Sunday, December 14, 2014

B.A.T. Undercover -- A Gumshoe Setting

B.A.T. Undercover -- Gotham's Secret Weapon

Imagine if you will a world where a young Bruce Wayne, after seeing his parents murdered by a low level mob enforcer is saved from a similar fate by the Green Lantern (aka Alan Scott). The sympathetic Scott, and his friend Ted Grant, help Bruce to overcome his grief. While under the mentorship of Ted Grant, Bruce remembers a small detail that he shares with a sympathetic Detective James Gordon. Due to advancements in forensic investigative techniques, this clue allows Gotham P.D. to catch the man who murdered the Waynes. Young Bruce gets a glimpse of how effective police work can save his city and he embarks on a new career, but he also learns how even those with great power - like Green Lantern - cannot be everywhere at once. Superheroes need the aid of everyday citizens, like Ted Grant and James Gordon, who are willing to stand against injustice. 

Bruce Wayne uses his vast fortune to support anti-corruption political candidates (with a keen eye for discerning the deceptive), set up homeless shelters, supports education in hard hit communities, and scholarships for highly skilled people to enter law enforcement.

Early attempts to assassinate Young Bruce are thwarted by his Butler Alfred, a man of a particular set of skills, who trains the young man in Tradecraft. Bruce is trained in several martial arts by Ted Grant. As a teenager, Bruce uses his skills to aid police in investigations and to help Gordon root out corrupt police. By the time Bruce Wayne graduates from Gotham State University with several Masters degrees in Criminology, Chemistry, and Forensics, the Gotham PD is largely a clean law enforcement agency. There are still corrupt cops, politicians, and businessmen operating in the shadows, but many of the foes an older Bruce Wayne would battle against are his allies in this world. He'll need these allies because threats like the organized crime, Solomon Grundy, Killer Croc, the KGBeast, the Brotherhood of Evil, and the vampire lord Ra's Al Ghul's League of Assassins threaten Gotham and the world. It is in this setting that the Bureau of Advanced Tactics (B.A.T) fights the enemies of mankind.   

This setting is perfect for the GUMSHOE game system designed by Robin D Laws and expanded upon by Kenneth Hite and others. In addition to the OGL documents, a pile of DC Comics, and a stack of Man from U.N.C.L.E./NCIS/24 dvds, it is recommended that you purchase the Night's Black Agents and Mutant City Blues role playing games.

Key GUMSHOE rules for use in B.A.T. Undercover:

The MOS rule from Night's Black Agents. This rule is similar to the Area of Knowledge rule in the classic James Bond 007 role playing game published by Victory Games and allows for each of the Player Characters to have a moment where they really shine in each adventure.

Players choose one or more Backgrounds, and given the secretive nature of B.A.T. they all have Cover 10 and Network 5 at the beginning of character creation.

Players receive Health of 4 for free. Given the action orientation of the base "Shadows"  setting, Stability is not used. Though if you wish to play an "Arkham" mode, characters start with Stability 4 for free.

Depending on the number of players each player gets a number of build points to spend on investigative abilities (the numbers below are for a "Shadows" setting game and would be slightly lower in an "Arkham" game).

Players receive 70 points to spend on General Background abilities and should have at least one skill rated at an 8 signifying an area of specialty where the character is one of the best in the world.

The THRILLER Combat rules from Night's Black Agents are highly recommended as are the MASTERY rules from Double Tap.

Super Powers from Mutant City Blues should only be allowed for FOES of the Player Characters and reflect the types of foes the characters might face. These are threats that are too powerful for normal Gotham PD officers, but might also be beneath the notice of Cosmic Heroes like Green Lantern.

The B.A.T. Undercover Team:

Bruce Wayne (aka The B.A.T. Man) -- Bruce Wayne (35) is the founder of the B.A.T. team and has dedicated his life to following the legacy of his idols Alan Scott and Ted Grant. He will do whatever it takes to fight corruption in Gotham and provide hope to its residents. He understands that one of the keys to this endeavor is citizens being able to trust that their police department is there to protect them. That is why he partnered with Commissioner James Gordon to create a secret squad within the Gotham PD that fights the foes normal police officers cannot, and who work in the shadows allowing regular cops to take the credit for taking down corruption. He is highly skilled in Forensic investigative techniques, Tradecraft, and the Martial Arts.

Edward Nigma (aka The Cryptographer) -- Edward Nigma (35) almost became one of Gotham's greatest enemies. Having discovered that cheating could help him get ahead as a young man, he used his talent for mathematics and riddles to hack into the computers of the wealthy elite and those he believed thought too highly of themselves. His hacks would make the computers and finances of such individuals unavailable unless they could solve a puzzle and unlock their information. Edward's college roommate Bruce Wayne discovered what Nigma was doing and convinced him that Nigma could find more challenging puzzles fighting against criminal entities who used arcane ciphers to hide their communications. To Nigma's delight, he discovered a world of truly challenging puzzles and talented foes and agreed to turn himself into the authorities based on a plea negotiated by Wayne Enterprises attorneys which required him to aid Gotham P.D. as an alternative to prison time. It took a while to convince Nigma to make the deal, but then he encountered a H.I.V.E. cipher and his obsession with puzzles took over. Nigma is now the programming and computer expert for B.A.T.

Selena Kyle (aka The Cat) -- Selena Kyle (35) was a young girl living on the streets when she witnessed Bruce Wayne's parents being murdered by a mafia enforcer. She expected the situation to end like all other such situations; no witnesses, no real investigation of related crimes, and no justice. She was surprised when Detective James Gordon took on the case. She wasn't surprised that Gotham PD would investigate the murder of wealthy citizens. She expected that the PD would want to look good, but she never expected that the investigation would expand into the criminal underworld's engagement in human trafficking in the poorer neighborhoods. Gordon took the investigation where it led him and brought justice not only to Joe Chill - the Waynes' murderer and Falcone enforcer - but also brought light to the connection between the Falcone family and their human trafficking violations. Gordon became a father figure to the young Kyle and she has used her talents for Stealth and Observation to aid the team in fighting the threats that Gotham faces.

Jack Laffer (aka The Joker) -- Laffer (40) is the team's resident "class clown." A former chemical engineer who was in desperate straits when he discovered his wife was pregnant days after losing his job at ACE chemicals. Knowing how desperate he was, the Falcone family met with Laffer in an attempt to convince him to aid them in a raid on ACE chemicals. College Student Bruce Wayne had been observing Falcone activities and recognized the difficulty of Laffer's position. He had his friend Ted Grant - who was working with Gotham PD as an undercover muscle for the Falcones - visit Laffer and convince him to work with Organized Crime Task Force Commander James Gordon to stop the crime and bring some of the Falcone family to justice. Laffer agreed, but corrupt cops within Gotham PD informed the Falcones who sent hitmen to kill Laffer's family. Ted Grant overheard the assignment and was able to intervene saving Laffer's family. While the ACE chemicals raid was a bust, Laffer found that there those in the city who could be trusted. Thanks to a generous research grant from the Wayne Foundation, Gotham PD had a new secret position for a Forensic Chemist under the direct supervision of James Gordon open up and Laffer was offered the job. Ted Grant arranged for Laffer and his family to be "killed" and enter the witness protection program. Laffer ads his unique sense of humor to the team and expertise in Chemistry of all kinds.

Dick Grayson (aka The AcroBAT)

Helena Bertinelli (aka Huntress)

Stephanie Brown (aka The Robin)

Just an idea, but it's working its way into a campaign setting for my group.

Friday, November 07, 2014

GRIMM -- Genre Show with Geeks on Staff

I've been a big fan of GRIMM since it first aired a couple of years ago. Sure, it started as a monster of the week show, but it quickly progressed into a monster hunting cop procedural that featured a grand conspiracy and a shadow war between monsters, royal families, and the mysterious Grimm. When the show first came out, there were some among my friends who called it a Buffy rip off. To a certain extent it is. The show's creator was a first season screenwriter on Buffy, but like a lot of shows made by Whedon alum this show is out-Whedoning Whedon. Tim Minear's (Firefly, Angel) show American Horror Story is a wonderful creepy ride, Once (Andrew Chambliss, Jane Espenson, others) has a great following, Arrow (Drew Z. Greenberg) is one of the best super hero shows ever to grace the airwaves -- all of them are outperforming the Whedon produced Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in either ratings or storytelling. It's a testimony to Whedon's ability to forge creative talent, but it's also a testament to how much those older Whedon shows owed to talents other than Joss.

Now that I've stirred the pot, and guaranteed that I'll receive at least 3 death threats, on to the main point of the of the reasons that GRIMM - and possibly the other shows - are out-Whedoning. I think it's because the shows are written by geeks. Now's when you come in and say...but Whedon is a geek. No he isn't, at least not in the way he once was. Whedon is now a big name with big expectations, expectations he delivers on the big screen, and that leaves him less time to be a geek than he'd probably like. He's producing several projects. Do you have any idea how time consuming that is? A friend of mine was an assistant to a screenwriter who writes comic book movies...and is a huge comic fan. You know how you are 6 months behind on your reading? This writer was years behind because the writer was writing. It's hard to be a geek/fan when you are busy creating content on a massive scale. That's what Whedon is doing, he's juggling several projects. He was a geek, but now he's too my opinion.

That brings us to the staff of GRIMM. They might be busy, and writing is difficult and time consuming, but they aren't "running a media empire" busy. That leaves them more time to maintain their geek hobbies. It's kind of like how attorneys need to do continuing education, only way more fun. If you don't spend time feeding the geek, it atrophies. do I know that the staff of GRIMM is comprised of at least one geek who's relatively up to date on continuing education credits?

It's because of a Twittersation I had with the "@GrimmWriters" today. My wife and I just watched the first two episodes of this season and we were struck by how D&D inspired the first monster of the season looked.

Image Source
I mean...that's a pretty D&D monster. So D&D that it's not in the SRD. This led me to post a tweet which received a quick response from the writer's room.

In addition to earning my permanent allegiance to the show, this tweet confirmed my suspicion in the best way. It was a great moment of fan interaction. It also makes me want to stat up the Gedachtnis Esser for Savage Worlds or d20 Modern. It also demonstrated just how geeky the writer's room (or at least the assistant responsible for the tweet) is.

Image Source

Oh...and it might just be hinting that the @GrimmWriters need to do some continuing education and buy the 5th edition rules.

Monday, October 20, 2014

THE LAST PARSEC is Fast, Furious, Fun and...Family Friendly?

I want you to try a little mental experiment for me. I want you to imagine the typical setting for the Savage Worlds role playing game. Have you got it set in your mind? Good. I want you to picture a scale of 1 to 10 and decide how "family friendly" you think the setting is -- and by family friendly I mean "ages 8 and up." Did you come up with somewhere between a 4 and a 6? That's what I initially came up with myself. After all, this is the game that has a number of high concept horror inspired game settings and is from the same minds that created the Horror Western RPG Deadlands.

But that's not really a fair assessment of the Savage Worlds game and the settings it has to offer. While the Deadlands game, and setting, may have been inspired by a painting of an undead Confederate Soldier, Pinnacle Entertainment Group has created a number of settings that are just right for ages 8 and up family fun. Set aside Rippers, Weird Wars, Evernight and Necropolis for a moment. Those would get at least a PG-13 from the MPAA for "thematic elements." We can even set aside Necessary Evil as a "12 and up" Comic's Code Approved version of Supervillains that is just outside the kid friendly zone. Even doing that, we have some great settings available for kids to play with their parents. Slipstream is a perfect combination of Flash Gordon style action and Planetary Romance. Then we have 50 Fathoms a mash up of Pirates of the Caribbean and Pirates of Darkwater that should make any Gen X (or older Gen Y) parent's heart swell with nostalgia. It's clear that Savage Worlds has some settings that are perfect for the family game night.

Add to family friendly settings a rules set that is flexible, promotes storytelling interaction, and is easy to learn and you have one of the best introductory role playing games on the market today.

As a parent of 6 year old twin daughters, I am always on the lookout for games that I can play with them that have enough "genre geekdom" to keep me interested but aren't so grimtastic that the twins have trouble sleeping at night. The two Savage Settings I've already mentioned certainly meet the mark, but it looks like we can add another to the list with Pinnacle's upcoming setting The Last Parsec. The Last Parsec is Pinnacle's latest science fiction setting and it draws from a deep well of science fiction stories to present a straight forward SF setting that doesn't reach to horror for high concept additions. I had a chance for a quick Q & A with Jodi Black of Pinnacle as well as some of the designers of The Last Parsec to see just how well this setting would fit in with my scheduled "dad and the twins Saturday afternoon tabletop session."

When I think about the kinds of settings that Pinnacle and Savage Worlds are famous for, I tend to think of high concept "horror +" games like Deadlands, Necropolis, and Evernight. How is The Last Parsec different?

 I'd say The Last Parsec is more focused on exploration and discovery than on "fighting back the darkness," which is the general theme attached to settings like Deadlands and the Weird Wars line. And even though the setting assumes player characters are affiliated with JumpCorp, within that framework just about any character type can flourish. So games can revolve around exploring the unknown, military action, or even commerce.” – Matt Cutter, author of Eris Beta-V for The Last Parsec

The more I read about The Last Parsec, the more it seems it might be a good fit for family gaming. This seems to me to be especially true in a post-Guardians of the Galaxy environment. GotG fans should be able to find a lot to like in TLP. Was this intentional, or happy coincidence?

“Coincidence, I'm afraid. But I have three kids -- my 10-year-old son cajoled me into taking him to see Guardians of the Galaxy -- and if they were to play in my setting, Eris Beta-V, I'd want my kids to take away the message that it's not productive to judge people on their appearances. JumpCorp can be the bad guys and a seemingly sinister, rediscovered alien species can be good guys.” – Cutter

Shane has stated in the design diary for The Last Parsec that Pirates of Dark Water and the animated Sinbad movie inspired him to create the 50 Fathoms setting. What are some of the "kid friendly" stories that inspired The Last Parsec?

“There's definitely some of Heinlein's Starman Jones in there, where even a simple lass or lad can study hard, take a job with a space corporation, and blast off for the stars.” – Tim Brown, author of Scientorium for The Last Parsec

Shane briefly mentioned John Carter in the design diary for TLP, will there be rules for Planetary Romance in the setting?

“There are rules for romance? Where can I find these?” – Brown

Jodi Black had some words of her own about the setting:

Romance is really about building relationships in game, and most experienced GMs weave interesting tales with the NPCs she offers to the characters. Recurring "romance" themes like the bad guy with a heart of gold, or the good gal with a dark'll find those in The Last Parsec (heck, any setting). But they're secondary to exploration and adventure. 

The GMs in my home group know they need to include some romance to make me happy as a player. Not one-shots so much, but for a memorable campaign that's usually a theme for everyone's characters. And it's not as much about the characters getting married at the end of the story, but of the process: ask him out for coffee, enjoy dinner out together. Actually, dinner out is a dangerous thing in our home games. Usually it get interrupted by an adventure!

Disney's Treasure Planet is one of the Black family favorites. It has aliens, discovery, and reuses the plot from Stevenson's Treasure Island in a new and interesting way. It's a shame the movie didn't do well, because I'd love to see more classic literature imagined as a space adventure...but then again, since those *aren't* in the public eye, any GM worth her salt can use those plots and themes for their kids and it's completely new!

Finally, not to be part of your story naturally...but we're releasing a One-Sheet for The Last Parsec today (hopefully) or tomorrow: Untimely Discovery by John Goff. There's a moral quandary in there that I think would be excellent for a kids game: What would it be like to be arrested for what you thought about? do "bad" kids deserve a second chance? One of the best things about roleplaying is the conversations after, and tying the fantasy into the real world. :)
I'm very excited about this setting and the thought of a game that has echoes of Treasure Planet or even The Black Hole (not mentioned but clearly another inspiration for TLP) gets my endorsement. 

Take a moment to back this great project and join me in the ranks of Savage Fandom. Savage Worlds is fast, furious, fun, and family friendly.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Scott Taylor's THE FOLIO Looks Like the Best Fantasy Module Series in a Long Time

Move over Pathfinder Adventure Path. Move over Kobold's Midgard based adventures. There is a new kid entering the D&D compatible adventure market and this kid looks to knock it out of the park on the first pitch.

Mixed metaphors aside, I cannot be more excited than I currently am about R Scott Taylor's current THE FOLIO Kickstarter campaign. Over the years, I've backed a lot of Kickstarters and I've purchased a lot of Old School "feel" adventures for D&D...going back to Necromancer Games' CRUCIBLE OF FREYA. For those who read that and say, "oh yeah...that's not 'old school' because I own a first edition of Tegel Manor," let me say that FREYA was the first of the "old school feel" adventures. TEGEL MANOR is actual old school and there is a difference. One pulls the strings of nostalgia and the other establishes nostalgia.

R Scott Taylor's THE FOLIO looks like it might just do the impossible. It might simultaneously pull the strings of nostalgia while creating nostalgia. Scott's work as an art director really shows on the early design of the project, and I don't think I've been as excited about a new D&D product in a long time. I was excited about 5e, REALLY excited, but my excitement for this project makes my 5e anticipation look like passing interest.


I hope that THE FOLIO lives up to what it looks to be offering.