Star Trek Adventures RPG

Bought the PDF. Started watching all things Trek. Dreamed about Trek. Played Star Trek Online. Setup a roll20.net game. Still, I can’t shake thinking about this game. Probably because I still haven’t found time to actually play it.

Star Trek Adventures looks aesthetically great and captures the feel of Star Trek. It uses the 2d20 system where you roll (wait for it …) 2d20 and attempt to roll under a target number based on your stats. At first, I was hesitant about the system, because, you know, it’s not Fate (but, hey, what is?) After reading through the rules, however, I noticed they took a queue from Fate and essentially incorporated aspects as well as zones. Maybe this has something to do with my current crush on this bad boy.

Special Dice

I like that they are using 20-sided dice. Face it, rolling twenties is fun. More fun than six-siders. But, they threw in six-siders, too, for you old-schoolers. My only issue is that their six-sided dice are special dice that don’t have your standard numbers on them. Instead, they are a bit like Fate dice (hmm, I’m detecting a trend here.) 2 of the sides have an effect that might trigger some special abilities when you roll them. For example, a vicious weapon will inflict additional damage for each effect that shows on the dice face. I feel this is a fun way to give some variation to your weapons.

Star ships are people too!

First thing, the ships are treated like a character, which means you don’t need to learn a whole new way of doing things when you start using your ship. There are a few extra items in there, but, essentially, it’s a character.

What differentiates ships from characters is their scale. Scale is a representation of how big something is compared to something else. Ships also track breaches, which are an indication of how deeply any damage has invaded your ship.

The Trek-verse

They’ve put tons of information about the Trek-verse in the book. Some of the information is knowledge dump, but there’s also of data presented as communications from famous people from the movies and TV shows.

They also cover many of the races, particularly the more popular and involved races from the tube. Also, even though the game’s setting is in the 24th century, with a few minor tweaks (like removing some equipment and ships from play) you can choose any setting from Original Series onward.

So. Many. Actions.

During a conflict, there are Minor Actions and Tasks. Minor Actions are limited to one per turn but include drawing a weapon, dropping prone, standing up, etc. Tasks are the big things: punching someone in the face, firing phasers, sprinting all out, creating advantages (Hey! More Fate!), etc.

Star Ship combat adds an additional layer of options based each of the major ship posts: tactical, helm, sensor operator, security, communications, etc. They all have unique actions that only a character at that post can perform.

I can’t decide whether I love this or hate it, but there are a ton of actions you can perform. My first thought is that you’ll be scoring the book constantly during combat because of how many things you can do. Maybe with a good GM Screen that summarizes everything this will turn into less of an issue, but for your first several games I can tell you, you will be abusing your beautiful book.

Final Thoughts

This game feels like Fate + Crunch. Which I think sounds awesome. I’ll report back after I really play it and let you know how it went down. Until then, live long and prosper.

P.S.

Oh yeah, there’s also a living campaign that you should really check out if you end up playing. Hopefully, they can keep up with the content, but so far, so good. You can sign up for it in the sidebar on the main web page.

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What I learned when I copied another game.

I broke down and bought a copy of Scythe by Stonemaier Games. I’ve played it all of 4 times now, and 3 of those times I played solo. I can’t get that stupid game out of my head. I’m obsessed with it. So obsessed in fact, that I decided to make a new board game that is highly influenced by it. By the way, did I mention how much I like Scythe?

A previous post of mine was a setting entitled Liberty Boys, wherein I felt led to create a setting for a game in the Revolutionary War era after obsessing over the TV Show Turn (I’m obsessive, sue me!). But, after I discovered Scythe, I realized that I must, absolutely must, create a board game set in the American Revolution. A weeks long mental samurai fight ensued as I hashed out a prototype that I will be bringing with me to MenCon this coming weekend (8/4 – 8/6). I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’m an indie game developer, so my stuff relies heavily on thegamecrafter.com, which means I’m limited to what they have on the shelf when it comes to making my games. More often than not, this limitation is good and helps me make tough decisions. My recommendation for any of you would-be game designers is to put constraints on your projects. This will help you to cut out wasteful things and give you a tighter product in the end.

Put constraints on your projects. This will help you to cut out wasteful things and give you a tighter product.

Playtesting your game solo is something you should do a lot of. And when you’re done doing it, do it some more. There is a very cool board game simulator that lets you add and test your own games for free called Tabletopia. Once you catch on to the interface, it’s pretty easy to put a digital copy of your game online where you not only test it yourself but spin up a room and invite friends to help you out. This was the first time I’ve done this and it was so worth it.

Playtesting your game solo is something you should do a lot of. And when you’re done doing it, do it some more.

I’m not sure how well Tabletopia, or any online simulator, will work for blind playtesting, but I surely couldn’t hurt. I’ve been terrible at blind playtesting my games, and the few times I’ve done it I’ve received some very valuable feedback. Don’t fall victim to the “I’m too shy to show off my stuff” or the “It’s super secret so I don’t want anyone to see it till it’s done” syndromes. Either one of these attitudes are OK for the hobbyist, but if you really want to get into making great games you need to get over shy or proud self and let people tear your games apart. All growth comes from pain and your games will be better…strong…faster.

Don’t fall victim to the “I’m too shy to show off my stuff” or the “It’s super secret so I don’t want anyone to see it till it’s done” syndromes.

Here are a few snapshots into my brain as I worked through the process of bringing another game to life:

Liberty Boys Prototype Board

Liberty Boys Prototype Board

Liberty Boys

Setting

A historical fiction setting, Liberty Boys is set during the Revolutionary War, but the myths of old are not merely stories of bygone eras. God’s lead kingdoms, demons seek the solace of fleshy hosts, creatures of folklore roam rural and suburban areas alike, and magic is real and dangerous.

The British Isles, led by King George III are allied with nearby Egypt, whose armies are led by the God-king Horus. The powerful British navy, backed by ancient Egyptian magic, is a force to be reckoned with. But, they have severely underestimated the tenacity of the Colonials, choosing to send but a small contingent to quell the uprising, meanwhile supporting a full incursion deep into the heart of India.

The American colonies, caught between a unified Iroquois Confederacy under the strong leadership of Hé-no, the spirit of thunder, and the King George’s occupying army of Red Coats, turn to France for help.  The beautiful and powerful, Andraste, wielding the power of divination to deadly effect, agrees to a help the budding nation and leads the French navy to the new world in hopes of expanding her influence.

Factions & Notable People

George Washington — Commander-in-Chief of the American forces.

William Alexander and Benedict Arnold — American Generals.

Green Mountain Boys — An unauthorized militia organized from Vermont originally formed to defend the property rights of local residents led by Ethan Allen. A coven of druids.

23rd and the 33rd regiments — Two of the most heavily engaged infantry regiments for the British Army comprised of demons and undead.

Queen’s Rangers — Elite Loyalist military unit led by Colonel Robert Rogers and are actually a pack of werewolves.

East India Company — The oldest and largest merchant company. Acting under Royal Charter from the 1600s, they also have their own private army number twice the size of the British Army.

William Howe — Commander-in-Chief of the British forces.

James Clinton and Charles Cornwallis — British Generals.

Iroquois Confederacy — Comprised 6 Iroquois tribes:  Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. The tribes are comprised of witches and spirits as well as human warriors.

Weapons & Gear

Musket — Black Powder, Fouling, Reload

  • Ball — Inaccurate
  • Shot — Area Effect, Short-Range

Pistol — Black Powder, Reload

  • Ball — Short-Range, Inaccurate
  • Shot — Close-Range

Bayonet — Musket-Mounted, Cavalry Defense

Rifle — Reload, Accurate, Slow

Sword — Heavy

Knife — Hidden, Quick

Grasshopper (3-pound Canon) — Mobile

  • Ball — Accurate
  • GrapeShot — 200 yard, Area Effect
  • Shell — Explosive, Fuse

Black Powder — Explosive

Skills

Woodcraft — Includes tracking, hunting, and outdoor survival.

Horsemanship — Riding horses.

Warfare — Historical and strategic knowledge of warfare tactics.

Spellcraft — Ability to create and manipulate the forces of magic.

Faith — Power and protection derived from a divine source.

Social Status — Social graces and connections to people and organizations of power.

Spycraft — Stealth, subterfuge, cryptology and other spy-related savvy.

Resources

Turn: Washington’s Spies

Top 10 Revolutionary War Novels

Wikipedia: American Revolutionary War

Weapons & Tactics of the Revolutionary War

Assassin’s Creed III

 

 

Storytelling off-the-cuff

I’m always torn between running a pre-created story in my roleplaying games and running a story off-the-cuff.

Pre-Made Adventures

On the one hand, I have small children and lots of family and work obligations that severely cut into my game preparation time. So, choosing a to run a story that’s already been created really reduces my prep time. And there are some really good adventures and full-blown campaigns out there to choose from. However, there are a couple of things that really nag at me when I’m running a pre-made story.

Going Off Path

A pre-made story has a much higher chance railroading your players (that’s when the players don’t really have any free will in where the story goes, there’s a plotted end that must be reached by a finite number of options.) You can always have a few side quests or encounters ready, but this only increases the time you need to prepare for a game, plus you can never guess what exactly they will do when they jump off the path.

Story-Driven vs Character-Driven

Stories that are pre-written have no knowledge about the characters that will be playing in it. They don’t know anything about existing relationships or character history, thus you have the added onerous to somehow connect your players with the story in a meaningful way that invites them to buy into it. Many pre-made adventures will come with plot hooks that are intended to help the game master with this task, but they’re usually not that great. You can always come up with some on your own that are rooted in your character’s history, but again, you’ve just increased your prep time.

Create While You Play

On the other hand, crafting a story while are playing allows almost no preparation time at all, and allows you to tell a story that is deeply rooted in your character’s backgrounds. But, it’s also intimidating. Really intimidating. What if you can’t think of a good story? What if things start out great and just deflate into a big jumbled mess? What if my players are board? What if … ? What … if?

First, storytelling off-the-cuff can make it really fun for the game master, after all, you have no idea how the story ends. It’s a complete mystery and it is way more fun than it should be to see your players trying to figure out what you’re up too when you actually have no idea what’s going to happen next.

So, if you want more fun as a game master and almost no prep time, here’s a few ideas to help you along.

Adventure Seed

Don’t come to the table with an entire story prepared, but just an idea. There are a lot of websites and physical tools that can help you out with this (Rory’s Story Cubes or Donjon to name a couple). This is OK, but even better, is to look at the character’s backgrounds and pull something from there. This creates instant buy-in from the player’s as it’s directly related to their character.

Be A Guide

This is probably the most important part of roleplaying. Game master’s, listen closely. Stop trying to tell the story all by yourself. You have a table full of creative players who came over to Roleplay. If you stick them into a pre-made story then they are just along for the ride instead of driving the car. Instead, guide them into a world full of imagination where they aren’t just participants in some already grand story, but where they are the main characters who are unfolding an adventure that has yet to be written.

Don’t tell the players what’s going to happen next, ask them what’s going to happen. When they ask you “what’s in the room”, you respond with “you tell me what’s in the room.” And for the love of Pete, when they tell you what’s in the room, don’t correct them or try to fix their answer. Use some common sense of course, but resist the urge to take back control of the story. Trust me, it’s fun and you’ll start having many more of those “remember when …” moments when you reminisce about the days of yore.

Final Details

This only works if you have gamers at your table who are interested in telling stories. If all they want to do is hack n’ slash then, by all means, let the story simply be a way to move from combat to combat. That can be fun sometimes, too!

If they are interested, then make sure you help them come up with a fun, imaginative background. A character background is a potential story waiting to be told, so it’s important.

With a short recap, I bid you adieu.

  • Characters need background stories
  • Bring an idea to the table
  • Be a guide, not a dictator
  • Ask questions
  • Have fun
D&D

You can’t take the system out of D&D

I don’t know why it’s taken so long for this thought to truly dawn on me: You can’t reproduce D&D if you take away the D&D system. Oh, you can make a fantasy roleplaying game or take your favorite character and port her to that other game, but it just won’t be D&D. Yes, it seems like an obvious DUH! thing to say. But gosh-darnit, I tried to do it anyway and no matter which way I spun it, it just didn’t work. You know what else? It’s entirely OK. I’m trying to come to grips with the fact that, try as I might, D&D just doesn’t scratch every roleplaying itch.

What’s the problem? OK, OK, I’ll come out and say it. D&D is not a good system for story-driven roleplaying. I used to believe that you can take any good story and slap any system on it and it’ll be good, but I recant. It’s just not true. D&D’s system does not lend to telling a story, it lends to rolling the dice and giving you a black and white, yes-no answer. It excels at group-based, tactical play — even when you’re not using mini’s and a map. This is its sweet spot, and it shines. I’ve seen tables of grown men & women leap to their feet with cries of pure delight at the mere site of a well-timed critical hit (that’s a nat 20 for you D&D n00bs). I’ve lost count of how many stories my group has that revolved around the result of a dice roll, whether it be a critical failure or success. That’s the problem, the dice take center stage and steal the show. Ergo, D&D is not a good system for telling a story.

Now, you can try and smear around those skill checks and sort of make it work. But, it’s hard, and frankly, just not very satisfying. It feels tacked on. Some of you are now saying things like “house-rules” and “modify the system” or “lies!”. But, I don’t want to modify my D&D system. I like it vanilla, and if I modify it … it’s not D&D anymore, it’s some other Franken-system. Plus, that just proves my point, it’s not a good system for telling stories if you have to change it when it comes to the portion where the combat ends and the story starts up again. I’ve never once sat a D&D convention and had my table say “More story, less stabby-stabby!” Never. One. Time. But, I repeat, that’s OK. I still love it for what it is.

So, I find myself realizing that I should just enjoy my D&D time when I get it and be satisfied because it is satisfying. But, like most things in life, there is no one answer that fits all questions. I’m normally a one system kind of guy, but alas, that has now changed and I’ve left some room on that nostalgic shelf of D&D books for another game to fill the story-lover in me.

(P.S. I currently play 5E, but these comments apply to every edition I’ve played. Yes, I’ve played every edition … even 3.0 ;p)

Dresden Files Accelerated

Dresden Files Accelerated

EvilHat is getting ready to ship out the new Dresden Files Accelerated RPG this June. It is no secret that I’m in love with the Fate system for roleplaying, and this game has not dulled that feeling one bit. In fact, I’m stoked. Big time. Here are a few reasons why.

Stress

They made a small, but I think important, change to the stress track. All characters now have 6 stress boxes, but each box is only worth 1 point. However, you can also check as many of those stress boxes as you want to soak up damage.

I’ve been catching up on my Dresden-verse and I’ve noticed something about the books that stand out to me: Combat is brutal and ends quickly. I think having only 1 point stress boxes helps to give you the feeling of being in mortal danger relatively quickly.

Scale

They used the alternate rules for scale from the Fate System Toolkit and I think it goes a long way in allowing characters of vastly different power levels to operate in the game at the same time. It makes the humans feel small but doesn’t mean they can’t be effective given the right circumstances. They even go so far as to allow scale to come into play when you use some stunts, so characters can temporarily increase their scale when it’s appropriate to the narrative. Fuego!

Conditions

I. Love. Conditions. They essentially reskinned consequences and turned them into a much more narratively interesting resource. They are named appropriately to help carry the universe into the characters.

Instead of a Minor Consequence, you are In Peril and when you take a Serious Consequence you are instead Doomed. And they did not forget my favorite condition, Indebted, which they use to account for trading in the currency of favors. Watch out for those tricksy Fae.

Mantles

Mantles are like archetypes and they describe additional conditions that your character has access too. Lest you be too quick to judge though, conditions are not always a bad thing. They can be very good, too. Exhausted, for example, is a common condition for magic-wielding folk who want to push themselves to the limit and gives a nice scene-long bonus. Afterward, however, it’s time to pay the piper.

All in all, this game has me super excited to play in the Dresden-verse and I’m already stealing ideas for my D&D-esque fate game with regard to mantels and conditions.

In the immortal words of Harry Dresden, “Stars and stones!”

Narrative is hard

A few years ago I learned about the Fate roleplaying system and I have had a long, sordid love affair with it ever since. I’ve tried and tried to get my friends interested in its simplistic intricacy, but alas, this mistress has eluded the grasp of many a suitor.

What’s so great about it? It’s built for storytelling. Right down to the core of who your character is, you are writing bits and pieces of a story that give your game inherent hooks that are really important to the player’s because they don’t just describe your character, they are your character.

Want to be a flying lizard wizard with a knack for exploding baddies with a massive arsenal of spells? Done. I mean that literally. With that one sentence, you’ve essentially created a playable character and told the story of your world. Let’s break it down:

  • Flying – You’ve established that humanoids can fly. This could be by means of magic, or technology.
  • Lizard – You’ve established that creatures other than humans are evolved races that populate the world.
  • Wizard – You’ve established that magic and spells exist.

Great, we’ve done a lot with just one sentence and Fate sounds cool. What’s the problem? The problem is, it takes a lot more brain power to roleplay in a world where you are expected to come up with story on-the-fly. Especially after a long week of work and dealing with crazy kids. You have so much freedom in a narrative driven system that it can be overwhelming. There is something nice about having limited options, or a specific list of powers to choose from because you just have to think less. And, let’s face it, after a long week, sometimes all you want to do is kill $*#@!

What can we do then, to help support narrative play in a game? It is roleplaying after all, and the story is important whether you’re using a crunchy system like D&D or a not so crunchy system like Amber.

Backstory

Every character needs a backstory and a name. I shouldn’t have to tell you to name your character, but you know who you are. Stop right now and put a name on your character sheet!

A backstory is a way to create some fall-back narrative that invests your player and your character in the world. When you’re running short on ideas, pull an element from any characters background story and inject it into your session. If your players like combat, call in an enemy and have them attack. If your players like mystery, have someone important to a character go missing – or get murdered. A solid backstory only needs to be a paragraph of text, and it can really help jump start a session when everyone is feeling the creative blues.

Let the Players Participate

Every roleplaying book introduces two groups of people: the game master and the players. Right away, the game master is set apart as the person who does all the work to present and drive the story. This is a terrible idea that has been propagated over and over. Roleplaying is a group storytelling activity and the players should participate as much as the game master when it comes to the narrative. Your players will have a vested interest when you empower them to be more than a passive participant in the story.

The next time a player asks you what’s in the room, turn that question around and let them tell you what’s in the room. When they score an epic critical strike and take out a bad guy, ask the player to describe the action as it unfolds. It’s exciting to tell stories.

Make failure an option

Failure is usually viewed as the end of the action, but what if a failure was actually the beginning of something interesting. Conflict drives a story and keeps us interested. There’s nothing more boring than a story where everything goes right all the time. Think about it. When is the last time someone told you an awesome story about how they woke up and everything just went swimmingly? That’s the most boring story ever. You tell stories how your car was stolen or you made a harrowing drive during an ice storm and you thought you were going to die at any moment – or maybe you even crashed and lived to tell the tale.

Stories need conflict and bad stuff to happen to make them memorable and interesting. We spend way too much time trying to figure out how to succeed and not nearly enough time trying to figure out how to handle a terrible failure and turn it into something awesome.

Know Thy Combat

You: You enter a dark cave, your torchlight slowly creeping across the floor to fall upon a pair of huge, green feet. As your light ascends the figure, you see a two-headed troll-

Roger Rogue: I crit-strike him for 500 damage.

You: You see the bloodied, crumpled remains of a troll on the floor…

We’ve all experienced the horror of a sweet critter getting taken down so fast we don’t even have time to get a single attack off. The players, of course, revel in this, and you try to roll with the punches and pretend like it’s no big deal. But, inside, you’re pretty damn bummed.

Balancing combat is a hard thing to do, and it’s not something you can do doing preparation alone. You need to be able to do it on-the-fly and be adaptable. A few things can help with this during your game prep:

  • Know thy system
  • Know thy enemies (PCs)
  • Know thy options

Know Thy System

Whether you are partial to D&D, Fate, Dungeon World, The one Ring, or what have you, you need to be intimately familiar with your system of choice. This knowledge will provide you information about your options when things go south. Think of it like playing a piano. You need to understand you have 88 keys and you can mix and match them without ever venturing outside them.

It’s important that you get comfortable with adding game elements during play that you had not originally intended to add. It is no more dishonest to add elements during the game than it would be to switch octaves during a song, especially if it makes things more interesting.

If the monster goes down too quickly, have more baddies rush in and attack. Make the enemy a straw-man who looked tougher than he really was and send a second one (although, the players may not like that one, hey, I’m not perfect here) or have the baddie be the pet of something even worse and make the players pay the piper later in the adventure. Revenge is a dish best served cold!

Know Thy Enemies

Enemies?! You can’t think of your players as the enemy! Yes. Yes, you can. Because in this moment of combat they are your enemy. If you treat them otherwise, then everyone loses out. You lose out when they wipe the floor with your baddies because you were afraid they might be too hard, and the players lose out on the opportunity to be pushed to the limit of their abilities and pull out a last minute victory that will go down in the annals of your gaming history.

The number one thing you should remember is the end result of losing does not have to be death. Maybe the monsters take the downed fighter and use him as a bargaining tool to get the PCs to back off. Or, in a TPK, the party wakes up tied to some maniacal contraption that will be used to sacrifice them to the gods. Remember, there are much worse options than death. You need to learn to be creative in the moment.

Know Thy Options

You recall I said there are 88 keys on a piano, but let’s not forget that great musicians can go off-keyboard. How about banging the key cover against the body of the piano to create a beat or drumsticks along the top, or maybe even use those little peddles at your feet to change things up.

All this is to say your options are not limited to your current system. Just because there is no specific ruling in your game of choice that covers a specific course of action by no means requires you to say “That’s not possible”, let the players try and make up the ruling as you go. You’re smart, I know you are.

The best thing you can do is to explore other gaming systems and borrow big concepts from them and retrofit them into your game. No one system is perfect.

I know, I know. The purists out there are aghast right now. Get over it, your system isn’t the perfect one and you know it. The sooner you admit it, the more fun you and your players will have.

Get your gaming fix

Get your gaming fix

When the kids are battling you for attention, work is pounding down your door with a double-bladed axe and your wife is looking for her white knight, how do you get your gaming fix?

Weekly gaming sessions are a bygone era with the hustle-bustle of being a grown up. Even a monthly gaming session might be an elusive beast hidden deep in the forest of life. What’s a yearning gamer to do?
Here are a few tips to help take the edge off while you eagerly await the feel of your dice in your palm:

Read a book

It sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? But, let’s be honest, this is where true roleplaying started. If you’re anything like me, when you read a great novel you are already gaming in your head. You put yourself in the role of a character and consider what sort of stats and special abilities they have. It’s not exactly roleplaying, but it can be enough to just give you a taste. Sometimes,

Stat out characters

I watch a lot of kids shows. Usually, the same ones over and over again until I’m dreaming about it. You parents know what I’m talking about. I discovered that I can get a little gaming fix by filling out character sheets for the characters in the show as I watch with the kids. I’ve statted out the characters from Cars and Finding Nemo so… many… times. It’s fun to imagine the plot of a good kid’s movie–like Big Hero 6–as a full on campaign.

Solo Roleplay

I’m very much on the fence when it comes to Solo Roleplaying. There are a ton of resources out there for doing it, and doing it well, but something about it just feels weird, like drinking alone (well, maybe that’s not so weird.) If the idea of Solo Roleplaying appeals to you, I think SoloRoleplayer.com is a good place to start.

Write

Writing might take a little more brain power, but, like reading, it is a classic way to experience a story in any setting you can imagine. There are many free online writing tools (like Google Drive) or you could go old-school and grab a pen and notebook and long hand write. It’s actually very therapeutic.

Play by Post

PbPs may require a bit more commitment, which may take a bite out of the valuable time you don’t have. I’ve found that if you keep good boundaries and only post once per day at maximum, it’s not that bad, actually. Sometimes, just going through the character creation and application process can give you a taste of what you’re looking for. Storium is a superb implementation of a Play-by-Post-ish game I was very impressed with – you could even play it solo if you wanted a little less commitment.

Nothing can ever take the place of storming the castle face-to-face with your friends, but amidst the torrent of life, sometimes you can gain the favor of the gods and receive just a glimmer of gaming goodness.