'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

Showing posts with label RPG. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RPG. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Barbaric Future. A Role Playing Setting.



There are a few things in my mind that make Conan, Conan. These things need to be there or we are simply going to get barbarians with laser swords, and that is not the aim of this project.

There are two things that I believe absolutely need to be involved in this setting.

  • Barbarism vs Civilization
  • Rise and fall, cyclical nature of the rise and fall of society and civilization

Cyclical Nature and the Hyborian Essay

Robert E Howard wrote a short essay titled, "The Hyborian Age". In it, he outlines his world. The rise and fall of civilizations, cataclysms, the migration of the people and the evolution and devolution of mankind. It ends with Howard telling us that the people that populate the world today can trace their origins far older than they know, back to the Hyborian Age.

The ancient Sumerians had no connection with the western race. They were a mixed people, of Hyrkanian and Shemitish bloods, who were not taken with the conquerors in their retreat. Many tribes of Shem escaped that captivity, and from pure-blooded Shemites, or Shemites mixed with Hyborian or Nordic blood, were descended the Arabs, Israelites, and other straighter-featured Semites. The Canaanites, or Alpine Semites, traced their descent from Shemitish ancestors mixed with the Kushites settled among them by their Hyrkanian masters; the Elamites were a typical race of this type. The short, thick-limbed Etruscans, base of the Roman race, were descendants of a people of mixed Stygian, Hyrkanian and Pictish strains, and originally lived in the ancient kingdom of Koth. The Hyrkanians, retreating to the eastern shores of the continent, evolved into the tribes later known as Tatars, Huns, Mongols and Turks.

The origins of other races of the modern world may be similarly traced; in almost every case, older far than they realize, their history stretches back into the mists of the forgotten Hyborian age...


The Hyborian Age
-Robert E. Howard


Barbarism vs Civilization

It is well known that Howard had no love for modern civilization. He saw it as broken and corrupt and felt a kinship to those who came before. He had a special affinity for the medieval Irish, and so it is no surprise that Conan was his ultimate hero in many ways. Several of his writings talk about the evils of boomtowns. How the rise of civilization and money where he lived bred corruption and evil deeds.

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

Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.
-Robert E. Howard

Tower of the Elephant


Barbaric Future

So with these two basic tenants in mind, I present the initial stages of the world I imagine...

Thousands of years into the future the initiative of humanity has continued to carry the species forward. Technology has continued to progress, new ideas in genetics, energy, materials, and computing have formed new weapons, new armor and in some cases new people. Despite the massive abilities and technological advances of mankind, we largely remain confined to our world. We have lifted ourselves into orbit and explored much of our solar system through drones and a few manned missions, but Earth remains our home and efficient space travel still eludes us.

War remains a reality and several massive conflicts have been engaged in between then and now. Some conventional, some small scale nuclear.

Our world has seen the rise of capitalism and the formation of great corporations. It has also seen the governments of nations fall and these new centers of power rise to fill the void. Now the world is dotted by the Corporate States, rife with corruption and greed. Each maintains a stranglehold on their populations through information censorship and military power. They lie in the temperate zones of the Earth, places less likely to be touched by disaster or rising sea levels. Places untouched by radiation and devastation of ancient nuclear conflict.

In the places abandoned by the Corporate States live tribes of humans. These people live a more primitive and savage life, sometimes using the discarded junk from the Corporate States, sometimes living in the skeletons of long-abandoned cities, using older technology and still others existing alongside nature.

In the wildest places, the far frozen places, the places rife with disease, the irradiated places, live others who have reverted to a more bestial state, over uncounted generations, they have devolved into a beast that is more ape than man, still clever and cunning and still able to use primitive weapons.



Corporate States

With a basic idea we can go forward and flesh out our three zones of humanity with a few key points about each area.

  • Very high tech. AI, Robots etc.
  • Clean.
  • State controlled.
  • Isolated.
  • Crime & Corruption.
  • Cybernetics.
  • Genetic enhancement.
  • Fusion power.
  • Projectile & Beam weapons are outlawed.


Tribes of the Free

  • Generally lower technology.
  • Almost post apocalyptic in some places.
  • Savages, Barbarians and Canibals.
  • Primitive religions.
  • Knowledge of the old worlds. Libraries of books, paper and digital.
  • Solar, wind, hydro power.
  • Ruins.


Savage Wastes

  • Potential high radiation.
  • Mutant humans.
  • Mutant beasts.
  • Ruins.
  • Lost technologies.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Conan 2099: The FUTURE!: An Initial idea.

Yesterday as I hopped around the internet this came across my feed...



Apparently, Marvel is looking to add a few characters to their 2099 universe in celebration of 80 years. Conan has been chosen along with a few other characters, such as The Punisher and the Fantastic Four to be full-fledged 2099 one-shots. We will then see the universe show up among regular titles as well. However, we are here to talk about the Cimmerian.

Upon seeing it I chuckled and thought of all the people who would lose their minds as Marvel completed a whole new twist on the character. That is not what this blog post is about. It is about my second thought, "I want to play this!", this would be a super fun setting for an RPG game! First I have no clue about Marvel 2099, so we will just drop that as the rosetta stone of the setting. Instead, we will use our own ideas and inspirations from my own head as well as ideas liberally inspired by other settings.

I thought it might be fun to do a series of blog posts on building this setting and the reasons for choices I might make. To start the series I figured it would be good to introduce the idea in this post and outline some questions and ideas I will fill in as I continue with the series, eventually arriving at a rule system and any other material I might need to play the system, such as setting descriptions, main antagonists, gear and equipment, etc.

Let's start with a list of ideas from the covers of the book.
  • High tech
  • Not post apocalyptic
  • Laser sword
  • flying cars
  • high tech armor or cybernetics?

Some other ideas we need to incorporate.
  • Barbarism vs Civilization
  • Magic/sorcery
  • Short tales
  • Earth
  • Why swords? Do we still use guns?

Finally where can we take some ideas from, I have brainstormed these settings and ideas myself or from online input from others.
  • Thundarr
  • He-man
  • John Carter
  • Bladerunner
  • Shadowrun
  • Starwars
  • 2099

As I go forward with this I realize I need a system to enact this idea.
  • ICRPG
  • Genesys
  • Modern Age
  • Savage Worlds


If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Narrative Terrain Decks.

At the beginning of the year I played a game of Primeval THULE via the Genesys system. During this game we had to make a daring escape, which involved cards drawn and skill checks made. That day is the direct inspiration for these terrain decks.

I worked on the idea and tried it for the first time at the Calgary Expo during my two Conan 2d20 games. The prototype, as you can see, isn't nearly as polished as the current offering. The decks changed from the basic idea to the current idea between day 1 and day 2 at the convention. Those cards would eventually become the "Weird Wood" deck. Since then I have created a desert deck, a cave deck, a passageway deck and a cliff climb. The cliff climb was my second attempt at a deck and I used to for my home players scaling a cliff, where they had a standard room encounter before finding their way into a set of caves which used another cave deck.

But why these decks over a more normal exploration system with a grid or a hex map? The two biggest reasons are player engagement and prep time.

Often some players are left in the back and don't get to contribute as much as the others, sometimes they roll less dice and this often can translate to less fun for them. The second reason is prep time and these cards require almost none. At most you might need a list of monster stats that players may or may not end up fighting in the dark passages or twisted forest.

The Decks

Generally the decks contain about 36 cards in total. 5 of these are the reference cards and the remaining cards are split between terrain and encounters.

  • Reference Cards - Basic instructions, sample monster ideas, sample cards.
  • Terrain Cards - Each card shows a picture of terrain as well as a skill.
  • Encounter Cards - Each card shows a skill or fight that must be overcome before continuing.


An Introduction to the Cards

Terrain Card
  1. Picture of the area the players are crossing. Strictly aesthetic.
  2. A good place to place a chit or a d6 to record the difficulty of the card.
  3. The default skill a player can use to cross the area. Use the cards base difficulty.
  4. When using another skill, add this modifier to the difficulty before making the test.

Encounter Card: Obstable
  1. Description of the obstacle and skill used to pass it.
  2. Difficulty of the skill check.
  3. Cost of skipping the skill check in doom.
  4. Damage a player suffers for failing the skill check.

Encounter Card: Fight
  1. Description of where the fight takes place.
  2. Base difficulty for physical attacks in the area.

Using the Decks

Step 1: Set aside the reference cards and split the deck into encounter and terrain decks. Determine the total momentum required to proceed through the terrain, this should be 1 per player at minimum.
Step 2: Shuffle the decks and place them in a convenient place.
Step 3: Draw a Terrain card and place it face-up on the table. Place a D6 or similar in the corner showing the "1", to symbolize a D1 skill test.
Step 4: A player either attempts the skill test listed on the card or chooses another skill test at a +1 or +2 difficulty modifier, depending on the card.
Step 5: Whichever skill the player uses, they must be able to narratively describe how it helps the party move through the card.
Step 6: Assuming success, place a momentum marker on the successful card. Place another terrain card above the first and increase the D6 by 1. ie a 1 becomes a 2. Any excess momentum can be stored in the pool as normal.
Step 7: Repeat the process increasing the difficulty until enough momentum is generated to move the players through the terrain. Each terrain card must be attempted by a new player until everyone has gone, then the process repeats.
Step 8: On a failure draw an encounter card and place the card beside the failed terrain card.
Sept 9: On a skill encounter each player individually attempts to succeed and move past the obstacle. On failure, they can pay the listed doom, or take the listed damage.
Step 10: On a fight encounter describe the terrain listed on the card and the base difficulty the players face. Run a simple combat encounter.
Step 11: Once the encounter card is complete place a new terrain card above it and reset the difficulty counter to 1, repeat steps 3-11 until the players are through the terrain.

NOTE: I don't specifically mention what to do with a complication. I believe they should be open-ended and make things interesting. That being said a simple idea is to draw an encounter card and have the player that rolled the complication resolve it, or the group if you get a monster card. Once complete place the next terrain card down and do not reset the difficulty counter.
*NOTE: The trek through the terrain should be viewed as a single scene giving the players no downtime. They should be weakened and haggard when they come out...iF they come out.

A Sample Play Through

We will assume our party of 4 adventurers need to find something within a dark and twisting forest. We set the number of successes they need to 4, one for each player.

Card 1: Terrain Card, Difficulty 1

Balor chooses to go first. He chooses to use his Survival skill instead
The difficulty becomes 2, as this falls under the "Other" Skill.
Balor says, "As we enter the dark forest I look around and try and see an open area to lead the party into the darkness."
He rolls 1 and a 15, and gains two successes. The party moves deeper into the woods.
Card 2: Terrain Card, Difficulty 2

Dorian takes up the lead. He chooses to use his Observation skill instead
This is the cards default skill, so the difficulty remains 2.
Dorian says, "Continuing into the darkness, I try and build on the path Dorian has found by looking for the signs of animals passing this way, indicating a path to something....." Dorian also chooses to use a bonus die and so rolls 3d20 (Either through Momentum or Doom)
He rolls 11, a 12 and a 15, and gains two successes. The party moves deeper into the woods.
Card 3: Terrain Card, Difficulty 3

Sarina takes up the lead. She notes acrobatics is not her strong skill and so attempts to use her Lore skill
Lore is again a +1 difficulty since it is not the default skill.
Sarina says, "Using my knowledge of the area and how trees grow from within my vast store of natural world knowledge I take note of the moss on the trees and use it to gain a direction and guide us further into the forest."
Sarina knows this will be a hard roll and so chooses to add 2 dice to her pool, rolling 4d20
She rolls 11, a 3, an 18 and a 15, and gains three successes.
Her failed roll leads the party astray......
Card 4: Encounter Card, Cliff Climb

The party's path leads them to a sheer, scalable cliff in the forest. The only way forward is to climb....
It is a simple D1 Athletics check.
Balor, Nualla and Dorian all choose to make the check and easily scale the cliff.
Sarina being less confident in her atheletics skill, chooses to pay the doom cost to join her companions at the top.
Card 5: Terrain Card, Difficulty 1

Nualla is the last party member to contribute to finding their way through, so it is her turn.
She chooses to use her resistance skill, so the test remains at a D1
Nualla says, "As we move beyond the cliff the insects begin to increase in numbers causing us to be maddened by their constant annoyance. I manage to push through the host of insects....."
Nualla rolls a 4 and a 20. A success and a complication.....
The party gains another success but is ambushed by a group of wolves.
Card 6: Encounter Card, Monsters!

Due to Nualla's complication, the party is set upon by a group of wolves! Note that the battle takes place in a thicket making the base combat difficulty a 2.
After taking some scratches the party defeats the wolves and presses on into the darkness, sensing they must be close to their goal!
Card 7: Terrain Card, Difficulty 2

We don't reset the difficulty as the encounter card was a complication, not a failure.
As the whole party has contributed we reset and choose someone else to start again.
Sarina using her keen sense of observation, at a difficulty of 2 tries to lead them to their goal.
Sarina says, "Excitedly I point into the trees and say, "Look I can see it through that break in the trees!"
She rolls a 5 and an 11, succeeding.
Finally, after the long trek through the forest, the party emerges at their goal......

And finally we see the final layout, and which cards gave the characters their successes.



As you can see we can create a large variety of terrain maps that are engaging on a role playing level as well as on a visual level with next to no prep from the GM. If you like these you can grab a set of cards over at the Game Crafter for about $10USD. You can also get a set of counters that include numbers which can be used for difficulty markers.

If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Why I think Zones Are Better Than Grids.

Over the last weekend, I again had the opportunity to play a game that used the more traditional grid-based system. It struck me that although it added the ability to more clearly move figures around and know "exactly" where each person was, it came at the cost of time.

Each time a character moved we needed to count the squares and try and determine the exact location we wanted to be. When casting spells with an area of effect, we needed to make sure the area was going to be what we wanted and count out carefully.

All of this additional time added up, and from where I was sitting slowed combat considerably. Combat should be an exciting time in the game, full of fun rolls and descriptions. We should not be seeking to slow it down. If I had any lingering doubts about zones before, they are pretty solidly gone now.

Instead of a battlemap composed of grids, zones break the map up into areas, let's see how that works in practice.

Basic Battlemap
Battlemap with Zones

Above we have two examples of the same map (From 2 minutetable top) described spatially. One with a grid where players can place a miniature on the map and move them in 5' increments. The other has the same map described with zones, where player miniatures are simply placed within a zone.

It is important to note that I have drawn the zones on largely for illustrative purposes, you could use a basic clean map and denote the zones through narration, small markers or just a small keymap. The zones don't need to be exactly delineated. We just need to know that a character is in the "Deep Stream" or on the "Rocky Incline"

Can you do much of what I am going to talk about with grids? Yes, you could, but I think zones are a simpler and more elegant way to accomplish it.

The first thing I think zones do are speed up movement in combat. You don't need to see if an opponent is 5 or 6 squares away. If you are both in the same zone you can engage them in combat, they are close enough to do so freely. Are they one zone over? Do you have a minor action available? You can also move to engage them easily. If a PC is at the bottom of the cliff and an opponent in the stream on the top of the cliff, you can fight. You don't need to count spaces. This in and of itself is a pretty big plus in my books.

What about terrain though? Surely the moving from the base of the cliff to the top of the cliff should impart some slow down. This brings us to another excellent thing about zones. They can each be made a little differently. Moving across the cliff zone might require an Athletics/Acrobatics test to move at full speed. It might even cause damage on a failed roll simulating fall damage. Essentially when a player is on that zone they are actively climbing up the cliff.

Some examples for the above battlemap written for Conan 2d20.
  • Rocky Incline - Steep incline - D2 Athletics/Acrobatics Hindrance. Incline plus loose rocks make the going difficult.
  • Skull - Cave entrance - 2cd Cover from missile weapons.
  • Steep Path - D1 - Athletics/Acrobatics Hindrance.
  • Path - Open ground, no penalty.
  • Cliff - D3 Athletics/Acrobatics Hazard for take 2cd damage on failure.
  • Stream - Flowing stream - current is stronger than it looks - D2 for all physical tests while in the zone.
  • Deep Stream - Flowing & Deep - D2 for all physical tests and D2 Athletics/Acrobatics Hindrance.
  • Path - Open ground, no penalty.

Now we have created a battlemap that has a lot of interesting things going on. Players may wish to try and fight on the open ground of the paths, but if they need to gain entrance to the skull cave, they are going to have to fight over some hindrances or hazards to get there. As I mentioned you could, of course, do similar with a standard grid battlemap. Not only do I feel the zoned approach is easier, I feel it lends itself to wanting those details more.

Finally, they are hugely abstract, they can represent whatever size you need, a large open field might represent a larger area on the table than the trees next to it. They might be player scale, or they might be army scale. Following on the abstract nature, you don't need your zone to specifically represent an actual 1:1 scale on the table, using a set of cards like RUNEHAMMER's ICRPG Graphic Index Cards or pictures of printed areas laid on the table you can quickly lay down easily identifiable and interesting zones for your players to interact with. If you need a set-up like the above you could grab a set of 8 index cards and write the name and details of each zone and just lay them out on the table.



And because of this abstract nature and ease of creating zones with a small card, you could lay out a complex area in a very small space, eliminating the need to carry around a large battlemap, you will just need something to represent players and enemies which fit inside the cards. Examples might be small chits or 15mm figures.

Lastly and this one may be a bit of a shock, I think think the abstraction of the exact position of a character within a zone is more realistic. Unless you subscribe to the idea that 1 roll of the die is the equivalent of one blow of the sword, keeping a character in a 5'x5' square is wholly unrealistic to me. The idea that combat is moving across and around the area is much more realistic to me. "The fight between the warrior and the bear rages in front of the skull cavern, the roar of the bear pushing the warrior back as he circles to find an opening on the massive beast" is descriptive of a battle occurring in a zone where the two combatants gain and lose ground and circle for the best place to strike from.

The downside is that players are a little more generic, in D&D you might have someone that can move 4 squares and another that can move 6 squares. With a zone-based system, each player is essentially moving the same distance. For me, though this negative is a very small one and is strongly outweighed by the positives. Similarly, other aspects of the game strongly tied to a location are lost such as an area of effect or flanking.

To sum up why I think Zones are superior to grids: They can save time in combat, they lend themselves to a more descriptive and interactive environment, their abstract nature allows more freedom of scale and I think it is a more realistic interpretation of the world.

Zones meet a nice middle point between the strict theatre of the mind and players measuring exactly where their miniatures move. They can speed up combat by eliminating exactly where everyone is. They can create rich and vibrant environments that are more interesting to play in. They can be scaled to fit the table size you have with minimal fuss. Creating their physical representation can be as simple as words on a card up to a full 3d layout.

If you haven't tried zones before in your games, I encourage you to give them a shot. If your system doesn't specifically include them a rough guideline is to allow players to engage and move within a zone freely, a normal move allows movement between zones and a sprint allows movement across 2 zones. You will need to give some consideration to how you handle area effects and flanking. Maybe you won't like them, or maybe your players won't and you'll go back to the grid. But just maybe you'll enjoy this new system free of range rulers and measuring.

If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

If you want to help support the blog you can pick up original content by heading to my content page which will direct you to the Game Crafter or DriveThruRPG.
If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Two Minute Tabletop: How to Draw Dungeon Maps.

This is an unsolicited post. This is from one gamer to the vast internet. This is an attempt to boost the signal a little. I came across Two Minute Tabletop a long while ago. I was up searching drawing and gaming videos and I came across his YouTube channel. Since then I have found him on Patreon and backed him there. If you watch any on-line games and have checked out some of RuneHammers ICRPG games, you may recognize some of these assets.


Ross creates battle maps. His maps have a cool and unique style and he has a large library of maps, tokens and assets to make more or customize your own maps. His Patreon rate is $1 per map, which is a very reasonable price for the maps he draws. I am not really here to tell you to support him, I am more here to bring him to your attention if you don't know of him.

I especially wanted to direct you to his youtube channel which has a plethora of videos on his process, including a bunch of new, "How to Draw Dungeon Maps", videos. While I was watching these yesterday I also noted the number of views was relatively low, especially compared to some of his other videos. These new videos are excellent quick guides to drawing some basic dungeon maps in his style and highly recommend them.

So if you have ever wanted to draw your own maps, and are unsure how to start. If you just need more battlemaps for your VTT or your physical table run over to his various social media locations and gain some knowledge or some sweet battlemaps!

If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Action Momentum Spends in Conan 2d20: The Card Deck!

One of the things I always have trouble with when explaining Conan 2d20 is the Momentum Spends. Ok, not so much trouble explaining them, but trouble getting players familiar with them, and what they can do with that momentum.

I have a reference sheet I have used at conventions, but it is a lot of information in a small space.

So I have decided to try a deck of cards. Each player gets a card with a name, cost and basic description. Using this they will hopefully tie together some epic uses of the spends, and more importantly, be aware of them. I am including one of the cards below so you can see what I have in mind.



If you think this might be useful, I have a .PDF with the most common spends on it for players. You can find that here.

If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Fiends: Giant Nassarius Snails

Welcome back to another installment of Friday's Forgotten Fiends! Custom monsters for your RPG table feature stat blocks for Conan 2d20 and Dungeons and Dragons 5e as well as paper 28mm miniatures and VTT tokens! It has been awhile since the last posting but I am back! Hopefully I can get these to be more regular again.

Awhile ago now someone posted a video on Facebook that featured a water tank and a fish body being dropped into it. As it lay there you watched as this empty tank slowly sprang to life as these tiny snails began popping out of the sand and devouring the fish. So the inspiration for the giant carnivorous snail was born and after some time, has finally come to fruition!

Conan 2d20

D&D 5e

in progress

VTT Tokens

Paper Minis!



If you would like a version on these with backs as well as fronts please check out my offering of this set on Drive Thru RPG. They are offered for the low cost of $1usd and and support is greatly appreciated. Thank you! If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp rpg gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Expanse RPG: First impressions (more or less)

The e-mail came and I immediately downloaded the PDF from Green Ronin. I was anxious to see the Expanse RPG in all its glory. I had seen the quick start and Modern Age rules, both of which I liked. This was the full book though and I was excited.

The RPG is broken out into 3 basic sections: Players section, A Guide to the Expanse, and the Gamemaster's Sections The RPG opens with the new novella by James SA Corey and then rolls right into the rules and character creation, tech, ships and eventually a section on the world of the Expanse, detailing Mars, Earth and the Belt.

Some of the art I love, some of it I am luke warm too, but overall the book looks good and I was anxious to find some time to dig deeper into it.

It's hard for me to have a strong first impression of a .pdf file, as much as I see them as a useful way to get content to us, for me they are still not that physical book. So initially? It is what I expected after seeing Modern Age and the Expanse quick start. I can not wait to have a physical copy.

Intro & Rules

I did spent a little time with it to get a better idea of what exactly this book looked like. Many RPGs have flavor text and may even open with a small blurb about the world. The Expanse starts with a short story written by James SA Corey for the RPG. So we are already starting off plenty strong with a full piece of prose from the authors of this beloved series.

Once we get past the story we are whisked into the basic rules of how things work. How characters make skill tests, what a stunt die is and does. It is not a complicated system and it might be a good middle ground between something overly simple and something overly crunchy. I haven't had time to play yet though, so time will tell.

Character Creation

After the basic rules we are introduced to character creation which is laid out in a nice 10 step process. I find that creating characters can sometimes be a little convoluted for a new player. As a new character playing Pathfinder for the first time, I didn't find it super easy. As a new player to Conan 2d20, I would level the same criticism of it. In comparison John Carter was a simple character building system and I suspect this will be similar, as the builds in Modern Age were not difficult.

After the basics of character creation have been talking about our next chapter is the list of talents and traits players can take to customize their characters beyond their basic stats.

Tech and Equipment

And then we are onto Tech and Equipment. What sci-fi game is complete without advanced technology? Generally anything we see in the Expanse is probably going to be something we recognize in our modern world, from hand terminals to space ships. They provide a fairly comprehensive list of traits and ideas to build most any tech you might want. Here we have weapons lists and armor lists including the impressive Martian power armor.

The section includes dealing with income and lifestyle. We get a section on how this system deals with a characters basic upkeep based on their income level from character creation.

I would have liked to have seen more rules on cybernetics and similar. I know this isn't a cyberpunk game, but we see basic implants in the books, perhaps we will see this in a later expansion, as I do not think we see them until later in the books. The same can be said about drugs, specifically combat drugs, but again, perhaps we will see something more specific later.

Encounters

The next section talks about different types of encounters and breaks them into 2 chief areas: Action, Exploration and Social. Each of these sections includes rules and stunt lists that you have access to if you manage to roll stunt points.

Action encounters include melee combat, chases and vehicles. It lists various forms of stunts such as grappling stunts and gun stunts, and continues to list various special things you can do for vehicles and chases.

Exploration encounters has stunts for general exploration and infiltration. It contains ideas and stunts for general exploration and investigations as well as detailing how to use hazards with the scenarios.

Social encounters lists ideas about how NPCs may react to characters through "Attitude", and as always continues into a list of things you may get to spend stunt points on. An example of a social stunt might all a player to read the room and get a general feel for who has what attitude toward the players.

Finally the section ends with interludes, small pieces of narrative downtime where the players can accomplish goals. These can be between adventures or during ship transits. Any time there is an extended period where there is no action.

Starships & Space Travel

The final part of this section centers around spaceships and spaceflight. It opens with a basic lesson on real orbits and transits between bodies, but if you really want to get a good handle on how all this works you should go grab a copy of "Kerbal Space Program."

Once we get through our primer we talk about ships and their attributes and qualities. They do not provide a cost for a ship based on the understanding that even the smallest of these are not things a normal person just owns.

Finally we round out the section with ship encounters, combat and how to spend Stunt Points. I wrote an article on starship combat during the quickstarter. I can't tell you nothing has changed, but it looks similar enough that it is worth checking out if you are interested in how it runs.

Setting Information

Leaving the rules behind for a little while we enter into the section called, "Guide to the Expanse". This section details the current state of the system with sections describing Earth, Mars, the Belt and the Outer Planets. It looks to be a comprehensive guide on not only the planets, but on the people as well.

The guide covers cultures and the language of the Belt, Belter Creole, as well as physiological changes humanity has, or is experiencing, as we evolve to match our new environments.

The guide details important stations, moons and holdings of each of the factions and I suspect upon reading it should give a great deal of insight into the overall world of the Expanse, and as well plant some wonderful story ideas.

This section also includes stats for the protagonists from the Expanse. They are sprinkled throughout the section based on what planet they call home. James and Amos being listed with Earth for example.

Running the Expanse

After the history and general Expanse fluff information we move into the meat of the book for the GM. This next section talks about GMing the game, and compromised about 30% of the book starting on page 180. It starts as all games should, assuming you know nothing. We get an overview of what a GM does and then we move on to more specifics, how to make adventures, rolling or not and being inclusive at the table.

There is a lengthy section on threats for environmental and adversaries, including a section on social adversaries. This section includes a small listing of sample opponents such as gangs and security forces as well as the creations of the proto-molecule. This section also goes over the basics of creating your NPCs as well, and gives us some guidelines on using them.

We then have a section on how we might reward PCs, both monetarily and beyond. These might include relationships, memberships in organizations or reputation.

The second section of the book rounds out with a chapter on writing a series or a campaign for your Expanse characters. It talks about how you might want to structure it and gives you some ideas to explore.

Adventure and Information Sheets

Finally we have an adventure to run to get you up and playing as quickly as possible. I haven't done anything more than quickly glance through it, as I don't generally run pre-written adventures. I will of course take a deeper look at this one and the quick start adventure to get a feel, and some ideas, before getting ready to run my first Expanse game.

The book rounds out with the typical things we would find: An index, character sheets and other tracking sheets, such as the Churn. Not much more to say here, everything we expect to see is available.

Final Thoughts

At first pass it looks like a good book that is well laid out. It is hard to tell for sure without having played it, or done much more than give it a quick read over. Right now I can tell you that this RPG will give you ~260 pages of Expanse goodness courtesy of Green Ronin and James SA Corey. If you are a fan of RPGs and the Expanse, I highly recommend you grab a copy of this in the near future when it becomes available!

If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!