It's been a while since I did a dumb table, so that's what I'm going to do this week. Swiping characters from history and folklore is a common trope in RPGs (I'm pretty sure that Rasputin was a vampire, a werewolf, AND a mage in the original World of Darkness), partly because it can save the GM a lot of time. You can use these characters in their traditional context, transport them to your game setting via time travel or magic or immortality, or file the serial numbers off and create new characters inspired by them. I'll include Wikipedia links for each one if you need to do further research before plugging them into your game.
2. Stagger Lee
4. Sawney Bean
10. Hassan-i Sabbah
11. Mad King Ludwig
12. Lucky Luciano
13. J. Edgar Hoover
14. Mike Fink
15. Baron Samedi
16. Sack Man
17. Mock Duck
19. Allan Pinkerton
20. Gilles de Rais
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Things are slow on the Cinemechanix front this week. so let's do one of those blogs where I sketch out a one-shot adventure using my handy One Shot Generator Script (adapted from some of the tables in The Book of Dumb Tables and its sequel). As always, I have two options, since each Book of Dumb Table had a different way generating random one shots. My choices are:
The PCs are legendary heroes who work as space pirates who are opposed by Nazis.
A Western version of Die Hard as directed by George Lucas.
I usually tend toward option 2 when I do these things (which makes sense given that I'm the one who came up with the tables for the original 2nd formula), and Die Hard in a silver mine or something does have a certain appeal, but the first one has space Nazis, so we're doing space Nazis. "Legendary heroes" might sound vague, but here at One Hex Tower it's the "line" name we use for books like The Adventures of Sindbad, GILGAMESH!, and Beowulf vs. Grendel; so basically mythological characters.
When humanity finally abandoned Earth, they assumed they were done with Nazis. The 8th Reich had fallen nearly three generations earlier and even the Nazis who'd extended their lives through scientific means were thought to have been killed when South America was obliterated during the Coffee Wars. But Nazis are like herpes, and right now the 13th Reich controls most of the developed planets in the Sol II system. There is a resistance in the form of both clandestine groups on the central planets and ragged bands of rebels hiding out on desolate chunks of rock on the outskirts of the systems.
Second only to the Nazis' persistence is their tendency to dabble in occultism-tinged fringe science. From turning elite SS soldiers into actual werewolves to building an army of cybernetically enhanced super-apes to the tantric supercomputer that gave rise to Der RoboFuhrer, there's nothing that Nazi scientist won't try. One such experiment involved using DNA samples obtained from ancient Terran artifacts to clone the greatest heroes from Earth's past. The experiment worked, but the Nazis didn't count on was the heroes climbing out of the vats with their full memories intact and very little appreciation for the tenets of National Socialism. They promptly escaped from a maximum security laboratory facility to the frontier planets. Today, still wanted by the Nazis, they make their living as smugglers and soldiers of fortune on the outer edges of the galaxy. If you're in trouble, if nobody else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the Argonauts.
The PCs' ship is obviously the Spaceship Argo. If I'm making pre-gen characters or giving the players suggestions, I'm going to go with Sindbad as the captain/pilot with Gilgamesh as first mate and Beowulf as hired muscle. Noah is the ship's engineer and Prometheus is the "security expert" (thief). Robin Hood is the gunner. Since the space Nazis are actively looking for them, the Argonauts have avoided contacting the organized resistance, preferring to act as freelance guerilla fighters whenever they get a chance to interfere with the Reich in ways that won't get them caught (which often involves killing every Nazi they encounter).
Obviously, the Rebel High Command is very eager to recruit the mysterious band of smuggler who reportedly routinely convert Nazi ships and space stations into floating mausoleums, and since this is a one-shot we might as well go right for the big target: Der RoboFuhrer. When the rebels track down the Argonauts, they explain that Der RoboFuhrer is currently conducting some kind of unholy experiment in a secret bunker on an obscure moon. The moon is far too heavily-secured for the rebels to mount an assault, but the Argonauts may be able to infiltrate the bunker and take down the RoboHitler. In addition to the expected space panzers and cybernetic Nazi gorillas, there has to be a complication, so when the party gets into the bunker they'll discover that Der RoboFuhrer has somehow managed to clone Odin and is currently draining his power. If he succeeds, he'll gain both Odin's immortality and his vast knowledge, which will make him unstoppable. The PCs will have to decide whether to confront the Nazi robot overlord directly or race against time to destroy the base before he steals the god's power.
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I should probably write some kind of big cool blog to celebrate the 20th installment of the design journal or something, but I'm revising (or maybe "completely rewriting" is more accurate) my third essay for the Thought Eater thing, so this one will be quick.
As I've mentioned before, I want combat that gets away from the "fight until everybody on the other side is unconscious" standard and leans more toward the way fights actually end in fiction. A lot of that has to be done by storytelling (giving fight scenes "victory conditions" that making continuing to fight impossible or pointless), but I'd also like there to be a mechanical component to give characters (PC or NPC) a reason to choose to leave the fight. Making unconsciousness the natural end for a fight (especially for PCs) brings up all kinds of story problems unless you're running a game based on The Big Sleep (or The Big Lebwoski) where getting knocked out is the main engine of scene changes.
In the current system, characters who drop below 0 Stamina can still fight, but suffer a penalty to all rolls equal to their current Stamina (so if you're at -7 Stamina, you have -7 to all rolls). I thought maybe that would help characters reach the "we can't win this" point through sheer force of math, but from what I can tell most of the playtesters seem to be working under the impression that everybody will fight until they're dead. I plan to include a note in the GM section about how most NPCs will flee when they drop below zero unless they're really committed or don't have the option of running away, bu that still doesn't help convince PCs to leave a fight that's going against them and come back with bigger guns or a better plan.
I'm wondering if the problem is that a penalty doesn't provide the right incentive, and if players might be more likely to see 0 Stamina as the point where you need to find a way to win fast or get out if there was a cost involved with continuing the fight. I'm thinking the solution might be to charge a point of Acclaim to take any action that requires a roll once you're Stamina is negative. That way characters are still conscious and I don't have to come up with a justification for the henchmen not shooting them in the head, but they have a clear limit on how long they can keep going (once they're out of acclaim, they can't do much but bleed) and a real reason to fall back and try plan B.
If you want context for this (in the form of the current rules draft) or want to join in the discussion, join the playtest group.
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As I talked about last week, rolling a big dice pool and choosing the best result does what I intended it to do so well that it causes a whole new set of problems. Namely, the range of likely rolls shrinks so much at high dice pools that it's very hard for characters to cause much damage to one another. For now, my plan is to try to tweak the rules slightly so that the dice pools drop without making major changes to how the game works and how the characters are defined. I've come up with a few ideas that would require big rules changes, but that would require a major rewrite and most of them feel like they'd be moving backwards. So here are the options I'm focusing on (and waiting for playtester feedback about) right now:
Option 1: Arbitrary Dice Pool Limit
With this option, we basically just declare that you can’t roll more than X dice. Most of the other rules stay the same, but changing the definition of “Penatly Dice” to “remove a die from your pool before rolling” would probably be a good idea to avoid confusion. Since under the current system characters get at least 3 dice for anything they’re at least vaguely competent in before you add situational bonus dice, hero props, etc., X would probably need to be 5. If you’ve got more than 6 dice for a roll, anything beyond the first 5 just offset penalty dice. You can’t roll more than 5.
Option 2: Change Tropes from Dice to Roll Modifiers
With this option, characters just get the free dice and the Concept Die for most rolls. Some Special Effects, Hero Props, or situational modifiers may give them additional bonus dice, but usually it’ll be in the “5 or less” range we’re shooting for and most of the time players will just be rolling 1 or 2 dice. Instead of giving bonus dice, Tropes give the character a roll modifier, so a “Kung Fu” Trademark would give you a +3 to your roll and your “Bad Hearing” Drawback would give you a -2.
Option 3: Make All Tropes 1 Die
All Trademarks and Drawbacks are worth 1 die.
Option 4: Roll Tropes into Hooks
Just get rid of Tropes entirely and base your roll entirely on Concept. The artist formerly known as Tropes become a variant type of Hook.
Option 5: Single Trope Die, No Modifier
In this version, you have a list of Trademarks and a list of Drawbacks and have a Trope Die that works more or less like the Concept Die.
Option 6: Single Trope Die With Modifier
Same as option 5, but Tropes have roll modifiers and you get the Trope Die and the modifier.
When I started running the math (in the expanded version of this I posted to the playtest group), I realized that option 3 could theoretically be min/maxed to work out about the same as either the current system or, a little more easily, Option 1 (the 5 die arbitrary limit), so I've mostly taken it out of the running. Right now I think I'm leaning toward Option 2. My main concern is that it expands the range of rolls by 25% (since you're adding a Trope modifier as well as Hero Factor), which means re-working things like target numbers, but at the moment it seems like the option that best fixes the problem without radically changing the existing system. You just get a bonus to the roll instead of an extra die for skills.
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So, as I've mentioned before, rolling a lot of dice and picking the highest reduces the range of likely rolls, which means that in a system where damage is determined by the difference of the rolls, if both sides of the fight are rolling a bunch of dice, they're not going to cause much damage. My first attempt to fix this was by tweaking the damage system so that it didn't take as much damage to beat an opponent, but the first playtest used really high dice pools and blew that fix out of the water. Too many hit points was part of the problem, but it wasn't nearly as problematic as large dice pools.
The extra dice also don't really help you very much. At 5 dice, the average roll is 17.5 and the typical minimum (average minus standard deviation) is 14.69. Both of these increase fractionally up to 10 dice (the highest I did the math for), which has an average roll of 18.46 and typical minimum of 17.0. If both characters are rolling 5 dice, the maximum damage one can cause is 6. If they're rolling 10 dice, it's 3. Unless you reduce the hit points to such a low number that less powerful characters start dropping like flies, the current system makes for very long fights on the high end of the power scale.
My first instinct was to see the problem as a feature, not a bug. The less two combatants know about combat, the more the fight relies on somebody getting off a lucky punch, so big ranges in possible results (like the 1-20 range of a single d20) make sense. If both combatants are equally skilled, the fight's going to last longer because they both know what they're doing and are going to have to work harder to cause damage to one another. When you get up to super-heroic levels, a fight with very little damage makes perfect sense. If Thor and the Hulk just stand there and punch each other, they can keep going for days before someone gets bruised, much less knocked out. In fiction, of course, they don't just stand there and punch one another until one of them dies, because that makes for a boring story. Instead, one of them comes up with a brilliant plan, or achieves whatever objective he was fighting the other guy for in the first place, or they realize they should be working together, or whatever. I've already mentioned how I want the game to include some guidance (and maybe even mechanics) to encourage getting away from the "punch him until he dies" school of fight scenes, so my first thought was that a system that makes it hard for very powerful characters to hurt one another was exactly what I needed.
Then, of course, reality set in. Even though characters in fiction rarely fight until the opponent (or everyone on the opposing team, for group fights) is a bleeding puddle, the unfortunate reality is that "punch him until he's dead" is so ingrained in RPGs that a system where the mechanics preclude the possibility of doing that is going to look broken, even if in my mind it's not. I do want to encourage moving away from the "kill everything in the way" style that's the default in RPGs but rare in actual fiction, but I don't have enough hubris to think I can single-handedly undo a 40-year-old RPG default setting. So I'm looking for ways to trim down those dice pools without completely rebuilding the system. I'll probably talk more about that next week.
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