, followed by a hook that grabs their attention and lets them know what’s at stake. There should be a steady buildup of tension approaching a climax, and part of that is making sure that dead-ends and red herrings are dispensed with quickly. They also advice cliffhangers and plot twists to provide excitement and momentary resolution, especially when the story can’t be completed in one session. One bit I particularly liked concerned the denouement after the story reaches its climax--this is a good opportunity for downtime scenes where the PCs can interact with each other without anything at stake, and for the Storyteller to distribute rewards.

The section on creating drama doesn’t give much detail or any examples, but repetitively emphasizes how very important it is to create drama. Granted, this is because there’s a whole chapter on creating drama in the moment, and how to use the game mechanics to do that, much later in the book. There is one particularly good bit of advice, which is to never have a combat where the characters involved are just pulling weapons and blasting each other. It should be like a good set-piece action scene in a movie, where combat is alternated with a chase, or the combat is set in a location that creates a deadly game of cat-and-mouse instead of a straight-up fight.

The following section is on establishing mood and atmosphere to get the players into their characters’ heads and evoke real emotion. It enumerates all the tools the Storyteller has to convey atmosphere, including your voice and mannerisms and the degree of attention paid to different aspects of the scenery itself. For example, building a “dank” mood in an urban environment requires playing up the literal filth and ugliness of the surroundings.

Shut up, you guys. My mom says my soul patch is cool.

Finally, we’re given a list of Story Archetypes that can apply to a single session or an ongoing storyline. They’re divided into three categories: “Mean Streets” is self-explanatory, “Illuminatus” concerns conspiratorial plots, and “Bourbon Street” emphasizes that ol’ time personal horror. I’ve been to Bourbon Street on Halloween, and I was horrified by all the puke. Anyway, these archetypes aren’t premises for a story, but loose bundles of setting, mood, and theme.

Urban Nightmare: Kindred are by nature part of the city’s dark underbelly, characterized by urban decay and poverty. Can the coterie do anything to make this world better, or are they just another disease?

Adventure: Sometimes you just want the exhilaration of combat. The Storyteller is encouraged to give it to them, but not without risks and consequences. (In this entry and the one above, Vampire emphasizes that its Gothic-Punk setting is not so lawless that you can just go around biting people in the street and killing any cops who intervene. There are more of them than there are of you.)

Wilderness Trek: Anything outside the city is “wilderness” to vampires, and rural areas are populated with werewolves, spirits (!), and faeries (!!) who have their own territorial claims. If you give the coterie a compelling reason to leave the city, they’re in a desperate situation.

Diablerie: The only way to lower your Generation is by drinking an elder to death, which is a big part of why elders are such Machiavellian bastards. Plotting the death and diablerie of elders can become a whole campaign and prompt moral questions about who is the real monster and all that jazz.

Jyhad: To the extent that Kindred society goes beyond squabbling over a feeding ground or political asset, it’s truly ancient vampires using their lessers as pawns. If you want to do complicated spy games where agents carry out missions for reasons they don’t understand, and the coterie’s nemesis turns out to have been the one pulling their strings all along, this one’s for you.

Vendetta: Something really bad happens to the players, and they want revenge on the bastard responsible. The only hard part is wounding the coterie without leaving the players feeling like they just got hosed over with no recourse. Make the villain really nasty, then let the players loose, and they’ll do all the work.

Masquerade: A story based on preserving the Masquerade is a good way to get the players to understand that fangs and a few points of Disciplines doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want. Handling a coverup is a job that can’t be accomplished with more violence and magic powers.

Escape: Eventually, the coterie might just have to go on the run from the Prince, the Sabbat, or just the police.

Mission: The easiest way to set up any kind of story you want to do is by having the Prince or some other powerful figure give them a job to do. In my personal experience this is overused, and Vampire anticipated that--it’s better if the coterie has the prospect of a reward, or is doing the mission as a favour or on their own initiative, rather than because a Ventrue Prince waved his Dominate powers around.

Tragedy: Kindred existence is inherently tragic if you give a poo poo about being a decent person. This doesn’t work if the Storyteller is just loving over the PCs; instead, it’s about having to constantly choose the lesser of two evils because a vampire’s nature is inherently against them.

The Becoming: You can start the story before the PCs are even Embraced and walk them through the process of becoming vampires, learning to live with it, and eventually breaking their bonds with their sires.

Romance: What’s a vampire roleplaying game if it doesn’t acknowledge romance? Vampires as we know them were born from Romantic literature, after all. Kindred trying to maintain romances with mortal lovers and loved ones are in an inherently tragic situation, and the same principles apply. By the same token, vampires who fall in love with one another are star-crossed: Kindred are solitary predators, and a romance maintained by becoming Blood Bound is necessarily a reckless, desperate love.

Redemption/The Quest: Some vampires don’t give a gently caress about fighting for the right to seduce people in a particular nightclub. They want to become human again, or stay as human as possible. They may actually assist mortals against particularly nasty vampires, help other Kindred come to terms with what they’ve become, or even seek Golconda, the legend that a vampire can become human again or at least transcend vampirism.

Normal Life: The coterie are trying to maintain their normal lives. Pretty hard when sunlight burns you up like flash paper. The point here is to draw a sharp contrast between their “normal” life and the necessity of existence as a vampire.

This update was brought to you by absinthe. Absinthe! When you want to experiment with new cocktails but not remember any of the recipes the next day...absinthe!

Next time on Kindred the Embraced: Clans! Disciplines! All the fun stuff, finally, all at once!

Dec 10, 2007


It’s impossible to talk about Cyberpunk without discussing Solo of Fortune, even though it is technically a 1st edition supplement. Both the core book and many of the early supplements point to this book for full vehicle rules. And honestly? I think it's a good setting book.

Part 1: A Preamble

In order to review Solo of Fortune in a comprehensive manner, it’s necessary to look at the rules it was operating under. The original Cyberpunk was a boxed set that came with three handbooks: Living on the Edge (character creation), Friday Night Firefight (combat) and Welcome to Night City (setting). I was able to find a version online and here’s a rundown of the major differences

From Living on the Edge:
  • All characters started with their Special Ability at +2. If you wanted it any higher, you had to trade in points from REF, INT or CL on a one-for-one basis.
  • Combat Sense doesn’t boost initiative! Instead it increases the Solo’s Awareness and Athletics. Well that explains the suggestion that Rockerboys could be a combat class if Solos didn’t auto-clown everyone else (future me: turns out Combat Sense is still awesome).
  • Techs and MedTechs get Scrounge instead of their 2020 special abilities. It’s a resource-getter.
  • Stats were generated either randomly (roll 9D10, distribute as you like) or semi-randomly (30+6D10, distribute as you like).
  • What skills you had was based on your lifepath. There was some input from the player (with the right stats you could enroll in the military) but most of it was based on random dice roll. Not a great design choice, but the military option at least makes sure no one has to play a Failson. (the errata section in the back addresses this issue further)
  • This explains why the negatives you can get through Life Events out-weigh the positive: the longer you spent accumulating skills, the more you had to roll on the life path.
  • Nothing about crit failures! :toot:
  • Everyone starts with 2,000 eb.
  • Cybernetics and Humanity work the same, though there’s no option for therapy. No Neural Processor tax at least.
  • Reflex Boosters increase your Reflex Stat instead of just your initiative.
  • Body Plating basically provided the same benefits that the Full Borg Conversion from Chromebook 2 does (use SDP instead of normal wound rules, therefore ignore wound penalties)
  • Selling out to the Corp/Government/Mob only gets you an extra 2,000 euro.
  • Netrunning is...different. I can’t say whether it’s better or worse because that would require examining another set of hacking rules, and I’m not doing that. The big differences I’ve picked on is that Netrunners needed an interface program to use the Net, and that Data Fortresses were structured in a more technical flowchart than as a grid. I’ll post an example of what one looks like later in my review.

the sad consequences of reading too many hacking rules

From Friday Night Firefight (see hectorguy’s review for more details):
  • Initiative is determined by Reflex, no dice roll to modify it. Also, there’s something about phases that isn’t well explained, just that it’s based on the system in Mekton (wait nvm, there’s a table in the back). But the gist of it is that the higher your Reflex, the more phases you get to act on.
  • All defenses are active. Instead of trying to hit a fixed value based on range, the attacker needs to beat the defense roll of whoever they’re shooting at. The defense roll is 1D10 + Reflex + Athletics. Oh. Ohhhhhhh.
  • So the Cool stat did matter in 1st edition! Every character had something called Combat Experience Modifier that imposed a penalty on their attacks, and it dropped by one for every two fights survived. Starting CEM was 12 - Cool.
  • Armor doesn’t have EV, so nothing is stopping you from wearing the heaviest armor you can find. SP does max out at 30 per section
  • Wounds have their own table. It’s complicated.
  • Weapons don’t have a listed damage. Instead, it gives the type of ammunition the weapon uses, and then there’s a table you have to refer to to see what damage that ammunition does. Damage falls off with range, unlike CP2020. Also there’s no prices listed for the weapons. EDIT: Disregard that! I found the prices.

I didn’t read through Welcome to Night City, but I did a quick scan and it does include Johnny Silverhand’s highrise-trashing adventure. What surprised me is that the sidebar advice on how to turn it into a scenario seemed more comprehensive. It also confirmed my suspicions that Rogue and Akira were originally designed for 1st edition, and they were just straight ported to CP2020 without any consideration for how the rules would change their effectiveness. The setting remains basically unchanged between the two editions (the year is 2013 instead of 2020).

Those are the big differences between CP2013 and CP2020. I can’t really call this a full review because this is all based on a quick read of all three books in one night. However, before we move on to Solo of Fortune, there’s one more thing we need to talk about. Solo of Fortune is written as an in-setting magazine, but it’s based on a real-life publication called Soldier of Fortune. This magazine was founded in 1975 by Lt Col. Robert K. Brown, a Green Beret who served in the Special Services in Vietnam. It was a mercenary magazine, ostensibly about reporting on foriegn wars. But it was also for a time a place to put want ads for hired guns, including the recruitment of forces for the Rhodesia Bushfire wars and other examples neo-colonialist THE GREAT STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM. This aspect of the magazine was discontinued after people began using these ads for contract killings, and the victims’ families went after the magazine for publishing the ads. Soldier of Fortune would continue to print until 2016, and still distributes digitally.

So in order to best appreciate this role-playing game supplement, I cracked open an issue of this rag for survivalist gun nuts, proto Sov cits, and war crimes enthusiasts. When I started, it didn’t seem like the best idea I’ve ever had. That feeling went away when I saw the cover of the issue I picked out:

The issue is an avalanche of American right-wing nonsense, disaster porn that reads like the set-up to airport novels (and probably was actually plagiarized), racism, overblown sense of importance, war crimes apologia, and Totally AccurateTM accounts of battlefield exploits. Plus ads. Lots and lots of ads. Ads for guns and knives. Ads for memorabilia. Ads for survival books and autobiographies from such trustworthy individuals like Anthony Herbert. Ads to employ “ex-soldiers” for whatever purpose you could think of. The layout goes from bland to atrocious, and the prose is no better. There’s even a call for “Volunteers” to go murder people in the name of Freedom.

I could probably start a whole thread in TFR going over this issue alone. But back to the subject, Solo of Fortune mirrors the layout and writing style of Soldier. Thankfully there’s no obvious political leaning in the writing. While this may seem like an obvious thing to do, this is very pre-internet and it could have been very easy to do something dumb like copy the source material too closely. Plus, given that violence really is everywhere in Cyberpunk, a magazine like Solo would probably have a more general audience. That being said, it does raise the question of whether the narrators are reliable. There’s a letter section at the beginning and one reader is pointing out the errors in a past articles (including the big one of the city no longer existing), to which the editor responds “it was a simulation, duh.” And previously I thought that I, the RPG reader, was supposed to side with the editor over this fictional magzine reader (who is being very snobbish). Now that I know more about Solo’s inspiration, I’m not so sure. But then again, making the narrator unreliable and also using the articles to post rules would be its own can of worms, so :shrug:

Solo mimics Soldier saturation of advertisements as a way of introducing new gear. There are a couple of items that go on be included in CP2020’s core rules, like the MetalGearTM body armor. The articles themselves are framing devices for campaign seeds, potential opponents, and alternative rules. Most are really solid, and even the vehicle rules section that I’ve complained about is at least provided rules that the core box set didn’t (and should have if Nomads are a core role). The only article that I can’t endorse on any level is the firing range article. While it is responsible for introducing the Sternmeyer M95-A, the article itself is all gun talk. As someone not into guns, it’s very hard to stay attentive about fictional guns. But we’ll get to all that when we cover the articles in detail.

Next Time: and the name of that door gunner was Albert Einstein!

SirPhoebos fucked around with this message at 19:02 on Jun 29, 2019

juggalo baby coffin
Dec 2, 2007

How would the dog wear goggles and even more than that, who makes the goggles?

man could you imagine the lawsuits Deck manufacturers would get in real life? A computer that kills you? just install a friggin surge protector on the cable that goes to your brain, guys.

May 14, 2017

What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee

Fantasy Craft
Part 4: Classes, part 1

Fantasy Craft has 12 basic classes, two of which are restricted. I'll very briefly touch on their role in the party and their gimmick. Fantasy Craft describes party roles as Backer (improves the entire part's performance), Combatant (good at fighting), Specialist (master of one or more skills), Solver (excels at plot advancement and information gathering), Talker (great with NPCs and social situations), and Wildcards (able to fill in different or even multiple roles).

Assassins are Talker/Combatants who use deception to get in close for the skill.
Burglars are Specialist/Combatants who focus on stealth but can hold their own in a fight.
Captains are Backer/Combatants, a party 'force multiplier' who can hang tough on the front line.
Courtiers are Talker/Backers, the premier social characters (which has some suprising benefits).
Explorers are Solvers who excel at traps, riddles, puzzles, and other obstacles.
Keepers are Specialists who focus on a few key skills, making great healers or crafters.
Lancers are Combatant/Talkers who focus on mounted combat with strong social skills.
Sages are Backer/Wildcards who boost their allies and can fill any secondary role by building their own custom class.
Scouts are Combatant/Solvers who use terrain in combat and guide the rest of the party through the wilderness.
Soldiers are Combatants and the ultimate general warrior.

There's also Expert Classes (what Pathfinder calls Prestige Classes) like the Swashbuckler that I won't really talk about.

I love the Swashbuckler but this review is already getting thesis-like

The last two classes are Mages who cast Arcane spells, and Priests who use divine Miracles. Fantasy Craft doesn't assume spellcasting is something available to player characters by default. Instead, the "Sorcery" or "Miracle" campaign qualities have to be in effect. Mages use Spell Points as the resource of casting spells instead of Spell Slots, and high-level spells are gated behind career levels. They also get access to the Spellcasting skill, which they use to see whether or not a spell succeeds. A 0th level spell has DC 13, while 9th level spell has DC 40 - if the Spellcasting check fails, the spell fails.

Requiring Mages to interact with the core mechanic of the d20 System does a lot to solve The Wizard Problem, and getting rid of Vancian spell casting and spell slots is about the only time where Fantasy Craft is less fiddly and crunchy than Pathfinder. The Spellcasting skill also does a neat trick for multiclass characters that I really appreciate - you can still max out the skill even if you take a different class. Your ability to access higher level spells and strengthen your spells stop, but you become more competent at you do have access. If a level 10 character dipped into Mage for 3 levels to get access to Level 1 spells, she'll be rolling Spellcasting +13 against a DC 16 check for those spells. It's a nice change of pace from Pathfinder, where any multi-class character that didn't have full spell progression was almost certainly a mistake.

A typical wizard, apparently

Anyway, let's set aside Mages and talk about the classes in general. The first class you take, and ONLY the first class, gives you a Core Ability that is powerful and useful at all levels. These can benefit yourself, like the Burglar's Dexterous ability which doubles the number of dice you roll when you use an action die to boost a Dexterity-based skill check. Others let you help your teammates, like the Captain's Cadre ability which lets you grant a teammate one of your Basic Combat feats for a scene, for free.

Literally none of the classes have 'dead levels', where your abilities don't improve besides a bump to BAB and saves. Every single level, for every single class, you get something for leveling up. Most of the abilities are tiered (ie Explorer's Bookworm I-III) so that you don't have an overwhelming number of abilities to keep track of - most classes have around 6 to 10. Almost all the classes get 6 + Int skill points, and a set number of Vitality between 6 and 12.

Brief tangent, did anyone ever play a game where you actually rolled your hit die when you leveled? Even the groggiest table I've played at let you take 75% of your hit die. It's the most inexplicable thing I've seen in the rules for Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons because everyone ignores it. Anyway...

Most classes grants you a level 1 ability that give you a fundamental level of competency in that classes' "Thing". For example, the Burglar gets "Very, Very Sneaky" at level 1, where if they fail an Acrobatics or Sneak check, they still succeed if the check DC is less than their 20 + their Burglar level. Functionally, whenever your Burglar character makes a Sneak check, they get to pick the d20 result or a flat 15, whichever is better. If this feels very powerful, it's because it is - anything that lets you ignore the variance of a d20 is going to be busted. Fantasy Craft hands this out to everyone for their core competency. This literally blew my mind when I played.

The only exceptions are the Captain, Sage, and Soldier. Since the Captain is focused on leading a team and boosting her buddies, she gets a Follower to boss around and ensure she's not fighting alone with no one to boost. The Sage gets the ability to apply her action die to to her teammate's rolls, because she's all about playing Support for the party's Carry. I'll talk about the Soldier next post.

Finally, each class gets a level 14 Capstone ability, although it's not really called out as that. About the only thing in common is that they're extremely powerful rewards for sticking with the class. For example, Lancers get "Last Stand" - once per adventure, you and nearby allies take half damage after Damage Reduction and Damage Resistance is applied. You (but not allies) may continue to act normally even if your wounds drop below 0. -10 wounds will still kill you, so you're not literally the Terminator... but you're pretty drat close. Imagine that scene from the Magnificent Seven with Faraday, and you get the idea. The Courtier gets to automatically win an opposed skill check once per scene, the Burglar gets 4 extra Prizes (Magic Items, Holdings, or Contacts) and 400 Reputation to spend on them (like Spycraft's Budget, but fixed). I've never played in a high level Fantasy Craft game, so I can't say how good they actually are, but they seem pretty drat neat to me.

Next post I'll be taking a deep dive into comparing Tordek the Iconic Dwarven Fighter in Pathfinder and Fantasy Craft. I'm definitely doing level 1, I might do level 4, and I'm probably not doing level 20 unless people really, really want to see a comparison at high levels. The d20 system... I really don't think it should go past level 15, but apparently I'm in the minority on this.

The Iconic Solder in Fantasy Craft is, uh, intense

Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.
It isn't so much that people don't think d20 should go past 15 as that most people never play in campaigns that do, since most campaigns start low level.

Also I see the Sage is the Pointman, but Fantasy.

Jul 9, 2003

juggalo baby coffin posted:

man could you imagine the lawsuits Deck manufacturers would get in real life? A computer that kills you? just install a friggin surge protector on the cable that goes to your brain, guys.
Shadowrun gets around this by having that be a safety feature you have to disable to get Maximum Hacking Performance, IIRC

Apr 22, 2010

Royalty is a continuous cutting motion

If you're not running hot sim you don't want it bad enough omae.

May 14, 2017

What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee

Night10194 posted:

It isn't so much that people don't think d20 should go past 15 as that most people never play in campaigns that do, since most campaigns start low level.

Also I see the Sage is the Pointman, but Fantasy.
Yep! Point man as Sage, Soldier, and Faceman (mostly) as Assassin make it into Fantasy Craft with minimum change. I might might be missing other classes as well.

Feb 15, 2012

Now prepare yourselves! You're the guests of honor at the Greatest Kung Fu Cannibal BBQ Ever!

wiegieman posted:

If you're not running hot sim you don't want it bad enough omae.

For a while there the best decker possible was a physad with a joystick.

Jan 29, 2009
Reading that latest Spycraft update. I'm kinda seeing some ancestral DNA it shares with Fragged Empire.

Pretty neat.

May 13, 2013

Give me a rifle, one round, and point me at Berlin!
Cults: Palers, pt. 4

Degenesis Rebirth
Primal Punk
Chapter 3: Cults


1. Specter

You're an entry level Paler. You have to prove yourself with action or, ugh, by voice.

2a. Solar

Sun is a poo poo; it burns and blinds. However, much like a dispenser, it gives life and, much like a dispenser, is there to serve the Palers. Solars are the ones who go outside to unfold solar collectors and force the Sun underground where it will recharge the dispensers.

The Solars are a lot more pragmatic about their roles, and they view themselves as technicians... because that's what they are. They take care of the maintenance in the bunker (which is made easier by the modular plug-and-play nature of the dispensers), carry sun disks and can enter the oldest locked rooms.

3a. Aurora

An Aurora is a tech nerd who not just services the mechanisms of the bunker, but can also understand and control them. They know how to power corridors, fill them with gas, and more. Their memetic conditioning is breaking down, and they can access the memetic coding in the dispensers. However, they can't access the Sleeper cells... yet. The more codes the Revivers bring back from the 44 new bunkers, the more powerful the Auroras get.

So it's basically like how engineers in Space Station 13 tend to go rogue and declare the life support system section the independent realm of Atmosia.

2b. Reviver

If a Paler feels interested in going outside, wants to mix with the peoples on top, or is just some poo poo with annoying squeaky voice (the Palers would hate Ben Shapiro, it's canonical), he becomes a Reviver.

Above ground, the Revivers know how to recognize important Bygone structures (possibly of RG origin) and how to access them for fat loot (to great chagrin of Scrappers everywhere, I'm sure). They also collect intel on the hidden dispensers.

3b. Redeemer

They're essentially professional dungeon adventurers of the Paler society, cracking RG facilities like it ain't not poo poo, finding tunnels that aren't even marked on the map, and drawing support from multiple Demagogues.

2c. Phantom

The warrior class of the Palers, armed with SMGs and grenades from guard armories, striking at whoever stands in their way above ground.

3c. Cyclops

These guys are legendary divine assassins who get access to secret Paler armories. Their name comes from their NVGs, “Cyclops’ eye, through which they see the night in fluorescent green,” which suggests that they're using GEN II or GEN III NVGs... in 2073 and onwards. Who knows, maybe those are made with components that can withstand long term storage?

4a. Aspirant

When you get to know the mechanisms of the bunker well enough and throw off your Demagogue's memetics, you're on the road to becoming one yourself.

5a. Demagogues

When you can command people and machines with your voice, you become a Demagogue.

4b. Halo

This is a Paler who left his or her bunker to follow one of the Prophets: Daimondal, Trice, Helios, Uriz and Enceph(alitis). They examine future battlefields and explore and reconquer the holy city of Exalt sector by sector.


Free Spirit and Tannhäuser are not foreign concepts to them.

They're still foreign concepts to us, players! God drat it, book!


ANABAPTISTS: Swords, final battle, baptisms: they have been in the sun for too long. Let them go on writing their weird books about divine phantasms.

ANUBIANS: Just look at their skin – they are marked by the night! But there is even more that connects us to them…Wasn’t the Triszyklikon found in their homeland?

APOCALYPTICS: Apocalyptics are predators hunting at night like we do. When the gods walk amongst us, we will not tolerate this any longer. But until then, we wait, for the migrants have nothing of interest for us – and we have nothing of interest for them.

CHRONICLERS: We have to get into their Clusters! They know much more than they are ready to admit. All reports about the 44 were retrieved from the Chroniclers. Try it friendly first, lick their boots, and seduce them. Bug them. Then break into the alcoves, steal artifacts, and blackmail them with them!

CLANNERS: The gods abandoned them, and now they are destined to be our fatstock and milking cattle. They have been a little rebellious in the last
few months.

HELLVETICS: The Alps: so many tunnels and unexplored bunker segments. If only these armed rats did not guard them. But we will get in. Then we’ll see if the defense mechanisms aren’t somewhat adaptable…

JEHAMMEDANS: They try to obey exactly ONE God. No one has ever seen him, and there are no pictures of him. They have no idea when or where he will awaken. For he’s already there. Everywhere.
Aha! Even if he existed: what is he supposed to do against our army of gods, huh? Idiots.

JUDGES: The Judges are a force that owes us our due. Our Demagogue in Justitian has given up reminding them of that.

NEOLIBYANS: They trade with the gods’ gift. That means they trade with what belongs to us. That makes them thieves, right?

SCOURGERS: The Bygone phoneme rings in their voices. It touches us, makes us feel a desire for their land. What enormous powers must be at work there!

SCRAPPERS: They enter our holy halls, looting, destroying and defiling! How many gods have they killed already? Our Phantoms hunt them like

SPITALIANS: Their suits look like those of our ancestors. Who are they? The fallen divine tribe? Or simply grave robbers?

I mean, there are some interesting suggestions in the Spitalian and Scourger bits, but lol at Palers declaring Anubians to be blackest of them all.

Behold the iconic weapon of the ancient guardians of bygone gods: a club!


Culture: Balkhan
Concept: The Chosen
Cult: Palers (Redeemer)

Finger was destined to become a Reviver from the first time his parents heard his annoying shrieks. 40 years later, he's a Redeemer legend, who may have been in contact with the Masters (possibly Sleepers, though they have never been called like that before). The biggest mystery is where the finger on his neck – which don't rot, but shimmer in light – come from.

I'm going to assume that's he's killing Sleepers for some reason OR that he's fighting Twilight vampires.


Culture: Balkhan
Concept: The Defiler
Cult: Palers (Halo)

Zon hated taking care of solar collectors and wanted to stay down in the bunker. Zon really loving hated the sun. But then she picked up Daimondal’s broadcast, and fled to find him in summer (as others wouldn't follow her in the heat).

Now, Zon prowls the catacombs of Exalt, installing radio control disks into ancient sensors. She is starting to get what Daimondal's plan is (and she's not sharing it with us, players), but she doesn't care, she's just happy to be out of the sun.

I really love it how one note Zon is. “Gods and prophets are cool and all, but you know what's better? Staying out of the sun.


Culture: Balkhan
Concept: The Destroyer
Cult: Palers (Demagogue of Fear)

He's a mad sadist surgeon.

In conclusion: Palers are cool as gently caress. They're degenerate morlock scions of true believer corporate bootlickers, caught in a religion that is 100% a scam. They look very different from the others (just look at that cool art) and they're probably the most alien of any player character in any group (though I bet the Chronicler tries to act that way as well). At the same time, there's some sexy mystery behind the bullshit that Recombination Group has planned, and in Exalt, too. So even if there won't be additional content released for them (who knows), you have enough morsels and hooks to run a Paler-centered campaign.

At the same time, the Palers are the least organic of the factions. They seem to be welded to the setting almost as an afterthought, not having any real interaction with other factions nor being in any way affected by Sepsis (Remember that? Shroom-based end of the world, bugs, etc.?). In fact, I'd go as far as to say that you can transplant Palers into any other post-apoc setting with minimal effort, and I don't know what that says about their design as the faction.

Next time: who wants to learn some more history?

Angry Salami
Jul 27, 2013

Don't trust the skull.

Halloween Jack posted:

Primogen: You are the primary (perhaps only) Kindred of a medium-sized city. This chronicle emphasizes power and responsibility instead of being a pariah surviving on the margins. The Storyteller has to contrive crises for the PCs to deal with, which will typically involve external threats from factions of Kindred looking for a new city to make their own.

I like (and am somewhat surprised) that they were down with PCs being the movers and shakers as an option, rather than just insisting they always be the lackeys of super-powerful Princes and NPCs.

Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.
Spycraft 1e


One of the clear design goals of Spycraft 1e is to be a game. I don't mean this in some dumb GNS Theory way; I mean that Spycraft really wants to gameify the interactions between the GM and the players and how it effects the story and wants to provide mechanical decisions to make and ways for the game to be challenging beyond 'Boy I sure do hope I roll high on this 30% chance to succeed test'. This is a game that wants to have clear rules and systems that you can engage with to try to succeed, and that wants to have things the GM can play around with without just crushing the players by fiat too. This is a game designed by people who want the mechanical side of the game to be engaging for the players and the GM both, and Action Dice are one of the clearest indicators of that.

Action Dice are also a really well done metacurrency introduced into a system that practically screams for metacurrencies to mitigate its randomness and provide more decisions for players to make. See, one of the things about a d20 is that a d20 resolution system has some real strengths, but also brings some very specific characteristics to a game. One of the strengths is that it's extremely easy to calculate the probability of an action in d20. There's also less dice reading than d100, and most d100 games really don't use 1-4% increments of granularity anyway, so a simple die that reduces everything to increments of 5% is an easy shortcut. Heck, lots of d100 systems even bring in '01-05 are auto-successes, 96-100 are auto-fails' like a nat 20/nat 1 in d20. So in some ways just using a d20 system is acknowledging what most percentile games already do. Having fairly easy math is a bonus and makes designing and playing a lot easier; if you don't need complex dice mechanics, don't use them.

The issue is that a d20 is very swingy, same as a percentile. Which is part of why it can be hard to know when your character is 'good' at something. If I'm in a 2d6 or 3d6 system, those normalize the dice results somewhat; if I need a 10+ on 3d6 I can be pretty confident of my check, or a 7+ on 2d6. Which means you don't need to gently caress around with huge DCs or modifiers as much in a system with a more normalized dice result, but also means those modifiers are variable in what they do to the probability of a roll; in d20, a +1 is always +5%. The fact that DCs in d20 seem to be partly assigned at loving random (DC 20 to pick a simple lock?) and that you often end up in situations where the DC goes up as you level so you have to find extra sources of bonuses or else you never move ahead of the curve doesn't help. Anyway, you often end up in situations where you feel like you have no decisions to make that could help you hit a DC that you needed to hit, so the mechanical engagement of the game can often come down to 'man I really hope I hit that 40% chance'.

This is why I say d20 is in need of metacurrency, because metacurrencies are often useful in both providing decisions to make and helping you deal with a swingy dice system. I've played WHFRP2e without Fate Points as a vampire; let me tell you, even with very high stats, you sweat it when you know you can't use a Fate Point to reroll a critical test and it makes you take a lot fewer risks. Any Blood Bowl player can tell you how it feels when you have no rerolls left. D&D, though, has traditionally never had anything of the sort. You throw those dice on the table and you pray, and if you rolled badly, sorry! Blackleaf did not find the poison trap, I declare her dead.

I say all this to get to this: The metacurrency of Action Dice is well implemented, well integrated, and something that makes the d20 system as a whole more engaging and more fun to deal with. The fact that Action Dice are thoughtfully implemented into this game and legitimately address a major issue of the d20 system, while also having more general utility as a mechanical conversation between the players and the GM? It's one of the biggest reasons I say Crafty Games has some good designers. This game could have been OGL shovelware, but while a lot of the other added systems are 'They really tried and did their best with early d20 but it's got a lot of problems that come from the base system', Action Dice are something that D&D honestly should have picked up and backported into itself because they slot so well into d20 and make the system much more enjoyable.

So I've given you the basics on these guys: Action Dice are your pool of 'I am a cinematic superspy' points. You throw an action die at a roll, any roll, and you add the die result directly to the roll. The die also explodes. You can also decide to keep throwing dice if you still didn't hit your target. Your Pointman can also toss you one of their dice. And if the dice are going to something your class is especially good at, you double how many dice you roll. They also increase in size and your starting pool per session goes up by 1 every 5 levels. This adds a lot to dealing with d20. If you're willing to spend resources, you can get some important stuff done and do it at lower levels than you ought to or turn an important roll you flubbed into a success. Or spend them on increasing damage after you critted a guy to Wound them harder and maybe drop them immediately. This alone would have made them a useful addition.

The other useful part, though? The necessity of spending them to activate crits and critical failures. Partly because this means the GM has to actually use up resources (since the GM also has a limited pool; they get 1 per PC, plus one PC pool's worth) to invoke critical failures; they won't do it every time you roll a 1. Partly because it makes crits less common and less lethal; not everyone can afford to convert every critical, and remember, if you have Medium or Heavy armor on, crits against you cost 2 dice. Plus you have a pile of DR, so there's a chance the crit just bounces off afterwards, or barely Wounds you. That threat of double resource loss can be enough to stop the GM bothering to Crit your Soldier while focus-firing them. The GM actually gets to make mechanical and narrative decisions about when to deploy their own story points. However, this does mean a GM can absolutely turbo gently caress you if they're playing in bad faith; this is not a system that's going to wholly restrain a GM that is playing to kill you, because any GM can easily kill the PCs in any game if they want to. Someone can just throw a pile of damage dice onto a crit to make sure they take your PC out, for instance; nothing in the system actually stops the GM doing this. It's an incredibly obvious dick move, but no system alive that has a traditional GM structure is going to stop a GM who thinks they 'win' by killing the players, because the GM still has narrator powers in that structure. So I don't consider this that much of a failing.

Similarly, you get Action Dice by doing cool stuff and playing in character. If you're using EXP, you immediately gain an EXP award for earning an Action Die; no saving them till the end of the session for bonus EXP like 7th Sea here. You are highly incentivized to use your Action Dice, and the only time the GM gets more is when they hand out more. This is actually done to encourage the GM to award dice regularly; the book states this plainly. The GM needs to keep rewarding you for taking risks and raising the stakes or they'll run out of their own currency. The game system really wants both GM and players to run their Action pool hard. It's still subjective when you get Action Dice, but a stingy GM will run out of their own pool pretty quickly. So the GM has a mechanical incentive to watch for moments to hand you more Do Cool Stuff points, because by doing that, they increase their own pool. This back and forth and looking for opportunities to reward players really does help create a more fun atmosphere for the game and helps discourage adversarial GMing. The system wants you to engage with mechanics and give players decisions to make and challenge them, but it's really not about one side 'winning'.

If all that was what you did with Action Dice, they'd already be a good part of the game, but they're also used for the Favor system, which is used to help keep plots moving but also to demonstrate player agency. You're international superspies. You have connections. If you need to look at another agency's files, or call for military backup, or ask the city to redirect a parade route away from where some cunning puppet-based supervillain plots to make a British nobleman explode as a living bomb? You know who to call. You make a bare d20+Level (+2 if the kind of favor you're asking is normal for your class; Pointmen know the bureaucrats, Soldiers know the military, etc) test after spending an Action Die. You can spend another to add to this roll, too. If you hit the DC, your call goes through and you can get the legal help, backup, or whatever that you were asking for. If not, you can't. Your GM can also declare a specific favor impossible before you spend the dice, or declare that it's simple and doesn't cost anything (like getting basic faked papers and a cover ID when starting an assignment). DCs for Favor tests only go up to 25, at which point you can borrow a space shuttle or acquire an immediate Presidential Pardon, etc.

Favors add a lot to the feeling of being 'important'. They imply a web of contacts and support people, and give your Agents more agency to solve problems. It's fun to be able to liaise with other agencies or develop contacts in the military or have a frustrated R&D guy you constantly go to for 'one more gadget'. It's an important part of the superspy genre and helps emphasize that a lot is riding on your characters. It also gives the players some control of the narrative and a good, easy way to pass along extra plot hooks and clues. You also get Education checks, which should have completely replaced the Knowledge skills (Knowledge Skills in RPGs are one of my bugbears; you're always guessing which one will come up and I prefer much more general academic abilities as a result) but didn't because D20. Education Tests cost no Action Dice and are just Level+Int Modifier, and the given example is 'You did your reading before the mission; that woman matches the description of a GRU agent known to operate in this area'. It's for stuff your character 'should' know based on being a superspy. Inspiration is another form of this and costs Action Dice, but is much more explicitly 'I'm stuck, can we get the plot moving again' questions to the GM.

Also remember, the GM has to spend Action Dice or offer you Action Dice to deny class abilities. Even if it would 'derail' the plot. If the GM is out of Action Dice and the Faceman asks a Cold Read question that will absolutely show them that Ms. Lake isn't a photographer, she's a hired assassin, the GM has to tell you. They gave up their narrative control when they spent all their dice earlier. Same way you did if you used all your dice and then had a roll you didn't like. By making it a system that constrains both sides of the table, but that also rewards both sides and encourages the GM to regularly reward player actions by granting both more of their pools of narrative control, it becomes a back and forth that raises the stakes of the game and gives you mechanical and narrative decisions to make. And it does it while mitigating a known issue of a d20 based system. This also encourages players to take risks! Knowing you can dig your way out with Action Dice if you must is a really big boost to players, which makes them try the crazy infiltration mission or take the one in a million shot. Which in turn is completely in genre.

So in short, Action Dice are a well-implemented metacurrency that added a lot to Spycraft's gameplay, both in 'feel' and in actual mechanics and what it does to the gameplay and relations between the players and GM. This is what I mean when I say the designers are very interested in working with mechanics; the whole system of narrative control here is a game mechanic and a subsystem. It's clearly defined in how it interacts with both parties at the table. It uses that clear definition to feel fair and to help it feel like an exchange. Similarly, it encourages the GM to hand out lots of metacurrency by directly tying the GM's own pool of fun things to play with to how generous they are. They even give guidelines; a GM should be aiming to hand out an Action Die every 20-30 minutes of play at least. It's really helpful to have all of this defined instead of hand-waved, because it makes it easier to see the intent of the subsystem; everything about it encourages you to use these liberally (though not constantly) and to play with this aspect of the game often. This is a place where the designers' desire to define, mechanize, and adjudicate really helps the game, and where I think it was very good that they decided to go into the level of detail they did rather than leaving a GM without guidance.

Next Time: Chase Chase Chase

Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.
I should also note: There's a whole table for how much the GM has to spend to do X Y or Z on a player critical miss in combat. Actually breaking your gun's firing pin or something costs them 4 dice. The average critical miss just makes you need a half action to steady yourself or re-ready your weapon, or 2 dice for a full action 'need to clear a jam' failure.

May 14, 2017

What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee

Action dice are definitely the one thing I think more d20- based games should lean into, and it feels so weird to me that other games either don't include it or give half measures. Inspiration in 5th edition comes to mind, where you're only allowed to have one at a time, and it's presented as a reward for roleplaying instead of a resource that makes the game work better.

Halloween Jack
Sep 12, 2003

La morte non ha sesso

Angry Salami posted:

I like (and am somewhat surprised) that they were down with PCs being the movers and shakers as an option, rather than just insisting they always be the lackeys of super-powerful Princes and NPCs.
I think FMguru has it right: a lot of the emphasis on powerful NPCs, metaplot that made modules into railroads, and international conspiracies was a product of the "supplement treadmill" economic model as time went on. Besides player options and power creep, it's easier to move sourcebooks about those things than "toolkit" books that enable player-driven intrigue, like Elysium and Damnation City.

And since I'm going through old Vampire sourcebooks,

Piss on your grave, White Wolf.

Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.

Halloween Jack posted:

I think FMguru has it right: a lot of the emphasis on powerful NPCs, metaplot that made modules into railroads, and international conspiracies was a product of the "supplement treadmill" economic model as time went on. Besides player options and power creep, it's easier to move sourcebooks about those things than "toolkit" books that enable player-driven intrigue, like Elysium and Damnation City.

And since I'm going through old Vampire sourcebooks,

Piss on your grave, White Wolf.

I love how a single post can so succinctly show off why many of the problems of 90s/early 00s games were understandable in light of a crazy economy model that pushed for constant expansion to have product to put out.

And then can also contain 'also a lot of this poo poo had nothing to do with realities of publishing, gently caress those edgelord idiots'.

By popular demand
Jul 17, 2007


Does it even make sense?! Vampire society is incredibly mixed and focused on not drawing attention, an actual driven skinhead wouldn't survive a week.

Young Freud
Nov 26, 2006

By popular demand posted:

Does it even make sense?! Vampire society is incredibly mixed and focused on not drawing attention, an actual driven skinhead wouldn't survive a week.

I was going to give it the benefit of doubt and think it was an "Oi!" Skinhead or antifa skin but the first line erased all doubt.

Halloween Jack
Sep 12, 2003

La morte non ha sesso
It makes sense for an elder to Embrace a skinhead purely to use him as a pawn...but that's Ventrue poo poo. And the description of the PC makes it clear he'd be more trouble than he's worth, compared to Embracing a cop or a common criminal for the same purposes.

It's alarming that this sample PC is called a "stereotypical Brujah" and the corebook...well, I'll get to that in the next update. What the gently caress were they thinking, treating "Neo-Nazi" as not only an acceptable character concept, but an ordinary one?!

Sadly, and I'm loathe to say this, the Skinhead isn't even the worst sample PC concept from the clanbooks. That award goes to the Pedophile Boarding School Headmaster from the Setites book.

By popular demand
Jul 17, 2007


:barf: just :barf:

Oct 26, 2007

Friends: Protected
World: Saved
Crablettes: Eaten

Bury White Wolf in lead coffins like nuclear waste.

Halloween Jack
Sep 12, 2003

La morte non ha sesso
Didn't buy Clanbook: Tzimisce? Then you can't play the dogfucker.

Oh, unless you bought Ghouls: Fatal Addiction. That also has a dogfucker.

Dec 6, 2016

Halloween Jack posted:

Didn't buy Clanbook: Tzimisce? Then you can't play the dogfucker.

Oh, unless you bought Ghouls: Fatal Addiction. That also has a dogfucker.

What, did Werewolf somehow manage not to monopolize that prime piece of real estate?

Aug 21, 2000

Not keen on keening.

Grimey Drawer
One night, a friend spent a distressingly long time swearing up and down that the clanbook sample characters were the only kinds of people who got embraced, and if you were different, the clan would have you ashed.

I still don't know if he was being intentionally contrary or just stupid.

kommy5 posted:

What, did Werewolf somehow manage not to monopolize that prime piece of real estate?

There's a horsefucker in the Changeling Shadow Court book too.

Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.
I sense the long shadow of Phil 'Satyros' Brucato in these things.

Halloween Jack
Sep 12, 2003

La morte non ha sesso
I've heard stories about groups where people cleaved very closely to Clan stereotypes, so every Brujah had to be a punk and every Toreador had to be a poncy artist and so on. This is ironic because the books themselves, in my opinion, went too far in the other direction. For example, you started seeing multiple Ventrue characters who are thugs with no ambition to hold a position of authority, who were Embraced to do the Clan's dirty work.

Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.
This all makes me realize no-one has actually covered Hunter: The Reckoning and that after Spycraft I think I will.

Aug 5, 2003

Number 1 Nerd Tear Farmer 2022.

Keep it up, champ.

Also you're a skeleton warrior now. Kree.
Unlockable Ben

So, we now get onto the actual chapters covering the steps of prep. These are somewhat better than the overview chapters were, in that they do actually contain some reasonably organized content. Unfortunately, they still contain a ton of extra verbiage. The first paragraph on Brainstorming, for example, is a list of florid metaphors for ideas.

Cutting through the cackle, Brainstorming means starting from a question, seeing what ideas it inspires, and writing them down. There's intended to be no selection of ideas at this stage, and here we get the first piece of really good advice: not rejecting ideas for smaller scenes because you're trying to think of a Big Idea for the session. There's also a good list of inspiration questions; the default is "what should I do in the next session?" (I might switch that to 'we do' but hey), and others include "what did the players want to do?" "what would the major NPC be doing right now?" "is there an event that's due to occur?" Brainstorming is best done in a quiet room when you're starting, but as you get more experienced it can be done anywhere, and oh god he's actually listing brand advertisments for notebooks and note-taking software, pull up!

Signs of too little brainstorming are feeling that the well is dry when it comes to developing ideas, or retreating to safe and established ideas or those lifted from other media. This makes sense as a statement, but I'm not quite sure of its accuracy, given that "ideas lifted from media" is a pretty comprehensive set by now (please refer to the "Simpsons Did It" episode of South Park). Doing too much brainstorming is unlikely, but usually means that ideas are being forgotten or not fully exploited. There's then a section on how to improve, but it doesn't say much except "practice" - although that's kind of inevitable with a topic like this - and then reiterate for the third time that you can brainstorm anywhere.

The section ends, as all the section do, with two scales to "rate your frequency and skill level" at performing the task the chapter is about. Ideally the two scores should be similar and as high as possible, but in practice there's usually only like a single vague sentence about what to do with the score once it's calculated, so it's mostly just a pointless mental exercise.

Selection is about picking from the list of ideas, and oddly is framed as picking one to be the basis of the session (rather than just filtering multiple ones to use). Four perspectives are listed to consider: the players, the GM, the game (system), and the campaign.

Players is considered only in terms of whether or not the players will enjoy what the idea will have them doing in the moment (not what it leads to, which makes a certain amount of sense). The author cites Robin's Laws for player categories, and then lists three aspects of play - Roleplaying, Combat, and Problem Solving - perhaps unaware that he's actually leapfrogged Robin's there and jumped right back to Blacow's 1980 article that Laws cited, except that Vecchione's list conflates Roleplaying and Storytelling together, replaces Wargaming with Combat, removes Power Gaming, and adds Problem Solving. I suspect that Blacow's list would have considered problem solving to be a "wargaming" activity, but honestly this just shows a lot of problems with these definitions, since wargaming is not necessary combat (tactical solving can apply to other things) and combat is not necessarily wargaming (see any game with a more drama-focussed combat system)

"The GM" as a consideration is about what you, as GM, prefer to do. What do you prefer to run? Do you give a lot of detail, act out NPCs gregariously? Do you prefer to present challenges to be overcome or collaborate with them? Are you good at managing a lot of things? They're all good considerations, but they're not given a great deal of detail beyond asking the question. Also to the author's credit, there is a paragraph on how you shouldn't necessarily let your pre-existing beliefs about what you like or are good at define all your future games, and that you should prepare in the areas you're weaker in, which is good. It does, however, then say that this is best avoided at the start of a campaign when you are "laying the foundations".. which I'm not too sure about, because it potentially inflicts a bait-and-switch on the players.

"The Game System" is a similar section, in that it mostly consists of a list of questions to ask about your game system, but unfortunately in this case they're much weaker, mostly focussing on what the system has rules for (rather than, for example, what it does well); and the text is heavily padded with questions of the form "does it have [incredibly specific thing]" (with the set in question being aerial combat, a sanity system, mass combat, and kingdom building?). The example is awkward, too: it suggests that if you want to run a treaty negotiation, then AD&D 2e would have no rules for such, and D&D 3e might be a better choice because it offers skill support. But that skill support, as any OSR player will tell you, is not necessarily a good thing: it's just one skill, and you then have to deal with questions about what's covered by a single roll, how actions modify the roll, what role-playing is required to justify the skill roll's usage, and so on and on and on..

And finally, The Campaign is, does the idea fit into your campaign. But alas, there is no discussion of continuity or anything similar here! Literally the only example is that space aliens probably wouldn't show up in a fantasy game (unless it's Expedition to the Barrier Peaks).

Too little selection, and you invest too much in ideas your players won't like, your system won't support, or that you can't run, and lose interest. Too little consideration of selection, and you end up running a game just for yourself rather than the people you're playing with. Too much selection traps you in your comfort zone and also delays everything else, meaning that later prep phases are weaker. That's an excellent point, but unfortunately, there's no clear guidance on getting over that. The only "improvement" section here is about introspection and establishing exactly what your filter should be, which is a good point, but not for that aspect.

Conceptualization is probably the weakest section so far, as it's where things seem to start to fall apart. Essentially, the author describes the process of considering an idea from brainstorming and expanding it into a story. There's a bunch of lists on the standard questions to ask (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How), some story integration prompts, and on the rising action structure of a story.

Unfortunately, there's no allowance whatsoever for anything but taking one brainstormed idea and converting it into a story - there's nothing mentioned about combining multiple ones together. Also, there's nothing about what to do if you don't want to write a story in advance - there's a sort of statement that it shouldn't imply the players have no choice, but not really anything about how to structure things so that they do, or how to "conceptualize" anything other than a story (there's a very short section on a scene, but nothing else).

Too little conceptualization, and one of three things happen: plot holes destroy the flow of a session, lower level aspects of play become boring because they haven't been looked at enough, or documentation becomes garbled because it was written too soon. Too much and you spend time preparing a ton of material the players won't use.. but unfortunately, the only advice given on this is to try to predict the player's actions better. Again, the methods for improvement aren't particularly insightful, and unfortunately the section go in circles just advises iterating conceptualization as a method for improving (whereas, for example, my problem here is iterating it infinitely until it becomes unresolvable) It's also notable that in the earlier overview, Vecchione mentioned that it might be necessary to throw out ideas at the conceptualization stage, but that's never actually mentioned here.

Documentation is probably the most pointless section so far. It basically says, you have to do a bunch of things during the game, make notes that you're comfortable with about the things that you need them for. Try different ways of note-taking, and try doing conceptualization first.. but at the same time don't be afraid to go back to conceptualization if you realise something's missing while you're writing up. Ugh.

Too little documentation and either you forget things or.. well, ok, here's a nice controversial quote: "There will be times when [your players] do the unexpected.. if you don't have a written version of the adventure on hand, then you're much more likely to be at a loss about how to move forward." That's.. well, pretty much the opposite of most things I've heard on that topic. There's also a section on how having notes makes it less likely that you'll lose important rules, but that actually turns out to be telling you that it's a good idea to look up rules based on what you think is going to happen, which is true but not really in the base category of "too little documentation".

Too much documentation either causes railroading as the "missed" documentation is forced to be used; or, more likely, kicks off a death spiral where the GM never believes their notes are adequate no matter how much time they spend writing them, and ends up losing interest in running the game because they always feel they should have done more beforehand. I can definitely relate to that. Shame there's nothing here about it other than "don't over-document" which falls into the exact same fallacy this did in the overview: nobody in this position thinks they themselves are over-documenting.

Review is checking everything over. This is divided into three categories. Proofreading is checking for grammar and spelling errors (in notes just to yourself? Well, maybe, I suppose), but more importantly rules errors. Director Review is checking that the story will flow properly, there's no plot holes, and that the bits that are supposed to be dramatic will be. And finally, Playtester Review is checking that things will work when actually played. Too little review, and things become disorganized and stumbling, have errors, or are blindsided by players. On the other hand, too much review means.. that you question things too much and are full of doubt when you reach the table. What's the right amount, then? As usual, no attempt to define this.

Also, this section several times refers to the GM's "psychic RAM". You're allowed to just say "memory", guys.

Chapter 8 is Tools for Prep but.. it's more or less just more filler. Use a notebook or a wordprocessor or whatever makes you comfortable, switch tools if you need to, get used to using the ones you pick. The book's third name-drop of OneNote. The book's first name-drop of Getting Things Done, the infamous management guide to complex to-do lists. And the author's bizarre description of themselves as "an office supply geek".

Likewise, the chapter on Mastering Your Creative Cycle is actually just a bunch of cookie-cutter time-management tips about drawing up a weekly schedule to identify how much free time you have (for doing prep, of course) and identifying times when you're feeling more creative. Probably the only really interesting bit is a chart of which prep activities need more creative inspiration, in order that you can divide them between times; but let's face it, time to prep a game probably isn't something you're engaging in a complex organizational framework in order to obtain.

Your Personal Prep Template encourages customizing the steps above for what's appropriate to you, which is good, but in practice repeats a whole ton of material from earlier, including the definition of prep (fourth time, now), and adapting to the GM, game system and campaign. There is a bit of useful stuff here, such as different things you can do to cover weaknesses in GMing (although predictably enough, they all come down to "prep that thing") and what fields to include in a template if you decide to build one.

Chapter 11, The Prep-Lite Approach starts off by sounding like it's introducing a whole new technique (or "philosophy", as he calls it), but it quickly turns out not to be. Instead, it's four principles for reducing prep if you feel that the need to do it is reducing your ability to run games, but two of them are duplicates: focussing on playing to your strengths, and covering your weaknesses. The third and fourth are "They can't see your prep" and "Abstract mechanical elements", and basically come down to "fudge it". Steal maps and ideas from elsewhere, reskin NPCs basically on the fly, and use standard simplified values instead of fully engaging with mechanics. You know, all those things that were actually described as failure conditions earlier in the book.

Prep In The Real World is.. oddly, a chapter about risk management and how it affects prep. This will come up in other Engine Publishing books as well, and is a bit of a sign that Vecchione is copying material from standard business management strategies and rewriting it in gaming terms. (That's because, as mentioned on his bio, he's actually trained as a project manager and did a chunk of that work for Gnome Stew, too.) What do you do if you get sick? If something comes up abruptly? If you just don't feel creative enough to proceed? If there's a sudden plotting catastrope (the book calls it Hard To Starboard) what should you do? Uh, try your best to fix it and remanage your time if you can. That's basically all. Huh.

And the Conclusion is just authorial background and a "thank you".

The list of References and Inspirations at the back of the book does however confirm some of our earlier positions. They cite Getting Things Done and the other stuff from David Allen (yea, he loves this guy. In fact "Allen, David" is the first entry in the index with six references, inspite of the fact that nobody's likely to be looking up his name), Lifehacker, Time Management for Creative People and The War of Art - all fairly generic management books with no particular relevance to gaming, but generic enough that they don't really need it added in. Also cited is the author's own writing on Gnome Stew, which oddly includes a number of statements about the "Prep-Lite" method - "wireframes" and "skins" - that were never actually mentioned in that chapter.

Never Unprepared is.. well, it's not awful. But it's not even close to Robin's Laws in terms of information level, with almost the entire foreward and a number of the later chapters either relatively obvious or just straight up duplication. The same thing actually happens in all of the Engine books, Focal Point possibly being even worse, although Odyssey does a much better job of avoiding it because of its wider scope. The Brainstorming and Selection steps are a pretty good idea, if not exactly earth-shattering revelations, but from Conceptualization forward a whole bunch of assumptions are made about the structure of the game or system used, that don't necessarily fit in with all systems, especially not more recent ones.

Basically, it's a common problem: anyone who could really learn a lot from Never Unprepared probably wouldn't buy it. It'd be stuff that'd go well in a starter RPG if it could avoid bloating the page count too much, but it won't have a huge lot of interest from someone who's been involved long enough to want to make a conscious decision to improve GMing. It's not a bad try, but ultimately it's a swing and a miss.

I did, however, look up Gnome Stew - the site which is connected to Engine Publishing multiple times in the book. It turns out it's a group blog, which might explain the rather bumpy comparison to writing learning texts. There's a "top 30 game mastering articles" on the site, but the author of Never Unprepared (under the name DNAPhil on that site) has only three of them; only one of them is vaguely about prep; and it's actually about not prepping the ending of a campaign - something which was implicitly advised against above if you intend that the ending would be dramatic. To add even further irony, in Focal Point - two books down from Never Unprepared, and written three years later - the same author writes that he hardly does any prep and usually only writes a page or two.

There's one last thing. Any goons interested in actually trying to write a better guide to GMing? I know that Fuego is setting up a new wiki for TG, which could be a good workspace for such a thing. I'm only floating it as an idea because for obvious reasons I wouldn't be able to contribute much myself!

hyphz fucked around with this message at 23:58 on Jun 28, 2019

Jan 30, 2012

Really Madcats

hyphz posted:

Too little documentation and either you forget things or.. well, ok, here's a nice controversial quote: "There will be times when [your players] do the unexpected.. if you don't have a written version of the adventure on hand, then you're much more likely to be at a loss about how to move forward." That's.. well, pretty much the opposite of most things I've heard on that topic. There's also a section on how having notes makes it less likely that you'll lose important rules, but that actually turns out to be telling you that it's a good idea to look up rules based on what you think is going to happen, which is true but not really in the base category of "too little documentation".
I think the idea here is that by having lots of stuff documented, you have enough grounding in your world and campaign that you know what's a good thing to happen if the characters go off-piste. Say they decide at the last moment they don't want to do what they told you they were going to do last session, but because you wrote stuff up about where they've decided to wander off to previously, you're not at a loss. Or even if they go off on a new tangent because you've put thought into your world you can fill in the gaps then and there.

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Halloween Jack posted:

It makes sense for an elder to Embrace a skinhead purely to use him as a pawn...but that's Ventrue poo poo. And the description of the PC makes it clear he'd be more trouble than he's worth, compared to Embracing a cop or a common criminal for the same purposes.

It's alarming that this sample PC is called a "stereotypical Brujah" and the corebook...well, I'll get to that in the next update. What the gently caress were they thinking, treating "Neo-Nazi" as not only an acceptable character concept, but an ordinary one?!

Sadly, and I'm loathe to say this, the Skinhead isn't even the worst sample PC concept from the clanbooks. That award goes to the Pedophile Boarding School Headmaster from the Setites book.

I'm surprised the Vampire 5e folks didn't revive it, considering all their other...stuff.


Halloween Jack
Sep 12, 2003

La morte non ha sesso
Hyphz, you're really doing yeoman's work here. I've found that my major stumbling block in F&Fing is covering chapters about GMing. I just find it inherently harder and less fun than assessing character options and rules.

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