Sunday, September 25, 2011

General Gamery: Convention Espionage!

Slightly entertained by making a quick, fun simple rules light game like last week's Kingdom Come for Ryan Macklin's Game Design Challenge, and inspired by Daniel Solis' (creator of one of my favorite games, the award winning Happy Birthday Robot) Business Card Fighting Game, Trade Showdown, I decided I wanted to do another quick and dirty game (Who am I kidding, slightly entertained? That was totally too much fun and I got a lot of great responses from it.. so thank you all!). This one would serve a couple functions.

Firstly, it would allow me to to get this mini-game bug out of my system. Two games in two weeks is not bad in any book, but I really should be working on typing out the rules for Superhuman (I still love you Superhuman!). But it's awfully good fun saying, "I have an idea!" and a few hours later.. it's pretty much done.

And B, I needed to update my Business Card. Oh, I have one for Monkeyden Productions, and fairly soon I will be carrying a card when I am representing Slugfest Games as their Retail Liaison, but I wanted to have a card that is just me: Joseph Blomquist, Freelance Writer and Game Designer. Not Joseph Blomquist, president of some small press game company or retail rep for another small press company with decent word of mouth.  To that end, I thought it would be cool to have a fully formed and simple to play game on the back of my card that could be played with little more than a few business cards and a pen. And considering I am most likely to give my card out at a convention, players are likely to have tons of both. So this game will show up on the back of my new business card.

Anyway, here it is: Convention Espionage!... or rather:

I'm going to be lazy. Rather than type out the rules for the game again, I'm just going to provide a slightly blown up version of the rules for the game as an image. Click on the image to blow it up. Admittedly, I had to use a pretty small font to make it fit on a standard 2 inch by 3.5 inch business card, but I can still read all the rules on a regular card so I think it's a keeper.

Rules-wise, I went very simplistic. Pretty much nonexistent character creation and dice-less. The idea is to make the players able to use just what they would have on hand when getting my card and not requiring too much thought or record keeping. This whole concept is nothing new, really. After checking out RPG.Net, I found that the always awesome James Wallis did something similar (and admittedly, his game might be a bit better than mine- no surprise there, like I said, James Wallis is awesome) and apparently James Ernest from Cheapass Games used to do this as well. Good to see I'm in good company.

Now if I can just figure out what the hell to put on the front of the card.


Update: after checking out Jonathan's cool hack, I decided to chop some words off. and Hey Look! Bigger Font! More readable! WIN!


Monday, September 19, 2011

General Gamery: Kingdom Come

On Ryan Macklin's Blog he posted something of a challenge. So, I figured for my first General Gamery post, I would put my entry which admittedly borrows one of my favorite parts of the FATE system, but that's not a bad thing.
The whole concept happened because I was re-reading Annihilation: Ronan for the fifth or sixth time as research recently and this idea has been sitting in the back of my skull ever since.


Kingdom Come

Three shots an’ he keeps gettin’ up. You came to Kingdom Come for the same reasons as most interstellar traders: this backwater moon has more Tyrium than anywhere in the galaxy. An’ this Chitnos has laid claim to yer stake. Now you can’t tell if that’s dirt in yer mouth or blood.

Character Buildin’:

Each character has 3 Abilities: Draw, Grit, Thinkin’. Distribute a D4, D6, and D10 between the 3 Abilities.

Draw is the character’s natural speed and skill be it in runnin’, with a sixshot, or pilotin’ a craft or buggy.

Grit is both the character’s resolve to not be dominated or fearful as well as avoid damage. The Highest value of the dice issued to Grit is also the character’s Health (e.g. a D6 Grit is 6 Health)

Thinkin’ is just that, the character’s ability to reason and think of a witty way out of gettin’ his butt whooped.

Each character also starts with 3 Traits with a ratin’ of D4, D6, and D8 respectively.
Traits can be anythin’ a player can think of in a flavorful way, for example: Imperial Contract D6, Plugged in Piloting D8, Ghost Sense D4, or even Robot Workins D6.

However, Traits are a double edged sword as explained in Doin’ Stuff.

Each character starts with 1 Luck token. If they spend the Luck token, they succeed at whatever Doin’ Stuff roll they are attemptin’.

Each player starts with 3 Loot. (D4, D6, D8)

Loot can be Helpful (such as Synthrope- Tie ‘em up D6), Vehicles (Hoverbike- Fast D8) or Weaponry.

Weaponry does Damage 1, 2, or 3 subtractin’ that amount from the target’s Health. The ratin’ of a weapon relates to it’s Damage so a Damage 1 weapon has a D8 Trait, 2 is D6 and 3 is D4. For example, A knife might be Damage 1 but have Cut Through Ship Hull D8 while Sniper Rifle with Damage 3 could only have a D4 in Night Vision.

Other Folk:

NPC’s are simply a mass of 3 Traits with the D4, D8, and D10 ratin’ with Health the same as the Trait the GM deems most fitting.

Doin’ Stuff:

To do anythin’, roll 1 die from the applicable Ability, 1 die from any 1 Trait that might apply, and 1 die from any 1 Loot Trait that might apply. Keep the highest die result and compare it to the Difficulty or against a Trait roll from an NPC.

Difficulty is assigned by the GM from the following:
Routine: No Roll
Easy: 2
Less than Easy: 3
Hard: 5
You Gotta Be Kiddin’ Me: 6

If players choose to use them against their roll, Traits can be used to hurt characters. Subtract the Trait result from the Ability result and gain 1 Luck token to spend on a later Doin’ Stuff roll. Example: Ghost Sense might give you a heads up from the Nightside Supernatural, but they see you too.

Now get yer guns, the Kingdom waits.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Speak Out With Your Geek Out: COMICS!!!

This week, Operation Speak Out With Your Geek Out can be found running through blogs and other social media to celebrate our geekdom and to raise awareness of who we, as geeks, really are, and in turn break down some of the negative stereotypes by getting us to talk about the things we enjoy and why we enjoy them, in the hopes that others may learn to appreciate them too.

So, originally, I was going to write about RPG's or Gaming as a whole; I'd even considered tossing in tidbits about my experiences within the gaming industry as a freelancer. But as my last few posts have been very gaming-centric, I thought I would try to expand a bit beyond that structure... but not too far. Because both of the games I've talked about before games find their core concepts in a medium so fine and elegant, it could only be considered Holy (Too far? Nah.)   COMICS!

I've been reading comics since sometime in 1979 when my cousin, Robert, gave me my first two folded, beat up issues of a mostly forgettable Thor issue and The Man Called Nova #25. Admittedly, these were his castoffs. Robert's father was a martial artist, so he tended to prefer titles like Master of Kung Fu and Heroes for Hire, but Nova (and to a lesser degree, Thor) rattled my cage in just the right way. I was a middle class kid from Nassau County, Long Island, New York and so was Nova. Plus, Nova could fly, was super strong, and didn't always make the right decisions. I got it right away.. or at least I like to think I did. I read and reread that Man Called Nova #25 (ironically, the title's last issue of its initial 1970's run) thousands of times over the years and the character remains my favorite character to this day.

And that's where my love of comics begins: Finding Your Spokesmodel.  Everyone has their favorite, especially now with the plethora of comic book inspired entertainment available, heroes of all shapes and sizes have entered our world. From the larger than life Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America to the lesser known Marv, Hellboy, John Constantine, Leonidas, Shadow, and Rick Grimes, comic book heroes have invaded the film and television medias to such a degree that it's almost impossible to know which characters come from a comic and which ones don't- and not all of them are 4-colored, spandex clad crime busters. Just going from films and TV alone, not even considering when you add in the wealth of characters offered by the many, many comic publishers today, it's easy to find a character to relate to. Don't get me wrong, fantastic bigger than life iconic characters were created long before the recent TV and film fascination with them, and as much as I liked reading the adventures of Clark Kent and Peter Parker, I couldn't really see the world through their eyes. The Alien turned Kansas farmboy with the powers of a god or super-genius from Queens with the spider powers were great characters, but never struck a chord I could see myself in. As an average kid born in Massapequa, New York, I could relate best to the average kid from Hempstead, New York (a couple towns over), Richard Rider, that had all the abilities I liked best from Superman: Flight, Invulnerability, and Super-Strength. The best part was, even as Nova, he was a regular guy, struggling to learn how to deal with his sudden influx of power and trying to do the best he could. This guy could be my neighbor.. or better yet, me!  So yeah, I was hooked.

As I swaggered through my teens and twenties and my comic pull list at my local comic store became a full on habit, I followed the tales of not only my favorite Long Islander, Nova (then appearing in his second book as well as the New Warriors), but I filled my longboxes with names like Captain America, Green Lantern, Nightwing, Spawn, WildC.A.T.S., Preacher, Transmetropolitan, and Gen13. I was also coming to terms with something I had long believed but didn't know how to articulate: The Modern Mythology of Comics.

Comics hold a power, a language, that predates the medium.  It's the tales of heroes. Humanity has always needed its heroes. From Homer's tales of Perseus and Odysseus to stories of Robin Hood, people of all castes and creeds have found inspiration and wonder in stories of great heroes.  And much like a thirteenth century youth would look to Robin Hood as a contemporary hero compared to the legendary Hercules, or a Victorian reader might not see their favorite detective Holmes in the same light as Robin of the Hood, modern audiences might not lump Iron Man and Wonder Woman, She-Hulk and Batman in with their contemporaries: Hercules, Perseus, Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur.

One day, I will tell my children all the greatest stories: of Perseus and the Gorgon, of Arthur and Mordred, of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, of how Hercules killed the Hydra, of when a distant planet exploded sending her last son to earth to protect it, of Odysseus braving the fires of Hel to return to his beloved wife, and of when Captain America stopped a missile aimed for New York only to fall into the frigid arctic waters and sleep in the ice for decades.  Comics gave me that.

In modern times, there has been a major push, a Mainstreaming of Modern Comics if you will.  This has been a very good thing. Of course there are the obligatory films: X-men, Spider-man, Dark Knight, Captain America, Iron Man, 300, Sin City, the Shadow, Thor, Green Lantern, Constantine, Hellboy, Losers, etc. etc. There has been TV series too: the Walking Dead, Middle Man, the upcoming Powers, etc. These all bring a lot of attention to the comic book genre which is huge. Even when these movies are not so good, they bring bodies to the theaters in droves. But still there are those that are hesitant.

Getting In, however, is surprisingly easy and usually there is only three things keeping an interested party from becoming a reader. The most common question I get from my non-comic reading friends when the interest is sparked is "What should I read first?" This is always an easy answer: What do you want to read? Usually when that spark is fanned into the flame of actually buying a book, the potential reader has seen a movie or a TV show or read a friend's book of a character or team or story they like. GREAT! Get more of that character/team/story!  Whatever is on the shelf! Don't worry about those long boxes filled with something called back issues, despite fears of convoluted story lines and continuity, you are currently looking at the single greatest reference for comics: The Internet. If you get a book and have a question, we live in absolutely the best time technologically because everything in the comic world can be answered online. Even I have to look stuff up when I start a new book, and I'll tell you what, it's all there! Brilliant!

The second hurdle is usually length. Comics are usually bi-weekly or monthly. Not everyone can commit to a title on such a schedule, nor are they interested in poring through dozens to hundreds of back issues for stories. Again, we live in a great time. For the last couple decades, most major comic companies have been collecting several issues of a title into collected story lines usually referred to as "Trade Paperbacks." The beauty of this is that trades have a longer shelf life and so they can often be found in your local book store or just your local comic store so they are even more readily available.

Finally, there is the matter of genre. The superhero genre that I have such an affinity for isn't for everyone, and that's okay. Great stories don't have to include spandex to be great stories, and comic publishers know this. Comics are like novels with a visual reference. They come in every genre, the superhero kind is simply the most popular. But look at titles like the amazing popular Walking Dead, a very successful and well written horror comic that has spawned a popular TV show on AMC. Or Road to Perdition, a period crime story that became a rich and wonderful movie with Tom Hanks. Whatever your niche is, it's in there, and that is part of the wonder.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hack and Slash: Relationship Mapping and You!

The premiere edition of Hack and Slash, which will regularly talk about mods and hacks to various existing game systems that I either A) came up with or B) think are cool, started with the comments from my previous post, Campaign Concepts: The Crew.  Somehow, it was mentioned that in a DC Adventures RPG ( which is really Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition) Campaign that I played in/ co-gamemastered, we had incorporated Relationship Mapping from the always awesome Smallville RPG.

As I am sure I have mentioned, I was lucky enough to be part of the writing team of the Smallville RPG, but as much as I would like to claim it.. I had nothing to do with coming up with the relationship map idea. That might have been Cam, Bobbie,or Josh, who knows? Regardless, it is still a fantastic piece of game design and one I wholeheartedly enjoy adding to a game here and there. Mutants and Masterminds, however, has a very different that wants to mesh with relationship mapping so bad, you can almost hear them trying to sneak out of the school dance to make out under the bleachers.

Maybe it's just me.

So here's the nitty gritty:

For those not familiar with them, the game currency for Mutants and Masterminds is called the Hero Point. Similar to Plot Points in Cortex Plus, Hero Points allow players a great deal of special game fiats. They can modify dice rolls, ignore the effects of powers used against their character, allow characters to recover form negative conditions (dazed, stunned, etc.), gain the use of an ability your character does not possess, ask for some clues form the GM, or even editing the scene that the characters find themselves. That's right, these things are mighty powerful.. But not all that common- at best they are in finite supply and other than the single Hero Point each character starts with during each session, players only seem to gain them by putting their characters in compromising situations, some seriously good roleplaying, or the dreaded Complication.

Complications, in general, are the meat and bones of the ROLE part of roleplaying MnM characters. They tend to flesh out the why's and who's while the rest of the character sheet focuses on the how's. Beyond just fleshing out the character, however, Complications  do as the name implies. They complicate things for the character. He may not be able to do something the player intends because the player wrote the character to be to morally pure to steal, or might be afraid of heights, or might fight crime for the sake of his poor, sick aunt at home in Queens. 

There are three specific Complications that tie directly to relationship mapping from Smallville: Enemy, Relationship, and Rivalry. To some degree, we simply replaced these three from the book (though Enemy still has its uses and doesn't necessarily fit in every relationship map) as every character will be getting some form of at least one of these three Complications in our modified map. 

  1. To keep it simple, and because it was a bit of a testbed, each player made a list of one "close" NPC (let's call them Allies) to their character and two NPCs they aren't as close to (for these we'll go with Contacts).  
  2. We then built the start of a Smallville style Relationship Map: each character's name was put in a box and a line was drawn between each character to denote their relationship (though nothing was filled in here at this time) Ideally, this should be done with a different color for each PC (you'll see why later).
  3. Each player then drew a line from their character's box to a diamond with the name of their Ally inside. On that line, we listed the nature of the relationship between the PC and the PC's Ally.
  4. Next, each player drew a circle for each of their Contacts and drew a line back to their character. Again, just like they had done with their Allies, the players listed the nature of the relationship between the PC and the Contact on that line.
  5. Now, just to mix it up, we had each player draw a line from one of their Contacts to any other Contact or Ally listed on the map.
  6. Finally, Each player wrote in what their PC thought about one other PC on the Relationship Map and that PC wrote back in turn (Not every PC gets picked by multiple people, but this gets us past the awkward "You seem trustworthy.." stage of getting adventuring groups together.
Now anyone that's read the Smallville RPG knows that this is, at best, like dipping your feet into the shallow end of the pool when it comes to the expansiveness of the Smallville relationship map, but this was the only part I really need for MnM.. at least for my purposes.

In Smallville, besides giving the Watchtower (read Gamemaster for non-Smallville players) a pretty big graphic showing places and people from which to derive the entire campaign, the relationship map is a pretty good way to move dice around the table- usually to the PC ("Have to hold up this building long enough for Lois to get free!" means Clark gets dice from his relationship with Lois... etc, etc). 

In Mutants and Masterminds, it's Hero Points that move around the table. How these Hero Points  move varies from shape to shape and character relationship type to type..
  • Any PC can give a Hero Point to any other PC based on their relationship with that PC. For example: Superboy is dazed by a magical effect and is out of Hero Points and his player can't roll a SAVE to save his life. Robin's relationship to Superboy reads "Conner is my best friend." In character, during the fight, it might play out like Tim struggles to his friend's side to try to help him or defend him while yelling for him to get up ("I'm here, buddy, but you've got to get up!"). At the game table, Robin's player just hands Superboy's player a token or chip representing a Hero Point that Superboy's Player can turn in to remove the DAZED condition.
  • If a PC is in the same scene as any of his Contacts  represented by a Circle in their color, they can use a free Hero Point generated by their Contact. The relationship between PC and Contact is mostly a roleplaying guide for how the NPC will deal with the PC and in case the relationship ever progrsses to full on  Ally (see below).
  • Allies, represented by the colored Diamonds, are the most important part of this equation and will likely generate the most Hero Points for the PCs. An Ally is a real friend or lover or family member- someone very important to the PC so interacting with them will ALWAYS end up in Hero Point accrual or adventure plot. Clark Kent hiding his identity from Lois (before they were married in pre-DCnu) when he needs to get away to save the day = Hero Point. You get the idea. But more importantly, these NPC's will really go to bat for you. When Lex Luthor's media outlets blasted Superman as an alien menace, it was Lois Lane's articles for the Daily Planet that defied Luthor's accusations. However, Lois was also the most kidnapped character in Superman comics ever.. so it's a 2-way street.. but it's the Gamemaster's job to work that street. Unlike Contacts that should have a somewhat glossed-over contact with the PC, interacting with Allies should feel very rewarding from a ROLE playing standpoint.
Advancement of relationships is a very real possibility.And there are a few ways to spend your hard earned Power Points (the measure of experience and growth in Mutants and Masterminds) to cultivate your relationship list:
  • If a player spends 1 Power Point, they can draw a line from any of their Contacts or Allies to any other NPC on the relationship map. They then write in that line to explain the relationship between the two NPCs.
  • If a player spends 2 Power Points, any NPC connected to one of the that PC's Allies or Contacts can become a Contact of that PC by making a circle around that NPC in the color denoted for that PC and drawing a line to the PC with an explanation of their new relationship.
  • If a player spends 4 Power Points, they can create a new Contact. They then draw a circle for with the name of the new Contact in it and draw a line back to their character, listing the nature of the relationship between the PC and the Contact on that line.
  • If a player spends 5 Power Points, one of a PC's Contacts that the PC interacted with this game session can be upgraded to an Ally.
So there you go.. That's my hack for Smallville Relationship Mapping in MnM. It works nicely and the free flow of  Hero Points makes me feel a little less bad when I make the bad guys a power level or two higher than the heroes.. just to even it out..  hehe.