Mercenary Mondays: Characters!

Note: Mercenary Mondays is an going series of posts about the Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game and it’s behind the scenes development!

A good story, in any form, can live or die on it’s characters. Strong characters can often drive a story past any of it’s faults, flaws or shortcomings. Weak characters, expose those same issues to the reader.

As the imitable Joss Whedon said: “You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are.” And really, that is the core of any good story, and as we all know (or I assume you do since you are reading this blog), roleplaying games are all about the stories. And that’s really something we wanted to convey with the Schlock Mercenary RPG. Space Opera can live or die on it’s grand scale, and it’s driven by the choices and decisions of their characters. A good character in an RPG can be a joy to play. You really attach, tell stories years later, and really empathize with that character you created.

I know for myself, if I really like a character, you know, because I’ll buy new dice, stick the sheet in a sheet protector, and ensure that particular character never gets lost.

With a roleplaying game, the first choices you make as a player are about your character, and we wanted to drive the Schlock RPG to show that. There are really a few ways we can set about it.

The first set of choices are class driven. Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) really sets up your class to define your characters, and any extra bits you want to add it are the rules. They’ve tried to modify this over the years, with the introduction of background feats, traits, etc. Pathfinder has done similar.

The second set is really how The Dresden RPG does it. A series of questions that define your character, and by answering them, you generate your stats and abilities.

Lots of systems meld the two ideas. Legend of the Five Rings has a 20 questions you answer, and then your family, clan and school of training all generate your stats and abilities for you. World of Darkness uses a vice/virtue system to help define how your character reacts, but your background is mostly left to you. Traveller takes the other extreme and has your background generated for you as you make the character, ending with the possibility that you could die during character generation.

So how does the Schlock RPG plan on sending you on your journey across the stars!? We got a couple ideas and I’ll let you in on the current way we’re handling it. Obviously this is all in beta, and subject to change.

You select a Sophont template. This gives you some stat modifiers/skill adjustments. These changes reflect the inherent abilities of your “race”. You then use our character creation method to generate your stats.

After that, you answer 10 questions about your characters past. These questions have answers that send to a ranked list of possible background selections. The background you select gives you some flat skill bonuses. These skills represent what you’ve learned throughout your life.

Second you’d pick your “command package.” This defines your role within the ships hierarchy and gives you yet more skill bonuses to represent your training in the mercenary charter.

After all that, you get free skill points to modify your skills with. These final points reflect your characters chosen areas of study and expertise.

All in all, this should really give you a feel for how your character came to be.

Looking at the spread there, it seems pretty complicated, but in practice it’s actually really quick and simple. Our goal was to have your character be generated in under 20 minutes and provide a list of options.

After all that, we have a list of questions that pose situations to your character. You answer them, and in doing so, attempt to determine how your character would react to specifics, and to breathe a little bit of life into your character.

Equipment and all that falls later into the process, and we’ll get into that latet with the next topic! After that, next step is your mercenary charter creation. That’s a topic for another post!

Thoughts? Suggestions? As usual, sound off below!


 

As a teaser, here is the current list of Sophonts, background and command packages:

Sophont Templates:

Humans

Uniocs

Uplifted Gorllias

Kreely

Frellenti

Neophant

Vhorwed

Fobottr

Amorphs


Background Packages:

Military (Grunt)

Military (Officer)

Espionage

Criminal

Pilot

Scientist

Medical Professional

Civvie


Command Packages:

Commander

Quartermaster/Munitions Officer

Engineer

Doctor

Legal Counsel

Captain

Chaplain

 

 

 

 

Mercenary Mondays: Dice!

Note: Mercenary Mondays is an going series of posts about the Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game and it’s behind the scenes development!

As any good roleplayer knows, dice are the key element of any game. The chance of randomness, failure and success is delivered, and interpreted through dice. The Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game uses 3 six-sided dice (abbreviated as 3d6). All rolls in the game use this particular combination of dice.

3d6

The particular color combination you see in the picture to your right is important. The odd color out is what we call “the complication dice”. It’s the dice that tells you when bad things happen! I’m not going to go into mechanical specifics, because that’s not important here. The important part is why did we chose this particular dice mechanic of 3d6 over the many other options. To do so, let’s look at the various options we have.

One of the classic dice options is the single dice roll. The most common iteration of this dice mechanic is found in the d20 system used by Wizards of the Coast for their Dungeons and Dragons products. You also find it in several Eden Studios games, and various offshoots of the d20 system (Mutants and Masterminds, any of the OSR revival products). The benefit of the d20 (and by proxy any single dice roll system) system is two-fold. The first is that every time you roll the dice, you have a 5% chance of any given number out of the 20. This provides a wide ranging level of effects and results.

The second is much simpler. You always roll the same dice. Never having to count, or pool your dice is easy. Never underestimate simple.

However, the d20 system has some pretty hefty drawbacks. The first is the same as a benefit. You generate a large number of with ranging effects. It’s possible to hit that 20 result, do great, or hit the 1 result, and do awful. You can have the same chance every time. The second is the reliance on one particular dice. That can be problematic occassional.

The next option is the dice pool system. West End Games, White Wolf, and Shadowrun are all examples of a dice pool system. The general idea is that you generate the number of dice you roll (either in d6, d10s or others), and roll the entire pool of dice, attempting to achieve success through either a target number, or looking for a set amount of results. The dice pool system has a major benefit in that you have a strong amount of averages. Check out the graph below: 
dice pool

As you can see on the graph, the multiple dice mechanic causes a bellcurve. A bellcurve provides more reliable results, and a greater chance of average success which is something we wanted in Schlock from day one.

However, we aren’t using a dice pool, instead, we’re using a fixed roll system, where in every roll in the game uses 3d6. This gives us the bellcurve of the dice pool, with the simplicity of the d20 roll. Several other games have used similar systems (Hero, the ill-fated Fuzion system) and the average curve of success allows encounters, stats, and characters to be balanced and built the same from the ground up.

I hope that helps you understand why we used the particular mechanics we did, and what they bring to the game! As usual, any questions? Throw ’em at us below.

Why We Play

This post is the first in a series from myself and some excellent guest authors regarding roleplaying games and how we got into the hobby and how it’s affected us. What we play to accomplish and more.. Enjoy. 

Summer 2000. I was a tall, skinny kid from North Dakota at a Boy Scout camp in Minnesota. We were sharing a campsite with some other troops, and since ours was fairly small, we had made pretty good friends with the other scouts. Near the end of the night, I saw several of them sitting around a camp table. One of the scout leaders was standing up and gesturing expansively. More ghost stories clearly. So I wandered on over. Paper, books, and pencils were scattered across the table.

Clearly. Not ghost stories.

I was sat down, and someone handed a character sheet. A older scout instructed me in assigning ability scores, choosing a class (druid seemed appropriate), a race (half-elf, because they had cool names), and an animal companion (a badger, our troops animal). It probably took 20 minutes for me to pick my spells, thumb through the Monster Manual to look at my badger and see what was going on, and pick my weapon. Dire flail. Because hell yes. It’s a two headed flail…seriously. So awesome.

So, 30 minutes down, and the rest of my life was utterly changed. Aramil Naell, the half-elf Druid, was the first character I ever played. It was a simple adventure. Hunting kobolds. Fighting a white dragon (I summoned a thoqqua, a elemental fire worm that drills through the earth), and it was over. Maybe two hours of game play total. I remember thinking how cool it was to play a board game where I controlled a character.

I went home to North Dakota. The only stores that carried any RPG books was the Borders and Barnes and Noble in the only mall in town. I saved money I earned for a long time. In the meanwhile (several years), I read every fantasy novel I could get my hands on. Robert Jordan, R.A. Salvatore, Weis and Hickman, David Gemmell, Elaine Cunningham, Ed Greenwood. Anything that had a D&D label on the cover, or a fantasy looking character I devoured. Anything with a TSR or Tor imprint was given a shot and read.

About this same time, a friend introduced me to Warhammer Fantasy. While looking at models at the only hobbystore in town, I saw boxes of dice. I still have the first set I bought. Crystal Green. White lettering. Eventually I spent 100$ on all 3 core source books for 3.5 edition D&D. I still had no play group, and so I eventually taught my younger siblings to play.

After that, it was history.

16 years of roleplaying has lead to a lot of history. I’ve studied the origins of the hobby extensively. I’ve hunted down old editions and bought them online and at cons. My RPG book collection is extensive and covers games from Stormbringer to World of Darkness, to 1st Ed D&D to Pathfinder to Traveller to Empire of the Petal Throne.  Boxes of dice litter my house. All my old characters are in a binder carefully kept and placed. Minis, campaign notes and more are just scattered everywhere.

I’ve graduated from player to gamemaster more often then not, and I relish the chance to play. Everyone is different and plays for different reasons.

It took a long time for me to realize why I played and what I enjoy in RPGs. Story, character growth and strength are great, but what I relish, more then anything, is the chance to be a hero. Almost all my campaigns revolve around heroes. The world needs more heroes, and sadly, our modern society doesn’t allow heroics in everyday life. Roleplaying gives me that out. I play to be a hero I can’t be in real life. But more then that. I want a game that allows for laughter and fun with friends. The realization that all of us are playing a game and telling a story together, and that in the end, a game is just that. A game. A tool to provide fun. It’s a tool that when you forget why you use it, you stop using it right. A good RPG gives every player what they want and need.

Some of my best campaigns were in college with my friends. Staying up late during finals week to hurry and rush the resolution of a campaign before we all left for 3 months. All nighters to finish that epic battle and save the world. Characters dying and frantic rushes to the temples to bring them back. Markus Cryst, my rogue turned thief guildmaster. Ser Dante Alabaster, Paladin of the Ninth Order. Suka Coldheart, Ice Witch and Queen of the Northern Reaches.

Roleplaying has given me life-long friendships. I’ve got shared stories with some of the best people I’ve ever met, and the bonds you forge in the late hours of a night with friends are hard to break even through distance and lack of communication. It’s affecting my writing, my day to day activities and how I handle myself. I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff and let the little things slide. I’ve become more patient, more analytic, and I’ve learned to approach problems in out of the box ways.  I would never change this hobby for anything in my life, and I will always be grateful to the lessons I’ve learned.

Scion has become my favorite RPG. As the child of a God of classical mythology, fighting to save the world, it’s really the game that falls right up my alley. Built to drive cinematic, environment destroying combat, it’s a game about choices against parents who only want to use you as tools in a war, defending your legend against evil and monsters. Awesome powers, heroic feats and so much more. I’ll drop anything to run Scion. The tales of the children of gods. Heroes in the extreme.

For me, RPGs will always be about heroes and villains. Knights in shining armor, fighting alongside knights in battered and dented armor. It’ll be about not choosing evil over good, or the easy way out. For me, it’s how we want to view ourselves.

It’s escapism into a reality where I am more then the sum of my parts. Where the equation is not balanced. Where the words I use to describe myself are ideals, not truth. Synergy into heroism. Indomitable. Honorable. Chivalrous. Gallant.

Why do you play RPGs? What are they to you? Sound off in the comments!

Mercenary Mondays: Trust!

Note: Mercenary Mondays is an going series of posts about the Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game and it’s behind the scenes development!

This is what my Google Drive is currently showing. Yes, that’s probably what you think it is…or what the title says in the picture below.

ImageIsn’t that just super exciting? I wanted to start off with a discussion of the underlying principles of my design theories behind the Schlock Mercenary RPG. Here is a link to Jeff Grubb’s theory of “high/low trust” roleplaying systems. To paraphrase for the tl;dr crowd,

   
“The idea of a “High Trust” game involves that the players are setting down with a general idea of what their purpose is – both from the idea of genre and the rules themselves. Yeah, the mechanics might be cheesed, but that’s not the point – you have a big ball of examples and different ways to resolve them. The GM has to think on his feet to resolve issues, as do the players, and often the GM and the players are teaming up to figure out the best way to resolve a situation. 
At the opposite end are “Low Trust” games, which try to map out all the possibilities and set down specific rules for handling different situations neatly and effectively. 4E is pretty solid on that, but we can also add Champions from back in the day and GURPs as well.”
  

The idea of high trust and low trust RPGs are simple in theory. High trust = generally less rules. Low trust = generally more rules. That’s a gross oversimplification, but one that is necessary. Here is why. When Howard came to me and brought up the idea of doing the Schlock Mercenary RPG, I leapt at the chance. Not only did I get to work with a good friend and man I respect, but I get to create my own system inside an established universe? What more could I want?

Well, let me tell you. Things are not always as they seem, and quickly, I could see the daunting task I had accepted. Howard had crafted an extensive universe with a very specific feel. Humor through violence, satire, and wordplay was the order of the day, all against a massive space opera backdrop. Not to mention, he had a very specific mechanic designed around roleplaying and complications that can arise. So suddenly, I’m working in someone else’s sandbox and I have to play inside these rules they’ve set me. Hm. When you say it that way, it sounds much less appealing.

However, salvation is near at hand, and in the first conversation with Howard regarding the ideas for the rules, I pitched some changes to his ideas to help it fit the game better, and suddenly, we’re playing in the sandbox as a team. How does this relate to “high trust/low trust”? In a collaborative effort, you have to have a high trust team. A team with less rules, and more conversation to help guide the flow.

So here we are, about five months later, and the Schlock Mercenary RPG is well under way. We’ve had a public alpha test for charity. We’ve done about three months of alpha play ourselves at this point, and we’ve made some pretty serious progress.

But there’s struggles, and it all comes down to the core concept of the game. The issue becomes one of science fiction. By nature, scifi is a genre that is bound by it’s rules. Science is a real thing, full of fabulous actions, reactions, consequences and explorations. And by nature, one would assume, that a science fiction roleplaying game, would be one bound by rules. How does FTL work? Armor? Weapons? Cybernetics? Hacking? AIs? These are all real questions and theories that impact the world of science. How does one approach this? By nature, my first inclination was to begin working on a mighty tome of theory and science, to lend itself to marauding mercenaries. Alas, who would buy such a thing? Surely fans of the Schlockiverse would, but what about gamers? What were we going to do that was different to make our RPG better then anything before us.

Science fiction is too broad. It’s too varied. Star Wars. Star Trek. Farscape. BSG. Stargate. Just in those alone, you approach hundreds of theories, and ideas, and some of them are very strongly based in reality (some, not so much. Looking at you Star Trek).

If any of you have ever played the seminal scifi rpg Traveller you might understand my approach to the theory of the game. Traveller is a hard science fiction game. Science fiction can be either hard or soft. Hard SciFi is low trust. Full of rules, and math, and calculations. Soft SciFi is low trust. Star Wars (before all that midichlorins bull crap). Jedi and the Force work, simply because. Traveller has finite rules. You can only travel so far. You can only fly so fast. You even have a mortgage on your spaceship. You can only carry so much cargo, and fuel, and you need living space, and there’s actual percentage profit tables.

That’s not how we wanted to do it. This game is for players to tell the stories they want. So how do we set them up for that? Modularity (new word, made it up). There are lots of rules, and moving parts, but by keeping the base mechanic simple (3d6 + one number), and creating the rest of the game around the concept of a modular game, you can keep it as high or low trust as you want. Think of a lego house. The base rules of the game form the base (the large green platform you build on). The rules for races are one block you attack. The rules for starships are another block. So on and so forth until you built a house. And suddenly, all these modular rules become the full complete game. But you can take some parts out, and the house doesn’t fall apart. Same with the game. You don’t wanna do the starship rules? Great. Pull ’em out. They stand on their own anyways. Same with cybernetics. Any part of the game can be removed if the players and GM decide they want to modify it. Schlock veers towards the high trust end of the spectrum (especially in the complication mechanic), but we’re using the ruleset to cover all the major parts you’d expect from a space opera.

I’ll be attempting to do a weekly update regarding the Schlock Design process as we go through. The game is still in early alpha, and things are changing frequently, but hey, it’s always fun to see.

The Last Paladin

“Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”

Stories of fairy tales, heroes and more are sadly lacking in our modern society. I’ve created this blog to allow for personal output, blogging about gaming, roleplaying and more. Just a simple website to allow some limited expression through out the world, and hopefully allow me to feel.

So, feel free to come along this ride with me. if you don’t want to, that’s fine too.