What’s New with the Stargazer?

I have to start with an apology. A couple of weeks back I promised to post more often, but unfortunately life had other plans. As the saying goes: the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

One thing I noticed over the years is that for me blogging and actually running games go hand-in-hand. Each time I took a break from GMing, my blogging schedule got erratic. It seems I get more and better ideas from posts when I am actually behind a GM’s screen. On the positive side I have actually played in quite a few games lately: Mutant Year Zero (and its spin-off Genlab Alpha), Numenera, Shadowrun (in its venerable third edition), Traveller, and last but not least I actually made a character for an upcoming Jovian Chronicles game!

But all this has been overshadowed by the sudden death of my best friend. I’ve known him for over 20 years now, and he shared my love for roleplaying games. He introduced Rolemaster to me, and I still have very fond memories of him playing in my Shadowrun campaign during my College years. He also always had an open ear when I felt down and needed someone who was willing to listen to my ramblings. A bit over two weeks ago his wife informed me that he took his life. He has always struggled with depression but no one had seen it coming. As you can imagine it was a great shock to everyone who knew him. I still wish it was all a bad dream, waiting to wake up from it any minute. I had a lot of plans for my vacation around the Easter holidays, but in light of recent events I was just not able to get anything done.

But what I realized is that I definitely need to start running games again. In an earlier post I wrote about the anxiety that keeps me from doing so and I think the only way to overcome it is to jump into the cold water and take on the GM’s mantle again. I want to run games, I have so many campaign ideas in my head, the only thing holding myself back is my stupid brain.

A game I have been looking at for some time now is Cyberpunk 2020. Cyberpunk is one of my favorite genres, but Shadowrun just couldn’t really scratch that itch. Yeah, it has cyberpunk elements in it, but in a way it’s just D&D with guns. The player characters are usually not working against the system, they are not really “punk”, but cold mercenaries, only interested in the money. Perhaps some groups run it differently, but in my experience it basically boils down to this. Cyberpunk 2020 is closer to the original vision of the genre and hopefully allows me to run stories like envisioned by William Gibson and his peers. The retrofuturism of the game only adds to the allure. Continue reading What’s New with the Stargazer?

Ghost Ops QS & One Page Solo

This is a sort of double play test as I was using the One Page Solo Engine that I talked about last time, specifically the Fudge version I wrote in Javascript, to play test the adventure provided by Ghost Ops RPG Quick Start.

This was also my first encounter with Fudge and to support my weekend I downloaded the 1995 Fudge rules from http://www.fudgerpg.com.

Part One

So lets start with Ghost Ops specifically. The game works really well! There are a few editorial issues with the quick start rules but the beauty of modern PDF publishing is that these could be fixed and the PDFs updated in no time. I am not worried about those as I am sure they will be fixed.

The Fudge rules I have makes a point of using words rather than numbers for the difficulty factors and player attributes. The actual wording says “It [Fudge] also uses words rather than numbers to describe character traits.” The claim is that “Fudge’s descriptive nature makes ideal it for novice players.” I am not a novice and I detest the adjective based difficulty levels. I am pleased to say that Ghost Ops leans much more towards Target Numbers rather than difficulty descriptions for example to quote the sample mission “There is roof access and it would be easy to rappel down the building from the roof (TN 3).” In pure fudge I guess that would have been an Average challenge or something like that. Ghost Ops does have the descriptions and specifies ten levels from Easy TN1 to Mythic TN10.  For me rolling the dice, adding my skill and trying to beat a target number makes perfect sense and I am comfortable with that.

There are 13 skills in Ghost Ops and they are the way I like them, suitably broad that a single skill is used for all related tasks, one skill covers picking locks, disabling traps and bomb disposal. There are enough skills to need a balanced team to get a good coverage of the skills and the individual skill abilities differentiate characters even further. Over all the combination of pools, skills,  abilities and talents means that characters can be as unique as you could possibly want.

Character creation (in the full quick start book) is really quick and easy and is all choice based, no dice rolling needed. The source material is really cool, describing the SAS, Delta Force and a few other special forces units as your starting point.

Combat is quick and easy. In the play test the first half of the mission I was dealing with mainly innocents and tested the unarmed combat. At the end of the mission it was a lot more Frank Castle (Marvel’s Punisher/Netflix) and the body’s soon mounted up.

I never thought I would play a Fudge (or Fate) game and enjoy it but after this weekend I am a convert. I will be using Ghost Ops as the yard to measure all others against.

I am really looking forward to July when the full game is due to be released.

Part Two

The One Page Solo Engine performed extremely well. I don’t want to give any of the mission details away but at one point I was making my way stealthily up an access stair way when the solo engine prompted guards would be coming down, ducking out a fire exit there was another guard out there. Having avoided them and got to the right floor the solo engine was a bit kinder and the mission progressed. Trying to make my way out after completing the task Not only were there security guards on the roof but they were also fully aware of me coming up the stairs, cue yet another encounter.

Looking for a safe side of the building to rappel down to get away I asked the question “Is there anyone in the street below?” The “Yes and…” result, given that all the security and fire alarms in the building were blaring, suggested that not only was the street occupied but the police and fire services would be screaming into the street.

This is the sort of thing that you just have to go along with when you are using a solo engine. The mission went rather off piste for a while but that allowed the solo engine create a range of threats and challenges. The javascript plus dice roller together in the same window make running the solo game really easy and the solo engine almost became invisible. By comparison the paper version required multiple dice rolls for most questions and table look ups. It is a lot more imposing than my version.

People new to solo engines often ask too many questions, not trusting themselves to improvise. In total I only needed to ask eleven questions of the solo engine. For my eleven questions I got four unscheduled encounters any of which could have ended in combat, two new locations and when faced with the the moral dilemma over collateral damage of civilians I learned a lot about by characters moral position. No innocent NPCs were killed during this adventure although several probably had to call in sick the next day.

Over all the solo engine was a great success and it is now my engine of choice. I have saved it to my phone and as it works entirely locally it even works in flight mode so long plane journeys are now even easier!

Part Three

Fudge… The 1995 Fudge rules are certainly not to my taste. Ghost Ops was described to me as ‘leaning towards Fudge’. While I agree the dice and the skill resolution mechanics are defintely Fudge-like the implementation is much grittier than Fudge and comes across as more empirical. I think Target Numbers do that where as Good or Great sound a bit fluffy or fuzzy.

What this has done though is make me want to look at other Fudge games. I may not get on with the original implementation of the rules but I can no longer tar derived games with the same brush.

This has been a really enjoyable and educational weekend.

Fudge Solo Engine

In my recent post on Ghost Ops I made a reference to another project. That project was an automation of the One Page Solo Engine by Karl Hendricks.

This single page PDF does everything you really need from a solo engine. One the plus side it also has a complex question mechanism but on the down side it is more dice intensive than I personally like (but no where near as many rolls mythic or CRGE).

Hopefully, you should all know now that solo engines work on a weighted Yes/No question and answer mechanism. Questions you would ask your GM you pose to the solo engine such as “Are there any obvious guards?” If you were looking at the front entrance of an airport the answer is very likely a yes but you roll the dice and modify the roll for that likelihood. The engine comes back with one of four common responses No but…, No, Yes, Yes and… . You then use common sense, the game setting and the story so far to decide what that answer means. So a No but… could mean that there are no obvious guards but the area is covered by multiple cameras. A Yes and… could mean there are guards and they seem to be on heightened alert, armed and checking every vehicle.

The One Page Solo Engine has a complex question mechanic. Not every question is a Yes/No. The complex question mechanic uses a pack of playing cards to produce a verb/adverb pair. These can sometimes seem pretty strange. So lets say you see the criminal mastermind in a downtown LA bar with his henchmen. You ask what is he up to or how does he seem? Yes/No is not going to work here but the complex answer comes out with some thing like Creating + Social. You could interpret that as the villain is celebrating something with is henchmen is maybe is courting a gangland rival? Again it is down to the setting, the game and what would make the most sense and advance the story.

Anyway, I wanted to create an automated version of the One Page Solo Engine to do away with all the dice rolling and card drawing. So I bashed together a single webpage with just some plain text, a bit of javascript and some CSS. When I chose to test this with Ghost Ops I then bolted on a Fudge dice roller.

The only part I did not include was the dungeon crawler as Ghost Ops is modern day so I didn’t need a random dungeon.

I have zipped the file up and shared it if you would like to have a play and you can down load it from here. If you save the html file to any device you can use it off line, it does not need to connect to anything, no databases or servers needed to make it work.

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