Thursday, March 10, 2016

Godbound Session 0: The Pillars of Heaven

I've been reading the Godbound beta all week and was inspired by it. I never played Exalted, which I've heard many people compare it to, but it was scratching an itch I didn't know I had.

My players had never even heard of the game before. Not that I asked them, but it's not exactly the kind of thing they follow on a regular basis, so I was pretty sure they hadn't heard of it.

I decided to run it without telling them what it was, what it was about, or how it worked. I'm lucky because my group trusts me to run a fun game, even though lately our 5E sessions have been falling a little flat.
So I cut, pasted, and emailed a bunch of background info about the history of the setting and the nations, the magical traditions, etc. I carefully removed all references to Godbound in the material I sent them because I didn't want to tip them off to even the name of the game.

I decided to start them off as mortals and to have them become Godbound during the first game session. They wouldn't make complete characters, but I didn't let them know that because I whipped up special versions of the character sheets that didn't include any references to anything a mortal didn't have.
They did know that it was a mystery of a game. I said it would all be clear at the end of the first session; I didn't trouble them with the rules, but told them it was "basically old school D&D-ish," except everyone's a human and don't worry about picking a class.

I made them answer three questions before game night:

  • What is your character's origin?
  • How does your character make their way in the world?
  • What is a relationship or organization you are involved in?

These are the three facts that a player chooses during character creation, so I insisted they answer each question in no more than two sentences. They asked for clarification. "What can I be?" I told them they could be anything from a powerless peasant through they mightiest of warriors or archmage and not to worry about game balance since it will all make sense later.

I also told them that their characters didn't need to know each other and we'd start the game in the Kasirutan Archipelago, an area similar to Malaysia, and filled with merchants and pirates.
I only had one thing in mind at the moment. An open air shrine with four pillars, that would be called the Pillars of Heaven. When the pillars get destroyed, the characters will awaken as Godbound.

Surprisingly, they didn't grab for the most powerful options they could imagine. I asked them during the session before the big reveal why not and one player told me "I need something to strive for. If I start out at the end of a grand career what would I have to look forward to?"

My perverse GM side was pleased, but I couldn't show it.

We had four characters. I helped steer them a bit toward refining their concepts in the days before them game, but they came up with the following basic concepts:

  • Andras Mesvaros, runaway adept of the Black Acadamies of the Raktine Confederacy, traveler and rapscallion.
  • Svednova Varga, peasant of the Raktine Confederacy and runaway Curse Eater. (Two runaways from Raktine? Weird.) She wanted to be working with pirates.
  • Ji of the Nine Stanzas, beast tamer and healer from The Howlers. (A cross between a romanticized version of the Celts or Picts, and Native Americans.) She wanted to have a tiger cub for a pet.
  • Ivar Haraldsen, exiled monster hunter of the Ulstang Skerries. (Vikings.) He had been exiled for getting too close to his Witch Queen's daughter. His love used her influence to have him sold into slavery (instead of being killed and reanimated as an undead Druagr), then to be rescued while at sea.

Okay, we rolled attributes and I stepped them through the basics that resulted in mortals. Three of the four had some spells. They got some gear. We were ready to play.

I started off in a flashback.

"Ivar, you are slowly coming to consciousness. You are bound in chains, in the cramped deck of a slave ship. A brand on your shoulder marks you as a slave. Thora, your love, bargained for this fate for you instead of eternal undeath."

"You hear fighting on the deck. It sounds like... women are fighting the crew! They speak a language you don't recognize."

"Svednova, the pirate captain Azura tells you to check on the slaves. You are going to sell them at the nearest slave port. When you walk down in the hold, you recognize the one with the mark you were told look for. There's a reward of 500 gold to take him back to your home port of Batu Maun."

I let them role play their meeting and we faded to black on the scene.

"Ji, you tracked the beast, a giant black sabretooth, to a cursed ruin. Surprisingly, it walks up the steps between crumbling towers and enters." Ji followed. Inside there was something disturbingly unnatural... an arched portal lead to a seemingly endless stone bridge suspended in blackness.

She quietly followed the beast. Five minutes within, the door behind her shut, leaving her in total darkness. She had wandered on to a Night Road, but the player didn't know what that was.

"You hear some shuffling. You get the sense that something is close." She stood still. "You can hear the beast breathing. Do you want to light a torch?" Foolishly, she decided to face it in darkness so as to not give away her position.

"It's close enough that you can smell its breath now." She gingerly took a step back. I rolled for the beast to notice. "You hear the draw of steel. As the blades are pulled free, they illuminate the path. The enemy before you is fifteen feet tall with a heavy carapace and four arms. It swings for you but you jump out of the way."
Since this was a prequel to the game I didn't worry about running proper combat. My players are used to this sort of thing. We did roll some dice, but we were just looking for high numbers or low numbers and then I narrated the results.

"You see the black sabretooth! It has leaped down to a wide bridge below." Ji jumped as well. She landed and barely managed to keep from slipping over the side to infinite darkness. The angry warrior-thing which I didn't bother statting up jumped too, but he slipped and when he did he grabbed his own bridge. It began to crumble. It collapsed on itself and the way she came would never be an option again.

She lit a torch and looked the way the sabretooth had run. "Behind you, you hear some whimpering." A grey cub was trapped in some rubble from the other bridge. Ji calmed it then sang a song of healing to using both of her spells.

When the cub healed, it bounded down the path but stopped to call to her. It went the opposite way the black sabretooth had gone. Ji followed the cub and it lead her to a cave, beyond which there was sunlight.
"Looking up the hill, you see the village you later come to know as Batu Muan." Fade to black on the scene.
"Andras, why did you come to this bar in this remote little fishing village, Batu Muan?" This player hadn't really given me anything to work with other than being a wanderer. "You reach into your pocket and feel the money again. After this job your debt will be paid in full. You are to pay the reward for sparing a man's life, and to deliver a message."

I arranged for all of the characters to be together in the bar. They played out meeting and warily checked each other out. Yeah, we're starting out by having the heroes meet at the tavern.

Andras the wanderer delivered the message to Ivar. His love would be waiting for him. Come on the night of her nineteenth birthday and she would be ready to escape with him.

Andras and Svednova headed to the docks to deliver the fee to Azura the pirate. The other two stayed at the bar bonding over the little gray tiger cub.

At this point in the game we were playing. There were some interactions with minor NPCs. When the characters did anything that needed a roll of the dice, which wasn't often yet, we rolled. I had removed them fully from prequel-style narrative mode and we were playing in earnest.

When I designed the adventure for the session, I did it by generating a court, in this case a community court. A court in Godbound is a group of people who control some institution - the village of Batu Muan here. Godbound includes some charts to help the GM create drama through several types of courts, ruins, and general challenges.

I didn't really roll in this case. I had picked things from the charts that sparked my interest and interpreted some of the results creatively which is encouraged. You're not bound to the charts - they're there as an aid, not a straitjacket.

I knew I wanted the shrine, The Pillars of Heaven. I named the local shaman, the leader of the town, several minor NPCs (we had several minor but enjoyable interactions with them that I'm leaving out), the consequences of the court being destroyed (nothing in this case), and a conflict. "A new faith is preaching to locals."

I came up with a foreign troublemaker, Clarity Student, the Atheocratic priest of True Reason who knew something about the pillars and was here to stop it. I gave him a handful of bodyguards as well.
I added one other idea to the mix. The locals venerated their ancestors at the altar, but also a local entity known as Ora Nagatu. The players would cross paths on the day of the yearly service to honor Ora Nagatu.
I knew that I needed things to turn bad, because I wanted to accomplish a few related goals:
Have the characters be hopeless outmatched by the priest.

Have the characters be hopelessly outmatched by an even greater threat, Ora Nagatu.
When things get dark enough, ascend the characters, break to finish character generation for real, then let them come back and kick ass. Zero to hero in the span of a single battle.

The advice in the Godbound RPG does not approve of any heavy-handed GM shenanigans where you railroad or set up a narrow situation that seems scripted in resolution. I would tread lightly and try to rework where I wanted to go during play, but I justified some tinkering on the plot in advance because this session was really meant as "session 0" character creation, origin story, and hopefully cool reveal for the players when they learn what the nature of the game really is.

In the end, my players were very happy with the session. Here's how the rest played out:
The two PCs at the dock heard a loud ruckus coming from up the hill. The characters at the tavern were closer, so they arrived on the scene first.

The shrine-keeper and the Atheocrat were in a heated philosophical debate. The PCs decided to intervene and talked the priest of True Reason into coming to the tavern to reduce friction.

Once there, they had a long conversation where they learned that he was an outright ass. He was a rabid fanatic; the atheocrats are against religion. (To be fair, the world of Arcem has seen too many holy wars.)
As the sun started to set, the village outside erupted in song. The players emerged to see the start of the yearly offering to Ora Nagatu. The town leader, the datuk laid the offering at the feet of the shaman.
Runes on the Pillars of heaven began to light up in blue radiance, one by one they ascended higher and higher as the song grew more exultant.

One of my players asked what the Atheocrat priest of True Reason was doing.

"It looks like he is chanting a spell."

Honestly, I don't know exactly what kind of spell he was using. There are two kinds of magic in the game though, low magic and high magic. Only the greatest spellcasters can use the highest magic, and that's what this was. He was interfering with the ritual. Yes, the Atheocratic god-hating priest of True Reason would be witness to the birth of four new godbound...

The runes suddenly turned red and the singing stopped in gasps. The datuk asked the shaman what this meant because it had never happened before.

Several PCs started stealthily moving for position, expecting a fight.

A wooden building erupted in a shower of splinters.

The priest pointed and shouted "Ora Nagatu is angry! He is here! He is here!"

Everyone started running.

Ora Nagatu was a thirty foot tall monkey "god." Actually, he wasn't a god at all, just a magical spirit. There are some generic stat blocks in Godbound and some guidelines to help you design your own beasts, spirits, monsters, etc. Ora Nagatu wasn't exactly a monkey either. He had long orange-red fur and his arms were disproportionately long. Orangutan.

Ora Ganatu... the Orangutan. My players didn't even groan. They said, "How did we not see that coming!?"

I was pleased that they thought it was cool though.

Ora Ganatu attacked the village.

Another thing that Godbound helps you stat out is a mob of similar beings that fight as a unit, even if disorganized. So instead of fighting a bunch of individual villagers, he attacked the villager mob I had designed, and I described the carnage. In the first round he took down about a third of the village.

The PCs were dumbfounded and felt outclassed in the extreme already. Good. One fought with the guards (without results) and a few PCs tried to use magic to mess with the priest but his magical defenses protected him. JI ran out to face Ora Ganatu and was smacked down in a single blow. (0 HP) I told her she was dying, lying in the mud.

Things weren't going exactly the way that the Atheocratic priest of True Reason intended. He did mean to interrupt the ritual, but he thought there'd be time to shut down the pillars before Ora Nagatu arrived. He was wrong.

The priest attacked Ora Nagatu with powerful magical bolts of force. He missed and blasted the pillars instead. I rolled dice, but I was choosing these results essentially because we were still telling the origin story. Very soon I would play the game as it really is meant to be played, but that would be after the PCs were Godborn. The dice were coming out close enough and at this point too many things were unknown by my players to understand the details of combat to notice my fudging.

The pillars exploded and each PC looked up quickly to see a flash of light...

I had a little speech ready at this point that went something like this:

"You know in an instant that you are something more than you have ever been. You can feel the Words of Creation burning in your souls and you see the world more fully than you ever have before. You feel... larger than you were even though little has visibly changed about your bodies. You are Godbound."

My players were silent, but I could see that they were clearly digging it.

"This game is called Godbound. You are literally gods, at least demigods. Everything you have made up about your characters is what they were before the game we're going to play. Now we're going to finish making up your godling characters."

I passed out the real character sheets and some printed out pages from the game. "You will each choose three Words that grant your divine abilities. After that you will select gifts from those powers..."

It took about an hour to finish making their characters from that point. It's not hard to make a character, but when it's dumped on you all at once out of the blue there's a small level of shock involved.

I didn't know that I could necessarily pull it off, but I did surprise the heck out of them and they were delighted and excited.

I explained that their choices aren't unique to them, two or more could choose the same Words and or gifts, and they made the following choices:

  • Andras Mesvaros selected the words Alacrity, Journeying, and Sword.
  • Svednova Varga selected the words Death, Luck, and Night.
  • Ji of the Nine Stanzas selected the words Beasts, Bow, and Health.
  • Ivar Haraldsen selected the words Endurance, Might and Passion.

I explained some further rules like the Fray Die mechanic, how lesser foes and worthy foes work, etc. and we returned to the scenario.

"The pillars exploded and you each had your revelations. You look up at the carnage and you know that you can make a difference."

Svednova hid half the village in darkness, keeping the rampaging Ora Nagatu from killing many of the fleeing villagers. Ivar lifted a ten ton block of stone from a child with a crushed leg, while Andras quickly swept in to grab the child before the raging Ora Nagatu could strike him.

Ji of the Nine Stanzas stood before the beast and talked to it in ape language. She explained that everything was the fault of the priest of True Reason.

The ape boiled. It focused all of its energy on the Atheocrat. Clarity Student died two rounds later then Ora Nagatu turned around, still angry.

Ji used her magic to try to calm him. Even though Ora Nagatu was a spirit, I ruled that he was also a magical beast. Ji's magic can automatically charm regular beasts, but magical beasts get a saving throw.

A one was rolled.

The mighty Ora Nagatu bent low, putting his forehead to the ground. "Ora Nagatu, greatest beast of the jungle bows to you, beastlord." And with that, he turned around and walked into the jungle.

I asked the players what they plan to do next week, assigned experience point and dominion point awards, and my players were excited for this game.

It was a good session 0.

Update 2013 through March 2016

Here's what I've been up to since my last post:

  • We completed our Warbirds campaign. It's our favorite game to date. We're coming back to it eventually.
  • I wrote Warbirds Mission Cards, a small supplement for Warbirds RPG.
  • I picked up D&D 5E. We like it. The Starter Set is great, but we hated Hoard of the Dragon Queen / Rise of Tiamat, so we quit that to do Princes of the Apocalypse - which was great until it was just one long dungeon crawl after another long dungeon crawl. I hope to do Out of the Abyss someday.
  • We tried a few miscellaneous games along the way Monster of the Week, Monsters and Other Childish Things, Bare Bones Fantasy, Microscope, and Fiasco. MotW: B-, MaOCT: C+, BBF: B, Microscope: A+, Fiasco: A-.
  • I've been active on Reddit /RPG and /SWN among others.
Currently playing: Godbound (beta).

AntiPaladin Games / Mini Six:
  • I want to release a proper hardback version of an expanded Mini Six, but layout is something I can't figure out. I have the basic text document ready (without much expansion, but I know where I'm going with that.) I don't know when I'll get it done. I did finally get a PC for layout, then promptly got confused as heck on the subject.
  • The AntiPaladin Games website may go offline intermittently for the next two months. I know, two months is a long time to project, but I said it may. It also may not. I'm moving the server permanently.
  • I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  APG is a one man operation. Those of you that want to use the Open Game License to build a personal or professional project based on Mini Six have my blessing within the terms of the OGL and the Mini Six Trademark License. I'm not interested in publishing third party products or partnering, but I will be cheering your ventures on!
With all of the old business out of the way, it's on to new business!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What I've been doing:

  • Toying with a revamp of Precinct '77 for Mini Six. That was not a product announcement. I have some ideas, but not enough right now to make a sales pitch.
  • Watching Star Trek and it's sequels like crazy. I finished Enterprise, which is my new favorite incarnation of Trek, and I'm nearly through Voyager. When Voyager was on TV I hated it with a passion but I'm coming around to it now.
  • Thinking about how to make epic space RPGs work at the table, a problem which has been adequately solved by Stars Without Number already, but I can't help myself.
  • Playing Warbirds, or running it at least. I'm a fan of this game which has the best air to air combat rules I've ever played. Fast and loose, but tactically satisfying.
  • Painting miniatures. I haven't even used a miniature at the table in twenty years or so, let alone paint one. I ordered the Reaper Bones kickstarter last year and I got the Stonehaven gnomes (I frakking love gnomes - but not tinker gnomes) and a bunch of of aircraft minis...
  • The aircraft minis are 3mm (1:600) WWII fighters that I'm painting up to replace the cardboard counters that Warbirds uses. Did I say they're small? The wingspan is about equal to an American cent.
  • Speaking of stuff I'm making for Warbirds, I built a wooden "combat tracker" board. I didn't make it long enough to track all the way up to 20 like the official one does, I stopped at 16, and I also left 1 off of the board. I'll post pictures of the board and minis later this week or this weekend.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Warbirds Session Two Play Report

I was the primary GM of a group long ago, but for the last decade I've been a player except for a very brief stint running Stars Without Number.

My method of game prep so far has taken the form of a box of index cards. I make notes on generic NPCs, vehicles, places, etc. "Adventures" are a card with a list of NPCs and locations, and bare-bones plot points.

For example, last weeks adventure, based on the adventure seed "Maya Strike" from the book took the following form:

King Nenekan (of Alactan) wants to attack the airfield of King Vayana (of Vedenai). the attack must take place on the day decreed by the High Priest A'Latli.

  • A'Latli has been corrupted and will perform a sacrifice to  set a curse against the pilots (bringing stormy weather.) A'Latli wants the mission to fail so that Prince Balam dies.
  • Prince Balam is a young man with no combat experience and will demand that he fly in the mission. (The character's will need to babysit him or convince him to stay behind.)
  • Princess Neneti has secretly been replaced and impersonated by notorious figure Shiloh Cristobel. Cristobel will attempt to bribe the characters to "rescue" her, allowing her to carry away a sizable chunk of Alactan's treasury.
  • Itzel, Neneti's handmaiden, is caring for the real Neneti and assisting in Cristobel's ruse.
  • Coyopa is a bold pilot who models Mayan courage and honor.
  • The Wise Man Zyanya suspects A'Latli's corruption. He is a mysterious Yoda or Rifiki.
  • Alactan and Vedenai are sixty miles apart.
  • Vedenai Airfield is as described in the book, and has 12 Mayan fighters based there. They will be able to take off on round three of any attack.
  • Alactan has 12 fighters currently, and only Coyopa has any skill.

 Then I had a card with the writeup of a typical Mayan fighter, and made notes of what bonuses Coyopa had.

As for running the adventure, I just winged it. I introduced the characters one at a time, let them interact, and when a scene fell to a lull I moved on to the next scene.

Coyopa challenged one of the characters to an air race which the player narrowly won. Then Zyanya turned the mysterious stranger thing up to eleven, but kept feeding the characters small bits of friendly and useful advice. He also made them suspicious of A'Latli. The Prince bumbled his way through several scenes, and gave enough bad tactical advice that the characters were very afraid of accompanying him into battle but didn't want to offend him either.

"Neneti" (Cristobel) made contact with and bribed the characters to "rescue" from her "terribly rigid curse of the Mayan caste system." A'Latli got to behave grandiose and sinister before capturing Coyopa and illegally sacrificing him to unleash "the curse." (The characters were by this time more afraid of the curse than would be justified by the mechanical effects I had in mind, which was perfect.) Some characters got in a fight in the temple, and sought refuge with Zyanya immediately afterward, while others convinced the Prince diplomatically that his role was not in the air.

Then we had the air attack, which was very successful for the squadron. It went so well that the enemy planes never made it into the air, though to destroy the airfield they used up nearly all of their ammo. (We used poker chips as ammo markers, which made it simpler at the table.)

One of the characters confronted A'Latli and had a nice bare knuckled brawl. It ended with the escape of the High Priest, setting him up as a potential bad guy to bring back later. When I do that, it will help tie the episodic nature of the missions into a story arc. (I hope.)

Then they escorted "Neneti." They had assumed that this part would be a cakewalk, but they hadn't counted on being nearly out of ammo at this point. When Alactan's air force engaged them, they had to be conservative on pulling the trigger, which was a new concept for the squadron.

Also, it triggered the group's first scandal... They had fulfilled their contract, but had turned on their employer immediately after. The group has yet to learn of the repercussions of this act.

At the end of the session, the group selected "Magnificent Bastards" from the mission cards. (Defend a town in Tegesta against a corporate incursion.)

Something I've been doing is gradually using the rules of Warbirds. The first mission was a simple escort mission, pirates attacked, and we used the dogfight tracker.

Session two included an air race, a little hand to hand combat. strafing, and more group dog fighting.

Next session I hope to break out the scandal rules, sponsorships, some pistol and melee fights, and one on one dog fighting.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Mission Cards

An aspect of the Warbirds RPG that I enjoy is that the mercenary characters get to choose from their missions. The rules state that the GM should have the Guild Agent present a few contracts to the pilots at the conclusion of each adventure. The group chooses which mission to accept. This is great for me because it spreads the control around between players and GM.

As GM, I'm the one presenting the options, but the players get to choose which one to take up. After they make their choice, I can take my time fleshing out the scenario that I know they picked for themselves.

I took this concept a bit further, and came up with Mission Cards.

I took a bunch of index cards, cut them in half, and wrote short teasers on each. They include a title, a risk level (low, moderate, moderate / high, or high), the pay, a location, and a brief two or three sentence summary of the contract. (About 40 missions.)

I made forty for my initial Mission Deck, and I added in a number of routine tanker escort missions, which are the Guild's bread and butter, but are fairly boring, and Air Race and Air Show Cards. If an Air Race or Air Show Card is drawn, there is a simple random chart on each for the location, and they aren't intended as missions, but invitations to races or shows that can be played out as brief side-stories before the next mission. (The usual Guild rules about one race and one show per pilot still stand, and I only expect a single pilot from the group to enter any particular race or show.)

I put two Air Show cards and two Air Race cards in my Mission Deck, as well as five Tanker Escort missions.

Finally, I put a few Special Cards in my Mission Deck, that have effects on other cards:

One card calls for two more missions to be drawn, but the risks and rewards of each will be escalated, and the other is a card which says that all low and moderate risk missions must be discarded. If no high risk missions are left, continue drawing until one is drawn and it is the only contract on offer.

It's my intention that this is a "living" deck, so I will continue to add and remove cards each week. For example, accepting some contracts may remove others, or set up sequel missions.

I got to use them last night for the first time. I told the players about them before the game, and explained that if they succeed in their mission, they will draw one each, and one more for the Guild Agent herself. Since there are four pilots, this would mean that five cards would be drawn.

However if they did not succeed in their contract, the pickings would be slim so the group would draw one card collectively, and one more for the Guild Agent, for a total of two.

So if the current mission is successful, they get five cards to choose from, and if they fail, they get only two.

It was a blast, the players got to select from five and the silly titles on the cards made it more fun.

Warbirds RPG

Our game group has been through some changes lately. Our long-time game master is no longer part of the group, so that left an odd power vacuum. I stepped into the role, and I'm going to miss sitting on the other side of the screen, but the game must go on.

We decided it would be best to change games. A clean break, a fresh start, you know what I mean.

While at Gen Con, I found an interesting game called Warbirds RPG by Outrider Studios. This was an accidental find; I'd never heard of it or the company before. The designers of the game, Steve and Cait Bergeron, gave me the elevator pitch which went something like this:

(from the Warbirds web site)
It is a diesel-punk air combat adventure game that focuses on fighter pilots as they chase after fame and fortune. It combines the action and excitement of early adventure serials with chaos and heroism of World War 2 dogfights.
 Okay. I've never played anything like that, tell me more...
The game is set amongst the sky islands of Azure. It is an alternate reality version of the Caribbean islands (and the Florida and Yucatan peninsulas), floating in the sky above an endless murk. The islands are populated by fascinating characters and rich cultures which are both familiar and slightly alien.
Uh... I thought to myself, "okay this is strange, and I'm not sure if that would be for our group. I don't know anything about the Caribbean in the WWII period, and I don't see the point of sky islands." My expression must have shown that they were losing me here. Cait stepped up and told me about the part she had the biggest part in creating:
In Azure, fighter pilots are celebrities. Your character’s achievements dictate their fame, and you’ll get to decide how to interact with fans, gain publicity, and deal with scandals. Will you star in movies? Start your own clothing line? Hide yourself away in a mountain top mansion? Or trash your hotel room?
The fame mechanic tracks a character’s progression from up-and-comer to superstar. Characters can increase their fame by completing missions, but they can also compete in air shows and air races, and even obtain sponsors and turn their plane into a flying billboard.
Being famous means risking scandals. The paparazzi are everywhere in Azure, and they will be there taking photos when characters slip up. Dealing with the blowback from scandalous behaviour can be even more harrowing than facing enemies in the air.
Wow! That sounded like something our group could get into. Steve and Cait went on to explain about the Guild, which is an elite mercenary company the characters are members of, and a little about the system, which I wasn't exactly sold on, but it wasn't a turn off either. I decided to purchase it and figured I could rework the setting.

I nearly forgot one of the most important aspects of Warbirds that makes it work for our group. The characters are mercenary pilots in a pseudo-WWII setting, and this would ordinarily lead to concerns about rank. Does an NPC just give orders to the pilots, sending them off on missions, or does a senior player character call those shots? The Warbirds solution is that the pilots choose the missions they will accept from several alternatives presented by their Guild Agent. The pilots choose their own command structure, if any, and there aren't any NPC pilots assigned to the character's small carrier. The skipper in charge of the carrier is only interested in the safety of his ship, but stays out of the hot-shot pilots way regarding mission choices. In other words the skipper is a glorified bus driver.

Then I got to read it. The setting grew on me even though I was reluctant to accept it. It's not set during WWII, it's set in what is effectively an alternate reality that split from the Earth we all know at the start of the nineteenth century when the Caribbean was transported to a new reality as the result of a huge storm. The creators of the game are purposefully vague on the whys because the phenomenon has never been repeated and it's up to each GM to interpret as they see fit.

I don't know much about authentic Caribbean culture, and Warbirds includes some useful information, but I don't worry too much about getting the details right in areas my players wouldn't notice anyway. The demographics of my NPCs are probably wrong, and fake French, Spanish, and Mayan words and names work for me. I'm not going to worry if I end up with a non-representative number of English names. If you are a stickler for that sort of detail, there's nothing wrong with that, but it's not how I'm going to spend my time. I don't feel like the material presented is enough to fully educate someone like me who is fairly ignorant about Caribbean society, but there's enough to get a feel.

Technology evolved slower in this new world known as Azure. Radios don't work well because of background static, and radar doesn't function at all, but otherwise it is roughly WWII tech except for a few unique things thrown in. The flying islands stuff is weird, but it works if one suspends the same amount of disbelief as is required for dragons, fireballs, warp drives, and vampires. Not that any of those things exist in Azure.

The rules system is called Rapidfire, and it's fun and simple. There are three characteristics: Body, Mind, and Spirit, and the average character has a 0 in each. A score as high as 2 is highly developed, and a -2 is a huge penalty. As you can see, this is a game that takes broad strokes.

Characters have skills, advantages, disadvantages, and wealth is handled abstractly. Actually, wealth is tied to fame. Rolls generally come down to Attribute + Skill + Modifiers + 1d6.

Something I like about Warbirds is it starts with the assumption that every player character is an elite pilot. The character creation rules are written in such a way that all the stuff that makes one a great pilot is kept separate from the rest of character creation, but it still relates.

The characteristic flying skills are based on is called Situational Awareness, and it's equal to the sum of a character's other characteristics. For starting player characters, this is usually going to be +1, though if a player intentionally goes out of their way to cripple their character it could be lower. One of the last steps of character creation is to assign a character their flight skills, which aren't exchangeable with the points used for other skills earlier. This means that no player is forced to choose between being good at "ground" skills, and "air" skills, and since the focus of the game is on air combat, we all know which way temptation would break if they were forced to make that choice.

The players get a lot of control during play. They are the ones who get to choose when a bad failure is a critical failure, which complicates their situation but nets them some experience in the failed skill. They have reserve, which functions much like "hero points" or "bennies" in other games, and get to spend them one-by-one even after the roll is made, which also nets them a little experience in the skill being used. In addition, they can Put Their Lives on the Line, which grants them a good bonus for the entire scene, but increases the risks of failure dramatically.

The air combat is abstract. There is no moving figures around a map, though tokens or figures are helpful to use with the dogfight tracker, which is sort of like an initiative tracker in other games, but also keeps track of who can shoot on who. Rounds are abstract, and limitations come into play regarding ammo and altitude.

So far my group has only got to play twice, but it's been a big hit both times.

Score Card:
Setting: 4/5 (Hated the concept at first but it grew on me. I'm not concerned about authentic anything.)
System: 5/5 (Concepts are flexible and painted in broad strokes.)
Presentation: 4/5 (Great layout and art, printing is a bit faded as is typical with print-on-demand books.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Management Note

With sadness, I must announce that Phil has stepped down from this blog. The campaign we were running is indefinitely suspended, most likely permanently.

I will continue posting here in the future, just as soon as I figure out what I am going to do. It looks like I'm the DM now!