Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Resourceful Imaginings

Tweed Ahoy!
He's a quick entry on what I'm up to and things of interest I've seen this week:

The Missus and I just tuned up a pair of Schwinn bicycles that have been loaned to us for the 3rd annual Tweed Ride Victoria this Saturday. We are super excited to attend! And once that's over I'm heading up island to meetup with my best buds to hangout, catch up, and play some Numenera and Star Wars: EotE; super stoked about that!

Speaking of Numenera, I came across this awesome house rule by the author The Ferrett (via his excellent first session report):

If you do not describe your attack in a gloriously cinematic fashion, the difficulty increases one step.” That’s right; anyone who says, “I roll to hit” without detailing the incredibly cool way they’re assaulting this monster – and thus giving me the chance to reduce the difficulty by assigning Asset bonuses – actually finds it harder to land a blow."
I've considered house rules of a similar bent to get more description and narration from the players (a la Feng Shui-style), but I never codified them. This house rule works great with Numenera, and with slight mechanical adjustments can be implemented in a variety of other systems. Consider a similar rule for Star Wars: EotE where not describing your actions your could impose Setback dice? (Or if the GM wants to be really harsh increase or even upgrade difficulty) The downside I can see is it possibly slowing the game down if I becomes too long winded, and you shouldn't punish the player if they aren't good, comfortable, or interested in doing it. But it is a great idea nonetheless.

The Ferrett also mentions Shanna Germain's online character utility and Cypher generator, and I came across another similar character generator by Dark Liquid that includes mutant options. I also updated my First Impressions to reflect the update and improvements to the Character Creator App.

Filled out this list of 100 Tabletop Roleplaying Games: I scored 15 out of 100. :/ In my defence, most of them are older RPGs, some which I actually possess but have yet to play.

Wave 3 of X-Wing has finally hit my FLGS, and I'm can say one of each ship has been added to my collection: a TIE Bomber, a B-Wing, the HWK-290, and Lambda Class shuttle. I've constructed a new squad to test and was hoping I'd get a chance to play with them tonight but my buddy was unavailable; it'll have to be another week or so till my next After Action Report. I'm also working on another Custom Pilot or two as well!

Spooky October is going to be here soon, and I'm thinking about finally running Dread now that I finally have a jenga tower! I'm also hard at work on my homebrew hack for Dread and hope to have it up soon!

And finally, looking a few months ahead, a co-worker and I have been coming up with encounter ideas for his annual Christmas RPG adventure. Previous years have been Santa Claws, and Lair of the Paindeer; this year looks like it might be Island of the Misfit Constructs (or Murderous Toys). I love this absurd concept! Reminds me of the Christmas Gamma World adventure Factory of Misfit Omega Tech. I may have to run that for the holidays...

Whew. That's all for now folks!

Cheers! ;{١

Monday, 23 September 2013

Campy Cosmic Communique

So I came across this classic gem the other day and nearly bust a gut laughing! Behold, Space Patrol:

It's just so low budget, campy, and simply amazing! I knew about the more popular Supermarionation shows like Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5, and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, but I had no idea about Space Patrol (also known as Planet Patrol in the US to avoid confusion with the 1950's live-action series of the same name)

Watching this immediately made me think about the RPG Cosmic Patrol and it's tongue-in-cheek approach to retro-futuristic space opera. Back during Free RPG Day in June I had my first encounter with Cosmic Patrol with their free quick-start rules booklet The Eiger Agenda, an encounter that left me pleased.

Flash forward to now and all of Cosmic Patrol's materials are still on sale at DriveThruRPG, so figured I should finally take advantage of the sale and get myself Cosmic Patrol on PDF. Another game to add to my queue of RPG reading material. :)

Anyway, there's veritable galaxy of adventure seeds and narration ideas in the episodes of Space Patrol and the episodes and planets from Fireball XL5 along with other sci-fi film serials and television shows from the 40's, 50's and 60's. Check them out when you're in a tight spot and need a fresh idea or two Cadet!

Blast Off to Adventure! ;{١

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Numenera - Read Impressions

Whoo Boy. A week ago I finally finished thoroughly reading all 416 pages of the Numenera Corebook, along with two PDF adventures.

Wow. As far as RPG rulesbooks go, Numenera rates pretty high on those I've read.

Here's a quasi review with any of my thoughts and possible spoilers ahead.

The book is organized into 9 sections or 'Parts'; each part houses 2 to 5 chapters; a total of 28 chapters and 3 appendixes comprise the book. It contains a glossary and a two page index which you might initially consider sparse; but there are two reasons I believe behind this: First, the side margins of the entire book are filled with page referencing numbers to any highlighted rules, stats, or setting pieces; this allows the reader to easily skip ahead or back if they want/need clarification on something highlighted, this helps the reader familiarize themselves with the layout of book and where to find the relevant information. Second relates to the fact that Numenera has a very simple core mechanic, is fairly rules light, and encourages the GM to adjudicate any situation logically; thus there's little need to look up any situation specific rules or the like.

I think almost goes without saying the art in Numenera is phenomenal, seriously top notch evocative stuff.

Part 1: Getting Started

This section covers the chapters Welcome to the Ninth World and How to Play Numenera; the former is a very brief primer on the setting and themes of the Ninth World, and the latter gives a basic overview of how the system's core mechanic works. Not much to say about this short section, aside that it serves well to explain these two primary concepts to anyone who picks up the book.

Part 2: Characters

The five chapters Creating Your Character, Character Type, Character Descriptor, Character Focus, and Equipment fill this part. 

It is worth noting that the first two Parts of the corebook (chapters one through seven) are pretty much the same content in the Numenera Player's Guide; everything beyond is more GM-oriented like detailed rules and setting fluff. This further reflects the smart design and layout of the book; it's nice that player's don't need to fork over cash for their own copy of the corebook for rules just pertaining to their characters.

Obviously this section covers everything players would need to know for creating and running a PC in Numenera. Character creation is covered by three primary parts (each having a relevant chapter) of the statement “I am an adjective noun who verbs." The adjective is the Descriptor (the character's demeanour), the noun the Type (the closest thing to 'class'; a Glaive [Warrior], a Nano [Spellcaster], or a Jack [Skilled]) and the verb is the Focus (a unique background and special abilities).

This makes for very customized characters, along with all the other options a PC can choose when they advance through each Type's six Tiers ('levels'). It also helps ensure that no two PCs of the same Type are too similar, if at all. Advancement is handled pretty openly by spending XP on one of four benefits, and once you've bought each benefit you advance to the next Tier that grants you more abilities and so on.

Some of the Foci smack heavily of fantasy tropes like barbarians, crafters, rangers, archers, werewolves, bards, swashbucklers, thieves, assassins, beast masters, healers, two-weapon fighters, psionics, illusionists, leaders, etc. but there are wholly unique ones as well such as lightning harnessers, magnetism or gravity manipulators, biomechanicals, and those considered partially-out-of-phase. These allow characters to follow along the lines of common archetypes, supporting the Fantasy side of this Science-Fantasy RPG, or be something more bizarre.

I'm not going to go much further into Tiers, Stat Pools, Edge, and Skills, as there are many in-depth reviews out on the web. Here though is a good video that runs down the specifics of character creation and the basics of gameplay:

The final section covers the general equipment worn, carried, and used in the Ninth World, except for the numenera itself, which is a catch all word for technology from the previous world, which is covered later on.

Part 3: Playing The Game

The two chapters covering the Rules Of The Game and the Optional Rules are covered in this section.

Numenera uses a d20 for resolution, which is target number based. That's where the similarities to WotC's d20 System pretty much end. Although both have you roll a d20 to match or exceed a target number/DC, Numenera's Cypher System as it is referred to, takes a unique way to avoid all the math that can come with counting up all the bonuses and/or penalties that may modify any given task. Instead of things like skills, assistance, etc. adding to the die result in an attempt boost the result higher than the DC, the modifiers in Numenera lower the DC. In fact if they're able to lower the difficult to zero, the task succeeds automatically.

This video does a better job explaining it than I do:

Also adding a little to the usual d20 results of Critical Hit (here called a Major Effect) on a natural 20 and Critical Fail (here called a GM Intrusion) on a natural 1 are the damage bonuses of +1 and +2 on 17 and 18 respectively, and the Minor Effect on a 19.

The other unique thing about Numenera is that the GM doesn't roll in opposition, ever. The players handle all the dice rolls that relate to their characters. A creature or NPC's level is it's difficulty for any related tasks for it, this includes not only the difficulty to attack it but also to defend oneself from it. This puts the power in the hands of the players as they drive the action and let's the GM focus more upon the overall story and other concerns. I have yet to play/run this yet, so I can understand how it might feel weird for a GM to not have to roll for a monster to attack, but I am intrigued to experience this first hand.

GM Intrusion allows the GM to pro-actively steer the course of the game by introducing complications for characters without having to resort to dice chance or heavy-handed tactics like railroading. When the GM intrudes such a complication upon a character he must offer that player 2 XP (except in the case of the player rolling a 1), and if the player accepts he must give one of the XP to another player. The player has the option of refusing the intrusion and thus the 2 XP offered by spending 1 XP. This is very similar to compelling aspects in FATE; a well implemented way for the GM to reward the PC's complications.

The rest of the chapter covers all the other general rules, and the next chapter covers optional rules that can add more depth to the game, although I wouldn't say many or any are necessary.

Part 4: The Setting

This is a BIG one, probably comprising a fourth or fifth of the book with five chapters that cover most the fluff of Numenera's setting: Living in the Ninth World, The Steadfast, The Beyond, Beyond the Beyond, and Organizations.

I won't go and spoil this section, but I will say the descriptions of the lands of the Ninth World are well done, with just enough information but not too much to prevent customization. My one thing of note is that a few parts of the regions are written from a different perspective than a general overview; a few are nice and atmospheric, but in some instances this change in descriptive is jarring.

This is also the time to mention the full poster map provided with the book and printed on the endpapers; this map and nearly all the cartography in the book was done by master cartographer Christopher West, and he pulled out all the stops in the workmanship and quality of the wondrous terrain of the Ninth World. It's also clever how there a plethora of unlabelled points of interest on the map just begging for you and your player's to explore and craft a story there.

Part 5: Creatures & Characters

A pretty straight forward section with a chapter on Creatures and one on Non-Player Characters.

The bestiary of the Ninth World is filled with weird and wonderful creatures, some beneficial, most dangerous. Stat blocks are simple and easy to use; and it'd be remiss to say how easy it would be for a GM to create his own fantastical creatures.

A six pages, Non-Player Characters is probably the smallest chapter in the book; filled with a few generic NPC's and a bunch of named ones the GM is free to use.

Part 6: The Numenera

The namesake of the game, the chapters on Technology, Cyphers, Artifacts, and Oddities & Discoveries cover the 'numenera' of the Ninth World.

Cyphers are equivalent to one-use magic items from most fantasy RPGs such as magic potions or scrolls; they have one use and then they're gone. Cyphers are actually a pretty big part of the game (one reason Monte named the game engine the Cypher system), and the GM is told to consider them more like temporary abilities for characters given their prevalence and availability. Characters are limited by the number of cyphers they can carry at any given time, but can gradually carry more as they advance. This helps prevent hoarding and encourages cypher use as the characters will always find more. This means the PC's will always have a new trick up their sleeves and allows more creativity during gameplay.

Artifacts are more similar to permanent magic items, but not really permanent per say. The vast majority of them deplete when used or activated, the more powerful ones having a higher chance of no longer functioning than lesser ones. It's a decent balance to prevent a powerful artifact from dominating a given task for a lengthy amount of time (it kinda self rectifies those GM mistakes of giving the PC's an overpowered magic item). Artifacts have perks that range from mildly annoying or detrimental to highly situational or hazardous.

Oddities tend to be interesting numenera that are usually not really practical for any use in the greater whole. That doesn't mean the GM should stop the players from attempting to use an oddity for a interesting purpose.

The last few pages cover creating new cyphers (such as Trollsmyths's Goo), artifacts, oddities, and discovers for your own game.

Part 7: Running The Game

This section is specifically addressed towards the GM, with the chapters on Using the Rules, Building a Story, and Realizing the Ninth World.

Monte Cook's years of experience of game design and GM'ing shine through in this section. He explains his motivation behind Numenera's design, which is primarily to aid the GM in telling a story by making it easier for them to run the game and focus on shepherding the fun. He makes it very clear that if the rules interfere with the story in any way they should be disregarded:

"The rules are not the final word - you are. You are not subservient to the rules."
We're seeing a recent trend in many recent RPGs where the pendulum of rules is swinging back from heavily codified systems (like 3.5 & 4E) to more free-flowing and narrative systems (EotE, FATE, and earlier editions of D&D) that don't restrict GMs with rules they are expected to follow and support their own adjudication.

I learned a many years ago one of the keys to GM'ing is not knowing and mastering the rules of a system, but putting the needs of the story, game, and my players first. This can be difficult for players and GMs who are more rules-minded to accept, as many bare the mentality that the GM is the opponent in a game, and the rules keep him/her from 'cheating'; this is unfortunate because good GMs aren't competitive or antagonistic to their group, and any conflict or change to the status quo isn't done out of spite but to challenge the players and enrich the story. After all, a story where the protagonist easily succeeds over the trials and tribulations placed before them is a very dull story indeed.

But I digress, as that last paragraph was mostly my own thoughts, but it does resonate with what Monte is telling the GMs in this section.

The second chapter presents excellent advice on how to craft stories, manage pacing, present descriptions, design encounters and challenges, etc. As with the previous chapter, this is full of brilliant GM advice usable in any RPG.

The final chapter covers the behind-the-scenes for making the setting of the Ninth World realize, discussing themes, concepts, and ideas.

Part 8: Adventures

The penultimate section of the book contains four adventures: The Beale of Boregal, Seedship, The Hidden Price, and the Three Sanctums.

The Beale of Boregal is meant to be the first adventure a GM's runs in Numenera, with lots of advice and an possible event flowchart. It's a pretty well written with several options and choices for players, although I think the ending is a little anticlimactic.

Seedship is probably the weakest adventure in the corebook, being pretty much akin to a classic dungeon crawl (which will probably be great for gamers who enjoy those).

The Hidden Price is a decent adventure that combines both a bit of exploration and some social encounters and intrigue. It is a little on the flat side both in the ruins and in the depth of the social aspects. GMs are probably expected to flesh out the adventure a bit.

Finally the Three Sanctums is an adventure for more experienced characters. Although the PC's have the option a visiting three locales, one of them is pretty much a antagonist-filled dead end that I can foresee being a possible time waster and frustrating to the PCs. (After all, why have a path lead off from the main route if it serves nothing to further the plot?)

My other minor note is that during the adventure the PC's may be presented with a "three-piece" map of sorts that shows how the eponymous three sanctums' conduits connect to each other in a perfect equilateral triangle - just not in a three dimensional space; there is an image in the adventure that could be used to show this, but it's lacks the flair I think it makes it interesting. I think the GM should make their own map of the three sanctums, then tear it into thirds, and rearrange it so each sanctum's conduits connect, or better yet give it to the PCs' to figure out (and get rewarded XP for the discovery). An interesting and engaging prop idea.

Other than that the adventure has a good background and an interesting final act.

Part 9: Back Matter

This final section of the book is where the three appendixes are kept along with the glossary, index, and character sheet.

Appendix A is Character Creation Walkthrough.
Appendix B is a Bibliography and list of Resources that inspired Numenera.
Appendix C is several pages listing kickstarter backers.

The character sheet is interesting as it is designed to be folded up like a pamphlet, with all the statistics, skills, abilities, and possessions on the inside; and a character background and notes on the outside.

Bonus: The Nightmare Switch and Vortex adventures

A compatriot who backed the Kickstarter for Numenera was kind enough to let me have a look at the Kickstarter-exclusive adventure The Nightmare Switch, a very pretty simple but solid 8-page adventure with a standard save-the-town plot. It's kinda a shame that this adventure isn't included in the corebook, as it's quite good in comparison to most of them, but still totally understandable that this was a Kickstarter-exclusive.

As a first time adventure, I'd probably run The Nightmare Switch over The Beale of Boregal.

Vortex was the début GenCon 2013 scenario and the first of Numenera's Glimmers, a line of short PDF-distributed adventures. Vortex is an 18 page long two-part sandbox adventure that was originally written as a convention game with six-pregen characters, but can be easily inserted into any campaign. IMHO Vortex is, if not the, one of the top adventure's right now for Numenera; it really immerses everyone in the themes and setting of the Ninth World, without tying it down to a specific location. It also introduces variety NPCs with distinct personalities and ambitions, and has interesting and unique locales the PCs visit.

Many may be put off by Vortex's it's somewhat steep $5.99 price, but it is a rock solid adventure and worth the money. I look forward to not only the possibility of running Vortex when I GM Numenera at the end of this month, but to also possibly running it at a convention or event in the future.

Bonus Bonus: The Numenera Character Creator App

I've had a bit more time to familiarize myself with this App and here are my thoughts on it so far:

The Good: It works great as a character creation tool; a way to track and save stats, equipment, abilities, skills, and XP; and it allows you to upgrade and advance character(s).

The Bad: The interface could use a bit of work as it's not always apparent how to navigate the screens of the app. Also it could use a few more character portraits I think. It's also worth noting any of the abilities and whatnot listed aren't fully detailed, so the App isn't a suitable portable replacement for the Player's Guide unfortunately; just a player/GM aid.

The Bug: Normally when purchasing benefits with XP to advance, you have the option of selecting a 'special option' that counts as benefit for the purpose of meeting the requirement of purchasing four benefits before advancing to your next character Tier. This 'special option' is available to select when upgrading in the App, but along with the 4 other benefits it has to be purchased before your character is automatically advanced to the next Tier: essentially making you have to purchase 5 benefits. This can be avoided with 4 free XP and ignoring the effects of selecting the last benefit, but you shouldn't have to work around this bug. Hopefully this will be rectified soon.

Update: So like a day or so after I wrote this, 3lb Games updated their App, fixing this bug along with a few others that hadn't noticed. It's great to know that these guys are on top of these concerns, and they've also informed us that they're working on a feature to print characters and transfer them between apps. The Numenera Character Creator App's future looks promising!

I'm planning on using this App during my upcoming game to manage my players' characters. We'll see how it holds up under heavier use.

Final Impressions

Numenera is by far the most unique and impressive RPG I've seen this year. Although part of me is disappointed I missed my chance to support it's Kickstarter, I am very pleased that an RPG that I chose to pick up on a whim with little foreknowledge of its content has impressed me so much. It may be a bit soon to tell, but I can foresee Numenera occupying a special place on my bookshelf reserved for my favourite RPGs. :)

That mostly concludes my First Impressions of Numenera, though I do plan a follow up post after I've had a chance to run it/play it (hopefully the ending of September/beginning of October) and relate my experiences with it.

Jerreth Esq. is a Clever Jack who Entertains. ;{١

Friday, 13 September 2013

Septem 13

Hope you all had a not unlucky Friday the 13th! I came across this clever pic and think it a good way to make this generally superstitious day more fun and fortunate for us dice rolling types.

Although the tourist season is coming to a close this month, September has been a quite busy and stressful month so far and because of RL I've unfortunately missed several of my weekly games, which sucks but what can you do. Most of the stress is work related, but I'm not going to get into such bothersome talk. Instead here's a brief update on what I've been up to and planning to do:

  • I finished reading the Numenera rulebook as few days ago, and am busy working on compiling a two-part First Impressions; the first part focusing on the book, and the future second part detailing my experiences from actual gameplay, as I am planning on running Numenera at the end of this month with a couple of my oldest and dearest friends.

  • Last Tuesday the Missus and I made a brief sojourn to Salt Spring Island, where my only intention beyond taking in the sights and beautiful weather was to visit the board game cafe/restaurant aptly named The Gathering. Sadly they are closed Tuesdays, but I did manage to finally find a sought after non-trademarked version of Jenga for use with the copy of the horror storytelling game Dread that had I purchased nearly a year ago; just in time for me to perhaps give it a shot during spooky October or maybe even Hallowe'en! Also, we plan on returning to Salt Spring Island this Sunday to attend the autumn fair, so I still may get my chance to visit The Gathering. Expect a post to follow on that.

  • I am currently (have been for a month or so) compiling a list of sorts for my own blog and an associate's website [Victoria Gaming] that brings together all the local gamer resources for Victoria and puts them on a single page; from retailers to groups to events. I hope to get this up and done soon.

  • Today after work my FLGS finally had a copy of the EotE adventure module Beyond The Rim in for me to get my grubby paws on. Certainly the next RPG book for me to read through and post my thoughts.

  • The day before I make my visit up to my old buddies is the 3rd annual Tweed Ride Victoria. Though my bike is still in disrepair since it was ripped off nearly six months ago, the Missus and I hope to attend with a pair of loaned Schwinn bicycles. Once I am sure I can get the time off, I'm registering right away.

Best of Luck! ;{١

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Lasers & Feelings

As the more astute of you may be aware, during this labour day weekend was PAX Prime south of the 49th parallel in Seattle. Although I had the opportunity to get a ticket last week, I had to decline because I could not get the time off work, and also I need to update/apply for a new passport. Next year perhaps.

Star Trek: TOS = Lasers + Feelings
I'm sure a metric TON of amazing things came out of PAX this year, but what has come to my attention is this little indie-RPG gem called Lasers & Feelings. The brainchild of well known designer John Harper of one seven Design Studio, L&F is a very simple but fun RPG where the players take control of the crew members of an interstellar scout ship called Raptor, and attempt to deal with threats without their daring captain to lead them. Engage hijinks.

I could go further on in describing the game, but all of it takes up just a single page, so you should just check it out for yourselves [Here]! A fun little game to fill some time saving the galaxy shooting lasers and/or seducing green aliens.

Be sure to check out all the other cool indie games at one seven Design.

Cheers! ;{١

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Numenera Transmissions

I must say I am quite taken enraptured with Numenera so far; Monte Cook's world has got me hooked and I'm itching to run a game once I've fully absorbed the corebook, which I am still methodically making my way through page by brilliant page. I've only finished the first seven chapters that comprise parts 1: Getting Started and 2: Characters out of the 9 sections of the book. Both the setting and the system are quite unique, and it's rather remarkable that I'm already so drawn into this game without having gotten deep into the parts on the game world or running the game.

I've been supplementing my lack of free reading time by listening my way through an excellent d20 Radio Network podcast called Transmissions from the Ninth World; reading the various web articles on io9 and Petrie's Games; Monte Cook's own blog; and checking out what people are saying on YouTube. The guys from Transmissions from the Ninth World have also set up this great community website for Numenera fans called Ninth World Hub.

Also I purchased and downloaded the Character Creator app for iOS. [Computer and Android versions forthcoming.] So, far it looks pretty good; I hope to give a more thorough review of it in the future.

If Numenera seems interesting to you, first you should read this short story called The Amber Monolith, which helps set the tone and setting of the Ninth World. If you enjoyed that, I'd highly suggest checking out any of the aforementioned links, the FAQ, or the following videos to learn more about this amazing RPG:

Finally feel I need to mention that Numenera is currently available on PDF @ DriveThruRPG at the amazing price of $20! If you like the kinda vibes Numenera is giving you, do yourself a favour and take advantage of this opportunity!

Now, I must return to finishing reading the book!

Cheers! ;{١