Archive for February, 2014

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Scarlet Heroes

February 24, 2014

Every time a POC focal rpg comes out… I WANT to like it.  I want it to not be fucked up.  Seriously.

Sadly, Scarlet Heroes takes pretty smart modern game design to “old school gaming” then pours heaps of problematic representation on top of it.

SH aims to be an asian themed pulp sword and sorcery kind of game.  There’s two ways one could go about this – take the many, many asian folklore tales and modern tales and pull from the very close parallels to modern pulp (wuxia, evil decadent governments, magic, secret societies, etc.) or…

…one could take the really problematic projections of “oriental” that came from the western pulp era.

Of the human societies presented:

– The fake Japanese (with a Chinese title) are literal demon worshippers who push their citizens to do evil to commit their souls to demons at death

– The fake Chinese run by a “Mandarinate” (um…an ethnicity might run a government but isn’t a government structure…so…) have an Emperor who is SO HOMOSEXUAL (Super caps to let you know to fear teh gheyz) he refuses to even to try to father an heir, leading to political instability…

– An evil fake Chinese country of evil wizards who engage in every vice and the picture shows the classic Yellow Peril dude sitting on a throne while attended to by many half naked women (many white women) …

– There’s two white societies – the fake Vikings and the fake Germans, because in a game about POC, you gotta have white people

– A group that sounds a goddamn lot like fake Jews

– And the rest of the human lands, we are told, is like South East Asia, but aside from pulling from some of the SEA monsters, nothing else is really explained

Then there’s a bunch of other minor by comparison but still notable red flags – there’s a woman in samurai armor but dressed up courtly hair (aka, “This is all we’ve seen of Japanese women hair” stereotype) which seems really weird.   There’s a Black woman who shows up in a couple of the pictures, but no real mention where she was supposed to come from or if she’s supposed to be one of the missing SEA groups in this setting.  All the spells have really long ornate names which is the key sign something is “oriental”.

This is the thing: when people’s idea of POC as heroes is “Wouldn’t it be awesome to play as the horrific stereotypes we threw on you as part of colonialism and war propaganda?” I’m having a real hard time seeing the fun escapism in this.

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Double Cross RPG

February 12, 2014

Ended up picking the Double Cross RPG – this is a Japanese rpg that hits that Shonen Manga trope of the “people get superpowers and are caught between secret organizations” genre.  My anime references are older -mostly stuff like Guyver and Baoh, but newer stuff like Towanoquan or Darker than Black would also apply.

The game has a lot of neat design tricks, but it suffers from the White Wolf problem – the game advises Illusionist/Railroading play, while much of the actual game mechanics work against it.

Encroachment

The protagonists all get their superpowers from “The Renegade Virus”, which, can take over one’s mind, reducing one to a mindless monster bent on destruction.

The score players will track is their “Encroachment Rate” which goes up and up – 1D10 per scene you show up in, a certain amount everytime you use powers, 2D10 if you encounter immense stress.  At the end of the game you get a chance to reduce it – if it’s over 100% at the end, your character is lost to the virus.

Reducing the virus requires holding onto important relationships – reasons to STAY human.  Also, you get more XP the closer you were to losing your character at the end of the game – you’re rewarded for risking yourself.

Lois / Titus Characters

Each PC will have a number of relationships – Lois and Titus characters.

Lois characters are reasons to stay human – friends, family, lovers, rivals.  Each Lois you have at the end of a session allows you to reduce your Encroachment by 1D10.   You can have a maximum of 7 Lois relationships, but you can only carry 3 between sessions -so that means you’ll be wanting to play up the drama and connect with other characters to get those additional Lois relationships.

The randomization also means you can’t exactly game the system – you’re risking your character between the randomized gain (1D10 per scene) and randomized recovery (1D10 per Lois).

If your Lois character dies, or your PC is distraught over them (betrayed, etc.) you can change them into a Titus character.  Titus relationships give you a one time bonus from a short list – but the options are really powerful – stuff like a 10 die bonus (when you’re usually rolling 3-5 dice), the ability to instantly recover from being brought to zero hitpoints, etc.

The funny thing is that this totally means characters who have a mess or shamble of life connections – tragic loss, or perhaps a frenzy of self destructiveness, will end up able to overpower a lot of things… in the short run.  There’s no limit to the number of Titus relationships you can carry over session to session, so having a protagonist who leaves a trail of tragedy behind them is genre appropriate AND supported by mechanics.

You can see pretty easily how this makes for amazing relationship situations in play, but also is terrible for Illusionism.

Positive/Negative Feelings Chart

For any Lois/Titus character, you list a positive AND negative feeling about them.  And you pick one that your character is actually conscious of.  You might be jealous of your best friend but also admire his determination.

What’s interesting about choosing one to be conscious is that either you end up forced to face the things you don’t like about the people you care about, or find redeeming qualities in the people you hate.

Again – amazing space for things like Narrativist play, also shitty for Illusionism.  What happens when you decide to acknowledge Sympathy for the villain and don’t capture/kill them?  What happens when you decide your mentor has actually been just using you and you quit the secret organization?

Powers

The power design is pretty smart.  All of the powers are generally designed to easily combine with other powers.  There’s no “skill tree” set up – a power either directly does something, or it stacks onto another power.

While each power might have multiple levels – it only increases it’s effectiveness or number of times it can be used – it’s not like some games where a new level in the same power unlocks extra abilities.  This means you don’t have to do deep planning ahead on your character builds.

Whereas a lot of game design, such as D&D 3.5 fails with their power set up – where you pick an optimal power/feat set and just do the same thing turn after turn, Double Cross has the Encroachment cost.  I may have an uber-combo of 5 powers I can use together to be awesome, but maybe that pumps up my Encroachment 14 points, and I’m not sure if this encounter is worth it.  So there’s an incentive to consider using less of your powers just for your own character’s sake.

There’s also the “Simple Powers” which are the non-combat powers.  These are supposed to be less powerful, but… consider the basic power every PC gets: “Warding” – you can release a virus cloud that knocks out all the non-powered humans in the area.  This drastically changes how you deal with investigations (“Oh, knock em out, let’s just get the keys and go through the files ourselves”) or fights (“Crap, the subway is full of helpless, unconscious bystanders… how are we going to get them out of here?”).  Again, stuff that can break Illusionist plans greatly.

There’s 12 “strains” of the virus, and each PC can either have 1, 2, or 3.  Each strain actually has a wide enough power set that you don’t feel cheated if you go with just one, at the same time the advantages to specializing are well balanced out with going with variety.

Other bits

Outside of the Illusionism, there’s actually functional advice also in the game – stuff on how to communicate with each other and developing listening skills, the fact that “I’m not being a jerk, My Guy (TM) is being a jerk” is shitty and actually just you being a jerk, etc.  It helps to remember this advice is from 2001 as well, and it’s been good progress in the last 10-12 years of overcoming dysfunctional behavior.

The game has a pretty light/sparse description for most powers, and the setting is also relatively light.  If you’re already familiar with a lot of “modern powers” manga/anime, this is all going to fit perfectly for you, especially the love/hate complexity of all the characters.

The layout is… not that great.  It’s not too hard to find things, but there are some rules which require bookmarking or remembering it’s mentioned in one section but not another.  The worst part is the character sheets – I hope some fans put together something cleaner and easier to read.

I’m definitely looking forward to playing this, but I’m going to have to excise all the Illusionist bits.

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An accurate cartoon

February 10, 2014

Perils of the Lady Gamer.   Often the dividing line between “Some people are assholes” and “this culture is FULL of assholes” is whether bad behavior actually results in social costs to said assholes.

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Tenra Bansho Zero: Asura God Dii-Go

February 7, 2014

Tonight’s game the players faced the epic Asura – half of the Earth Spirit Dii-Go.  They managed to finish it just before it dished out it’s second uber attack.  

Asura God Dii-Go

Half of the Oni Earth Spirit – Dii Go, driven mad with pain and anger, which has been chained and trapped by the Shinto Priesthood and used to power their orbital strike powers.

Long ago, the Shinto Priesthood, through immense tech and magic, managed to capture half of Dii-Go’s spirit and trapped it into a 108,000 Soul Mirror Reactor. It has been used to fire massive beams upon Tenra at various points in history…turning it further and further into an entity of pure rage… an Asura.

Upon entering the giant satellite chamber, one can see nearly a cocoon of red steel chains, pulsating, breathing with rage. They spin quicker and quicker and spin away to reveal the chained form of the Asura half of Dii-Go – a massive, stone Oni, whose eyes burn with red light and do not stop flowing tears of blood.

Fate- Goal – Destroy everything.

Stats

Vitality 54

Rolls 15 Dice (half of a god, chained up. Normally much higher.). Has a skill of 5 with any Body, Agility, Senses, or Spirit roll. As an asura, it cannot be reasoned with, and is in pure blinding rage.

The Broken God

Whenever Dii Go hits a PC, it does damage equal to their Karma divided by 5 (round down). It doesn’t matter if Dii Go gets 1 success over or 15 successes, the damage is always based on the target’s karma.

Assume NPCs take 15 points of damage if there are any helping.

Aura of Rage

Before anyone gets to act, Dii Go’s rage simply inflicts 5 points of damage on everyone. This happens at the beginning of every round thereafter. This damage cannot be blocked, or avoided. It affects anything living or having a mind of any sort.

During the battle, Asura Dii Go has the Shinto satellite raining down beams upon the planet.

Hope or Hate?

Players attempting to attack or counterattack Asura Dii Go cannot use their normal Skill ranks, they must use a rank equal to the highest Fate that would apply. So, if a player had “Free the Oni” as a Fate 3, they would use it as a Skill 3 roll. This does not affect the power levels or abilities available based on skill – it only affects the rolls.

Yes, a player may have a higher Fate than skill and thereby benefit from this effect.

Unforgiveness

Let the players know the following:

Every time Dii Go makes a roll, offensively or defensively, I’m going to count up each success. It’s getting more powerful and more dangerous as time goes on. Something terrible will happen when it reaches 36 successes. Something even worse when it hits 72 successes. At 108 successes, you will lose this battle, and the consequences are unthinkable. Don’t let that happen. You may want to call for a Moment of Truth at some point.

36 – Arahabaki

At 36 successes, randomly roll to see which PC or major allied NPC is targeted by Arahabaki. There is no dodging, the target takes 3,000 points of damage. If they have a Dead box and take the damage that way, their body is incinerated completely, but they exist as a corporeal spirit to finish the fight and they are henceforth an Ayakashi (re-stat next time you play and they should have a Fate about it). If they die via losing all their Vitality before this fight is over, their spirit shatters and they are truly lost.

72- Ultimate Amatsu Mikaboshi

The cascade of orbitals strikes cease, and a single beam fires down, getting larger and larger and larger.

The whole continent cracks in half and begins to sink in.

108 – Asura Freed

The chains restraining Dii Go snap apart, and it forgets the small worries that is the PCs. It rips itself out of the satellite and flings itself, horn first, towards the planet below. It accelerates through the atmosphere, faster and faster and strikes an ocean. Tsunamis hit every coast.

Dark Dii Go is now a creature with stats at 108 that rampages across the globe as it will.

Stopping it will be a whole campaign unto itself, and Tenra will be devastated for centuries to come.

Defeating Dii Go

Once beaten down to zero Vitality, the Deity can be sealed away, and the PCs can unlock the psychic dampeners before leaving the satellite – Dii Go’s rage will kill anyone who gets too close to the satellite and it will be left as a terrible reminder of human desires for destruction.

Alternatively, if someone finds a way to cleanse/fix Dii Go and return it to the world, the Oni ALL find their Resonance skills instantly raised by 1 rank (to a max of 5) and the oni-blooded or those who have cut off their horns instantly grow full Oni Horns as well.

The reunited Dii Go’s horn will light up and fire a signal beam into space, to summon Alu…

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Big Stakes GMing: Gamble Everything

February 6, 2014

I’m prepping for the last session in a game arc.  It’s… going to be hectic.  I’m excited and scared, because no matter what happens… the setting will be massively changed from here on out.

Losing Control to have fun

One of the biggest bits of bad GMing advice that has run throughout the years is the focus on “keeping control”.  Although part of it stems from trying to force people to play games they don’t really want to play, the other part is really just the idea that fun only comes from the GM and the GM must “protect” the setting, the NPCs, the as-yet-still-to-occur events they’ve prepped, etc.

It’s backwards thinking, though.  The role of the GM is to give opportunities to the players to DO THINGS.  It’s pretty obvious why your hobby would have a hard time if the core activity is spending hours to have one person keep you from doing interesting things for the majority of your time.

When I GM, I’ve got some ideas of which way it COULD go, but it just as often goes somewhere I didn’t expect at all – and that makes it fun.

One Big Target

One great piece of advice in Apocalypse World is, “Put a bullseye on everything”.  Don’t protect your NPCs, don’t protect your setting.  The players WILL break it, change it, destroy it.

Ultimately, everything you create as the GM is a target.  And targets are meant to be shot.

A lot of railroading or “fear of losing control” is a cascading series of protecting the very things that need to be open for change for the players to actually… play.

Consider Minecraft – it’s a game where the primary joy is the sense of accomplishment you get from building things, from changing the world.  You get to look at what you did and know you had a hand in it.   Now, if you’ve got this amazing setting, full of evils to fix and good things to protect, but you don’t let the players do just that?

Building Up the Stakes

So, a lot of what my games revolve around are things happening in the setting.  Sometimes it’s small scale (“What happens to your sister?”) to massive (“An angry god is about to rampage.”).

The trick to it is that you end up finding out what things the players care about and that’s what you revolve the stories around.   That’s not always “threaten or kidnap”… a lot of the most charged conflict comes out of simply having an NPC think less of a PC.

What it is the players care about, becomes worthwhile stakes.  And the choices and actions they take around it, should have a lasting effect.  If they protect or improve it, it should be changed for the better in a meaningful and enduring way.  If they fail to protect it, or if they harm it, it should be messed up or destroyed in a lasting way as well.

The elements of your setting -the NPCs, the locations, the local factions – are the things the players can look at and say, “I did that!” with pride or regret.  And we learn a little bit about what their characters are made of – what they’ll sacrifice and what’s most important to them in the process.

When we talk about Illusionism being exhausting to run? It’s because as the GM you do all this work and at the end of it, you don’t get to experience the joy and delight of the unknown story – of anxiously wanting to see how it turns out because, you, too, have no idea how exactly it will end.

Anything you create?  You are gambling.  You are throwing it on the table and saying, “This is fair game.  I might lose everything.  Show me what you’ve got.  Let’s play!”