Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Return of Alternity

For some reason, I've been on a big "get back to my roots" slash "find lighter systems" kick.  I've gotten sucked into Mutant Future.  I'm working with Dungeonslayers to see if that will be a good fit for lighter fantasy games. However, light sci-fi just never feels right.  Star Wars Saga is a great system, but it does suffer from the game issues as most D20 system based games: bloat.  Even just sticking to the core rules, there can be a lot to keep track of.  Compared to games like 3E D&D and D20 Modern, Saga is much lighter, but there's also the issue that it's so tied to Star Wars that it's tough to separate the system from the setting.  Well, it's not tough, just more work than I care to do.  I'd much rather focus on writing setting material or the occasional stats. 

That brings me to Alternity.  Alternity was a great sci-fi game put out by TSR in their dying days.  It had and interesting die mechanic of rolling a control die (d20) and a situational die (which was anything from 1d4 to 3d20).  It played pretty quick once you got the hang of it, although damage was a little funky.  It was my RPG of choice for several years until I fell into the D20 craze. 

After I started brainstorming on making a more generic setting using the Saga rules, I opened up my old Alternity Player's Handbook on a lark.  I had forgotten just how much I liked the system.  It has everything I'm looking for: cybernetics, psionics, robots, and aliens.  Space Lords is switching gears and moving into Alternity mode!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Space Lords Update

After toying with the idea of moving the Space Lords (and Dragon Ranges) Wikis to another site and then figuring out why things weren't working right, I've started to slowly get some information posted.  So far, it's just a page for Species and a listing of the more populous species in the galaxy.  No information on them yet, but it's going to start appearing shortly. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Space Lords...or something like that...

I've started a new Wiki to deposit ideas for my "Star Wars without Star Wars" setting I was mulling over a couple posts ago.  It's at  No, I don't play to stick with "Space Lords" as a title, because, well, that's a bit too cheesy, but I'm tired and it's the only thing that came to mind. 

I just created the wiki, so there's nothing there yet, but there will be soon.  I'll try to keep everyone updated here about anything exciting going on there.

Up Next: I rolled up two new random creatures (both are actually kinda gross) that I'll get finalized and posted before pouring my free time into playing Heavy Rain on the PS3. 

The Boys of Summer are back...

For those of you that don't know, I'm a big baseball fan, hell, I'm a HUGE baseball fan.  Every winter in mid-February I start to feel reborn.  Spring Training is starting.  The season is full of promise (or in my favorite team's case, the Royals, the season is full of hopes ready to be dashed, but whatever).  I love it.  Then, every October, well early November nowadays, after the last out of the World Series I go dormant, waiting for the arrival of spring. 

A few years ago I picked up a copy of Strat-O-Matic Baseball.  This is a baseball game played with either dice and cards with charts depicting ballplayers, or in a computer game set-up.  While I own a copy of both ways to play the game, I vastly prefer chugging dice.  It's just a more visceral feeling.  It does an amazing job of simulating play.  Plus, you can easily play a full 9 inning game in about a half hour.  This is a game that many pro ballplayers have even played and credited to teaching them fundamental tactics. 

After getting the hang of the game, which doesn't take long at all, I ordered the special edition Hall of Fame so I could have cards of my favorite ballplayers like Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and my personal hero, the incomparable George Brett, without having to buy a bunch of team sets from seasons past.  Once I had that set in my hands, my brother, who is an even bigger baseball geek than myself, spent an entire day (starting around 10 AM and ending around 1AM) drafting 40 teams from across my sets to form my Super League.  After a break to sleep, we started in on playing through the schedule I had set up in an Excel spreadsheet. 

I got about a quarter of the way through the schedule when life got in way.  My wife was pregnant with our son, we were house hunting and then packing up and moving and then shortly after that our son was born.  With Donovan here, Stat-O, along with just about all gaming, took a back seat to feedings and changing diapers.  I haven't rolled up a game in about 2 years.  Wow.  It staggers me to see that typed out.  Now that my son is a precocious 16 month old, who is becoming more and more of his own person everyday, and he's FINALLY sleeping through the nights, I find myself in the position to roll up a game every now and then.  I had to refresh myself on the rules, but it was practically like riding a bike.  I've missed it so much. 

Strat-O holds a strong place in my heart not only for being a great baseball game, and an all-around awesome game as well, but it also was a way for my brothers and I to spend time together and bond.  My brothers and I all have divergent interests, but we all love baseball.  That's one thing we can always agree to spend time together on.  Whether it's rolling a game of Strat-O or going to game, baseball is the great equalizer.  We may argue about so-and-so being better in clutch situations or the what the Royals should do to get out of this monstrous funk they're in, but as long as we're talking about "the game" it's all good.  I've had a lot of fun sitting around the kitchen table rolling game after game with my brothers.  It's time that I'll always cherish and I look forward to bonding with my son over games of Strat-O in the coming years.  If for nothing else, that is why Strat-O will forever trump all other gaming as my favorite game. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Brainstorming: Star Wars without Star Wars

I finished my first playthrough of Mass Effect 2 the other night.  If you haven't checked it out, do so.  It's among one of the best CRPG's I've ever played.  Hell, it's one of the best video games I've ever played.  Period.  It's just simply brilliant.  It got me thinking about wanting to play a sci-fi game.  For those that haven't tried it out, the Star Wars Roleplaying Game Saga Edition is a spectactular system.  Not only is it a great Star Wars system, but it's also my favorite D20 system game as well.  Even though I love Star Wars and I love playing in the setting since I think it's a great place for games of a space opera/sci-fantasy bent, I've been wanting to play something that's not really tied to the Star Wars universe.  I still want the Force.  I still want some of the species.  I still want the feel.  I just don't want the baggage of it being a "long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" because my players know what to expect.  There are certain pre-conceived notions that come with playing Star Wars based on the era the game is taking place in.  Even though there is enough leeway to be able to run any number of adventures in any era, players still come in knowing more about the setting than I've come to want them to know.  Plus, by using the Saga system there's every little I'd have to add to the game mechanically to get the proper feel I'm looking for. 
I've been batting around some ideas in my head, but haven't written anything down (until now).  I want to craft my own setting that still feels like Star Wars, but doesn't have all the Jedi/Sith stuff; travelling across the galaxy isn't as easy as simply having a hyperdrive; and never has there ever been a Jar-Jar Binks.  The Force is easily handled as psionics.  However, I don't want the distinctly Light vs Dark spilt that is a given in the SW universe.  There is simply this source of power, and while some may be more inherently good or evil the true distinction is how they are used by the individual.  I haven't decided how I will handle the Force powers that deal with specific lightsaber training.  There almost needs to be an order like the Jedi that is devoted to using the Force to weild a lightsaber to block blaster bolts, but I don't want anything as strict as the Jedi Order.  I want the Force/psionics to be looked upon as being feared and dangerous.  Those that weild this power are looked up with fear in most cases.  I just haven't figured out how to do it yet. 
As far as space travel goes, I think I'm going to go with something akin to Mass Effect Relays.  These will allow nearly instantaneous travel to other relays in the galaxy, and possibly beyond, but while there are many of them found in the galaxy, and like many more yet to be found, there is still vast areas of the galaxy that can take long periods of time to get to.  However, Mass Effect Drives allow travel faster than the speed of light, but they are nowhere close to instantaneous.  Travel from a system that is home to a Relay to a nearby system using a Mass Effect drive can take days or even a month or more.  The Star Wars universe has always hand-waved the travel requirements in lieu of telling a great pulpy story.  However, it's made the SW setting feel much smaller than I've come to like for a somewhat "harder" sci-fi setting. 
As far as species go, I'll likely use the massive tome of species I mentioned in an earlier post.  However, I'll give the players a list of the major species that can easily be found throughout the galaxy.  They can still play as a really strange and rare species of creature, but if they want something that is going to be more easily found they'll have the list.  Plus, I want mutations.  There are several sources for mutations in the various D20 system games.  Those found in Darwin's World will likely fit the bill pretty well, and likely won't take too much change to fit them into the Saga system.  Beyond that, most everything else that players will need to create their character are already a part of the Saga rules from bionics to cybernetics. 
That's it for now.  Future posting will get into more of the details like organizations and threats. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Absence due to video game fever

I haven't posted much in the last week, obvoiusly.  It's not because of work or family concerns, but because I've been knee-deep into Mass Effect 2.  I'm just about ready for the final fight, but I'm going to scour the galaxy for every scrap of adventure I can find.  Not out of some need to be the most powerful guy in the galaxy, but because the game is just that damn good.  Bioware has been putting out great games for a long time now.  I tore through the classic Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale games in the late 90's, loved Neverwinter Nights (but wasn't as crazy about NWN 2, even though it was still a decent game), and have been eating up the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games.  Plus, they've already announced the next chapters in both franchises for early next year, not to mention the expansion for Dragon Age coming out next month.
Bioware epitomizes what I love about western CRPG's: choice.  Both Mass Effect games and Dragon Age have a dizzying array of ways to craft your own story beyond just playing the game as a good guy or a bad guy.  The interactions between your character and your party are nothing short of amazing.  The characters have depth not really seen in most eastern-influenced RPG's.  The mark of a great game is after you've beaten it, you want to start it back up again with a different character (or in the case of Mass Effect a different style of the main character).  Dragon Age was that way for me.  I played through each of the background storylines before I selected the character I was going to go through my first play through of the game with.  Once I was done, I went back and continued with another character.  As long as Bioware keeps this trend up, I'll happily be their lapdog. 
I didn't get much done this last weekend.  My wife and I went out Saturday night to catch a movie and go out to eat, and her folks were in town.  However, I did find time to beat Bayonetta and then do some wheelin' and dealin' down at Gamestop.  First off, let me say that Bayonetta is a fun game.  Everything about it is slick, polished, and oozing with style.  If you enjoyed the Devil May Cry series, you'll likely enjoy Bayonetta.  That said, there were a few reasons why I traded it off as soon as I finished it.  The first is that the story was goofy.  It's not a matter of poor translation of themes from east to west.  There aren't any themes that are obscure to western audiences.  The story wasn't cohesive at all.  It jumped around all over the place.  It really took away from my enjoyment of the game.  Plus, about three-quarters of the way through the game, the style of the game shifts away from the button mashing combo-builder to wild car chases and even air combat style game.  It really threw off the pace and feel of the game.  By the time I got into the last 3 or 4 stages, I was sick of the cut scenes even.  Even with these gripes, I still enjoyed the game.  I'd give it 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommend picking it up, but I'd certainly either rent it or pick it up once it drops in price. 
Along with Bayonetta, I traded in my PSP and the games.  I simply didn't turn it on anymore and figured I'd turn it into some credit towards other games that I'd end up enjoying more.  I came home with the Classic Rock Track Pack for Rock Band, LEGO Star Wars the Complete Series (which is the 3rd time I've picked up a SW LEGO game, once for the PS2, once for the 360 and then now), Brutal Legend, Darksiders, Resistance 2 all for the PS3 and then got my pre-orders for both Heavy Rain (PS3) and Dragon Age: Awakenings paid in full.  Not too bad of a haul. 
I played the Heavy Rain demo before deciding to pre-order it.  If you have a PS3, I HIGHLY recommend downloading it and giving it a shot.  The control scheme takes some getting used to, but before long you'll have the hang of it.  It's gorgeous.  The character animations are among the best I've every seen.  For those who don't know, it's a mystery game played from the vantage point of four different characters: an old private eye, a reporter, a father trying to save his kidnapped son, and an FBI agent.  It's got that dirty/gritty look found in movies like Seven.  It boasts a storyline that with change with your choices, and if a main character dies, the game continues on without him/her.  I'm really looking forward to it.
As I look at the calender, there's a ton of games that have piqued my curiosity on the horizon and on into next year: Final Fantay XIII (even though I won't be picking it up at launch after all, I know I'll pick it up in time), God of War III, Metro 2033 (I wish the English translation of this book would hit before the game), Splinter Cell: Conviction, Super Street Fighter IV, Red Dead Redemption, Lost Planet 2, Neir, Modnation Racers (the beta is fun, but they still need to add some polish to the game to make it a great kart racer), Max Payne 3, Dead Rising 2, Gran Turismo 5, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, Batman: Arkham Asylum II, Crysis 2, Dead Space II, Dragon Age 2, Mass Effect 3, and of course, Diablo III and Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Even though the down economy is forcing fewer games to be released and to be spaced further apart, which is pushing some games back to way later in the year, the future still looks pretty damn good on the video game front for quite some time to come. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Random Creature!

This is something that I hope will become a regular occurrence (time permitting), I'm going to roll up a totally random creature for use with Mutant Future/Labyrinth Lord.  I'm using the Random Esoteric Creature Generator from Goodman Games to generate the creature.  (I highly recommend this book if you want to throw something really different at your players.)  The first entry in this series is: The Porcupocalypse!!!!

The Porcupocalypse
No. Enc.:                     1 (thankfully)
Alignment:                    Chaotic
Movement:                  120' (40')
Armor Class:               -3
Hit Dice:                      17 (I kicked off this process by rolling a d20 to determine base HD)
Attacks:                       1 (Spines)
Damage:                      2d10
Save:                           L20
Morale:                       8
Hoard Class:               None

The dreaded Porcupocalypse is only talked about in hushed whispers across the wastelands. It is said to be a massive, 30' tall porcupine that walks on two legs. Its spines are said to be like massive spears that can skewer a man with but a swipe of its powerful arms. It supposedly feeds on the fear is causes. As it strides across the wastes, blood rains down on the ground from its body; fouling the air and marking its path. However, few ever seem to get a good look at the creature as its form is blurred as if it's not totally in sync with this reality. That may explain how it's able to vanish into the wastes after leaving a settlement trembling in fear or worse.
The Porcupocalypse is a terrifying foe with a dizzying array of mutations/abilities. First, for its size, it's quick. This gives the creature a +3 bonus to attack rolls. The blood that drips from the creature is corrosive, so with each successful hit, the target's AC is worsened by 1 point. Plus it deals an additional 1d6 points of damage on a critical hit. If that wasn't enough whenever a character is hit by an attack, he must make a save vs poison or contract a blood disease that will kill him in 2d10 days unless some cure is found (so far none has).

It's not fully part of this world, so the first attack against the creature always misses, but after that it fully enters the world and can be attacked normally. However, attacking the creature isn't a good idea. When it's hit, it splits into two versions of itself, each version with half the total hit point total (round down). Each time the creature is struck it splits.

As if all this isn't scary enough, the Porcupocalypse can forgo attacking in a round to focus its malice on a foe. That foe must make a save vs. stun or run away in fear for 1d4 rounds. The creature only takes half damage from acid.

The Porcupocalypse is cunning. It typically starts combat with a charge attack if there is not already a foe adjacent to it. This charge attack deals double damage if it hits (in addition to all the other horrible effects of a porcupocalypse attack). If it has its choice of targets, it will go after those that appear to be less armored in the group.

Mutations: aberrant form (xenomorphism), gigantism, special.

Wow.  That one was a doozy.  I was surprised that the rolls made sense.  It actually disappointed me a little.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Birth of a Campaign (hopefully) or How to K.I.S.S.

I mentioned that I've been working on getting a game of Mutant Future going.  This will be my wife's first real taste of RPG's.  The closest she's come so far is a session of old school Hero Quest.  She enjoyed it, but we didn't get to play a second dungeon and she was wanting to continue playing her elf.  She's always balked at playing in the past since she thinks "my games are too complicated".  That's why I'm going for Mutant Future.  It's pretty wild and crazy, nothing too serious, and it's easy to play.  I would really like to play some Star Wars Saga, but the Saga system, while easy to play and run for those that are old hat at this sort of thing, may be a little too much to throw her way.  I would like her to focus more on the game rather than having to add up modifiers and such. 

I have an idea for the game in mind.  It will start off in what's left of Marshall (or M'shall as it's called in the post apocalyptic future), the town were we're going to be.  It's a rarity in the wastelands in that it counts many species as citizens from pure humans, to replicants, to mutants.  All in all not a completely horrible place to live in the wastelands.  M'shall is in trouble.  Drought has set in on the one fertile land.  The food stores are drying up, people are getting sick, and to top it off slavers have picked up on this and have doubled their efforts to take the town down.  The players (my wife and 2 or maybe 3 others) are picked to go on a mission to find a G.E.C.K. (yeah, I'm ripping off Fallout), which will help to ensure the town's survival.  Supposedly, one was delivered to the vault in KayCee, far to the West, but no one knows if it was ever used or not. 

Not too shabby.  It's pretty basic stuff, but hopefully it will hook the players enough to go on the quest for the G.E.C.K. and lay the foundation for crazier stuff to come.  My main problem, which has been a problem since my days of playing AD&D, it that I'm trying hard to force myself to Keep It Simple, Stupid.  I tend to over-plan campaigns, detail stuff that my players will likely never encounter, and then almost get burned out on the game entirely before even sitting down to play.  I'm trying hard to just go in with a barebones approach like back when I first sat down with Hero Quest or Basic D&D back in the day.  I need to realize that the Devil is the details and just go in with a mind to focus on the fun.  I'm not writing some grand epic, I'm playing a game with those I love.  Keep it loose, keep it fun.  It is hard though.  I looked through some of my old Rifts and Darwin's World material and ideas are flowing, but I need to just let the game go where it will. 

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Death of the JRPG?

The first true computer RPG I played was Final Fantasy on the NES.  I guess The Legend of Zelda would count, but I consider it more of an action/puzzle game, but anyway.  I spend countless hours playing and leveling my characters until I beat the game.  That started me down the wild, and often times weird road of loving computer RPGS.  For the longest time, the only RPG's I could find were those made my Japanese companies.  Even now and then an Eye of the Beholder or the classic Gold Box D&D games would come out, and that was pretty much it for Western developers (at least that I got to see as a kid). 

Don't get me wrong.  The Gold Box games were good, but story wise they never matched up the epicness that was Final Fantasy II (IV in Japan) or Final Fantasy VII.  Japanese developers really knew how to put together a game that even though you had little control in the plot, you simply didn't care.  You wanted to see where things went.

That's where things went wrong. 

It wasn't until Final Fantasy 10 came out that I realized that somewhere, they lost me.  I still enjoyed the spectacle of the FF games (hell, I've had FFXIII on pre-order since November), but I almost wished they would just go ahead and make the games into movies.  Seriously, combat is simply the commercials to break up the movie.  There is really no exploration (FFXII did a little better at this, but it was still a railroad), and the only reason to level up is so that you can survive to the next beautifully rendered cutscene.  I, the guy who shelled out the money to buy the game isn't really getting much game to play.  I essentially just dropped $60 for a 4 hour movie that's going to take me 20-50 hours to watch.  That doesn't really excite me anymore. 

When the Baldur's Gate games came out, I had an epiphany of sorts.  Here's a game, that while still laid out a set of clear goals before me, A to B to C, had little extra stops along the way that didn't have to be done just because I was in the area.  I had a modicum of control over the story.  That got kicked up another notch when Planescape: Torment was released with its ambiguous moral issues and multiple endings based on what choices you made during the game. 

Fast forward to today and many games are wide open to the player to craft his or her own story.  I love reading and discussing Dragon Age: Origins because so far, nobody I've discussed with has had the same experience.  We've all made widely different choices at different parts of the game.  Even though the exact story is not our own, we're still reading the script presented to us, we're getting a level of control on the direction that we've never had before.  Those sandbox style games are all coming from Western developers. 

I would love to see some honest-to-goodness collaboration between developers like Square and Bioware to develop and RPG with the epic sense of scale and emotion that JRPG's convey with the player-driven storylines that are so prevalent in western RPG's.  THAT would make for one helluva game. 

So is the JRPG dying out?  From the looks of FFXIII, no, there's still life in it.  While I expect one helluva experience with the latest edition of the greatest CRPG franchise in history, I have my doubts that I'll either tear through it they way I did Dragon Age (or how I'm currently tearing through Mass Effect 2) or want to play it again once I beat it just like I did when I completed Dragon Age.  That's honestly the true measure of a video game: once you're done with it do you want to start all over again?  I haven't felt that way about any JRPG in a long, long time.