Friday, December 30, 2016

The RPG Character Library: Dungeon ADVENTURE!

My friend Joe is also doing this here character library thing. For his first entry, he decided to make a character across multiple versions of the same system or franchise. For those of you who didn't click the hypertext, Joe picked Star Wars.

I'm stealing Joe's idea, partly because I think it will save a whole lot of time (who has just about every edition of D&D ever? This guy!), but also because it's interesting to see how and why changes occur from system to system or from edition to edition. And also, since it's been a whole ten minutes before I flogged the, "Geoff Makes Games!" horse, I I decided to steal Joe's idea and apply it to one of my own game systems. So without further ado:

Dungeon ADVENTURE! (and yes, I'm going to keep capitalizing it, because I've done so for literally years and I can't seem to stop) was a rules-light fantasy system that I started cobbling together around about the year 2000. At the time, I thought it was a great, new innovation in gaming. A coup d'etat, to coin a Norman phrase.  Hindsight and a mild increase in maturity has proved me wrong--there wasn't anything innovative about it--it was a D&D clone and that's pretty much it.

But it was my D&D clone, goddamn it.

It might not have been a good game, but it was a game I spent a lot of time on. Of all the RPGs I've made, it was definitely the one I've played the most.  Sadly, I don't have the original-original version of the rules, but I do have the final version of the original version of the rules (if that makes sense), a game that was very briefly published under the Game Hermits imprint.

For those who are interested, the game goes a little something like this:  You roll 3d6 for your stats and place them wherever. You get stat bonuses from your race and your class. Your race and class also provide you with bonuses to certain skills. Then you get five skill points to buy whatever skills you want.  You would also get a class bonus at fifth level and every five levels thereafter, which would slowly but surely turn you into the ultimate badass.

Dungeon ADVENTURE! was made during the time period where I was heavily influenced by games that were both rules-light and funny, and it shows. Some of the jokes still work sort of okay, but the rest, like most humor, was appropriate to the time in which it was written and has not aged well. It also relied very heavily on what I like to call Hackmaster humor (and not just because I was reading Hackmaster at the time). The GM is a jerk. The players are jerks. They fight all the time in the example text. Ha ha! Isn't this hilarious? Don't you want to play this game with your argumentative friends? No?

The layout of the first edition rules are super-wonky and kind of hard to follow, even for me, the guy who made the game. I was able to make a character in about fifteen minutes, though, which isn't too bad.  Here he is!

Navino the Blue, Human Wizard

Racial Bonuses:  +1 Strength, +1 Health, +1 to attack and dodge in combat

Class Bonuses: +2 Resist Wizardry, +2 Wizardry

Class Penalties:  -2 all Combat rolls, cannot wear armor with a Agility Penalty


Specialties:  Recall Obscure Bit of Trivia +2, Haltingly Translate Obscure Texts +2, Huck Javelin +1

Gold:  61

Wizardry:  Elements (15), Energy (13), Mental (11), Spirit (9)

Clothes and Shoes 0 G
Basic Adventurer’s Kit 8 G (Backpack, tinder box, dry rations 1xweek, waterskin, 25’ rope, 3 torches, 50’ twine)
Hard Leather Armor 40 G
Buckler 7 G
Quiver 2 G

Javelin (6) 12 G

From here, we enter a twelve-year phase of endless revisions. You see, I brought Dungeon ADVENTURE! with me when I left Game Hermits for SlugFest Games, thinking that the simple, straightforward design and goofy humor would be a good fit for our company products. Unfortunately, the powers that be passed on every version of the game I made (and there were a lot of them), worried that they were either too complex, not complex enough, too goofy, too not goofy, didn't model reality well enough, were too abstract, and so on.

This culminated in the very last version of the game that I wrote in 2012. I wrote this game for me and no one else. It is written in a much more serious and straightforward style and, though a lot of the rules have changed, the character is still recognizable as a Dungeon ADVENTURE! character if you squint.

My biggest problem with making this version of the character was that it took so damn long. On the one hand, the character is more fleshed out with skills and equipment due to the much more comprehensive rules. On the other hand, it had lost the fun and free-wheeling feel of the earlier edition. It almost felt like I took Tunnels & Trolls and turned it into Chivalry & Sorcery (much love in advance to the handful of people who understood that reference).

Navino the Blue, Human Sorcerer

Human:  +1 to any Stat (Will). Knack (Explorer):  +2 Survival.

Sorcerer:  Important stat: Will. +1 Rank to 2 Domains, +1 Rank to 2 Powers, The Sight, +2 bonus to Power and Domain skills, Have 2 Active Spells at once.

7 (Landowner)

Awareness: 1
Defense: 1
Diplomacy: 1
Domain <Animal>: 2
Domain <Body>: 2
Domain <Water>: 2
Job <Land Manager>: 2
Power <Control:> 2
Power <Strengthen>: 2
Power <Weaken>: 2
Ride <Mule>: 1
Spellcraft: 3
Survival <Wilderness>: 3
Weapon <Daggers>: 1
Willpower: 1

Sorcerous Power
Active Spells: 2
Range: 60’
Damage: 1d6+2
Healing:  +2
Stat/Skill Change: +/-2
Volume: 4’ diameter sphere

Fine Clothing
Map of His Domain
Mule (Percy)
Flint and Tinder
Lamp Oil

This is one of the few times where I compared the latest version of something I made to the earliest version of something I've made and realized that I liked the earliest version better. In fact, I was so enamored with the earlier version that I've decided to try and revise it, creating a new iteration of Dungeon ADVENTURE! that uses everything I've learned up until now.

It will probably still be funny (though not as antagonistic) and easy to play (without being too simplistic). It will have structure where it's needed and no structure where it doesn't. It will be fun and flexible and it will come out eventually...

So long as I don't get distracted by something else first!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The RPG Character Library: Dragonball Z RPG

I never got into Dragon Ball, or any of it's spinoff shows, despite kind of wanting to. Every episode turned into people standing around in a desert, or similar, screaming, comparing their power levels, and powering up. I think a case could be made that if you cut out the episodes and just showed the teasers (Last Time/Next Time...on Dragon Ball), you could have a very briskly-paced series that hits the same beats but isn't quite as tedious. If I ever have a large window uninterrupted time and some editing software, I might test this theory to see how it goes. Until then...

I picked up the Dragonball Z RPG at a con just on a whim. I remember having a vague desire to create a game kind of like Dragon Ball, in which the characters had one attribute (POWER!) that they parceled out in different ways to do different things. The game never came to fruition, in part because the DBZ RPG (OMG!) already exists, in part because I'm easily distracted, and in part because I don't love anime nearly as much as I love Star Trek.

In the game, you can pick from any three species provided you roll well enough (3 or less on 2d6 to be a Namekian, 2 or less to be a Saiyan). In practice, this mean that I was playing a human. Humans can look like pig people or dog people or whatever, because Dragon Ball, but in the end, their stats are the same.

The rulebook is laid out in a weird way, which made character creation a bit of a challenge. In the first place, stats and skills are listed in one order in the book, but in another order on the character sheet. In the second place, there's nowhere in the rules (that I could find) that tells you how to calculate your Power Level and Power Up stats. Fortunately, the dice mechanics to determine these stats are listed on the sample character sheets, so I was able to actually make a character.

One thing that I found rather strange was that Power Level isn't actually indicative of anything. I had assumed, prior to making a character, that it was more like XP in Dungeons & Dragons 5E, where a sixth level character would be powerful enough to trigger meme-like screaming from Vegeta. It's not. It's actually randomly rolled. Presumably it improves with character advancement, but I'm probably never playing this game, so I didn't read that part of the rules.

In true Geoff fashion, I rolled and got the lowest possible result for my Power Level, so my character would likely be a one-scene comic relief wonder before being stomped into the dirt by the actual fighters in the series.

This is the first game that I'm doing for the library that features a point buy character creation system. While I'm all for point buy creation in theory, in practice it's a little tricky. I tend to gravitate to "normal" characters with have average stats in everything, especially if I don't know what I'm doing yet and don't really know the ins and outs of the system. I started out doing that for this game, only to realize that Combat is the most important stat (it modifies four skills), followed by Physical (which determines your Hits). For a game that's all about fighting, dumping points into those seemed like the logical way to go.

I was glad that the character generation section offered up character hooks (Personality, Important Value, etc.) that I could pick from to round out my character. Those, plus the off-handed mention in the rules that said my character could maybe be a wrestler if I wanted, allowed me to crystallize my concept and create former pro wrestler "The Flying Triangle."

I'm not sure if I did Fighting Techniques right. There's seemingly no limit to the number you can have or how high they can go, except that your FT rating adds to your damage dice when you hit with the Technique, but subtract from your attack dice, making you less likely to hit. They may be wrong, is what I'm saying, but I do have fewer of them than most of the sample characters, so at least I'm not a munchkin.

And yeah, that's right. Most of those numbers on my character sheet are dice pools.

The Flying Triangle

Power Level
Power Up

Species: Human
Personality:  Silly and Fluff-Headed
Important Value:  Having a Good Time
Valued Person:  Myself
History:  Mentored by the Penultimate Fighter in the Encircled Square
Shtick:  Drinks Lots of Soda, Belches, Hates Universe Man, Hates Particle Man

My New Fighting Technique is Unstoppable
The Flying Triangle: 5
Triple Suplex!: 3
Particle Pile Driver: 4
Belch from Dantien:  2

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The RPG Character Library: Stuperheroes

Stuperheroes is one of the games that I purchased and devoured many years ago when I was very much into making funny, niche role-playing games. It is a game in which you play a third-rate superhero with terrible powers going up against actual, albeit still silly, supervillains.

Some of the mechanics in the game are interesting. Bullets fired from guns technically do 3 Hurt if they hit you. However, most bullets in the game use what's known as the "A-Team Rule," which means that a) you only have to dodge once per round no matter how many bullets are flying at you and b) if you do get hit, you only get winged in the shoulder for 1 Hurt.

The rest of the system isn't particularly workable, however. Everything is decided on coin flips (heads you win, tails you lose), with automatic successes occurring every time you make the GM (or BMD--Big Mac Daddy) laugh. You can Rock/Paper/Scissors the BMD to get things to go your way, and you can also play Truth or Dare in order to heal yourself.

There aren't stats or skills to speak of. You get three randomly rolled stuperpowers and that's pretty much it. The deluxe edition allows you to randomly roll your origin story. I also randomly rolled my battle cry, because they listed six examples and I have a plethora of d6s.

So, here's my character.

Origin Story
From an eccentric aunt, you inherited some bionic chitlins!

Battle Cry
"For the glory of pants!"

Drop 60’ Toilets from the Sky!
Twenty-Three Car Pileup!
Mentally Tie Shoelaces Together!

I think I might have been more satisfied with this character if I had gotten powers that gelled together in some way. I'm not sure what sort of character this is, and there simply isn't enough there for me to come up with something. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the things I like about the old school games is that random dice rolls can inform things about your character. This can be as basic as the old D&D standby, "my Strength is high, so I'm playing a warrior," or it can be a little bit more subtle, like Harry Christmas' high Fingerprinting skill indicating that maybe he worked for a police lab before becoming a PI.

With this, I don't know. The game says to base my character off of one of my powers, but I'm not...

Oh wait. I just realized I rolled up Mayhem from the Allstate commercials.  

The city's in good hands, I guess!

Friday, December 16, 2016

The RPG Character Library: Gangbusters

Gangbusters is a game from TSR that is set in the Roaring Twenties in Chicago Lakefront City, USA! You can play cops, private investigators, gangsters, and intrepid reporters. Will you be on the side of law and order, or will you be a bootlegger or a cop on the take? You decide.

This is a game that I have always wanted to play, in part because the time period fascinates me, and in part because I have big old nostalgia goggles for this game thanks to my friend Kevin. He and his brother used to play the game when they were kids and Kevin kept careful notes about their adventures. He would regale me with tales of bank shootouts, smokey gin joints, and of the one time his gangster died in a 40 mph car chase on the mean streets of the city.

ME:  It feels like you'd have to create a really good city map in order to play this game.
KEVIN:  Or you could just use a map of Chicago?
ME:  Oh yeah!

I have the first and third edition rule books of this game, but wound up using the third edition rules to create my character. The system is similar to the one used in Top Secret. Well, let me take that back--the dice mechanics are identical, but the names of the stats and how you configure your secondary stats are totally different. 

Gangbusters has an interesting method of skill selection which is vaguely reminiscent of, but not identical to, Top Secret. You get all general skills at 20%. At first level, you get to pick a low-cost skill and roll to see how good it is (I lucked out with Fingerprinting at 92%). As you go up in level, you gain points that you can use to improve skills that you already have or buy new skills. Quick and simple!

I was ready to roll up a gangster character, but decided at the last minute that I wanted to be a private investigator, instead. Something-something Geoff always winds up playing mostly good guys so he can sleep better at night.

Characters start off with $50 in pocket money, an upkeep cost (which must be paid weekly) that covers food and housing and similar, and some clothes. Private investigators must spend money to buy their license, and that license costs exactly $50, so I start the game with no money. Thematically appropriate!

As with most of the games of this period, all stats and skills must be randomly rolled. In a way, I kind of hate this, because if I don't roll well, I can't make the character that I want to make. On the other hand, I kind of like this, because my writer brain tries to make logical sense of the rolls that I've made. As a result, I have an idea that my character was a lab guy who worked for the Lakefront City PD, until he got wind of just how corrupt the force was. He then quit his job to become a PI and clean up the streets.

Yeah, that's the ticket. 

Haroldo Navidad
Harry Christmas
Private Investigator
Highly Variable

Fingerprinting: 92%
General Skills: 20%

Vital Statistics
Height: 5’9”
Weight: 180 lbs
Age: 25
Features, Marks, and Scars:  Handsome, heterochromia (green eye, blue eye), badly set nose
Ethnicity: Spanish

Cash: $0

Two suits of clothes
Any items normally obtained from employer
Investigator license ($50)

Basic expenses: $20 per week.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The RPG Character Library: Lexicon LARP

My friend Bob was the creator and game master behind the two campaigns of the Lexicon LARP. I never played Lexicon (and, as LARPs are sadly ephemerial by nature, I never will, unless Bob decides to a) run it again and b) let me play), but I did help Bob out here as an NPC and plot writer during the second campaign.  

NPC characters at LARPs are not made in the same way that PC characters are. For an NPC, you can get away with throwing on a costume, talking in a funny accent, remembering your lore, and busting out one or two useful skills if and when they are required. If you're bad at math and forgetful of mechanics, like Yours Truly, NPCing is really the way to go.

PCs, on the other hand, are much more extensiveLexicon PCs more than most. They start out quite a bit more powerful than characters in other LARPs I have played and only grow more so as time goes on. As Bob once described it to me, "this is a world that really, really wants to be Exalted, but letting it get to that point is a bad idea."

The quick overview of the game world is as follows:  The First God made the world and everything in it and set everything in motion. The ancient Stygians became decadent jerks and a handful of them presumed to take the mantle of godhood for themselves. There was a war in heaven, the First God was cast down and destroyed, and the world was shattered. From the broken shards of the world arose the Nightmare, the antithesis of the First God and the avatar of Chaos

New gods arose, and the world was cast down into darkness, for a time. Out of this dark age arose the Tykorian Empire and, while they started out all right, they too became decadent and corrupted by power. Some of them sought to duplicate the works of the ancient Styigians of old and, because no one in fantasy stories ever learns anything ever, they brought about the fall of their own empire.

After that, numerous smaller powers arose upon the shards of the world, including the Kingdom of Galicia (where all the players come from). Geomancers linked shards together to grow and stabilize the nations, as well as to allow safe passage for travelers and merchants. Brave adventurers traveled to distant shards to cleanse them of the taint of Nightmare. Invaders from long-lost shards sought to raid civilization, and were either put to the sword or, after extensive negotiations, welcomed into one fold or another.

Into this world comes my character! 

I normally play humans at LARPs, because the makeup requirements are usually the easiest, and because my glasses make it very difficult for me to wear masks. However, since I will not actually be playing this character, I decided to go all-out and have him belong to one of the non-human races. He is of the recently restored Hrekin race, who once had mastery over time and destiny until they were corrupted by the Nightmare. They're now free of the Nightmare and, though much of their time magic has been lost, they are able to use their divinatory powers to great effect. Oh, and they also look like giant, bipedal spiders. Neat!

I am usually very bad at statting out LARP characters, either because I want to do too many different things at once or neglect obvious stacking bonuses in the rules because I'm bad at games. This time, I tried to go through the rules much more carefully and keep a narrow focus. This led to me limiting my choices to Divination skills with some secondary abilities as a Guy Who Throws Things. 

The few things that do not support Divination or Hucking Things are ones that I chose because I know Bob and I know what his favorite things are; how better to get plot for my character? 

This build technically requires me to have written a character history in order to get enough skill points. While I do have a history in mind, this entry has already gone way longer than I was expecting. If there's interest (or if I feel like it), I'll provide the history and the rationale for all of my skill choices in another post.

Navino (AKA: Calus Navinus Numminen)

Hrekin (5)
Forsaken (5)
Cultist of the Profane Gods (5), Hy Beltane (6), Order of Seers (8)
Divination costs 10 CP; gain +1 Divination.
Divination skills cost -2 CP each.
Call Resist to one effect delivered By Time per refresh.
Detect Nightmare at will for free.
Ignore one Detect Heretic call per refresh.
+1 damage to any thrown weapon special attacks. 
Spend 1 E to throw 1 Piercing once/refresh. 
+1 Divination.
By Gesture effects delivered by Will cost 2 Essence to resist.
Effect By Light acts as Torment, in addition to other effects.
Divination:  +1 Divination use, read any red flags. (10)
Hunted:  By agents of the Nightmare. (+20)
Bloodline Skills
Gather Information (3)
Hide in Shadows (12)
Divination Skills
Total Divinations Per Event:  8
Clear Sight (3)
Haruspex (8)
Item Reading (8)
Second Sight (3—Detect Critical)
Shard Reading (3)
Divine Skills
Faith in Obulos (10—Faith Points: 3)
Magical Skills
Unbound Name (5)
Weapon Skills
Javelin (5)
Piercing Strike (10)
Shield (10)
Some Javelins
Leather Lamellar Tunic (+1 AP)
Tykorian Hunger Sword

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The RPG Character Library: Top Secret

My only exposure to Top Secret growing up was the Hero of Washington Square Choose Your Own Adventure book. The plot of the book involved an intrepid kid (you) stumbling upon a plot involving an irradiated diamond mine.  I was never sure how true to the spirit of the game it was, since it was about little kids and weird adventures and not spies and espionage missions, but it was fun and I have always enjoyed stories in that genre.

All that being said, I played D&D pretty much exclusively for 20 years, as did all of my friends, so while I had heard of Top Secret (and, indeed, of many other games), I never got around to actually owning or playing anything else until I got into college. I didn't pick up my copy of Top Secret until a few years ago when I impulse-bought it from the Crazy Igor's booth at Gen Con.

The system itself is typical of games of that era, being straightforward, light on role-playing, and largely focused on various forms of combat. It uses the same character generation system that can be found throughout all of TSR's other non-D&D properties, including Indiana Jones.  So, congrats, you now know how to make characters in Indiana Jones some 30 or so years after it ceased to be even slightly relevant.

I really like how Top Secret handles skills or, as the game calls them, Areas of Knowledge. For every 10 points in your Knowledge stat, you get one Superior Area of Knowledge. These Areas are, of course, randomly rolled on a chart, which is why my character has such a bizarre collection of skills. Then you get to randomly roll to see how skilled you are in each area. Every other Area of Knowledge that you don't get has a skill percentage equal to half your Knowledge stat.

I like it because it sort of emulates the genre very well. Yes, your character might be the best locksmith and another character might be the best disguise artist, but you can disguise yourself and they can pick locks in a pinch, because you're both well-trained spies.

The astute will note that I gravitate toward playing brainy characters with special skills or magical abilities. This is accurate. I think it's interesting that the rolling mechanics of most of the games I have thus far explored have allowed random chance to allow me to play the characters I want to play three out of four times.

One last thing: Starting with this game, I have a new rule: Any time a game allows me to purchase a sword cane for my character, I am buying a sword cane for my character.

Pablo Navino
Physical Strength
Movement Value
Life Level


Surprise Value

Vital Statistics
Height: 5’10”
Age: 25
Handedness:  Right
Glasses: No
Ethnicity: Columbian
Languages: Spanish, English, Russian

Areas of Knowledge
Agriculture: 78%
Animal Science: 73%
Architecture: 62%
Biology/Biochemistry: 68%
Computer Science: 70%
Ecology/Earth Sciences: 70%
Engineering, Aeronautical: 115%
Medicine/Physiology: 116%
Metallurgy: 103%
Physical Education: 57%
All other Areas of Knowledge: 46%

Cash Money: $5

Sword Cane ($50)
Lockpick Set ($125)
Torch, Metal-Cutting ($200)
Rubber Gloves ($10)

Attaché Case ($10)