Friday, October 14, 2016

Hacking the Black Hack using Zak's FASERIP System the Cypher Way -- Some Initial Thoughts

Readers know that I have long been a fan of Superhero role playing games. There was a time when I could claim to "own every Superhero RPG in print," but those days have long past. I still own a very large selection of Superhero RPGs that ranges from Superhero 2044 to DC Heroes to The Super Hack, but there are so many Superhero games out there that it is hard to keep up. I've read all of the games I own and have played most of them, but there are a few that stand out as able to withstand the test of time. Among those games that I return to again and again is the Classic Marvel Superheroes Roleplaying Game which uses the FASERIP system. The system isn't perfect, but it is very flexible, has quite a few "genius moments," and is great for getting people gaming quickly. It's a system that I want to use, but I want to use in a modified form and I've recently come across three resources that have inspired me in what I think will be a fruitful direction.

The first of those resources was +Zak Sabbath 's Character Generation Guide for his "Everything is Terrible" FASERIP campaign. In that post, Zak proposes a d20 based mechanic intended to replace the Universal Table that so many of us have used but which fewer of us have memorized. The Universal Table tells players what they need to roll to get a basic success (green), a substantial success (yellow), and a critical success (red). The division of success into different categories is one of the "genius" moments of the game, but needing to look at the chart to see if you've hit the next color (for those who haven't memorized the chart) can distract from game play.

Zak's proposal takes the categories on the chart and assigns them a Target Number. Players roll 3 Twenty-Sided Die against that target number. If only one die is a success, it's a Green result, two successes means Yellow, and three means a Red result. I recommend that you look at Zak's post for a detailed breakdown of the Target Numbers and his thoughts on the topic. They are worth your time. 

I took some time to do a quick breakdown of the basic probabilities of Zak's system in order to compare them to traditional FASERIP probabilities.

Looking at the basic Universal Table, you can see that a person with a "Shift 0" ability in something still has a 35% chance of achieving a Green result. When it comes to lifting weights, this works very well when one includes the "Intensities" rules from Advanced and Revised Marvel. In a fight, this means that a person with Fighting of Shift 0 still has a 35% chance of hitting his/her opponent. This somewhat high level of success seems to match with the heroic nature of Supers gaming. The same person has only a 6% chance of some level of improved success.

Looking at a table showing the probabilities resulting from his 3d20 system, we see some interesting results. The first is that Shift 0 really sucks. The second is that at the higher end, the probability of getting a Red result are close to those of the traditional FASERIP system. There are some notable differences at the low and mid-ranges, particularly with regard to Green results. In traditional FASERIP, a character with a Remarkable Fighting score has a 30% chance of a Green result and has a 44.36% chance in Zak's system. Scores lower than Good characters are less frequently successful under Zak's system and above Good they have are more frequently successful. I'm fine with that. It makes the "Street Level" heroes more impressive than they are under the regular system (when facing thugs) and the distinction between tiers continues.

To see how nicely Zak's quick Hack simulates the old FASERIP system, while requiring significantly less memorization, I compared the White results from FASERIP with those of ZakHak.

As you can see, the first four Shifts have a lower probability of success under ZakHak, you have a slightly higher probability of success from Excellent to Shift X, and the final two columns are essentially the same [Note: the percentage above is the percentage of 'failure' so higher numerical values equate to lower levels of success.]

I think Zak's system is intuitive and works and I'm likely to use a modified of it as I move toward adapting The Black Hack to the Superhero genre. There are a couple of previous attempts at Black Hat Supers (The Super Hack and The Powers Hack), but neither of those rules sets are as complete as I would like for a rules set intended for campaign use. What I want to do is take a the "roll under" system from The Black Hack as the base (this is as easy as taking the complement of Zak's value in a base 20 system) in order to have higher stats mean better results and have stats and results be the same number. I'm also contemplating adding the "roll x or y and add an interesting effect" rule from the Cypher System to the superhero game. The x or y will be yellow or red FEATS and they will allow the automatic use of some reality bending Power Stunt. I might event do a straight up mix of Cypher's 1 - 10 difficulty range and "pool expenditure" system, since I think that would mix with FASERIP's Karma system nicely.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be flushing out a full system but I will be using ZakHak as the base of whatever system I end up with.

Monday, September 19, 2016

[Annual Public Service Announcement] Play Like A Pirate, Don't Talk Like One -- Or if You're Going to Talk Like a Pirate, Go Big!

In 2008, I began advocating that people should celebrate "Play Like a Pirate Day" rather than participate in "Talk Like a Pirate Day." My contention was that one of the most irritating things you can hear your co-workers say is, "Aaaargh, Avast, Ye Mateys" a couple times an hour in some half-hearted participation in a day of international live action role playing. Even worse are the inconsistent uses of "Yar!"

What makes it most irritating is the fact that these small offering of participation are lackadaisical at best. It isn't talking like a pirate that's annoying, it's an ironic detachment or lack of commitment that's annoying.

I would rather my co-worker show up dressed in full "Age of Sail" apparel, blunderbuss and cutlass in hand, and charge into the office while staying in character as much as is possible for the day.  A wholehearted celebration of Talk Like a Pirate Day, I can get behind.  It would be fun, in the "employees showing up to work in costumes on Halloween" kind of way. You know... like when a person comes to work in their full blown Optimus Prime costume -- one where they can actually "transform" from robot to big rig.  Things like that create moments where you are truly impressed with your co-workers commitment. On the other hand, when your other co-worker shows up with only a pair of "cat ears" on and a mild scowl on their face, it's annoying. 

Most participation in International Talk Like a Pirate Day is of the cat ear type, and not the Optimus Prime type. That's why I still believe that it is time for the phenomenon to die. That doesn't mean that we should no longer have a day "celebrating" piracy and the outlaw attitude, or as the founder of Talk Like A Pirate Day called it "Piratitude." Pirates are still awesome (though not as awesome as Transforming Psionic Robot Pirate Ninja Dinosaur Mutant Demon Hunting Vampires), it's just that inserting random "arrrrs" like a pirate that is lame. I think gamers, and geeks of all kinds, should lay claim the holiday and re-cast it as "International Play Like A Pirate Day." That way the costume role players can  cosplay pirate and other people can play pirate themed games, read pirate themed novels, or watch pirate themed films.

As I wrote a couple of yeas ago, "from now on September 19th will be a day when families and friends get together and enjoy some form of Piratical Recreation. Such recreation can include celebrating by talking like pirates, certainly role play (in the traditional sense) is play. Our celebration is inclusive, not exclusive. But families and friends will no longer be limited to listening to the 'yars' and 'aaarghs' of everyone around them. Some might choose more formal ludographic participation -- that's game play."

Here is a list of recommended activities for this year's festivities:

1) Play a pirate themed roleplaying game. In particular, we recommend Pinnacle Entertainment Group's excellent PIRATES OF THE SPANISH MAIN. This is highly recommended for those who want to talk like a pirate. It encourages such behavior in an appropriate venue. Besides, by role playing (in the game sense) participants can act far more Piratical than is allowed under modern mores and laws.

If you want a more heroic bent with mystical aspects, you can always play Pinnacle's 50 Fathoms instead. If you aren't a fan of the Savage Worlds system, but still want to play an excellent pirate/swashbuckling role playing game you should check out 7th Sea.

2) If you own a copy -- and not many do -- play an exciting session of the classic Broadsides and Boarding Parties

If you don't own a copy of Broadsides, try one of these two excellent pirate games from GMT Games.

3) Blackbeard: The Golden Age of Piracy. The game is a redesign of Avalon Hill's classic game of the same name. The new version is suitable for 1 to 5 players and has less "down time" for players who aren't in their current turn.

4) Winds of Plunder is a quick and fun game that is more in the style of the "Eurogame" than Blackbeard or Broadsides.

5) You can play the previously reviewed Sword and Skull.

6) Lastly, we recommend watching one of your favorite pirate films.  Classics include Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk with Errol Flynn, Pirates of Penzance for those of a musical bent, and the more recent PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films. There is a long list of wonderful films filled with pirattitude, give one of them a play today.

Or you can sing "For I am a Pirate King!"

Thursday, September 08, 2016

New 'Warlock of Firetop Mountain' Video Game Available on Steam

When the first 'Fighting Fantasy" gamebook The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was published in 1982, it helped to create an entirely new entertainment market. Fighting Fantasy gamebooks built upon the innovations of earlier interactive fiction like the Choose Your Own Adventure series and the solo role playing game adventures designed by Ken St. Andre and his compatriots for the Tunnels and Trolls roleplaying game.

Taking these two literary innovations as their inspiration, Games Workshop founders Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson created a line of books which contained both the narrative adventure and the rules for a complete role playing game. The game rules were simple, but very flexible. Throughout the series, Fighting Fantasy authors have found ways to add on subsystems that have allowed the basic mechanics to cover various magic systems, super powers, chambara-esque samurai abilities, science fiction, werewolf transformations, and much more. A complete history of the line of books can be found in Jonathan Green's excellent book You are the Hero! Green is the author of several books in the series and a fan turned professional.

The plot of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is simple. You are a hero, or at least an adventurer, who seeks to locate and acquire the Warlock of Firetop Mountain's fabulous treasure. The adventure itself was quite challenging and required players to carefully manage resources, develop mapping skills, and have more than a touch of luck. As difficult as the adventure was, it helped to spawn a total of 57 sequels and numerous books by competitors. Additionally, Warlock as been adapted as a board game, a D&D compatible adventure module, an interactive kindle book, and a couple of video games. Some of those games captured the excitement of the original, while others were less successful.

Tin Man Games recently released a new video game adaptation of the book and the results look promising. Rather than merely "converting" the book to graphic form, it appears that Tin Man has followed the lead of some of the best books in the Fighting Fantasy series and used the book and the rules as a skeleton on which to build a meatier product. This looks to be especially true with regard to the combat system. It appears that they've added maneuvers and other options to make the game more appealing to the modern PC gamer.

 You can see the framework of the original system, but options like "quick jab" and "piercing strike" add options unavailable in the original print book.

The game is currently available on Steam for the reasonable price of $19.99.

Have a look at the trailer and see if you want to risk the dangers that await you in Zagor's mountain stronghold.