Friday, November 04, 2016

An RPG of Rifles and Magic: Brian McClellan's Powder Mage RPG is Coming Soon.


The best way to describe Brian McClellan's Powder Mage stories is by saying that they are an entertaining combination of Sharpe's Rifles and Full Metal Alchemist and The Scarlet Pimpernel. The novels, and short stories, fall within the noble genre of Military Fantasy fiction which has seen a resurgence since the publication of Temeraire by Naomi Novik. Like the best fiction in the genre, McClellan's Powder Mage tales evoke a world in which large struggles are taking place, and where one man can make a difference, but without the need for the "dark lord" trope that dominates much of Epic Fantasy.

Promise of Blood, the first book in the series, tells the story of Field Marshal Tamas who engages in a coup against his king and sends corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine. McClellan's imagery here is a combination of the French Revolution and Napoleon's French Consolate. It's a world where magic exists, but it doesn't exist around every corner. It's a world where old gods awaken. It's a world of intrigue and politics, but it is a world at war.

The books have sold over 250,000 copies and are enjoyable reads, but now fans of the series can bring Powder Mage adventures to their kitchen tables with the recently announced Powder Mage Roleplaying Game. The game is currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign and I had the honor to do a brief interview with Alan Bahr the game designer working with Brian McClellan on the upcoming RPG. Below is our brief exchange.

Brian McClellan's POWDER MAGE trilogy seems a perfect IP for a role playing game. How did you get attached to the project?
 - A mutual friend (who happens to be an author and my best friend, Steve Diamond) introduced us at GenCon 2014 after it'd been announced I'd be doing Planet Mercenary for the Schlock Mercenary team. I pitched Brian, and walked him through what such a project would look like, and we just sorta...went from there.
When adapting an IP to a role playing game, one of the biggest challenges a designer faces is translating the setting. How are you addressing this challenge? Are you reading the books 100 times, working with Brian (who's an avid gamer), or a mix of both?
- Heh. Well I have read all the books a few times now (enough that I'm actually pretty jumbled!), but I think the biggest thing that will help us do that, is Brian himself will be writing most of the setting/fluff pieces in the book. My job is to just write the rules that need to be written, and only those.

Usually game worlds are by necessity bigger than the glimpses we get in stories, what strategy will you and Brian be using to fill the gaps or encourage GMs to make their own versions of Adro and the neighboring states?
 - Honestly, just trusting the GMs and players to the story they want to tell. Not everyone will tell the same story, so we just make an effort to provide them all the options and some of the cool setting nuggets Brian hasn't disclosed yet in order to let their imaginations run wild. I think any RPG, especially an established setting, just has to give that trust to the group using it.

What was it about the Savage Worlds game system that you think makes it the best fit for the Powder Mage Trilogy?
- How it plays. We actually wrote two custom systems for the game, and while they worked, it quickly became apparent that it wasn't quite working perfectly. But we also tested a few systems we could license for it, and after a few months, it was pretty clear that Savage Worlds was the one everyone responded to the most, and turned out the best on the table. It was the flexibility of the magic system that really allowed us to grab the feel of Powder Mage in the rules.
I know that you are working on the writing side, and you've hired a stable of artists, is there anyone else working on the project?
- Well, Brian is writing most of the world fluff, and I wrote most of the rules. We'll be putting the game through layout (by Robert Denton), and editing (we haven't chosen an editor yet, we'll probably use two), but the primary writing will be Brian and myself at this point in the project.

One of the common features of Savage Worlds books, both official and licensed, is the use of Plot Point Campaigns and Campaign Generators? Will the POWDER MAGE role playing game be featuring GM Friendly options like these?
 - We definitely have plans to include adventures and adventure generators. Exactly how much we include is determined by how high we fund!

You mentioned the flexibility of the Magic System being one of the things that you thought was a way that Savage Worlds captured the feel of the Powder Mage Trilogy? Could you expand on that?
- The way the magic systems work in Savage Worlds fits the idea of Powder Mage very well. There's a lot of flexibility, and the ability to use magic in a lot of different ways, but have similar effects really fits Powder Mage and the style of stories it evokes. Honestly, the only "new" magic we had to create was how to depict the effects of the titular Powder Mages.

While not mentioned in the interview, one of the things that makes the Savage Worlds system ideal for Powder Mage gaming and Military Fantasy gaming in general, is the speed with which combats are resolved by the game's mechanics. While Savage Worlds is a robust roleplaying game, it has its origins in skirmish miniatures gaming and this foundation allows the game to handle large combats in less time than it takes other game systems to emulate. This is one of the reason's I'm very excited about this game and about Savage Worlds related games in general.

[Cross Posted at Geekerati Media]

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!"