Saturday, May 8, 2021

Lasers & Feelings Play Report

Message from Mission Command to USS Indefatigable

You've been tasked to survey an anamolous planet near the Neutrality Zone

Sensors have been unable to penetrate its elector-magnetic field

It was passed over in a survey of the sector 100 years ago, but now the Confederation wants you to knock on the door


SHIP

The Indefatigable (The Indie)

PROS: Fuscia interior, Good shields, Sensors

CON: Grim reputation

CREW: Command 6 + 15 support below decks

 

CHAIN OF COMMAND

 

Chain of command: 

Captain - Dr. C (dangerous scientist, solve space mysteries, L&F 5)

1st officer - 88-8135 (engineer droid, wants to be captain, L&F 2)

2nd  - Solly (emergency doc, wants to heal xeno diseases, L&F 5)

 

 

Bridge: Dr. C , 88-8135, Nokia (hot shot pilot, L&F 2, wants to prove his worth)

 

Away team: Flempf (hotshot explorer, wants to stay awesome, L&F 2), Cass (hotshot soldier, wants to shoot em up, L&F 4), Solly (doc 5), red shirt Mc Gee

Mission Log: USS Indefatigable

Stardate XYZ123.6 Mission casualties: 1 Collateral damage: 2 shuttle craft, 2 discount androids, a small amount of trilexium fuel, ALL OF OUR TINFOIL
We sent a shuttlecraft into the magnetic field and lost contact immediately upon entry. Reports from crewmen Starchild and Cassiopeia, as well as Dr. Solly describe the situation as follows: an ancient race of beings has determined this planet to be a prison for a race of beings they called Dextromethazoids or Democraticons. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that these creatures were determined to be too agressively evolved for the universe at large, and thus have been confined to this planet by means of a strong electromagnetic field that disables all electronic devices that come in contact with it. 

Our first shuttle craft crashed on the surface, and the survivors attempted to disable the field from there. Meanwhile, aboard the ship, our scans detected the location of field emitters at the north and south poles, but before we could deal with them, a Cromulan Warbird approached and claimed this area of space as Cromulan territory. I told them that no such official claim had been made of their behalf. They did not agree, and we were at a stalemate.

When the Cromulans were not looking, we constructed a makeshift explosive device with the intention of dropping it and a large amount of heavy matter from orbit onto the north emitter. Unfortunately, the shuttle craft carrying the device was piloted by our two worst androids, and got too close to the field and was lost.  
Soon after, our away team successfully disrupted the field long enough for us to teleport them away, at which time they gave their report. It is the opinion of this captain that the planet is of no use to the Confederation, but that the Cromulan Empiracy may seek to use methods similar to our own to dismantle the planet’s defenses and bring the Dexterwhatsits under their control. A Confederate patrol is thus recommended for the area.

Transmission ends


Sunday, May 2, 2021

Advice on Running Social Interactions With NPCs

 Hi everyone!

This is advice I sent my CoC players and thought I'd share. Please enjoy.

 

I just thought I’d clear things up about social interactions with NPCs.

 

Mostly, I just roleplay the NPC as if they were a real person. In the first session when Lady Jane offered her sword to a policeman in a shootout, he boggled at her and shouted, “Just get some backup lass!” Ditto for when Shirly Bath walked into a hospital brandishing a shotgun and people freaked out. Act nice & they’re nice, act not and they’ll respond in kind.

 

When you need to get an NPC to do something special, here is basically my procedure:

 

Here is some advice about running NPCs that I shared with my players.


SOCIAL INTERACTIONS WITH NPCS


Tedankhamen will explain the NPC’s motivations

You can add or point out things that may be off

If we agree on these particulars, we move to the resolution.

 

There are then 3 skills you can choose from

 

Fast Talk – For when you need to flim flam in a rush.

 

Persuade – For when you need to appeal to reason or their better nature.

 

Credit Rating – For when you want to make a deal.

 

After choosing which route is possible and best for the situation, you enter into the roleplay & roll.

 

First, you act out what your character says.

If it makes sense or sounds good, you get a flat roll or even a bonus if done well.

If it doesn’t make sense or sounds off, you might get a penalty or automatic refusal.


Then you roll the bones.


A critical success might mean you get extra information or help.

Straight failure means they might still point you in the direction of someone who can help.

A fumble just means refusal, unless there is a good story reason for them to turn on you (ie secretly a nazi).

 

I am just trying to balance out the roleplaying and roll playing in a fun and fair way.

Hope that helps!

Monday, April 19, 2021

Stormbringer Redux # 3 - Squad Combat

Originally, I had posted this as a proposal for a Mass Combat system. However, JB rightly pointed out the elegance and simplicity of the old Stormbringer POW save to survive mass combat and avoid unnecessary dice rolling. That is the fun of posting things like this. You get to go back and rethink and rediscover the games you love, and hear opinions from people who share that love, but see things a little differently. 

I think both the system I propose and the old, elegant POW save have their places. For example, if your PCs are leading a squad sneaking into an enemy fortress, you might find my rules useful. If you are caught in the city while armies clash about you, JB's praise of the old rules makes perfect sense.

Now back to the post...

I'd like to get past combat hacks and move into the big picture. I always felt there were two gaping holes in the old Stormbringer game:

1) Lack of a squad combat system.

2) Lack of mechanics governing the struggle between Law and Chaos

Today, I'll try to figure out the first of  these two, and tackle the second next time.


SQUAD COMBAT




Mass combat was basically dismissed as for 'fighting fools' in Stormbringer, and the two methods for resolving them given below simply handwaive the outcome of the conflict, and only determine the survival of player characters.



I find neither of these options satisfying, as large battles that put the heroes in the thick of the action are a staple of the Elric books, and indeed all of Moorcock's fiction.

Instead, I would implement the simple rule hack of using unit types as characters. Simply use the stats of a member of each unit fighting as an extra character. If numbers are unequal, the greater number gets an extra attack per multiple by which they outnumber their foe. Also, cover or good terrain should also give an extra attack, serve as armor, or reduce the to hit roll or attack numbers of the enemy. Damage is recorded as normally, but when either side is reduced to zero, this simply means one member of the unit is slain or defeated, and thus Hit Points return to full to signify the next combatant stepping into the breach.

For example, if Elric is leading a band of Melniobneans against some pirates attacking Imrryr, he and the pirate leader are the main characters in the conflict, while the Melnibonean warriors and pirates are the secondary unit characters. If the pirates outnumber the Melniboneans 3 to 1, they will get 2 extra attacks. However, if they Melniboneans are on a fortified battle barge against wooden ships, the Gamelord can reduce the number of pirate attacks.

The Gamelord should decide in advance what the victory conditions are, based on the situation and stakes of the conflict. Fanatic enemies will need to be defeated to the last man, while desperate or poorly motivated troops may break ranks and flee when their numbers are reduced to half.

This simple hack can be ported to other Chaosium games. Imagine the fun of having your investigators in Call of Cthulhu accompany a squad of the 1st Bombay Grenadiers on a raid against Thuggee cultists.



House Rule - No More Fumbles

So, people hate fumbles.



My original Stormbringer game fizzled because the heroes fumbled poorly when trying to burgle a fat apothecarist and his 2 guards. One character broke his greatsword, another shot an arrow into a comrade. Since then, I have used fumbles sparingly, and often ask players what they think should happen.

Today, I ran across this post on a Facebook page: 

"Any game (be it D&D/PF/WFRP/Runequest) ran by Joey:
Joey: This is a heroic campaign. You'll be mighty warriors of peerless skill and stuff of legends.
Also Joey: We're playing with my critical fumble house-rule meaning that every time your PC attacks and rolls a nat 1/below 5%/snake eyes they hit themselves or a nearby ally for full damage.
Folks, whatever you're doing, don't use fumbles. Failing hysterically at something you're supposed to be good at 5% of time just isn't heroic. If you want to use it, call the game slapstick comedy and not saga of legends."

How about instead of a BAD thing happening to the PCs, which detracts from heroism and imperils the shared story, we let a GOOD thing happen to the bad guys. Namely, for every fumble rolled, the opponents can turn one miss into a hit. Since PCs are usually well armed and armored, this heightens the tension and challenge without turning combat into comedy.

What about the reverse? Maybe give the PCs a free attack, or let them have some minor advantage they ask for (ie free retreat from combat, or time to grab an item, etc).

Anything is better than just fumbles.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Stormbringer Redux # 2 - Signature Weapon Attacks

It looks like these little bonsai-style snips at the combat system are my entry into re-constructing Stormbringer. I'll continue in this vein with signature weapon attacks.



SIGNATURE WEAPON MOVES

Now in the old game rules, the only signature attack was the riposte. The rule goes like this:




Although the rules do not specify what weapon this is for, ripostes are generally associated with swords, and the example given is of Elric using Stormbringer. So for this installment, I'll try to construct a number of signature weapon attacks based on the Riposte template.

Now, I don't want to make a bloated list of special feats or attacks that turn this into D&D or a PbtA game. Sure there were feints, hooks, trips, and a plethora of other techniques common to all weapons. Instead, I'd like to propose one signature move for each weapon type, based on the template of the Riposte, to give flavour to the game and some options for players.


THE RIPOSTE TEMPLATE

Let's review how a Riposte works:

1) The wielder has to be a Master (90% or higher skill).

2) In combat, if the character makes a successful Parry, they can then Riposte (counter attack).

3) Consecutive attacks incur a penalty of 20%, whether they are Attacks or Ripostes.

So a template for a signature weapon attack has to have the following:

1) A precondition

2) A successful roll

3) Logical limits

Here are my creations:

SWORDS - Riposte (as above)

Riposte as above. When a character parries successfully, they may also make an attack roll.

1) Precondition: Weapon mastery, over 90% in skill

2) Roll: A successful Parry

3) Limits: Minus 20% penalty for each consecutive Attack after the first

AXES - Cleave

On a successful attack (ie successfully rolled and not successfully defended against), an axe can Cleave a weapon, armor, or unarmored limb.

1) Precondition: Weapon mastery, over 90% in skill

2) Roll: A successful Attack

3) Limits: On a successful attack, damage is rolled but applied to the weapon, armor, or limb of the attacker's choice. If damage rolled exceeds the maximum damage of a weapon, maximum reduction roll of armor, or half hit points of an unarmored character, then the weapon, armor, or limb is considered destroyed.

NB: Magical weapons can only be cleaved by magical axes.

Example

Count Baldhead is fighting a Melnibonean guard at the Sack of Immryr and decides to use his Sea Axe (2d6+2 plus bonus of d6) to cleave the Melnibonean's plate (d10+2, so maximum reduction 12) to allow his comrades to finish the foe. He rolls 4, 5, and 3 on his dice, for a total of 14. The Melniobnean plate is destroyed, and now the guard has only his greatsword to defend himself against the reavers.

BLUNT WEAPONS - RINGING BLOW

On a successful attack, an opponent can be momentarily stunned or staggered with a ringing blow.

1) Precondition: Weapon mastery, over 90% in skill

2) Roll: A successful Attack

3) Limits: If the foe is unarmored, on a successful attack, damage is rolled but applied to CON. If CON is reduced to zero, the character is Knocked Out for d8 turns, minutes, or hours depending on what suits the situation. CON is restored to full when they awake. If the character is not reduced to zero, he or she is Staggered, and can only defend and move at 1/2 speed until their CON recovers to full. CON recovers at a rate of 1 CON per round.

If the foe is armored, they can be Staggered but not Knocked Out. Some creatures cannot be Staggered or Knocked Out (ie undead, constructs).

NB: The attacker can choose to forego the Stagger and just do regular damage on a hit.

Example: Zarzonia is captured by pirates, but has escaped her bonds and smashes one in the head with a water jug when he comes to feed her. It is a surprise attack and her player rolls a critical success, doing 12 damage total. This is greater than the pirate's 10 CON, so he crumples in a heap at her feet.

SPEARS, PIKES, & ARROWS - Pin

On a successful attack, an opponent can be pinned to a wall or the ground.

1) Precondition: Weapon mastery, over 90% in skill

2) Roll: A successful Attack

3) Limits: For a normal success, damage is rolled but not applied to hit points. Instead, the character pinned has to make a STR minus damage roll to escape the pin. If the attack is a critical success, then damage is applied to BOTH armor or hit points AND the STR roll to escape as described.

NB: The attacker can choose to forego the Pin and just do double damage on a critical hit.

Example

Rackhir fires an arrow from his desert bow (d10+2 plus d6 damage bonus) at a group of clakar attacking him and Elric. He rolls a critical success, then rolls a 7 and a 3, and so both does 12 damage to the creature, and forces it to make a STR roll minus the damage to escape. The clakar's STR is 14, so this is reduced to 2 for attempt's to escape in following rounds.

DAGGERS & KNIVES - Flurry

On a successful Attack against an unarmored opponent, the attacker can roll to attack again until they miss.

1) Precondition: Weapon mastery, over 90% in skill

2) Roll: A successful Attack

3) Limits: Minus 20% penalty for each consecutive attack after the first.

Example

The King of Beggars is defending himself against an assassin disguised as an urchin, and scores a successful hit. He rolls damage, then rolls to attack again. Another success despite the 20% penalty, and so more damage is done. He scores yet another success on his third attack roll, despite the now 40% penalty, and the damage is enough to finish his would be assassin.

What Do You Think?

How were these signature moves? If you have any suggestions or comments, please leave a message.






Friday, March 19, 2021

Running Kickass NPCs

One of things making my current Call of Cthulhu campaign epic is the NPC game I am bringing to it. I thought I'd share some of the best practices of running NPCs that I've picked up over the years. First, I'll introduce tips for running the important or named NPCS, the friends and foes of the PCs, before moving onto the unnamed little people of the gameworld.



THE FRIEND

First, NPCs who are on friendly terms with the PCs can be made compelling by following these guidelines.

1) PCs are heroes, NPCs are victims or villains.

We all know of The Mary Sue (or Larry Lou), the GM run NPC who outshines the protagonists. Players rightly hate this kind of NPC because they rob them of heroism. I think GMs sometimes fall into the trap of using a heroic NPC because they want to play too. But GM play is a different thing, and running NPCs well should be its own reward.

One way to achieve this is to remember that NPCs should never out-hero the heroes, they are best as victims or villains.

In my CoC game, the PCs came together to meet an old archaeologist, Dr Stanley, who had sent them a telegram about a miraculous find he had made. Dr Stanley didn't show up at the appointed time, so the PCs went to his hotel only to find his room guarded by some local toughs. A gunfight ensued, 4 gang members were shot, and one PC was sent to hospital, along with 1 policeman who showed up to the gunshots. In other words, the players were invested enough in saving this NPC to put their PCs' lives on the line because his weakness made them step up to the plate.

2) Friends have their own motivations & life experiences

Just because an NPC ally can be a victim who the PCs save, this does not mean they exist at the PC's convenience. They should work to achieve their own motivations, and be shaped by their own life experiences.

In our game, after rescuing the professor, the party left El Paso for Arkham to recuperate. At this time they became embroiled in reading the ancient tome the professor had found, or doing other 'in town' projects. Ultimately, the PCs abandoned the poor professor, who had been traumatized by his kidnapping and torture.

I ruled that professor Stanley had become an alcoholic in the weeks alone, and they found him dirty and disheveled in his house after the police were called by complaining neighbors. The players chose who would go get the prof from the drunktank, what kind of treatment they would provide him, and vowed to keep an eye on him. Put another way, they have become engaged with this fictional character, and recognize the truth of his life experience.

3) Friends are unreliable

Finally, good NPCs are not always reliable. In addition to becoming alcoholic as mentioned, after his weeks alone, professor Stanley became adamant that the mythos tome he had found should be destroyed. This split the party between those reading it for power and those wary of where its knowledge would lead them. PvP ensued, the book was burned, and one PC died. Although the death was lamentable, all too often NPCs drop info or arcane knowledge and become reliable (and boring) sources of further information. In this case, Dr Stanley's objection to using the tome became a very genre-appropriate response to finding such a source of arcane knowledge, and the destruction of the book and consequent loss of life brought the Call of Cthulhu session closer to its literary inspirations than I have ever seen.

THE FOE

Just as the PCS' friends can make or break a game, their foes also hold great potential for improving the game if the following rules are kept.

1) Villains don't always fight


Throwing villains at the PCs seems to be the default mode for many GMs, but letting them interact non-violently is a great way to make NPC villains memorable. In our game, the PCs suddenly found themselves stranded in Antarctica, and met an expedition of Nazi soldiers who had been sent to the lost polar city to retrieve an artefact. Instead of a shoot out, the Nazi commander, Sigrid Mueller, offered the PCs sustenance and a ride back to civilization, and the PCs and soldiers eventually worked together to fight off eldritch penguin-things. Ultimately, one PC engaged Colonel Mueller in conversation, and they eventually parted on friendly terms. The players know in their bones that Mueller and his men are the baddies, but after spending time together, they have a grudging gratitude for the NPCs who got them out of the antarctic wastes. Remember Raiders of the Lost Ark - Belloq is arguably Indy's most compelling nemesis, yet he never directly threatens him.

2) Villains don't think they are the baddie


Another GM bad habit is to make the villains two dimensional baddies who cackle on about their evil plan. This is boring and leads to less engagement with the game and its world, of which even bad guys are a part. In our game, during the flight back to civilization with Colonel Mueller, he regaled them with tales of how the Nazis would pacify the earth, and even tackle climate change. Once again, the players know Mueller and his ilk are bad guys, but Mueller himself couches all his acts in terms of his own heroics. In a word, he acts completely as if he was both heroic (ie good) AND the hero or central character of the story.

3) A good foe is compelling

The biggest result of making villains that don't blindly fight but who try to convince players of the righteousness of their actions and worldview is that they become compelling characters in the shared narrative of the game. My players sometime wonder aloud where Mueller is, and his presence and supposed furthering of the plan to gather more artefacts weighs on their minds. Mueller is thus a compelling villain, and (or precisely because) he hasn't fired a single shot at the PCs, and stopping hm has become a de facto engine driving the narrative.

THE LITTLE PEOPLE

Even the background NPCs can bring a lot to the game and the engagement with its world. My main rule is thus:

Reactions should be natural

For instance, when one player had his character run into a hospital brandishing a shotgun, all the nurses on duty rightly screamed, cowered in fear, or called the hospital guard. The player ultimately decided to suicide their PC because NPCs acting naturally was a shock to him. Yet the NPC reactions were entirely realistic, and so players should be reminded that NPCs are not schlubs to be manipulated or tosses aside without consequences. We spend everyday avoiding conflict and dealing with stubborn people in reallife, and the gameworld becomes all the more real if PCs have to do the same.


SUMMARY

So make your allies imperfect and unreliable supporting characters for the PCs to save, and have them interact with some compelling bad guys who think they are the hero. Do this, and not only will you find the villains more enjoyable to run, the players will also feel compelled to find and stop them.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Call of Cthulhu Houserules

I'm running a CoC (6e) campaign now and players are having a blast. That includes me. It is a homebrew story called Eyes of Nyarlothep, where players are tracking down the titular stones in a race against Nazis and conquistador cults. So far they've had shoot outs in El Paso, fought eldritch owl-things in the Antarctic, talked to ghouls under the streets of Paris, and are currently stuck on the moon in the antediluvian past.



I might publish this at some point. 

I have a terrible memory, so I've storified & simplified the rules. Suppose I should have used Trail of Cthulhu, but don't have enough confidence in knowing the system yet.

Maybe my next campaign?

Anyway, here are some houserules we've agreed on:

SANITY POINTS FOR MVP

Every week we decide on an MVP - someone whose roleplaying contributed most to the session, either in terms of fun or story progression. We've decided a d10 SAN recovery for this henceforth.

LUCK ROLL AS ORACLE

I use Luck rolls like Oracles in Ironsworn to decide things. Whenever players are assuming things about NPCs or the world, I ask what they expect, then tell that what I think is more probable. Then they roll a Luck roll to see whether their or my interpretation is what we go with. This gives them some agency, but also means the gameworld is as mysterious to me as to them, keeping me improvising and interested. I also adjust the Luck roll down (ie from POW x 5% to x3%) if they assumption is a slim chance or unrealistic. For instance, at the German Antarctic colony of Neu Schwabenland where they were, they wanted a CB radio. They failed their Luck roll, and had to find other ways of getting a message out, which I decided was via the German radio office.

ONE TIME SKILL CHANGES

Since players had no idea what skills they would need when they chose characters, I allow them to do a one time irreversible change of a skill to suit a need they encounter. Thus far two have changed a language skill to Spanish, which they needed to read an ancient conquistador's diary.

BURNING APP TO GET CONTACTS

Last, I allow players to choose to 'burn' an Appearance point to get a reliable contact, be it an old colleague, friend, family, or ally. This doesn't reduce the App number, just the pool of contacts they can call on. For instance, the old professor tacitly heading the party announced he had a dear friend and colleague at Miskatonic U where they headed with their cursed tome. He had an Appearance of 10, so can choose 9 other contacts in future.

ANYTHING ELSE?

Dear reader, are there any houserules that make CoC a better experience for you? Feel free to drop some wisdom in the comments.