Wednesday 12 June 2024

Dangerous Worlds

MAC Attack takes place on distant worlds, with HumanityFleet splintered into factions.

Some of those worlds are less welcoming than others.

HAZARDOUS TERRAIN
Strange crystals, plants, and fungus can prove a hazard to those passing through. At the start of the battle note which areas of terrain are hazardous and assign them a type.

Pyroform
At the start of the Meltdown phase MACS within gain d6 Heat.

Toxicid
In the Meltdown phase Infantry within are destroyed unless they can roll 4+ on 1d6.

Strangloid
At the start of the Meltdown phase all within take d6-3 Hits.

HOSTILE LIFEFORMS
These are treated as AUs and assigned a single initiative card.

In their Move Phase all Hostile Lifeforms move toward the nearest enemy unit at their listed speed.

In the Attack Phase they brawl with the number of dice listed, using the weapon type and weapon mod rules listed.

They can be assigned Hardware.

Shard Hornets
12” B1 (i.e. 1AD, Burst)

Brain Lashers
9” P2-V (2AD, Piercing, Volatile)

Technopanthers
9” G3, Armour, Cloak

TOWERING MONSTROSITIES
Significantly large lifeforms can be given their own initiative card and require up to 6 hits before they are destroyed.

They count as Class 3 for collision purposes.

Scaled King
6” B6, 6 Hits

Claw Behemoth
6” P4, 4 Hits, Armour

Black Phoenix
12” P7-T, 4 Hits


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This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

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Wednesday 5 June 2024

DIRTY MACS the Grand Forge Doesn't Want You to See

Tired of getting crushed by your enemies' finely balanced MACs? Tired of living by the book? Want to bring something special for your next clash?

We hacked Foreman Postello's personal design terminal at the Grand Forge and stole a folder named "DIRTY DESIGNS DO NOT LOOK IN HERE."


These schematics are so filthy, so sordid, that even the Arch-Rector's circuits would blush. 

Use them without shame.
Without mercy.
Because your enemy would do the same to you. 

The Funfhander (12pts)
Class 1 MAC
1: LP4-V GaussCannon
2: Lock (-1TN when firing main gun)
3: Lock (-1TN when firing main gun)
4: Insulant (-1 Heat when firing main gun)
5: Insulant (-1 Heat when firing main gun)
6: Insulant (-1 Heat when firing main gun)

The "five-hander", named because modules 2-6 are all in service of that main gun.
This thing moves into position, lines up the shot, and then fires the biggest MAC-portable cannon in the galaxy with -2 to the target number, cascading hits from its Piercing type, bonus hits on 6s from the Volatile mod, and all snugly insulated to generate just a single point of Heat. 

On a perfect shot this little MAC can land 16 hits on a target. Now probabilities aren't my strong point, but I think that means even a Class 3 MAC is mathematically annihilated. 

Right, that 16 hit shot is kind of unlikely, but you can easily get up to 7 or 8 hits if you manage to roll a few 6s. Just make sure you do that. 

Sure the Heat starts to pile up after a few shots, but at that point are there any enemy left to worry about?

Is this design broken? As in "unfair"? Big threats attract big attention, and if the enemy can disable the main cannon then this MAC isn't doing much of anything for the rest of the battle. 

The Triceratops (20pts)
Class 3 MAC
1: LB3 MacCannon
2: LB3 MacCannon
3: LB3 MacCannon
4: Plas-Cell (weapons generate 1 less Heat. Take 1 Internal Damage when this module is destroyed)
5: Plas-Cell (weapons generate 1 less Heat. Take 1 Internal Damage when this module is destroyed)
6: Plas-Cell (weapons generate 1 less Heat. Take 1 Internal Damage when this module is destroyed)

Okay, so what if instead of putting a huge gun on a tiny MAC we put three huge guns on a huge MAC and loaded it up with Plas-Cells to let it fire them at 0 Heat?

Without needing to worry about weapon heat this big guy can even Rush around the battlefield without running hot. 

It's not as wild as the Funfhander but as a gun platform it's about as efficient as you can get.

Just don't let  any of those Plas-Cells get hit... which can be an issue when they make up 50% of your modules. Good luck!

The Weatherman (20pts)
Class 3 MAC
1: AG4-X MissileRack
2: AG3-X MissilePod
3: AG3-X MissilePod
4: AG3-X MissilePod
5: AG3-X MissilePod
6: AG3-X MissilePod

We put as many missiles as we can onto a big MAC designed to stand back and blast them off at whoever your spotter points at. Just stand still and let these the guidance technology do the aiming for you. 

It's more expensive than just having a formation of mobile batteries or howitzer teams, but you get so much more total firepower compared to those piddly little pods that vehicles and infantry are restricted to. Fire off a single battery each turn and when you're down to your last two just hold down the trigger and pray. 

Yeah you could take off a pod or two and install some actual heat-management modules but that would result in fewer total missiles, which seems to miss the entire point. 

The Junglegym (7pts)
Class 1 MAC
1: LB2-V Autocannon
2: Frame (reduce cost by 1pt)
3: Frame (reduce cost by 1pt)
4: Frame (reduce cost by 1pt)
5: Frame (reduce cost by 1pt)
6: Frame (reduce cost by 1pt)

Behold, the cheapest MAC design that's still technically legal. 

What does it do? It's a MAC! It has a gun and everything. Don't fire it too often, though, it can get hot. 

Wait, are you suggesting you could use this very cheap MAC to exploit the 3 MAC Minimum for building a Force? Then use all those points you saved to surprise your opponent with a horde of over-equipped Auxiliary Units and Remote Assets?

Interesting. 

The Rhino (20pts)
Class 3 MAC
1: P2 Club
2: P2 Club
3: Plate (Roll 4+ to ignore each hit to this module)
4: Plate (Roll 4+ to ignore each hit to this module)
5: Plate (Roll 4+ to ignore each hit to this module)
6: Plate (Roll 4+ to ignore each hit to this module)

No guns? All the less Heat to worry about! You can run around all day, crashing into your enemies and pummelling them with your club-fists, all in relative comfort. 

A beautifully elegant statement on the balance of offence-defence wrapped in a big, dumb shell. 

I call it the first masterpiece of MAC design. 

The Cockroach (12pts)
Class 1 MAC
1: G2 Spike
2: Jet (Allows 9” of Jumping)
3: Jet (Allows 9” of Jumping)
4: Jet (Allows 9” of Jumping)
5: Jet (Allows 9” of Jumping)
6: Coolant (Cool 2 Heat, gain 2 Heat if destroyed)

Yeah, running into your target and punching them is fine, but what if they try to stay away from you? Jump 36" across the board and slash them to pieces, cooling down enough for another jump next turn.

You might think this isn't all that effective, as jumping makes it difficult to actually land a hit on your target, but sometimes you just really need to put a MAC in the right place, and that 36" move really comes into its own. 

Seizing an objective? Landing directly on that artillery vehicle? Hiding like a coward to sneak a technical victory?

Now you're thinking like a Cockroach. 

Check out MAC Attack here and make your own broken designs.

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This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

Wednesday 29 May 2024

Remote Assets

I wanted a simple system for "Offboard Bullshit" in MAC Attack, covering long range artillery, nearby computer operators, and orbital support.

The points values are very shaky right now, so use with caution.

REMOTE ASSETS (RAs)

Forces can call in additional support from off the board, safely positioned safely beyond the battlefield. For each MAC in their Force a player can purchase one Remote Asset, paying the points cost listed. The RAs are not tied to a specific MAC, this limit is just for force creation. 

RAs are assigned a card in the initiative deck just like any other unit. When their card is drawn in the Move phase they are ignored, but when drawn in the Attack Phase the player chooses whether to use them or not. When an RA is used its initiative card is removed from the game. 

Unless noted, RAs can target any Allied unit or any Enemy unit that at least one Ally has line of sight to. 

Precision Strike (2pts): Target unit suffers d6 hits. 

Carpet Bombing (2pts): Target a point on the battlefield. All units within 6” suffer a single hit. 

Interface Hack (1pts): Target MAC must make a System Check or be Hacked. When Hacked, gain 1 Heat and adjust TD by 1 if the attacker wishes. 

Target Painting (1pts): Mark the target. All attacks against them this Round are at -1TN. 

Ammunition Drone (1pts): Restore one depleted X-type weapon to being fully loaded. 

Shield Drop (1pts): Mark the target. All attacks against them this Round are at +1TN. 

Redeployment Lifter (2pts): Move an allied unit up to 6” in any direction, ignoring terrain. Set facing at the end of the move. 

Disruption Burst (2pts): Select a point on the battlefield. All units within 6” are affected. Move each unit 3” directly away from the centre of the effect in an order of your choosing. Do not change facing. 

Tactical Overlord (2pts): Look through the remaining cards in the initiative deck and set one aside. Shuffle the rest of the cards and place your chosen card on top of the deck. 

Gravity Well (2pts): Select a point on the battlefield. All units within 6” are affected. Move each unit 3” directly toward the centre of the effect in an order of your choosing. Do not change facing. 

Emergency Coolant (2pts): Target loses d6 Heat. 

Total Bombardment (3pts): All units that are not in cover suffer a single hit. 

Smoke Column (1pt): Increase target’s TD to 6.

Temporal Disruptor (2pts): Take one initiative card already drawn this turn and shuffle it back into the initiative deck.

Nanite Swarm (1pt): Target unit rolls 3d6. Each die repairs the module number rolled, turning destroyed to damaged and damaged to undamaged.

Quake Wave (1pt): Target MAC must pass a System Check or Fall Over.

Thermal Tick (1pt): Target MAC must pass a System Check or immediately set themselves to Heat 6.

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Wednesday 22 May 2024

Drama from Inelegance

In Rock, Paper, Scissors, players simultaneously throw out one of three hand symbols. Rock beats scissors beats paper beats rock etc. If the thrown symbols match then the result is a draw and players typically throw again.

In Odds & Evens each player is assigned as either Odd or Even. They simultaneously throw out either 1 or 2 fingers and check the total number of fingers shown. If the total is even the even player wins, if it is odd the odd player wins.

By having fewer hand-types to choose from and removing the draw it could be argued that Odds & Evens is a more elegantly designed game than Rock, Paper, Scissors. Certainly if you're using the game to quickly find a winner, such as "who gets first turn in the real game we're about to play" then Odds & Evens is going to get you there quicker.

I grew up with RPS and I remember having thoughts similar to the above when I learned about O&E as an adult. RPS is obsolete, spread the word!

But something is missing from O&E and all its elegance, and when the game is this small you really notice when something is lost.

There's power in that moment when you draw a round of RPS. Let's say you both throw down scissors. You pause, look at each other, and throw again, but now there's context. Do you stick to your guns and throw scissors again? Maybe they'll do that, in which case you should throw rock?

The idea of "gambits" for RPS is probably meant as a joke, but it ruffles my feathers that it fails to account for draws and how to respond to them. It's a real gap in competitive book play.

Of course it mostly comes down to chance, barely different to flipping a coin, but the experience of playing RPS is entirely different to flipping a coin, and O&E with its ruthless efficiency fails to capture that.

While I might seem evangelical for elegance and minimalist design, there's sometimes power in those moments of inelegance.

Something to consider for RPGs and wargames, but how about we introduce even more inelegance to RPS?

(much like Chess there's a long history of messing with the rules of RPS, so I'm not claiming origin of any of these)

All the below assume a game of playing to 3 points.

Symbol Values

If you win then you earn points based on the symbol you threw.
Rock (3pts), Scissors (2pts), Paper (1pt)
I've seen this variant with Paper as 2pts and Scissors as 1pt but I prefer it if the weakest symbol beats the strongest.

Tie Breaks

If you tie then an Event occurs depending on the symbol thrown.
Rock: Bump rocks. Both players lose 1 point to a minimum of 0 points.
Paper: Stack papers. If a player wins the next throw they earn an extra point.
Scissors: Sharpen scissors. If the next throw is won by scissors then that player immediately wins the game.

Power Creep

A new symbol is added: Dynamite, represented by a "thumbs up" gesture. It beats any other symbol, and ties with itself.

Dynamite can only be thrown by each player once per game.

If playing with Symbol Values then Dynamite is worth 1pt.

If playing with Tie Breaks then tied Dynamite returns both players to 0pts.

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This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Week Off

Last week I took a bit of time off around my Birthday, so there's no Patreon post to share. 

However, if you haven't already been following the podcast then there are four episodes to catch up on, with another two left to come.

So far I've been joined by Quintin Smith, Laurie O'Connel, Mike Hutchinson, and Kelsey Dionne. You can listen here or on your podcast service of choice.

Expect the fifth podcast episode and a new blogpost next week.

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This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

Wednesday 8 May 2024

MAC Attack x Epic 40k

MAC Attack is back on the menu!

Well, it was never really off for me. I've been tinkering away at it behind the scenes since I last wrote about it. Since my brain has latched back onto wargames for a little while I thought I'd try an experiment with the game.

Can MAC Attack do Epic 40k?

It started out with wanting to test an all-AU (Auxiliary Units, basically anything not a big robot) force against an all-MAC force. This isn't strictly legal in the rules-as-written but who cares?

This reminded me of the very first scenario presented to players of Epic 40k 3rd Edition.

Yeah, in there. 

The opening scenario in the book pitches a small Space Marine force against a lone Ork Gargant. Hearsay tells me that this battle was pretty unfair on the Marines, but I think it's a commendable choice as it brings a big scary war engine to the table right away, rather than holding it back as an option for advanced play down the line. It gets the players engaging with one of the key selling points of this scale (BIG unit) from the off, instead of putting them in the shallow end with some infantry vs infantry tutorial. 

So I set about recreating the two forces using MAC Attack rules.


Space Marines (55pts)

4x Land Raiders (16pts)
LP2 Lascannons
Armour

5x Devastators (15pts)
LP1 Heavy Weapons
Armour

6x Tactical Marines (24pts)
SB1 Boltguns
Armour
Transport (can Rush)



Next I built the Gargant as a Class 3 MAC, and with points left to spare I added a handful of Stompas to fill out the force.

Orkz

Gargant (20pts)
Class 3 MAC
1: LB3 MegaCannon
2: LB2 BigGun
3: LB2 BigGun
4: Assault Weapon
5: Plate
6: Plate

3x Stompas (12pts each)
Class 1 MAC
1: LB2 BigGun
2: SB1 DakkaGuns
3: Assault Weapon
4: Radiator
5: Radiator
6: Plate



As per the scenario I deploy one Marine formation in the central ruins (this battlefield is all ruins, as the Epic 40k starter box intended). The remaining Marines will enter from their board edge on Turn 1. 

The Gargant and Stompas start over on their edge. 


The Orks home in on the devastators. Cover is extra-beneficial to Infantry in MAC Attack, so the initial Ork salvo is underwhelming, knocking out a single base of Marines. 

Meanwhile, the Tactical Marines and Land Raiders race onto the board, the former skirting up the flank to try to find a good piece of cover. 


The Stompas break formation and put pressure on the other Marine formations. The Tactical formation hold firm while one of the Land Raiders ends up crushed beneath the green Stompa. 


The full weight of fire from the Tactical formation is too much for the blue Stompa, who gets blown apart, suffering critical internal damage. 


With supporting fire from the Gargant, the Stompa blasts away two more of the Land Raiders.

The remaining Land Radier flees into the open field and blasts the Stompa with it's Lascannons, causing it to meltdown and explode. The last remaining Stompa charges into the ruins and crushes the remnants of the devastator formation. 


As the dust clears, the Tactical Formation race into cover amongst the ruins, facing off against the Gargant. The isolated Land Raider does its best to line up a long ranged shot at the Gargant. 


The forces trade fire, the Marines holding up against the big guns, chipping away at the terrible war machines. The Land Raider's lascannon sears into the Gargant's back, rupturing the engine, but it still stands. 


The Gargant and Stompa lurch into the ruins, crushing marines beneath their feet, forcing the infantry to abandon the cover to avoid being wiped out in close combat. 

Meanwhile the Land Raider lines up another shot and lands it with perfect precision, triggering an explosion in the Gargant's grinding core. The giant collapses to the ground, its reactor in meltdown, as the Ork crew flee into the open ground. 


The final Stompa is disarmed, its guns silenced under mass fire, its reactor exposed, and with the Land Raider swooping in to support I call this as a somewhat pyrrhic Marine victory. 

Does MAC Attack work as a quick-running alternative to a more typical Epic system? 

I think it does alright! Of course you can't simulate every unit in exactly the same way as in the original game, but it gave me an excuse to crack out those lovely 6mm armies again. 

In terms of AUs vs MACs it felt about right. The MACs felt powerful, able to cut through the formations when things lined up well, but the mass fire of the infantry and powerful anti-tank gun of the tanks never felt futile, taking a steady toll and eventually breaking through. 

All of the Marine AUs had Armour, essentially a 4+ Save, so it would be interesting to try a similar battle with some unarmoured units as a contrast.  

Maybe next time I'll try a full-on Epic clash... big formations of tanks and infantry on each side... maybe bring in the aircraft too. 

Perhaps even put a forest on the table. 

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This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

Wednesday 1 May 2024

The Power of Bluntness

I was reading through the rules for Blood Red Skies. I picked up the starter set for reasons that will become clear in a few weeks.

The game appeals to me because it feels so focused, and so many areas that are often covered by deep subsystems get treated with outright... blunt rules.

The planes each have a special base that can be tilted to advantage, neutral, or disadvantaged position. You can only attack planes in a lower state of advantage to you. No, you can't take a pot shot if you're both in neutral, you've got to find a way to improve your position or worsen theirs.

Get on their tail and you'll knock them down to disadvantage, or use the outmanoeuvre action against a lower-skilled pilot and you'll automatically disadvantage them by one step, or use the climb action to improve your own position.

Fly into the clouds to return your state to neutral, and then it's like you aren't there. No harsh modifiers to attacks against you, you're just... essentially non-existent until you come out.

Clever positioning might result in you spending a few turns hardly needing to touch the dice, finding ways to line up your targets in vulnerable positions.

This all brings a sort of clarity to things, where it's quite easy to assess large parts of the state of the game, and the dice only come out for those exciting moments of chaos when you squeeze the trigger. All the while you're still thinking like a fighter pilot, being acutely aware of your position relative to your enemies, and always planning the next manoeuvre.

Of course, it still has a few of those fiddly rules so commonly found in wargames. Turret gunners don't quite work like your standard machineguns, and there's a hand-management subsystem for applying your plane's traits. Still nothing outright complicated, but they stand out slightly against such a streamlined core.

It got me thinking about the appeal of these blunt rules.

The way I see it, individual rules or subsystems can sit along two axes.

Blunt/Deep - How much processing is involved in applying this rule?
Blunt: Simple, obvious, or outright binary.
Deep: Made up of multiple pieces to remember, requiring notable maths or reference, or involving a sort of game-outside-the-game.

Wide/Niche - How many different situations is this rule applied to?
Wide: You'll use this frequently, or at least once in every game you play.
Niche: This only comes up in specific situations, and could reasonably be unused for multiple sessions.

Of course, it's all relative. A rule might feel blunt if it's surrounded by more complex mechanics, or might feel deep if it's a somewhat crunchy part of an ultra-lite game.

These can be combined into four quadrants. Wide-Blunt, Wide-Deep, Niche-Blunt, and Niche-Deep.

Brace yourselves for some graphic design. Here's where I'd put some of the moving parts of Mythic Bastionland.

I certainly have preferences here. I think Deep-Niche rules can be kind of tricky, as you sometimes don't use them often enough to properly learn their complexities. Overall I definitely lean toward the blunt side, especially in wargames, but I think a game can succeed with all different types of rule if they're implemented with purpose.  

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If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.


Wednesday 24 April 2024

A World in a Magazine

Four years ago, I wrote about my history with miniature games and getting back into them during the lockdown. Summer 1995 saw me seduced by the world of miniatures during show-and-tell, but I needed to endure the long wait till Christmas before I could get a boxed game into my hands.

Save up my pocket money? As a ten year old?? Impossible.

During this extended period of anticipation I poured over every detail of White Dwarf each month, and that very first issue I bought is still burned into my brain.

White Dwarf 187, July 1995, bought from the newsagent on the walk back from school.


(Sadly not my long-departed original copy, but rebought during my ongoing midlife crisis)

Let's take a look inside.

Actually, let's not. Before opening it you'd always flip to the back cover. 

It's hard to overstate the impact that these battle scenes had on my young mind. Much more than any mere illustration. A tantalising vision of what your dinner table could look like if you and a friend got real good at painting and modelling. 

A key factor in the impact of these early magazines was the lack of context. Sure, now I can look at that photo and pick out every unit type, but I was going in blind. What's that horse-and-cart with a load of guns sticking out? Is that a tank in front of it? Who are those guys flying in from above?

It sets the mind racing in a way that's lost once you can just tick off "war wagon, steam tank, Karl Franz".

Naturally you try to predict who would win, too. "Well, the crossbows would shoot the Knights, meaning the harpies can rush forward to get the dwarfs". 

More fantastic scenes. Epic always held a special place in my imagination.

But enough gushing over pictures. Let's actually ready something. 

See how each article is credited to a specific writer? That will be important later...

I guess there's a new tank released this month. Without a rulebook none of these numbers made sense, but that didn't stop me straining to discern the difference between a heavy bolter and a lascannon.  

Oh shit, distracted by another cool battle scene. This is one of only two appearances of the Eldar in this issue, so from this image alone I didn't make the space-elves connection. I just thought they were another bunch of guys with cool helmets. They'd later go on to become my 40k army of choice. 

The other Eldar appearance, showing the level of painting that won you a Golden Demon back in 95. 

I'm not sure anything I write could add to this image. I can feel it with every sense. 

Older folks than me will lament the decline of White Dwarf. The once proud magazine that covered every RPG and wargame under the sun, reduced to a gaudy pamphlet of adverts designed to brainwash children.

But what a joyous brainwashing it was! I wanted to play an Imperial Noble fencing with hordes of enemies and blasting them with my pistol, and I wanted to roll a Chimera across the battlefield, cutting a bloody swathe with its multilaser.

Yeah, it's marketing, and it's shallow, but it sucked me in completely. 

Ooh, here's the big one. Where do I start with this?

So Warhammer 40k was in its 2nd Edition at this point. It had a good amount of crunch, still showing its skirmish/RPG roots from Rogue Trader, but it was clearly designed for battles with a few squads and maybe a couple of vehicles. 

In this battle report the facing armies looked like this.

Each controlled by a team of four players, with special rules for communication. 

This would not be considered normal at the time, but I didn't really know that. It set the benchmark at a pretty daunting level. 

In many ways this battle report wasn't a good introduction to 40k. In reality, this battle has stuck with my for nearly thirty years. 

Not so much for what happens. Sure, it has a memorable finale, but the real appeal for me is how it felt as an observer.

It wasn't some hyper-competitive tournament event. It wasn't a game of chess. Instead, it looked like a bunch of friends bringing all their toys to the table and playing just to find out what happens when you throw together such an audacious scenario.

Growing up in a small town, this whole miniatures thing often felt like some weird hobby that consisted entirely of me and my best friend. These battle reports were plastered with images of the White Dwarf team. The articles were credited and written in their own distinct voices. With each issue I felt like I got to know them more. Those faces and names let me feel like we were part of a bigger club. 

Look, this shows just how desperate times these were. We'd drool over black and white images of miniatures, sometimes not even fully assembled! Ask an elder and they'll even tell you stories of when they had to squint at hand drawn images of miniatures. They'd have killed to have black and white photos to look at. Luxury!

So that's it. Quite possibly the thing that represents my entry into this weird hobby. 

I promise I won't throw you away again. 

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Wednesday 17 April 2024

Making the Game Happen

My favourite RPG books do their work in three distinct stages:

GRAB: Get the reader excited to play the game and make it an easy sell to players.

PREP: Give the GM what they need to get ready to play.

PLAY: Make it easy to play the game once you get it to the table.

In short, they help the person who bought the book to make the game happen.

WHAT FAILURE LOOKS LIKE

I've got plenty of books on my shelf that fall down at one of these stages.

GRAB: Books that just don't get me excited. These don't last long. Sometimes a game has neat parts but is a tough sell to players, often lacking an easy hook to use in the pitch.

PREP: The classic is the book that reads fantastically, but you can't quite see how it actually translates to a session, or the amount of work required to prep feels overwhelming.

PLAY: Books you get to the table, with a group of excited players, but there's either something lacking or, more commonly, the rules themselves get in the way of the fun.

I'm not all that interested in the eternal "what is a game?" debate. I'd rather identify the RPGs that seem most effective at making the game happen, enabling actual play instead of sitting on a bookshelf.

WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE

GRAB: Anything with evocative artwork. I say this as a writer who cannot draw at all. A thousand times I've seen people get excited for a game before they've even read a word. This power shouldn't be underestimated.

Mothership, MÖRK BORG, Ultraviolet Grasslands. Anything that just leaps off the page and demands your attention while laying down a very clear vibe of what to expect from the game. Mothership isn't just an Alien inspired game, but it's useful to have that first hook to draw players in.

PREP: FIST is a great at this. When reading through it the prep just sort of... happens. Of course it has all those random tables, but the advice for how to run the game is so clear that just from skimming it I felt confident I could give it a shot. Cthulhu Dark has a tiny rules section, then goes into detail explaining how to use each of those rules, then how to structure your game, and includes a selection of settings to use.

Out of the three sections I think this is the one that gets overlooked most often. Sometimes it gets offloaded onto supplements assumes you're using an existing adventure module, but I'd always rather see this area covered by the core book right there alongside the rules of play.

PLAY: 24XX hits both halves of this. Firstly the rules are so light that they don't get in the way, but secondly the game gives you a bunch of tables and guidance that can help in those moments of GMing when you need a prompt or a spark. Oh, you thought we handled all that in prep? Prep never complete! Tables to help improvise NPCs and locations are downright essential for the way I run games.

I'll never stop saying FIST is great.

DO ALL GAMES NEED TO DO THIS?

Well, no... but I think these things significantly increase the chance of the game actually being enjoyed at the table.

That's certainly what I look for in a game, whether I'm buying it or designing it myself.

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Wednesday 10 April 2024

April of 5, 10, and 15 years ago

Okay, let's do this again!

15 years ago

I was still deep into working on The Adventurer's Tale, preparing an all-dwarf sandbox campaign. I drew up a cool hex map, did some prep but... it never really got past a one-shot. I feel very lucky that with the last few years working on Mythic Bastionland I've been able to dive so deeply into the world of hexcrawling.

The Adventurer's Tale is a standard fantasy game. Some scraps of ideas that I like, but nothing that I haven't improved on elsewhere. Perhaps I'll do a quick readthrough stream of it some day and see if there's anything to be learned.

A post on monster design shows that I have a little affection for 4e D&D here, focusing very much on monster-as-encounter. I think most of this advice still holds up.

10 years ago

DIE BONEHEAD DIE is something I still think about from time to time. Seems like I keep coming back to ideas for a sci-fi game, but I keep burning them to the ground and starting again. I still love the focus on random tables in (what's left of) DBH, but the document itself is a mess of a half-abandoned, half-repurposed game.

Guess I'll just have to do space properly another time.

5 years ago

Not just one, but two posts about running mechs in Into the Odd (kinda)!

This would lead to Fighting Machines getting officially added in to Electric Bastionland, and this is all waaay before I got hooked into Battletech and wrote MAC Attack, so it's interesting to see a different take.

I feel like I get my mech-fix from miniature gaming more than RPGs, so not sure if this is something I'd plan on revisiting.

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Wednesday 3 April 2024

Paranoia's Iceberg of Secrecy

I've always been aware of Paranoia, but I only played it for the first time at Grogmeet in December.

Its reputation as a silly game of backstabbing and betrayal sounded perfect for a convention one-shot.

This was true! I had a lot of fun playing it, but it stuck with me more than I expected. I've been hoovering up what I can from the new Mongoose edition, the older XP-edition, and any other scraps I can find around, with one eye on running a one-shot when my Traveller campaign wraps up. I'll probably use the core system of the latest edition with bits and pieces pulled from XP. For those in the know, I'm leaning somewhere between straight and classic styles.

Players-conflict is all good fun, but I think it works best when the objectives are carefully designed. It reminds me of Matrix Games, and the importance of setting clear objectives that drive conflict with the rest of the group, but still allow opportunities for cooperation... or at least conspiring.

This is al turned up to eleven with Paranoia because you're likely to start the game with... well, up to six objectives each depending on how you look at it!

Let's see them one-by-one, working our way down the Iceberg of Secrecy. They differ by edition, but here's the configuration I'm working with.


Troubleshooter Job
The only objective that's shared by the whole group. It could be as simple as "deliver a sandwich to this address" or something bigger like "scout out this lost sector and deliver a full report". At first you might think this is the most important objective, but I really see it as a way to shove the group together and kick off the game. There's so much going on beneath the surface that I think this one can be anything that pushes the group into interesting locations.

Mandatory Bonus Duty
Everybody in the team gets a special role, from equipment officer to hygiene officer. The member least qualified for any of them is declared Team Leader instead. The group know each other's MBDs, so it gives some immediate surface-level tension. They're all-responsibility, zero-power, but the Computer will assess your performance during the debrief.

Experimental Gear
R&D are always looking for opportunities to test their creations, so everybody gets one experimental device that they should put through a proper field-test when the opportunity arises. Potentially useful, likely disappointing, often devastating.

Service Group Mandate
The other players know which Service Group (essentially government department) you belong to, but not necessarily the special Mandate you've been handed as their representative. A member of the Power Service might need to recall all batteries from unused devices to recycle their energy, while an Internal Security member might be tipped off to Communist activity in the area you're headed to. These are generally legal, so can be shared with the group, but you never know if one of them is working against you. Maybe it's best to keep it to yourself.

Secret Society Mission
Every character also belongs to a secret society. These are completely illegal, so you definitely don't want the other players to know! In addition to offering the chance to call in favours, you'll be given a secret mission. If you're a member of Haxxors you might need to copy a virus from a rampaging bot you've been advised to avoid, or if you're a Free Enterprise spiv you might have a case of stolen pharmaceuticals to sell-on. Yeah, selling stuff is illegal, so be careful. These missions are especially fun when designed to conflict with each other.

Mutant Power
As if that wasn't enough, you each get a mutant power. Being an unregistered mutant is treasonous in Alpha Complex, but registered mutants often have it even worse, so keep it to yourself. You can just ignore this power and never use it, but I like the powers that tempt you into using them just this once.

Winning the Game
Most RPGs say there's no such thing as "winning the game" but I absolutely plan to count up how many of these objectives each player has achieved and declare a winner.

No reward beyond the victory, but what a victory it could be!

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Wednesday 27 March 2024

March of 5, 10, and 15 years ago

This blog is now old enough that I can look back 15 years. I'll also dip into what was happening 10 and 5 years ago.

Self-indulgent? How dare you! I'll do my best to find something useful in there.

15 years ago, I wrote about a new method for rolling attributes, generally suited to D&D. I'd forgotten all about it until I started a Traveller game earlier this year and gave the players the option to use this method (they boldly opted to just roll down the line individually instead). 

I think it's still a tool to keep in the bag. 

10 years ago, Into the Odd was taking shape. I wrote about starter packages, a focus on mundane disposable items, and the final version of the game's damage system (now with the familiar Save vs Critical Damage when you take STR loss). It's around this time that Into the Odd really resembles the game it is today. 

The example of play in the damage post really shows the power of strength-of-numbers in Into the Odd, something I would temper in Electric and Mythic Bastionland.

5 years ago is interesting to revisit on a personal level, because there aren't any posts for March.

Looking back at my old calendar I can see this was a month when my day-job was swallowing a great deal of time and energy, leaving me with no fuel for writing or games. 

If you've ever supported me on Patreon, bought one of my games, or even just followed this blog, I want to give a heartfelt thank you for helping to change my life in such a huge way since that month of silence. 

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This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

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Wednesday 20 March 2024

Fancy Shooting for Electric Bastionland

This is not errata. It’s a little module I’m messing with that might appeal to those who want more combat options for gunplay in Electric Bastionland.

Guns are back! Let's go get'em.
Concealment/Cover/Barrier

  • Concealment partially obscures vision of the target, Impairing the attack unless it is a Blast attack.
  • Cover also offers physical protection against projectiles, granting +1 Armour unless the attack is powerful enough to penetrate straight through it.
  • Barrier completely protects the target from fire. If they peek out to fire then they count as being in Cover or Concealment as appropriate instead until their next turn.

Suppression: Weapons that can provide continuous fire can lay down Suppression, attempting to pin the enemy in place or drive them away. This takes the place of a normal attack or action.

Note the dice that would be rolled for the attack and assign them to the Suppression Pool for the target. If this is a Blast Attack then do this for every target in the blast.

The attack causes no immediate damage, but if the target takes any action that exposes themselves, including moving or attacking, they immediately roll their Suppression Pool and take damage as normal, losing the benefit of their cover/concealment. This occurs before they can perform their action.

If the target withdraws directly away from the source of Suppression then their Suppression Pool is emptied and they do not take any damage.

If the attacker is damaged or takes any action other than continuing the suppressive fire then the Suppression Pool is emptied.

Who needs aiming?

Aimed Shots: Weapons that can fire with some accuracy can attempt to land a single devastating shot in place of normal fire. This involves two actions: Aiming and Striking. Each of these takes the place of a normal attack or action.

Aim: Focus on a visible target, or a piece of terrain that you expect them to emerge from. This cannot be performed on the same turn you moved. Note that you are aiming at the target. Aim is lost if you take Damage, Move, Attack another target, or are otherwise distracted.

Strike: Combatants that are Aiming can interrupt their target’s turn to Strike them. This occurs before the target’s action is resolved.

Roll the attack as normal, ignoring Cover and Concealment.

If this would cause a Wound (STR loss) then they lose an additional d6 points of STR.

If the attack would be evaded (causing only HP loss) then the entire attack is ignored, and no HP is lost.

Indirect Fire: For Mortars and similar the attack is performed as normal if the attacker can see the target, or has communication with a spotter who can.

If the attacker is predicting the location of the target then attack as normal, but dice showing an odd value are discarded.

This all sounds a bit much. Let's stick to the old ways.

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Wednesday 13 March 2024

Mongoose Traveller Mid-Campaign Thoughts

I'm three sessions into my Mongoose Traveller campaign. That's one session of lifepath character creation and two of regular play. So far we've had a lot of fun, and the players have all brought their A-game, but how has it been to run?

Challenging.

I wanted to run this by-the-book as much as possible, hoping to tap into some of the great things I'd heard about Classic Traveller in play. My gut feel was that Mongoose is close enough to Classic to make this work.

Now some of the difficulty might be down to the fact that I normally run my own systems, and when I'm not doing that I gravitate toward the very light side of things. Mongoose Traveller is far from the crunchiest system ever (assuming you aren't using every optional part of the toolbox), so I haven't run into many mechanical issues, but I feel like the system hasn't done a great deal to inspire my prep and improvisation. In some places it even feels like ballast that I have to work against.

I'm using the Spinward Extents sourcebook, which uses 368 pages to cover two whole sectors of space in great detail.

At least, in great detail overall, but I find myself constantly wanting different types of detail to what is being presented.

Of course Traveller is famous for its spartan Universal World Profiles that summarise a planet in 8 numbers and letters, expecting you to translate that into something table-ready. I'm on board with that. 

Each sector has 16 subsectors, each of which has around 24 worlds described via their universal profiles, and 4-5 that get an actual writeup, anywhere from two to ten paragraphs of description. 

Here's the very first world described in the book:


This is actually one of the better entries! You get a broad physical description, and the present-day situation is somewhat interesting, but it's still sorely lacking in hooks. I've ranted about settings with millennia-spanning timelines before, but this book does a lot of "here's an interesting event... that happened 500 years ago". 

Each subsector gets its own description, but it's similar to the above, not all that much to the ground-level (or I guess deck-level) stuff that's happening in my game. Here's the subsector that Barba Amarilla sits within.


Now the opening description of the sector as a whole details some of its history and polities, but the vast majority of that has been too zoomed-out to be much use for my game. What does it tell us about the Duchy of Mapepire, which controls the world and (most of the) subsector we've already looked at?


For context, the most common year for a traveller game is 1105, so even the most recent event (the Duchess taking the throne after the botched coup) happened over 30 years ago. All the cool stuff about a pirate captain carving out his own domain happened over 400 years ago.

There's some juice in the idea that the Duchy is running, or at least enabling, pirate activity. Imagine if the book had described this as a dynamic situation, perhaps detailing a related incident that happened in the last year or so to make the place feel a little more dynamic. 

It describes their fleet organisation, and mentioned their starport presence, but I get no idea of how to actually represent this. What makes their starports feel different to those of the Corellan League? Do their fleets have unusual protocols that would make one of their ships an interesting encounter?

I did enjoy reading through all of this and learning about the sector, but so little of it translated into gameable ideas for me. If you're prepping or improvising, and you're just looking for a nugget of inspiration, it can be very difficult to find any!

Characters are mentioned, but often some long-dead founder of a world, never an interesting character that the players might actually meet. 

Events are detailed, but usually historical, instead of some flashpoint that's ready to explode when the characters arrive. 

There are rumours, a d66 table for each of the two Sectors, but as each page covers an entire sector it's often not relevant to where the players actually are. 

There are rare exceptions to the above, but far too few. 

The Core Rulebook has some tools to help with this, including encounter tables and a method for generating characters, but it feels like a missed opportunity to not have bespoke content for the part of space I'm reading about. 

This isn't a negative review of Mongoose Traveller or of The Spinward Extents, but an insight into some of the difficulties I've had combining these resources with my particular style of GMing. 

And perhaps a warning that running something by the book can be so much more challenging than winging it. 

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