This month the subject of the carnival is The Combat Experience and it is being hosted by RPG Alchemy.
Love it or leave it combat is one of those parts of the system that has more than it’s fair share of table time so finding a system that the players engage with is something that is always something I look for.
At school I studied fencing and attended an after school fencing club, the romantic ideal of swinging a blade was what attracted me to the idea. Since then I’ve always checked to see how a combat system models something as simple as feints, parries and riposte.
When I started gaming combat was something I enjoyed, as it gave me an outlet to swing swords or blast away with rayguns. I remember finding Pheonix Command and relished looking up on the various tables to see where someone had been shot. While this appealed to me as a games master it was very time consuming for the players as I had to perform a few calculations and look up the result.
While Phoenix Command handles gunfights and the aftermath of being shot I was very disappointed by the hand to hand side of things; even with the hand to hand supplement things never got any better. Millenniums End also had a novel way of doing things, align a template over a silhouette of a person and then you could work out where you hit. This also worked for hand to hand and I remember an afternoon of two players consistently kicking each other in the groin for what seemed like ages; the happy spree was broken up when one of the combatants switched locations and axe-kicked his opponent in the head.
I even tried playing Middle Earth Role Playing (MERP) but I was confused more by the game mechanics than the combat system, add percentage this to skills etc.
Warhammer 1st edition had a pretty solid combat system that was only slightly wonky but did cater for hit locations.
In the end I decided that I preferred a system that gave me the detail if I was after it, something the narrative games like FATE cater for and the system is a lot more cinematic and pulpy which is something I always enjoy playing with.
So it’s been a year since I started this blog and I’m pleased with how it’s turned out so far.
Once I started I realised how much I missed writing for pleasure; most of my penmanship has been dull technical stuff that while serviceable isn’t something that I can point to and say “I did this”. Which is very unlike this blog my main outlet for my creative urges although my muse seems to be driven by my sickness, something that I find very amusing.
I thought it was also time to expand upon my origin story that I first mentioned here, while searching through a box of books it turns out that I had accidentally deceived you all and my first purchased RPG turns out to be the basic edition Marvel Superheroes RPG. I purchased in 1986 while on holiday after being driven to find it by the amazing adverts in the back of the Marvel comics I was reading.
I think I forgot about buying it as I never seemed to know what to do with it or how to get other people interested. Bear in mind this was before the days of the internet and gaming magazines in the UK were had to get hold of from the local newsagent.
What really grabbed my interest in gaming was a programme I saw on LWT back in the early 80s called “South of Watford” and presented by Ben Elton. I remember watching him go to the Games Workshop store in Hammersmith and talk to the store manager before later on playing some D&D. Five years later I would be in that very store and buying my first games.
Games Workshop then was a different store, one that sold other peoples material and long before the advent of the Games Workshop hobby which is what they’re best known for these days. In those days you could pick up a licensed copy of Runequest, Traveller or even Call of Cthulhu.
Moving behind the screen.
After being a player for a short period of time I decided to try being a gamesmaster and looking back on those days I think it was my sheer enthusiasm that kept me going. I was at one point gaming five nights a week running a different game each night with a different system. It was during this time that I started to understand what I liked to run; science fiction piqued my interest more than fantasy did and I loved the four colour superhero genre. Much Traveller and Marvel Superheroes was played along with a side dish of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The Critical Miss years.
It all started simply enough with an open call for players at a local comic shop; the owner knew me and the people organising the event and I decided to turn up and try to play with a different group of people. Let me tell you those first few weeks were a great time, we all brought games down to play and since we never really that organised you could never count on the same group of players for each game. I took my chances and dusted out Paranoia second edition and over the course of several weeks I ran through the published adventures I had bought. The players had fun trying to kill each other and deal with the game forms a friend had photocopied.
Slowly the group started to crystallise from the raw elements we threw at it, after a few months we lost a player and the venue; we found a new home in a building owned by the father of another player and we played in that cold cramped warehouse amongst the boxes of paper. Summer came around and then we started to lose players until by the following October we were d0wn to a handful and we moved once again to my place.
I found myself running more games and with a stable group we could try to play campaigns together. I was now playing twice a week with two different groups and this became once a week when the two groups melded together. We lost more players as well; one went off to university, one moved away and one left for personal reasons I won’t go into here.
It was during this period I broke out Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and embarked upon the Enemy Within Campaign.
Over the years I’ve only played with a handful of gamesmasters, some of whom have been very good while one or two I haven’t got along with as we have very different ideas and playing styles. I would like to think of myself as a good gm and that is something one of my players was telling me after each session; his feedback was really good and I’ll admit is was something of an ego boost for me.
So it is hard for me to pick out one specific GM and say they are the best overall since each have had their own unique ways of doing things. One of my friends managed to create such a spellbinding atmosphere, it was almost like being hypnotised and we were rudely snapped out of this state when a door in his house suddenly slammed shut; I don’t mind admitting that I jumped out of my seat when that happened!
During the Cyberpunk 18.104.22.168 Night City Blues campaign there was one particular session that really sticks out as I managed to weave two or three sub-plots into a scenario along with the main plot for them to discover and I received some very positive feedback about that.
When it comes to crafting my own scenarios I tend to go with the three act model as this works really well for me and gives room for creation of sub-plots. This style also works if you decide to play a pulp based game and I cribbed plenty of advice from the Lester Dent Master Plot formula, if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a read and I was able to use this advice to create a random pulp adventure generator. I’d like to share it with you all, but as it’s based upon a few commercial products I can’t as not only would it violate copyright, it could also hurt the sales of them.
While writing my top ten list I came across some notes I made for a campaign using Cyberpunk 2020 where the player characters were policemen in Night City. The campaign was called Night City Blues and was based upon a pastiche of the various american cop shows which were popular in the UK during the early 90s; I drew a lot of inspiration and even the title from the popular Hill Street Blues. I can’ t remember if I ever did the famous briefing scene in the show but I probably did.
I wasn’t surprised as I read my notes that the same concept would stand the test of time and could easily be run today as a police procedural; I think the setting would also work with the current line up of two players as they can be partners standing shoulder to shoulder and back to back upholding the law.
One of the great things about a cop style game is that it suits a smaller player group, if you have two players then you have the classic buddy cop set-up which is a staple of the genre; whether it be a straight by the book cop paired with a slightly insane guy who plays it fast and loose; or you could have a human partnered with an alien, cyborg, robot, zombie, mutant, anthropomorphic animal sort of thing. The possibilities and combinations are endless.
For this campaign the players were attached to the Special Investigative Division which meant I could give them all sorts of cases to play with and they had the latitude to follow whatever leads they could find. It also meant that they weren’t restricted to just investigating homicide or vice cases, variety is after all the spice of life and I wanted it to be as varied as possible.
The game started to write itself as the teams faced both internal and external conflicts; two of the group who had different ideas to the rest of the team would find them paired up together by the player character with the highest rank as none of the other officers would want anything to do with them. Things came to a head when one of the police officers used his hard earned salary to buy an enhancement to bolster his reputation as a ladies man but forgot to have enough money for recuperative therapy or ask for time off to recover from the surgery. The end result being he got shot and since he was already wounded from all the surgery he went straight back to hospital for a long period of rest.
I gave them an idea of the budget that they would be working with and they spent quite a lot of it on tooling up and it wasn’t until one of the pair of specially adapted patrol cars was destroyed did they suddenly realise they no longer had any money to replace lost transportation; this also meant they started treating what gear they had with more care as they knew it would be difficult to obtain a replacement.
Perhaps I shall dig out the books I used to run the game and have the players once more tread the beat of the famed Night City, the thin blue line protecting the citizens of the area against the horrors of crime and cyberpsychosis; or I could take the ideas and concepts and retool them for a series set in an exotic location. Mars comes to mind, in the Cyberpunk universe the world is slowly being colonised and it has the air of an old west style frontier town or even the moon for a deadlier set-up.
Hmmmm, now there’s an idea, something that We Can Remember It Wholesale 🙂 , and remember lets be careful out there people.
I was one of the backers for Interface Zero second edition, the Savage Worlds themed Cyberpunk game and the company has been pretty good sending its rewards through to the backers.
Imagine my surprise when I redeemed the discount code for the players guide and nearly flat-lined:
“Discount redeemed. Interface Zero 2.0: Player\’s Guide has been added to your cart at the discounted price of £4,643.51”
If that’s the discounted price, then I’m glad I backed the Kickstarter as I’d hate to see what the full price of the book is!
Interface Zero 2nd edition is available from Gun Metal Games.
I encountered the first edition of Cyberpunk at my local Games Workshop in Hammersmith back in the day when Games Workshop sold more than just their own products.
I was intrigued by the line-art on the box and the blurb on the back really gripped me as I had seen no other game where you could play someone who could hack into satellites to play music they liked.
While I liked the system, it did seem to be a little unbalanced in places especially in the way it handled combat as the combat system Friday Night Firefight had rifles that do enough bullet damage to vaporise an un-armoured person.
So I put the game aside after running it a couple of times and thought no more of it.
It was a few years later that I purchased the second edition titled 2020 and it is this edition that I used to run several campaigns with.
I was surprised to find that very little had changed from the original version, some things were simplified and the combat system had been given an overhaul. Best of all my favourite part of the game remained intact: The lifepath.
I have mentioned before how I like systems that give you a background for the character and this not only did that but it would also give you plot hooks galore as well as allies, lovers, friends and enemies. Fitting in with the dystopian hedonism that certain cyberpunk books had the lifepath could as a result of a few dice rolls dictate that your character could be straight, bi or homosexual. Of course I never made a player accept any result that made them feel uncomfortable with. The lifepath was such fun I had one player try to make his character as old as possible so that they could play this mini game for as long as they could.
The game was also resplendent with chrome and had all sorts of stuff that a player could desire; whereas some games publish veritable arms catalogues as supplements, the four Chromebooks are a futuristic lifestyle magazine the products within are presented as fake advertisements. It looks like the design team took some cues from the film Robocop and the Chromebooks added a much needed touch of polish and some great 21st century ideas for household living.
Cyberwear was a big part of the game and you could implant all sorts of gadgets into your body. Cyerbarms and legs were par for the course and owing to the lessened lethality of the combat system which meant you no longer turned into red mist you could instead find your arm or leg being destroyed.
I think I picked Shadowrun 1st edition up after Cyberpunk as I was drawn to the evocative cover painting on the hardback and I although found the system a bit wonky in places it was good fun to play.
It was touted as fusion of cyberpunk and fantasy, it had the classic fantasy races; humans, orcs, elves and dwarves. The lack of an integrated lifepath system also irked me but the archetypes made up for it.
This was one of the first games I encountered to use an archetype based character creation system and the archetypes where just that a standard character you could pick up and with a small amount of customisation play.
There was also a full blown character creation system but that to me is where the system started to break down; a lack of guidance on how to handle to priority system led to some incorrect characters which were naturally more powerful than the archetypes by several orders of magnitude.
Second edition tried to simplify the system which it did but the creep of the splatbooks didn’t help either as it appeared to me that each book was trying to outdo the previous ones. By the time the bioware book came out things were tottering on the edge of collapse. This one volume gave your character several implants that could function with cyberwear and having this book at character creation you could turn out some very potent characters.
My personal favorite was Rockwell the troll who was the very epitome of a meta-human tank. I sank all I the attribute points and cybernetic enhancements I could into his Body stat which ended up at a mind boggling 17! He once endured three rounds of hand to hand combat with a dragon and got away with nothing more than a moderate wound; it was at that point the GM cheated and decided that the dragon would use magic against him, something that Rockwell couldn’t cope with and he dropped like a stone after one mana bolt later.
Wonky rules aside, Shadowrun did have a meta-plot which runs through the supplements and the comments in the sidebars and footers of the books are very witty and add to the feel of the expanded universe.
I’ve discussed two books which rode the coattails of the popularity of the cyberpunk genre, Cyberpunk 2020 for me is best when it comes to Style but Shadowrun has the edge when it comes to substance.