Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Detroit Suck City: Episode 8

When we last left the crew the sliding door opened to reveal another large security robot. Regardless of the surprise, Jiminy was able to scramble and close the door but the robotoid was able to launch a gas grenade inside the room right before the door closed. The grenade landed right in the middle of the crew but Lladmar was able to pick it up before the gas got too strong, threw it clear across the room, and through the glass into the water logged room. The door being closed gave the crew just enough time to stage something that resembled an ambush...

The crew stared at the door for what seemed like eons before the familiar sound of metal sliding on metal with a light whoosh of air signaled that the door was opening. As soon as this happens, Auron decides to draw the strange pistol he took of the Star Lord and fired it. What Auron did not realize is that strange pistol was actually a mini rocket launcher and the impact of the mini rocket caused a 30 meter explosion that sent the robotoid flying backward, knocked Auron off of his feet, gave Huey a sunburn, and had the unfortunate effect of splatting Jiminy against the wall like a cricket on a windshield. 


In the aftermath of this explosion, Lladmar charges the Robotoid with his horns that managed to survive the impact, Huey races over to the remains of Jiminy, and Wilhelm runs towards Aurons Prone body. As the robotoid gets within melee range, the robot makes contact to Huey and Lladmar with its paralysis rods and drops them. During the robotoids distract with Huey and Lladmar Wilhelm attempts to administer some first aid via a med pack but the healing solution as an adverse reaction to Aurons mutated DNA and causes Auron more more pain as he uses his sword to help him stand and rejoin the fight. As the robotoid is distracted with some of the other crew members Auron is able to run up behind it and land a mighty blow with his sword that sheers off the top of the robotoids head. This caused the robotoid to spark, spin around wildly, and eventually fall over twitching. 

The crew then takes the resulting calm to gather up their wounded and recover from the chaos of combat. During this time, Wilhelm looks through the remains of Jiminy's body and finds pieces of his carapace that will work as bracers and slides them on after dumping the remaining goo from them. 

Auron then decides to take lead and the decision is made to press on deeper into this strange building. As the crew once again opens the door to the room where the two robotoids came from they are met with the same gore and scorch marks from the late Jiminy's quick thinking. Auron and Wilhelm decide to lead the crew in exploring the first two doors on the left after surveying the open area on the right. The first door is locked and the key card does not work. As the crew approached the second door they hear in their minds in a tragic shaking voice, "help me, help me, my name is Gilas" repeated over and over again. As the crew opens the door they notice come cabinets, a table with various medical supplies and bloody rusted tools, but the focal point of the room is the vaguely humanoid creature strapped down to a table. It has a hunch back, is covered in strange growths and open sores, but the most horrific things was both of the creatures arms ending in a mass of tentacles. The chanting in the crews head increase as Huey bravely moves forward and starts to cut the creature known as Gilas loose. The chest strap releases with a pop the creature sits up, wraps Huey in its tentacles, and lifts Huey off of his feet. The crew inside of the room attack and the Gilas releases an energy burst that magnetizes the room and pins most of the crew against the walls. Lladmar who was standing guard enters the room at this commotion and charges Gilas with his horns which impale Gilas and ends his suffering. 

At the end of Gilas's suffering, the magnetic field stops and the crew moves on to door number three. As Auron opens the door they entire crew is hit by a smell of rancid rotting meeting and what appears to be a junk room. Upon further inspection they notice about of scratch marks about shin high all along the walls that are not covered with junk. The crew decides not to explore this room further and closes the door behind them. The sliding doors directly to the east are locked and the key card does not provide access to it. The crew then decides to head to the double doors to the south that are slightly ajar.

On the other side of the double doors the crew discovers a freshly stocked but run down kitchen. Inside this kitchen they also notice two doors to the rest. The first door appears to be a small but stocked pantry and the second door opens up into a much larger room. The first thing they notice is a small humanoid figure dressed in orange overalls, sitting behind a makeshift desk drinking and snacking on an unknown food. The creature sleepily looks up and says, "Well it took you guys long enough. I have been watching the mess you guys made of this place and you guys need some practice." As he finishes this sentence he points to a glowing screen that is segmented off  in different boxes. Each box shows a different area of the facility. 

After some discussion, some witty banter, and pissing each other off (there was a moment where Auron called him a janitor and Pike yelled I am not and Auron apologies but follows up with "Master of the Custodial Arts") the crew learns that the creature the are talking to is called Pike and he works for the star people begrudgingly but they pay him good, keep him fed, and as long as he does his job they leave him alone. The crew also learns during this conversation that the star children are not well liked, viewed as some type of cult, and are not tolerated in various towns, especially Rail City. There is some attempt at barter but Pikes makes ridiculous offers like wanting the mini rocket launcher. At the end, Pike gives him the key card to what he calls the lab and says, "I am getting out of here. I hope the star people do not catch up with you." and walks off. Just before Pike is out of sight, he turns around winks at them, and vanishes. 

The crew decides to take this opportunity to explore the lab. After their new key card successfully opens the door Wilhelm makes a motion to stop and hush the rest of the crew as he turns invisible and stalks around the lab. The center piece of the lab is a large table with various tanks and wires hanging down from the ceiling. On this table their is an obvious deceased person that looked like it died in the middle of type of forced mutation that was not going to end well anyways. On the south side of the room there are three large cages that have a single human naked body in each in and on the west side there is a door. As Wilhelm opens the door the room is flooded with blue light form various screens and and an electrical buzzing noise. Wilhelm becomes visible again and motions for the party that it is safe to enter this room. As the crew gives the lab a better shakedown they realize that one of persons in the cage is able to move and croaks, "save me, I don't want to be their next experiment." No sooner does the caged person finish the last word does the east wall open revealing a floor to roof green screen with a smug face on it and then that smug looking face starts talking...


As soon as the monologue ends with the warning of the faculty is going to explode the crew breaks open the three cages, grabs the bodies, and sprints out of that faculty as fast as they can. As the exit, the crew discovers that their train is still there and was left running.

Just another day in Detroit Suck City...

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Review: A Wizard (Module)

I heard a lot of talk about this module on Discord and what I heard really peaked my interest so I knew I had to at least give it a read. It also just came from a successful kickstarter. I have to say reading through this adventure was an experience in itself. I was almost immediately drawn in the fluff of the adventure and as I read more there was some instances where it legitimately creeped me out at various points. I mean this in the best way possible - like in a really good horror movie get under your skin type of way and not in the trigger warning being edgy to just be edgy type of way. 
As a disclaimer, I was given a PDF of this adventure for review and demo purposes. This is my first review I have done of an module and I am going to try to give a solid overview without giving any spoilers away.
System: A wizard is designed as a system agnostic fantasy/horror/OSR module. It assumes the use of hit points, armor class, saves, etc. With minor adjusts it can be used it just about any iteration of d20 system. It can also be used with non d20 games but it would take more effort to transfer over mechanical aspects of the adventure. 

Premise: The party arrives at the town of Canny and during their time there they here about a wizard and they will come across a wanted poster that has the wizards face on it and a reward of 40 gold. As the characters investigate further they learn more about this wizard and will eventually get directed to the tower on the hill.
Setup: The stage of the module is a wizards tower on a hill. The tower consists of six floors and each floor has anywhere from three to six rooms. Each floor is has interesting encounters and traps and sometimes there is more then one way to get to the other floors. 
There are also chances where the characters can end up in the Abyss - yep you heard that right. The Abyss! Each time the characters stumble into the abyss they have a different experience.

Flavor: This whole thing starts out as a normal town with a wizard problem and a tower on the hill. As soon as the characters enter the tower they quickly realize that something is not right. As the characters progress deeper into the adventure the more horrific it gets and the more not right it gets. It does not take anyone long to realize they are not in Kansas anymore. This adventure quickly goes from Terry Pratchett to Clive Barker. As I stated in my introduction paragraph, the horror aspects are really well done with just the right amount of make your skin crawl or the classic look away from a scene in the movie move to really give it a unique and unforgettable flavor. 
I have to say the Abyss is horrific in a different way. It is scary in an alien way like if you went diving in the deep so where no light touches. 

Final Thoughts: I said it once and I am going to say it again, this is the only roleplaying medium that I have read that honestly gave me the creeps (but in a good way). I will warn you with the official warning of the module itself:
"This module is gruesome. There is gore, body horror, and other disturbing content. Set boundaries with the players and allow them to set boundaries with you."
The warning is right. There is also moral decision situations that this module puts the characters in that I think is pure gold. I really wish more modules would use these morally grey situations in their rating because I think it gives the game a more realistic feel and increases immersion. 

Another thing that I think is important to mention about a wizard is that it is very deadly. This is spelled out as another warning in the module and it comes with prepackaged advice on how to curve the deadliness of it:
"...there are several traps and effects that can kill instantly if the characters aren't careful. If you would like to reduce the difficulty of this module, allow players to make more saves against deadly effects and deal one damage step lower then whats listed."

I would highly suggest using these written options and I would not use this module on level 1 or level 2 characters. There is also some talk about making sure the characters level up during the module as well. I ran this using the written suggestions as a one shot and there was some deaths and the characters were being pretty cautious.

I have three favorite things about this module that I think is just genius. The first one being is it can I will surprise players because there are things that they cannot really expect. The second thing is that this module can be dropped in the middle of any campaign with minimal effort. The third thing is that the characters have a chance to end up in the Abyss (there are multiples way to end up there. Some of them will surprise you). There is table to which "encounter" the players will experience in the Abyss and if you roll the same one then roll again. This Abyss can be used in other situations and outside of the tower as well. I think it just adds so much flavor and really ups the creep factor. 

I would highly recommend this if you have a group that is up for it. 

You can find this horrific module here:
The wizard is just that. He wears a pointed hat. Never refer to him as anything else, through description, NPC dialog, etc. The characters find themselves unable to. He is the truth.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Mythbusters: OSR Edition Ch. 3

So, this series of post started with my Darkness of the DrowThief Redux, Regarding Character Death, Mythbusters: OSR Edition Ch. 1, and Mythbusters: OSR Edition Ch. 2 posts. To be honest, I did not plant to expand my Mythbuster: OSR Edition series into multiple chapters but due to various feedback and comments I received I felt like I needed to expand it and clarify somethings. Once again, I find myself with a need to expand this series. In my Mythbusters: OSR Edition Ch. 1, I gave honorable mention to how there are a lot of people and by proxy games out there that put forward the attitude that for something to be OSR it must confirm to a degree of deadliness, certain methods for determining attributes, and a Peasants and Pitchforks approach. I also talked about attribute generation in length and about the whole 3d6 in order rule. I want to expand on these two points slightly because it was pointed out that I maybe left out certain things or I did not give other things a fair shake.

In regards to the first point, there are a lot of people out there in the OSR movement and by proxy games that focus on the OSR being a style of gaming and not something you can find in rules. In a lot of games such as White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure GameDelving Deeper, Old School Essentials, and Swords and Wizardry (plus many others) that provide optional rules in sidebars or alter some of the original rules for various reasons. There are also a great deal of awesome people who are part of the movement that are very supportive and I think understand that the OSR is a spirit and has nothing to do with raw. I see on a lot of forums and social media that people are directed to reading the "Ten Commandments of the OSR" in regards to game design or just to answer the age old question of, What is the OSR?. 

I first came across these commandments on the False Machine Blog in 2018 and that said blog post was written from a long and famous Scrap Princess Google + post (I can not longer link the Google + post as Google + is no longer around). Patrick Stuart said: “I broke it the thread down to my top ten aphorisms, with bits stolen from Gregory Blair, Brian Harbron, FM Geist, Zedeck Siew, Brian Murphy, Dirk Detweiler Leichty and Daniel Davis”. These ten commandments are;
  1. This is a game about interacting with this world as if it were a place that exists
  2. Killing things is not the goal
  3. There is nothing that is “supposed” to happen
  4. Unknowability and consequence make everything interesting
  5. You play as your character, not as the screenwriter writing your character
  6. It’s your job to make your character interesting and to make the game interesting for you
  7. If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck
  8. The answer is not on your character sheet
  9. Things are swingy
  10. You will become more strange
Number Ten was originally "You will Die" but I think that goes against the spirit because it almost forces the idea into a certain style of play, You will become more strange (this idea was thrown around in different comment sections as well) is a lot more in line with the OSR as a whole and lets be honest, there are some things worse then death.

On the opposite side of this coin, there are a lot of people that are also very adamant that for something to be considered OSR it needs to be deadly or be a peasants and pitchforks style and hope your character makes to any sort of heroics. I have seen this and experienced it first hand. There are multiple times I have suggested various house rules (usually along the lines of adding some HP padding, skill system, etc) and I have been told that maybe this game is not right for me and I should go find a different game. That type of gate keeping attitude is sad and does a disservice to the entire hobby, not just the OSR.

Speaking of Ten Commandments, there is another set of Ten Commandments regarding the OSR that I came across. These ones more have to do with the entire movement then the actual style of the games. I found them on the Pits Perilous Blog in 2019 thought I will repost them here because I think these are just important if not more so:
  1. The OSR is an attempt to preserve, promote, and/or revive old-school games. 
  2. Its aims can be met by playing these early games, but also by publishing content under the Open Gaming License or developing original systems in this style. 
  3. There's nothing about seeking to preserve, promote, and/or revive old-school games that suggests (much less requires) any particular political, religious, or social agenda. 
  4. The fact that some people in the OSR behave badly says nothing about the OSR as a whole. Some are good, others bad; but all of them can like older games. 
  5. If you want a positive, welcoming OSR, be a positive, welcoming person. Splitting off into ideologically pure communities just might be the worst possible way to achieve this.
  6. We desperately need values, but we'll have to look beyond the OSR to find them; and when we do, shouldn't they apply to everything and not just our gaming?
  7. As long as people remain fascinated by older games, the OSR will never die.
  8. Things like Sword Dream and The Inglorious OSR are at best subsets of the OSR; and far from signalling the death of the movement, they speak to its diversity. 
  9. The OSR has no leaders. Some are louder and more vocal, but they can only speak for themselves (and that includes yours truly). Feel free to add your voice to the mix. 
  10. If you've fled the OSR only to run your weekly OD&D game, you haven't escaped the movement at all. Indeed, you've aided it's sole purpose. Long live the OSR!

I have gone back and taken a look through the prints of OD&D and as I was discussing various aspects of the game in preparation for this post, this section was pointed out to me in regards to the attributes. In the first little brown book it states, 

"Prior to the character selection by the players it is necessary for the referee to roll three six-sided dice in order to rate each as to various abilities, and this aid them in selecting a role."

So, "the in order to" in this context (and probably should) be read as this must be done to determine, not this must be done in down the line. Ignoring everything Gygax and Arneson said about characters and attributes, it looks like the whole 3d6 in order stick was mistranslated or misunderstood. We must remember to look at what the symbol means and not the symbol itself. 

I have watched the OSR as a movement explode from a niche within a niche that was only a handful of retro clones to a whole spirit of gaming with a serious DIY ans rebel attitude. I feel like there are so many games that are OSR that may not be so obvious like Tiny Dungeons: 2e, Eldritch Tales, Forbidden Lands, Pits and Perils, Blood of Pangea, 17th Century Minimalist, Jaws of the Six Serpents, Beyond the Wall, Index Card RPG, Ryuutama, Electric Bastionland, Renaissance, and so many more. The list could go on and on and on. I am proud of what it has become and hopeful for its future.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Review: Alien

"It is a perfect organism whose structural perfection is matched only by its hostility. It's a survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality. I won't lie about your chances...but you have my sympathies." - Ash, Science Officer of the Nostromo
When I saw this book being released I was excited and skeptical at the same time. I have always been a huge fan of the franchise and seeing what appeared to be a high quality RPG coming out had me excited. Though, I also knew that the genre Alien falls under is hard science space horror and that can be difficult to pull off. After I saw the initial advertisements for it the game fell off my radar until one of my friends discovered it and turned the hype machine up to ten! This reinvigorated my interest especially when said buddy said he was going to put together and run Chariot of the Gods and if everyone liked it, he would actually run a campaign. Session 1 can be found here and session 2 can be found here.

As a disclaimer, I was sent a physical copy for review purposes. 

Presentation: This is a full sized book that definitely as the core rule book feel. The pages are full color and the book is well organized. The books page count could have been greatly reduced but due to evoking tone and setting right from the cover and on every page the count is increased to stay true to tone. The pages are set up with the core sections and side/bottom/top panels. There is also a ton of art throughout the book. I am really glad they did not use screen stills and used a type of muted almost painted art for most of the book. There are some digital art for some of the equipment and other such things. All 392 pages of the book never drops character, which is a huge plus. Another big bonus for me, is it is printed on some nice paper. 

Character Creation: Players create characters in the following steps:
  1. Choose a Career (there are 9)
  2. Spend 14 points on Attributes (Strength, Agility, Wits, and Empathy. All attributes must have a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 4 (except the careers prime Attribute, which can be 5. So, that leaves only 6 points to spend)
  3. Determine Health and Encumbrance (Health is equal to your Strength and Encumbrance is double your Strength score) 
  4. Spend 10 Skill Points (Heavy Machinery, Stamina, Close Combat, Mobility, Ranged Combat, Piloting, Observation, Comtech, Survival, Command, Manipulation, and Medical Aid. Each skill is linked to an Attribute)
  5. Choose a Career Talent (each Career has a choice of three)
  6. Choose a Name
  7. Decide on your Appearance 
  8. Decide on your Personal Agenda
  9. Choose a Buddy and a Rival
  10. Pick your Gear and Signature Item
  11. Roll for your Cash
Character creation as some great story and role play elements built in which I really enjoy. Players also have an option of playing a Synthetic and these have special rules but it is stated that these are still rare and only one should be in a crew.

Resolution: Most of Free League Publishing games use a derivative of their Year Zero Engine (YZE). At its core, Alien (and the YZE) is a dice pool system that uses d6's which translates as all actions are resolved with an Attribute + Skill +/- Modifiers vs. a success. Successes only happen if any of the dice come up a 6. Only one success is needed to accomplish a task and additional successes can be spent for stunts or additional damage. To be clear, there are stunts for combat and actions outside of combat.

What I think is amazing is that book encourages you at multiple points to only roll when dramatically necessary and the rest of the game and other problems should be role played. The book also states that actions that require a roll are only able to be attempted once and the same character cannot attempt the same thing twice without the situation changing or a new approach to the problem. Other characters can attempt that action if they so choose. The rules go on to explain that even if you fail, there should be another way to move the story along. A failure should never stop the story.

Combat is just about as simple as the core mechanic. Usually everyone gets two actions on their turn, a slow action and a fast action or two fast actions. Slow actions include things like attacking, using a skill, reloading, etc. Fast actions can be used to draw a weapon, and can be spent out of the initiative order (as an reaction) to dodge or parry an incoming attack.

  1. Draw for Initiative (the system uses cards numbered 1-10. There are specialty cards you can buy or you can just use a deck of regular cards). Each PC and NPC gets one. NPC's can be grouped together if the narrative calls for it or the combat includes more the ten participants. PC's who can see each other can also trade initiative if they make it happen within the narrative (such as yelling advice, etc.)
  2. When its their turn, the player rolls Strength + Close Combat +/- Mods or Agility + Ranged +/- Mods. Their choice of opponent can declare an appropriate reaction before the attack roll is made! If the opponent chooses to use their fast action as a reaction, then both players roll. The opponents successes are subtracted from the attackers successes. If the attacker has any successes left over damage is done.
  3. Damage is calculated by any extra successes (above the one required) plus the base damage of the weapon or form of attack. 
  4. If the opponent is wearing armor, then they can roll their armor save to see if they can avoid any damage. Each point in an armor rating grants a d6 to roll. Any successes subtract for damage.
  5. Any left over damage is subtracted from the targets health.
  6. Initiative moves to next in line.
Crunch: I think Alien has the most nuances to its iteration of the YZE then any of the games form Free League Publishing that I have experience with (some of these are found in their other games).  So, outside of the core resolution system I find it very important to mention these nuances;
  • Difficulty is rated from a +3 to a -3. These plus or minuses does not effect the number of successes you need but it directly modifies the total dice pool. It is stated in the book that the GM usually does not change the difficulty but sometimes circumstances make things more interesting.
  • Stress Dice: When something stressful happens (pushing a roll, burst on full auto fire, suffer one or more points of damage, go without sleep, food, or water, preform a coup de grace, a Scientist falls an Analysis talent use, a member of your own crew attacks you, a person is revealed to be an android, you encounter certain creatures or locations as determined by the GM). Stress Dice is added to the dice pool a player rolls. If any of the stress dice come up a 6 in counts as a success but if any of the Stress dice come up a 1, the player must make an immediate Panic check before their original action is resolved (even if they had successes).
  • Panic! If a one comes up on the Stress Dice, the players makes a panic roll that is 1d6 + the number of panic dice and consult the panic table. The results can be a mild as some shakes that make subsequent rolls harder to a full blown panic attack and worse. 
  • Pushing Actions: Characters are able to focus and push an action once. The player can re-roll all dice that doe not show a 6. The characters Stress is increased by 1 before the dice are rolled. Actions can only be pushed once without a Talent. 
  • Critical Injury Table: When a character reaches zero health, they are considered broken and get to roll on the d66 critical injury table. This table ranges from flesh wounds to very fatal wounds. Each injury has a mount of time the character can be alive without getting medical attention and how long it takes to recover.
  • Help from Others: Other characters who have the ability to help you can. Each character helping you adds a +1 to the roll to a maximum of a +3. 
  • Story Points: In cinematic scenarios, story points can be used to add a single success to a roll. This can be used before or after the results of a roll. Story points are gained from acting in accordance to one's agenda. 
  • Opposed Rolls: Both characters roll and whoever has the most successes wins. 
  • Stealth Mode: For people or creatures wanting to sneak around they can be considered passive or active. Active enemies know of your presence are are stalking you. Passive enemies do not know of your existence but will discover you if it makes narrative sense (like walking into the room they are in, etc). 
  • Usage/Charges: There are items in the game that have batteries and space suits that have oxygen. The mechanic for this is when something as a charge or a resource that could run out, ir has a rating from 1-5. When the GM calls for it, roll that number of dice and if any come up 1's, then that items charge rating is reduced by 1. 
  • Ammo: The setting states that due to the capacity of magazines, usually characters do not have to worry about ammo. Though, if they panic when using a firearm, they empty their magazine and must take a slow action on their next turn to reload. Ammo can be limited by the amount of reloads available.

Final Thoughts: Another reviewer called this game,

"A hauntingly powerful experience."

I could not agree more or have said it better myself. The book really captures the spirit of the franchise and the idea of space horror. It stays true to the source material and there is actually a lot of things that are included from some of the expanded universe (like the comics and the books). Alien also has two modes of play - cinematic play and campaign play. Cinematic play is designed to emulate the Alien movies and the game should be completed in two or three sessions. The cinematic mode of play is meant to hard, dark, and deadly just like the movies. Only a few characters if any are expected to survive. For those of us who have played through who know Chariot of the Gods, the adventure in the core book, and Destroyer of Worlds are all exampled of cinematic play. It is important to note that for both styles of play but especially for cinematic play it is important to have player buy in and keep metagaming to a minimum. I am actually more excited for campaign play as the universe is much bigger then the xenomorphs and it has long been rumored that Blade Runner and Alien are apart of the same universe...Ya, let that sink in.

I am a huge fan of the charge mechanic for batteries, oxygen, etc. I think it works really well, helps build that tension, and can be used in all kinds of different games.

Also, the stress mechanic is pure genius. It really helps ramp up the fear and panic in really screwed up situations. Though, with that being said it is important to note that Stress can quickly reach unmanageable proportions without pacing and the characters making a point to stop and catch their breath, use their signature items, talents, and keep in mind that the Command skill can bring someone out of panic. Here is a breakdown how certain levels of stress affect the characters:
  • At low levels (1-3) Stress makes the character sharper. Effects of Panic, if any, are relatively mild: a case of the shakes which impairs subsequent rolls, maybe dropping an object. But the extra dice make the character more effective. 
  • At higher levels (4-8) the risk of Panic steadily rises. The chance of a Panic Action rises sharply and the effects get much more severe. Stress makes the character a little sharper, although less than before, but far more likely to have a full-blown freak out. Total effectiveness dips. 
  • When Stress hits 9 and above, the character is a basket case. Every Panic causes a Panic Action. Sure, they’re rolling 9 extra dice for every action, but they also have a roughly 4 in 5 chance of completely losing it: freezing, running away, running amok, or full catatonia.
The YZE system sings in play on its own but it really hammers home the soul Alien universe. It is like the beautiful classy cousin to West End Games d6 system.

I can I talk about an Alien RPG without mentioning the Aliens? Well, I can't! Aliens fight dirty and they will eat you. They have lots of dice, are very fast, have multiple actions per combat turn, have high armor ratings, and each one attacks in a special way. What I mean by this is that each Alien has a d6 table the GM rolls on to determine what attack the alien does (this determines the amount of dice used, etc) and on this table, there is a result that causes instant death or worse if any damage gets through to its opponent. This does not even include the 121's acid blood - that really cranks things up, especially in close combat. It is a good idea to avoid combat with these but if you must, keep them st range. Going to toe to toe with one you are going to need luck and a whole lot of friends but if all else fails...

You can find Alien here:
Here is a final interesting fact, in the 2020 Ennies this game took Gold in Best Game.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

S&B Classes, Races, and Professions

I have noticed that I have gotten two of the same questions regarding Sword and Backpack from people new the to the game and that style of game. The first question is;

What about all of the other classes such as the Ranger, Cleric, Warlock, Monk, etc?

In Sword and Backpack, additional classes are not needed for two reasons. The first one being is that all of these additional classes are just specializations of the core classes with different flavor and flare. The difference between a Wizard, Warlock, and Sorcerer is their origin of magic and their backgrounds. Same goes with the Fighter/Cleric/Ranger/Monk and the Rogue/Assassin/etc. This leads me into the second reason which is the different abilities of these classes. Once you start adding in all kinds of class specific abilities you start to lose the soul and the whole point of Sword and Backpack. 

What about all of the different races?

Outside of different numeric bonuses and various abilities races are about flavor, culture, and background. For Sword and Backpack, there is already a heavy stacked bonus right out of the gate so adding anything numerical would push things into the ridiculous range. Adding various abilities would also defeat the purpose of Sword and Backpack for its easy of use and story focus (the power and draw in my opinion is the great player agency and fiction). So, if your campaign wants to include races other then human, it is a fiction and flavor point. There does not need to be any mechanic benefit or detriment to being one of the many fantastical races out there. 

This brings me to Professions in Sword and Backpack...

I have always been a fan of giving characters motivation and things to do outside of combat, treasure hunting, dungeon delving, etc. This types of things also give them unique skill sets to solve various problems they come across. An example of this is in one of the games I was in, the character decided that she used to be a midwife and during the course of an adventure delivered some babies, tended to pregnant women, and saved some lives. Some of this led to some interesting story hooks and the party was off on a side adventure. Giving characters a profession gives them more depth and shows what their life was like before becoming an adventurer. 

Mechanically speaking, any use of skills that would fall under this profession that would require a roll would get the class bonus of +5 and the character would have a kit (various tools, a few simple supplies, etc) to help them in their profession. Simple as that. There are a lot of games that have tables of "failed professions" and there are a lot of those lists that can be found online as well. I will point you to a list of Medieval European Professions that should give you some ideas. 

Adding these professions to a Sword and Backpack game also has the bonus of creating some of the classes that are not in the game. You have a player that wants to be a holy warrior with healing skills (a Cleric)? That player should be encouraged to be a Fighter with some type of medical profession related to a Religious order. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Review: White Lies

I have always been a huge fan of secret agent, espionage, and Noir style movies and books. This includes things like James Bond, The Maltese Falcon, Kingsmen, etc. I have had some great experiences playing these style of games on the table but system wise, everything d20 derived fell short to capture the style. So, when I heard about White Lies I was skeptical but after diving into it and running a few one shots (based on old James Bond stuff) I walked away impressed. I mean, how can you not at least be intrigued by a game that has a tagline of "A Game about doing bad things for good reasons"? Plus you know, the game is called White Lies!

For reference, White Lies is based off of White Box and as a disclaimer, I was provided with a physical copy for review purposes.

Presentation: The book presents in a softcover a5 sized book with a full color cover. When you open the book you are presented with a clean and well organized layout that is either single or double column. There is great use of the bold black and red headers as well. The art is a mix of vector and red and black silhouette styles and it makes me happy. It makes me happy because the entire book feels like a Agent manual for new recruits to a top secret black bag agency. The only thing that could have made it better would have been if it was actually written in such prose. 

Character Creation: Character creation follows usual steps in Whitebox fashion;
  1. Determine Attributes (3d6 in Order, Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma)
  2. Character Class (Choose between the Confiscator, Eliminator, Infiltrator, Investigator, and Transporter as long as you have 9+ in their prime Attribute requirement)
  3. Outfitting (All characters begin play with a semi-automatic pistol with a spare ammo upgrade, an Operative Kit, one other gear kit of your choice, and 3d6x10 dollars to use to buy other equipment)
  4. Final Touches (HP 1d6 + Con and Eliminators get +1, Armor Class Ascending/Descending 10/9, XP bonus of 5% if GM is using optional rule for higher prime attributes of 13+, you know English and one bonus language for every point of Intelligence above 10, if you are carrying less then 75 pounds of gear your movement rate is 12 squares, Base Hit Bonus is +0 and not the hit bonus from attributes and weapons.  

Resolution: White Lies uses White Box as its resolution system which is a d20 +/- Modifiers vs. a target number, armor class, etc. The attribute bonuses use the -2/+2 range and each class as a single Saving Throw score that improves with leveling. 

Crunch: Even though White Lies is based on the White Box rules system, it boasts some very thematic and impressive sub systems that are smooth and don't add any unneeded math. 
  • Action Checks: Any action outside of the ones the use a d20 (such as social interactions, investigations, interrogations, driving, etc) are resolved on a roll of a d6. A result of 4+ equal a success. This roll can benefit from attribute bonuses and each class has specific "skills" that they get a bonus in. 
  • Supplemental Training (optional): This is an option where characters start with a specific training and can gain me as they level up. There is a defined list of twenty five areas of training and when the player wants to make use of their area of training it acts as an Action check that does not benefit from Attribute bonuses and the classes skill bonuses but the player gets to roll 2d6 to see if any of the dice come up a success. 
  • Equipment: There is a great list of equipment from your standard firearms and knives to James Bond style gadgets and vehicles. There are also upgrade lists to help make your gear very unique. This section also includes gear kits that provide a set of related gear. There are 18 different gear kits that can includes Scuba, HALO, Disguise, etc. 
  • Master Villain: Steps to create the big bad.
  • Mission Creation: Steps to create a mission.
  • Example setting/agency/adversary organization  
  • Advancement:  Advancement works off an experience system. Experience is gained form defeating enemies but the majority of the experience is gained from completing missions and getting paid from such missions. Each $10 earned counts as 1xp. This also includes if the characters break up an arms deal and keep the brief case full of cash....

Final Thoughts: As I stated before, this game really fits the genre well in tone, writing, and system. The system part surprised me because I have been disappointment with other attempts and a spy games using a d20 system. 

Where this game really sings the classes and I think classes is a misnomer because they feel more like archetypes to me. As all of the characters are secret agents but classes show what the agent specializes in. For example, the Confiscator is the cat burglar, the Eliminator is the combat specialist, Infiltrator is that agent with a ton of alternate identities etc, the Investigator is your Dick Tracy/The Shadow type, and the Transporter is your ace driver/hell on wheels. Outside of the flavor and skill bonuses, each class has unique abilities that really make them shine at their specialties and give them a unique feel. When creating a campaign, I would highly encourage the players to each pick a different class. 

Ammo is tracked but types of ammo and calibers are not defined. Players should have reloads for their characters. It is blatantly started that when a character rounds out of ammo, they are out! I actually really like this because it enforces all of the spy action movies where the agent runs out of ammo and has to use their fallen foes weapons/ammo or get creative with improvised weapons. 

In conversations with Bill Logan, he talked about that he had to make certain concessions with the game design (such as two different armor class systems, etc) to make it White Box compatible. I think the White Box system works well but I am really curious on what tweaks Bill wanted to make to the system. I view the secret agents from White Lies as larger the life, highly skilled operatives. When I ran my one shots, I had the agents base AC start at 12 (instead of 10) and gave them bonus HP. The AC makes sense for them being obscenely trained and it is very impractical for agent to wear anything heavier then light armor. 

You can find White Lies here;

To get in the mood for White Lies, I would suggest watching the James Bond movies, Kingsmen, The Shadow, Dick Tracey, and reading whatever Noir novels you can get your hands on. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Detroit Suck City: Episode 7

The crew continues to explore what they assume could have been one of the Star peoples bases in the hopes that they could use it to catch their breath and lick their wounds. As the crew explores the main room they discover that there is a room off to the left with a glass door. Looking through the glass they see a large storage room that has a deep layer of water on the floor. To the opposite of the water filled room there is a closed door and north of that closed door there is a short hallway that ends in a closed metal door. During the exploration of the main room, the crew notices that there are fresh tracks in the dust on the floor that might be from a cart or something along those lines. The rest of the main room is pretty boring, just molded and rotted boxes of papers.

Lladmar decides to open the closed door directly across from the water logged room as Parrot and Jiminy stand guard in the short hallway, Huey holds position by the water logged room, and Auron decides to cover Lladmar. Lladmar opens the door and it appears to be a small storage room with cabinets along the wall. As soon as Lladmar steps across the threshold loud mechanical noises to the left draw Lladmar's attention and a large metallic robot with humanoid legs and arms comes out of the wall and heads towards Lladmar. 

Lladmar reactions by leveling his AK-47 and riddling the robot with bullets as the sound of the gunfire echoes throughout. The bullets cause the robot to take a step back before he resumes is approach to Lladmar. Auron is able to squeeze in the room and take a stab at the robot which misses but distracts to robot for a moment to allow Lladmar to open fire once again. The robot then flails ineffectively against Lladmar as Auron lunges at the robot with all of his might and jams his sword deep into its chest as sparks and liquid fly out before the robot falls backwards taking Aurons sword with it.

No sooner does Auron and Lladmar take a few breaths for relief do they the hear a metallic sliding and the sound of air pressure being released as a door slides open somewhere else...

The strange heavily armored rolling metallic robotoid with multiple arms would have caught the crew off guard if Parrot and Jiminy were not standing guard. As soon as the robot rolls into the hallway Parrot springs into action and tries to jam his shield in the robots wheels but misses judges the angle in his haste and his shield goes bounces across the floor. Auron wrenches his sword from the chest of the humanoid robot and head off to help Parrot and Jiminy. 

The robotiod on wheels spins and connects with Parrot which sends him flying back and then shoots something at Jiminy which misses but creates a small crater in the wall and acrid smoke starts to spill out of the crater. Huey makes his way towards the Robotoid (being dressed in Masters of Clean clothes) and tries to order it to stop but the attempt fails. Lladmar makes sure to disconnect the head from the humanoid robot in the storage room before going to help the rest of the crew. During the chaos of combat, the door starts to close behind the Robotoid on wheels and attempts to leap through the door but bounces off of the door as the door closed faster then Jiminy's reflexes. 

The Robotoid continues to move forward into the main room and crosses paths with a charging Auron. The robotoid spins trying to strike Auron with one of its rods but misses and ends up bending it against the wall. Jiminy takes this opportunity and opens fire as Auron makes a contact with his Stun whip but Auron quickly realizes that the stun whip has no effect. 

The robotoid produces an addition arm that resembles the crews AK-47's and opens fire on the crew as Lladmar steps out of the storage closet and makes contact with his sword as Jiminy empties his last rounds at the Robotoid which then shoots at Lladmar as the Robotiod also makes contact with Auron with its paralysis rod which drops Auron but Auron musters the last amount of his strength as his muscles starts to seize and embeds his sword in the Robotoid. This gives the Lladmar the opening to take a chunk of metal off the Robotoid. Jiminy draws his pistol from his chain link fence armor and fires as Parrot and Huey open fire and rip holes in the Robotiod who then fires another odd projectile which lands on the opposite side of the room which explodes with a flash, bang, and lots of acrid smoke. This explosion knocks the entire crew except for Lladmar out. Lladmar leaps from the table and cuts a huge gash in the Robotiods body from top to wheels as the Robotiod starts moving around erratically. With the exertion, Lladmar finals falls victim to the gas and loses consciousness. 

The crew wakes up sometime later with serious hangovers as they discover the wheeled Robotiod is still twitching. On principal, Lladmar makes a point to turn it into scrap. The crew searches the newly formed scrap pile and are able to recover some grenades and a key cards the has Mu-Tech printed on it. Huey then goes back to the fallen body of the humanoid robot and only finds some containers with liquid attached to it.  

After some discussion, the crew decides to explore the water logged room before going down to the short hallway through the door the wheeled Robotiod came from. To avoid trudging through the water the crew takes the tables from the main room and creates a walkway to the far end of the water logged room to find what is in the cabinet. As they start walking across their makeshift walkway Auron notices the room is covered in a sweet smelling moss and picks some off the wall. Right before the moss touches Auron's tongue he has a change of heart and announces that no one should eat the moss. Jiminy finds an odd looking pistol in the cabinet and Huey discovers the metal box on the other side of the room is electrical controls and tests this theory by turning on and off the power to the building. 

The crew then heads down the short hallway to the sliding door where the Robotiod came from. Jiminy uses the key card and the door opens into another small hallway and at the end of it they can see a hall and some other doors to the left. Lladmar takes point and as soon as they reach the end of the hallway the witness numerous star and burst children levitating in the lotus postition...

The star children float downward to their feet and start heading towards to crew as a few of them emit bright flashes a light which blind Lladmar and Huey but Auron flashes them with the same light back. Jiminy lets forth a stream of obscenities as he yells to the crew to get back into the other room as Jiminy reaches into his bag, pulls a pin from one of his numerous cylinders that have been assumed to be grenades and throws the entire bag as far into the room with the star children as he can before Jiminy leaps through the door where the rest of the crew is waiting and closed the door. No sooner does the door close the crews hears a serious of deafening explosions as the entire building rattles, things fall of shelves, and the crew is showered with dust and light debris from the ceiling. 

After the explosions and the rattling of the building stop the crew waits for a few minutes listening at the door for any sound of movement. Jiminy slides the key card to open the door and from the crews angle, they see blackened holes in the walls, various chucks of flesh, and a red mist hanging in the air. Jiminy then shuts the door with a smile and says, "that could have been a lot worse.". 

As the crew takes a moment to relax and regroup on the safe side of the door they hear a metallic noise and the door slides open revealing another Robotiod.

Just another day in Detroit Suck City...

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Background: The Last Ranger

The Last Ranger

You were once a member of five or six man team that fought against the darkness in the universe. You and your team were able to transform into different colored suits and were at your strongest when you worked together. Though the day finally came when tragedy struck and you were the only member that was able to survive and escape the final battle. 

Advanced Skills:

Synchronized Posing (3)
Big Stompy Robot Piloting (3)
Unarmed (2)
Run (1)
Climb (1)
Awareness (1)
Strength (1)


- Convenience Store Bento Box (2d6 Charges)
- Faded Photograph of your Team
-Bracelet/belt buckle/or other small accessory that lets you summon your colorful costume and big    stompy robot
-Armor (light) while transformed
-Melee Weapon while transformed

Special: Big Stompy Robot - You can use your accessory to summon your Big Stompy Robot. When you do this, your former teams theme song plays from nowhere, and your team and their own robots fail to arrive. You can pilot your Big Stompy Robot and deal damage as a large beast. Fighting in your robot deals catastrophic damage to your surroundings, so upstanding costumed heroes use it as a last resort. Your whole teams robots could merge together to do damage as a gargantuan beast, or maybe more, but that's not important anymore.

Note: This Background was made possible by a user on Discord by the name of  ItemMerchant. I merely provided the core idea and ItemMerchant wrote out all of the moving parts.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Review: Vol. 1 Spacejamming Freebooters

When I first discovered Troika! I went looking for live play sessions to get a feel of how the game flows and all of that jazz. The first live plays I came across were Spelljamming Troika! Here is Session 1, Session 2, Session 3, Session 4, and Session 5. The live plays did two things, the first being it made me miss the Spelljammer setting and the second thing it did is make me very curious about the Troika! backgrounds the games used. I reached out to the game master and he told me he created a whole supplement for his Troika! inspired Spelljammer game and was generous enough to provide me with a review copy. 

Presentation:The PDF opens up with a great cover page with full color art, a use with Troika! page, and an explanation page about this supplement and how to use it. Then comes the 36 backgrounds. These backgrounds are presented in a clean two column format with the various skills and equipment as bullet points.

Character Creation, Resolution, and Crunch: All of this follows the same process as in the core Troika book. There is advice that explains the players use the Troika! Astrology Skill for navigation and astrogation. The Troika! Strength skill is used for managing your ships rigging. Spacejamming Freebooters goes on to introduce a new skill called Spacejamming which governs everything else about the ship such as piloting, gunning, using a Spacejamming helm, or anything else that is not familiar to you. 

Final Thoughts: The supplement for Troika! is really well put together and the backgrounds capture the fell of Spacejammer. I am also impressed how the author avoided skill bloat by using already existing skills to cover some of the Spelljammer flare and only introducing a single new skill as a catchall for other ship related skills/technology. Not only does this make me happy, it fits with the theme and system of Troika! I would have liked to see a few pages giving a setting primer so to speak and maybe some interior art.

You can find Vol. 1 Spacejamming Freebooters on itch.io. Other Resourced regarding Spelljammer can be found on drivethrurpg.

I personally would also suggest reading some pirate themed literature like Treasure Island. I would also highly encourage you to watch Treasure Planet. These will help give you some additional flavor and feel for Spelljammer. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Running S&B

I have talked about Sword and Backpack in depth here. As I mentioned in that post, when I first discovered it I had some difficulty grokking it due to the fact that I have never played a game like that or even been exposed to that type of story focused game. Since my writing of my own Sword and Backpack Hack, I have had a lot of experience running it and been exposed to game designers and other games that have helped me how to run Sword and Backpack more effectively. I also know some of the language may be unclear in the original game and my Breakfast Club hack so I will try to expand on things here. 

Difficulty Rating: Difficulty ratings are discussed as ranging from 1-20 (because of the d20 used). It is important to keep in mind that when an action falls into the class ability the player will get a +5 on the roll. I know from my experience it can be distracting trying to figure out Difficulty Ratings for each monster or task. There are two techniques that can be used (or mixed and matched) to make the experience run a lot more smoothly. 
  1. Set the standard difficulty rating at 12. Then, if a task (or monster) is easy then subject three for a new difficulty rating of 9. If the task (or monster) is hard then add three for a new difficulty rating of 15. These numbers work well with the class bonuses and without them.
  2. Designate areas of the town/map/rooms of the dungeon/etc with set Difficulty Ratings. Then everything within these areas have the same difficulty rating. This includes monsters and any other tasks that require a roll. 
Monsters: Especially coming from the classic Dungeons and Dragons experience, it is easy (and a go to) to make monsters more difficult by increasing their HP or damage output. This strategy does not work very well with Sword and Backpack. This is because increasing the Wounds can create a combat slag and increasing damage can be very deadly for the player characters. The more effective way to increase difficulty of a monster is to increase its difficulty rating. In my Breakfast Club hack there is listed suggestions for Wounds, etc.

The Wizard's Magic: I would highly suggest (it also makes it more fun and interactive. Plus it helps with immersion) for the wizards to create their own spell books and write their spells with whatever verbal and manual component they want. Then, when the wizard casts a spell the player would make the physical movements and say the magical words to enact the manual movements. Great examples of this can be found here.

Spells that deal damage should be limited to one wound and spells that hinder foes, assist the caster (or their allies), or have multiple targets should last 3-4 rounds/targets. Spells outside of combat should have a duration that makes sense for the fiction. 

Tactical Combat: Due to class bonuses, I would avoid giving out modifiers in actions except for the -3/+3 that I mentioned under Difficulty Rating in this post. During combat, I think it is import to award players for creative and smart decisions. This could be a well laid trap, having the high ground, possessing the monsters weakness or bane, etc. 

Magic Items: Once again, due to the class bonuses it is important to avoid any type of magical items that provide numerical bonuses. Plus, those types of magic items are boring. It is important to keep magic items exciting, mysterious, weird, and wondrous. An example would be a ring that allows the user to turn into a mouse or a cat. A post found at the Trollish Delver blog explains this idea really well