Friday, September 19, 2014

OSR Tools in the Super Hero Setting

I had some time this week to make progress on my super hero setting for Icons, a fantasy mash up I'm calling 'American Ninja Cowboys'. It draws inspiration from martial arts and super power themed anime like Naruto or The Last Airbender series, in a setting that's distinctly American and post-apocalyptic.

As a long time fan of OSR materials, I'm pleased and surprised by how much reuse I'm getting out of OSR publications and technology. Super hero plot hooks tend to be more mission oriented and reactive than what happens in a D&D sandbox - but that doesn't mean sandbox techniques don't have a place.  I'm structuring Future Fantasy America like a giant hex crawl with random encounters.

One of my go-to source books has been The Red Tide Campaign Setting.  Originally written for Labyrinth Lord, Red Tide has solid tools for creating interesting Border Sites, Cities, Courts, and Ruins.  It's vaguely post-apocalyptic as well.  The sandbox material is very strong, and the Red Tide specific material is superficial enough that it's easy to file off the serial numbers and use the sandbox techniques in any fantasy setting (even one with super heroes).  Pine City (the home base) and the environs in the Pacific Northwest are getting generated using Red Tide's sandbox systems.  There's a source book for running cities called Vornheim that I'm keeping on-hand as well to help with getting around, chases, that kind of stuff.

Icons has a handful of rules-light and old school attributes - foremost of which is random character generation tables!  With that in mind, I built an excel-based random character generator similar to what I'd do for a dungeon stocker in a D&D style game.  I've been able to generate NPC heroes and villains at a shocking pace.  Plus I lifted a lot of my NPC generators (traits and personalities) from other settings.

Ideally, I'd like to get some kind of random mission or plot hook generator put together, along with a relationship generator.  Characters in anime (and even comics, to a lesser extent) are always remembering pre-existing relationships with the villain they just encountered.

However, I'd like to have either a light touch or non-existent hand at pushing plots on the players - years of running plotless dungeons have conditioned me against scripting too much.  Hopefully the players develop some goals or ambitions that provide player-centric direction.  In the meantime, I'm considering how something like the 5-Room Dungeon can be adapted to super hero situations to help me structure scenarios.  Here it is again:

Room 1: Entrance And Guardian
Room 2: Puzzle Or Roleplaying Challenge
Room 3: Red Herring
Room 4: Climax, Big Battle Or Conflict
Room 5: Plot Twist

You can replace the concept of room with the phrase "encounter"; Entrance and Guardian becomes the initial problem, conflict, or crisis that manifests - ex: a murder in the city, or a rampaging monster from the spirit world.  Encounter 2 implies puzzle solving or investigation, Encounter 3 is a potential false lead or dead end, Encounter 4 is the confrontation with a main challenge, and 5 is the plot twist or lead into a future session.  The 5 potential encounters aren't linear, either - the 5-Room structure has been depicted lots of ways (here are some examples:  Gnome Stew's 5-Room Dungeons).

With any luck, I'll be able to get the players together this weekend to (randomly generate) some characters and be in position to try out the setting and system. I don't want to overdevelop it in case the idea bombs, either.  Of course, this is pre-release weekend for Khans of Tarkir (Magic the Gathering) so I should be off playing some Magic at least one of the weekend days.  The supers may need to wait a week.

Any other tools I should consider for generating content that would work well in Future Fantasy America?

To recap - work on the project so far has included snagging a few maps of America, replacing city names with generic FFA names like Pine City or Star City; I've used Red Tide's tagging and sandbox generation to make a handful of places (and scenario ideas emerged fairly spontaneously from there); I've used Excel to build some random generators.  It's been easy so far!

Friday, September 5, 2014

American Ninja Cowboys - A Supers Setting

"American Ninja Cowboys" is the working title while I figure out what the game is all about.  I'm sketching out a campaign setting that draws inspiration from The Last Airbender, Legend of Korra, Naruto, Inuyasha, and sundry Miyazaki films - and puts similar elements in a fantastic, wild west North America that feels like an endless frontier.  Those anime titles are the sources the kids are familiar with - essentially fantasy settings with super powered characters that can fly around and shoot things and use amazing magic powers.  It's an intriguing alternative to super powered settings I've done in the past, which always used the modern world.

I'm placing American Ninja Cowbowys in a mythic (future) America, long after a cataclysm merged the spirit world and the mundane world and civilizations are rebuilt anew, albeit widely spaced across western North America.  Gigantic spirit animals lumber across the wilderness, and the early survivors drew guidance and wisdom from relationships with totem animals  in the years after the destruction.  I'd like it to have a Native American vibe - there are powerful totem animals like Coyote, Raven, Bear, and Snake.  There are mythic locales across America, places like Lost Mesa or Devil's Tower or the Ghost Town, where frightening or numinous experiences await the bold.

Youngsters in the setting that are gifted at channeling power from the spirit world are trained from a young age by the Five Nation as guardians and protectors - they're the Jedi Knights of FFA (future fantasy America).  Any of the typical power sources in a super hero game can be made to work fine for this kind of fantasy game.  There are monsters and mutants and demons from beyond the spirit world, too - for instance, everything east of the Mississippi is in the Scarred Lands, the Land of Tears, and westerners avoid the forbidden zones.  Somewhere in the Scarred Lands sleep the Four Great Beasts of the Apocalypse.

It's a bit liberating how totally gonzo a super hero setting can be imagined.  You can freely mix Gamma-World style super weapons (liberated from the Land of Tears, of course) with gigantic Kaiju style monsters, martial arts combat, and characters with amazing powers.  Human society is organized into the five great nations, but there is a subversive "6th Nation" made of criminal masterminds and super villains that manipulates them all.

My biggest decision right now is around naming conventions.  I really enjoy anime and the fantastic Asian sounding names - something like "Raikage" sounds much cooler than "Lightning Shadow".  But I'm wary of cultural appropriation and misusing Asian or Native American sounding names insensitively.  I also need to come up with a good name for the guardian characters in the setting.  Functionally, they'll be a lot like Jedi Knights in the Lucasverse - people with extraordinary powers that act as protectors and agents.  Do I borrow Asian sounding names like Bushi, Samurai, or Shinobi, or European names like Knight, Agent, or Hero?  How about Rangers and Sheriffs?  FFA (Future Fantasy America) is going to have places like Tree City, Star City, and Wind City, I could get behind hero group names like Tree City Rangers - sounds like a sports team.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Belated Gencon 2014 Report - and Kid Cosplay

The kiddo has embraced anime cosplay
I've had trouble keeping my mind on gaming lately.  I started a sizable remodeling project back in June, assuming I'd get it done before the summer was over, and then BAM! - I look up and it's already August and the summer is fleeing across the sky.  Gaming has been taking a back seat to ripping up carpeting and tackless strips.  At this point I only have a few more weeks to go on the project - some ceramic tiling to do, tearing out the last of the carpet, and then laying new floors throughout the house - I'm hoping to be done before the end of September and be back to normal.  Painting and crown molding was all done earlier in the summer.

For those reasons, my online presence pretty much flat-lined since August and RPG stuff has been quiet.  Still alive though!  Here's what I saw and did at Gencon this year -  a belated Gencon report.

My big focus was finding a good zombie board game.  I spent quite a bit of time in the dealer hall this year doing game demonstrations at various publisher booths - it's a great way to get a 20-30 minute exposure to a game ahead of buying one.  In the zombie genre, I tried Zombies!, Zombicide, and Last Night on Earth.  I thought Last Night on Earth was the most fun and best value, and ended up picking up a copy.  We've had fun with it so far.

Other Horror Board Games
I tried a bunch of other board games as well, and a couple of horror games stood out.  I'd been hearing good things about Touch of Evil, another game from Flying Frog like Last Night on Earth, and it was pretty fun.  It's one to pick up before Halloween, the best holiday, and one that's going to be here before you know it.  In Touch of Evil, you play investigators in a Sleepy Hollow style setting, gathering quest items to confront classic supernatural monsters like the werewolf or the Headless Horseman.  (It feels a bit like Elder Sign, a game from Fantasy Flight, with a different theme).    I'd also heard good things about Level 7, so we tried Level 7 Omega Protocol, which was also a lot of fun.  Players take on the role of elite soldiers in a Halo-style world infiltrating a lab full of alien-like monsters.  It's a highly tactical team-oriented combat game with cool mechanics - it was a bit pricey for the Gencon budget this time out.

I brought the 5E starter along with our gear, in case our group had some downtime and wanted to try 5E.  All of the official 5E events were sold out.  Many of the guys in our local game group have been going out to Gencon with their sons, so we usually have 7-8 people in our party - more than enough to run our own games at the Con without recruiting.  But things were busy enough that we never did break out the 5E starter.

My oldest kiddo has been on  a gigantic anime and manga kick lately - his cosplay character above is 'Gaara' from a manga called Naruto.  One of my Gencon priorities was to try some super hero games and find an appealing set of super hero rules to run an anime-inspired supers game this year.  I am now the proud owner of Icons, a lightweight super hero game by Steve Kenson (of Mutants and Masterminds fame).  Icons reminds me a lot of the classic Marvel Super Heroes (MSH) from the 1980's and looks fine for a rules-lite anime-inspired superhero game.  The Green Ronin folks were super friendly and didn't mind spending time talking about the mechanics and doing some demo games.

Last year, the oldest kiddo ended up packing his Legend of Zelda Link costume and wearing it at the Con.  I didn't think much of it - he saw a lot of cosplay the year before, so I guess he thought it looked like fun and wanted to join in.  This year, he went after the cosplay aspect with commitment.  We teamed up to make a fantastic "Gaara" costume, he dyed his hair, and made me apply some light make up each day.  It was like touring Gencon with a minor celebrity - he got like 40-50 picture requests a day just walking around the dealer hall and whatnot and it took longer to get anywhere due to picture requests.  Apparently a lot of people know that Naruto show, a lot of folks knew the character.  He might be on to something sneaky smart though - I saw plenty of young ladies complimenting his costume and getting chatty.

Purchases and Related Stuff
From an RPG perspective, my main get this year was the hardcover edition of Icons published by Green Ronin.  Pelgrane Press (Trail of Cthulhu) didn't release Mythos Expeditions in time for Gencon, so I'm holding out for that one - I think it just went on pre-order.  The D&D 5e PHB was around, but I figure I'll wait a little before taking the plunge.

In the board game space, I picked up Last Night On Earth and a card game called Once Upon A Time - something for the younger kiddos and my daughter to do.  I also got in plenty of Magic the Gathering, and won a win-a-box tournament - that's two years in a row winning a box at Gencon, w00t.

This was my fourth Gencon.  We're getting pretty good at getting around the con and have picked up some basic tips and tricks.  I've got to do a Gencon tips post before next year, and find out how readers who attend get the most out of the con as well.