Wednesday, August 9, 2017

USR Wednesdays: Vehicles

Cars, trucks, tanks, spaceships, pirate sloops... there are dozens of kinds of vehicles in adventure fiction, and given their size and their power, it may be a challenge to see where vehicles actually fit in a role playing game setting. Here are three ways of looking at vehicles in your Domino Writing-style USR game.

1. Vehicles as narration: In most settings, a vehicle is just a means to an end, a way to get from one place to another. In a modern-day action story, the characters drive fast cars or ride in helicopters, but only because it gets them across the city quickly, and to the next story point. There’s no game rules when using a vehicle as narration; you can just say, “The heroes hop in their cars and get to the police station,” or even “The heroes get on horseback and arrive at the entrance to the dungeon in about an hour.” It doesn’t matter how fast they’re traveling, or what happens on the trip, only that they are traveling.

2. Vehicles as equipment: The flexibility of Specialisms in USR means it’s easy to make a vehicle a piece of gear, just like a weapon or a special tool. Some characters who are closely linked to their vehicles might include the vehicle as one of their Specialisms (for example, Han Solo with his Millennium Falcon +2, or Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl +2). A game master could provide a vehicle as equipment if it’s going to be integral to the story, and more than just narration; for example, the Enterprise could be a +2 Specialism to everyone on the “Star Trek” crew. It wouldn’t be a Specialism just for Kirk or Picard, because all of the heroes in the adventure make use of the Enterprise — as a weapon, as a research station, as a place of healing, and so on. Of course, Han Solo and Jack Sparrow have plenty of adventures not on board their ships, but no one else in their stories is so connected to those ships as they are.

There it is, the classic starship the "+2." I mean Millennium Falcon. (image: wookiepedia.com)

Like weapons and armor, vehicles can be classified as “light” +1, “medium” +2 or “heavy” +3. A +1 vehicle could be a motorcycle or a horse, while a +2 would be a car or space fighter (an X-Wing or Viper), and a +3 vehicle could be something massive, like a semi-truck, a tank or the Enterprise itself.

Also like weapons or armor, you don’t need a separate Specialism for Pilot, Driver or Vehicle Gunner, unless that’s really a core element of a character. The vehicle Specialism includes its flying and shooting capabilities.

The Specialism would be used in any situation the vehicle could provide help — winning a race, carrying a heavy load, or firing its on-board weapons. If the vehicle is seriously damaged, it ceases to be a usable Specialism, until it’s repaired.

3. Vehicles as characters: Some settings are all about their vehicles: Mad Max, Mobile Suit Gundam, even Transformers. In those settings, the single bonus a Specialism provides doesn’t really offer enough to accurately represent the vehicle. So you can add more statistics to a vehicle, like top speed, armament, and maneuverability. Rules for that are in Somnium Void, starting on page 23.

We’re taking a week off from USR Wednesdays next week, but we’ll be back after that for a look at more genres.


How do you use vehicles in your game?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

USR Wednesdays: Settings

By my count, USR has led to more than a dozen separate games, many found on RPGnow or on the creator’s own website. Here’s the list I have:
  • Anthropomorphic by Jay Murphy (animal people)
  • Beyond Fear by Scott Malthouse (cosmic horror/Cthulhu)
  • Blood And Silk by Shenron (samurai)
  • Ghostbusters by Shenron (um... Ghostbusters)
  • Go Wherever by Scott Malthouse (stonepunk among other ideas)
  • Halberd by Scott Malthouse (fantasy)
  • Halcyon Fantasy by Scott Malthouse (old school fantasy)
  • It Came From VHS! by Scott Malthouse (80s action)
  • Masquerade of the Sundered Sky by Scott Malthouse (gothic horror)
  • Sominum Void by Scott Malthouse (space opera)
  • Swarm Of Barbarians by Peter Segreti (Ancient Rome)
  • Tequendria by Scott Malthouse (Dunsany fantasy)
  • Fear & Loathing by Jay Murphy (gonzo adventure)
  • Sword & Sorcery by Jay Murphy (Conan-style fantasy)
  • Cyberpunk by Scott Malthouse (cyberpunk)
  • Moldvay Era by John Yorio (old school fantasy)

I also have a Western game that I don’t have an author credit for, and there’s a character sheet for USR Traveller farther down the USR Google+ page.

Rabbit bodyguards, Drakkar cage fighters, drug-addled journalists... they're all possible with USR.

It’s exciting thinking about all the opportunities for games that are in these rules sets — combining them, too, gives us Shadowrun (Cyberpunk plus Halberd) or Usagi Yojimbo (Blood and Silk plus Anthropomorphic). I wanted to create this list to have a running total of all the USR rules sets in one place, and to spark ideas for settings that are “missing.” I’ve touched on superheroes in my last few blog posts, but haven’t created a full setting. We have Ghostbusters, but what about Star Wars (including all the eras of the story)?

I hope this list is an inspiration to you to find these games, try them out, and offer your own contributions to a future edition of the list. I’ll be working on some settings, too...

What genre should be developed into a new setting next?

(image: usagiyojimbo.com)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

USR Wednesdays: Superheroes part 2: Super-Specialisms and hit points

Specialisms for superheroes can be powers - which can be used as weapons and armor, unlike most specialisms – but also personality traits (“billionaire philanthropist,” “mild-mannered reporter”). Because they’re so free form, super power Specialisms don’t have particular damage amounts or limits (for example, how many people are mind-controlled at one time?). Turn to the comics, animation and movies: if you can find an example of the power being used in the media, you can use it, though maybe with the use of a Narrative Point.

Almost every rules-moderate to rules-heavy superhero RPG (including my own Microlite 20 Costumes) has a catalog of super powers for characters to purchase, and which count as Specialisms in superhero USR. As with any Specialism, though, the descriptions that allow for more narration are often more interesting in play. The Punisher’s Lots Of Guns is kind of boring as a Specialism, but the Flash’s Runs Fast Enough To Access The Speed Force is a simple to understand power with a unique twist (lots of heroes have Super-Speed, but don’t also get access to the Speed Force). With the Ice Control Specialism, Iceman of the X-Men can fire ice darts at a villain, but he also creates ice slides to move quickly, duplicates of himself in ice form, and so much more.

A Specialism of Magician means you can do just about anything in a superhero setting. (Also, you were expecting Dr. Strange or Zatanna, right?) (image: King Features Syndicate)

Another superhero-specific element is hit points. Heroes can take a beating, and shrug off most ordinary damage. Boosted Action and Wits stats help represent that, and so does increasing hit points, to (maximum Action die value + maximum Wits die value) x2. Alternately, heroes can be delayed in the hospital, or outright killed, only to return dramatically in the next adventure.


The superhero card game Sentinels of the Multiverse keeps defeated characters in the game until the end with one simple rule. Characters that lose all their hit points can only take one action on a turn, and it has to be used to help another hero who is still in the game. It’s described as inspiring the surviving characters to fight harder. The same concept can be used in USR, with knocked-out heroes offering a +1 to certain kind of die rolls, or a once-per-battle reroll to their surviving allies.

What are your favorite superhero Specialisms?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

USR Wednesdays: Superheroes part 1: Tiers

There are some basic superhero rules in Domino Writing-style USR, mostly to emulate "elite" characters, like demigods in a fantasy world, or comic book super characters in a setting where most costumed heroes are a little more down to earth (think of Batman in Batman or Detective Comics). But with a few alterations, USR works just find for a bigger variety of superheroes (think of Batman in Justice League of America).
There are five tiers of characters in super hero comics:

  1. Non-powered characters, the supporting cast of superhero comics (Mary Jane Watson, Jim Gordon).
  2. Street-level heroes without many powers, like the 1930s/1940s pulp heroes (the Shadow, the Phantom) or characters like the Punisher or Luke Cage.
  3. Standard superheroes, which range from the low end (Robin, Dazzler) to the "average" hero (Spider-Man, the Flash)
  4. High-powered heroes, like Superman and Thor
  5. Cosmic entities that have power beyond what a USR character normally would have (Bat-Mite, Silver Surfer).

So, how to show that difference in the USR rules? First, select your basic character tier, then allow everyone at that tier and above to use the superhero rules (stats of d8, d10 and d12, and rolling twice, using highest result).
For each tier above or below the basic tier, award an additional 2 Narrative points.

A nice variety of heroes: Tier 2, Tier 2, Tier 3, Tier 3, Tier 4, Tier 2. In the back? Probably Tier 4.

Let's take the Avengers, specifically the movie version that's pretty close to the comics, and is really well-known. They're standard superheroes, so they start with stats of d8, d10 and d12. We've already stated that Thor is high-powered, so he starts with those high stats, and an additional 2 Narrative Points to represent his additional Asgardian awesomeness.
On the other end, Nick Fury fights with the good guys, but he's no match in terms of raw power. We'll make him a street-level hero. His stats are d6, d8 and d10, but he also gets 2 additional Narrative Points to help bring him level with Captain America and the rest.
Next week, we'll look at Specialisms and other elements of the genre you can bring to your USR superhero gaming.

(image: screenrant.com)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

USR Wednesdays: Miniatures Rules

Rules light games are known for being played "theater of the mind" style: everything is described by the GM and the players, including the stuff more crunchy rules sets use miniatures and maps for, like combat positioning and movement. Instead of moving a small plastic figure six spaces, then counting another few spaces to make sure your character is in range of a target, you just say, "I'm near the door, can I hit him?"

But if you're like me, and you want to use all the miniatures and maps and terrain and stuff you use in other games and have spend years collecting — and at the same time you want to play USR — you need another option. So I'm borrowing from my own Microlite 20 rules for USR miniatures rules.

A recent game - elves and humans vs wolves and rats standing in for wolves.


If you have miniature figures (about 1 inch or 25 to 28 mm tall) to represent the characters and their enemies, you’ll need a ruler or a battle map covered in spaces (squares, hexes or 1 inch measurements). One space equals 5 feet or 2 yards, and the average human-sized character and monster moves 6 spaces per turn, even diagonally. This is the character’s movement rate.

Small characters (like halflings or gnomes) move 5 spaces per turn, while characters wearing heavy armor (splint mail, banded mail, half-plate, full plate) move 1 space less each turn. On older-style (i.e. OSR) maps, where one space equals 10 feet, the average character moves 3 spaces per turn.

Characters can move through the same space as another character or enemy, but cannot end movement in the same space as another figure. Rubble, darkness, heavy growth and other difficult terrain “costs” 2 spaces of movement per space moved by the character. Moving up and down is the same as moving horizontally (a character does not have to “spend” extra movement to climb or fly). Moving just 1 space is considered a “free” action, as long as the character does not move any farther that turn.

If there’s a question whether a character could see an enemy to hit it, draw an imaginary straight line from the center of the attacker’s space to the center of the target’s space (or one of its spaces, if it takes up more than one space on the map). If there is no major obstacle or enemy in the path, the character can make the attack. Allies of the attacker do not block its path. Characters can attack through windows and other partial obstacles at a -1 penalty to hit.

To avoid calculating attack ranges each turn, melee attacks must be made against an enemy in a space adjacent to the character. Thrown and short-range weapon attacks can be made against an enemy up to 10 spaces away. Long-range weapon attacks can be made against an enemy up to 25 spaces away.

There you have it, simple rules for miniatures. I've used them in several games I've written over the years, and they seem to be a good starting point. A character with a high Action stat or Specialisms related to agility and dexterity might move a space faster, and the difficult terrain and obstacles rules could get much, much more detailed (Action rolls to move through terrain? 1/4 cover?).

Do miniatures play a part in your USR games?