Archive for December, 2013

Fallout: Nuka Break

December 30, 2013

Well, Fallout: Nuka Break isn’t exactly new, but this is the first I’ve heard of it (thanks to Tenkar’s Tavern).  Nuka Break is a fan made web series based on Fallout, and I have to say it’s pretty damn good stuff considering it’s, well, fan made.  As far as I can tell it’s fairly faithful to the game, with plenty of references to perks, gear and weapons.  If you’re a fan of Fallout, or post-apocalypse in general, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Here’s the complete first season:


Season 2 is also out now, as well as a separate short movie called Red Star.  And now I’m off to play some Fallout.  Cheers.

47 Ronin

December 26, 2013

47roninSo, I just saw the new 47 Ronin movie.  Overall, it’s an okay action movie.  The love story is not particularly inspiring and, really, I have no idea why Keanu Reeves is in this flick.  I guess an executive somewhere decided it needed some ‘star power’ to carry the movie in the West.  Most of the Japanese actors spoke with bad English accents, which really stood out when sharing lines with Mr. Reeves.

That’s why I think a straight-up historical treatment of the 47 ronin would have been a more interesting movie than this supernatural 3-D FX fest.  Then they could have filmed it entirely in Japanese with English subtitles.  But I guess they wouldn’t have had much excuse to make the movie in 3-D then.

If you’re curious, or a big fan of Keanu, save some money and go see the matinee.  But if you can wait, then wait for it to come out on Netflix, Redbox or cable.

Merry Christmas

December 25, 2013

Here’s hoping you have a very merry Christmas with family and friends.  Cheers!

Smaug and the Desolation of Badass Dragons

December 17, 2013

Saw the latest Hobbit movie yesterday.  It’s good.  If you’ve enjoyed any of the other LotR/Hobbit movies by Peter Jackson, you’ll like this one.

Okay, now that’s out of the way, what this post is really about: Dragons and their badassedness.

smaug

I seeeee youuuuuuu

Watching the movie, particularly towards the end when Bilbo awakens Smaug, I was struck by the thought that D&D dragons just aren’t that scary.  If you’ve seen the movie already, you know what I mean.  You really get the sense that Smaug is a guy you screw around with at your own peril, that death could come for you at anytime.  D&D dragons just don’t convey that sense of imminent peril and doom.  “Look, it’s a red dragon.  It breathes fire three times a day.  Now everyone run up and hit it with your swords.”  Seriously, no one is going to run up to Smaug and hit him with a sword.  It’s telling that the namesake monster of Dungeons & Dragons only ranks as a mid-tier baddie anymore.

The dragon’s de-badassification is, in part, due to long familiarity with the game.  It’s also due, in part, to the class-and-level nature of D&D: PCs tend not to go hunting dragons until they have plenty of hit points to soak damage and plenty of magic items to help them out; also, as the game’s level cap increased new bad guys were needed to challenge increasingly powerful PCs.  And finally, it’s due in part to uncreative play on the part of some GM’s (including myself): failing to leverage all of a dragon’s natural advantages; failing to play them as the hyper-intelligent creatures they are; failing to use the environment to the dragon’s advantage; and, ultimately, a failure to treat them as little more than a collection of stats and a loot-piñata waiting to shower the PCs with goodies.

What to do about it?  First, go see Desolation of Smaug to get an idea of just how badass dragons really should be.  Next, step away from the standard dragon templates that everyone is familiar with.  Throw your players some surprises to keep them on their feet.  And, finally, improvise.  Really, unless you want your dragons to go down like chumps, you’re going to have to fudge some things, particularly when it comes to playing the dragon’s intelligence.

You see, I’m just a poor slob of a GM.  I’m no super-genius, so there’s no way I could possibly cover every angle in my preparations.  Even if my players are no smarter than I am, they still outnumber me, so by shear weight of numbers they’ll come up with something I never considered.  Do I just let them roll over my poor dragon just because I’m not a genius?  For, you see, the dragon is a genius, and likely would have thought of the things that never occurred to me.  So whatever crazy plan the players come up with, the dragon probably has a contingency for it…GMs just have to think quick on their feet.

Edge of Space RPG

December 8, 2013

edgeofspacerpg

Edge of Space, by Matt Jackson, is a rules-light role-playing game heavily influenced by such movies as Aliens and Starship Troopers. The premise is that the players are Space Marines on the ass end of space killing Bugs to protect human colonies.

Characters don’t have ability scores as such.  Rather, each character is defined by their skill set, which is randomly determined depending on your starting profession (somewhat reminiscent of the Traveller RPG).  Your profession doesn’t lock in your skill set, so even if you’re say, a scientist, you can eventually pick up the Rifle skill and blast Bugs in the name of, well, science.  Surviving scenarios grants 1 to 3 XP, depending on role-playing, which may be used to improve existing skills, or acquire new ones.

Tasks are resolved by rolling 2d6 and adding the appropriate skill rating to the roll.  If the total exceeds the difficulty assigned by the GM, you succeed.  If you’re trying something in opposition to another character, each side rolls 2d6, adds the appropriate skill rating, with the side rolling the highest total winning the contest.  It’s a simple enough resolution system, though the game suggests six different levels of difficulty, which seems a bit excessive for such a light game.  In my view, three difficulty levels, maybe four, should be more than sufficient.  However, it’s a minor quibble considering how easy it is to adjust the rules to suit your tastes.

The equipment list is rather sparse, listing just six weapons and three pieces of equipment (including Trooper armor).  The weapons are clearly inspired by the Aliens movies, right down to Cpl. Hicks’ Ithaca pump-action shotgun.  Considering the nature of the game, however, the sparse equipment list is no detriment.  After all, the characters are government employees, using equipment issued to them; there’s no need to waste time playing Dungeons & Shopping when the Corps just hands you a pulse rifle and kicks your ass out the door.  And you don’t need an exhaustive equipment list to simply assume that characters have the gear they need to do their jobs.

alienspic

Rather than using hit points, EoS uses a five-step health track, ranging from Healthy to Dead.  Most successful attacks move you one step down the health track, though a few may move you two, or even three, steps down the track.  Trooper armor absorbs the first point of damage you take.  This set up is fairly similar to the way 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars handles damage and, in my view, is a good representation of the cinematic combat style EoS (and 3:16) is trying to emulate.

Ranged combat is handled as a standard dice roll, while hand-to-hand combat is handled as an opposed dice roll.  My only quibble with combat is the hand-to-hand system, where combatants trade off turns as “attacker” and “defender.”  If the attacker rolls high, the defender takes damage, while if the defender rolls high they dodge the attack.  This seems like a lot of unnecessary dice rolling to me.  A simpler mechanic would be a single opposed roll with the high result winning the battle and inflicting damage on the loser; a tie would result in a stalemate, neither side injuring the other.  Though, again, the rules are easy enough to modify as desired, so it’s not the end of the world.

The Bugs are described in four broad categories or types: Grunts, Shooters, Scouts and Brains (recognizable, for the most part, to anyone who’s seen Starship Troopers), overseen by the Masters.  Each category has four random traits that further define them, determined by rolling a d6 and cross referencing the bug type.  For example, Grunts can have mandibles, fangs, can infect or have armored exoskeletons, whereas Scouts might have wings and Brains can use psionic attacks.  I’m assuming the bug’s abilities are rated like skills, but this isn’t made explicit in the rules.  Nor is it specified how many times you roll for each bug.  Just once, or four times as you would for a new character?  Or is it the GM’s discretion, depending on the difficulty of the scenario?  Just one additional sentence here giving a little guidance on the bug abilities would make a big difference.

Something else not specified is whether the Bugs use the same health track that player characters do.  The rules seem to imply this is the case, though it would be far more cinematic if most Bugs only took one hit to kill (just throw more of them at the players).  That way, the players can feel like badasses, blowing Bugs away left and right, but still need to be wary of being overrun by shear numbers.

EoS includes a sample adventure, and there are two additional free adventures available (Horus Adrift and Battle of Kaylen).  Each adventure follows the tried-and-true horror-action setup of Aliens and countless other movies: an isolated outpost, lost contact, possible alien involvement, and the PCs sent in blind to investigate, followed by lots of bug blasting and, sometimes, a desperate race against time before something blows up permanent-like.  Some of the adventures suffer from poor spelling and grammatical errors, but on the whole they are perfectly serviceable Bug Hunt style adventures, good for a night’s play.

If you’re looking for a simple, Beer & Pretzel game of ass-kicking, bug-stomping colonial marines, Edge of Space is probably the game for you.  There are a couple of areas that could be more clear, but nothing that a good GM couldn’t fix with a little judicious house-ruling.  EoS is less suited towards long term campaign play, at least not without a bit of work.  And if you like to house-rule and tweak games, EoS is perfect for you, for the rules leave plenty of room for customization.  The PDF is available for just $1; it’s hard to go wrong at that price.  Cheers.

Mk I Infiltrator

December 3, 2013

The Mark I was the first of the Infiltrator series robots introduced during the Long War.  Standing 1.7 meters tall and weighing approximately 350 pounds, composed of a humanoid form-factor.  The Mark I used an early model holo-projector to conceal its form and infiltrate secure facilities.  As it possesses no bio-signature at all, the robot was only mildly successful in its infiltration role, especially against the wide-spread deployment of biometric and, later, psychometric security systems.  The ultimate development of genetically engineered psionic soldiers all but doomed the Mark I to obsolescence, as even a passive psi-scan could easily determine the “person” the Infiltrator was mimicking wasn’t even alive.  As it was a simple matter to reprogram the holo-projectors to pose as scenery (boulders, wrecked vehicles, etc.), all remaining models were repurposed as hunter-killer drones, wandering battlefields in search of specific targets.

infiltrationrobot

The Mark I is equipped with retractable titanium-alloy blades, one on each limb.  It also has fully articulated hands capable of using any hand-held device or weapon.  It is programmed with the proper use and maintenance of every melee weapon, small arm and heavy weapon ever produced (literally ever – at least up to the early stages of the War).  The Mark I also has a sophisticated vocal synthesizer capable of mimicking any human voice, as well as a wide range of ambient sounds.  Advanced optics give it digital magnification, thermal recognition and low-light perception.  The holo-projector creates a consistent field just concealing the skeletal frame, following the robot’s movements fluidly in real-time; software upgrades allow the holo-field to expand over a wider area, though in wide-area mode the projector cannot adequately compensate for movement.  The projector scans and then mimics a nearby object; thus, if you see two pieces of exactly identical debris together, there’s a good chance one of them might be a holo-field projection.

The Mark II adopted a number of biological features that enabled it to defeat most biometric security systems at the time, but could still be easily detected by psi-scans.  The Mark III incorporated an artificial “psi-projector” device, which broadcast electromagnetic energy on the same wavelengths as human brainwaves.  Though the Mark III possessed a psionic signature, it proved impossible to mimic a specific individual’s brainwave pattern, so to a psi-scan the Mark III appears to be broadcasting psychic static…again, a dead giveaway.  The Mark IV never progressed beyond early prototypes; by this stage in the War each side had turned to replicant technology to fulfill the infiltration role.

Snow Day!

December 3, 2013

snowday

It’s official, campus is closed today.  This is the first time I’ve ever had a snow day…EVAR!

I’ll see if I can wrangle up some more post-apocalypse mayhem today.  Or I might just waste it playing Don’t Starve all day…we’ll see.

Cheers.


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