Unknown Armies: The Happiest Place on Earth, Session 1

#UAHappiestPlaceonEarth

Last night, we started our Unknown Armies 3rd Edition game. We started the setting/character creation session. We only got through the first two steps but everyone is having a good time and really enjoying the “game” of creating the game.

While a few of us were familiar with the older editions, and a few players had some time to get through Book 1, I was the most familiar with the new system and still had never played it. I think it was the unfamiliarity with the system and the mythology of the overarching setting which slowed us down. Also the collaborative nature was something new to us.

So here is a summary of our first game session with a picture of the resulting board.

After Step 2

Objective
“Discover the person behind the public mental manipulation in Disney.”
After looking at this and thinking about the other stuff that came up later in the session, I was thinking that we should tighten it up a bit so I put forth this as a suggestion: “Discover who is changing people at Disney.”

Characters

  • An Imagineer who was fired for asking too many questions and may have been changed by the ride.
  • An Imagineer who is beginning to suspect that something isn’t quite right.
  • A Cast Member who gets to wear the Minnie Mouse costume and may be a conduit for spirits or a medium.
  • A Disney security guard who has witnessed seen kids go missing but the parents always seem to leave happy.

Pieces of the mystery

  • The experiences (rides, etc) seem to change people.
  • There are some really non-standard pieces of equipment installed in the park.
  • People seem to go missing but no one ever reports it…not even the family members.

GMCs

  • Cindy, a Cast Member.
  • Maris, a Cast Member who used to date one of the PCs and sometimes works at Club 33.
  • Barry Larry Terry, a custodian at Disney.

Places

  • Club 33, the VIP club at Disney World.
  • The Electric Mickey Mouse Pylon.
  • The Utilidors where the rats whisper.

From the start, I already see possibilities for certain things that are classic UA. Rides that change people make me immediately think of the House of Renunciation. I especially like this because one of the PCs has already been on a ride and has experienced missing timed.

I also like the idea of people going missing yet no one ever complains about it.

And the great part is that we are only on Step 2 of game creation.

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Red Markets Preorder

Summer is my chance to get a lot of reading done and, having finished reading Star Trek Adventures, I've moved on to Red Markets: A Game of Economic Horror by Caleb Stokes of Hebanon Games.

Red Markets is a horror game where the zombie apocalypse was unevenly spread. It is about the have-nots trying to eek out an existence while the haves live within safe zones. It's about groups of Takers completing bounties for supplies, for survival, and for the haves, with the hope of surviving to retirement.

I'm bringing this game up for a couple of reasons:

  1. It's a cool idea for a game and combines a lot of the tropes of modern zombie horror. We've got Dawn of the Dead Remake/28 Days Later fast zombies and Romero slow zombies. We have enclaves just trying to survive.
  2. It has a new take on the genre: The fact that everything isn't The Walking Dead is the real hook of the game, especially when there are plenty of zombie RPGs. Government and society still exists, even if the PCs are mostly cut off from it.
  3. It was developed in a level of transparency that was just astounding and, in my opinion, hasn't been seen since the early days of Evil Hat.
  4. And the creator of the game hit a really rough patch in his Kickstarter.

It is the last two that I wanted to talk about here.

Mr. Stokes is a regular host of Role Playing Public Radio, a well known RPG podcast. The development of Red Markets can be followed through RPPR's semi-regular Game Designer's Workshop episodes where Mr. Stokes and Ross Payton, RPPR's founder and game designer in his own right, discuss various aspects of game design and development.

The Kickstarter updates are also very informative and continues the level of transparency.

Listening to the development of Red Markets is a real lesson for anyone interested in seeing how a game starts as an idea and goes on to become a published product.

The other part is that the Red Markets Kickstarter is one of many Kickstarters that has suffered from the increasing cost of international shipping.

In response to this, Mr. Stokes has gone above and beyond to find better options for his backers. He has done this by splitting the shipment from China and engaging the services of a European fulfillment house…all at his own expense and after enduring no small level of abuse from a number of his backers.

This was a well researched and openly developed project that got hurt by forces beyond its control.

If you want a unique zombie RPG then head over to the Red Markets BackerKit Preorder page and place your order.

Ordering just the PDF and Stretch Goals PDF is, to my mind, like giving him money. But he is also happy for print orders.

Star Trek Adventures & The 2d20 System

Modiphius Entertainment recently released the core book PDF for their latest roleplaying game product, Star Trek Adventures. It was big news when Modiphius announced the license for Star Trek last year and this is their big release, along with Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of.

The new Star Trek RPG uses Modiphius’ in-house system, the 2d20 system. The basics of the system are that you have an attribute and a skill that are added together and you roll 2d20. For each d20 that rolls under the total of the attribute plus skill, you score a success. If you roll a 1, it counts as 2 successes. That is it from a very basic standpoint.

There are a lot of additional bits that go into it as well, such as the ways you can get additional d20s and what you can do if you exceed the number of successes needed for a task. But that is the basic mechanic.

Modiphius made the decision for the 2d20 system to be it’s in-house system back when they were working on Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition and there had been discussion about how it would be adjusted to go along with each game that uses it. Mutant Chronicles was mentioned as being the system at its crunchiest, while there was talk that the John Carter RPG would be at the light end of the crunch continuum.

I own Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition and Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of and I’ve found the crunch of those two games to be fairly intimidating. In addition, they are pretty similar in how they use the 2d20 system.

Now Star Trek is the first game from Modiphius to use a much lighter version of the 2d20 system and really show how the system can be modified to fit the property.

This iteration of the 2d20 system is very streamlined in comparison to Mutant Chronicles and Conan. Mutant Chronicles has 8 attributes while Conan has 7 and they are all pretty traditional. Star Trek has reduced the number of attributes to 6 while providing names that fit Star Trek, such as Daring, Control, Reason, and Insight.

Where there were significant skill lists in the previous games, Star Trek has it broken down into 6 disciplines, which are areas that encompass a large number of skills and cover what a Starfleet officer would be trained to know. These disciplines include Command, Conn, Security, Engineering, Science, and Medicine.

The streamlining of the system is really noticeable at this point. Star Trek uses the same basic resolution mechanic: Attribute plus Discipline (skill) and roll 2d20.

Here is the difference: in Mutant Chronicles and Conan, each skill has two parts, Expertise and Focus. Expertise is the number that gets added to the attribute while Focus increases that chance of a critical success – remember where rolling a 1 generates 2 success. If you have a focus of 2, you score 2 successes on a roll of a 1 or a 2.

In Star Trek, this has been simplified. Character’s still have focuses…uh, foci?…but they act as specialties under a particular discipline (such as Trauma Surgery or Phaser Operation) and don’t have a numeric value. If you engage in an action that uses the focus then your discipline level becomes your crit range.

For example, Doctor Bashir is performing trauma surgery on a Ferengi. He has a Control of 12 and a Medicine of 5 which means that he has to roll under a 17 on each d20 to score a success. Since he has the trauma surgery focus, he will score 2 success if he rolls a 5 or lower, as opposed to only getting 2 success on a roll of 1 on a d20.

There’s no need to track two different ratings for each skill. I find that to be brilliant!

There have been other modifications that have made the system much easier, while there are Talents there are no longer Talent trees.

There are also Traits which have the flavor of FATE aspects in the sense that they can be an Advantage or a Complication. Characters, situations, environments and locations can all have Traits.

In the system, an Advantage may reduce the difficulty of a task by one or make it possible to do something that wasn’t possible before while a Complication may increase the difficulty of a task by one or make something impossible to do in that situation. Either way, it is a very way of dealing with situational modifiers, possibly right up there with D&D5E’s Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic.

There is one more area that I want to discuss which has to do with character creation. Modiphius has used lifepath systems with most of their games…at least with the games that I own…and Star Trek Adventures is no exception here.

Upbrining is one stage of the Star Trek lifepath system and the part that really impressed me is that the character can either accept their upbringing or rebel against it and it will impact what attributes are increased.

I’ll give an example that brings this home for me:

James T. Kirk would have the Starfleet upbringing since both his parents were Starfleet officers. In the TOS timeline, he was apparently accepting of this upbringing while in the Kelvin timeline, he clearly rebelled against it…at least until Captain Pike dared him to do better.

So TOS Kirk would receive a +2 to Control and a +1 to Fitness. Meanwhile, Kelvin Kirk would get +2 to Daring and +1 to Insight.

Again, this whole idea of accepting or rebelling against an upbringing is just great and something that I don’t remember seeing in any game before.

Overall, Star Trek Adventures is the first 2d20 game that’s really been changed to fit the property that is using it. The simplification of the attributes and skills (disciplines), as well as the changes to the system itself completely fits the feel of Star Trek and improves the pace of the game.

There are other parts of the game mechanics that I haven’t reached yet, such as their social challenge mechanics, as well as their mechanics for exploration and discovery which continue to support the Star Trek feel but I just had to write something about this now.

Changing the Blog Name

It has been quite a while since I’ve done a post that didn’t involve promoting a Kickstarter. Before I go on to a more substantive post, I wanted to do some else.

I have not been very successful at blogging. By “successful” I mean actual posting things with regularity. Part of it has been that I haven’t really made time for writing. And part of that has been due to not feeling like what I was writing was actually worth posting.

So the one thing that occurred to me as I approach my 45th birthday is that I’m not going to be in my 40s forever and I know I mentioned this obvious fact when I first started the blog.

With my 40s quickly passing by and my lack of regular posts, I decided to change the blog name to something a little more honest: The Infrequent Gamer.

I think this both addresses the fact that I don’t get to game very often, although I definitely game more often than I did 3 years ago. And it also acknowledges that I don’t post very often.

So long live The Infrequent Gamer!!

TORG Eternity

This is the one that I’ve been waiting for so far this year. I have very fond memories of the original TORG, which is ironic since I only ever got to run it once, maybe twice. I bought almost every book that came out for it and thought it was an incredible.

We are now on the eve of the launch of the TORG Eternity Kickstarter which begins on May 31st at 1:00pm EST. The hype machine is already beginning on Twitter @NearNowNews with tweets like:

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If you aren’t familiar with the original TORG, it is about an invasion of Earth, not by aliens, but by other realities. The High Lords of several realities join together to invade Earth to drain it of possibility energy. Earth has so much that no single High Lord would be able to invade on their own.

Each reality operates under their own laws. Magic exists in some but not others. Different technological concepts are possible. And when a one reality gains a beach head in another, the home reality is overrun by the invader. So, in the case of TORG, the United States is invaded by the Living Land (think Land of the Lost), so buildings buildings may be transformed into mountains or trees. Animals may become dinosaurs, and humans may be transformed into lizard people. And along with that, technology reverts to it’s Stone Age equivalent or stops working altogether.

TORG was an opportunity to play a multi-genre RPG. Players could create characters who could crossover into the other realities and carry their home reality with them. The PCs were Storm Knights who were able to use the possibility energy to change events and outcomes and who fought the High Lords.

I’m really looking forward to the return of this classic game. I’m interested to see how it has changed, both setting and in mechanics and Ulisses North America has been posting regular previews of what we can expect from the next edition.

So, even though I have a meeting at 1pm on the 31st of May, I’m hoping to hop onto the Kickstarter really quickly.

What I’m Backing on Kickstarter

It has been some time since I posted. Mostly because work has just been sapping the energy from me. But I wanted to pop on here really quick to talk about some Kickstarters that I’m currently backing that are close to their end date.

Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game is the first one on the list and is in its final 3 days. Cam Banks obtained the license for the Cortex System from his former employer, Margaret Weis Productions, and has created his own game company, Magic Vacuum Designs. He is now creating a tool kit RPG that encompasses all the iterations of the Cortex system, from the classic system used in the Supernatural RPG to Smallville to Marvel Heroic to the current Firefly RPG. The Kickstarter has already reached its funding goal and achieved several stretch goals that provide additional setting tool kits and mini-settings. Three of these have funded so far, providing a robust amount of additional material. You have several options for the rewards including just the PDF, a softcover, and a Kickstarter only hardcover. PLUS: Backing it give you access to the Cortex Prime System Reference Document.

Next up is Termination Shock from Greg Stolze of Unknown Armies and Delta Green fame. He has been developing a science fiction RPG and recorded several actual play sessions of his playtest. He is seeking funding to edit and release the actual play sessions. One of the higher level stretch goals includes a very rough draft of the rules for Termination Shock.

The final one that is currently in its last three days is The Blackwood, a fantasy setting for the Savage Worlds Roleplaying Game. It combines folk tales and wuxia. You can hear an in-depth interview with the author over on Role-Playing Public Radio, which is what sold me on backing it. It is really the folk tale aspect of the game that sold me on it.

So that is what I’m currently backing. Regulating myself is not going so well. And I know I’ll continue to be in trouble as the TORG Eternity Kickstarter from Ulisses North America starts on May 31st. I’m thinking that will be the big one for me this year…

My Rifts

Savage Rifts reenergized my interest in Rifts. While it comes across as a gonzo setting, I like to think of my Rifts like a reboot of an old property. Like the old Battlestar Galactica to new Battlestar Galactica. Or like the Wizard of Oz to the new Emerald City.

So when I think about how I would do Rifts, I imagine North America to be largely a Western where most people outside the main cities live a frontier or low tech existence.

Two sources of inspiration are East of West and The Postman, both the movie and the book.

East of West is series from Image Comics written by Jonathan Hickman and drawn by Nick Dragotta. Its described as a science fiction Western. The mix of high tech and low tech, as well as the supernatural elements are what influence my idea of Rifts game.

Images like this fuel my Rifts…

By Nick Dragotta

And like this….

by Nick Dragotta

The Postman, the movie, makes reinforces the idea of America reverting to a frontier era after a form of apocalypse. Small communities, remnants of technology, most places go back to farming communities. The Holnists come across as a low tech version of the Coalition.

Now The Postman, the book by David Brin, also serves as inspiration for my Rifts game. Why? Juicers and cyborgs. That’s right. While I’m taking license with the material, there is a good example of a juicer and a cyborg in the book.

So when I imagine my game, or fanfic, of Rifts, I see a town from a Western where unusual looking strangers ride in on horseback, perhaps carrying a particle accelerator rifle, trotting past an armored personnel carrier.