Jump Temp and Protector

We’ve been playing two games that run on the Energy System lately. Jump Temp is a space opera that’s near future maybe 50-100 years from now. Protector is alternate history where aliens attack earth and super heroes save the world, are idolized, take over the world and then are hated.

We’re having fun in both. Jump Temp had the players transporting an alien government official which I would have loved to spend more time on but it was getting late after character generation. In Protector, the heroes were investigating a newly formed volcano off the coast of Scotland and found a giant lava snake and lava coated robots. Pure fun! I’m looking forward to continuing both games.

My last post was about getting larger numbers represented in the system and that’s really opened things up as far as functionality. It’s also brought a lot of clarity to the system. The thing is that the Energy System just plays differently than any other system I’ve played. As GM I have to keep reminding myself that small challenges are ok. The idea that a hero is invulnerable to small fries hasn’t happened yet. I have a feeling that we’ll get there, so I’m working on tweaking the system so that it doesn’t.

It also paces itself differently and I’ve been struggling to not fall into old habits formed from every other game I’ve played. I’m starting to feel the system’s flow a bit now and that’s good. I wonder how other GM’s would handle it though.

Although I tried to keep the concepts in the game to a minimum, they are a bit alien to players but after a play or two they’re starting to get the ideas. Heck, I’m trying to write the games using the simple concepts and I don’t always get it right. Things like money are a challenge to handle but I’m getting that nailed down.

All in all, the game takes adjustment, but it does things that I’ve always wanted in a game. It organically handles normal RPG fare like combat, but also deals with something like a space flight being mentally fatiguing. Most of our last Jump Temp game was the new crew dealing with two transits they had to make. The interesting thing is, the players enjoyed it! The Artificial Intelligence character wasn’t challenged by the trip though and the player lamented that he wasn’t getting in on the action.

So we’re having fun and the Energy System is maturing. Watch this space!

Large Numbers In The Energy System

I was having a problem with large numbers in the Energy System. The problem didn’t show up until I started to work on a super hero game using the system. In it there is one vastly powerful superhero that is part of the background story. To use the character in a game required rolling 30 or more d20s and adding up all those dice. It plainly didn’t work.

This is mainly a problem because the system doesn’t scale to things like simulating a WWII battleship or a starship. It was beyond the system, until now that is.

To give you an idea of how the system works, a player gets abilities that grant them die steps. For instance, a skill with four die steps would take a skill from a starting d6 up through a d8, then a d10, then a d12, and then to a d20. Each step making the roll more effective, but d20 was the practical limit of dice steps since most people don’t own d30s or d40s.

The solution is to make a second tier of dice steps. That may sound overly complicated at first, but in for most characters it doesn’t come up so it’s a special case rule. If I was making a space opera, it might be needed more frequently to simulate vehicles or space ships.

So how would a second tier work? If a skill has 8 dice steps, or the equivalent of 2d20 it equals a 1d4x10. If another 4 steps (another d20) is added, the die becomes 1d6x10 and so on. If the character or equipment has 28 dice steps (7d20) they get a 1d20x10.

Is there anything past that? Of course! If you combine the total of 56 dice steps (2d20x10) it becomes 1d4x100. Add another 28 steps for a total of 84 steps* and it becomes a 1d6x100 and so on. 196 steps equals 1d20x100, two of those then flips to 1d4x1000 ad infinitum.

There is one problem with this though. One of the core concepts behind the energy system is that when you roll a die and get a one, the die depletes and can’t be used again until regenerated. That still works under the system, but one of the big draws of higher dice steps is that they deplete less often. A 1d4x10 either never depletes (since it never rolls a 1) or it depletes far more often than a d20.

I could say that if you rolled a 1d4x10 and got a 10, you then had to roll a d10 and if you get a 1 on that die, you deplete the die. The problem is, even though that technically works, it’s kludgy and adds a step for something that is going to be pretty rare. I think it’s better to say, that the die can take damage (which works similarly) but not deplete on a roll of one.

*This is a totally ridiculous number at this point, but I’m offering it to show the system could handle very very large numbers if needed.

Protector Update

The majority of the game is written. I’m adding NPCs here and there to add some big shot heroes for the different ages.

I started doing art, but only have one piece that I want to use at the moment. One big thing I’ve run up against is that most super hero stories only go as far back as World War 2. Protector goes back to World War 1 and that ends up having significant impacts on what heroes would look like. For one, most men had beards. Women wore big skirts, how do you use your powers in a skirt? If anything, the early age is going to have a more steampunk look than a normal superhero story.

It gets easier to go back to capes once you get past the first World War. There are a bunch of super hero inventors and it’s almost like the 50’s happen in the 20’s. The spandex suit could be invented during this time and be popularized by super heroes. There would then be a backlash against it.

This sets up some interesting cultural precedents. Supers after WW2 that wore spandex would be people that see that age of supers as heroes while the majority hate them. It would almost be like saying you were a neo-nazi.

Then there’s the WW1 look, that supers might try and evoke to remind people of the time when supers were saviors.

Steampunk equals saviors.

Spandex equals monsters.

I still can’t figure out what look women supers should look like. I do have one sketch of a mech like hero shooting lasers out of it’s eyes. Maybe I could put a nice lady at the controls, or maybe it’s autonomous and the lady is it’s master.

It also occurs to me that nurses were pretty active in the trenches, starting with their simple dresses may get me somewhere.

Protector Progress

Protector, our new superhero RPG is coming along. So far I’ve been concentrating on the character generation as this is a big part of getting the game off to the right start. I’m focusing on a light life path system. The character gets “Decades” that define a few skills and attributes. Then they get “Events” that happen within that decade. The events are major turning points in the character’s life. The player then uses one or more of the character’s events to define and sculpt their powers.

At the moment, this is very open ended, very story focused. It seems well suited for older more experienced players, but so far my young son has trouble with it. I’m hoping to nail down the process a bit more so generation is flexible and powerful for experienced players, but fills in almost all the blanks for newer/younger players.

To do that, I’m going to need a bunch of examples of heroes and villains for the book and a glossary of super powers. I think this will lead newer players to follow the examples by wrote but that’s ok. As they grow, they’ll learn to use the story to drive the character generation.

Protector

I’ve wanted to make a Superhero game for a long time now. I don’t want to just make another Supers game though. I’d like something that stands on it’s own. While making the Energy System, I finally had something that I felt would fit the kind of Superhero story I like. But a system by itself is not enough.

I want something that captures a few core concepts of the superhero genre.

I want super humans with a life before powers. This implies a life path system of generation.

I want the super human’s life to have some bearing on their powers. Their angst or desires should influence the way their powers are used or appear.

I want random powers, but to not be limited to random powers. Theres something really enjoyable about a super that has unexpected elements. I don’t want to be stuck with totally random though.

I want a world that is easy to understand, but one that shows the effects of a world of superhumans. A world that has superhumans for any length of time is a very strange world. The world will react.

I’d like some explanation for the superhumans other than “mutations” or “radiation”.

There’s something to be said for misfit supers and low power settings that are uniquely enjoyable. I don’t want to limit the game to misfits though. I’d like high and low power settings.

I’ve started work on all this already. I have the story already worked out. I just have to work out the lifepath elements and how to tie the powers into them.

Protector

My name is The Visionary. I was a young boy when Earth first needed a protector. The great nations of the world were on a path to greater and greater glory until The Great War, or as people call it World War I now.

That was when the Slavers came down from space and landed on the border of France and Germany. The European nations had been building up armaments for decades and mutual defense pacts were called upon and all the world went to war against the Slavers. But it was not enough. Tens of millions were gathered up. We could not defeat their air ships and all their technology.

Then, when all hope was nearly lost, a great stone fell from the sky, it looked like it would impact the Earth and wipe out all life but as it neared the Earth, but it stopped and floated above the ground. It had settled near the point of the original Slaver base. Without warning, men and women from all nations of the Earth felt a new energy inside them. Abilities beyond the realm of man were bestowed upon them. I received the gift of immense strength, resilience and the ability to fly. We became superhuman.

I was known as the Crusader in those days. We drove off the slavers and freed some of the many that were lost. The whole world rallied around us, we weren’t only superhuman, we were super heroes. It was the golden age.

Some of us were granted gifts of great intelligence, so naturally humankind rallied around them and they were promoted to leadership of many countries. The whole earth benefited for a time, but other super humans became jealous and seized power for themselves. Even this the world tolerated for a time, but when many of the celebrated heroes became despots and tyrants, mankind rebelled.

The war against the super humans as you know, eclipsed the war with the Slavers in it’s destructiveness. Millions more died in World War II. Humankind realized that to rid the super humans of their power, the great stone, our protector, would have to be destroyed. I myself took up a position in front of the stone and barred it from any harm. Many joined me, many died. As they fell, I began to feel their power flow into me. I became stronger, and stronger until there was nothing that could harm me.

From the beginning, I had not wanted to hurt any man. I also could not allow mankind to destroy their protector, the great stone that came from the heavens. I picked up the great stone from it’s resting place and carried it into the sea. I took it down to the deepest depths of the ocean where mortal man can not tread. There we stayed for many years. In that time, I was the primary vessel of the Protector’s power. In times of great need, I could see man’s groaning and I would emerge to set things right. Even then my presence was only tolerated.

The Protector still tried to help humanity. Although most of it’s energies were locked up in me, I could see across the globe many that were given small gifts that they had to conceal to survive. Super-humans were still feared and anyone showing a gift could be locked away in vaults to be studied.

It has been many sad years that I have sat on the ocean floor. I see through both space and time. I am The Visionary. I can now see deep into space. I see that once, there was chaos and suffering all throughout the galaxy until a great and mighty race took up the job of protecting any peoples that were being oppressed. People, not able to protect themselves. They heard our cries for help when the slavers came and they sent a member of their own people to rescue us.

I still cannot talk to my friend, our Protector. I do not know it’s thoughts. I only know that this great race has come to our rescue when the galaxy was about to turn it’s attention on us before we were ready.

There is one more call I have to answer. I can see it coming in time. A greater threat faces man and I do not know if we can overcome it. I see world after world fall to them. They are monstrous and terrible. I will go out to meet them in battle one more time. I see my aged frame falling to the Earth.

I see my own death, but when I die, the power stored up in me will again flow into all those that have gifts. You will get a portion of my power. You will grow strong. Then my responsibility of saving the Earth will fall to all of you.

They are now coming and I go out to meet them. Goodbye.

Ages

Players can star their game in any of the ages, depending on the super hero experience they want. Players may also choose to play at the transition between ages.

WWI

The war against the Slavers.

The Golden Age

The reconstruction and the rise to power of many super humans.

WWII

The war against the supers.

Misfits and Margins

The age of hiding, when any powers are weak and supers are feared.

The Coming Menace

A new alien threat comes to enslave Earth.

Skree and Thrum on DriveThru

Skree and Thrum

I’m taking Skree and Thrum and putting it on DriveThru RPG. It’s a short game of 25 pages, so it’s a digestible size. The setting is a jumping off point for the players instead of a locked down, fully formed world. I hear from a lot of players that they really just want to take a world in their own direction and not be locked down to an author’s ideas so I’m taking that to heart and trying it out. Think of it as an experiment.

This is the first RPG Store32 is offering for sale. Now, before you complain that the sky is falling, I’m pricing it at a dollar. I’m still interested in free games, so the game is Creative Commons licensed. Unfortunately there’s a lot of disregard for free games by the general gaming public. I’d like to see if simply by putting down a bit of money, a player is more likely to see the game to the table. I only have free options at the moment so I can’t really compare. Now I have something that I can put my theory to the test. Think of it as an experiment.

Skree and Thrum Coming Soon!

I stopped working on Skree and Thrum for a bit, but I’ve returned to it now and fixed up the setting and the instructions on how to play it. In all, the setting is a jump off point. I would really like to see how players might take it in wildly different directions.

So far reactions to the Energy System that the game uses has been very positive. It plays quickly but also has a lot of visual and tactile appeal because you get to roll a ton of polyhedrons. You feel awesome when you can fill your hand with d20s and chuck them because it’s an accomplishment.

The system deals with a lot of difficult situations very smoothly. Things like, fatigue (obviously, it’s the Energy System), healing, encouraging role play and allows the players to very organically build a character they really want to play.

So on the whole, I’m really happy with the game. It’s short, easy to read and get started on and offers a lot. I’d like to do a Supers game with the Energy System, along with a space opera but I’d like it to be something with a cool twist.

I have the cover to do. The other artwork is already done. It’s not much, but the book is only 20 pages so I don’t need dozens of pieces. The cover is about a quarter done. If I can sit down and get some time, I should be able to put it up on DriveThru soon.

Game of Draws

Over on theartifact.net, I wrote about a social conflict system that used draws for mechanical advantages over an opponent.

Then I thought, what if you made that the central resolution mechanic of a game?

I imagined two swordsmen looking for an advantage over the other.  Each character has their own draws, things that they want. They can be an advantage to them, or a disadvantage depending on the circumstance.  For instance “Has to win”, “Loves to make money” and “Wants to be a tough guy” could be some of a character’s draws.

Now what I’m thinking of for a resolution system is a system of offers that the characters can make to each other to get the advantage. For instance I’m going up against the character described above, I could offer him something like “First move” that plays on his “Has to win” draw and I can offer “Wait for my move” which means he can’t use his draw for this turn. The idea is that taking my “First move” offer is a trick that I can use to spring a trap with. Maybe my character has some kind of counter move that uses his attack to harm him.

The core idea is that each turn, a player has to choose between offers. I’d like to see multiple kinds of offers that would allow for a wide range of tactics.

My Self Inflicted 24hr Game System

I’ve been in a writing doldrums for a month or so. Then yesterday I had a few thoughts suddenly start buzzing around in my head and wrote them down.

The Energy System is a generic game meant to be applied to different settings. I’m shooting for something that can be played in a half hour. Because of that, the game doesn’t focus on individual actions by the characters. It focuses on the results. So rolling the dice isn’t about throwing a punch, it’s about the whole fight.

I have a setting in mind for the system where I’ll have more character generation, skill and equipment examples.

Energy System

More Thoughts On Solo RPGs

Still thinking about a solo RPG engine, I keep resorting to randomizers which tend to produce a mish mash of results. Sometimes a randomizer is brilliant, most times it just isn’t. The other element that I’ve been working off of is standard story tropes and trying to create a choose your own adventure on the fly but the engine still is to vague to guide a player.

What I have so far is to set the classic three act structure and then split those acts into two scenes each. The player could add scenes for a longer game but the idea is to start at two. Each scene gets a classic motivation that will be dominant. Here’s the structure I posted over on 1KM1KT a little while back.

Act 1 
Scene 1 Character generation. Get familiar with the character and set up a nice cushy life for them. Maybe they just got married. Maybe they just started a business and it's booming. Give them something nice.

Scene 2 A call to action. Roll against the motivations and use it to create the quest. If it's a positive motivation, then the character may have to leave the good life to take up the quest. The character taking up the quest could be reluctant if the call is from a positive source. If it was negative then something the character loved is destroyed. This should be played out in your rules but keep in mind that the odds are stacked in the favor of the motivation rolled. Maybe the character's business is saved but they realize that this kind of thing will keep happening unless they do something about it.

Act 2
Scene 1 Set up for the fall. The events of this scene set the player up for failure. If the scene is positive, the character thought they were doing the right thing but finds out it was all a trap, or he hurts the wrong people and has now made enemies. For motives like "Someone that helps" perhaps a mentor informs the character that they will have to accomplish some extraordinary task to succeed.

Scene 2 Put them in the worst position you can imagine. This is where the character is brought as low as they can go. (I'd have to work up ways of using the positive motivations to do this.)

Act 3
Scene 1 Get them out of it. The character must escape from jail, beat back the robot hordes, whatever.

Scene 2 Resolution. The final showdown. Will this be a comedy or a tragedy?

In each scene other than character generation roll on the following table.

Roll 1d20
1 Someone to pursue a goal (the Protagonist)
2-3 Someone to avoid the goal (the Antagonist)
4 Someone that helps (like a mentor)
5-7 Someone that hinders
8 Someone encouraging to consider a plan
9 Someone encouraging to reconsider a plan
10 Someone encouraging logic or reason
11 Someone encouraging feeling or emotional fulfillment
12 Someone encouraging excersizing control
13 Someone encouraging being uncontrolled
14 Someone to appeal to conscience
15-16 Someone to appeal to temptation
17 Someone who supports (speaks for) efforts
18 Someone who opposes (speaks against) efforts
19 Someone to express faith
20 Someone to disbelieve

The next piece of the puzzle is to give the player goal posts to reach in the story. This might be randomly generated, something to the effect of, “The main character is pressed by enemies until a resource is used up.” Which would be followed up by specific guidance that this could mean health, meaning the character is severely wounded, ammunition, fuel, food, water or whatever resource the player might target. Pick a target and then play the scene out until they’ve reached that low point.  Others might be “Trapped on all sides” or “Outmatched in skill” with the idea of having a healthy list to work off of.

Lastly, I wanted to think about classic solo games and what they use to entertain the player. There are only a few general strategies that I’m aware of.

First is the puzzle, games like solitaire create a puzzle to solve by restricting the type of moves available and then scrambling the resources the player needs. I haven’t worked out how to do this in an RPG yet.

Next is the mob, a lot of games have a number of pieces that automatically move toward the player’s pieces and the player must avoid or defend against the mob. This is more native to an RPG but one of the things that most games of this type focus on is strategic movement. For RPGs that use miniatures and grids to play, this is slightly easier to emulate but there are a large number of games that do not handle tactical movement. I have to resist the temptation to create additional rules to fill in the blanks. There needs to be a way to use existing rules, even when they’re not well developed for this kind of challenge.

The third is the stronghold, where the players must out maneuver defenses to gain access to a specified point. This at first looks easy but is one of the hardest to accomplish since the defenses have to be well arranged and the underlaying pattern should be difficult for the player to unravel. Only, the player is the one setting up the defenses so already has intimate knowledge of them. Still, using something like the Tech Challenges in The Artifact could simulate this.

The fourth is spending resources, here the player has what he needs to accomplish the task and can apply the resources in many different ways but only a small subset of approaches will actually work.

I think these structures could flesh out how the player builds a scene but there needs to be specific instructions on how they’re implemented. That’s what I’ll be working on next, adapting these structures to RPGs so that using them is a connect the dots for the player.