Friday, January 23, 2015

Nefertiti Overdrive Kickstarter -- Take Two

No, you aren't having deja vu (or, it's totally unrelated to this), Nefertiti Overdrive -- the wuxia-style RPG set in ancient egypt by Fraser Ronald over at Swords Edge Publishing -- is back on the Kickstarters. I talked about its previous Kickstarter attempt in March of last year and, while it didn't fund then, it is (as of this writing) on the verge of funding, with a little over two weeks left.

I talked about the project some in the previous article and, while I can't tell what might have changed, if anything, with the game since, the Kickstarter project has certainly received a nice face-lift, among other things.

First up, the information presented on the project page is more concise and streamlined -- there's less "wall of text" for the important gaming bits. The video is basic, but provides all the information you need. And there are some nice images that really help convey what the book is about.

The pledge tiers haven't really changed all that much, which is fine -- they are reasonably priced and should have something for everyone interested. The big change was a drop in the funding goal -- from CAD$5,000 to CAD$3,000. That change, along with the improved project page (and likely plenty of other things "behind the scenes") have really put this project on the right track for funding.

Enough waxing on the Kickstarter page's elements, is this Kickstarter for you? If you like tabletop gaming, Ancient Egypt as a setting, and old martial arts films -- then it's quite possible this Kickstarter is for you. The best way to truly find out is by downloading the quick start rules (that are free) from one of the links in the "About this project" section of the Kickstart page. [At the time of posting, the project was 90% funded.]

Apart from the Kickstarter page, you can also find more information on Nefertiti Overdrive over on Swords Edge Publishing's website.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Player-Defined Powers In Classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG

One of the more forward thinking ideas of the Classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG from TSR was the idea of player/GM-defined powers and talents. Ostensibly an aid for adapting characters from the comics into the game, there's nothing saying that you can't have this as a regular option for your games, if you so desire.

We will be using the little known Revised Basic Rules as the basic for our upcoming Classic Marvel campaign, so any page references that I make will be to that book.

In the character creation section (pg. 47) there is a Power Categories Table that is used to determine the types of powers that your character can have. Instead of using that table, substitute this one instead:

Dice Roll
Power Category
Sensory Powers
Movement Powers
Matter Control Powers
Energy Control Powers
Body Control Powers
Ranged Attack Powers
Mental Powers
Body Alterations/Offense
Body Alterations/Defense

The change is fairly minor (adding one line at the end for Player-Defined Powers. The idea is that this is for the rare and exotic powers in your world, the ones that aren't as "generic" as some of the other powers may be. Obviously this will entail an added level of oversight because you will end up with players who want to create an "I DESTROY EVERYONE" power, or something similar.

One of the built-in controls for these player-defined powers is that fact that all powers in the Classic Marvel game have a ranking that controls what they can do. Even if you allow the I DESTROY EVERYONE power in a game, when the character's rank in it is only Good that will act as its own limitation on the power.

However, for those who want to think outside of the box, player-defined powers can help with that. Imagine wanting a character like Kay Challis, Crazy Jane of DC Comic's Doom Patrol revamp of the 80s. Mapping out 64 power sets would be a lot of work, and it would probably be beyond the scope of the Marvel game's character creation rules. She is, however, obviously a starting character. Really, we never see her entire power set demonstrated during the run of the comic...and we don't actually see many of the powers manifest in the beginning. Would a player-defined power be a way to go with this character? Maybe.

With apologies to Jay Z, you could name this power "I Have 64 Personalities And All Of Them Have Powers." Yes, there will be a little book keeping involved in this.

One thing that we can build into a player-defined power now is the idea of spending Karma, one of the game's character resources, for player-defined powers. While this is a common idea nowadays in systems like Fate or Icons, the idea wasn't as commonplace back when this system was created.

The idea being that, particularly with a power like that of Crazy Jane's Crazy-Janeness, having less defined up front costs you a little bit more when you go to actually utilize a power. This idea does fit in with the idea of "pay now or pay later" with the Karma system for the Classic Marvel game. As a GM, if someone in our campaign were to suggest creating this character using a player-defined power, this is a way that we could do it.

I would suggest an activation cost to the power. If you look back at the comics (which I did recently, when I got the Doom Patrol Omnibus for Christmas), you'll see that the character's powers are unreliable and can cut out at times. It would probably cost 10 or 20 Karma to activate the power. It is important to make the cost enough to have some weight (i.e. charging 1 or 5 points really isn't going to give much difficulty to the power), but not so much of a charge that the power becomes useless. The idea is to turn the power into a resource that has an impact on the play of the game. When the player uses Crazy Jane's powers, big stuff happens and bad guys can get taken out. You don't want to make this something that happens to easily, or that can't happen enough. An expenditure of 20 Karma can make a big deal, if it means that those 20 Karma cannot be used later in a game for influencing a dice roll.

Randomness can be your friend. Another option for making a power like that of Crazy Jane's would be to add a random element to it. Using powers that the character has previously used is no problem, and just has the activation cost, but when you go to use a new power you roll for it randomly. Once the power is rolled, it is fixed. This gives you 64 "slots" for Crazy Jane to fill up through play, and each time the player decides that it is time for a new personality with a new power to surface they roll on the Power Categories Table and roll through the sub-tables to determine the power. This roll uses the Power Categories Table from the book, however, because nesting player-defined powers could turn into a headache for everyone involved.

Yes, this does make for a bit of work on the part of the player who wanted this power for their character, but this extra work can be considered to be a part of the checks and balances of the system. Rolling on a couple of tables won't take up that much table time, and it gives an opportunity for group-wide fun as you get to mock the "Matter-Eater Lad" rolls.

Now, creating a character like Crazy Jane is obviously extreme, but it is always a possibility in a super-hero game. Super-hero games are often, by their nature, very gonzo and player-defined powers can feed into that gonzo-ness. You can also have less extreme versions of this power. My Matter-Eater Lad example in the previous paragraph could be a player-defined power. Write it like "Alien Physiology Allows Him To Eat And Digest Anything." The ranking for the power could determine how long it takes the character to digest things, or to chew them. It can be as simple as that.

Yes, Matter-Eater Lad was a real super-hero.

Another good use for player-defined powers can also be in the use of creating alien/extradimensional species. When alien species have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal beings, like a Kryptonian, you can turn those into a super-power. Does your Kryptonian have a low rank in their "nature"? Perhaps this means that there is some interspecies breeding in their past ("Oh, your grandmother was from Earth?") which means that the powers aren't quite as potent in your character. When doing this you have to predetermine what exactly the "power set" for the alien species would be. Are they tougher than usual? The power rank can be used as an armor against damage. Are they smarter than usual? Substitute the power rank for their Reason in certain situations. There are a lot of ways that you can use this as a power for your character, it just requires thinking creatively.

Player-defined Talents can be even simpler. There are always "talents" that characters can have that are outside of those listed. Computers, Technology and Media have changed dramatically since the Classic Marvel RPG was published. Now, talents like "Twitter Muck-Raker," "Blogger" and "Social Media Guru" are just as viable media talents as Journalist was in the original game. Try to not think of the list of talents available in the original game as the be all of what is available to your character. There are always skills and occupations that game designers won't think about when making a game.

Any of these player-defined parts to a character can have an impact upon both the viability of the character, and their impact upon a campaign. You really want to try to curtail characters that take too much of the spotlight away from other characters. GMs shouldn't just say no to an element that a player wants to add to a campaign through their powers, but everyone should talk it out in order to come to a player-defined power that does what the player wants without bending things for the rest of the group.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Here Comes The Twister -- Detail In Setting Up Your New Campaign

There is a fine line to walk when starting up a new campaign. You want to give the players the idea of the world to come, without overloading on the details in such a way that you don't take all of the potential fun out of the game. Much like with players who come up with overly detailed backstories for their characters that have more awesomenss than the combination of five action movies, putting too much detail into your campaign world before you play can kill the world just as dead.

With the new year, our group is starting a new game. This is all my fault, I didn't really have fun with the last game. At the heart of things, I am probably a bad gamer because I really don't like playing D&D. So, that means that we needed something that would be as much fun for me as the GM as it was for the players (hopefully). This means that we going to stretch back to a different kind of old school for our next game: classic Marvel Super-Heroes (the original TSR game).

We aren't playing in any version of the Marvel Universe, however. All new, all original, all fun. I am taking a page from +Ross Payton's excellent Fate-based Base Raiders RPG and wiping the slate clean on the setting. You know those big events that plague comics? The last time one of those things happened in our world almost all of the heroes and villains disappeared. Poof. I also like the idea of hidden bases of the disappeared heroes and villains being left behind as a spark for new generations of heroes and villains. A super-hero dungeon crawl RPG. Who would have thought? Even if you don't use Fate in your games, there is plenty of good stuff to find in Payton's game. It sparked the basic ideas for our game in my head, so it should be able to give you plenty of good ideas too. It is good to look beyond the same old when looking for inspirations.

The other inspiration would be +Zak Smith's A Red & Pleasant Land. Yes, the D&D supplement/setting. If you haven't heard about this yet, well...I don't know what to tell you. I've already talked about this a little bit in my previous post converting Smith's Alice class from that book into a new Marvel Super-Heroes origin called The Fool. I know that +solange simondsen, one of the players in our group, is already excited about the opportunity to play Alice as a super-hero. So many other fictional characters have become super-heroes or villains, so it is probably Alice's turn.

Unintentionally, both of these posts about our upcoming campaign have referenced Talking Heads songs in their titles. Hopefully I will remember that for future posts.

Now, you're probably wondering why I would be referencing tornadoes in the name of a post about a game set in a alternate version of Wonderland. As I have said over on G+, as much as I have been a fan of Carrol's Alice stories, I was always a much bigger fan of L. Frank Baum's Oz stuff. So, because of that I want to bring an Oz into our world. Much like Smith's Voivodja is a twisted version of Wonderland, our Oz will be twisted like taffy in a cyclone.

Where Voivodja is in the thrall of vampires, Oz finds itself under the domination of the witches. Whether you're a good witch or a bad one, ultimately the seductive pull of dark magic get to you and warp you in chaotic ways. No matter how much you think that you are using magic, it will ultimately use you instead. There are great shadows that reach across the worlds, a conflict that grinds everything beneath its heel.

These worlds were once much more innocent, even in their evils, but now the lights are a little less bright, and the shadows seem to be even heavier.

If you've never seen Susperia you should be ashamed of yourself. Luckily, someone has solved that on YouTube for you.

From the Susperia Wikipedia page:
Suspiria (Latin for "sighs") is a 1977 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento, co-written by Argento and Daria Nicolodi, and co-produced by Claudio and Salvatore Argento. The film stars Jessica Harper as an American ballet student who transfers to a prestigious dance academy in Germany. Later, she would realize that the academy is a front for something far more sinister and supernatural amidst a series of murders. The film also features Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosè, Alida Valli, Udo Kier, and Joan Bennett in her final film role. 

I like the classic Italian horror movies of the 70s because of the psychedelic, hallucinatory way in which they were made. I think that the tone of Satanic witchcraft would fit well into the outlines of the world that I am envisioning.

I really wanted to embed a link to Jess Franco's psychedelic vampire movie, Vampyros Lesbos, because I want to use that to inform my take on the vampires in our campaign. Based (very loosely) on the Bram Stoker short story "Dracula's Guest," this movie does for vampires what Suspiria does for witches. However, the one thing that sets Vampyros Lesbos apart really is the incredible soundtrack.

It should probably go without saying that neither or these videos are work safe.

None of this is sounding like your standard super-hero game, is it? That's intentional. Magic and the supernatural have been part of comic book super-heroes since the beginning. In fact, historically, the first costumed hero was Siegel and Shuster's Doctor Occult (breaking from trenchcoat to ritual garb just a couple of months before Superman would debut). With the heroes and villains gone, this means that older, darker menaces are rising up again. The old safeguards have deteriorated with the disappearance of all the heroes and the veils between the dimensions have thinned. The tornadoes which once abducted children from Earth have been popping up again and the vampires from Voivodja have been slowly sliding into our world, with their intrigues and wars.