Archives for 2011

47 Ronin legend slain, Turnbull Praised

One of my favorite blogs, Shogun-ki, has done a review of Turnbull’s latest Osprey book about the 47-Ronin. I had known for some time that the legend was false but not so much the actual details of the correct history. Much of what I learned that was wrong I learned from Turnbull’s books. As with any ethical historian, as knowledge of the facts improve so does one’s opinion change and thus the book does a great job of telling the new story. The Shogun-ki blog goes into much greater detail in their review and I highly recommend reading it.

As for gaming it, I definitely would be interested. I’ve been sitting on the 2nd edition of Japanese Art of War for 5+ years now. Part of the problem I have is I don’t have a solid group of play testers which makes writing good rules impossible. That said, I may yet get involved with putting together a scenario and running it.

Be sure to add Shogun-ki to your reader. They post infrequently but high quality material.

Dr. Manbender Comes a Knocking

Ah yes, another game of Attack of the Mutants. This time we had High Roller Ken*, Chemical Dave** and Lord Al*** as the humans. I, Whitey, was once again entrusted to the bad evil Doctor. There were some interesting moments in this game but it still needs a hint of tweeking. One of the tactics tried was an aggressive push by the Humans to get the robots into the fight early. This produced the most serious robot losses I’ve ever seen. By the end of the game the human’s had one Grip-Bot, shown in the picture above.

What should have made the human tactic work was the so-called wall of lead a lone Gun-Bot can throw. Frankly, the way it is in the game right now its more like a wall of snowballs with rocks in them. Yes, sort of daunting but no real match for the natural tenacity of the Mutant. So I am doing two things to the next version of the rules. 1st, the number of dice thrown will double. Get lucky and you can wipe out even bigger hordes! The other thing is I am now going to make it possible for the Gun-Bots to “go dry” as they say. After a wall of lead, roll a D6. 1-3 = low ammo. After the first round of the fight is over the robot must retreat and be resupplied (does it need a human or grip bot to resupply… that is an interesting question.) It is a bit of a gamble, which suits me fine. There is no such thing as certainty in life! It makes the Gun-Bots more independent but also retains their vulnerability such that independent operation requires a risk vs. gain evaluation.

Dr. Mincy still doesn’t have a special ability. I’m working on that one. The professors are locked in labs until turn 4 as per the original game (well in the original they were in the Tech Center, now they can be in 1 of 3 labs outside of the tech center. I’m considering that if they want, they can stay in their labs an additional turn. For each TA, Grip-Bot and Scientist in the lab on turn 5 the Humans get a D6 to roll. A roll of 6 on one or more of those dice produces an advancement. The Ad Astra Lab produces a faster startup of the time machine (one turn can make a world of difference.) The quantum lab produces the quantum gun – a strange contraption that allows one upgraded Gun-bot to act as support (+1) even from a different room or while in reserve!

“My god, it only took 30 years to weaponize Special Relativity… now we’ve done it with quantum mechanics!”

Finally a breakthrough in the Robotics lab will allow one Grip-Bot to be improved to CV 6. I assume that means the TA’s raided Archaeology and welded a Lombard shield and lance to the poor machine!

Tonight’s game went pretty smoothly. It was close. Dr. Manbender and 3 Leader Mutants crashed through the door on turn 10. One of the mutants took a hit and went down, but then Dr. Manbender got into the action himself. Because he was the attacker all of the ties went to his side instead of the human side. I wonder if it would have been better for the humans to have counter-attacked before he was in the room. The only problem with that plan was the mutant’s had a formidable pincer attack going with another set of mutants waiting at the only other un-barricaded door. So, I don’t blame them for not wanting to take a chance. It was an opportunity to produce a hit and run attack which is what the retreat rules are for. I understand their reluctance at that gamble.

I think the loses of the robots early on and the weak performance of the Gun-Bots led directly to the human loss. The strategy wasn’t bad, not knowing the odds. However I’ve played the game 7 times now and the Gun-Bots need the above adjustment.

In the next day or two I will post the rules here.

As for the quote above – I should point out that it is actually not correct. QM/QP has been weaponized for decades – the advances in transistors, chemistry and lasers all rely upon quantum mechanical understanding and the neutron modulators in nuclear weapons rely upon the understanding of the duality  of photons as waves and particles. But it sounds cool and would and should be a line from a B-Movie!

*,**,*** and yes, I know, I game with people who have funny nicknames.

Runebound: Class Decks

I played a long game of Runebound using the Isle of Dread variant and class decks. If you have not tried the class decks yet they add several interesting mechanics to the game. There are two components of each deck. The first is a group of 5 talents, labeled 1 through 5. The rest of the deck are cards you can form a hand of that either can give you bonuses or give your opponents some serious trouble. You also get 10 malice tokens. Use of the cards depends upon the amount of malice you’ve built up. For example to throw a really strong challenge at an opponent they will have have to have built up a good deal of malice. You can build up your own malice by playing cards that benefit you. When you play against an opponent you reduce their malice.

I found the cards and abilities to overwhelm the game. The extra steps seem to slow it down far more than general game play is benefitted. Sure, it gives players who are behind a chance to take down the leader (their intent I guess) but the talents add such a new level of power that there isn’t an excuse to not use them every turn. As a result not one character was ever knocked out during a challenge. While this can happen when one is playing very conservatively it wasn’t the case here. The extra talents just made the characters that much more experienced. There was one knock out, with the first player to try the final challenge on the Isle of Dread but even that was partly due to bad dice and not bad strategy.

I think the decks would be great – in a totally different game. That game would be about the players dueling or fighting each other and not about exploring the land and getting into adventures. As is they add too many mechanics to remember and handle during the game play of Runebound to be really useful. They also overwhelm the actual game and dominate it.

Creating a character in the Hero System: Tutorial Part 1

Lorus Hightower Wizard Miniature P-65 Heavy Metal by Reaper Minatures

Introduction

The power of the Hero System RPG by Hero Games lies in the freedom it gives players and the game master to create exactly what they want. It does this by having rules that concern only the game effect without being tied at all to presentation. You can literally create any character from any genre. Each mechanic can be modified by advantages and limitations. This extends all the way down to even your base abilities. For example lets say your character has average strength of 10, unless there are certain circumstances in which case he has a strength of 100! You wouldn’t want to see him angry, would you?

Reasoning from the Special Effect

The Hero rationale for this is “reasoning from the special effect,” which means that you consider what the effect on the game would be. There are no rules specifically for say a lightning bolt or a fireball spell. But there are rules for powers that cause damage that you can modify to act like those things. To me a fireball is hot, it explodes on contact and strikes an area. A lightning bolt is quick, hits a single point and delivers all of its damage there. There are ways of modifying the standard attack to make these things happen such as adding an Area of Effect advantage to the Fireball and Armor Piercing to the lightning bolt spell.

A great example of this philosophy would be you have conceived of a character who can manipulate the weather. You could go looking through the rule book looking for weather manipulation powers but they won’t be there, excepts perhaps as examples. Your next step is to think of “what effects would come from manipulating the weather?” High heat and humidity would sap endurance. Bitter cold would slow beings down. A sudden snow flurry would obscure sight. A small tornado would throw things randomly with great strength. Icy rain would make surfaces slick. How localized is the weather change? Is it a single cloud over an enemy’s head or is it a major storm that covers a 30,000 meter radius? Perhaps the effect is widespread but the most intense effect is very localized. These are all possible given the proper advantages and disadvantages.

Where to Begin

The first place to begin is the background the Game Master provided. It gives the theme of the game, lets you know how many points the starting characters begin with and what the adventure is classified as (Super heroric, Heroic, etc.) You could certainly have a super heroic fantasy game or sci-fi game – the characters start with extraordinary powers. Or, conversely the characters might start off as standard humans with no special abilities for a game setting where the character’s decisions are more important than the character’s stats and abilities. Once you know if your character will be imbued with great abilities or common ones you can begin to ponder just how the character will exist in the world – not how they are constructed but at a more basic level. Consider how you would introduce the character to a story.

A great method I’ve seen used is for each character to have a 3 page introduction. Page 1 is the origin and back story of the character. Page 2 is a description of the character’s recent past. Page 3 is a description of the character’s strengths and weaknesses. The language should not contain any Hero System mechanics. It should simply describe the powers, talents and skills the character has in plain terms. Don’t be afraid to list as yet dormant abilities – mentioning them now will make it easier to add them to the character later in life as experience is earned.

Inspiration can come from many sources. You could take a current comic book, graphic novel or regular novel and develop a character like one of the characters found in those sources. You could take a playing piece, like the miniature depicted in this article and use that as the basis of your inspiration. You can research art, history and science to find inspiration. You may have your own muse – just go with it!

Remember, consider first the special effect, then the effect it would have and then finally the game mechanic.

Quick and Dirty Example

The world is Margaxt – a complex continent in the temperate zone that is marked by deep forests, mighty rivers, tall mountains and disputed borders. It is a world of high-fantasy where a small cadre of elites enjoy the benefits of The Magic while the rest of the population can only dream of such luxury. The problem isn’t tyranny but the exact opposite. The Magic has given The Elite everything they want. When they have no other needs they don’t have to depend upon the people. In fact the regular people are a problem because the lifestyle of The Elite demands a lot of resources. The Elite no longer really even acknowledge there even exists a population bereft of The Magic outside the stoney walls of their super fortresses.

Enter the Heroes – drawn from the best the common population can muster they have developed skills, recognized talents and created their own system of enchantment they call The Way of the Wyrd (or just Wyrding Way in many parts). The Elite have cut down forests, disturbed dangerous creatures which now roam the villages and cause great damage, they have diverted rivers, poisoned lakes and polluted the air. This heroic cadre is bent on entering the fortresses and breaking the source of power for The Elite so that the villagers may live better lives in safer world.

Pg. 1 Lorus Hightower Origin/Backstory (kept short for purposes of this article)

As a farmer, Lorus was good with the land. His sharp mind kept is harvest bountiful each year; that is until The Elites diverted the river he used to irrigate his fields. Angered by this he flew into a rage and attempted to sabotage a river diversion team made of of golems. He was badly beaten and if it wasn’t for High Rebel Anticus he would have likely perished. Instead he was brought back to good health and instructed in the Wyrding Way. Under the tutelage of Anticus and several others of The Wyrd Circle he gained the abilities he would need to disrupt the plans of The Elite and plot his eventual penetration of the nearest Super Fortress. During his training, Lorus acquired Screech, a pet owl that he soon enchanted to become his familiar.

Pg. 2 Recent History

It should be noted that this is a rather excellent time to collaborate with other players about their characters and to come up with some reasonable minor adventure you can claim they were in together. It makes the reason for the party to be aligned as they are in the present more understandable and beats the old saw “you all meet at a tavern to discuss who is brave enough to follow up on the latest rumor.”

Lorus recently was out scouting for river diversion teams with the tracker known as Ed the Ranger. It was not long before Ed found tracks belonging to golems. “These are big ones! We won’t be able to take them down just by ourselves.” They crept ever watchful through the forest until they heard the unmistakeable sound of rock and mud being brutally reconfigured to divert the river along a new path. Lorus spoke to Ed, “give me your leave and I’ll enchant you such that we may speak over great distance. We may thus split up and surround this team.” (Here we see an indication of an ability the character has planned for Lorus that will appear on Page 3.) Ed gave his leave and the two separated.

From his new vantage point he could see the team of golems at their task. They indeed were big and far to powerful to render harmless. Lorus knew that the golems would need a human master who was somewhere hidden among this site. He sent forth his familiar, Screech, who was able to communicate to Lorus all that he could see. Indeed, in a protected houdah on the back of the largest golem he spied the controller. Alas, since there was no direct path to the controller there was little Lorus could do. He could try to penetrate the houdah with his spells but it may take too long before the golems ripped him to shreds. He communicated with Ed the Ranger and told him where to look. Perhaps with his bow he could, by indirect path, strike the master. Ed understood where he needed to strike and carefully arched an arrow through the forest, striking his target and halting the entire company of golems in their tracks. (A nice touch is to talk about team work or to reveal your personality. The point is to introduce some recent history and foreshadow the noble and ignoble traits of your character.)

Pg. 3 General list of powers, talents and traits in on gaming terms (this will be what you’ll design your character from when it finally is time to put them together.)

Lorus is above average intelligence and has a very outgoing personality. He is a leader and respects hierarchy. He is proficient in the Wyrding Way but still has a lot to learn. He absolutely hates The Elites and will never skip an opportunity to strike at one of their operations. He would want nothing less than seeing a Super Fortress collapse into rubble and dust.

He has an ability to allow one other person to speak to him and hear him at long range. He has the ability to see and target what his familiar sees and to target what his familiar smells. He is working on developing his ability to fly but currently can only make great but awkward leaps. Offensively he has the ability to command fire and brimstone into flaming and exploding balls as well as the ability to direct lightning that can penetrate many things or chain from one thing to other things in a short path.

He still has a knowledge of plants, farming, harvest cycles and irrigation techniques.

Conclusion of Part I

This was a very basic tutorial. While you didn’t learn much about how to build an actual character from the Hero System, yet, you did learn the basic philosophy of the system and a method for defining your character ahead of time before starting on the actual design. Next time we will start to build out our character and get into the actual mechanics of the point system. I hope you enjoyed this article!

Battlestar Galactica Tactical Battles preview added to site

Battlestar Galactica Tactical Battles CoverI’ve uploaded a preview edition of the rules I’ve been working on for Battlestar Galactica fans. The game plays a bit like chess, in space, with humans and robot. But, you know, pretty much the same game as chess! Ok, not at all like chess. But at least I tried. I’m happy to report the things missing thus far are just the campaign game and the appendix for model building and so forth. If you like this game leave comments! I can be found under the Wargaming menu item or you can simply go here. I’m very curious in what people think of this draft copy.

 

Black Cat Bases

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Got to run the game with others today. Learned a lot. This picture shows some of the BCB figured I used. Worked well! People liked the game and filled a whiteboard with suggestions.

Playable Attack of the Mutants game done!

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I could not be happier. The game is ready to play. All required components are done. The only thing left to do are the cards. I got through 5 turns of my first solo play test. I was reminded of some problems from the original game. It’s hard to remember which stacks moved. I may solve that with markers that let the mutants plot their moves before executing them.

Overall I love the look of the printed aluminum. The boards are printed at photographic resolution and are very glossy. The original graphic I created contains photos of actual floor tiles so this works out great.

The game is totally green. The inks and paints are all water soluble. The aluminum can be recycled. The paper used for the transfer was recycled. The figures are made of non-toxic metals. The only non-green aspect are the bases on the figures which are plastic.

You may notice the door smashed counters are an homage to the original game.

The combat system works neatly. It’s a little more complex than standard Risk(tm) but on par with the later Risk based games.

More to come!!!

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Final 28mm map done for AOTM

Well I got my map done. It is very similar to the map that came with the original game. I am pretty happy with it. My original intent was to print it out on my printer, stick it to some MDF and then build the wall using foam core. Problems with warping (both with the MDF and the foam core) led me to consider alternatives. Finally I decided to just have the map printed to aluminum sheet. Yes – printed on metal. A local printer does incredible work and one of their specialties is printing to just about any surface. How – I don’t know! But I saw their work and its incredible. I now am having them do this to two 12″ x 24″ sheets of aluminum. It is a better option for me in that it won’t warp, it is unique, it lays flat and will look great!

*** Update! *** Here is the map, again, this time in much nicer PNG format, divided into two sections 12″ x 24″ each.

 
 

Something that can be done with miniatures that wasn’t easy to do with the paper counters in the original is that I can control the number of mutants per room simply by area. This will limit the massive super stack of mutants that used to make it easy for the mutant player to win.

They also do 12″x12″ aluminum tiles. I may consider that for my next game. Once can make them geomorphic or semi-geomorphic. I like the geomorphism of Carcassonne. Now, doing that game in aluminum titles would require a Donald Trump like budget, but doing something that required only a dozen tiles would be doable.

Mainly the durability is what I like. It is possible to get it done just on vinyl and that would have saved me a ton of money but I felt the advantages of being printed on metal plus the uniqueness were good advantages.

Room List for Attack of the Mutants

There are only a few changes in the physical layout while many in the room names from the original game. Gone are some of the wackier things that were on the map like the room with pentagram and candles. Gone also are the ROTC barracks and armory.

Classrooms:
Room 102
Room 104 (101 and 103 were turned into labs)
Room 201
Room 202
Room 203
Room 204
Room 205
Room 301
Room 302
Room 303
Room 304

Offices:
Professor Applegate
Dean’s Office
Professor Richardson
Professor Mincy

Labs:
Ad Astra Lab
High Performance Computing Center
Robotics Lab
Quantum Engineering Lab

Misc.:
Storage Room
Science Exhibit Hall
Lavatory

Of course the center of the building is still the Tech Room – the ultimate objective of the mutants and the place where Ad Astra will allow the humans and their brave little robots to escape.

The card system will be keyed off of characters and locations. So a card may specify “Any robot in the Robotics Lab fights at +1 CV.”Another may state that if the villian, Julian Manbender is in the High Performance Computing Center the game’s end is delayed until he either retreats or is defeated and removed from play. There is a lot of room for creativity here. I have about 1/3rd of the cards figured out. The rest will come as I do play tests of the game.

Currently the only thing left to do is build the building. I have the design done so it’s just a matter of decorating the walls correctly and building the foam core forms. Once it is final it should look great!

Breaking the System

Researcher, TA and Robot surrounded“Bugs Mr. Rico. Millions of ’em and I’m burning them down!”

One solid part of play testing is not playing the rules as intended but as they might be played in an attempt to break them. With Attack of the Mutants one theory I was playing out was the possibility of massive hordes of both mutants and ‘normies’.

Indeed it was possible without much effort to get really large groups together and simply cause havoc to the system. On the one hand I want to preserve immersion in the theme without having some unexplained rule come into effect. On the other hand there has to be game balance. Any balancing rule must be well grounded in the theme. In this case the solution to the massive horde rule turned out to be easy to figure out. I didn’t as much mind a room with a huge horde as I did a massive horde storming from room to room with ease. So the rule is quite simply, you can stack as many figures as will fit standing in a room but only 6 can pass through a door in either direction per turn. It is a simple answer. I seem to recall there was an issue in the original game about massive hordes. This solution is simple, adds to the theme and is a reasonable limitation.

Another issue has been determining if there are unbeatable combinations in the game. This would be something like certain figures together, aiding one another such that they always had unbeatable scores. So far I haven’t seen that. But I am a ways from just letting a few play tests confirm it. I am well aware that if I miss such a combination and players find it they will use it in expectation that something worse is coming and this formation is the smart way. Weeding these situations out is important for enjoyment of the game and to keep the tension alive until the final turn when the gate opens to let the players escape or the mutants to invade another planet!