Archive for the ‘Let's Study’ Category


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Today we’re taking a look at the Technology and Equipment Chapter for Star Trek Adventures.

Introduction

The chapter opens with a quick introduction to the nature of technology in the Star Trek universe, with a nod to the fact that many common items can be replicated, allowing for ordinary items to take the form of an Advantage. These Advantages allow for the owner to attempt Tasks that normally wouldn’t be possible without the right tools.

This means then that there aren’t any specific rules for a particular tool. If a tool is meant to enable a character to do action X, then if they have the Advantage representing that equipment, then they should be able to do so.

Obtaining Equipment

Most of the time, characters are assumed to either have their equipment on-hand, such as the items that they start play with, or will spend some minor effort to get the equipment out from storage.

For more urgent, time-sensitive acquisitions, the character must spend Momentum  to obtain it in time. This is regarded as an Opportunity Cost. Certain items have an Opportunity Cost, which denotes how much Momentum must be spent to acquire the item. Like in most cases, Players may also opt to add Threat to pay for the Momentum Cost instead.

Now, some items, like weapons, destructive equipment, or anything else that signifies aggression or preparation for battle, could have an additional or different cost. Called an Escalation Cost, it is paid by adding Threat, to represent that the situation is about to go dangerous.

When obtaining multiple copies of an item, Opportunity Costs must be paid per item, but Escalation Costs are only paid once.

Innovation

When utilizing technology, one cannot overlook that a skilled Engineer confronted with a problem can find ways to make technology do something more than it was intended to do. This calls for the Innovation mechanics.

Innovation calls for three steps: Design, Development, and Prototype.

Design

The first step to any innovation is for the characters to determine what they want to achieve. Once the character have a clear idea of what they’d like to do, they need to define a way by which they will use technology to achieve that purpose, and what technology they’ll use as a basis for their innovation.

An example of this is perhaps to plan to short out an enemy ship’s communications from the inside by jury-rigging an EMP device out of a Phaser rifle’s energy source.

Development

The GM then determines the cost of this innovation, these usually come from Time, Materials, Personnel and Location.  Once these are accounted for, the characters then create a schematic for the innovation. This is an Engineering Discipline Task, and will use the Succeed at Cost rule.

The GM takes note of any Complications that occur, but does not need to define them at this step.

Prototype

The final stage of innovation calls for the use of the Prototype. The Prototype serves as two Advantages for whatever purpose the device was created for. Of course, prototypes are hardly perfect, and the GM then reveals the drawbacks of the Prototype, based on the number of Complications generated in the Development phase.

These include:

  • Extremely large and bulky – Requires a Task to get into position
  • Massive power requirements – May need to be hooked up to a major power supply, diverting energy from other important systems
  • Distinctive energy signature – The output produces an easy to detect signature that can call attention to the use of the device
  • Burn out – The device is only usable a certain number of times
  • Mutually Exclusive – The innovation alters the base technology so much that the original functions of the underlying technology is not usable without effort in putting it back together the way it was.

Advanced and Primitive Technology

In their travels, it would not be unusual for members of Starfleet to encounter different levels of technology. Unfamiliarity with a different level of technology usually manifests as either a bigger Complication Range when using it, or limiting the scope of the Advantage that the device would normally provide.

Weapons and Gear

Weapons in Star Trek Adventures have the following stats:

  • Type – Melee or Ranged
  • Damage Rating  – A number of [CD] rolled, and one or more Damage Effects that trigger when an Effect is rolled. All weapons gain additional [CD] to their damage rating equal to the Security discipline of the character(!)
  • Size – Weapons will either be one-handed or two-handed. Two-handed weapons can still be used in one hand to make an attack but the Difficulty increases by 1.
  • Qualities – These are additional rules that provide restrictions or benefits that apply to the weapon’s use.

Damage Effects and Weapon Qualities

Star Trek Adventures has the following Damage Effects and Weapon Qualities

Damage Effects:

  • Area – The attack affects a wider area
  • Intense – The attack is designed to inflict massive harm, the cost to Avoid an Injury is increased by 1 per Effect rolled
  • Knockdown – The target is knocked prone, this can be resisted by adding Threat equal to the number of Effects rolled
  • Piercing X – The attack ignores X points of Resistance for each Effect rolled
  • Vicious X – The attack deals X points of additional damage for each Effect rolled

Qualities:

  • Accurate – Aiming allows for this weapon to reroll all their d20’s instead of just 1.
  • Charge – If a character performs a Prepare Minor Action before attacking, they may add one of the following to the attack: Area, Intense, Piercing 2 or Vicious 1
  • Cumbersome – The weapon cannot be used to attack unless a Prepare Minor Action is performed in the same turn.
  • Deadly – The weapon is designed to be lethal, any attempts to make a non-lethal attack increases the Difficulty by 1.
  • Debilitating – Medicine Tasks to perform First Aid on characters Injured by this weapon or to heal Injuries caused by this weapon increase in Difficulty by 1.
  • Grenade – The weapon is a throwable explosive or device. This cannot be used to attack enemies in Long or Extreme ranges. Grenade weapons are assumed to have enough grenades to make three attacks with them per scene.
  • Hidden X – The weapon is easy to conceal, and any search of the character requires a Difficulty X Insight + Security, or Reason + Security Task to find it.
  • Inaccurate – The character gains no benefit from the Aim Minor Action when attacking with this weapon.
  • Non-lethal – The weapon is debilitating rather than deadly. Attempts to make lethal attacks with this weapon have the Difficulty increased by 1.

Armor

Armor in Star Trek Adventures is fairly straightforward, and bestows a static Resistance value to be used against damage rolls.

Equipment

The chapter concludes with a quick description of a whole host of various items common to the Star Trek universe ranging from the ever-present Tricorder to the more exotic Artificial Sensory Organs like Geordi La Forge’s VISOR. These count as Advantages and each entry has an accompanying Opportunity Cost.

Add another subsystem! This time to the benefit of the Engineers of the crew. Innovation is a cute system though and I do like how it ties in well with the Science subsystem in Star Trek Adventures.

I have to say that despite the heavier-than-usual mechanical considerations in the game, I’m actually quite impressed at how many ways they’ve thought to engage players of different types. Given that combat isn’t the first order of business in a Star Trek game, it’s imperative that you find ways to gamify actions that would otherwise be reduced to a single roll in most other settings. That way, everyone, regardless of character type has something they can engage in and feel like they’re able to contribute even if doesn’t involve maiming the opponent.

Next up, we’ll be looking at one of the most important aspects of the game: Starships and Starship rules for combat!


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After two very long entries, we’ll be taking a brief look at the next chapter: Strange New Worlds, which discusses the various strange encounters that a member of Starfleet can expect to run into in their voyages.

Strange New Worlds

The first section discusses the various planets and environments that the explorers of Starfleet can find themselves dealing with. This section opens with a rundown of the various Standard Planetary Types, from Class D “relatively small, airless moons and asteroid that are essentially barren balls of rock” to Class Y demon planets “noted for dense, toxic, highly corrosive atmospheres, surface temperatures that exceed 200C and periodic thermionic radiation discharges.”

It’s a great catalog of the different kinds of worlds to explore and is a quick reference for a GM looking for ideas to spruce up their player’s next leg of their voyage.

Alien Encounters

This section talks about the dangers of different creatures that can be encountered and the threats they represent, ranging form large, aggressive creatures to the dangers of unseen parasitic life forms that can wreak havoc on a crew.

Stellar Phenomena

This section tackles the various “space weather” encounters that can complicate a voyage. Ranging from Nebulae, Radiation Storms, Gravitational Distortions and Black Holes there’s plenty here to keep a crew on her feet to make sure that they safely make it to their destination.

Scientific Discoveries and Developments

This section introduces a Research & Development subsystem to the mechanics that come into play when working on tweaking tech as well coming up with new theories and ideas when encountering strange new phenomena.

Step 1: Observe

When encountering a new phenomena, the characters participating in the effort figure out which of the Disciplines this phenomena falls under. The character with the highest rating in the Discipline will then be denoted as the “Research Lead.”

Step 2: Hypothesize

Players then throw out their ideas on what might be happening. The Research Lead then chooses 3 to 5 of these ideas, which are tagged as Hypotheses, and this is explained to the GM.

The GM then determines if any of the Hypotheses fit the truth. If none of the Hypotheses presented fit the actual problem, then the GM immediately gains a point of Threat, and can tell the players to come up with new Hypotheses.

If the players are onto something, the GM then tells them that they are, but NOT which Hypothesis is correct.

Step 3: Testing

The GM then assigns a number of successes needed to determine if a Hypothesis is correct. This ranges from 1 to 10 depending on the difficulty of the research and the problem. This is also often accompanied with a deadline in terms of how many intervals they can work.

The Research Lead then determines which Hypothesis to pursue, and roll for it, in order to try and reach the target number of successes before they run out of intervals.

If they roll enough, then the GM can tell them if the Hypothesis they’re pursuing is successful, or is clearly the wrong one.

This chapter was pretty utilitarian, plenty of useful information to go around, but the Scientific Discoveries sub-system was interesting. I can see it being very important in a “Space CSI” sort of way, given how Star Trek relies more on puzzles rather than overt force to serve as the source of tension.

It’s also a good nod to the team members who put a lot of effort into being the smarter guys of the team, Science Officers will be very happy to be of use, and utilizing the system is a great way to ensure that they’ll make a Spotlight Milestone.

Next up we’ll be taking a look at the chapter covering Conflict, detailing Social Conflict to Combat and if we have enough time, we’ll send our Andorian Security Chief to do some fighting as well!


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To play Tales From of The Loop, the player characters must take on the role of the kids. Character creation in Tales From The Loop is pretty straightforward, as it was in Mutant Year Zero, and Coriolis, and follows several very quick steps. These are:

Choose your Type

This isn’t a romantic decision, but rather a choice of what Archetype your Kid falls under. For the sake of this article, I’ll try to reconstruct myself from the 80’s.

For my Type, I choose Computer Geek. In doing so, I get the following:

Key Skills: Calculate, Program, Comprehend

In addition, I also make picks for a whole bunch of character-shaping decisions. I’ll just streamline it to the selected items below:

Iconic Item: Computer (Commodore 64)
Problem: The Tough Guys hit me.
Drive: Peer pressure makes me do it.
Pride: When the shit hits the fan, I don’t back down.
Anchor: Science Teacher

In addition to these, there are also choices made to define relationships to the other Kids and to NPCs. Since I’m making this character in a vacuum, I’ll skip those for now.

Choose Age

Choose an age between 10 to 15. Age affects attribute scores and the amount of Luck Points you have. Higher age means you get more attribute scores, but lower Luck, and lower age means you’re more Lucky.

I’ll go with a 12 year old me.

Define Attributes

Kids are defined with four attributes: Body, Tech, Heart and Mind. You get to distribute a number of attribute points equal to your Age to these stats. Starting scores cannot be higher than 5 in any attribute, and each attribute has to have at least a score of 1.

I’ll go for Body 2, Tech 3, Heart 3, Mind 4

Luck Points

Kids start with 15 Luck Points minus their age. This brings my Luck down to just 3 points. Luck Points are spent to re-roll dice.

Skills

Each Attribute has three skills associated with it. The level of a skill ranges from 0 to 5, and corresponds to how many dice you roll when you try to overcome Trouble in addition to the dice from your attribute. We get to spend 10 points among skills. For character creation, you may take up to 3 levels in the three key skills of your Type. For everything else, the maximum is 1.

Given my Type as Computer Geek, that means that my skills look something like:

Sneak 1 (BODY)
Move 1 (BODY)
Program 2 (TECH)
Calculate 2 (TECH)
Charm 1 (HEART)
Investigate 1 (MIND)
Comprehend 2 (MIND)

Problem

Problems are essentially built-in plot hooks to signal the GM that there are stories around that particular concern that the player would like to play through.

Drive

Drives are the reasons why these Kids go out to solve Mysteries.

Pride

Prides are means to further help the player get into the shoes of the Kid they’re playing. In-game they can be used as a carrot or a stick to get the player into a mystery or into doing something that feels reckless!

Relationships

These define how the Kid gets along with other people in his life.

Anchor

Anchors are special people that help the Kid get over any Conditions that they may have suffered from their misadventures.

Conditions range from Upset to Scared, Exhausted, Injured to Broken. Failure, frustration, fear and other emotional or physical trauma can result in Conditions, resulting in penalties to your rolls or your Kids inability to participate further in the Mysteries.

By spending time with their Anchors, the Kid can bounce back from their conditions.

Favorite Song

This is more for flavor than anything else, but we also get to pick a favorite song from the 80’s. For this Kid, let’s go with “The Reflex” by Duran Duran.

Hideout

In a neat bit, the group is encouraged to put together their Hideout. This is a sacred space where only the Kids are aware of it. This is where they can decompress, recover from their Conditions and build bonds. Trouble doesn’t normally find them there.

I really should have been more prepared to be this impressed with character creation, given that Mutant Year: Zero blew me away when I first reviewed it too, but here we are!

Tales From The Loop’s character creation is incredibly easy from a mechanics standpoint, but serves as an excellent gateway to learning to get into character. By focusing your efforts on choosing aspects of a character’s personality, motivation and weaknesses, you take the decision making away from questions of “What will make an optimal point spreads?” to “Who do I want to play?” And that deserves a round of applause.

If you’d like to follow along or get your own copy of Tales From the Loop, you can grab the PDF over at DriveThruRPG for only $24.99

If you’d like to support me in making more Let’s Study Review series, then please consider contributing to my Patreon


Hot on the heels of the recently concluded Let’s Study: Symbaroum series, I’m striking while the iron is hot by kicking off a series on one of 2017’s most talked about releases, “Tales from the Loop” by Modiphius and Fria Ligan.

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Inspired by the Scifi artist Simon Stålenhag’s paintings of Swedish 1980s suburbia, populated by fantastic machines and strange beasts, Tales From the Loop channels ET and Stranger Things, where kids of an era without the internet have to deal with high strangeness in their neighborhood.

The game is powered by the same system as Mutant: Year Zero and Coriolis, so I don’t expect a lot of new ground mechanically, but I’m looking forward to how the game is able to convey this particularly specific sort of mood. As a child of the 80’s this is a bit near and dear to my heart but I’ve got a lot of faith in the Fria Ligan guys.

To that effect, let’s take a look at the principles of the loop:

  1. Your home town is full of strange and fantastic things

    As a kid, your home town is huge, and at times unknowable. Being a game driven by mystery, Tales From the Loop assumes that any home town is a fertile bed for all sorts of strangeness just waiting for some nosy kids to discover them.

  2. Everyday life is dull and unforgiving

    There’s a certain ennui in the everyday life of a kid in Tales From the Loop, and it’s this very reason why Mysteries are so compelling. While homework and chores occupy your waking moments, there’s always the promise of escape to something exciting when a Mystery comes calling.

  3. Adults are out of reach and out of touch

    Adults in Tales From the Loop are powerful, but distant. They don’t really understand kids, nor do they take the kids seriously when the kids talk about Mysteries. They can be of help, but few adults will ever really be allies.

  4. The land of the Loop is dangerous, but kids do not die

    This was something I was wondering about in the game, but I’m glad they called it out. Kids get hurt, locked up, heartbroken and otherwise punished, but they’re never going to die in this game.

  5. The game is played scene by scene

    Tales From the Loop is more cinematic in the sense that it’s played scene by scene. The Game Master is in charge of setting up a scene, and the players play through the important parts of the story. They also get to skip ahead the boring parts to keep the focus on the tale being told.

  6. The world is described collaboratively

    Everyone gets a say in describing the world. The Game Master in Tales From the Loop is encouraged to get the players to add to it by describing details about NPCs, locations and other things that could be spun off into Mysteries of their own.

Given what I know about Mutant: Year Zero and Coriolis, Tales From the Loop will work hard to make each of these principles ring true. Already it’s got a lot of potential, and while the next chapter discusses the 80’s that never was for Sweden and the USA, there’s plenty to pick up from and use for a game set in a different country.  We’ll tackle those when we get to the next post.

If you’d like to follow along or get your own copy of Tales From the Loop, you can grab the PDF over at DriveThruRPG for only $24.99


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We’re at book 2 of Symbaroum, after having had a chance to absorb a bit about the setting of the game it’s finally time to make our character.

Goals

One of the earliest bits of the Player’s section of the game talks about is having Goals. This is a neat little thing as it ties in nicely to the fact that Symbaroum feels a bit sandbox, and that it relies on the initiative, drive, and determination of the players to make things happen. People don’t just sit on their thumbs all day waiting for a Mysterious Stranger(tm) to walk through the door and declare a need for adventurers after all!

These goals define what it is that a character wants to achieve. A couple of goals suggested by the game include: Restore your family’s honour, become leader of a guild, chapter or an organisation, or take revenge upon a person or creature.

It’s a neat way to tie a character into the setting by giving them stakes right away.

The game also suggests having Goals for the group, just so everyone has a reason to work together. Whether it’s glory, coin or a higher purpose. The game also gives a few examples for these like: Lead a large group of people to safety, establish an organisation together or overthrow a leader.

Goals don’t always have to be epic, it could just very well be the next step in a bigger plan. What matters is that you give your group a direction to go.

Archetypes

Characters come from three archetypal backgrounds: Warrior, Mystic and Rogue. Each of these specialises in a different way of engaging with the world and game-wise it gives everyone a chance to shine.

For today let’s go with a standard Warrior Archetype.

Looking it up I see that there are further options. Among these I choose to go for Sellsword. This suggests that I take the following abilities: Iron Fist, Man-at-arms, Polearm Mastery, Shield Fighter

Attributes

Characters in Symbaroum are defined by their eight Attributes: Accurate, Cunning, Discreet, Persuasive, Quick, Resolute, Strong and Vigilant. In the game, the player rolls a d20 and compares the result with the value of one of the Attribute. If the outcome of the roll is equal to or less than the Attribute, then the test is successful.

There are two ways to generate Attributes in the game: an Array Distribution (with adjustments), and Point Buy. For this example let’s go with the Array where we assign the following values: 5, 7, 9, 10, 10 , 11, 13, 15

Accurate 13
Cunning 5
Discreet 7
Persuasive 10
Quick 11
Resolute 10
Strong 15
Vigilant 9

We’re definitely looking at a beefy guy with more brawn than brain, but does have a way about him that makes him somewhat likeable given his middle of the road Persuasive stat.

From this, we now derive his secondary attributes:

Toughness (= Strong): 15
Pain Threshold (Strong / 2): 8
Defense (Quick -Armor): 11
Corruption Threshold (Resolute / 2) 5

Success Tests

A quick segue into systems. While I mentioned the basic die roll of d20 vs Attribute. However when the roll is opposed by another character, this roll is modified by a value set by the opposing characters’ Defense. If the Defense Attribute is low (like 5) then the roll gets a bonus of +5, while high Defense Attributes like 15 apply a -5 penalty to the roll.

Race

For my character’s Race (and Name) I’m going for a Ambrian Human, which gives me access to either Contacts or Privileged traits.

Looking up the Ambrian Names, I think I’ll go for the male name “Karlio”

Abilities

Starting characters get an option of having two Abilities or Powers at Novice Level, and one at Adept, but also have the option of starting with five abilities at Novice and no Adept level abilities instead.

For Karlio, I’ve decided on taking the standard Two Novice and one Adept

  • Shield Fighter (Novice) – The damage dealt by weapons held in the character’s sword arm is increased by one step; to 1D10 if the character fights with a single-handed weapon or to 1D8 if using a Short wea – pon. The novice Shield Fighter also wields its shield as an instrument of protection with greater efficiency and therefore receives a +2 Defense bonus instead of the usual +1 when using a shield.
  • Recovery (Novice) – Active. With a successful die roll against Resolute, the character regains 1D4 Toughness. Multiple attempts can be made, but only one successful attempt is allowed per day.
  • Man-at-Arms (Novice) – Passive. The character knows how to use its armor for maximum effect, which increases the armor’s Armor tier by one step: light armor protects 1D6, medium armor protects 1D8 and heavy armor protects 1D10.
  • Man at arms (Adept) – Passive. The character is used to wearing armor and can adapt his or hers actions to its limitations. The armor no longer has a negative effect on Quick or abilities based on Quick (including Defense). The Impeding quality of the armor still has a negative effect when using mystical powers.

With this, Karlio is one tough cookie.

Shadow

Every character in Symbaroum has a Shadow (not that shadow, silly, a big “S” Shadow) which represents their spiritual connection to nature or civilisation.  In Karlio’s case, he’s a city boy of moderate standing, so I’m making his Shadow that of Copper, one that could tarnish into a sickly green with Corruption, or a different shade as his connection to Davokar improves.

Equipment

Karlio begins with Medium Armor and a Shield thanks to his Abilities. For a weapon he starts with a sturdy one-handed sword and a dagger.

He also starts with 5 thaler in his purse.

And that’s it! With that Karlio is complete.

Symbaroum’s character creation system is quick and easy, and the Abilities are really fun to look into. There’s a lot of room for character customisation here, and I’m glad that it’s easy to make characters while being able to retain the kind of mood that fits such an atmospheric setting.

Next up we’ll take a look at the Combat mechanics, as we toss Karlio into a fight!

For those interested in checking it out and following along, you can purchase Symbaroum on PDF over at DriveThruRPG for only $18.99