27 April, 2014

Reversing the Mutation (and other twists)

There are a few things that never seemed to sit right with TMNT and other Strangeness. One of those things was the idea of characters having independent sliding scales defining their hands, the degree of bipedal stance, and their human appearance.

The signature characters, the Ninja Turtles clearly have full hands (because they have no trouble manipulating tools and weapons), full bipedal stance (because they clearly walk around with no problems), and full speech, but no human appearance (they look like turtles, and there's no way someone could mistake them for human).

But in the Palladium game, these aspects are completely independent...theoretically you could have a character with full human looks, but no hands, and no bipedal stance. This could simply mean they look like a regular person who only ever walks around on all fours and is incapable of using their normal looking hands from doing anything with tools...they couldn't even learn to walk upright or use tools, because Bio-E points don't change over the course of play and mutations are permanent aspects of characters.

I'm thinking of a priority system for mutation aspects. First appearance changes, then hands, bipedal stance and/or speech, then the character's mind...

...that's right, the mind. In the comics and the cartoon, there were plenty of mutants who had bestial urges, some even having completely animal minds. The problem is, I don't know many players who do animal instincts well. So we'll leave our player characters with human level intelligence, temporary effects might reduce the intellect to instincts or savagery, but on the whole a baseline of human thought is probably good.

To pull things back to a more game specific mechanism...

Because we're using humans as the baseline, we start with a character who is fully human (rather than starting with something fully animal in the original game). A player buys away their humanity in exchange for points that allow them to purchase characteristics from their chosen animal (claws, teeth, heightened senses, prehensile tail, fast metabolism, natural armour, etc.), maybe they can buy traits from other animals at a premium, or psionic powers. The first thing they trade away is a fragment of their appearance (drop from "Appearance - Full" to "Appearance - Partial" or "Appearance - None"), then they may trade away their hands, bipedal stance and/or speech (but they may never trade away more than their Appearance level), finally they may trade away their mind (but this must be the least amount of humanity traded away). Each degree of humanity lost might gain 5 points (in keeping with the original system and because it's a nice level of counting to work with).

Think of it as the relationship between THAC0 and target number...some people aren't going to like the reversal, some people are going to find it more intuitive this way, but generally it's the same thing from a different direction.

The relationship of Size Level to Bio-E points generally works out, but it gets problematic at the extreme ends of the scale. It also meant that smaller animals had a much bigger potential for mutation variability than larger animals. I remember a lot of large animals that were reduced to smaller than human stature just to gain the bonuses they should have naturally begun with.

By starting with a human baseline, we avoid this a bit. I understand the game balance issues associated with the costs of size levels in the Palladium system, bigger characters had more SDC/health, higher strength and endurance, smaller characters only gained a speed bonus, but by this stage they were also suffering intelligence penalties due to their small brains.

If we balance out the bonuses and penalties associated with size levels, we can strip the cost completely, or maybe reduce it to a nominal value like one point per size level of variation from humanity (either up or down). Players have a natural tendency to play up their characters strengths and avoid situations where their characters weaknesses might come into play, so if we ensure their is a cost associated with both directions then we stem this from getting out of hand as well.

The other major difference between this system and the Palladium game would be the benefits granted by animal DNA...in the TMNT game all characters automatically gained attribute modifiers as one of the first steps of character creation, in this game, those bonuses would come in the form of adjective or adverb traits reflecting the way the animal acts. A player could buy their animal's bonus traits with their points, or gain extra points from acquiring negative traits associated with the animal.

Once the points are balanced out for each animal, a player should be able to purchase a regular version of their animal with all points balancing out. But maybe it's more fun to give all characters a few extra points to play with, so that they get some psychic powers, natural powers or other fun edges to play with.

Iterations and Cycles

I'm not a fan of the whole "sad things on index cards" schtick, but that's the territory my games tend to inhabit. I prefer to quickly write something down on the fly, then throw it away when it's no longer relevant...rather than write it on a character sheet, rub it out, write something else, rub that out...etc.

If this mutant animal game is going to be based on FUBAR, then it's definitely going to fall into the "sad things on index cards" genre, but I'm thinking pocketmods for the character books.

Title: character's name, their animal type, a couple of permanent traits that define them, and a picture.
First opening: the core stats that you need for play.
Middle opening: quirky animal powers and likely transformative effects when mutagenic weapons are used on the character (evolution and devolution)
Back opening: character history, and relationships (to people, places and things)
Back page: unsure (maybe a quick rule recap, maybe an equipment list...I don't know yet)

I've also been thinking of a major revision to FUBAR, nothing as dramatic as what I've been doing with Walkabout (which is also a direct descendent of FUBAR), more of a linguistic clarification. This has come from looking at +Jeremy Keller's Tech Noir and from studying linguistics at university at the moment.

I really like the idea of using nouns, adjectives and verbs as procedural elements in play. They add structure to a freeform system that is designed to simulate storytelling rather than the mechanisms and physics of the world.

I'm thinking of renaming all of the FUBAR skills into verbs for this game...then when the GM asks a player what they are doing, the player can respond with a gramatically correct Subject-Verb-Object sentence using the specific traits they are using in the game. "I (the subject) am going to Run (the verb) to the Car (the object)". This means we can apply bonus traits as adverbs to the action ("run quickly"), or add more significance and interest to the subjects and objects through adjectives ("the high-performance, expensive car"). If a character wants to do something to achieve a story goal, they still eliminate tokens from the GMs pool to get closer to the conclusion, but if they want to modify an action or a target object, their successes basically add or subtract adjectives or adverbs.

I think this might make it more logical for new players as well.

I thought anout this last night when I was digging through my hard drive and found a players guide to FUBAR that I had written a couple of years ago. Most of the ideas from that guide have found their way into Walkabout, but there are a few core concepts that have just sat in the shadows waiting for the right time to come out.

26 April, 2014

More mutants

Hmm...with a little bit of research, it looks like my thoughts about constraining certain aspects of the TMNT game and expanding other aspects might be a good move.

I don't remember the Palladium game including any fish or pretty much any aquatic critters (except for the turtles themselves and a few amphibious critters or water loving mammals like otters...not even dolphins).

The rules also present the concept that all mutants start as animals and follow a path toward humanity with their mutations...This leaves out certain elements that were distinctly a part of the Turtles TV show.

April O'Neil transformed into a fish mutant in the episode "Rebel without a Fin"

This is something that could never have happened in the original RPG.

Similarly, from the comic book...

...but the game doesn't allow for invertebrates (except for insects in the much later sourcebook "Mutants in Orbit").

There have even been a few storylines regarding unstable mutations, while the original game works on the assumption that once animals have mutated into their character forms, they are basically locked permanently into this new form. I;d be more interested in saying that the characters have stabilized into a new form, but further radiation/alien-attacks/magic/weirdness might prompt mutants back to their original form, might force them toward a more humanoid form or might do something else entirely (short term or long term).

It adds a whole lot more scope.

Further research has even shown that there have been plant mutants in the setting...but that's something else entirely.

So much unexplored potential that can now be considered if the majority of human equipment and clunky combat system are eliminated.

25 April, 2014

Mutant Animal Game continued

"Shadows and Sewers"

"Mutagen Showdown"

"Other Strangeness"

I'm still tossing up names for this one, but that hasn't stopped me thinking about it. My aim for revamping this game is not to produce one of those GM-less troupe-style, minimal rules affairs...I'm just trying to streamline the play, get rid of the crunchy crap but keep the essence of dark, gritty, mutant animals hiding in a modern day dystopia (and occasionally having adventures that lead them to strange and far off places that are surreal and exotic but also filled with dangerous shadows crawling with exotic mutant animals).

I'm thinking about the way a game like 3:16 streamlines the experience of playing space marines, while adding something deeply subversive to the standard tropes. It makes characters quickly, it makes them disposable, it builds on them through the course of play and allows characters to become more significant as they survive longer. I expect the characters to be a bit more developed when they enter play, and that's all a part of the fun for this style of game. Players like to build something quirky, with points that make them think a bit about the creature they'll be injecting into the story. Some people like random tables, so that option should be there, but some players don't, so the option to ignore them should be valid.

Now I'm wondering whether lists and lists, and pages and pages of equipment to choose from are a Palladium thing, or something that's integral to the Mutant animal experience. The memories of playing this game in high school often bring back memories of raiding convenience stores, hardware stores, department stores and pharmacies for the equipment we'd need before a mission. We believed the end would justify the means, and we'd be playing "good" alignments so we'd always try to put the  equipment back the next day or put some cash from our winnings back in the storekeeper's till before opening the next day. But this ga,e could just as easily function without specific stats for equipment, after all most of the equipment in the TMNT game never had specific stats, they just justified the viability of certain tasks. Maybe I'm overthinking this.

The true essence comes from the construction of the mutant animals, including the animalistic weapons and other advantages, and the psychic powers.

But there are other things I'd like to explore with this game, Palladium games never had a great way of integrating characters with their environment, or with one another for that matter. They handled conflict with incredible minutiae, but the bits between combat were always a bit vague. Personally, that's where I think the roleplaying lies, so that's where I'd be focusing the game.

How do the character's feel about each other? Who do they deal with in the outside world? How did they come to be? What forces guide their decisions? What are their fears? Their desires? Who are their enemies? Their friends?

Then we need a way for all the players to collaboratively build the city where their adventures unfold (and maybe a few exotic settings for one off quests as well).

Still lots to think about on this one.

A storygamed interpretation of TMNT

There seems to be a bit of talk lately about the Palladium game "TMNT and other Strangeness"; especially the concept of stripping away the "megaversal system" and injecting some story-game potential.

I've been giving it some thought.

Everyone seems to love the idea of building a character with some kind of mutagenic energy, but the characters need to be stripped of their convoluted stats and numerous fiddly skills that take ages to work out...conversely, they could do with some hooks that immediately draw them into some kind of narrative.

I'm thinking of using FUBAR for the basic game structure, then applying some kind of mutagenic point system to buy special abilities and edges, then 6 simple questions.

1. What brought you here? What keeps you here?
2. What is your favourite part of the city?
3. Why do you hide from the mundane world?
4. Why are you still attracted to the mundane world?
5. What do you think of your animal nature?
6. What do you seek in life?

Then maybe a couple of things to tie the characters together, and a way to generate up a city for adventures to unfold in.

There might be something in this...

24 April, 2014

Urash Mhyrr Player Map

I've had a couple of people ask for a version of the Astral Prison map without the text around the outside of it. Something that serves as a better standalone sheet to place in the middle of the table when a game is underway.

I'm always happy to oblige with such things.

I've also been asked to provide a copy of the map without any altars, treasures or monsters on it...so here's that version.

I hope you all find these useful when you decide to include them in your games.

22 April, 2014

2014 One Page Dungeon Entry

After a bit of refinement, here's my entry for this year's One Page Dungeon contest.

To use it you'll need two circles of cellophane (one blue, one red, each 2.5cm/1" round), but it says that on the page anyway.

There may be another update to this map in the week or so before the contest entries are formally closed for the year.

16 April, 2014

The Astral Prison

Here is a little something I've been working on.
The basic premise is an interdimensional prison asteroid, made from an ancient magic and caught in a limbo realm between Purgatory and the Astral plane. It is here that many of the most dangerous beings in all existence have been banished...

...but fueling it all, at the centre, is wealth unimaginable. A regenerating diamond capable of fueling the prison's magic for the duration of eternity. A gem that splinters off tiny fragments of itself every millennium at a rare conjunction when the stars are aligned. 

Few know how to reach the prison, and those few who do know the truth are never stupid enough to undertake the journey themselves. Instead, they send adventurers to raid the prison; they rarely expect to see those adventurers alive again.

This dungeon exists on two layers within the one page. Each a different colour, and each revealed by the application of coloured cellophane over the paper.

When characters walk into the prison, they are like the prisoners and are prevented from passing walls of any colour. As soon as they touch a mystic alter, their body phases into alignment with one of the colours. Once this occurs, they take a circle of cellophane matching that colour and overlay the map with themselves at the centre of this circle. The cellophane indicates which walls are still solid to them, and obscures the walls that they may now walk through freely. Once they reach another altar, a character may choose to touch it (thus shifting their phase alignment and colour of cellophane) or continue past.

If the a character comes into contact with one of the imprisoned beings, they cannot be reasoned with...these are psychopathic, world-destroying beings. Survival might be a possibility, but critical injury and lifelong scars will come from every encounter...and a second encounter along the way is likely to be lethal when that confrontation occurs in a weakened state.

This is a dangerous place, and the stakes are high.

I'm just refining the colours now, a one-page dungeon for this place of nightmare should be available shortly.

05 April, 2014

Taking things further

Voidstone Chronicles had a good start, but things have stagnated a bit. I've updated it now twice, in the hope that it might see some more interest.

Maybe it's time to start some more active promotion.

Voidstone Chronicles can be found here.

02 April, 2014

The Underwater Spire

Some of you may be aware of the underwater adventure, the Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper.

If not, go and have a look at it here.

I've been given the opportunity to draw my interpretation of the map, and here it is.

Now that this one is out of the way, I might be willing to accept other commissions.