An Acceptable Level of Risk

This week’s post came out of some pondering I was doing after I wrote about introducing a couple of new people to the hobby last week. Specifically, about how one of the players ended up bouncing off the system a few times as the dice didn’t want to cooperate with his idea of how he wanted the game to go.

It got me thinking about systems, and about how I like different systems to provide different experiences, depending on who my players are and the game setting and assumptions that we’ve chosen for a particular campaign.

I’m not going to get into heavy theory here, and I’m not going to bother with the whole GNS categorization that was a major topic of the Forge back when it was a thing. Instead, I’m going to talk about a few specific games, what they do, and how they do it. Hopefully, this will be of some use to those who are searching for the “right” system for them.

Past Examples

One good example that I’ve already written about on this blog involved my search for the right system to use for an action-espionage campaign. There are many different systems that have been used for various espionage RPGs:

And more, not to mention all the generic systems such as GURPS and Hero System that have published espionage supplements or that are often referenced by players of those systems.

But in my search, I eventually settled on the Feng Shui RPG, because I knew it would provide the kind of play experience I wanted.

Media Settings

It can get more muddied when you want to run a game that takes place in the same setting as a known media property. For example, one might want to attempt to run a game that is essentially the RPG version of the Mission: Impossible movies.

But even that requires further definition. The most common confusion that I tend to see that crops up when people discuss playing in a popular setting is whether or not the game is going for emulation of the property itself.

For example, when people talk about running a game in the setting of Conan the Barbarian (using Robert E. Howard’s original stories), there is usually one group that wants to use the setting as it was in the stories, as if it was a real place. Let’s face it, the Conan setting is dangerous, and people die easily and often. So if you’re focused on the setting itself, you’d probably want a game system that is fairly gritty and where combat can easily be lethal to the characters and NPCs. A player might lose multiple player characters over the course of the game, and it’s only when a PC survives does he or she become the “hero” of the campaign.

The other group wants to play the game like Robert E. Howard’s stories. The fundamental difference here is that, while NPCs are fragile and often die easily, the protagonist of Howard’s stories (i.e. Conan) is fated to survive at least until he becomes the King of Aquilonia. A game taking this focus isn’t about whether or not the characters will survive—of course they’ll survive, because they are the protagonists. The question is what adventures will they have and what interesting things will they experience over the course of the game.

Both of the approaches are totally valid, but they really are at odds with each other. And a game system that is perfect for one approach will almost certainly be wholly unsuitable for the other approach.

Just as an example, the excellent Mythras RPG is great for the first approach. The game system can be very deadly for PCs and NPCs alike, combat is fairly involved and provides opportunities to do interesting things during a fight, and it’s grounded in a certain sense of realism.

On the other hand, HeroQuest 2E, Fate Core or the second edition of 7th Sea is more appropriate for the second type of game. These system assume a good level of competence from the PCs, and it’s easy to frame challenges in a way that highlights the PCs’ role as the protagonists.

When the Dice Don’t Cooperate

John Wick (the RPG designer, not the movie assassin), wrote an interesting blog post back in 2015 about dice and how they are used in RPGs. While I don’t agree with everything he says in that post, I do agree that sometimes I have no interest “in exploring the idea of random failure as a dramatic element in an RPG.”

Now, I do run D&D games, and random failure due to dice is a key element of the rule system for that game. And when I decide to run D&D, I’m accepting those rules and what they bring to the table. For one of the games that I’m running with some of my friends (playing Out of the Abyss), that feel of D&D, where I roll out in the open and let the dice fall where they may is a thing that we enjoy. We know that any of the characters might die at any time through a series of bad dice rolls (though there are ways to mitigate that somewhat). We accept it, because that’s the experience we’re looking for.

But that doesn’t work for every game I run. And that’s why I like the Fate Core rules (as an example). In Fate, it’s not generally about whether you succeed or fail. It’s about what success will cost you. Generally, between skill levels, Aspects, and fate points, a player can usually pull of a success when it really matters to them. But when the player spends those fate points, it means that the character’s negative Aspects are going to have to triggered at some point to get those points back into the player’s pool. You can succeed now, but what will it cost you (and when)?

This is not just a thing in a narrative system like Fate Core. The current Conan RPG by Modiphius has a mechanic by which the player can “buy” additional dice for a roll, but those bought dice provide the GM with “Doom”, a resource the GM can spend to make things more difficult for the characters during a scene.

These kinds of mechanics smooth out the random nature of the dice, and allow the players to direct improved odds when they really need a success.

And going back to John Wick, his second edition of the 7th Sea RPG is great for this. The player rolls a handful of dice (based on ability scores and skill ratings), and then “spends” those dice for actions. In 7th Sea, it’s not about success or failure on any given task. Rather, it’s about how much the character can accomplish in a round. Roll well, and you can achieve your objectives, avoid harm, and potentially take advantage of special opportunities provided by the GM. Roll poorly, and you’ll still succeed at what you’re trying to do—but it will mean you’ll miss out on some opportunities, or take some damage while you accomplish your objectives.

Tying It All Together

And this goes back to the introductory D&D game that I ran for the new players. This was a one-shot adventure, with no expectation that the characters were going to continue in a campaign afterward. The adventure itself—Mad God’s Key—is a bit of a mystery, with a dungeon crawl at the end. And the players played well and reached the final encounter in the dungeon with only one character having been injured.

And then the dice decided not to cooperate.

For the new players, who were coming from books and movies that follow a pretty identifiable narrative arc, it was time for them to succeed and overcome the evil at the end of the story. But D&D’s rules are not set up to support that kind of game. The rules are designed around random failure creating difficulties for the characters (including possible death) because those become branching points in a campaign.

So we ended up with a mismatch between the rules and players’ expectations. Because when the player tried to attack the evil high priest, of course his character shouldn’t start whiffing at that point. That would be entirely anticlimactic. Again, not in an ongoing campaign, but definitely in a one-shot adventure.

As I said, I like D&D and I’m perfectly willing to run it as written and let the dice fall where they may. But after the game, I realized that it’s not a great system for a one-shot with new players. As an introductory game, for people who may or may not end up in a campaign later on, the rules can result in a real disconnect between expectations and reality.

Conclusion

Over the last year or so, I’ve introduced a few new people to roleplaying games, some kids and some adults. D&D worked well for the kids, because we launched right into a campaign, and D&D is designed to support that kind of game.

But the more recent experience was a good reminder to me that another approach is probably better for brand new players who aren’t jumping into a full campaign right at the start. A system like the one in 7th Sea would have provided a more appropriate experience.

And so it’s resulted in me reviewing my various campaigns and taking a hard look at the system used in each one, to make sure the rules are appropriate for what we’re trying to accomplish in each of the games I run.

How do you choose the “right” system for a campaign? Do you just go with the default system attached to a particular setting, or do you tinker and modify, or do you replace the system wholesale with one that you feel is a better fit? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

HeroQuest RPG Campaign Issues

Recently, one of the readers of this blog made a comment about using the HeroQuest RPG for a game set in Tomino’s Universal Century setting (from Mobile Suit Gundam). He asked about using HQ2 and how to make certain themes the focus of his game:

“For Tomino’s UC, I want to make combat between mechas important, but definitely not the focus of the game: themes like proto-transhumanism implied by the New Type concept; the social and political tensions between the Colonies and the Earth government; the horror and futility of full-scale war; should be at the forefront.”

Personally, I’m completely unfamiliar with Mobile Suit Gundam, so my answers here are going to be fairly generic. Having said that, I think that will have value from the perspective of adapting whatever setting you are interested in playing within.

I also wanted to talk about this as it definitely got my mind churning in regards to this element of HQ2 campaigns. After all, a narrative game like HeroQuest seems like an ideal set of rules to highlight certain campaign issues and bring them to the forefront—to have them be a direct influence on what happens in the game.

The Purely Narrative Outlook

Of course, most campaigns have some kind of focus, even if it’s just “dungeon-crawling for profit.” From a purely narrative outlook, focusing a campaign on a specific set of issues can be as simple as ensuring that NPCs and adventures have those issues as their core elements.

For example, if I want to have “avoid things man was not meant to know” as a core theme of a modern-day investigative campaign, then I’m going to create adventures that are about people searching for secrets and the inherent dangers in finding those secrets out. NPCs will include occult specialists, rare book dealers, cultists, and so forth. An adventure could be about the search for a missing person, only to discover that they unearthed an ancient ritual and summoned something that was hostile to them, and they are now on the run trying to keep one step ahead of that being while it relentlessly hunts them.

This is fairly easy to do from that purely narrative perspective.

Using the example provided in the original comment, this approach means that the adventures and storylines you provide to the players will be focused on those themes. For example, if you want to highlight “the horror and futility of full-scale war” then you could present the players with adventures where they have to accomplish a goal in the aftermath of a large battle, where they experience that aftermath first-hand. Put them in a situation where they are in a position to help the survivors, but have a mission objective that means they cannot spare the time/resources to do so. Have them make the choice between rescuing survivors and obeying orders, and then offer scenes where the choices the PCs made come back to haunt them.

For the social and political tensions between the Colonies and the Earth government, is there a way to have the PCs travel incognito between those two societies? If so, let them see the stereotypes and insults that each group applies to the other, and also show them that those stereotypes are gross exaggerations and (in many cases) completely false or based on a lack of understanding of the other group’s situation.

The Mechanic-Based Outlook

Sometimes, though, it’s nice to have the mechanics reflect the same issues. If done poorly, this can bog down the game with extraneous modifiers or sub-systems that don’t add anything to the play experience. If done well, it adds another layer that reinforces the themes of the game.

Fate Core

The Fate Core RPG, for example, does this with “Campaign Issues.” When setting up a campaign, the group is encouraged to “decide what threats and pressures inherent to the setting will spur the protagonists to action.” These are listed as two issues that become aspects and “will be available to invoke or compel throughout the entirety of the game.”

This is a nice way to reinforce the themes of the game and give it mechanical weight. Using the example above about war, the campaign aspect could be “The horror and futility of full-scale war.” During a mission, when those PCs see the aftermath of a large battle while on a mission, the GM can offer the players a fate point to render aid to the survivors even though that’s outside of their mission parameters.

Further, NPCs can have relevant aspects reflecting their prejudices against the colonies or the Earth government that make it easier or more difficult for the PCs to influence, intimidate, or otherwise interact with them.

HeroQuest 2E doesn’t have aspects, though, and lacks an immediate mechanical “hook” upon which to hang this kind of campaign focus. That doesn’t mean that there are no ways to reflect it in the game with the existing rules, however.

HQ Resistances

The easiest way to do this is to adjust Resistances to reflect the themes of the campaign. Bumping a Resistance by one “level” (e.g. from Moderate to High) when engaging in a contest that directly relates to a campaign theme will definitely reinforce those themes.

For example, if you want to reinforce the tensions between two societies, you could increase the Resistance any time the PCs attempt any kind of social contest with members of the alternate society. Brokering a peace between the two factions is going to be more difficult than normal, and the Resistance should reflect that.

HQ Consequences

Another way to do it to use different methods of determining consequences at the end of contests. For example, if you’re trying to show the horror and futility of full-scale war, whenever the PCs take part in a large battle, you can use the Climactic Scene Consequence Table, which increases the punishment taken by the PCs at the end of a contest. Even if they succeed, they are going to be hurt.

(This works just as well in social interactions when reinforcing the themes tensions between two societies.)

If you really want to the PCs to feel the effects of a battle regardless of the outcome, you can use the Pyrrhic Victory Results Table. In order to make the campaign not come to a screeching halt at the first defeat, however, you may want to treat “Dead” results as “Dying” so that the PCs have a chance to survive long enough to understand the dangers of war.

If you want to be really brutal, you can combine the increase of the Resistance method with the increased consequences of the Climactic Scene or Pyrrhic Victory tables.

But of course I recommend using those methods only when it comes to reinforcing those particular negative themes.

But that’s the stick method. If you’ve got more positive themes that you want to reinforce, then you can do the reverse. A theme of “Friendships are more valuable than gold” can be reflected by a reduction in Resistance when the PCs are acting in the spirit of true friendship, or when they are supported by their friends. You can also lower the consequences from a failed contest when the PCs are acting in the spirit of the campaign themes.

(I know that there is no specific rules for this in HQ2, that provide a reverse version of the Pyrrhic Victory Results Table, for example, but it’s easy to extrapolate or simply bump down the level of consequence from a contest to reflect this.)

Flaws

The final method you can use is Flaws. These reflect very specific elements, though, so they can’t necessarily reflect every campaign theme you might want to incorporate.

But if, for example, you are trying to ensure that the tension between two societies cause difficulties during the campaign, giving every PC a “Prejudice against [society]” Flaw is one way to do it. This way, characters need to overcome their own prejudices in order to accomplish their goals when working with people from that other society. You can even allow the players to spend Hero Points to buy down their Flaws over time to reflect their better understanding of the other society and their changing attitudes toward those people.

Conclusion

HQ2, at first glance, seems to lack specific mechanics for reinforcing campaign themes in the game. However, as with so much in the HeroQuest RPG, the tools are already there—it’s just a matter of applying them to accomplish what you need for your particular game.

I’d love to hear about other people’s efforts with HQ2 and how they adapted the rules to reflect campaign themes or other similar elements to make the game sing for them. Tell us about it here in the comments.

HeroQuest and Eclipse Phase – Miscellanea

Over the last few weeks, I’ve posted about using the excellent HeroQuest 2E rules to run a game set in the Eclipse Phase setting (post 1, 2, 3).

This week, I’m going to cover some of the various bits that I’ve left out until now. I’m not going to go into too much depth on these, but I’ll cover the major elements that will help you to play the game with HQ2.

Mental Health

Characters in HQ2 don’t have a Lucidity score and don’t receive mental stress points. Instead, any time that they fail a challenge in a conflict that inflicts mental stress points in EP, their “injury” should represent an appropriate mental effect.

For example, characters who are asphyxiated may take mental stress damage in EP if they fail a WIL test. In HQ terms, a character who is asphyxiated must engage in a simple contest against a Resistance determined by the GM, using any appropriate ability that reflects the character’s ability to remain calm in such a stressful situation. In this particular case—being asphyxiated—if the character fails the simple contest, then they cannot take any action and also take an appropriate “injury” based on how badly they failed the contest.

Other situations in EP are simply listed as automatically inflicting mental stress. For example, an async who stays in a pod, symthmorph or infomorph form without psychological assistance automatically takes 1d10/2 mental stress damage each month.

I personally would hesitate to automatically inflict “injuries” on characters without it being the result of a failed contest. You could choose to do that, but then you’re introducing something into HQ2 that isn’t in the core rules and doesn’t—I feel—add anything to the game. Rather, I would give the character at least a fighting chance by letting them engage in a simple contest against an appropriate difficulty. You can use the amount of mental damage listed in EP as a guideline on how high the Resistance should be for any particular contest (i.e. the higher the damage listed, the higher the Resistance selected for the contest).

Psi Abilities

Some players may choose to play characters with Psi Sleights—mental powers that allow the character to do very special things with their mind.

I’m just going to go quickly through some of the key elements in Eclipse Phase and show how they can be reflected in HQ2.

  • Morphs and Psi (core rules, pg. 220): Infomorphs or synthmorphs do not allow the use of Psi powers. When inhabiting a pod morph, the character receives an automatic penalty of -6 to any Psi Sleights.
  • Morph Acclimatization (core rules, pg. 220): As in the EP rules, for 1 day after the character has resleeved, they will suffer the effects of a single minor derangement. In HQ2 terms, the character receives an additional minor flaw that should be described as one of the derangements from the EP core rules (pg. 210).
  • Morph Fever (core rules, pg. 220): For each month the async stays in a pod, synthmorph or infomorph form with psychological assistance by a psychiatrist, software, or muse, the character must roll a conflict against an appropriate Resistance using any ability that is relevant to keeping their mental cool in this situation.
  • Psi Drawbacks (core rules, pg. 220-221): Asyncs automatically gain some additional Flaws when they gain their powers. The first flaw is a Vulnerability to Mental Stress. The second Flaw is one of the options listed under the Mental Disorder negative trait in EP. The third Flaw is Vulnerable to Infection by Insurgent Viruses.

Psi Sleights

Most the rules in EP about the use of Psi Sleights do not apply when using HQ2. In many cases, Psi Sleights work just any other ability, but there a few wrinkles that I will talk about here.

Passive sleights in EP are designed to be activated and then provide a static bonus to other skills. For example, the Ambience Sense sleight provides a +10 modifier to all Investigation, Perception, Scrounging, and Surprise Tests.

In HQ2, these passive sleights would be used entirely as augments on other abilities. You can choose to use automatic augments or roll them, as per your own preference in your games. In this way, passive sleights work similarly to Common Magic on page 110 of the HQ2 core rules.

Active sleights will almost always be used as part of a contest. For example, the Drive Emotion sleight would require the async character to succeed at a contest against an appropriate Resistance representing their struggle to influence a target’s emotional state. Success on the test could be rolled into an augment on a future test to get the target to do something (e.g. a major success to make a target feel fear would result in that target receiving an automatic bump down on abilities used to later resist an intimidation attempt by the character).

Most of the psi sleights listed in the EP rules can be used in HQ2 without issue. For those that present unusual conflicts, use common sense and apply the closest HQ2 solution to achieve a similar result that has a comfortable level of abstraction for you.

Psychosurgery

This is a great example of how the HQ2 contest mechanics can seamlessly replicate an element of EP. In the EP rules, psychosurgery is handled as an opposed test of the Psychosurgery skill against the target’s WIL. If the psychosurgery succeeds and the target fails, the surgery is effective and permanent. If the surgery and the target both succeed, but the surgeon gains a better result (i.e. wins the contest), then the surgery is effective but temporary. And if the target wins the contest, the surgery is ineffective.

Mesh and Hacking

As with everything else, you can use the EP rules for Subversion to provide a framework for how difficult a task might be (i.e. help you determine an appropriate Resistance).

For example, the Subversion examples table on page 259 of the EP core rules shows that there is no modifier to give orders to drones, interact with entoptics, make online purchases using user’s credit, open/close doors, start/stop elevators, move/manipulate cameras, sensors, use device functions. In HQ2, this means that you would use the base (Moderate) Resistance when a character engaged in a contest to achieve one of these effects.

For those effects listed on the table with a -10 modifier, just use a High Resistance (HQ2, page 125, Resistance Class Table). For those effects with a -20 modifier, use a Very High Resistance. And for those effects with a -30 modifier, use a Nearly Impossible Resistance.

Resleeving

In the core EP game, all characters normally suffer some negative effects for the first day when resleeving. The table on page 272 of the EP core rules shows the effects from the Integration Test and the Alienation Test (plus another table with a host of various modifiers that may apply to those tests).

Here’s how I would translate the table to have it reflect how things work in EP.

Integration Test Consequence Table

EP Result EP Effect HQ2 Result HQ2 Effect
Critical Failure Character is unable to acclimate to the new morph— something is just not right. Character suffers a –30 modifier to all physical actions until resleeved. Complete Defeat Character is unable to acclimate to the new morph— something is just not right. Character cannot take any physical actions until resleeved.
Severe Failure (MoF 30+) Character has serious trouble acclimating to the new morph. They suffer a –10 modifier to all actions for 2 days plus 1 day per 10 full points of MoF. Major Defeat Character has serious trouble acclimating to the new morph. They suffer an automatic bump down on all physical abilities for 5 days.
Failure Character has some trouble acclimating to new morph. They suffer a –10 modifier to all physical actions for 2 days plus 1 day per 10 full points of MoF. Minor Defeat Character has some trouble acclimating to new morph. They suffer a –6 penalty to all physical actions for 3 days.
Success Standard acclimation period. The character suffers a –10 modifier to all physical actions for 1 day. Marginal Defeat Standard acclimation period. The character suffers a –3 modifier to all physical actions for 1 day.
Excellent Success (MoS 30+) No ill effects. Character acclimates to new morph in no more than a few minutes. Marginal Success No ill effects. Character acclimates to new morph in no more than a few minutes.
Minor Success
Critical Success Lookin’ good! This morph is an exceptionally good fit for the character. No ill effects; gain 1 Moxie point for use in that game session only. Major Success Lookin’ good! This morph is an exceptionally good fit for the character. The character gains a +3 bonus to all physical actions while in this sleeve.
Complete Success

Note that I’ve moved what in EP is considered a success but still results in a penalty for a day to a Marginal Defeat in HQ2. This keeps the scale on the same level for all elements in HQ2 and ultimately provides the same kinds of results.

Reputation and Social Networks

I touched on this a bit in last week’s post, as far as outlining that a character can have a relationship with one or more of these social networks as shown in an appropriate ability. The Community rules in HQ2 provide a great framework for how a character can gain resources (favors) from their social networks and how it affects their relationship. There is no need to translate every detail of how the social network rules work in EP over to HQ2. Rather, I would just replace the existing EP rules with those that already work well in HQ2 and just use those as is.

Gear

I also touched on the idea last week that I personally prefer the abstract nature of gear in HQ2. But gear in EP is a whole element of the game, and there are those who would prefer to delve into this in more detail.

I’ll be honest, this is something that just doesn’t interest me that much, and so I’m not going to into how to replicate it in HQ2. Depending on how detailed you want the gear subject to get, you can probably avoid adding any new subsystems to the HQ2 rules.

One possibility is to use gear as automatic (or rolled) augments on existing abilities. Another is to give a character a specific ability bonus (HQ2 core rules, page 51) if they have gear that is appropriate to what they are doing. This will give the edge to those who spend time selecting the right gear, but it doesn’t take up a lot of time and the rules remain simple and in alignment with the rest of the HQ2 rules.

Conclusion

And that’s it for my EP to HQ2 conversion. As I was delving into this, I was surprised at how easy it was to convert such a dense and complex game into a very abstract rules system. But I think that I’ve demonstrated that, while there is some work to be done at the beginning going through the key elements of EP and figuring out how the rules of HQ2 can replicate the general feeling (if not the same mechanics), it’s not actually a difficult job for the GM.

Transhumanity’s Fate was a book that took the EP setting and married it to the Fate Core rules. Once the HQ2 SRD is released, I would love to see a version of EP that used the HeroQuest rules. I think it would be a great resource that would showcase HeroQuest to new players who are unfamiliar with this excellent set of rules.

So what’s your take on this? Would you consider playing Eclipse Phase with the HQ2 rules? Was there anything here that was unclear or that you felt was missing? I’d love to keep this discussion going, so please share your thoughts in the comments.

 

HeroQuest and Eclipse Phase – Part 3

This is part three of a series of posts (1, 2) I’m doing about using the HeroQuest RPG rules to run a game set in the Eclipse Phase setting.

Last week, I talked about character creation and how characters created in HQ2 will have four Keywords: Background, Faction, Focus, and Morph. Of these, the Morph Keyword will change whenever the character switches bodies, but the other three Keywords remain with the character throughout the campaign.

This week, I’m going to talk about the steps of character creation in HQ2, and provide an example of how this might work using the material in the Eclipse Phase books. In these examples, I make extensive use of the core Eclipse Phase rulebook, the Transhuman sourcebook, and the Morph Recognition Guide.

How to Handle Keywords

One question that has come up is how I’m approaching Keywords in this conversion. Are they Packages or Umbrellas?

I actually prefer a mixed approach to Keywords, as some fit more as Packages, and others are more appropriate as Umbrellas.

  • The Background Keyword should be used as a Package. It highlights the experiences that the character had in the past, and provides a description of what the character had learned. However, improving those individual skills that came from past experience should be done separately.
  • The Faction Keyword is also a Package. It encapsulates the key elements of your character’s personality, outlook, and goals. However, each of those elements, while related to one another, do not directly affect a character’s improvement in one or more of those abilities.
  • The Focus Keyword can be used as an Umbrella. As a character gains experience in their chosen profession, they make use of their skills in a related way. Therefore, raising the Keyword improves all related abilities under it, though a character may choose to focus on improving just a few select abilities.
  • The Morph Keyword is definitely an Umbrella. A character can improve the overall Morph, which raises all abilities under it, but can also add new implants or other modifications—which are new breakout abilities.

On a related note, I tend to make raising an Umbrella Keyword more expensive. I generally set the cost at 3 Hero Points, plus 1 Hero Point per breakout ability. Yes, this means that the more breakout abilities you have, the more it costs to raise the Keyword. This forces a decision on the players as to whether they want to keep spending 3 Hero Points to raise just the keyword, or break out a couple of key abilities that they can raise and still save a point. But once the decision is made to break out some abilities, it becomes more and more expensive to raise that initial Keyword as new breakouts get added.

Now, using the List Method of character creation in HQ2, the character receives 10 additional abilities. Some of these abilities may be breakout abilities from his Keywords, while others might be additional, separate abilities.

Character Creation

For the purposes of this merging of setting and system, I’m going to be using the List Method of character generation in HQ2. This does not mean that you cannot use the Prose Method or As-You-Go Method in your own game. I’m just using this method because I find it translates well between EP and HQ2.

As mentioned last week (and above), the character should choose four Keywords: Background, Faction, Focus, and Morph. Note that the Morph selected is the one the character inhabits at the beginning of the game and can be considered the character’s default morph whenever they are not on a mission or have been ego-cast to another location.

In the example I used, the character selected Earth Survivor for the Background Keyword, Reclaimer for the Faction Keyword, and Wrecker for the Focus Keyword.

Because I envision this character as someone who actually survived on Earth, hiding out in the ruins of civilization, he still inhabits his original body. So for the Morph Keyword, I have selected the Flat.

So here are his Keywords, with the descriptions from the Transhuman book to give a sense of what each Keyword represents and encompasses:

Keyword (Background): Earth Survivor
Unlike a small percentage of transhumanity, you did not escape off-world during the Fall, nor were you lucky enough to be killed. You survived for years, eking out an existence in the post-apocalyptic desolation of Earth while hiding from, and even fighting, the machines and twisted transhuman puppets that still lurked there. Only recently was your body rescued by reclaimers.

Keyword (Faction): Reclaimer
You are dedicated to rescuing your species’ homeworld from the ruin engulfing it.

Keyword (Focus): Wrecker
You are optimized for killing machines. You either excelled at fighting TITAN constructs during the Fall or you continue to hunt them down in the aftermath.

Keyword (Morph): Flat
Flats are baseline unmodified humans, born with all of the natural defects, hereditary diseases, and other genetic mutations that evolution so lovingly applies.

Additional Abilities

Eclipse Phase has other elements that can be selected during character generation in addition to what I’ve already identified above. For example, in EP you can spend character generation points to gain positive traits (or get character generation points back by selecting negative traits).

The traits in EP can be used as additional abilities. Some examples include:

  • Brave
  • Common Sense
  • Danger Sense
  • Direction Sense
  • Eidetic Memory
  • Fast Learner
  • Hyper Linguist
  • Improved Immune System
  • Math Wiz
  • Pain Tolerance
  • Rapid Healer
  • Situational Awareness
  • Striking Looks

Note that in EP, some of these traits are attached to your Ego (e.g. Common Sense), and some are attached to your Morph (e.g. Rapid Healer). Those that are part of your Ego could be listed as breakout abilities under an appropriate Keyword (any except Morph), or could be listed separately from any Keyword as standalone abilities.

Traits that are called out as Morph Traits in EP should generally be listed as breakout abilities under your Morph Keyword, because when you switch bodies you no longer have access to those abilities until you return to that specific Morph.

Reputation Networks

The interaction of characters with the various reputation networks is a key element of Eclipse Phase. Taking a relationship ability with a network establishes a connection between the character and that particular network only.

A relationship ability can be listed under an appropriate Keyword, or can be listed as a separate, standalone ability. For example, our example character above is a member of the Reclaimers. He could take Reputation Network: EcoWave as a breakout ability under his Reclaimers Keyword. If he decided he also wanted to take Reputation Network: The Eye to represent his ties to Firewall, he’d probably just list that as a standalone ability not tied to any particular Keyword.

Gear

In normal HeroQuest, gear is only listed as an ability when it can be used to solve problems and doesn’t necessarily fall under another one of your abilities—or when you want to have an additional ability for your gear in order to use it for augments.

EP has a lot of gear, and whole bunch of rules around the acquisition, modification, and use of various pieces of gear. HQ2 abstracts all of that a great deal, and this is where some people may find that the HeroQuest rules don’t provide enough “crunch” to grab hold of and use. Personally, I prefer gear to be very abstract—more of a narrative hook than anything else—because I like to focus on the characters themselves, not what they are carrying.

So I recommend sticking with the HQ2 way of dealing with gear. If a character wants to take a piece of gear as an ability, then they are certainly welcome to do so (keeping in mind that it takes up one of their starting abilities).

Flaws

I generally prefer for characters in my games to have at least one flaw, and they may take up to three (as per HeroQuest rules).

The negative Traits listed in EP have some good Flaws:

  • Addiction
  • Bad Luck
  • Blacklisted
  • Combat Paralysis
  • Edited Memories
  • Genetic Defect
  • Implant Rejection
  • Low Pain Tolerance
  • Mental Disorder
  • Mild Allergy
  • Neural Damage
  • Psi Vulnerability
  • Slow Learner
  • Timid
  • Weak Immune System
  • Zero-G Nausea

Obviously, some of these need additional fleshing out when being recorded on the character sheet. For example, if the character selects an Addiction, the Flaw should name the addiction and provide some context (e.g. Severely Addicted to Controlled Painkillers).

Example Continued

So continuing to develop the character I started last week, I’ve got my four Keywords, and now I need to list my ten breakout abilities.

Keyword (Background): Earth Survivor

  • Kinetic Weapons
  • Freerunning

Unlike a small percentage of transhumanity, you did not escape off-world during the Fall, nor were you lucky enough to be killed. You survived for years, eking out an existence in the post-apocalyptic desolation of Earth while hiding from, and even fighting, the machines and twisted transhuman puppets that still lurked there. Only recently was your body rescued by reclaimers.

Keyword (Faction): Reclaimer

  • Bioconservatist
  • Reputation Network: EcoWave
  • Pilot Groundcraft

You are dedicated to rescuing your species’ homeworld from the ruin engulfing it.

Keyword (Focus): Wrecker

  • Infiltration

You are optimized for killing machines. You either excelled at fighting TITAN constructs during the Fall or you continue to hunt them down in the aftermath.

Keyword (Morph): Flat

Flats are baseline unmodified humans, born with all of the natural defects, hereditary diseases, and other genetic mutations that evolution so lovingly applies.

Other Abilities:

  • Reputation Network: The Eye
  • Reputation Network: Guanxi
  • Danger Sense
  • Fast Learner

Flaws:

  • Inopportune Mood Swings

Assigning Ability Ratings

Now I assign Ability Ratings to the character’s abilities. I assign a rating of 17 to his Earth Survival Keyword (it’s an important part of who he is), and all other abilities start at 13.

Then I assign 20 points to the ratings, with a maximum of 10 on any single ability.

And finally, his flaw is rated the same as his highest ability.

Keyword (Background): Earth Survivor               17

  • Kinetic Weapons 2M
  • Freerunning 19

Keyword (Faction): Reclaimer                             13

  • Bioconservatist 15
  • Reputation Network: EcoWave 15
  • Pilot Groundcraft 16

Keyword (Focus): Wrecker                                 17

  • Infiltration +3

Keyword (Morph): Flat                                       13

Other Abilities:

  • Reputation Network: The Eye                             13
  • Reputation Network: Guanxi                               13
  • Danger Sense                                                   13
  • Fast Learner                                                      13

Flaws:

  • Inopportune Mood Swings                                 2M

This is a good, starting EP character that I could use in a game right away.

Next Time…

I still intend to put together a handful of sample characters and an appropriate character sheet, and there are a few other topics I want to touch on before I’m done. Hope to see you again next week.

HeroQuest and Eclipse Phase – Characters

Last week, I talked a bit about using the HQ2 rules to run a game in the Eclipse Phase RPG setting. This week, I’m going to explore how to represent EP characters in the HQ2 rules.

Character Creation

The elements of an Eclipse Phase character include the following:

  • Character Concept
  • Background
  • Faction
  • Focus
  • Morph
  • Traits
  • Psi Sleights
  • Money and Gear
  • Reputation
  • Motivations

In the HQ2 version, we’re going to use four Keywords to describe your character:

  • Background: This is who you are on a basic level (or at least who you were before the game begins). It’s how you were born and raised, and defines your initial “place” in the EP setting.
  • Faction: This is how you identify yourself within the setting, and where you fit in the best. It takes over from Background and covers who you are now that game has started.
  • Focus: This represents your occupation(s), hobbies, interests, etc. It describes what you do now with your life when you are not on a mission for Firewall (or whatever).
  • Morph: This is the body you inhabit, along with any special modifications. This keyword is replaced whenever you switch to a different body.

If you wish your character to wield Psi, you will select an additional Keyword [Psi Talent]. I’ll get into also the Psi details in a future post.

A Note on Skills

In Eclipse Phase, the character’s capabilities are defined by specific skills, such as Deception, Free Fall, Infiltration, Research, or Unarmed Combat. In order to make the conversion as direct as possible, I will be using EP skill names as a short-hand for breakout abilities. This does not, however, preclude a player from coming up with a more descriptive and flavorful name for a breakout ability, or adding something not defined here but which is appropriate for an ability in HeroQuest.

Background

Your first choice of Keyword is your background. The best source for these keywords are in the Transhuman book under Background Packages.

For example, you are creating a character and decide that the Earth Survivor background sounds good to you. You note down “Earth Survivor” as your background Keyword, and perhaps record the basic description:

Unlike a small percentage of transhumanity, you did not escape off-world during the Fall, nor were you lucky enough to be killed. You survived for years, eking out an existence in the post-apocalyptic desolation of Earth while hiding from, and even fighting, the machines and twisted transhuman puppets that still lurked there. Only recently was your body rescued by scrappers or reclaimers or your egocast unwisely accepted by a trusting receiver.

Later, when you are defining your 10 additional abilities, you can note down one or more breakout abilities, using the descriptions of the skills listed under Earth Survivor in the Transhuman book as examples of the kinds of things your character learned.

For example, you may choose to note down Freerunning and Scrounging as breakout abilities, and give each one a couple of additional points.

Don’t ignore the suggested Motivations as potential breakout abilities. For example, Earth Survivor has Reclaiming Earth as both a positive and negative motivation for a character. So you could take a breakout ability like “Motivated to fight for humanity’s home” if your character believes humanity should try to reclaim Earth, or “Earth is lost to us” if your character believes humanity should abandon Earth as a ruined memory.

The backgrounds listed in Transhuman include:

  • Colonist: Command Staff
  • Colonist: Flight Staff
  • Colonist: Security Staff
  • Colonist: Science Staff
  • Colonist: Tech Staff
  • Drifter
  • Earth Survivor
  • Fall Evacuee: Enclaver
  • Fall Evacuee: Underclass
  • Hyperelite: Media Personality
  • Hyperelite: Scion
  • Indenture
  • Infolife: Emergent Uplift
  • Infolife: Humanities AGI
  • Infolife: Machine AGI
  • Infolife: Research AGI
  • Isolate: Separatist
  • Isolate: Survivalist
  • Lost: Disturbed Child
  • Lost: Masked Normalcy
  • Original Scum
  • Re-Instantiated: Civilian Casualty
  • Re-Instantiated: Infomorph
  • Re-Instantiated: Military Casualty
  • Street Rat
  • Uplift: Escapee
  • Uplift: Feral
  • Uplift: Standard Specimen

Faction

Your second choice of Keyword is your faction. Again, the Transhuman book has faction packages that provide many great examples of potential breakout abilities.

For example, the same character that you decided was an Earth Survivor is now at the step where you choose your Faction Keyword. You decide that your character wants to reclaim earth, and so you choose Reclaimer as your Faction. The Reclaimer has this description:

You are dedicated to rescuing your species’ homeworld from the ruin engulfing it.

Again, the description of the Reclaimer Faction has example motivations and skills that you can easily repurpose as breakout abilities from your keyword.

The factions listed in Transhuman include:

  • Anarchist
  • Argonaut
  • Barsoomian
  • Belter
  • Bioconservative
  • Brinker
  • Criminal
  • Europan
  • Exhuman
  • Extropian
  • Hypercorp
  • Jovian
  • Lunar
  • Mercurial: Infolife
  • Mercurial: Uplift
  • Nano-Ecologist
  • Orbital
  • Out’ster
  • Precautionist
  • Preservationist
  • Reclaimer
  • Ringer
  • Sapient
  • Scum
  • Sifter
  • Singularity Seeker
  • Skimmer
  • Socialite
  • Solarian
  • Titanian
  • Ultimate
  • Venusian

Focus

Your third Keyword choice represents your skill set and occupation at the beginning of the game.

Continuing the example from the previous section, you decide that the character is focused on ridding Earth of the machines that present such a danger to anyone visiting the surface of the planet. You select Wrecker as your Focus. The Wrecker as this description:

You are optimized for killing machines. You either excelled at fighting TITAN constructs during the Fall or you continue to hunt them down in the aftermath.

The foci listed in Transhuman include:

  • Academic
  • Activist
  • Assassin
  • Bodyguard
  • Bot Jammer
  • Combat Async
  • Con Artist
  • Controller Async
  • Covert Ops
  • Dealer
  • Ego Hunter
  • Enforcer
  • Explorer
  • Face
  • Genehacker
  • Hacker
  • Icon
  • Investigator
  • Journo
  • Medic
  • Pirate
  • Psychosurgeon
  • Savant Async
  • Scanner Async
  • Scavenger
  • Scientist
  • Smart Animal Handler
  • Smuggler
  • Soldier
  • Spy
  • Techie
  • Thief
  • Wrecker

Morph

Finally, you need to select the current body that you inhabit. This is most likely your “default” body, the one you spend most of your time in when you are not on a mission. This body likely stays at your home (wherever that is), and probably has a couple of customization options installed.

When you switch to a new body, you replace your current Morph Keyword with the new one representing the body you now inhabit. If you’re running a campaign where the character switch bodies on a regular basis, you can jot down the Morph Keywords on index cards. That way, the player simply grabs the card for that particular morph and is ready to go. The Morph Keyword on the character sheet is ignored until the character returns to that particular body.

The Morph Recognition Guide is the best book for all information about the various morphs available to characters in the EP setting. Obviously, not all morphs are appropriate for all campaigns, and some morphs may not be available at all to starting characters.

I’m not going to list all the morphs here—there are 104 available in the Morph Recognition Guide. The GM should make a basic list of morphs available to the characters during character creation, and the players should select from that list.

Why So Many Keywords?

A character with four Keywords seems like a lot. However, each Keyword represents a host of abilities, such as skills, contacts, motivations, knowledge, attitudes, and so forth.

Furthermore, EP is a rather dense setting, and character creation can be difficult for those who not already very familiar with all the various elements that make up Eclipse Phase. But if the GM provides a list of Keywords based off the packages in the Transhuman book, including the 1-2 sentence descriptions of each, a new player can quickly create a character by picking one Keyword from each list, and end up with someone who fits perfectly into the EP game.

In fact, the breakout abilities don’t even need to be defined right away (see the “As You Go” method of character generation in the HQ2 core rulebook). This allows the player to start the game with a small number of abilities, and only when they feel that something about their character needs to be defined with more detail will they name a particular breakout ability.

Conclusion

That’s all I’m going to cover this week. Next week, I’ll talk about the other elements of EP characters and how they can be represented in HeroQuest. I’m also working on a HeroQuest/EP character sheet, and I’m planning to create a handful of characters, though I will probably save that for a later post.

See you next week.

HeroQuest RPG and Eclipse Phase

A Major Announcement

As I mentioned last week, a very exciting announcement was recently made on the BRP forums. The rules for the HeroQuest RPG will be released under an open license, which means that anyone will be able to legally publish supplements for the game.

In a previous post, I talked about the lack of genre packs and adventures being the biggest challenge to the game’s popularity. This announcement solves that issue. Chaosium will no longer need to dedicate resources to further supporting the game, as third parties will be able to do so legally and without the endless hassles of license approvals.

I think this is a wonderful announcement, and I cannot wait for Chaosium to release the System Reference Document so that we can see the support from third-party publishers that this great system deserves. Further, it means my own ideas about potential HQ2 products have just gained some solidity. The current license was the major obstacle I had against further work on my ideas, but having the rules under an open license changing things dramatically.

Using HQ2 for Eclipse Phase

I’m a big fan of the Eclipse Phase setting. It is a brilliant creation that grabs me and demands that I play around in it.

Having said that, I’m not the biggest fan of the system. Some people have really hated on the system from the beginning, but I don’t think that’s it’s a bad system at all. I think it’s perfectly serviceable for most campaigns that one might want to run in the Eclipse Phase setting.

However, it’s not the easiest system to learn, there are a lot of moving parts, and some elements of the game—such as switching bodies—are not easily implemented in the middle of play.

The designers of the game understood this complaint and released a Fate Core version of the rules some time ago. It streamlines many elements and, for those who love Fate, it works very well.

But while I like Fate, I’ve come to realize that it’s not my preferences when it comes to lighter, more narrative games. Rather, HeroQuest firmly occupies that spot in my mind. And so I’ve been thinking a lot about a HQ2/Eclipse Phase game recently.

The Elements of Eclipse Phase

Eclipse Phase is a deep game with many interconnected elements, reflected in the mechanics of the original rules. Each person’s Eclipse Phase campaign will focus on some elements over others, and many will skip certain elements completely.

For me, here are the core elements of Eclipse Phase that I want to play with in most campaigns I run:

  • Bodies are temporary: People will switch from body-to-body as required by whatever job they need to do. Most people will travel by farcasting to their destination and downloading into a body when they arrive. Different jobs or missions will require different physical capabilities, and characters will change to the most appropriate body that’s available.
  • Death: Related to the transient nature of bodies, permanent death is no longer a major issue. Especially for characters in high-risk jobs (e.g. all of them), death is an expected occurrence and backups of the character’s ego is a regular task.
  • Muses: All characters have a dedicated AI inside their head that handles many day-to-day tasks.
  • The Mesh: The Eclipse Phase version of the internet is a lot more than just a network of computers. The ability to meet and even live in VR is a major element of the setting.
  • Habitats and Planetary Settlements: The variety of places in which humanity dwells is important, providing many reasons for travel and a great opportunity to explore and experience new places.
  • Hypercorps: The various corporations and their (often conflicting) agendas provide great opportunities for adventure.
  • Political Blocs: Same as above, except that these are various political factions that rub up against each other and the hypercorps.
  • Social Networks: People the character knows and social groups with which they interact.
  • Reputation: The character’s social capital and how it is reflected among the various social groups that measure and track reputation (e.g. @-rep, c-rep, e-rep, f-rep, etc.).
  • Gear: In core Eclipse Phase, gear is an important element. It represents weapons, armor, electronics, clothing, tools, etc.
  • Implants: Implants include cybernetic, bionic, genetech, and nanoware enhancements to a character’s morph.
  • Psi Powers: Mental abilities that are acquired due to infection by a strange nanovirus released during the Fall.
  • Firewall and Existential Threats: Belonging to an organization that fights against the strange, alien threats to humanity, and all the various ways those threats manifest.

The Mechanical Bits and Pieces

As I said above, the Eclipse Phase system is decent, but can get overcomplicated when representing all the various bits and pieces of the setting to allow the players to interact with those bits and pieces mechanically.

The most common element in Eclipse Phase where this happens is switching bodies. One common issue that comes up in online discussions of EP campaigns involves players acquiring and upgrading a particular body, and then not wanting to farcast to any other location because they can’t take their body with them.

But this is not just a matter of players spending character resources on their bodies and not wanting to lose that benefit. There is a player time cost for interacting with all the rules for upgrading and customizing a body. And switching bodies can be an interruption to the game while players collect the information they need to play in a different body (though the designers have certainly published a number of tools that make it faster and easier to do than it was when the game was newer).

HQ2 has all the tools needed to represent those setting elements within the core rules. It’s usually just a matter of looking at those tools in a particular way.

So What’s Next?

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to do a deeper dive into Eclipse Phase and show how HQ2 can be used for EP campaigns. I’ll take a look at the various mechanical elements of EP and demonstrate how to represent them with the HQ2 rules without creating any new subsystems and changing how the rules themselves operate.

I hope you’ll enjoy these articles.

Writing Update – June 2018

There are a few things I want to write about this week regarding my novels and RPG products.

The Traitor and the Thief Novel

Yes, this has taken far longer to publish than any of my previous novels. I’m still hard at work on it, though I ran into a few structural issues that basically meant I stalled out on it completely at one point. I’ve been trying to juggle two separate but related stories and interweave them to make something where the whole is greater than the individual parts, and this has proven more difficult than I originally expected.

Having said that, I realized that I needed to start over from scratch. I took everything that I did before and set it aside, and then focused on the core themes and key characters and spent some time brainstorming ideas about the second and third book in this series. I know where I want to end up, but I even tossed that aside during this process so that I wouldn’t limit myself.

What has come out has been something that I think is stronger, and that I’m more passionate about, than what I was writing previously. Ultimately, this will be a benefit to my readers, though I understand the frustration that delays cause.

All I will say at this point that is that I’m writing again with a drive and a feeling that this is the story that needs to be told. I don’t know how long it will take—it’ll be done when it’s done. But I’m optimistic that things are moving well and I don’t expect any further delays.

Wide Distribution for My Novels

I was enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select for a while, which meant that some of my novels did not have wide availability on platforms other than Amazon. That is no longer the case. In addition to Amazon, all my novels are now available from DriveThruFiction, Kobo, and are in distribution through Smashwords. That means that they will shortly appear in Apple iBooks and on most other ebook selling platforms.

While my experiment with KDP Select did gain me some reads early on, I found that they did not make up for what I was losing by not having wider distribution. Therefore, I don’t plan—at this time—to enroll further books in KDP Select (though of course I reserve the right to change my mind if things change on the Amazon platform or other platforms that currently sell my novels).

Rooms with a View RPG Product

My RPG product Rooms with a View is nearing completion and I’ll be doing the test prints shortly. I think this new version will look fantastic with all the new maps combined with the original wonderful layout done by my wife, Pam.

At this point, I’m going to be releasing a version for D&D 3.5 (which was the original version), and for D&D 5E. In addition, I’m looking into a license for a version that includes stats for another game system—though I cannot announce anything just yet.

HeroQuest RPG

I’m super-happy about the announcement over on the BRP forums that the HeroQuest RPG will be getting the OGL treatment later this year. HQ2 is one of my favorite systems, and I’ve enjoyed looking at ways to use it for various settings, such as:

Needless to say, I’ll be looking closely at the OGL terms and the license requirements. In fact, I have a sword-and-sorcery adventure that I ran at GenCon a number of years ago, and I think others might enjoy playing it.

Obviously, nothing is going to happen with this for a while—at least until the actual license terms and SRD are released. But you can expect I’m going to do something with this once it’s available.

Origin Novella

I’ve still got the novella that I wrote for my son sitting on my hard drive. I’d love to release it, but I have a specific idea of how it should look, and I’m really attached to having it done properly. Unfortunately, it requires a number of pencil sketches for the chapter headers, and I haven’t had the time to source the right artist or start talking about commissioning those pieces. And then there’s the cover art.

This is something that keeps getting pushed back, and I realize that I’ve put it near the end of this update, which reflects, perhaps, where it sits in my priorities. I think that I need to move it up the list and get it out, because I believe that it’ll be a well-received story.

Conclusion

At this point, my priority is completing The Traitor and the Thief, so that those who read The Soldier and the Slave are able to get the next book in the trilogy. In conjunction with that, I want to get Rooms with a View back out, as most of the work on that is already done. That will take up my time when I’m not able to sit down to do actual writing.

Then, I’ll focus on getting Origin moving before I dive into the last book in the Undying Empire: Rebellion trilogy, The Revenant and the Reaper.

Any further RPG products, using the HeroQuest OGL or otherwise, will come after those priorities have been met.

Next week, I’ll return to looking at using HQ2 for other settings, with a dark horror/sci-fi offering.