'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Expanse RPG. The Churn.

Kenzo: It must be nice, having everything figured out like that.
Amos: Ain’t nothing to do with me: we’re just caught in the Churn, that’s all.
Kenzo: I have no idea what you just said.
Amos: This boss I used to work for in Baltimore, he called it the Churn. When the rules of the game change.
Kenzo: What game?
Amos: The only game. Survival. When the jungle tears itself down and builds itself into something new. Guys like you and me, we end up dead. Doesn’t really mean anything. Or, if we happen to live through it, well that doesn’t mean anything either.

We got another Expanse Extra yesterday. That is a new mechanic from the RPG that isn't in the quick start. This time the Churn is detailed. This is a mechanic to simulate things going from bad to worse. It will add tension and consequence to the adventure. For me it is similar but different to the role Doom plays in Conan 2d20.

In 2d20, doom stands as a pile that gets added to when various things occur. The GM can then spend that to make bad guys more powerful, introduce more bad guys or just in general make things hard on the players. It is a mechanic designed to simulate the flow of Robert E Howard's epic tales of Conan.

The Churn, although implemented differently, is essentially a mechanic with the same goal in terms of the flow of the story. Things are going well for the players, they have this in the bag. Suddenly the rules change on them and what was easy now becomes difficult.

In it's essence "The Churn" is a running total, when characters do certain things a point is added to that total. When it reaches 10 there is a chance a Minor Stage 1 Churn event happens. If it doesn't happen, the total will increase. When it reaches 20 a Major Stage 2 Churn event may occur. If no event is triggered it continues to increase until it reaches 30, here we have a chance of an Epic Stage 3 Churn event. As you can see each time we get to 10, we check for an event, the level of event increases as the multiple of 10 increases. If you get to 10 points in stage 3, an Epic Stage 3 event occurs. No matter when the pool is triggered it resets to 0.

My first impression is that the Stage 1 events are a little weak IMHO, more choice here would be great. However since I haven't played I don't actually know how fast these things will get generated and it might happen several times in an encounter, and if that is the case it is probably fine.

Either way I am a fan of this style of mechanic. The fact that accumulating The Churn means something bad is going to happen may add enough tension all on it's own to make players a little squirrely.

Be sure to check out my other articles on the Expanse RPG!

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Expanse RPG. Let's Get Advanced!

Continuing my look at the quickstart rules for the Expanse RPG, I wanted to circle back and look at skill tests. Like many games the skill test is the core of the game, anything a character wants to do, of consequence, is generally resolved with a skill test roll by the player.

In many games that boils down to non-combat characters doing their shining moment in a roll or two, leaving combat characters rolling a lot and being more engaged in that way within the game engine. Although conflict is a very important part of RPGs and narratives it can leave some characters out in the cold so to speak.

When RuneHammer Games released ICRPG he included an effort system. You could assign 10 effort points to a task, say translating runes, your party member with the ability to translate could now be a more active part. Now it wasn't a roll with a pass/fail, now it was a matter of time before the runes could be deciphered. Adding in combat with this added even more tension. It is a cool mechanic and it was the first time I had personally encountered it's use.

Wait? Why are we talking about RuneHammer? I thought this was about "The Expanse RPG"? The Expanse has a similar system called "Advanced Tests". These are generally described as more advanced test. In this case the GM is going to assign a TN as well a success threshold. When a player rolls for their character and succeeds the drama die is added to a running total, and once that total meets or exceeds that success threshold the test is successful. Of course each attempt at the test consumes time and perhaps resources depending on the test.

ok. Lets take a look at this in action!

Noelle


Intelligence: 2
Focus: Technology


Deep in Ceres station Noelle and her crew are attempting to hack into a computer system. The right information can make you wealthy.

Things haven't gone well for our heroes though and they are pinned down at the access node by Star Helix operatives. Reinforcements are most certainly on the way. As it turns out Noelle is a bit of a whiz with computers and they decide to attempt the hack despite the presence of the security officers and their guns.

The GM has set this encounter to allow the Players to escape if they desire. For every round they stay an additional D4 guards take up position firing on the players, to a max of 5 operatives. We will assume Star Helix has enough man power to essentially keep throwing low level operatives at them.

The GM sets the computer system hack as an Advanced test with a Threshold of 10, and a TN of 13.


Round 1:
Noelle gets to work attempting to bypass the security system while her crew and Star Helix exchange fire. Her players rolls 1,4,(4) = 9 + 2 Int + 2 focus = 13 = SUCCESS! 4 is added to the running total.
The remainder of the round is her crew and Star Helix rolling and attempting to kill each other. Some of her crew take damage, and one or two SH operatives are dropped.


Round 2:
The crew calls back as the desperately hold off SH, "HOW MUCH LONGER!!??"
Noelle, while working as fast as she can yells back, "I'm in! Almost there!!". Her players makes another roll to work on the system. This time her roll is 3,6,(1) = 10 + 2 Int + 2 focus = 14 = SUCCESS! 1 is added to the running total.
Noelle curses under her breath as ICE work to stop her attempts at access in the main database. Star Helix continues their onslaught as more guards turn up to help capture the renegades.


Round 3:
A Star Helix officer gets a bead on Noelle and fires at her, the bullet glances off the bulk head just to the right of her head, her fortune holds as she continues to work against the computer. This time her roll is 2,1,(6) = 9 + 2 Int + 2 Focus = 13 = SUCCESS! 6 is added to the running total, brining it to 10. Noelle lets out a whoop as she successfully breaks into the system. The gun battle continues, Star Helix continues shooting, their bullets finally finding their marks as the luck of Noelle's crew begins to run out.


Hopefully, if you haven't used a system like this, you can see how it can engage a non-combat character more thoroughly into the game beyond the simple roll to pass/fail their key skill. I think the concept can make the game a lot more fun for everyone and allow a cooler and more interesting skill test interaction.

Be sure to check out my other articles on the Expanse RPG!

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Expanse RPG. Fortune favors the bold!

In my last installment I had the beginning of a small combat. It involved Noelle firing her pistol at Frank, she was successful and in fact bought a vicious blow and did an extra 1d6 damage. Still at the end, our narration concluded with her only grazing his shoulder.

Lets talk about why. All systems I have played have some method of mitigating damage, or recording how much punishment a character can take. The most basic idea of this is hit points. Conan 2d20 uses Stress and Harm in tandem to track the same thing. The Expanse is no different.

In the Expanse RPG each character has "Fortune". This is a measure of how fortunate they are, how much luck they have etc. Fortune can be spent to reduce damage taken or it can be spent to modify the dice. Pressing the luck and fortune of the character to succeed now for a possibly nefarious outcome later.

The pre-gens in the quick start have fortune scores of 15 or 20. In between adventures characters will be able to re-generate some fortune after an encounter (1d6 + Con + Level).

Ok, but how does fortune equate to damage received or punishment taken?
Once a hit is scored a player subtracts their toughness and armor from the total, the quick start rules have pre-gens with toughness from 0 - 2. Once we have the total damage done the remaining damage can mitigated through the spending of fortune on a 1-1 basis. If there is remaining damage then the players can take a wounded or injured condition. This removes another 1d6 damage per condition. If after this reduction, damage remains then the character is removed from the encounter and another condition is applied in line with the type of attack, generally dying or unconscious.

As we mentioned a player can spend fortune to modify a die roll. On the regular die a player can spend the value they want to make the die that number. ie you roll a 1, if you want the number 4, you spend 4 fortune points. If you are spending them on the drama die that value is doubled. So that same 4 now costs 8, but gives you more stunt points, so it is a trade off. Of course spending points here reduces how lucky you might be when staring down the barrel of a large caliber pistol.

Humans in this are actually pretty susceptible to damage. They can be lucky, sure, but in the end when that luck runs out it's not going to go well for them.

Lets take another look at Noelle and Frank.

Noelle


Accuracy: 1
Focus: Pistols
Defense: 10+Dex
Toughness: 1
Fortune: 20
Weapon: Pistol, 2d6+1

Frank


Dexterity: 1
Focus: Knife Fighting
Defense: 10+Dex
Toughness: 2
Fortune: 15
Weapon: Dagger, 1d6+3

Noelle draws her pistol and fires it down the dark corridor at her enemy!

Noelle has a TN of 11, Frank's dexterity + 10. She rolls 3d6 and scores 5,5,(2) for a total of 12 on the dice. +1 for her accuracy attribute and +2 for her focus in pistols bring her total score to 15!
Noelle ALSO rolled doubles. This indicates a STUNT! Noelle can now spent 2 stunt points, the number rolled on the drama die. These have to be used right away. Noelle opts to make this a vicious blow causing an additional 1d6 damage. She rolls (2d6+1) 8+1,(+1d6) 3 for a total of 12 damage.
Frank is not wearing any armor, but is pretty tough, so that damage is reduced by 2, becoming 10. Frank spends 10 fortune points, reducing his total fortune to 5.

Noelle's pistol echoes with a sharp retort! The round easily catches Frank and only by sheer fortune does he manage to avoid most of the damage, the bullet barely grazing past, leaving a bloody trail along his shoulder.......

Be sure to check out my other articles on the Expanse RPG!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Expanse RPG. A Measure of Success.

If you have followed my online RPG presence, you may be aware that one of the things I enjoy about Conan2d20 is the ability to not only succeed at a test, but to succeed by measure. That is there is more to it than just a pass/fail concept.

I believe this idea lends itself to the potential for awesome levels of creative story telling. In standard d20 when I attempt to jump a gap the GM assigns a target number, I roll my d20 and I pass or fail. In a system like 2d20 the GM assigns a difficulty, if I succeed greatly my character can use that success to fuel further actions, such as attacking an enemy right away on the other side of the gap.

Ok enough about 2d20, what does this have to do with the Expanse RPG? As I mentioned in my previous post your basic skill check is a 3d6 roll with a "drama" die. And we will start here.

Before we go on I am going to lay a caveat on this post. All I have is the quickstart rules. I haven't looked at "Modern AGE" at all, although expect it to function similarly.

The drama die, although not a direct measure of success, gives the GM and players a method to see how well or poorly they succeeded at their task. Did they barely fail or almost make it? Did their disguise fully convince those looking, or simply move them beyond notice?

If your players are trying to hack into a computer system to gain intel on the proto-molecule and roll a success, but roll a 1 on the drama dice, you as the GM might decide they have succeeded but managed to set off an alarm that will bring MCRN operatives down on them in a few turns.

The system also has another aspect that I find interesting. Stunts. These are broken out into Combat, Exploration and social depending on what task you are looking at doing. Lets take a look at the idea within a fight between two ruffians.

Noelle
Accuracy: 1
Focus: Pistols
Weapon: Pistol, 2d6+1
Frank
Dexterity: 1
Focus: Knife Fighting
Defense: 10+Dex
Weapon: Dagger, 1d6+3

Noelle draws her pistol and fires it down the dark corridor at her enemy!

Noelle has a TN of 11, Frank's dexterity + 10. She rolls 3d6 and scores 5,5,(2) for a total of 12 on the dice. +1 for her accuracy attribute and +2 for her focus in pistols bring her total score to 15!
Noelle ALSO rolled doubles. This indicates a STUNT! Noelle can now spent 2 stunt points, the number rolled on the drama die. These have to be used right away. Noelle opts to make this a vicious blow causing an additional 1d6 damage. She rolls (2d6+1) 8+1,(+1d6) 3 for a total of 12 damage.

Noelle's pistol echoes with a sharp retort! The round easily catches Frank and only by sheer fortune does he manage to avoid most of the damage, the bullet barely grazing past, leaving a bloody trail along his shoulder.......

Be sure to check out my other articles on the Expanse RPG!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Conan 2d20 on Roll20. Using Decks for Doom, Fortune and Momentum.

This is a simple how to tutorial designed to walk you through setting up a way to use Roll20s decks to build piles of Doom, Fortune and Momentum. It will give you a nice visual way to track the use of these items within Conan 2d20.

The following steps will build a DOOM deck, and you should be able to create the other decks as you need. Lets get to it!

The first thing we need to do is created a new deck. Go to the Macros and Deck sections of roll 20. Click "+Add", then click on the "New Deck" that was created. This will open the dialog box governing that new deck.
Give the deck a name, in this case "DOOM".
The players don't need to see the decks.
The players don't need to be able to draw cards.
We only have 1 card in these decks, so the set Cards are infinite and disable being able to choose from the deck. The discard pile should show the backs of the cards. They don't need stats and I set my size to be 50x50, although that might change depending on your screen and resolution.
Scroll down to the bottom of the deck dialog box and click "+ Add Card", in that new cards dialog box, add a name and drag and drop the icon you want to use. In this example I am using a basic doom icon, a red box with a black D in it. Once that is complete, save you changes and drag and drop the same icon into the Card backing area and again save those changes.
The deck is now set up. Click on "SHOW" (which will then change to "HIDE") and the new deck will be displayed on the side of your screen.
To use the deck, just hover over the deck and choose deal. Select the number of icons to distribute and select the player to give them to. In this case, 5 Doom tokens to the GM.

Here we can see the GM has 5 Doom tokens. Click on the 5, displays a box showing each instance of the token.
When you want to spend them, simply drag and drop them from this opened window onto the desktop. Once there they can be counted, compared and deleted when you are done with them.
Hopefully this quick guide gets you on your way to building a useable Roll20 interface for Conan 2d20 (and others!)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Expanse RPG

Remember The Cant.


Sometimes things sneak along under my radar.  I am on a lot of forums and groups relating to RPGs and STILL, despite that, I miss things I am interested in.

Yesterday on Facebook a Kickstarter came across my feed that I vaguely knew would happen.  I didn't know much about it in terms of who, what, when, where, why and how.  Either way I was happy to see it. 

I was fairly late to the Expanse as a "thing". I hadn't picked up the first book until well after the TV show had started. Which I did not initially watch. Still I was aware of the series, and as a sci-fi fan, how could I not have been.

I downloaded the audio book and planned on listening to it on a flight to visit the Czech Republic a few years back. I didn't get much into it at the time, there was just too much going on.  That was the late summer.  I started again that winter and consumed the audio at a break neck speed.

I started watching the TV show.  I loved it. I still do.  I've watched most of the first and second seasons twice and just finished the third season.  Audio book wise I am caught up and anxiously await Tiamat's Wrath.

I am a fan.



Seeing an RPG being released?  I was in.  $70USD got me all the print stuff on Kickstarter.  Once I had backed it I grabbed a copy of the free quickstart rules to see what it was all about.

The game is being written by Green Ronin, whom I am not hugely familiar with.  They have an RPG system called AGE (Adventure Game Engine) and produce a few games based on it such as Fantasy AGE and Modern AGE.

My quick look at the rules showed me it's a roll over TN system much like d20, only we are using 3d6 to determine our roll, more on that in a moment.  Your roll is those 3d6+relevant attribute+2 if you have a focus.  Ie if your character has an intelligence of 2, and a focus on Computers, you might roll 3d6+3+2 when trying to work with computers.  Pretty basic system in regards to that. 

It also employs a "drama die" in that basic roll.  One of your 3d6 is a different color and can be used by the GM to determine the "drama" level around your success and failure.  Succeed with a 1 on the drama die?  Maybe you aren't as successful as you thought?  It's an interesting mechanic that will allow some interesting story telling opportunities for the clever GM.

The Kickstarter is going well, making it's goal in an hour and breaking all of it's planned stretch goals in a day. 

As I was writing this an update showed up in my mailbox saying we will see new stretch goals today. Stay tuned.

Don't forget to check out my TeePublic shop! I just had a look through and added some cool Expanse designs to the shop!

Be sure to check out my other articles on the Expanse RPG!