Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More Hero 6th analysis

I got a copy of Dungeon Crawl Classics (pdf, not the print version...maybe soon) and am in the process of reading it, so maybe I'll post about it in a few days. Instead I felt the need to elaborate on my previous post about Hero 6th, mainly because I read all my books thoroughly and decided a few things that were somewhat surprising. To myself, at least.

I've mentioned that I thought GURPS was the best "universal" system, but that really isn't true. 3rd Edition GURPS is easily one of the best skills-based rpgs, and just using the main book you can do fantasy, modern and sci-fi games without much trouble. Definitely not D&D fantasy, but its roots in TFT are obvious. Superhero games kinda suck, to be honest, and even though it seems like it'd work, pulp and other sorts of "cinematic" gaming styles really don't fit that well. GURPS is clearly gritty in nature so it has some difficulty divorcing itself from realistic games. Nothing wrong with that, but not truly universal. I dislike 4th edition for whatever reason, probably because all the things I liked about 3rd were cleaned up, which removed the flavor. I also dislike the insane number of skills the newer edition introduces. Just seems like overkill...whatever, this isn't about GURPS.

So Hero, well, universal it is and I honestly am starting to think it can handle any genre fairly well. Like GURPS, there is a specific flavor implied when using the system, so D&D fantasy is pretty difficult to pull off. However, if you wanted to play Dying Earth, you could actually simulate the magic system better than D&D does. Imagine that. At first I thought this was complete bullshit, but upon further reflection it's indeed possible. Swords & Sorcery and all that sort of crap I talked about a while back, making a magic system completely dependent upon the PC's own personality, etc., is inherent to the system. You cannot create a wizard in Hero without putting in the work to customize a spell list, and if you're going to bother doing that in the first place might as well make it as cool as possible. Why spend 5 minutes writing up a spell and use a stupid name? The system encourages creativity for sure. I've seen D&D ported to Hero, but honestly what's the point? That's the sort of exercise that annoys me, using a system to simulate another. If you want a unique game, Hero is an excellent way to achieve it. Anyway, fantasy is viable, even if only for the custom magic system. Fighter-type characters can have so many combat options they definitely won't be left out, yet those options are essentially just bonuses or penalties to a few different attributes. Offensive ability, Defensive ability, whatever. Tactical combat is straightforward, and can be quick as hell or long if necessary. The GM can simply say "no martial maneuvers" and quell the problems that can arise if he wants. Or allow them only for fighters. Many, many options here.

The skill list, for skills-based games, is short and sweet. There aren't 100 skills listed for every possible career, instead the player must define that. The GM can allow broad skills that subsume a variety of abilities related to a job (suppose a generic Thief skill that incorporates stealth, picking pockets, etc.), or require every skill be bought separately. "It only costs points if it's useful" applies here, too. An example in the rules about being an Italian Architecture expert demonstrates that background flavor adds depth to the character but shouldn't cost points. It might be useful rarely (the GM could do this to encourage some ideas about the character), otherwise it's irrelevant. GURPS charges for this, at least by default. Also, the normalization of skills is WAY better than GURPS, and there isn't some crazy inflation of skill level. This keeps the 3D6 roll relevant, and the system doesn't break down at ridiculous power levels.

Overall, if I wanted to play a point-buy system, this would have to be it. Assuming, of course, I also wanted a custom game. If I want to play D&D-style fantasy, I'll just play D&D. Same with Marvel superheroes. Oddly enough, the combat system is actually easier than the Marvel RPG, if you can believe that. The problem is, of course, point-buy. If there was a way to randomly generate Hero characters, it'd be a great system without all that upfront work. So much for the panacea...

Monday, May 21, 2012

Reassessing HERO 6th Edition

Having spent over $150 on HERO 6th Edition and never playing it once, I decided to actually re-read the main books to figure out exactly what I disliked about the game. In the past, I've stated that 6th edition seemed like an exercise in math more than a game system, and I still maintain that's true. It's not a game, per se, but a toolkit. It even calls itself a toolkit in the introduction. I took this fact into consideration when perusing the books yet again to see if I was missing anything. Looks like I was...

Way back when, I used to play Champions quite a bit. Started with 2nd edition, then moved to 4th with the Big Blue Book. Played in a Fantasy HERO game for quite some time, really liked it. I used to be a major GURPS fan, but thought HERO was more succinct and simpler. Then 5th arrived, which was mainly just a clean-up. When 6th came out, I pre-ordered, instantly did not like it. No particular reasons why, my immediate reaction was apathy and no desire to play. In retrospect, I was misguided for a variety of reasons. Yes, 6th edition is not a game. Much like FUDGE, it requires work to create a game. And honestly, any sort of rpg you want to create is possible within the framework of HERO. But again, it requires work. You can't just pull it off the shelf and start playing, it takes a lot of work to get started. Some people dislike that, and many times it's easier to just play D&D because there's literally no work involved at all. Still, sometimes you want a custom environment with specific paradigms and this is where HERO excels.

There are some changes in 6th that bothered be at first, but now I see the reason behind the madness. No more figured characteristics. Defense is no longer tied directly to DEX, which at first seems illogical, but in reality is perfectly acceptable. Not every Olympic gymnast would beat ass in the MMA, and in fact they'd probably get killed. And I'm sure most MMA fighters would be hard pressed to do anything resembling Gold Medal gymnastics. So there's that...again, I thought it was annoying at first, but now I like it. A lot. Customizing a character is much easier because of this. You can have a frail old martial arts master who can barely scoot along that is impossible to hit. And you can have a guy with ridiculous ability shooting arrows that can't palm a coin to save his life. A few other changes to powers, well, I didn't know the system well enough anyway to have a preference, but it looks like it works well enough.

All the upfront costs with HERO (character creation can take hours) are weighed by the simplicity of the system itself. Once you have everything ready to go, play is nothing more than rolling 3D6. The combat system is straightforward, the effects that powers have is extremely simple, and there's hardly any need to look at charts/tables/whatever. There have been knocks on rolling large numbers of dice, but unless you're a total moron I can't see it taking more than 5 seconds, even with 20D6 for instance. The phases of combat using the SPD chart are extremely nice; there's very little argument about who gets to act when, and in what order. Tactical combat is thus very satisfying. For some genres, this is a huge bonus, for others it's a pain in the ass. Thankfully, there is little need to use all the rules. In fact, you can get by with very few of the rules if you decide complex combat isn't for you. I have the Advanced Player's Guide, and after looking through that I can safely say I'd probably use absolutely none of it UNLESS I wanted to run some sort of tactical board game, in which case it'd be awesome. The flexibility of the system is rather surprising, much like Basic Roleplaying is still relevant.

Some genres I think HERO 6th would work extremely well include supers (obviously), but only if you expect a lot of flexibility. Multipowers and Variable Power Pools make characters like gadgeteers and mages easier to create than in other systems, but that means even more work. Again, that appeals to some people, but not others. I still like DC Heroes and Marvel in most circumstances, but for grittier games HERO would be ideal. HERO can do fantasy pretty well, but again it depends on what you want. For D&D-type games, I think it'd be a pain in the ass. But for a magic system like I discussed in my previous post, it's the way to go. Trying to work out a magic system is what prompted me to revisit HERO in the first place, so yeah...the 6th edition of Fantasy HERO is a very nice book, by the way, even if it's quite expensive. SciFi, pretty good. I have the 5th edition of Star HERO and have ordered the 6th; again, a nicely written book. Cyberpunk I think would work. As much as I enjoy playing Shadowrun, the system is rather shitty. It's easy to port the background to HERO, almost too easy. Westerns, first I'd say no, but honestly, the combat system would help tremendously for things like dramatic shootouts. Horror would be problematic, unless it's something like Delta Green. Call of Cthulhu would not be viable, but I've read that they're working on a Cthulhu HERO book coming out at GenCon. I'd like to see that. Overall, the system is simple enough to accommodate just about any sort of genre that is skills-based. Games featuring iconic sorts of characters (D&D once again comes to mind) would be watered down and less fun, so it's definitely not a system for all purposes. But again, I'm surprised that I truly think the game system is great, considering I dismissed it for the past two years as oppressive and clunky. At its very core, HERO is a solid, simple system that can be used for a variety of purposes, to build some fun games.

As a final note, the main books are massive...and yet, the rules can be distilled down to two pages. The Basic book is all you really need to play anyway. But to reiterate, there is a lot of work and effort that needs to be expended in order to get to that point, which makes it look like a serious pain in the ass. If you can handle the initial costs, I think the system itself is fairly solid.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Some ideas for a better S&S magic system

I've been re-reading Dying Earth recently, and it's pretty obvious when people say D&D has Vancian magic they're not exaggerating. Spells are memorized and cast, spell casters can only have a few spells memorized at a time, there are a limited number of total spells, etc. One thing that D&D lacks, however (especially the most recent versions) is flashy names. There are a few holdovers (Tenser's Floating Disc and the various Bigby spells for instance) but the names are largely descriptive and lack flavor. Upon reflection, I think this is because Gygax was trying to create a "generic" fantasy game based on a specific world. Greyhawk and Blackmoor were for the most part fleshed out universes with their own rules, hence the spells created for those environments reflect their place of birth. Even if I create my own world completely detached from Gygax's campaign, the mere fact spell-casters are using Tenser's floating disc invariably ties them to Greyhawk. Once again, the notion that D&D is generic goes out the window: it is in fact a very specific game, not intended to duplicate any story. The base assumptions definitely lead to a type of play that is more pulp than anything else, yet not Swords & Sorcery due to the way magic is handled. To summarize this rambling introduction, D&D's spell-casting system reflects a very concrete definition of how spells should work, which is why all the complaints about D&D not being up to task to duplicate various stories are 100% accurate. But the complaint itself is idiotic as D&D is for running games in Greyhawk. Or worlds that share the same assumptions as Greyhawk. Whatever, you get the point. Strip out Vancian magic and D&D ceases to be the same thing.

So there are two conclusions to reach: 1) if using D&D for a custom game world, the spells should be renamed to reflect the game world. Magic Missile, for instance, needs to be called The Unerring Bolt of Doom or whatever, something that sounds cool and reflects the purpose and effect of the spell. It's entirely possible such names existed initially, but were changed upon publication of D&D. It's a pity we never got to see them. Okay, and 2) S&S games based on something like Conan need a different magic system completely. The base D&D game works perfectly fine for combat, etc. It's easy to understand and not very complex. I'm totally joking about that, but whatever, rolling a d20 to hit is ingrained in our brains, might as well stick with it. The magic system, though, scrap that. Here's what I thought might work...

Instead of specific spells, most spell-casters in S&S tend to instead create effects as needed. It's a very ad hoc system. There are no utility spells in general as such power isn't wasted on menial tasks better handled by more mundane methods. A S&S game definitely needs thieves, warriors, etc. Mages aren't going to waste their time opening locks or shooting magic arrows when those things can be done much more swiftly by someone else. This fits the genre, anyway. Coming up with a new spell can take quite some time, and casting it might even take longer. There are no spells that can be cast in a single combat round. For a dungeon-crawl, this sucks, but wizards rarely go into dungeons in S&S, right? That's not much fun though; there has to be a tradeoff somewhere. Essentially a wizard should be able to do anything he can justify to the DM, with complex things taking a long, long time. A high level wizard should be able to do minor magic without much preparation, while even the most powerful spells could take days or weeks for anyone. Enough nonsense, here's a proposed system.

There are no generic magic-users; the player of a wizard character must pick a specific domain of study at 1st level, and every few levels he gets to pick another. We can just use the current D&D schools to simply the process (abjuration, evocation, whatever). Each of these domains has a skill level associated with it, based upon level and length of study. So if a sample mage named Cugel decides to study Illusions at 1st level, he might get a base skill of 5, increasing by 1 per level, so at 5th level he has a total of 9 in Illusions. At 4th if he selected Abjuration, he'd have a 6 skill at 5th level. Maybe allow a new selection every 3 levels? So 4th, 7th, create a spell effect, the player tells the DM what he wants to do and how he's doing it. The domain is important, obviously: you can't permanently alter anything with an illusion, just like you can't fool anyone with abjuration. The DM then assigns a level of difficulty to the spell and the player rolls a d20, adds his skill, done. The level of success should play into it. If the target is 10 and the player rolls a 17, the spell should work really well. If he rolls a 10, perhaps it works only marginally. Failure means it didn't work, with a really low roll resulting in some sort of mishap or backfire. Even a 1st level mage should be able to do some pretty cool stuff if given enough time, so time taken should decrease the difficulty. The obverse is true, which means it is entirely possible a 20th level wizard could throw fireballs around in combat; if it's a difficulty 30 to cast such a spell in 1 round, even a mid-level mage could pull it off, but he might not want to try unless it was a dire circumstance. If the player comes up with a cool name for the spell, he should get a bonus when rolling. This encourages creativity, and also allows for a "spell book" to be created on the fly during play. That wizard gets better when he uses the same spell a few times. In effect, this means every wizard will be completely different, with a totally different set of spells. The creation of magic items should be much, much easier than in D&D for this to be fun (see above about wizards not going into dungeons). Even a 1st level wizard should be able to make an item of low-power given some time.

Obviously this needs to be fleshed out quite a bit, but the title IS "some ideas", not a specific system. Maybe I'll work on that...

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Avengers is pretty good

Saw it at 11:30AM yesterday, then got drunk and saw it again at 10PM. Probably the best superhero movie I've ever seen, regardless of whatever this stupid review says. The best part is that reviewer has obviously never read a fucking comic in his life...seriously, the criticisms are idiotic and the whole thing makes me think he's a bitter, delusional film school dropout. I mean, the Hulk wasn't contemplating his raison d'ĂȘtre when smashing the fuck out of Chitauri invaders; surely this needs to be addressed! I'll probably see it again in non-3D next week sometime. One of my buddies commented that the 3D made it a bit hard to follow all the action, but it didn't bother me. When I saw Thor in 3D then normally on Blu-ray, there wasn't enough of a difference to matter, but you never know.

I'll rate it an A and hope the new Batman movie has comparable quality. Speaking of superhero movies, the Spiderman reboot looks terrible from what I can tell after seeing the trailer. Hopefully Marvel gets that property back soon.

Anyway, somewhat of a spoiler: Thanos. I'm sure you knew this already, but it was cool.

Some random stuff I liked:

  • Hawkeye was made out to be a legit badass. That's good because I always thought he was a pretty lame hero.
  • All the female characters were hot. Hey, it's a comic book.
  • Hulk was done pretty well.
  • Good acting throughout, to be honest. Loki was great, Nick Fury was convincing.
  • Maria Hill pulled off, which I thought would be difficult.

Stuff I didn't like:

  • Not enough Cap scenes...but maybe I'm just a fanboy.
  • NO NAMOR! Not even a reference or cameo. That kinda sucked. No Pym or Wasp, either, but honestly I don't care nearly as much. Still, at least a name drop would have been cool. Noticeable lack of Vision as well.
  • Black Widow replaced Mockingbird's role as Hawkeye's love interest. Whatever.
  • Thor's role in the final battle wasn't nearly as important as it should have been.
Overall, excellent movie. Which is surprising as hell, but I'm pretty happy about it.

I almost forgot: MCA died of cancer. The first album I ever bought was License to Ill; I was 12 years old and my mom took my brother and I to Target to get it on vinyl. We must have listened to that thing a thousand times...RIP, Adam Yauch.