Fresh Start For A New Year

Posted: January 11, 2018 by pointyman2000 in Roleplaying Games

Happy New Year Everyone!

2018 is off to a promising start on my end, with my eyes set on several of Modiphius’ 2d20 games starting with Conan, and quite possibly Star Trek Adventures and the upcoming John Carter of Mars RPGs on my plate this year. Add that to a new edition of L5R and I’m a pretty happy gamer right now.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the way things are going. With a lot of attention going towards Fate and PbtA games I’m glad to still be able to retain my corner of the gaming space with my medium to high crunch games with sophisticated, large time investment settings.

There was a time last year when I thought that switching to lighter systems would be a good thing for someone with my workload and stress levels, but it was in the midst of studying them that I realized that it wasn’t working for me. Nothing wrong about them, to be fair, but it was just not my flavor.

Learning about and exploring the spaces of a well defined setting is one of those sources of fun that I didn’t know I drew pleasure from, and probably explains why I delighted in games like L5R.

This year I’m hoping to be able to put more time and effort into the blog and get back into the thick of things with reviews, Let’s Study series and maybe some GMing tips again.

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“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.”
― Robert Jordan

The benefit of being old is that sometimes you get to the point where you can reevaluate your history, and go back to the beginning and improve on it.

For me, the beginning of my drive to improve as a GM began with Mage: the Ascension (Revised Edition). And now, in 2018, the world has evolved so much from when I started with M:tA back in 1999 that it feels like a good time to come back to it.

Thankfully I backed the 20th Anniversary Edition of Mage: the Ascension, and I have a complete (if intimidating) tome of everything that’s worth knowing and coming back to.

Whose side are you on?

Now that I’m looking at Mage: the Ascension from the point of view of a husband, a father and a productive member of society, it’s easy to figure out where I can kick off a campaign: the Technocracy.

Don’t get me wrong, stories of the Traditions are still near and dear to me, but in this current point in time, I think the Technocracy has a lot of stories to tell in the games I can run for my group.

What do you believe in?

The central question of the game doesn’t change, except now you’re taking the point of view of the stewards of balance and stability. Innovation and such is all well and good, but in the end, humanity as a whole must benefit.

Given the number of interesting alternative viewpoints that have been given a voice and a community with the invention of the internet and smartphones, the Technocracy is suddenly awash with all sorts of problems. Diseases once thought all but eradicated are back in full force, dangerous ideologies flourish in communities that are geared towards incubating them, and ignorance has become a far more destructive force on the planet than it ever was.

We’re living in a world where everything has finally become political, and lines of battle are drawn and redrawn over rapidly mutating ideologies that fracture and fork into new strains, each with their own prophets and zealots each convinced to be superior to everyone else.

In my mind as a GM, there’s no better time to sit down with a group of players who are willing to dig into the heart of such ideologies and pick them apart and examine them than now. And I can only trust one game to make it possible.


So I just picked up a copy of City of Mists from DriveThruRPG at the recommendation of Obskures over in Twitter.

Having had a chance to read over it, I realized that it was actually near-perfect for a Persona RPG. This is probably the laziest way to run a Persona game ever given that there was no need to come up with extra mechanics, just slot in your favorite powers and run!

Check out the crew and setting details and a sample persona user below!

Crew Type: The Gang

You’re more than just investigation partners: you’re friends. Whether you are high-school friends, university chums, elderly home roommates, or just hanging out together, you’ve known each other for a while and possibly even helped each other go through your awakenings. It seems whenever you hang out together, strange things start happening around you, things that are connected to your own personal questions. Can you help those around you restore the peace while solving the mysteries of your own Mythoi? You may not have fancy headquarters, a great deal of resources, or the slightest clue what you are doing, but hey – you have each other!

Series focus: the relationships within the crew Characters: students, teachers, or other City residents who are friends, classmates, roommates, or family members

Possible cases: investigating bizarre incidents within your social circle (e.g., school, apartment block) that at first seem insignificant, tackling others within your social circle who use their Mythos powers immorally or against you, discovering that one or all of you are of special interest to some big players in the City – and dealing with it

The Setting:  THE DREARY PRESENT

Your story is a noir-inspired detective story set nowadays. All the challenges of the world as you know it are included: an overcrowded city, growing social alienation to the point of mass psychosis, unchecked consumerism. The ghost dimension of the Internet is superimposed on all aspects of life (although it may not be a focus of your series). People live in an almost impenetrable bubble of distraction, giving the Mist a whole new interpretation.

Sample Persona User

Ulala Serizawa (and her Persona: Callisto)
Mythos:  Callisto
Logos: Traumatized and Angry Working Girl

Mythos Themes: Bastion, Expression
Logos Themes: Defining Event, Training

BASTION: “Broken but Unbowed”
Power Tags: Impressive Resilience, Interposed Block, Hunker Down
Weakness Tags: “I can’t protect them all!”

EXPRESSION: “Heart of Stone”
Power Tags: Stone Projectiles, Affects Concrete, Concrete Barrier
Weakness Tags: Severe Colateral Damage

DEFINING EVENT: “Never Again”
Power Tags: Filled with Rage, Horoscopes, Roommate: Maya
Weakness Tags: Emotional Scarring

TRAINING: “The Sweet Science”
Power Tags: Boxing, Mean Right Hook, Boxing Gloves
Weakness Tags: Exposed after Right Hook


Predation’s character creation follows the now-familiar Cypher formula of “I’m an adjective noun who verbs.”

Character Types

In Predation, the players choose from four setting-specific character types:

  • Karn – These are the ultimate warriors of the setting, that go well with aggressive companions
  • Tec – Scientists and inventors, the tec are the ones who build machines and conduct research. Their companions tend to utilitarian or serve as extra muscle to keep them safe.
  • Pteryx – Are the explorers and wanderers that track and trick their targets. Their companions often are chosen to help scout terrain or move in and out of places quietly and quickly.
  • Osteon – The lorekeepers and performers are the social characters of the setting, and have dinosaur companions that serve as bodyguards

Descriptors

This serves as the “Adjective” of the formula, and aside from the descriptors of the Cypher System Rulebook, Predation has a list of several new ones. Each descriptor grants a host of things for the character, including a bonus to a character’s stats, a few abilities, skills and a few drawbacks (“inabilities”) and an initial link to the starting adventure to choose from.

Foci

The “Verb” of the formula is taken up by picking a Foci for the character. Much like the Descriptors, Foci also grants a connection with the team, as well as abilities per Tier for the character.

Companions

If there’s something about Predation that really sells it, it would be the fact that all the characters begin with a dinosaur companion.

Picking out a companion is as straightforward as character creation, along with starting statistics, the players also choose the companion’s type, background and disposition.

Playing Companions

Another interesting gimmick is that rather than playing both your character and your character’s companion, the responsibility for playing the companion dinosaur is given to a different player.

This leads to an interesting dynamic where the companion player gets to add an aspect of unpredictability to a situation. That said, there’s still an interaction roll made where a character can tell their companion what to do. It’s up to the companion’s player to actually decide how it goes about it though.

Companions can be taken from various categories, such as Tyrannosaurs, Raptors, Ornithomimids, Ceratopsians & Ankylosaurs, Pterosaurs and even Early Mammals!

Overall, character creation and companion creation in Predation follows the same complexity of Cypher System. I’m a little iffy with regards to the names, but all the Cypher games tend to have funky naming systems for their character Types.

The addition of companions effectively doubles the number of Player Characters in a game, so it might get confusing. But that’s not a fault of the system and I expect that it’ll get easier with play.

Next up, we’ll be taking a look at the setting of Predation and see just how much trouble characters can get into!

If you’d like to follow along or get your own copy, Predation is available in PDF format in DriveThruRPG for only $17.99


Last weekend, I was able to round up a bunch of L5R players from my local gaming community’s massive 30-player “Living” Rokugan 4e campaign to sit down and take 5e for a spin.

The session was broken down into character creation, and the opening sections of the beta document’s free Adventure: A Ronin’s Path. If it isn’t clear by now, consider this a SPOILER WARNING for those who might end up playing this adventure.

Character Creation

Character Creation took about 2 hours overall, given the amount of reading and questions we had as the team had mostly not had a chance to really dig into the 5e beta rules yet. That said we were able to put together a crew of Emerald Magistrates consisting of:

  • Shosuro Infiltrator
  • Ikoma Bard
  • Akodo Commander
  • Togashi Tattooed Man
  • Shinjo Outrider

Prelude:

When I pitched the adventure, I told the team that they’d be Emerald Magistrates, and as such will have to put their inter-clan bickering aside for fighting crime. That was generally okay with them, given that they’ve been playing 3 months worth of crazy inter-clan politicking with the occasional duel.

Observation:

Of course, when I read out the opening text and the players insisted to join the Magistrate for the chase after the Mahou-Tsukai, the boxed response was so awful that the players were all, “Holy cow. Alrighty then, you go enjoy getting tainted on your own!”

I suspect having a different response will have softened that particular moment. Something along the lines of:

“Your devotion is appreciated, but both criminals must be caught, and Michiru is a dangerous quarry. I am off to meet with a second team to handle her. However, her accomplice may know more information crucial to this investigation. As such, I entrust this duty to you. Do not fail me.” 

In any case, the team went on to check to see if they had missed any clues. This was where the game lets players do a low-risk series of investigation rolls in order to get a hang of the dice rolling and basic resolution system.

Observations:

Of course the first thing that the team questioned is why would someone with a functioning establishment like the inn allow for a room to be left untouched for 2 weeks?

It was another moment which shook the players out of their suspension of disbelief, but they soldiered on. Here I had some difficulty pinning which Ring corresponds to a player’s approach, and for some players, they defaulted to saying “I investigate it with Earth” as opposed to giving a narrative description of what their character did, leaving it up to me to come up with how it’s done.

Clearly that’s not how it’s meant to work

We pinned it down as something that was influenced by the Character sheet. The column of boxes next to skills tended to influence players to express their approach in the game space by use of the Rings. I found myself either falling into the habit of retroactively describing their actions to accommodate the Ring somehow which added more mental load to me as a GM. I believe the intent was to relay everything narratively, then check to see which Approach matches.

The investigation itself was pretty straightforward, and my players felt a little silly afterwards after realising that there was nothing much left to find aside from the detail about how the characters were positioned during the time of the murder. With that, the team raced South towards the Kaiu Wall.

Part 1: To the Third Watchtower

The team made their way towards the Kaiu Wall, dreading what was going to happen given that the Ronin they were after had a three week lead on them. When they arrived, the reveal that the Ronin was now a Crab Samurai was not quite a big surprise but it was a welcome complication as it was the first real twist they’d encountered so far.

They made their inquiries and tried to take a softer approach rather than  making a direct accusation. I decided to have the former Ronin challenge them to a duel to first blood, and they nominated their Akodo Commander to be their champion. The match was an interesting one, where the Ronin was clearly winning, but at a crucial moment a counter-strike by the Akodo Commander left him bleeding out on the ground.

Observations:

First off, it seems first blood basically means leaving your opponent dying but not dead as opposed to being the first to draw blood. This changed the dynamic of it, but the mechanics, which I’ll go over in another time and a different post.

That said, it took a bit of time before we were able to resolve the duel. Unlike in the original system where everything was decided in a single strike, this one is more like a Chambara duel with circling, stance changes, several strikes and then that one deciding moment when someone dies.

I liked how the Stances worked, how there were sub-actions that could be made to either improve your TN to be hit and to deal damage to the opponent. It was essentially a combat system of it’s own. Iaijutsu had a lot of spotlight in the previous edition, but now you had all sorts of duels, and it’s possible to have a Crab with a tetsubo face off with some Daidoji with a yari and still have it count as a duel.

That said, getting there was tough. Mechanically we didn’t exactly know what we were doing, and for most of the match, the Akodo was slowly losing Wounds from all the strikes that the Ronin was using. Unfortunately, the Ronin suffered an Outburst first, triggering a Finishing Blow from the Akodo, and leaving the Ronin dying on the floor.


This was where we left off. There’s a second part to this adventure but I needed time to study the rest of the Mass Combat system before I proceeded with it.

In the meantime, here’s a list of issues that the team noted from their experiences so far:

Character Creation

  • Layout concern, flipping back and forth during character creation
  • Font for Headers is difficult to read.
  • Starting Experience: 24 experience at the start of the adventure. Is this part of character creation? Game needs more means to customise a build after the lifepath. 24 exp feels about right but we need further playtesting to find out.

System

  • Shugenja starts only with 2 spells, feels a bit underpowered compared to the old 6 spell spread of the old game.
  • Spell Spamming is possible, and the Backlash is abusable by a creative Shugenja. Is this intentional?
  • Kiho feels a lot like Elemental Bending from Avatar: the Last Airbender
  • Skill advancement feels very restricting, is there an option to make generic exp purchases that count towards the advancement?
  • Ring Guide up front feels confusing because it limits people to approaches. While it wasn’t the intent, players suddenly consider only those approaches. Perhaps it would be best to hide that chart and give that to the GMs instead?
  • Rings allow for flexibility, feels much more liberating.