Monday, January 30, 2017

Exciting Crossover Event! Part One!

Back when I started pumping out Star Trek characters, I mentioned that, should gumption win out and the stars align, I might feature an EXCITING CROSSOVER EVENT between two big themes on this blog: character creation and Boldly Go!

Oh, looky! That day has arrived!

Those of you who have been following along (and many, many thanks that you have and continue to do so), may have noticed one thing that is common to all of the Star Trek games that I own and have made characters for. They are all extremely fiddly and also have loads and loads (and also loads) of skills.

Boldly Go isn't like that at all, and not because of any conscious decision on my part to run as far away from the other Star Trek RPGs as I possibly could. I didn't wind up looking at any of them until well after I had started working on Boldly Go and had this odd idea to just go back and see if my ideas dovetailed at all with any of the ideas that had been previously published. It turns out that the answer was a big no.

Boldly Go's first system was something I cobbled together after watching about half of The Original Series episodes of Star Trek. I was, maybe, four episodes in when I decided that I might want to write an RPG, based on the show, and so I continued watching with a notebook and pen beside me, so that I could write down anything that was either obvious or repeated that needs to be in the rules.

One of the earliest ones (and a perennial favorite), is the Torn Uniform Rule. To wit: In the event that you suffer damage from an attack, you may instead tear your uniform to ignore the effects of that attack. So, for all of you who have been wondering just how Kirk can fend off Gorn, solid-light holograms of his Academy nemesis, and unruly children without suffering much more than a scratch, now you know!

And, yes, this rule is silly. This is because I am silly, and also because Star Trek can be, has been, and (thank you, CBS) will be silly in future episodes. It's not silly all the time, certainly, but it's not a deadly-serious, hard-SF series all the time in which there are no jokes and weird/surreal things and no laughing. That's one thing that makes my game slightly different from other games that have come before--the acceptance that some things in Star Trek are just goofy, and that that's okay.

The other big thing about my version of the rules, which is what I wanted to talk about here, is that my first version of a Star Trek game had very few stats or skills. In fact, there were exactly five stats, each of which each stat had four associated skills. This made a stat/skill chart that fit nicely on a character sheet and looked a bit like this:

HtH Combat
Rng Combat
Use Tech

Where other games have, say, the Science skill broken down into a dozen different sub-categories (Astrogation, Astrophysics, Geology, etc., etc.), I only have the one skill. Why is that? Two reasons!

  • Reason #1: I hate lists of things so, so very much. The fewer lists I have to deal with, the better.
  • Reason #2: Because, in the show, just about every character knows some science. Spock knows the most, of course (unsurprisingly, his character wold have high scores in both Mental and Science, which would be representative of that knowledge), but Kirk, McCoy, and the others also know some science. 

During character creation, the player gets to assign some points to their stats and some points to their skills. Whenever something happens in the game that requires a skill roll, the player gets a number of d6s equal to stat + skill and rolls them. Any result of 5 or 6 counts as a success.

There's two paths to take at this juncture, and I decided to take the one that resulted in fewer lists. To wit: Rather than say, "here are a dozen different science skills. Spock has high ratings in most of them. Kirk has moderate ratings in, let's say two," I said, "there is one science skill that should properly be pronounced, 'SCIENCE!' Spock's score in it is amazing. Kirk may have one point in it, so he's familiar with science, but not particularly good at it."

Anyone who has played the game recently will look at the above and realize that this isn't actually how Boldly Go works. And that's true! That's because, with the help of Bob Dunham, I came up with an even better idea that makes even more sense in the context of the show.

I'll talk about time!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The RPG Character Library: Star Trek (Decipher)

To finish out the Star Trek section of the character library, I made a character for the most recent, officially-licensed Star Trek game (at least, until Modiphius releases their game, unless it's already released, in which case, I'm at least one game behind). This version was published by Decipher Roleplaying & Miniatures Studio in 2002, and it allows you to play a character from any era of Star Trek except for Enterprise. It also boasts, "Original Star Trek canon consistent with previous versions of the Star Trek RPG."

There are quite a lot of similarities between this game and the version of the game made by Last Unicorn Games, though the rules are different enough that you couldn't easily switch a character between the two without serious reworking. Comparing the two, I like the Last Unicorn Games version a bit better because it's a lot more dialed-in on what you can play and where (and when) you're playing. Decipher's version allows you to play anything from any era and, because of this, adds in a lot of complexity and a lot of explanation.

As an aside: Last Unicorn's game is complete in one book. The Decipher book, while a bit smaller than the LU book, is just the player's guide, meaning I need at least one more book in order to properly play this game.

I won't say that the breadth of what you can do in this game is bad, necessarily, just daunting. This is also the first Star Trek RPG that explicitly allows you to play someone who doesn't work for Starfleet. I can understand the allure, but I also don't understand why you would do this. In my limited experience with Boldly Go, making a character that doesn't fit into the ship's hierarchy tends to leave one a bit outside of, and without a clearly-defined role in, the player group. Still, though, I suppose it's nice to have options.

Character creation sort of follows Last Unicorn Games. You pick your species, which gives you bonus skills, edges, and powers. You generate your stats. You pick a Personal Development template, which gives you some skills and edges. You pick a Professional Development template, which involves picking, say, "Rogue," and the one of the three options given under "Rogue," which gives you more skills and edges. If you want to be a member of Starfleet, you need to take one of the "Starship X Officer" development templates, which include: Command, Operations, and Science. Each of these covers way more than three templates, allowing you a lot of leeway in picking what you want to do.

As has become tradition with these games, the species you can pick from in the Decipher version is different from any species list in any of the other games. Decipher lets you pick from:  Bajoran, Betazoids, Cardassians, Ferengi, Humans, Klingons, Ocampa, Talaxians, Trill, and Vulcans. They also have rules to allow you to make a Mixed Species character and, though they are a bit clunky, they are a welcome addition to the game.

Amused and encouraged by the idea that I could literally make anything I wanted, I went ahead and made a Klingon who was a Starfleet ship's counselor. I gave him the Nomadic Childhood Personal Development, explaining why he's met so many different people and why he may not think about things the same way as more "typical" Klingons. I suspect much of his therapy involves forcing the patient to confront their problems head on and, possibly, using pain sticks whenever necessary.

Also: The character sheets provided in the book are very pretty and done up to look like something printed on a Starfleet computer in LCARS. Not all that easy to photocopy and probably very easily mangled once you had to change your character, but top-notch in the looks department.

T’ang the Intractable

Klingon, Starship Officer (Starfleet), Ship’s Counselor with a Nomadic Childhood



*Favored Reaction

Abilities: Pathos (Make people feel comfortable. Ignore all social penalties when making an Inquire (Interview) roll.)
Edges:  High Pain Threshold, Skill Focus (Persuasive), Brak’lul (Extra bones and organs. +2 Stamina reaction bonus. Half effect from stun weapons), Ferocity: RAMPAGE! (+2 Armed Combat +2 Unarmed Combat +1 Health. Spend 1 Courage point to break out of it prior to the end of the duration), Honor (Add Renown modifier when interacting with Klingons.)
Fluent Languages: Klingon, Federation Standard

Armed Combat (Klingon Traditional Weapons) +3
Athletics: +1
Computer Use (Retrieve) +1
Culture (Ferengi) +2
Culture (Earth) +2
Energy Weapon +1
First Aid +2
History (The Klingon Empire) +3
Influence (Charm) +1
Inquire (Interview) +4
Language (Ferengi) +2
Language (Vulcan) +1
Medicine (Psychology) +3
Negotiate +1
Politics (Federation) +3
Repair: +1
Specific World (Ferenginar) +2
Specific World (Earth) +3
Specific World (Vulcan) +1
Survival: +1
System Operation (Command) +1
Unarmed Combat (Shat-Fu) +1

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The RPG Character Library: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Last Unicorn Games)

As previously mentioned, I have multiple different versions of Star Trek roleplaying games. The one I'm covering in this installment of ye blog is the one produced by Last Unicorn Games. It is specifically set in the era of The Next Generation (it's right there in the title!), with show-appropriate species to choose from and whatnot.

Of the three Star Trek systems that I have, I liked this one the best. That's not to say it was easy--by no means, no--but in comparison, it turned out to be significantly less work than FASA's game and...I guess differently convoluted than the one I'll be reviewing next time. I will say that it covers everything that you would need to make a Starfleet character, and even has some hints on how to make a non-Starfleet character--if you want to make an ambassador, or merchant, or something.

It starts out simple enough: Pick a species template. Add a professional overlay. These snap together in a satisfying way with stats and skills already filled out.

It gets a bit more complicated when we move on to backgrounds. This is a life path system where you decide how your character grew up, where they studied, who they know, and so on. You get a different number of points to spend on each step of your background, and you may either use these points to pick and choose skill bonuses, advantages, and disadvantages. Or, if you're lazy, like I am, you can use your points to buy one of the pre-built packages. This is actually much faster, less fiddly, and still allows you to create an interesting character. I'd imagine I'd use the other method once I was familiar enough with the system to know how everything works.

And that's...pretty much it. Much less hideous when compared to the FASA system, though it does have rather large bits of kludge stuck to it. Do you want to see the biggest one? Okay! Here it is.

It is possible for you to get the same skill from two (or more) different sources during character creation. There is a half-page table that explains that this is something to be expected, that it's normal, and that you don't need to see a doctor, probably. It also tells you how to resolve it.

  • If both sources provide the same skill with different specializations, I know two specializations. So I'd get History (Tellar) 1 (2) and (Federation) (2).
  • If both sources provide the same skill with different specializations at different levels, I take the higher skill and know two specializations.
  • If both sources provide the same skill with the same specialization at the same level, I add one point to either the skill or the specialization.
  • If both sources provide the same skill with the same specialization at different levels, I take the higher skill level, then add one point to either my skill level or my specialization.
  • Skills without specializations (such as Dodge), simply add together.
For those following along, the skill number (what my skill currently is) is the first number. My specialization is in the parentheses. I'm still not 100% sure how that works, since I read the character creation rules and not the "how to do things" rules. That said, it only took me about 40 minutes to make a character that might a) be correct and b) be ready to play.

I find it interesting which species make it into which Star Trek games. This one, being set in the Next Gen era, allows Andorians, Betazoids, Bolians, Centaurans, Humans, Tellarites, and Vulcans. I guess, since Worf was the only Starfleet Klingon in canon in this era, I can't play a Klingon.

Don't worry, though. I'm going to scratch that time!

Lieutenant Bashlan Cov, Tellarite Engineer

Fitness 3 (6)
Strength +0
Vitality +1
Coordination 2 (5)
Dexterity +0
1 in Skill
Reaction +1
Intellect 3 (5)
Logic +0
Perception +0
Presence 2 (5)
Empathy -1
Wound Levels
Willpower +0
Psi 0 (5)
Focus +0

Range +0

Advantages: Alertness +2, Commendation +2 (Famous Incident), Infrared Vision +2, Promotion to Lieutenant +3
Disadvantages: Argumentative -1, Intolerant of Poor Maintenance Procedures -1, Slow Healing -2, Vengeful (Frigging Cardassians) -1

Early Life: Failed Colony
Academy Life: Advanced Research Engineering
Tour of Duty: Hostile Frontier Defense Mission

Athletics (Parrises Squares) 1 (2)
Dodge 2
Computer (Modeling) 1 (2)
Culture (Tellarite) 2 (3)
Energy Weapon (Phaser) 1 (2)
Engineering, Propulsion (Impulse) 2 (3), (Warp Drive) (3) (Ion) (3)
Engineering, Systems (Environmental) 2 (3), (Transporter/Replication) (3)
Engineering, Material (Mechanical) 1 (2) (Starship Design) (2)
Material Engineering (Starship Design) 1 (2)
History (Federation) 1 (2) (Tellarite) 1 (2)
Language (Federation Standard) 1 (2), Tellarite (2)
Law (Starfleet Regs) 1 (2)
Persuasion (Debate) 2 (3)
Personal Equipment (Communicator) 1 (2)
Science, Physical (Computer) 1 (2)
Planetside Survival (Arctic) 1 (2) (Mountain) (2)
Shipboard Systems (Envi) 2 (3) (Transporter) (3) (Tactical) (3) Sensors (3)
Starship Tactics (Cardassian) 1 (2)
Vehicle Operations (Shuttlecraft) 1 (2) Ground Vehicles (2)
World Knowledge (Tellar) 1 (2)

Friday, January 13, 2017

The RPG Character Library: Star Trek (FASA)

This is the first post in what may turn out to be an EXCITING CROSSOVER EVENT between two of the big themes on this here blog: my continuing quest to make characters for every RPG I own and my continuing quest to get Boldly Go, my Star Trek-inspired game, released to the general public. Here's the plan so far--I'm going to make characters for every version of the Star Trek RPG that I own, many of which I picked up so that I could have inspiration for Boldly Go. Then, once those are all done, I'll talk about how Boldly Go works and describe my design decisions and why I made them.

I may also just make up a character for Boldly Go, too, since it is an RPG I own, this is my blog, and self-aggrandizement is literally a thing I do. 

We're starting off this event with the oldest version of the Star Trek game, which was made by FASA in the early '80s. This version came out well before TNG was a twinkle in Gene Roddenberry's eye, so it uses only the Original Series and the Animated Series (you can play a Caitian if you want, or whatever the hell Arex is, so that's exciting).

Being an RPG from the early period means that the game is filled with crunchy bits. I believe that, since this game was made at around the same time as Starfleet Battles was made, it was designed to interface with the rules for that wargame, which explains where some of the crunch comes from.

After character generation (which took me three different attempts on three different days), I wound up with a character that looks very much like a Call of Cthulhu character or something of that ilk--some stats, some derived stats, and a whole heaping pile of skills at a wide range of percentages. Getting to that point, however, required me to do enough bookkeeping that it made me feel like I was doing my taxes.

Here's how it all came together. NB: People who actually know how to play this game, please bear with me; it's entirely possible that I did some or all portions of character generation incorrectly.

I decided to make a female Andorian. I started out generating my seven primary stats. Luck and Psi are rolled straight percentile. The rest are rolled with 3d10+10. Then I added in my racial modifiers. Then I get to roll percentile die, take 50% of the result, and spend the remainder on anything but Psi. I rolled a 94, did an even split between the other stats, and dumped the remaining 6 points in Luck.

Secondary stats are derived in the usual way (mods to other stats), though some of them are averages of stats and certain skills, and one of them (bare hand damage), I had to look up on a table.

Good so far! Now it comes time to pick skills, and this is where things get hairy. I start of with Background Skills from my childhood times. I get a number of skills equal 1/10th of my Int, which I have to split between Education and Personal. I roll 1d10 for each to get the skill's rating. If I want, I may pick skills twice to show my deep commitment to them, getting a second roll.

Right. Now I get a bunch of basic skills, presumably from my early days in Starfleet. I get them at the listed amounts. I also get 5 elective skills that I can get +5 in, but I can't double up those skills (to get +10 or +15 in one skill). After that I get 6 (1/10th my Int) + 5 skills that I can improve with a d10 roll. I think you can double up on these.

It's about this point that I started to miss how skills worked in Top Secret.

Okay. Now I pick a branch of service and pick those skills. I went with Communications, because why not? I also get two more elective skills, picking two and boosting them by 1d10 each. Then I get to train two more of my branch skills equal to my (Int - 50)/10. So one more skill gets another 1d10 roll.

So I'm done now, right? Hahaha. No. Now I have to go on my cadet cruise. If nothing happens on my cruise, I won't get evaluated and will have to go out for another one. I roll randomly for everything and find out that I was on an Exploration Command ship, and I passed my cruise with high honors, allowing me to be promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade.

Great, so we're done! No! I have to go to Department Head school next. I get a bunch of administrative-type skills for free and get six more skills (Int/10) that I can improve with a d10 roll.

So now I' Now I have to go to Command School. *deep breath* All right. I get a bunch of leadership and political-type skills, plus six more skills with six more improvement rolls. 

And now I'm done. Except that I have to roll to figure out my post-Academy experience. I have to do a number of tours equal to 1d10/2, plus mods. Also, since I went to Command school, I'm destined to be a captain or first officer, so I add +2 tours. 

The tables were especially confusing in this part, so I probably screwed this up badly. The gist of it is that I got an Outstanding evaluation at my first post, then a bunch of Average evaluations at my other posts. My final tour, the one where I was destined to be promoted to Lieutenant Commander, earned me a Poor rating, because all of this is based on random rolls and there are always going to be outliers.

But now I'm do...Wait! I have to roll 1d10/2 for each tour to see how many years I served in it. This makes me 34 years old (I think, there was some confusion as to what my starting age was). I get a bunch more skills that I'm allowed to improve based on how many years I've served, so by calculating my Int and my...

Forget it. Here's my character.

Lt. Commander Othrivo Zh'izalel

Female Andorian, Communications/Damage Control

Action Points
Ranged Weapons
Unarmed Combat
Bare Hand Dmg



Maximum Operating Endurance: 71
Current Operating Endurance: 71
Inaction Save: 20
Unconsciousness Threshold: 5
Wound Healing Rate: 3
Fatigue Healing Rate: 7

Comm Systems Operation
Personal Weapons Technology
Comm Systems Technology
Physical Science (Chemistry)
Computer Operation
Racial/Cultural (Klingon)
Computer Technology
Racial/Cultural (Romulan)
Damage Control Procedures
Shuttlecraft Pilot
Environmental Suit Operation
Small Equip Sys Operation
Gaming (Arcade Games)
S Science (Fed Culture/History)
General Medicine (First Aid)
Social Science (Fed Law)
Space Science (Astronomy)
Language (Klingon)
Space Science (Geology)
Language (Romulan)
Space Science (Hydrology)
Starship Combat 
Life Science (Biology)
Starship Sensors
Marksman (Modern Weapon)
Transporter Operation
Trivia (Arcade Games)
Personal Combat (Armed)
Zero-G Operations
Personal Combat (Unarmed)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The RPG Character Library: Cyborg Commando

Cyborg Commando makes me sad. It has a wonderful premise that gets bogged down and ultimately suffocated by poor organization, random tangents, and unfortunate game design. I mean, here's the elevator pitch: You're a psychically-sensitive individual whose brain has been placed in a robot body so that you can fight the bugs invading earth from outer space? How cool is that?!

Not terribly, unfortunately.

Much of this can be laid squarely at the feet of the GM's guide, which contains scientific minutiae about how the cyborgs work, that the aliens are made up of super-large, geometrically-shaped cells that link together Tangrams style, and what sort of commando bases can be found on which continent. It's all terribly dry with none of the fluff that would make the game interest. I guess the age of fluff was still to come (the game was released in the '80s), but even contemporary games like Star Frontiers or Top Secret gave you some idea of what the world was like and what you could expect while adventuring through it.

Character creation in this game proved to be a lukewarm spill (not a hot mess, but close), requiring me to jump back and forth between sections repeatedly, hunting for obscure rules, and squinting and saying, "what" in disbelief at one sentence or another. I should also point out that I used the basic character generation rules. There's a more complicated one, but I don't recommend that for anyone, ever.

How does the basic character generation system work? Well, I'll tell you. It starts off innocently enough: You get 60 points to spend on your character, of which you use some number to purchase stats and the remainder to purchase skills. The game doesn't go out of its way to give concrete numbers, saying only that a character should spend 20-50 points on stats. I went with the top end of that spread and spent 50.

You have three stats, Mental, Neural, and Physical. I soon learned that Physical referred to your organic body which, by this point in your character's career, is sitting in a bacta tank somewhere for when the alien menace has finally passed. Your cyborg body is equal to your organic physical rating + 100 (because a brain in a jar counts for a lot when compared to the exoskeleton containing it).  Based on that, and on the fact that Neural heavily influences your secondary stats, I went with high Neural, moderate mental, and minimal Physical.

At this point, the game mentions that Psychogenics could be a stat if you and the GM wanted it to be. All characters are, by their nature, somewhat psychically-inclined, because it's your mental powers that allows your brain in a jar to use their robot body. I went full-bore and said, "Yes, my GM has allowed Psychogenics, so I will put points in that," only to not find any rules on how to calculate or use Psychogenics. It turns out those rules are in the Advanced Character Generation section.

Moving on!

My secondary stats were calculated as follows: I can have a maximum number of Skills (but not really), equal to 1/3 my Mental. I will Train a point in a skill by spending 100 - Mental hours in study. My rather high Neural allows me to take 3 actions per round, function for three days without rest or sleep (despite being in a cybernetic body), and move three hexes per combat round.

I also do 11 damage in unarmed combat, have 210 Integrity (or Hit) Points, and heal 11 points of damage per day--wait, no--I heal 11 points per damage on any organic parts that I have remaining. So if my brain takes damage, I can heal it. If my cyborg body takes damage...well, presumably there's rules for that somewhere.

Fine. I also get to calculate my Throw, Carry, and Lift values. The system gives me the option of using Imperial or Metric units, but then states that using Metric gives me an advantage, so I use Metric. This ain't my first RPG, son.

And, again, how much I can throw, carry, and lift is based partly on my starting Physical stat, because that body that's floating in a tank of preservative is really helping out with its muscle power, here.

Okay, now for skills. All untrained skills have a rating of 1. I get to pick any five skills of my choice and distribute my remaining 10 points between them. There are skills for art history, science, and for appreciating the classics, but this is also Cyborg Commando, so I specialized in all of the fighting skills. Because, duh.

Then, on top of that, the game gives you a handful of other skills that your character gets from basic training. If you didn't train these skills, you get them at a rating of 10. If you did train them, you get them at a rating of 9 + your current rating.  This leads me to believe that I didn't leave enough points for skills and that I'm relatively unskilled at the skills that I purchased.

But no! It turns out that Cyborg Commando uses the d10x system, in which you roll 2d10 and multiply the results together. If the final result is less than your stat or skill, you succeed. This creates a freaky probability curve that I don't quite understand, but it does seem to make rolling against my relatively low stats and skills somewhat more likely.

The last part of character creation involves copying down a big long list of things that my character's cyborg body provides. I note that I have a 200 power unit battery, and that I can slowly recharge by touching an outlet (I get back 7 PU per minute). The body is equipped with numerous functions, including on-board weaponry, that cost variable amounts of PU to use.

Or I could buy a gun, use that, and save my PU for other stuff. I mean, the characters in all of the game art are equipped with pistols or rifles are whatever, so that makes sense. Except that nowhere in any of the books are any tables that tell you how guns work, how much damage they do, or what they cost.

All that being said, here's my character.

Steve, the Cyborg Commando
Mental: 15
Neural: 30
Physical: 5/105

Skills:  5 
Train: 85
Actions: 3/round
Rest: Function for 3 days until rest or sleep is required
Speed: 3 hexes per time unit

Damage:  11 damage from punches or kicks.
Heal:  11 points of damage healed per day, organic parts (brain) only.
Integrity Points: 210 HP

Throw: 53 kg
Carry: 1,050 kg
Lift: 2,100 kg

All unlisted Skill Fields have a rating of 1.

Vehicles: 4
Personal Movement: 4
Strategy & Tactics: 13
Personal Weapons: 4
Unarmed Combat: 13
Energy Sciences: 10
Communications: 10
Power Units:  200 

Defenses: Resistant to corrosion, shielded versus electricity, create an Emmer Net at a cost of 1 PU per turn to deflect radiation and scramble radio symbols, effectively have a bulletproof vest all over my body, convert 10 points of impact damage to 1 PU, so shooting at me makes me stronger, eyes are not affected by bright lights or glare, I can reflect lasers with a mirror I carry, I think, smoke blocks my vision, I can use conductive material in the area to cleanse an area of smoke--10 cm/5 cm of material per minute.

Ultraspeed: Costs 20 PU per combat turn. X5 to Speed and Number of Actions. No apparent effect on Initiative.  My onboard computer uses all means necessary to stop incoming projectiles.

Electrostat: 10 PU, Range 3 meters. Lightning bolt that does massive Neural damage.

"Laser": 5 PU, Range 1 km, damage d10x.  Pew pew! I can spend more to burn holes in things.

Microwave: X PU equal to range, Range 1-100 meters, damage d10x.

Sonic: 10 PU per combat cycle, Range 50 meters, damage d10x. Fire off a pulse wave from the diaphragms in my hands.