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?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

USR Wednesdays: Social Combat

Given the history of RPGs, finding ways to use the "Action" and "Wits" stats in USR is easy; Action  is everything from acrobatics to yo-yo tricks (admittedly, the latter is not a common Specialism...). Wits can handle research and the supernatural, like magic and psionic combat. Ego, or social skills, are less used in role playing. A character may need to roll to intimidate, seduce or seek information listening to rumors. But the number of times Ego is used compared to the other stats means Ego almost shouldn't even be a stat. Let's change that, and give debaters, manipulators and schemers a chance to fight the good fight.

Social combat can be just as interesting when fought by a master.
(image: celebdirtylaundry.com)
The Song of Ice and Fire RPG, and my other game, Microlite 20, have rules for social combat. For ease of use, it's basically like standard combat, except with different Specialisms in play. In fiction, social combat is usually over much quicker than battle, so each character begins with "social hit points" equal to the highest value of his or her Ego stat (i.e. 6, 8 or 10). Each attack and defense uses Specialisms like Bargain, Stir up trouble, Stubborn or Immune to her charms.

There's no equivalent to weapons or armor, though one Ego roll can affect the next. For example, befriending a powerful political family can help quell (or stir up) a rebellion. Allow players to describe what their characters are saying in the conversation. If it's convincing or inspiring, grant an extra +1 to the roll.

Make a simple Wits roll as initiative, to represent the planning of meeting times and places that best suit the character's goals. Social combat usually "heals" immediately after the combat ends. Just like standard combat, a character that loses all of his or her social hit points is defeated, but this doesn't have to mean death or unconsciousness. Instead, political foes can be humiliated, and enemies can be outwitted (it's much easier to trick an ogre than to try and cut it to pieces). Adventures can be just as exciting, and a lot less hazardous to life and limb.

What are the best Specialisms for exciting social combat?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

USR Wednesdays: Creating Specialisms

One of the keys to USR's streamlined system is its use of Specialisms (another is the simple dice mechanic). It's the same concept as found in a lot of rules light RPGs, like the cliches of Risus, the qualities of Cartoon Action Hour and the aspects of Fate. Specialisms represent skills, supernatural powers, personality traits and occasionally gear and character types, though in USR, races and classes are more often archetypes (as they are in Domino Writing-style USR).

What is a Specialism? As USR 2.0 puts it, "Specialisms are the things that make your character stand out from the rest. They give your character an edge at a specific task, making them more likely to succeed." They explain what a character can do, or how he or she does it, in a way that's appropriate to the setting.

What a character can do: Most often, Specialisms are skills, like lock picking, computers or sneaking (or hand-to-hand fighting, if you're using combat Specialisms). It can also stand for special talents, like magic or a super power like eye beams.

How he or she does it: Specialisms can also be personality traits that not only help define a character's background for role playing purposes, but can also be put to use as abilities. Think of the inspiring leader, the intimidating muscle man, or the even more intimidating loner with a creepy smile.

Appropriate to the setting: Since so much of rules light RPGs like USR rely on tropes and stereotypes familiar to fantasy and science fiction fans, most players probably start the game with a general idea of what fits the setting. But it's easy to be too broad: a sorcerer may not be specific enough; try a fire wizard or an illusionist instead. Likewise, think about Specialisms that won't be available all the time: a wise mentor is a great support for a hero — but Obi-Wan and Merlin aren't supposed to be part of every adventure, they're only supposed to lend a helping hand now and again.

Can your character do this?


Characters that gain levels in USR can either gain new Specialisms or improve their existing ones. In a classic adventuring party, each character has a role (healer, tank, etc.), so improving the existing Specialisms is more fitting. Adding a new Specialism should show how the character has made a major life change — finding a powerful magical item, taking on a whole new set of responsibilities, and so on.

Specialisms and similar characteristics are one of the defining elements of a rules light RPG: the game isn't "weighed down" by pages and pages of skills and abilities! But it can be hard to figure out just what Specialisms really are without a guideline, one like this:

Specialisms are what a character can do, or how he or she does it, in a way that's appropriate to the setting.

What Specialisms does your game have?


(image: Guillaume Riesen)



Wednesday, June 7, 2017

USR: Archetypes: Modern-Day Heroes

Last time we looked at the classic fantasy races and classes. Now let’s move into modern-day action and adventure settings. Everyone’s human (usually), but the range of skills heroes need to succeed is bigger. These archetypes cover a lot of ground; a sneak, for example, can represent a James Bond-style spy, a Jason Bourne-style secret agent, or even a Jake Gittes-style private eye.

Or these dudes. (image: YouTube)


Diplomat
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Charm, Negotiate, Language, Leadership, Etiquette
Suggested Equipment: none

Entertainer
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Art (music, oratory, writing, etc.), Charisma, Athletics, Hundreds (Possibly Millions) Of Fans, Target Of Paparazzi
Suggested Equipment: Musical instrument

Gadgeteer
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Repair, Invent, Hacking, Works Best Alone, Focused On The Task At Hand
Suggested Equipment: Miscellaneous Gadgets, Tools

Pilot
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Driving, Flying, Repair, Adrenaline Junkie, Team Player
Suggested Equipment: Vehicle (if there’s more than one character with a vehicle in the party, maybe they have one big vehicle, like a space cruiser)

Researcher
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Knowledge (in one topic), Dedication, Bravery, Support Of A University or a Military Organization
Suggested Equipment: Computer, Library Of Books

Sneak
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Move Silently, Sleight Of Hand, Hacking, Disguise, Hide, Spot Clues
Suggested Equipment: Lock Pick (possibly an electronic one)

Soldier
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Endurance, Intimidate, Leadership, Toughness, Military Tactics
Suggested Equipment: Guns, Knives


Which archetypes are best for the modern world?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

USR: Archetypes - Meet the Big Four

In USR, concepts like class and race are found in the form of archetypes, suggestions for ways to simulate character types long-time roleplayers are familiar with. In Halberd, the predecessor to Tequindria, a lot of the classic fantasy archetypes made an appearance. 

Archetypes aren’t a requirement, just a tool to help you visualize your character better. Every USR setting will probably have its own archetypes (Tequindra does). They’re a good way to get a feel for the kind of characters that would appear in that setting, even if your character stands out as someone different. 

Archetypes for elves, wizards and fighters can be found below.
Source: Wizards of the Coast originally, I think.


Since I’m using my Domino Writing-style version of USR, I’m going to make a few changes to better fit my version of the game. Here’s how they break down:

Primary Stat: This is the stat (Action, Wits, Ego) that should be assigned the d10, or d12 if using superhero rules. It’s not a requirement, but emphasizing that stat is the quickest way to simulate most familiar character types. That said, a really buff wizard (with a d10 in Action) would be a unique take on the spellcaster! Some archetypes have a primary stat of “Any” — the archetype doesn’t call for any specific stat to be favored. Just take your pick, like in the normal rules.

Suggested Specialisms: Several common skills, abilities or powers characters of the archetype usually have. You don’t have to take all three, or even any, of your specialisms from this list, but it’s a good starting point. In Domino Writing-style USR, a character’s combat skills are represented with their gear, so combat specialisms won’t be common. For example, an archer will have a Bow weapon rather than a Ranged Attack or Archery specialism. Also, Domino Writing-style USR doesn’t assign Specialisms to stats; you’ll have to do that yourself. I just represented supernatural powers as a Specialism, since USR has several different magic systems, which are worth looking at in another blog post.

Suggested Equipment: This includes weapons and armor, though you’ll have to decide on their value (Light/Medium/Heavy), depending on how you picture your character, and how many Combat Gear points you have available. It also includes signature tools of the trade, such as a spellbook or thief’s tools. It doesn’t include money; assume your character has enough “pocket change” or credit for any ordinary purchase, unless the GM says something different, of course. It also doesn’t include everything a character would be carrying (ordinary clothes, a bedroll, etc.), just the stuff that makes the character a hero.


Here’s a few examples, the classic “Big 4” races and classes, with a lot borrowed from Halberd.

Dwarf
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Mining, Brewing, Tough, Leadership, Appraise Valuables, Forge Weapons and Armor
Suggested Equipment: Battle Axe or War Hammer, Armor, Repair Tools, Mug of Ale

Elf
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Woods Lore, Magic Knowledge, Aloof, Move Silently, Alluring
Suggested Equipment: Long Bow, Cloak of Invisibility

Human
Primary Stat: Any
Suggested Specialisms: Blacksmithing, Inventing, Leadership, Persuasion, Trying New Things, Sailing, Riding, Driving
Suggested Equipment: none

Halfling
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Sneak, Hide, Charm, Bargain, Singing
Suggested Equipment: Short Sword, Food

Cleric
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Healing, Religion, Nature, Charisma, Inspiration
Suggested Equipment: Holy Symbol, Mace, Armor

Fighter
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Athletics, Strong, Military Tactics, Leadership, Intimidation, Riding
Suggested Equipment: Sword, Shield, Armor, Dagger, Crossbow

Rogue
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Sneak, Climb, Escape, Disarm Trap, Pick Lock, Disguise, Charming
Suggested Equipment: Dagger, Thief’s Tools, Poison Vial

Wizard
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Spell-casting, Identify Magic Item, Monster Lore, History, Create Magical Item, Research
Suggested Equipment: Staff, Spellbook, Dagger

This is a starting point; there will be more archetypes to come, as we build up the range of settings available for USR.


Which archetypes have you created?

Friday, May 26, 2017

New Games

As promised, I've updated a few of my older games, albeit with not a lot of playtesting. So, if you play them, let me know how they work. They're on my website.

Monsters Menace Monopoly: This takes the traditional game and adds giant monsters and hordes. Send your giant lizard and your ninja clan to conquer St. James Place and the Water Works. I'll update the abilities of player tokens as Hasbro updates the pieces that Monopoly comes with. The goal was to create a game using a minimum of outside material that was a lot more fun than actual Monopoly. Paper money is a pain to keep track of, and all those little plastic houses and hotels just demand that someone wander through and crush them.

Plastic Attack: I walk past the action figure sections in the toy store and FLGS; what's the point, any figure you buy just sits there. Miniatures can at least be used in gaming. I do have rules for different sizes of figure in my Very Simple Generic Miniatures Game document. But Plastic Attack is quicker, more of a convention game. Plus, the figures don't even have to be the same scale — it really is about as all-encompassing as a game can be.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

I Am In A Book!

Now I have my second published RPG credit. The first was years ago, in what Seraphim Games called Super Agents (and what I called Agents and Assassins) for the FASERIP revision 4C, where I adapted the superhero rules for secret agent-types. There was some of that in Marvel Super Heroes, the game that FASERIP is based on (pre-Watcher Nick Fury, SHIELD in general), but I tried to be more broad and cover everyone from Buffy to Bond, and to fix a few of the rules in 4C that didn't work.

Like this, but I didn't have vehicle rules.


This time, I'm the winner of the create-a-character contest for Spectrum Games' Cartoon Action Hour Season 3. Specifically for Warriors Of The Cosmos, the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe homage setting book. I created Bubblor, a gum-themed hero, as in, "the action figure would have had a scratch-n-sniff patch on its chest that smells like baseball card bubble gum." It's a classic piece of 1980s childhood nostalgia (I had plenty of those pink planks) and a gimmick that isn't otherwise in the Cartoon Action Hour game.

They were almost always broken. And they tasted awful.
Of course, there are plenty of my games on my website, and that's where I'll be putting out more content in the future. But it's fun to see a few things out in "the wild." If you're playing 4C, or Cartoon Action Hour, or Microlite 20, or USR, or any of my other games, let me know what you think! I'm always interested in feedback.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Playtesting

As I get back to working on my blog more often, it's prompting me to take another look at my games. The role playing games will get special attention, since I have a lot of ideas for Microlite 20 and USR. They're not dead games, especially since the latter just got a new book from its creator and the former is part of the d20 system, designed to never die (just look at Pathfinder).

So I'm going to look more at the other games I've put together, like Monsters Menace Monopoly, Plastic Attack and Mutant Hunter. Are those the best rules sets they could be? I "eyeball" my rules a lot, and don't actually get people together to test them all that often. Solo playing games designed for multiple, competitive players, doesn't always work. This is an ongoing project, but I can at least provide a more up-to-date version of the rules for people to enjoy.

Plus, I have hundreds of miniatures and dozens of maps, let's make use of them somehow.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tequendria: Our Heroes

So, the creator of Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying, Scott Malthouse, has released a new USR-based game, Tequendria, inspired by the works of Lord Dunsany, which I have not read (I did start "The King Of Elfland's Daughter" thanks to Project Gutenberg).

A Dunsany-inspired game isn't a Tolkien-inspired one, and as a result there's no dwarf fighters or halfling clerics in this game. All characters can use magic, and the free-form style of USR means you don't need the traditional D&D-based races and classes. So, instead of a cleric/fighter/rogue/wizard team, let's create a more Tequendria-style adventuring party.


Because heroes who have access to intriguing ways to get around should be able to use them, we'll include Aethership, where our heroes can cruise toward adventure.

Bramwell: He's a bold young sailor, whose imagination was captured the moment he saw his first Aethership soaring high above the small farm where he grew up. He loves exploring and finding new decorations for his ship, and meeting new people along the way.

Bramwell, Aethership Pilot
Action D8, Wits D10, Ego D6
Hit Points: 9
Specialisms: Aethership (Action), Navigator (Wits), Mechanic (Wits)

Equipment: 50 shards, telescope, goggles, duster jacket, short sword
Ability: Aether navigator


While the tales of Lord Dunsany aren't about wandering around, slaughtering thousands of nameless foes, there's a need now and again for a little muscle. And so we have a warrior.

Nohote: She is no stoic killer, but instead a friend to everyone. She has weapons, and knows how to use them, but prefers to out-think her enemies instead of strike them down. She takes great pride in making her foes surrender without a blade pulled or a bow fired.

Nohote, Tulthian Warrior
Action: D10, Wits D8, Ego D6
Hit Points: 9
Specialisms: Athletics (Action), Speed (Action), Tactics (Wits)
Equipment: 10 shards, Tulthian totem (a giant eagle's talon), lucky magma stone, leather armor, short bow, 10 arrows, light mace
Ability: Mighty


Every good fantasy adventure needs a warrior — and a wizard. Since Tequendrian characters can use any kind of magic, we don't need a dedicated healer or blaster as most fantasy games do. We can instead go for the most interesting character for the story.

Khiok: To use his Icur magic, he has to be in the presence of three or more people. They don't have to be human, and they don't have to know he's working his magic, at least until they feel the pull of their souls. That makes him effective in royal courts, where he "encourages" rulers to follow his instructions, and on the battlefield, where stone and flame appear from thin air. He tries not to seem devious and sinister when he does so, but sometimes, he just can't help himself.

Khiok, Icur Sorcerer
Action: D8, Wits: D10, Ego: D6
Hit Points: 9
Specialims: Ancient Lore (Wits), Mountaineering (Action), Religion (Wits)
Equipment: 30 shards, incense sticks, jet bracelet, half mask
Ability: Icur


I don't know about you, but I can picture Nohote and Khiok aboard a ship piloted by Bramwell, coming to dock outside the Hills of Hap. It seems they've heard about a long-lost treasure chest holding enough shards to finally pay off the merchant who's loaning an Aethership to Bramwell...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Microlite 20 Character Generators

One of the reasons I don't play games like Pathfinder or Rifts often is because they're very statistics-heavy. There's lots of numbers, lots of names, and stuff you have to look up in several different places. Spells, for example: a character sheet may list the names of spells, but (for space reasons as much as copyright ones) there's no description of the spell's effects there. Players have to turn to an entirely different piece of paper — or more often, a book. Kind of reduces the effect of having the entire character on one page.

Microlite 20 doesn't avoid that problem, as spell-casting characters can use any spell, as long as they have the hit points to pay for it. A character could just list signature spells with a brief, Microlite 20-style spell description. That's also why there's pre-generated spell lists (page 25 of Ultimate Microlite Fantasy) and the starter spells (on pages 26 and 27).

It's also why I created the character generator templates, simple Excel spreadsheets that calculate most of the numbers you need to get your character ready to play. There's one for Fantasy and Modern-Day games, and another for Costumes, which calculates the number of Power Points you have to spend.

As the instructions state, you type in the numbers in the purple and blue boxes, and write down the final results listed in the purple and red boxes. Just add description (race, class, equipment, etc.), and you're ready to go. It saves time on the math and makes sure you have all the bonuses and advantages your character should have, which of course can be unwieldy in a d20 System-based game.

Let's walk through character creation in my most popular game, Microlite 20 Costumes. Here's our hero, Remarkable Man, who is not unlike another well-known superhero, the first one ever.

Remarkable Man is Superman, okay?
I don't want to violate copyright law, so I'll just "suggest" who I mean.

1. Level and Power Points: As noted in the Microlite 20 Costumes rules, Remarkable Man's inspiration is a level 15 (superior) hero. That goes in cell B1 and results in 225 Power Points.

2. Races and Classes: Remarkable Man is an ordinary Earth human, who gained his powers in, oh, let's say a lab accident. No aliens here.

3. Stats: Remember, stats above 19 count as powers, so we'll plug that in here and also note it as powers in step 4. He's super-strong. Also remember that stats cost Power Points, unlike other Microlite 20 games.

4. Powers: We already have Super-Strength accounted for. Let's see, our role model has Flight, Energy Blast (two kinds: heat and freezing), Invulnerability (multiple forms), Super-Speed, Tunnel (probably) and X-Ray Vision. And that's the normal list, not even considering all the variations from space rocks or Silver Age comics! Remarkable Man has the big ones, like Flight at rank 15, Energy Blast (heat) at rank 10, Invulnerability (ordinary weapons) at rank 15, and X-Ray Vision at rank 10.

5. Gadgets, Limits and Magic: None for Remarkable Man! He's powerful enough.

6. Skills: In his day job as a mild-mannered... well, no one pays reporters any more, so we'll say he does social media marketing. A skill has a maximum rank of level +5 (20 for our hero). We'll split his 3 Free Bonus as 1 in Knowledge and 2 in Communication. We'll add a little bit in Physical, Knowledge and Communication. Other heroes handle the stealthy stuff.

7. Combat: We're getting to the end of our character generator, with just a few points left to spend (remember, financial status is still out there). He already has the Invulnerability power, but we'll boost his Armor Class to about the same as his Melee/Hand-To-Hand attack bonus, and we'll push up his woeful Initiative bonus.

8. Financial Status and Equipment: A red, blue and yellow costume comes at no cost, and we'll pretend social media marketing pays well enough for a Comfortable status (no points).

9. Flaws: Our inspiration has his weakness to cosmic rocks, usually green, but Remarkable Man doesn't need more Power Points. No flaws for him; plenty while playing the character, but none on the character sheet.

All that leaves us with 8 Power Points, which are dropped into Hit Points. So here's Remarkable Man, as determined using the character calculator:

Level 15
STR 25 (+7), DEX 18 (+4), MIND 16 (+3)
Physical 17, Subterfuge 15, Knowledge 17, Communication 18
Flight 15, Energy Blast (heat) 10, Invulnerability (ordinary weapons) 15, X-Ray Vision 10
Hit Points 97, Initiative +7, Melee/Hand-To-Hand +22, Missile/Ranged +19, Magic/Supernatural +18, Armor Class 27
Heroism Points 10, Financial Status Comfortable

Voila! A superhero character ready to play, without too much cross-referencing and confusion.

(image: Robert Linder)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

M20: Indiana Jones

This past weekend, I was at a convention (covering it for a magazine: two interests at once!), where the main activity was the local chapter of the Pathfinder Society, some two dozen games or so. There's also plenty of d20 activity happening, like Paizo's upcoming "Starfinder" and a steady stream of 5e books. So, let's revisit our version of the d20 system, Microlite.
I'm not changing anything; the newest and best versions of each rules set (except for Purest Essence itself) are on my website. Instead, I plan to continue to update options, adding more character classes and races, creating more rules, and bringing what I call "famous" characters to the Microlite 20 experience. For example, let's take another look at an old classic:

Indiana Jones (Henry Jones, Jr.)
As of: End of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”
Uses Microlite 20: Modern-Day (late historical era)
Level: 13
Species, Focus and Special Abilities: Human, Intellect Focus, Research, Quick Draw, Combat Style (Melee/Hand-To-Hand) +2, Combat Style (Missile/Ranged) +2, Connections (6 times per day), Lucky (3 times per day)
STR: 15 (+2)
DEX: 13 (+1)
MIND: 18 (+4)
Physical: 16
Subterfuge: 10
Knowledge: 21 
Communication: 12
Technology: 9
Hit Points: 67
Armor Class: 20
Initiative: +7
Melee/Hand-to-Hand Attack Bonus: +15
Missile/Ranged Attack Bonus: +14
Magic/Supernatural Attack Bonus: +17
Financial Status: Comfortable
Equipment: Leather Armor, Whip, Machine Pistol, Fedora

This is a straightforward translation of a well-known hero, perfectly ready to play, or inspire the creation of similar heroes. Does seeing classic characters in game terms help your game night, or do simple stats not work for you? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Revisiting VSGMR

For the first time in about four years, I took a look at VSGMR (Very Simple Generic Miniatures Rules). There are other good simple miniatures games available (One Page, Two Hour, Brikwars, even Age of Sigmar), but I like the option of using all the standard roleplaying dice and different scales of figures. I'm going to revisit it, as there are still people in the Yahoo group.

Some of those other games are even simpler than VSGMR, and as I have less and less time to set up and play games (jobs, family, the same issues as everyone else), I lean more and more in that direction. I also want to make use of the figures I already have: 28 mm fantasy characters, 10 mm characters from wargames, and standees, the cardboard flats with a small plastic base.

These are standees.
I don't think the rules need a revision, since they're pretty smooth right now (move 6 inches, roll 4 or 5 to hit, roll 4 or 6 for defense if there's armor). There are a few special abilities, and options for using figures of different scales. I'd like to add more custom-made armies, since there are new miniature games available since 2013, with new options. So look for that soon (really!).