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Roleplaying on the Fury Road


Thanks to the recent Mad Max movie, Post-Apocalypse is once again a genre people are talking about. I have seen numerous requests online for RPG recommendations  to play a Fury Road style campaign. There are many Post-Apocalyptic RPGs out there (some going almost as far as the beginning of our hobby), but it seems the genre wasn't very popular in recent years and people forgotten about many good games that let us have adventures in various wastelands. With that in mind, I present you a rundown of my current favorite post-apocalyptic games:

Outside of Polish only Neuroshima (that you might know from some board games), Atomic Highway is my current go-to post-apocalyptic game that does not use one of my favorite generic systems (more on that later). It is perfect for mad max style campaign as it has a whole chapter on cars and their customization. In fact, cars are pretty important part of the game. It uses a simple dice pool engine (called V6) with a twist. It is a straightforward  mechanic, with attributes and skills. It uses backgrounds to give you extra skills and starting equipment, which is something I always liked in my RPGs. It is a pretty vanilla post-apocalypse, with mutants, deserts, modified cars and a lot of action, so it is really easy to adapt it to the world of Mad Max. Best of all, is available for FREE!  Also, if you are not keen on the dice pool system, check out this awesome conversion from Zach S. to D&D5e. If you want to start exploring post-apocalyptic wastelands on the cheap, this is the way to go!

Barbarians of the Aftermath uses a rules lite, narrative system from Barbarians of Lemuria. I understand that narrative systems are not everybody's cup of tea, but hear me out. This book can be used as a system neutral guide to running post-apocalyptic games. The apocalypse generator is worth the price of admission alone. The book gives you a pages upon pages of different options (which can also be used as a random generator) to create different apocalypses and then play in this world. You can create everything from standard Fallout-esque 50s nuclear holocaust to the Great Old Ones rising and ending the world in 2012. All those choices change the world in various ways, from availability of certain items, to how gonzo the setting is. The game is available on DriveThruRPG for $10 and would be great for one-shots or short campaigns, and a perfect tool to make your own post-apocalyptic world from a scratch for a long campaign.

If creating your own post-apocalyptic settlement sounds exciting, then The Quiet Year is for you. It is not much of a roleplaying game, as it is story game. You don't play singular characters, you represent voices in a community. The gameplay is something between board gaming and roleplaying. You draw a card and narrate events based on its prompt. It is also a map drawing game. You will create a basic map on the beginning and as the game progresses you will draw extra stuff on the map. At the end of the game you will have a fully mapped and fully fledged settlement with NPCs, buildings, nearby points of interest and all that jazz. While the game can be enjoyed on its own, it is a great tool creating a "homebase" for your campaign. After playing it, you and your players will have a good knowledge of their surroundings, which is always a nice thing. It is available in PDF and print from the author's website. If you want to check out the style of game, a free fantasy version is available.

If the narrative and story games above sound too artsy-fartsy for you, you might be interested in Other Dust. It is a retro-clone, so it is based on the 0 edition dungeons and dragons. It doesn't get more "traditional" than classes, levels and d20s. Being a part of the Old School Renaissance comes with its own set of pros and cons, but overall it is a solid game. It is a little more gonzo, than Mad Max, with more prominent mutants and psychic powers, but those can be easily omitted. The highlight here is the advice on running a post-apocalyptic sandbox campaign. Sine Nomine Publishing is famous for their sandbox toolboxes (Stars Without Numbers, Silent Legions) and Other Dust is no exception. You get a plethora of random generators and advice on running a sandbox campaign, most of which is system agnostic and can be used in basically any game.  The game is available at DriveThru in both PDF and Print-on-Demand.


The above games, while solid stand alone products, are my go to products when it comes to mining for post apocalyptic ideas. If I were to run a campaign set in atomic wasteland I would go with Savage Worlds. It is a pretty quick and action oriented system, is suitable for long-term play and is one of my go-to system for traditional roleplaying. The system is simple enough, that I can mind the ideas from other games and "transplant" them almost on-the-fly to my Savage Worlds game. And, if you want to just to jump into a ready-made post-apocalyptic world Savage Worlds has you covered:

The above games offer a slightly different take on post-apocalyptic gaming. Those are the four big, commercial Savage Worlds games that I am familiar with:

  • Darwin's World is the most gonzo of the bunch. You have multiple playable mutant races and it is more fantastic take on post-apocalypse. You can play Mad Max style campaign using this book, but you would need to cut some stuff out. Darwin's World was originally a D20 game, and it shows here and there.
  • Day After Ragnarok adds a little supernatural to the standard atomic wasteland formula. Apocalypse happened after Nazis started the mythic Ragnarok and Allies shot down the giant Serpent down. The world has ended in the 40s, which limits the technology, but also gives the game more gritty, dieselpunk feel. If you are looking for Mad Max mixed with Hellboy - this is the game for you. 
  • Hell on Earth: Reloaded adds even more supernatural to the mix. It is more or less post-apocalyptic Deadlands, western in the wasteland.  While Deadlands is one of my favorite settings, the idea of future cowboys is not my cup of tea, but if you are looking for a game with more emphasis on vehicles and supernatural, check it out!
  • Broken Earth would be the most vanilla take on post apocalypse - which is far from a bad thing! It focuses heavily on building and developing a settlement/community and has a good system for tracking that. It is a solid book, full of good ideas and plot hooks. if you are looking for the "Lone Wanderer" feel of Fallout games, this is a game for you.

All of the games are available both in print and as PDFs, from various retailers. As with anything Savage Worlds, there are also some great fan-created supplements available for free. Savage Appocalypse and Raiders and Ruins are two that I am familiar with. There are also conversions of other games like Fallout or Redline (that is very focused on vehicular combat). So take your pick, or put them all into a blender to brew your own flavor of post-apocalyptic goodness.

I will add Appocalypse World here as an obligatory mention. Appocalypse World has a bit more narrative approach to gaming and is pretty rules lite. It is a fine blend of traditional roleplaying and storygaming techniques. It has spawned many conversions and hacks since it was released and it seemed people were interested more in the mechanic, than the world. But, it is a solid post-apocalyptic toolbox style game - grim, gritty with just a dash of weird. If you are interested in finding more about it, and how it can be used for Mad Max style campaign, check out this article from Charlie Etheridge-Nunn on WhoDaresRolls.com

3D printed Dice?


Somehow related shameless self-promotion. I was learning 3d modelling for 3d printing in last couple months. As one of my projects I have recreated the portal companion cube. Soon after that, I have modified it into a D6, as seen above. I think it would be a decent Wild Die for Savage Worlds, or simply a die for any d6 based system. I have ordered some samples from Shapeways to see how this die would work. There are already some awesome dice designs ready for 3D printing, but it would be cool to have some genre specific dice. I am thinking of designing some wild dice to go with different flavors of Savage Worlds and 3D printing them to use in game. 3D printing opens up the design to be something more than just numbers and small graphics on each side. I would like to play with this idea.

I wonder if people would be interested in something like that? Would you buy a 3d printed die? What designs would you be interested in? What genres do not have a good dice to go with them?

Now, I need to work a bit more on my modelling skills to create a proper RPG dice set in a single theme, because that would be even cooler!

What do I think about Lankhmar: City of Thieves

Savage Worlds had ventured before into the Sword & Sorcery genre with Beast and Barbarians from GRAMEL. Now, Pinnacle has thrown in the hat into the ring with Lankhmar: City of Thieves, based on the Fritz Leiber's stories.

I never really got into the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I bought the paperback of Ill met in Lankhmar, but the version I had started with the origin stories of the duo and those didn't really drawn me in. I think I should revisit the book, but start with some later stories. Nevertheless, I consider myself a fan of Sword&Sorcery and almost every fantasy game I run was heavily inspired by the genre. Quite frankly, I never could get on board with the "magic is part of everyday life" approach, but I digress...

I was excited to get my hands on another of Sword&Sorcery Savage Worlds game. While, just like the Beast and Barbarians, I will probably not run the game as is, I am always on a prowl for some tweaks to the Savage Worlds system to use in my own campaigns. So, with this in mind, this is what I think about Lankhmar: City of Thieves.


If you have never played/run Sword&Sorcery style game, Lankhmar would be a great start. The book gives some good advice on the genre without being condescending. Those hints are scattered and hidden among the descriptions of locales, magic items and rules, but they are there. In fact, the descriptions of Lankhmar and the surrounding lands are full of good Sword&Sorcery fluff. Reading through the gazetteer and  GM's will give you numerous ideas for adventures. The book also sports a selection of Savage Tales - short adventures ready to be used in almost any campaign. It was disappointing not to see an adventure generator. I wholeheartedly enjoyed the one in Savages Worlds of Solomon Kane, and not having one specific to Lankhmar is somewhat of a let down.
Overall, I enjoyed the fluff portion of the book. I would have probably enjoyed it more, if I was more familiar with the world. Surprisingly fluff is not where the book shines for me, it is all in the...

Rules! 

Honestly, I think the designers behind Lankhmar had really outdone themselves. I enjoyed each and every new rule and rules tweak they had put in. You get the expected new races, edges and hindrances, but you also get an expanded magic system and a half dozen setting rules. All of those combined emulate Sword & Sorcery genre very well. Those are my favorite parts of the book, so let's look at them one by one:

  • Races -  Ghouls (humanoids with transparent flesh), Ratlings (offspring of humans and intelligent rats who live under Lankhmar, who still look a bit rat-like) and Humans, that come in four different flavors, depending on the culture. It is nothing really special here. All of them are pretty solid and distinctive, and fit the genre and the source material pretty well.
  • Hindrances - You only get six of them. Most of them are here to add flavor, and one (Obligation) is used with the setting rules. I don't personally care for those, but they are nice to have.
  • Edges - This is where the fun starts. You get almost thirty new edges, most of them being quite useful and powerful. Combat edges are great for hardy warriors and I can see many of those edges being used in my other campaigns. Then you get three new Arcane Backgrounds, that are tweaked versions of the no power point rule, but are one of the best version of Savage Worlds magic I have seen so far. They are supplemented by a set of power edges. As an icing on the cake you get a handful of professional and social edges. The highlight here is definitely the combat edges, followed closely by the magic system.
  • Magic - Magic is split into three categories: black, white and elemental. Black and white is what you think when you imagine good and evil wizards, with black magic being more powerful, but corrupting you over time. Elemental is basically everything outside the black/white spectrum. It would be considered neutral and has extra rules for connecting to the element it is based on. You get some advice on how to create new strains of elemental magic outside of the three (Ice, Fire and Sea) described. As mentioned before, the system uses no power point rule, but the negative modifier can be "paid off" by spending extra turns casting. You also need ingredients to cast spells and lacking those gives you more negative modifiers. You also get another set of rules for rituals, similar to those from Solomon Kane. You also get some new Powers along with a table of stats for all the existing ones.  I see myself using this system for most of my Savage Worlds games.
  • Setting Rules - all of the six rules make emulating the Sword & Sorcery genre a little bit easier. You get rules explaining why characters in Sword and Sorcery seem broke all the time, why berrying  betraying your allays is so effective and why don't they use armor. The highlight here is the Knock Out Blow rule. You know how in Sword&Sorcery (and pulp in general) you can one hit a guy into unconsciousness? Would you like to have that in your game? Then, this rule is for you! It uses The Drop rule from Savage Worlds to do so and, in my opinion, makes this rule much more exciting.

I was presently surprised with this book. I was on a fence about getting another Swords&Sorcery Savage Worlds game, because Beast and Barbarians worked well for my needs. What I found is some awesome rules and cool city setting. Fortunately, knowledge of Fritz Leiber's works is not a necessity, and the book gives you enough lore to run a campaign comfortably. Even if you are not planning on running a game in Lankhmar, there is enough good stuff here that is worth the price of admission. If you are fan of  Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser,  thinking about running a Sword&Sorcery game, or you would like some cool tweaks to the Savage Worlds system you should check out this book. In the meantime, I will give my paperback copy of Ill met in Lankhmar another spin.

What I think about FU (Freeform Universal)

Every now and then I delve into an indie game and report back with musings about what I found. Today I look into a small generic engine for narrative roleplaying: 

FU: Freeform Universal 

Pay What You Want PDF, by Peril Planet

I enjoy my fair share of generic roleplaying games. Everything from the crunchy and simulatonist GURPS, through middle-the-road Savage Worlds, to a very narrative FATE. All of those games have their fair share of strengths and weaknesses., but if you are aware of them, you can run a very successful campaigns with those RPG engines. I know I did.

As my time becomes more and more limited, I tend to use more rules-lite systems for my games. Especially when it comes to one-shots or short campaigns. Games like Risus and The Pool (oh, I need to post my musings about those) were good for certain games, but when it comes to quick and lite games, FATE ruled supreme. Well... now I can say that FATE was dethroned, by a small and very simple game - Freeform Universal, or FU.

FU is a deceivingly simple game. You roll some D6s, choose highest (or lowest if the odds are against you) and narrate the outcome based on this value. There, I basically explained the system in one sentence. 

However, the beauty of FU lies in something else than its simplicity. It is how it merges the mechanics with the narrative. Firstly, to check how many dice you will roll, you look up what traits from your character applies to the task. You check your character's "aspects", equipment and any situational advantages to add positive dice. For each obstacle you add negative die. This very fluid and does not take you away from the narrative as there are no numbers. This wall is [-steep] and [-it's raining], but you have your [+climbing gear].  You have one positive, two negative traits. They cancel each other out, to leave you with a single negative. So you roll two dice (you always roll one as a freebie and add more from the descriptors) and choose the lowest (because the leftover descriptors were negative). That's pretty cool that you can roll without considering charts and/or numbers.

Yet, this is not the best aspect of the game! When you have your result, you follow a simple "ladder of outcomes", to answer the question: Did I managed to do it? FU does not give you a binary Yes/No like many other systems. It gives you more narrative outcomes. Stuff like Yes, but... or, No, and. I have written about this before here. This makes the game much more fun and much better suited for improv or pick-up-style game.

I think it is a brilliantly designed game, great for one shots, or even no-prep games. Sadly, while FU seems popular, there isn't much in terms of hacks and rules exploration like it is in Apocalypse World,, FATE or even Savage Worlds. It baffles me really, as the game is not only build for expansion and exploration, but is also released on the Creative Commons license. I secretly hope that more people will start experimenting with FU. I for one am designing a (little more crunchy) survival game based on FU with some Gumshoe system mixed in. I hope more games will follow... 


Survival RPG devlog 3: Characters

The third entry in this devlog took a bit longer than expected. Not only I had to test some ideas when it comes to the characters, but real life got in the way of doing so. This is still a work in progress, especially I am still looking for better words for some of the terms in game. As it stands now, Characters have few traits (+equipment), Endurance (with skills) and goals. While the first two aspects are pretty set in stone, different aspects to goals are being tested. So let's see what makes a character:

Traits:

Traits are similar to Fate's aspects or even Risus's Cliches. They are either a word of a short phrase describing some aspect of the character. The aim of the game is to make the players rely more on their equipment and their endurance than their traits, so each character will only have few of them.

Four seems to work pretty well for traits. It is low enough number for players to come up with with interesting descriptors for their characters. The most important trait connects to the character's background. It answers the prompt: "I used to be...". This roots characters in the setting. Maybe your character was a surgeon, a taxi driver or an architect. Each of those add flavor to the character but also can be used to add a die to the test.

You get two more free traits, and one fault (or drawback or hindrance). This is a similar setup to Fate and even FU, and it seems to work well. There is no need to fix what isn't broken.

I quite like the idea of creating or describing a character with a sentence, like in Numenera. It would work well with the theme of the game. Unfortunately, apart from "I used to be [blank]" I don't have anything that would enclose all traits in a single sentence. That is something that I have put on the back burner for now.

While you only get four traits permanently attached to your character, you get access to other, more temporary traits. One of them comes from wounds. Each type of physical or emotional stress  will take its toll. Wounds will only give you a negative dice. To get more positive dice, you need equipment. If you try to intimidate someone, it is much easier if you are aiming a gun at them. I will go into more depth about equipment in the next devlog, for now, just know that you can use equipment to add dice to your test, or skip the test altogether.

Endurance 

As discussed previously, Endurance is a pool of points you can spend to add to the dice result. You will need to do so, more often than not, as a medium difficulty test would be around 6 (to roll on a d6). It symbolizes your will to survive. It is your willpower, your stamina and hope combined. If your current Endurance is high, your character feels that they can take onto anything. With low Endurance, you might want to rest, so you can refresh your Endurance pool. This connection between the pool of points that let's you improve your chances of success and the system for regaining those points is a central mechanic of the game. It encourages the characters to do the "boring stuff" like eating, sleeping, talking to other survivors over some found tequila, that are important aspects of survival genre and makes the PCs more mundane, and not heroes, able to face any obstacle at any time. No Heroes, remember?

You get 40 (this is to be tested, it might be taken down to 20, I will need to play with different players to decide exactly) Endurance points during character creation. During game, you can spend them at any test. One point spent, adds one to the result from the dice. You can spend as many points as you want on a single test, but once they are spent, they are gone until next refresh (which will probably not refresh all points at once). This way the player is facing an important decision with every dice roll.

You can also exchange some of your Endurance points for "skills". They can be used just like Endurance points (1 to 1 spend on dice rolls), but only on actions that fall within the scope of the skill. The game will have lists of skills for different genres, but the lists are open ended. So, why would you opt in for getting skills, instead of the catch all Endurance? Because you get two skill points for each endurance point you spend. You will be able to exchange Endurance for skills during character creation and any time you would "level up" in other RPGs.

Goals

Goals are the third and final aspect of any character. They describe the characters personality, needs and wants. They will work in a similar way to TSOY's Keys (skip to page 12). When a character will achieve one of their goals, they regain some endurance. You can also break them, so you can regain a bunch of points (probably get all the points back). So if you are a protector (gain Endurance when you help others survive), if you kill another human being, you get a full refresh, but loose that goal and can not gain endurance from it in the future. People, and especially their views, change when they find themselves in life and death situations and struggle to survive.

GMs will get some advice on using the character goals and making temporary goals that change with the narrative. I am compiling (and stealing from TSOY) a list of goals/behaviors the characters can have. As with skills, it is not a comprehensive list, and characters can create their own goals.

Appendix: Names, words and such.

As the system is now, it uses pretty generic naming conventions. Skills, Traits and Goals to not carry the emotional weight of survival, struggle or even any of the design guidelines from Part 1. They serve they purpose for now, as many roleplayers have a clear idea of what skill, wound or goal means in a RPG. For the release I will want to change them, this is what I have now and what message I want to carry:

  • Traits would probably change to Assets. It works great with using equipment, and even using your own "powers" works with it. Does not work well with wounds and stress.
  • Endurance is good, it works well for what it is supposed to do system wise. 
  • Skills are way to generic, I want them to be seen more as: How you cope/survive. 
  • Goals are ok, I can leave them unless I find a better word encompassing wants/needs/agendas and something to be broken.
If you have any advice on making the naming conventions more thematic, send them my way (best to leave a comment here). On a bright side, I have a pretty good title for the game. How do you feel about: Endure ?