Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: Necropolis 2350 (for Savage Worlds)

Let's start at the beginning.  I originally came across Savage Worlds (SW) because of the relentless torrent of reviews of SW material on the Game Geeks channel on YouTube.  Kurt Weigel, the host, seems like a really nice guy and I really enjoyed watching the reviews on his channel back when he was active.  A large proportion of his review vids were of SW games and supplements.  (Certain viewers complained mildly about the lack of system variety, but I digress.)  I was intrigued by the simplicity of the basic system combined with the wide selection of interesting settings in which to play.  Each setting added a certain number of customized rules to the original set in addition to the game setting material.  Several of the settings appealed to me but I wanted to start with just one.  At the time I was playing around with some ideas for a Warhammer 40K game and so Necropolis 2350 seemed like a good fit.  It also seemed to have similar elements to the Warzone Mutant Chronicles miniatures game which I found appealing as well.  As usual I read some reviews, then went and ordered it.


The setting is a planet which is the last outpost of humanity (the only race in the game BTW).  An enemy from another dimension composed of undead types has invaded and occupied portions of the planet.  The defenders, their backs against the wall, are generally allied against the threat but not without some serious inter-faction tensions.  Prominent is the Third Reformation Church, closely modeled on the Catholic Church.  And the church has several religious fighting orders in the war against the enemy.  The structure of the orders is modeled very closely on the original European christian religious fighting orders of the middle ages.  And this is where I got a bit disappointed.

Warhammer 40,000 and other games borrow freely from historical precedents too, but you want them to add some interesting twists and combinations to create something fresh.  Necropolis 2350 could have been so much more if the author had put more time into adding more cool, twisty stuff to each fighting order.  Perhaps the aim was a relatively "realistic" theme--fair enough, but it's not as interesting that way.  And the church is really just a tweaked version of the usual stereotype of the Catholic Church.  But this church is supposed to be one which replaced all earlier religions on Earth (mysteriously destroyed).  For me it's a hard sell having a neo Catholic Church somehow absorb or eliminate all other faiths.  But, it does make for a simpler setting, ties in with the military orders, and lets you get on with the main thrust of the game: military campaigning.

[As an aside I constantly wonder, as someone brought up Catholic, why game designers are always drawn back to the Catholic Church.  Is it because it is so iconic?  Is it because they think protestantism is bland and boring?  Do they think that including a non-christian religion will result in a suicide bomber coming to their house?  Do they think including a non-Catholic christian religion will result in a non-suicide bomber coming to their house?  Are they just too ignorant about non-christian religions to work them into game design?  Are they just out of ideas?  I really don't know.]


One thing to be clear about up front is that this is a military combat oriented game.  Characters are part of the ecclesiastical (or  possibly corporate) armed forces literally battling evil on the front lines.  Yes, you could probably make it work as less a military/combat oriented game but that's not the aim of Necropolis 2350.  Mind you, as someone who started in wargaming I'm totally cool with a military game with lots of tactical scenarios.  And this brings up a really good part of this book: the scenarios.  There are charts for generating random mission types, then a campaign built using a nice flowchart type campaign matrix, and then a bunch of additional one-shot encounters you can add to anything.  For a veteran wargamer like myself it is fairly easy to come up with this type of material but I'm glad they have a lot of it tailored to the setting.  For newer GMs or people not into all that military stuff it will be really useful.  There are lots of rules covering pretty much everything you'll need, including calling artillery, tanks, vehicles, lots of weapons, armor, equipment, etc.

So, overall I'd say that this is a well done setting for Savage Worlds.  I really don't like the setting, but I'd definitely use the military rules for a future/sci-fi military-oriented game set elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Better Barbarian Rage for D&D/Pathfinder

Barbarian by Cushart (
Okay, so not too long ago I tossed out my thoughts on how the classes were implemented in the most recent playtest version of D&D Next, including the Barbarian.  D&D Next still has the rages per day mechanic, but I've never liked that approach.  Giving barbarian players X rages per day leads to a lot of careful tactical/strategic thinking about how to best spent those rages.  Thinking?!  No, it's a RAGE!!!!  Barbarians shouldn't be doing a lot of pansy brainiac strategizing about rages.  They should explode and rampage all over the place.  Sure, they may sometimes bring up the rage on purpose but even then it will be for a more primal, emotional purpose.  And from a game mechanics standpoint keeping track of rage points, etc. is much too fiddly for me.  This is roleplaying dammit, not Accounting 101.

So I was thinking that it would be better to use a saving throw mechanic.  A barbarian can rage on purpose, but needing a saving throw to see if it takes one or two rounds to build up.  Or a barbarian might involuntarily lose it in situations with strong /stimulus/.  I think the on-purpose rage save should be Charisma-based (against an easy DC), since it's part of his/her personality while the "hulk transformation" type rage should be Wisdom-based (against an easy DC), since the barbarian is trying to use some force of will to struggle with animalistic inner powers.

Then once the rage begins the player should roll for the basic duration of the rage, since the barbarian has is no longer fully rational and in control of her/his actions.  I'm thinking that maybe a basic duration roll could be 1d6 rounds, with no adjustments.  If the barbarian wants to terminate the rage before it runs its course then a Wisdom save (moderate DC) is needed.  If the save is failed then the rage continues, but now the barbarian is Confused ("A confused creature is mentally befuddled and cannot act normally. A confused creature cannot tell the difference between ally and foe, treating all creatures as enemies.")

When a rage ends there should be physical and mental exhaustion.  As per the current Pathfinder rules this will result in loss of all temporary HP gained due to the Constitution boost from the rage and becoming Fatigued.  Optionally, if the rage lasts more rounds than the character's level, when the rage ends the barbarian must make a Fortitude saving throw or gain an additional condition (roll 1d6):
  1. Dazed
  2. Deafened
  3. Blinded
  4. Exhausted
  5. Stunned
  6. Unconscious
(Another character may attempt a Heal check to help with any of these conditions.)

The additional disadvantageous conditions above make rage more of a two-edged sword.  To balance the negatives, the benefits of rage could be increased a bit.  That way raging has more of a "Go Big or Go Home" feel to it, which will probably appeal to barbarian fans.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: Blood of Fiends (for Pathfinder)

Okay, so here is the companion review to the Blood of Angels player companion book for the Pathfinder RPG.  As Blood of Angels focused on the aasimar, or mortals with a background connection to good outsiders ("angels"), Blood of Fiends focuses on tieflings, or mortals with a background connection to evil outsiders.

As with Blood of Angels, Blood of Fiends is a 36-page pdf with three pages of front and back cover and a full-page no-text version of the cover artwork.  The artwork here does not disappoint.  I liked all of it.

As with its counterpart, Blood of Angels, Bloof of Fiends jumps right in by laying out the racial traits for aasimars.  I like having that information right up front in quick-reference style on page 2 and I like that it's all on one page to print as a handout for the players.  I like the traits they've given tielfings--except that they get darkvision.    It is a very powerful ability which most characters only get by magic items or spells. I'd prefer that no PC races have darkvision; better to use low light vision or infravision.  I would definitely change this for my campaign.  One of the characters in my current campaign is playing a half-orc with darkvision and it really spoils what otherwise would be much more tense and dramatic scenes.  I also found it a bit odd that they offer a list of male and female names.  Wouldn't characters have names from the local culture into which they were born?  This presupposes that there is some sort of separate tiefling culture from the mainstream cultures.  That said the names are

Like Blood of Angels, there are good sections in Blood of Fiends discussing the many ways that an tiefling may have been conceived, possible influences and experiences during early childhood and adolescence, physiology, relationships with other races, adult worklife paths, dress, habits, romance, and homes.  There's also a small but decent section talking about tiefling who are not human-based.  These are all great for building background on characters, whether PCs or NPCs. Most of this material is setting-neutral but for those who are actually using Paizo's Golarion campaign setting there's a geographic section with a paragraph or two per country/region on how tiefling might fit there, including some good plot hook material.  There's also a section talking about how the tiefling race works as an option for each of the Pathfinder core and base classes.

Blood of Fiends contains a table of 100 variant tiefling abilities to replace the standard spell-like ability to use the darkness spell once per day.  I like this sort of semi-fluff/semi-crunch in rules.  They provide additional flavor with just enough crunch to notice.  Some examples of variants are:
  • You can eat and gain nourishment from ash, cinders, dust, and sand.
  • You possess the scent special ability.
  • You can see creatures on the Ethereal Plane.
 Next are six specific heritages for your tiefling instead of just sticking with the generic traits.  The intro explains: "Each heritage presents new ability modifiers, spell-like abilities, and skill modifiers that replace the default aasimar racial traits, as well as a pair of custom traits. Each entry also discusses the most common (though by no means ubiquitous) personality traits, physical features, and places of origin of aasimars with that particular heritage."  These include the Pitborn (demon-spawned) and Spritespawn (div-spawned) .  Eight heritages are included, providing plenty of opportunities to provide deeper options than just the table of variant tiefling abilities.

Feats are next.  Let just mention here that I now look on feats as one of the primary areas of rules bloat for Pathfinder.  The number of feats is already massive.  Eventually you get to a point where there are so many feats available that you might as well throw them all out and just let the players make up whatever feats they want because they already exist out there somewhere.  Anyway, there are fourteen feats in Blood of Fiends.  However, I felt that only four of these feats were really fully tielfing-specific.

Chapters adding class features to the oracle, inquisitor, bard, and sorcerer follow.  As a fan of the oracle class I really liked the new oracle curses.  I think the oracle class has huge potential in for roleplay and I'm always keen on new material for it.  The three new inquisitions for the inquisitor class are almost all oriented towards inquisitors of evil deities, but that makes for great NPCs send to hunt down the PCs after the inevitable raid on some evil temple somewhere.  For the bard (a class I think is rather silly, thanks for asking) I was glad to see a dance included as a bardic masterpiece.  The dancer class/job in Final Fantasy always intrigued me and I really want to see a dance style bard in Pathfinder.  Last up is a daemon bloodline for the sorcerer class.  I love bloodlines for the sorcerer class and this one is well done.  (Strangely enough, even though I like reading up all the cool bloodlines I have no interest in actually playing one.  I'm not sure why.)

In the same vein as the feats above, Blood of Fiends includes a section on traits for tieflings.  Traits are a contributor to rules bloat in exactly the same way that feats are.  New feats and traits really should be held to a minimum.  All the traits presented here good, but as with feats I often think that players might as well just be able to make them up in cooperation with the GM.

And finally there is a random d100 table of random physical features for tieflings, such as Face: missing nose, Teeth: metallic, and Other: infernal glow.  Again, I love fluffy stuff like this for fantasy races.

Bottom line: I like the Blood of Fiends player companion and feel that it was a worthwhile purchase.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Are We Playing Pathfinder?

I've noticed something about my gaming groups since getting back into it after 2000 or so.  Back in high school my players and I didn't talk about "playing D&D", but instead called it "adventuring".  They'd ask "are we adventuring this Sunday?", not "are we playing D&D".  Now all the games seem to be defined by which set of rules they use.  It's "When are we playing your Pathfinder game again?", or "When are we playing Bill's Mutants & Masterminds game again?"  It sort of saddens me because it makes it sound as though the sessions are all about experiencing the game rules rather than experiencing an adventure.

Is this because the newer Pathfinder and D&D 3.5 rules are so complex that it's all about the rules?  Well my original game was run with Chivalry & Sorcery, not D&D.  C&S is a pretty complex set of rules--overly complex in some areas.  And yet those were the rules for the gaming we called "adventuring".

Perhaps it's because there are so many rules sets out there that people have to keep mentioning them to keep track of what they're playing this time.  Or perhaps it's because the rules so heavily influence character-building, the action at the table, and character development.  I'm not sure that this constant mention of the rules is necessarily bad, but I'm not really happy with it.

Maybe the solution is to have a title for each campaign, like the title of a movie or a television program.  My current game is using the Shackled City adventure path which is based in the city of Cauldron.  There were originally seven players so I started calling the PC party the "Cauldron Seven".  That's my nickname for it but not an official title.  I think next time I start a new campaign (which may be soon) I'll give it a formal title.  A title may help take the focus off the rules and also set a tone for the campaign.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Upcoming Posts...

Okay, so I did just put up a new post yesterday but quickly realized that it had been about two weeks since the post before that one.  Ouch.  That's really too long for a properly active blog.  Part of the reason (besides boring real-life stuff) is that I have been working on drafts of four new posts all at the same time.  So I do have some (theoretically) interesting stuff in the pipeline and will get back to posting on a more frequent basis as I finish those up.  The four I'm working on at the moment are:
  • Better Barbarian Rage (for D&D/Pathfinder)
  • Review: Adventurer Conqueror King System
  • Review Blood of Fiends (for Pathfinder)
  • BESM Mecha Madness (crunchy technical/tactical rules)
If there's one you're particularly keen on seeing next, let me know and I'll try to move it to the top of the stack.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

RPG Blog Carnival May 2013: Campaigns I’d Like to Run

Okay, so I'm jumping into this month's RPG Blog Carnival, hosted this time over at Age of Ravens with the theme "Campaigns I'd Like to Run".  Recently I've been exploring some new campaign ideas and I think that right now I have three main ideas in development.

The first and most recent is a game based on WWI, but set in an alternate universe with some steampunk and supernatural elements.  Mostly it would be a series of "dungeon" crawls in huge fortress complexes.  But there would also be outdoor travel to new unexplored fortresses and friendly bases, as well as other types of missions to mix in other adventures besides just straight dungeon crawls.  I would do the outdoor adventuring as a hex crawl, where the squad makes its way across a vast shattered landscape laced with trenches and struggles to stay alive.  But I do worry that the WWI genre, even an alternate steampunk/supernatural version, is limited in scope.  So maybe it would be best as a mini-campaign with the overall goal being to clear a certain set of fortresses in order to make a difference in the overall war (or perhaps to discover that ultimately nothing makes any difference and the slaughter will continue regardless).  There are a number of rules sets which could be used for this game.  My immediate go-to rules would be d20 Modern, perhaps with d20 Past (which I don't actually own yet).  I know d20 Modern isn't popular but I find it easy to run: I ran a couple Warhammer 40,000 scenarios with it using just the core book.

Another game which I've been thinking over for a very long time is a mecha game.  Now, for me "mecha" really means the flying/transforming kind as in RoboTech and Gundam.  RoboTech was my introduction to mecha and that concept has stuck with me ever since.  When  it comes to developing a campaign framework, however, there are several things which I'm having a struggle working out to my satisfaction.  One is that it is a military setting.  That limits the players' ability to make decisions (well, without getting in trouble with command).  Thus it could devolve into the GM (me) just running them through a series of combat missions in very railroady fashion.  In proper anime style I would balance the combat missions with plenty of drama back at the base ship.  There would be rival squadrons, difficult and quirky individuals in the crew, romance, food fights in the mess hall, uncooperative robot vending machines, etc.  Another problem area is a more crunchy one: how to model very high-speed, three dimensional aerial combat.  I've worked some ideas already on how to handle a dogfight abstractly, but I feel it falls apart a bit in modeling several separate simultaneous dogfights dispersed over a large area.  There is also the question of how crunchy to get with the combat rules.  In any game based around a combat vehicle, such as mecha, pirate ships, or Mad Max cars, the cool technology involved a huge part of the action.  The players will probably want to wallow in all the technical bits, particularly those into optimizing their play.  That's all fine, but I worry that the combat may come to resemble a stodgy miniatures game rather than the sort of fluid, cinematic, high-voltage sort of action I want. Hmm, must think more on this aspect.

And that leads into the third campaign idea: CthulhuTech.  This could merge in with the mecha campaign idea because CthulhuTech has mecha.  Using the CthulhuTech campaign world would lead to a game which is Cthulhu mythos flavored rather than anime.  I love the whole idea behind CthulhuTech but it contains so many different campaign concepts that I want to try them all out.  Actually, probably the first game I'll run is a survival horror one set in the aftermath of destruction by an army of cultists and creatures.  I already wrote this one up for Gnome Stew's New Year, New Game Carnival for 2013.  You can read about it here.

So there they are, the Campaigns I'd Like to Run (at the moment).