Kickstarter: Obsidian Portal Reforged

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If you’ve engaged with online tabletop gaming at all in the last few years then you’ve probably heard of Obsidian Portal, a campaign management site for RPGs. Based upon a wiki format the site makes it easy to track adventures, characters, items and events in your game for easy reference at a later date. Best of all the basic site is free, allowing a GM to create and manage two campaigns while the Ascendant (paid) accounts allow for more campaigns as well as providing additional options such as forums, custom CSS layouts and the option to add ‘player secrets’ which can be seen by only the GM and a single player.

The site is a great tool for games, but it could be better… a lot better. Those aren’t my words but those of the Obsidian Portal staff themselves, as posted on their recently launched Kickstarter. The goal of the project? To reforge the site with improvements to the core system, a new and improved page design and of course extra features that aren’t currently present (I’m hoping that will include some sort of Roll20 integration).

Their goal? $5000, which they blew through in the first day, so with most of the month to go it’s likely they’ll be hitting plenty of stretch goals. As the majority of the backer tiers are orientated around Ascendant upgrades the main stretch goal is focused on extensions to the Ascendant tier, at present everybody will be getting an extra month of free Ascendant time, with further months added for each additional $10000 raised over the initial goal (as I write they’re nearing the second month / $25000 mark).

The Kickstarter will be running until April 26th and can be found here.

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On the difference between the Firefly RPG and the Serenity RPG

As I might have alluded to after the initial announcement I’ll probably be ordering the new Firefly RPG as soon as it is released. While details are still lacking Geek Native has managed to talk to Monica Valentinelli, a writer and brand manager on the project. While she doesn’t provide much new info it hints at the directions they’re taking with the licence and suggests that as with the existing Cortex Plus systems they’re working to tie the system and setting together as much as possible. The full interview can be found over on Geek Native.

Planning for the Nationals: The Final Characters

Okay so I forgot to hit post on this on Friday before I left for the Nationals so ignore the ‘Hopefully the players enjoy these as much as I do’ as they all did and most of them wanted to keep their character sheet at the end of the game.

I’ve been posting up the progress and design of my character sheets for the Nationals over the last few weeks and the big event is now mere hours away (it’s Friday morning as I write this and this post should go up on Saturday while I’m away). As the final planning for the nationals post I feel its only appropriate that I post up the final artwork and character sheets my players will be receiving. I’ve always found that the character sheets are an often under appreciated component of convention games. A good convention sheet should be look good, contain enough detail for players to get into character and also have enough details on the mechanics that players can easily tell what their character is capable of. Finally any aspects of the system that are not being used during the scenario should also not be present on the character sheet, a section for spells for example is a wasted space if you’re not playing a mage. In taking this approach I therefore took the approach of dividing the pages up into mechanics, character and extras.

Mechanics became the main page, listing the attributes, skills, initiative and life points arranged around a small version of the character portrait. I chose to include the portrait on this page (in addition to a standalone A4 page) to serve as a visual reminder of the character given I expected this page to be the one players would have in front of them most of the time. This main page also include the names of the character, one male and one female so that each player can feel free to play any character rather than feel they are directed to play a particular gender.

The next section, character, came to two pages in all. The first was the aforementioned full page portrait, there to provide a visual representation of the character. I was lucky in being able to get a friend (Andrew Docherty of Imperious Press) to draw the characters and hopefully the players will enjoy them as much as I do. Personally I think the inclusion of the portraits elevates the sheets to another level and it is certainly something I will look at providing when I run convention games in the future. The second half of ‘character’ was the bio page, which included both a short biography in addition to the assets and complications which provide mechanical encouragement to stick to character. Finally are the extras, the pages which don’t fall into place easily. For most of the characters this was simply the equipment list and a space for players to make notes. For the mages in the party this also included a page listing their spells, each of what are unique to their style of casting.

So rather than ramble on further here’s the final portraits and sheets. In case any other Demon Hunters players happen across this then please note that the assets and complications have been rewritten especially for this scenario. The animate ability in particular has been extensively rewritten as previous experience has suggested the version in the core rulebook is significantly overpowered for its cost.

Blayze (character sheet)
Doyl (character sheet)

Dr Hatter (character sheet)
Rahul (character sheet)
Shrub (character sheet)
Stephanie (character sheet)

Planning for the Nationals: More Character Portraits

I’ve written already about my desire to present my players at this year’s nationals with a visual representation of their character. Today I received a complete set of drafts for the characters and while I should probably wait for the final versions before I post them I’m too excited to bother with that. So without much ado I present Chapter Tau 19 of the Brotherhood of the Celestial Torch.

L5R: System bugbears

We’re now a couple of sessions in to the L5R campaign ‘A Gaijin’s Guide to Rokugan’ and while I’m enjoying the game so far reading over the system has already thrown up a few aspects which, on a personal level, annoy me. The biggest of these is the calculation of the armour TN (defence scores), which form the target number to hit in combat. While they may be modified by certain actions the base score is calculated as 5 + (Agility x 5) + Armour bonus. So for an average (agility 2) unarmed and unarmoured individual their base armour TN is 15, this doesn’t change at all if they are later armed with a weapon.

Yup, this is a system where the primary mode of combat is melee but where an unarmed character is as easy to hit as one wielding a katana. Supposedly (if anybody know better please correct me) this is down to the style of combat employed in Rokugan, with parries being avoided in order to prevent damage to blades which have been passed down multiple generations of a family. Even if this is the case for katana’s there are a whole host of weapons where it would be reasonable to assume that the blade isn’t as sacred and parries or blocks would be acceptable. Chief amongst those would be polearms and spears. Using these weapons provides a major advantage in their ability to keep opponents at a distance, which is most easily represented by making the wielder harder to hit (though if this were me I’d give them an additional bonus on top of the one given for being armed) however nothing like this is present in the system. Likewise there are a few examples of where the weapon does affect defence (dual wielding and the war fan come to mind), which seems rather inconsistent.

It gets better (well worse actually, damn semantics) however when you consider the defence stance, which provides a boost to defence with the only restriction being that the character may not attack. In order to cast a spell a shugenja is required to maintain their concentration for a number of rounds dependent on the difficulty level of the spell and they are required to roll to maintain that concentration if sufficiently distracted. Despite this they are able to maintain the defence stance while casting, which somehow doesn’t affect their ability to concentrate but does make them harder to hit. Yeah, I’m not sure I quite get how that is meant to work either, essentially the system is saying that somebody reading from a scroll and trying to maintain their concentration is also able to move about in a way sufficient to make them harder to hit.

I’ve not played enough of the game to fully work out how I would prefer to see the armour TN calculated but as a start it would definitely factor in whether a character is armed or not. My initial idea would probably be (Agility x 5) + (Skill with melee weapon being used) + 5 with the role of armour shifted solely to reducing damage. I’d then also include bonuses for certain weapons through the mastery abilities (for example Polearms 3 – You gain a +3 to your armour TN while wielding a readied polearm). Under that system the basic armour TN of my current character Doji Soshin in the attack stance (no bonuses or penalties) would be 20 when unarmed, 23 when wielding a polearm or 26 if the mastery ability was also included. This is compared to a score of 25 when using the system as written, so the scores are fairly comparable while also making unarmed targets easier to hit but without entirely crippling their defence. To my mind though that still makes put the unarmed TN too high, simply because an average unskilled person would not be able to reliably hit him (average roll of 11 vs TN 20) and assuming he had only an average agility (so TN 15) over half of the attacks would still miss.

All of this is probably over thinking the situation and maybe my opinion might change once I’ve played the system for longer, for the time being it is a bugbear as opposed to a mechanic that ruins the game for me. So I can live with it, though I suspect it’ll be something I look into houseruling if I ever run a game in the future.

MWP (re)secures the Firefly License

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So, Margaret Weis Productions have just announced that they’ve secured the Firefly RPG license from Fox, a move that I certainly didn’t expect though probably should have given the recent announcement of a Firefly board game by Gale Force Nine. MWP produced the original Serenity RPG (under licence from Universal while this time the license is with Fox) which first introduced the Cortex system (which I talked about recently). While it is possible that they will re-release the game I suspect we’ll instead get a brand new one, built upon the Cortex Plus system that powers Smallville, Leverage and Marvel Heroic. Given how much I love both Firefly and Cortex the game is moving directly to my want list even though they’ve yet to even announce a schedule for the release. Expect a review once it’s in my hands.

The press release can be found here: http://www.margaretweis.com/images/stories/bonus_content/FIREFLY_MWP_PR.pdf

RPG Blog Carnival: Pimp A Game

February’s RPG Blog Carnival is being hosted over at Arcane Shield and this month the topic is to simply pimp that game you love, the system you come back to time after time.

For me the choice is simple. Cortex. The system has already received some love from The Chindividual where he shares his love of Cortex Plus (which powers Smallville, Leverage and Marvel Heroic). But that’s not the version I want to focus on, no the system I want to focus on is standard Cortex, which was used for Serenity, Battlestar Galactica, Demon Hunters, Supernatural and the generic Cortex System.

But why do I love it so? Well first off it is simple yet highly versatile. The core mechanic sees both attributes and skills defined as a particular sized die (with bigger being better) with rolls constructed by rolling the required attribute + skill then adding up the total. So it’s extremely simple to learn the basic system, but what about the versatility I mentioned? That arises from the fact that skills are not linked to a single attribute and can instead be matched up as required.

As an example lets imagine an investigator PC who has just arrived at a crime scene and is looking for clues. If they’re just having a simple look around then they might be asked to roll Alertness (Attribute) + Perception (Skill). In doing so they observe that the room appears to extremely secure, so they’re wondering how the criminal might have gotten into the room. The GM, therefore, asks for an Alertness (Attribute) + Covert (Skill) to see if the PC can spot that the window has been rigged to allow it to be opened from the outside. Now knowing how the burglar got in the investigator is wondering what was the reason for the break in, so they make a final roll of Intelligence (Attribute) + Perception (Skill) to see if they can deduce why the room was targeted based on its contents. The same concept goes for any roll that is called for, adapting to suit the situation as it evolves.

cortex The simplicity and versatility aren’t the only reasons I love the Cortex System. The variable size of the dice means that its difficult to play the curve and predict your chances of success while the inclusion of these dice to roll defence scores means that even a low level character has a chance if their opponent rolls badly. Absent is the issue of low level NPCs who can’t harm the party or PCs who can’t get a lucky shot on the big bad evil guy. At it’s base characters are not the great hero’s of D&D or Pathfinder, this is a system where PCs are as fragile and as fallible as everybody else in the world without falling over the moment they take a single wound. As a GM more interested in near future and Sci-Fi settings than heroic fantasy this balance is ideal for the stories and settings I prefer to employ. This isn’t to say that mechanisms to pull off spectacular successes are absent. The advantage system provides quick bonuses that, depending on your genre, can either boost skills (providing relatively small bonuses) or add additional dice (allowing for extraordinary feats) while plot points (akin to bennies in Savage Worlds) allow for the boosting of rolls in tense situations (and unlike Savage Worlds are provided in sufficient quantities during a session that you don’t need to save them just in case you need to soak damage). Again, simple yet versatile.

I’m not going to lie and pretend the system is perfect, the Battlestar Galactica and Supernatural variants for example were little more than reskins of Serenity with little work done to adapt the rules to the genres (something Cortex Plus does superbly). I hope however that this little blog post will have tempted you to give it a try, the generic rules set (and a few of the other variants) can be found on DriveThruRPG and at $4.99 (at present) it’s an absolute bargain.