Sunday, 16 February 2014

Mutant Future RPG, and thoughts on retroclones

I've started GMing a campaign using Mutant Future by Goblinoid games. My campaigns usually only last 2-6 sessions and we are now two sessions in. I've seen many of the games mechanics in action and feel comfortable committing my thoughts on the game to the screen.

I say I am using Mutant Future rather than running or playing it, because like many older school RPGs experiences and interpretations of the rules of the game will vary widely from group to group. Equally interpretations of the game setting can vary a lot. I'm not really that into the Fallout, Mad Max, dudes with sharp bits of metal and tentacles protruding from their bodies type of post destruction world. I either like the very grungy A Roadside Picnic, Stalker, or Metro 2033 type world with grimy guys climbing around in rain coats and cheap anti radiation suits with sawn off shotties, or a more low fantasy approach like Nausicaa Valley of the Wind (A great Manga/Anime). For this game I decided to set it in a more Nausicaa type world. A world long after 'the fall' with a medieval come age of gun powder tech levels and a very fragmented tribalistic society. Whilst it isn't a fantasy setting, it can feel like one, with myths, legends, cultures and monsters that create a world unlike our own.

A cover from Miyazaki's Nausicaa Manga.

Once I'd started down this comics track, I decided to throw Arzach in, and have some of the mutant factions riding around on dinosaurs and even use Arzach as a character.

Arzach, by Moebius, Heavy Metal Magazine

So thats the setting. When I run RPGs I tend to pick a few mechanics and focus in on them. Sometimes its unknown player objectives, sometimes its military manoeuvres or combat, sometimes its purist dungeon crawling. For this game I've gone for survival and exploration, consequently I've enforced all the rules for food and water consumption and getting lost in the desert, and for a brief time my players did get lost in the desert before eventually finding this place;

The game centres around a hex crawl map with this being a sort of 'hive of scum and villainy' locale. This is the first time I've run a hex crawl, and its a framework I like a lot. It works well and gives the players a genuine freedom. Using a good set of tables its not too hard to generate encounters on the fly, and as I've found making simple encounters really interesting is where the true quality of any adventure lies. I do have an overall mission for the characters but its really just there to give them some direction. Hex crawls can be a big preparation investment though, if you want many specific detailed locations expect to write a lot of stuff that isn't used.

But what about the book, and the game system itself? Mutant Future is Goblinoid games attempt to create a modern clone of Gamma World. I've never played Gamma World, it predates me so I cannot give a comparison. What I do know, is that the system is really just a tweaked version of Goblinoids Labyrinth Lord, which itself is a clone of D&D basic. This is the first time I've run a game using the D&D basic rules, other than Dungeoncrawl Classics which uses a lot of the modern 3.5 D20 rules engine. Mutant Future is purer old school, and I have mixed views on this. Older rule sets, D&D or traveller, were vague and incomplete, and this is what made them great. You could fill the gaps yourself, no rules lawyering, easy loose systems. In Mutant Future I've found myself plugging a lot of the gaps with rules from DCC despite it being a D20 system. There are two things that bug me about Mutant Future, and at one of them applies to D&D basic too. The first thing is the lack of one unified dice check system. Combat is done with a D20, hiring retainers 2D6, or trap detection uses 1D6, determining the function of ancient technology is a D100 roll, a moral check uses 2D6, an ability deck is a D20 but roll low etc. Each system or check uses a different die. This creates two problems for me, firstly I'm constantly look up rules, or just forgetting them and winging it, secondly when we come across a situation which is beyond the rules, such as blagging a guard, I am unsure which dice to use and what numbers or stats to use as the basis for the test. I can improv this, and do, but other games such as DCC make it easier to make the improvised decisions. Here I can get inconsistent, asking for one roll on one occasion, then a different one for the same challenge on another, because I simply forgot what dice we used last time. The second issue is health points. Mostly players start with 50ish. This may not increase that much in the game, setting the game apart from D&D where hit points start low and rise over time. Combined with many monsters having high hit points and the melee weapons at the start of the game being fairly low powered, D4-10 damage typically, combat situations can often turn into slogs. I like short deadly combat, where monsters or PCs can die at any moment and the fight only lasts 4 or 5 rounds and about 5-15 minutes of real time. With so many hit points the party had a fight with five sentient spear wielding bird men lasted nearly 30 minutes and only ended when the birds started to fail moral checks. Only about 20% off attacks connected, and then chipping away from pools of 30hp or more. Things take time. The game takes this route because the high tech weapons, plasma rifles for instance, do silly amounts of damage (8d6!). At the high tech level the high health makes sense, but at lower tech, a normal low level human should withstand at least one clip from a submachine gun. It creates a level of grindyness to the fights and forces me to adapt the rules heavily for taking out incapacitated or surprised individuals that could logically be one shotted. These shortcomings don't kill the game by any means, I still like it as a whole and will run this game through, and many others over time, but I would jump ship to a DCC post apocalyptic game in a second.

What I've learned is, that I am not a true 'old school' roleplayer I guess. There are many trappings of modern rulesets that I prefer to the old days. I do look forward to some AD&D and basic D&D, but only because of the ethos of the game, the superior art, and the wealth of good quality modules out there. I doubt I will invest in another pure retroclone for the love of the system itself.

For more info on the game; Print editions can be picked up at Lulu.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Paranoia RPG

We had whats called the GIAG this weekend, or the Give It A Go. In this case people were giving roleplaying games ago. I prepped and ran a game of Paranoia. I picked up a copy of Paranoia 1st ed of Ebay about a year ago and had been looking for an opportunity to inflict it on the unsuspecting ever since.

Welcome Trouble Shooter!

Your Loyal Service to Computer will be rewarded!

Remember Traitors are everywhere!

Paranoia is a comedic sci fi roleplaying game that puts the players in position of being police grunts in a cold war totalitarian society that lives in a huge underground complex governed by an insane computer.

Conceptually this is an easy game to run. Each player is a member of a secret society and a mutant, both of which are treasonous to Friend Computer (the GM). The players must work together to complete a mission, in this case restore power to the Marine Facility, whilst hunting for traitors (each other). What results is lots of, well paranoia, followed by mindless violence and lots of poor decision making.

I sent five trouble shooters to this place;

A map i drew in GIMP based on a tutorial on cartographers guild.

The Alpha Complex Marine facility. Each player randomly drew a pregen character sheet. They got to roll up stats and choose from a list of skills. but i had given them each a random mutation and secret society with its ulterior objective. Initially they were all very well behaved and sucked up to the Friend Computer, they didn't raid the security room (room 2) and take all the guns there in. They didn't lynch each other. Then two players murdered a technician npc they suspected of being a commie, another pc went exploring the flood facility by himself and lost his legs to a shark he tried to surf, and further pc fell afoul of a giant kraken.

30 minutes later im dealing with one player popping a grenade towards his 'comrades' before shutting a door. The blast took out the observation window glass flooding the room. All four players in the room failed their swim checks. Luckily all characters have clone replacements.

Two player characters ultimately survived. Only one of them wound up on the bottom of the ocean in a submarine he had no idea how to operate.

Paranoia is an excellent game concept. The rule book itself is rather a product of its age, and not entirely in a good way. The game ideas are good, but the rules detail is completely over the top for what is a comic game conducive to one shots. It uses two different dice systems for attribute and skill tests, look up tables cross referencing armour and weapons for attack damage, and a skill tree system with lots of maths for calculating skill levels. I take a fairly DIY approach to games so i stripped a lot of this crap out. I wonder whether the newer editions are an improvement, or whether they loose the flair of the original even if they sort the rules out. I probably won't find out either way, since I'll only play Paranoia on occasions and 1st ed fits the bill for that.


No post for a month, then three in one night!

Its 1977, Marc Miller has just released the Sci Fi RPG Traveller, which will set the standard for all Sci Fi games to follow, and GDW, the company Marc works for release Imperium. A board war game in the Traveller universe. I picked this up of a guy in the next city from mine for 5 wigwams. Deal since this sucker normally goes for at least four times that on ebay.

Its a pretty mint game too. This is a space opera board game, and its very asymmetrical. One side is the Terrans, the earthlings, the future us. The other is the Imperium, a massive conglomerate of alien races. The Terrans are the upstarts rebelling against the Imperium, and the much embattled Imperial regional governor has to put down this insurrection. This is one thing you get from older games that seem less common in the new, genuine imagination. I like Twilight Imperium as much as the next nerd but the back story for that game is very old hat compared with Chadwick and Millers design here.

The game is fairly simple. Both players spend resources to build units and then move them down the space lanes to fight each other. Theres a fair amount of nuance in how to spend and how to work your logistics but the game play quickly gravitates toward each side having a largish fleet and each trying to decide whether its worth pulling the trigger yet. The terrans make seek to find another route to attack the soft imperial worlds, the Imperium will try to hold all the choke points.

I said in my last post that wargames are about manoeuvre and the synergies between different units, but theres some thing else they are about, pulling the trigger and story. The best war games put you on a knife edge. Do you risk your entire fleet and go for the KO, or do you wait one more turn, maybe they will make an error, maybe you can get that one more ship into your fleet but times running out. The best war games (Hannibal Rome Vs Carthage does this excellently) ratchet up the tension and leave you hanging. Hanging until you pull the trigger and everything starts to explode. In Imperium, when a battle starts both sides line up their expensive irreplaceable ships and watch them get blown away.

Damn right its a trap, I had two extra cruisers in that fleet you weren't aware of.

Tension is the child of consequence. In Imperium, you don't play one game. You play many as part of a campaign. Each game only lasts until the imperial glory track either drops too low, or rises too high, resulting in either a victory or a defeat. The campaign only ends however when one side has been eradicated and lost all of its worlds. Waste that fleet, you might not just regret in this game, but the game next week.

Its a shame that this game is so long out of print. If it was brought back, i doubt it would sell well though. Whilst its not that complex, games like this are confined to niche blogs like this these days (not that i was around back in the day).

Bloody Hell: Operation Goodwood

Well the blogging schedule I had convinced myself i was going to keep hasn't worked out. Too much thesis writing...

I've had a slightly turbulent relationship with hex and counter war games. I've played several of the simpler ones; A Victory Denied (MMP), Hells Gate (VPG), Nuklear Winter 68 (LnL), Arnhem (SPI), and one a little more complex, It Never Snows (MMP). Of these games only It Never Snows really impressed me, and thats a sprawling monster that takes 17 hours to play and really at least 4 players (

Most of these games I found to be a combination of the fiddliness of hex and counter war games, and a little too simplistic in terms of the strategy they offered to be worth the effort. Bloody Hell: Operations Goodwood and Spring bucks this trend.

This game is a two player Hex and Counter simulation of the British and Commonwealth forces fighting the Germans in Normandy in WW2. For those of you with some historical knowledge Operation Goodwood happened in the area around Caen and involved Field Marshal Monte launching a some what disastrous assault against German defences. The operation was followed up by operation Spring which is a second scenario and map included in the game. The games I listed earlier were all published by fairly major players in the war board gaming world, MultiMan Publishing etc, this game was desktop published by a Canadian USAian guy who runs his own company High Flying Dice games. I took a bit of a risk on ordering it after listening to him fast talk on a war game podcast. It turns out to have been a surprisingly good decision.

The game has components to match MMP or any other publisher, that is to say they are still cheapass for a boardgamer. The maps are gloss printed and decent paper, the chits were die cut and had clear art etc.

Picture of game in progress

So whats the deal with this game? Why is it good? The thing with hex and counters is, because you save on miniatures, a mounted board etc, you can do things both big and detailed. You can have a big (relatively speaking) map, and lots of soldiers. If you have these two things, in a good hex and counter theres lots of room to manoeuvre. Good war games are all about manoeuvre. They are about flanking your opponent, cutting of their supplies, taking that key town, or hill, thats the geographical part, and its fun. The second thing hex and counters do well is give you lots of different units and give you interesting ways to combine their moves. So you can lay smoke with your artillery, suppress the enemy positions with your tanks from the flank and then move in your infantry. At least thats the plan, but then your artillery fires inaccurately, your tanks just get stunned or killed by enemy fire, and then your infantry gets bogged down in a war of attrition. Wargames are about creating beautiful plans and watching either the dice or your opponent destroy them, and then picking up the pieces. Bloody Hell gave me a enough pieces to play with, enough map space to play with, and just the right amount of rules detail to play with, to create this fun messy war that I look for in war games. The rules come in at about 8 pages and much of this will be bread and butter for regular war gamers, the game takes about two hours maybe three to run through. This is probably about the right weight of war game for me. A Victory Denied and Hells Gate were nice, but too simplistic, OCS Burma sits on my shelf unplayed because i just don't have that time at the moment.