Archive for the ‘Homebrew’ Category

Marvel Caper!

June 30, 2014

I’ve recently embarked on an experiment to modify the Caper! rules for a superheroes game— specifically a game of superhuman private security contractors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some of us in our Boston extended gaming family had played Marvel Heroic Roleplaying last summer, and sadly the rules just never really clicked for me. I liked a lot of what they were trying to accomplish thematically, and the books were absolutely gorgeous, but as a player I never quite groked all of the various mechanics for dice pool builds and Opportunities, Assets, Distinctions, Complications and whatnot. And I know Chris (who was GMing that campaign) also had some problems on his side of the table, what with the Doom Pool, the nuts & bolts of building opposition, etc.

(Chris & I may have further muddied the waters a bit by attempting to bolt on a Smallville-inspired life paths system to the character creation session, adding Values, Relationships & Resources to the mix, but that’s neither here nor there…)

I decided that this summer was going to be the Summer of Marvel Caper! We’ve played two sessions so far, and it is going pretty well. The rules themselves are a work in progress, but what is amazing to see is when the narrative control widgets really click for a player, and when they really grok how to leverage the framing and storytelling of the various Letter mechanics and whatnot… it really takes the stories in very unexpected directions, which is really gratifying for me as a game designer, and I think for the rest of the players as well. This game, more so than any other rpg I think I’ve ever played, makes us all into an audience that can be genuinely surprised by some really clever plot twists and turns.

(Also incredibly refreshing for me as a GM is that the game is essentially zero prep, which I honestly think is a must for me now that I’m in my dotage.)

My first passion being character sheet design, I pulled out all of the stops for this, creating a line of 2-sided sheets that include pretty much all of the rules to the game. However, being the perfectionist/completist that I am, I ended up customizing sheets for each PC for the second session, with art of the players’ characters which I created with HeroMachine (or yanked off of the web if they’re playing a Marvel canon character… apologies in advance to the copyright holders!)

Bunny Hanlon's character: Commander Grace Chopra, ex-SHIELD agent and current Heir of K'un-Lun.

Let me tell you about Bunny’s character: Commander Grace Chopra, an ex-SHIELD agent who is now the current holder of the Iron Fist Legacy. (Photo Credit: Bunny Hanlon)

Rules-wise, I still have some more tweaking to do. After the first session and an overuse of Letters of Introduction— that mechanic works great for heists, but in supers I found it a bit genre-straining— I came up with an alternate use for face cards: rather than going to a contact and having them perform a bonus action on your behalf, you can now instead play a face card to perform an additional “power stunt” during your turn. I freely admit I took a page from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying for this, and I call this mechanic a ‘Letter of Intent‘. Thematically the stunts worked great, but mechanically I feel like they only worked okay— I think having yet another formula for success might have been a bit too confusing for some of the players. (As was the use of Spades/Wild Cards, but that’s always been a real source of confusion for first-time players… and annoyingly I’ve yet to craft the right spiel to adequately explain the rules out loud… hence my summarizing all of the rules on the character sheets!)

Anyways, yesterday’s session was also the first time I’ve ever played the 21 System with an actual GM (and not as a GM-less Caper! session), and I also think that worked out pretty well. There were only a couple of times I had to take over narrative control because I had some specific plot points I wanted to touch upon (when a character consulted some old SHIELD contacts to learn the big bad’s secret identity, for example). Otherwise, I felt like the players were able to sandbox and scenery chew to their hearts’ content.

I’ve always liked to jokingly say (okay, it is not a joke) that I designed a game system using cards as the randomizer because dice hate me. But the ironic thing during yesterday’s session was that my cards hated me! I perpetually had nothing but twos through fours in my hand, punctuated by the occasional seven or eight.  I don’t think I ever had a single face card the entire session! And I *know* I was never graced with an ace… the players gobbled those right up. And an ever-elusive Joker? Ha! Forgetaboutit!

Anyways, this dearth of heavy hitting cards essentially led to a total rout, as my hordes of MGH-fuelled favela kids couldn’t touch the PCs. This’ll necessitate tweaking the mook rules a bit, but I’ll need to avoid going too far in the other direction if the worm turns and I ever find myself with a killer hand… because that’s the other thing I hate in games: swingy math.

My too-clever-by-half XP mechanic was an abject failure. I think. Upon further consideration today, I can’t help but feel that there’s some there there. Essentially, all of the chips the PCs cashed in during the session would get thrown in a box, which represented the ‘boffo box’ that the movie we’re collaboratively creating would earn… get it? ::groan::

Anyways, at the beginning of the session, each player secretly wrote which color of chip they’d want to claim as a share of XP at the end of the session (each chip being worth 1 XP). Which color they choose to claim should be based on how they envision playing their character during the session— if they’re going to be going on the offensive, they’ll want to claim reds; if they’re going to be helping/healing leader-y types, they’ll want to claim whites. Blues are for those who’ll alter the physical and human terrain of the story by creating temporary props & set pieces, retconning parts of the story, etc.

Well, at the end of the session, the box ended up having forty some-odd reds and only like a dozen each of the blues and whites. And once I looked at the slips of paper to see who had claimed what, only one player had claimed red, one player claimed blue, and three players claimed whites. Now, where’s the fault in this mechanic? How much of this chip disparity was caused by my piss-poor hands of cards and never successfully landing an attack on the PCs that they then needed to recover from by spending white chips? How many of the three choices of white had to do with two of those players having never played the game before, so the chip mechanics were entirely new to them?

Even Chris— the sole player to claim red chips as his take— immediately said he shouldn’t get 40+ XP for the session, while the rest of the players only got a pittance. We ended up just doing an even split, with the remainder getting awarded to Bunny, who was voted MVP (she had devised a really cunning plan that totally carried the day and gave both sides— including the “villain”— a win.) So, chalk that one up to the social contract, I guess! [1]

Anyways, maybe its my Caper!-centric ruthlessness, but I can’t help but feel there remains something to this “box office” mechanic. I mean, isn’t a trope of the superhero genre that you reap what you sow? That you get back what you put out into the universe? That with great power comes great responsibility? Like I said, I can’t help but feel there’s some there there, and that with a group of players who’ve played before, who fully understand what the chips do, and are also familiar with each other’s character, their powers, backstory, and what they bring to the table… this mechanic will add an interesting wrinkle to the roleplaying, the storytelling, and will narratively reinforce the chip-cashing that mechanically drives both.

There were some other rule changes that we kicked the tires on for the first time yesterday: an initiative mechanic, I had tweaked the stats for the Letters of Introduction, and I added a new “Previously, on red23…” opening scene mechanic that gives the players an opportunity to introduce their character and enter the session with some chips in their back pocket. All of these seemed to work out fine… or at least I didn’t hear any complaints about them after we wrapped and jawboned for awhile. But that may have been because the XP box office gag dominated the conversation. 😉

Anyways, I’m really looking forward to session three! I’ve already decided its going to be a PvP ‘Danger Room‘ session so I can really see how the combat rules work.


[1] Call it sour grapes if you will, but even now— nearly eight(!) years after I designed Caper!— I still fail to understand the complaint I heard from some critics that they didn’t like the game because it led to backstabbing and ruthlessness since— unlike most (if not all) roleplaying games— it has an actual ‘win condition’. Methinks those folks need to play some Diplomacy.


Planning Ahead

November 30, 2012

I’m beginning to toss around thoughts on my next game after my current one (D&D 4e converted to 13th Age) wraps. I’m pretty firmly settled on some kind of historical fiction. I’ve never really done that before but I work better either in a licensed setting or when stealing someone else’s intellectual property.  I’m a better synthesizer than I am a wholesale creator; I know this about myself and it’s where I have more fun. And history gives me that. (more…)

13 Deadly Venoms

September 22, 2012

It’s been a few weeks since I went on and on about 13th Age

So early in the playtesting there was a Monk class in the core rulebook. There were rules up to about level 5 Rob and Jonathan decided to pull it out because they felt it wasn’t ready for prime time. It will be included in the Kickstartered (and awesomely overfunded) 13 True Ways supplement due out next year.

But here’s the problem: I’m switching my campaign over from 4e to 13th Age, and I have a Monk in the party. Because my characters were about to enter the Epic tier, we converted over at 8th level.  And as I noted above, the draft stuff only went as high as lvl 5, and even that wasn’t complete (it is a beta document after all).

Which meant it was up to me to homebrew some extra stuff. I present it here in case anyone else finds themselves in the same boat, wanting to run an epic tier monk and not willing to wait until 13 True Ways drops to satisfy that itch. It’s not a full-on expansion to bring the class up to full options, but it’s one Epic tier Talent and a 7th level Form, and a handful of feats. It was all I needed for my campaign at present but I may make some other things up later.

Feel free to swipe,  but if you do please add a homebrew talent, feat or form of your own here.

(and no, I won’t post the partial Monk stuff from the earlier playtest.)


Drivin’ To Gencon

August 3, 2010

Gotta game. Gotta game without dice and pen and paper and stuff. So…

Everything you do, you’re either Awesome, Good, or Average. That way this can be the AGA system. Since you have no paper, you don’t have to build your character on points or anything — you can decide on the fly how good you are at things. You’re not Bad at anything, formally speaking. If you suck at doing a thing, you can just say you fail at doing it.

Don’t forget circumstances. If you’re Awesome at penchak silat but you just had the crap beaten out of you, maybe you’re just Good at it right now. Or maybe not. Who am I to say?

If you’re trying to do something you’re Awesome at, you just win by default. I am an Awesome lawyer, so I win my motion for continuance. Or I win the trial if that’s the appropriate granularity. Sometimes your opposition will be better than Average, however. So you just slip down a notch. Here:

Awesome vs. Bad: You win utterly
Awesome vs. Average: You win
Awesome vs. Good: You’re just Good for this one
Awesome vs. Awesome: You’re just Average for this one

If you’re trying to do something you’re Good at, the GM puts a coin in one of her hands. Secretly. It can be a rock or a breath mint or whatever, the coin bit doesn’t matter. You pick a hand. If you get it right, you win!

If you get it wrong, you’re down by one beat. The GM describes how the conflict is going, with your opponent pulling ahead a notch. Or you describe it, depending on where you want to put the narrative power. Again, who am I to say?

Then you do it again. If you guess wrong twice in a row, you lose. If you guess right once, you win. I have not figured out the probabilities here but I think they’re pretty good for you. They should be; you’re Good at this.

If you’re trying to do something you’re Average at, you do the coin bit again. If you guess wrong twice in a row, you lose. To win, you have to guess right twice in a row. Barring your ability to outguess your GM, this should be even odds, right? I think so.

More charts:

Good vs. Bad: You win
Good vs. Average: Guess right once to win
Good vs. Good: You’re Average!
Good vs. Awesome: … hm.

OK, if you’re Good but you’re up against Awesome opposition, you have to guess right twice in a row without guessing wrong. GMs: don’t be dicks. Failure should move the story along. It’s failure for the PC, not for the player!

There. Now I can roleplay in the car.

[4e] Not Your GM’s Keep on the Shadowfell: SWARM(s)!

November 17, 2009

Like the particle/wave duality of light, this week’s rules adjustments come from the understanding (or lack thereof) of how 4e swarms can act as both a single creature, and a series of tiny creatures acting in concert. The issue began when the party attempted to explore a web-covered chapel to a dragon god, buried deep in the caverns of the  kobold lair behind the waterfall in H1.  Turns out I wasn’t the only one who thought the provided map indicated a more extensive cave system – our DM has set us on his first completely original series of encounters exploring those caverns.  And with webs covering the ceiling, it’s no surprise that we were attacked by spiders and ettercaps and scorpions (oh, my!).


[4e] Not Your GM’s Keep on the Shadowfell: (Mostly) Minor Actions

November 9, 2009

This week’s change is short and sweet.  Which is appropriate, since it concerns Minor Actions.  Before the start of play this past week, our DM announced that if we wanted to trade all of our actions down to Minor Actions in a round, he would grant us a bonus of an additional Minor Action for our trouble.  In other words, instead of a maximum of 3 Minor Actions per round, we now potentially could use 4.  I expect this was in reaction to having a few of us unable to grab and drink potions fast enough to keep up with the beat down we had taken the week before (once our Second Winds were gone).  The increased threat level born of unbridled rules changes begins to rear its ugly head!  But nothing another rules tweak can’t fix, eh?


[4e] Not Your GM’s Keep on the Shadowfell: Semi-Stackable Temp HP

October 26, 2009

This week’s bone of contention turned out to be how Temporary Hit Points are handled in 4E.  During the last session we ended up getting Temporary Hit Points from several sources.  In addition to Clerical and Avenger powers which grant Temp HP, the scenario itself had a magical source for Temporary HP that the party tapped – a magic circle outside the kobold waterfall campsite.  Those of you familiar with the Keep on the Shadowfell as published will notice some customization here, as the original magic circle only gave a slight attack bonus. Since the party was third level at this point (and had previously completed the original waterfall scenario when I ran my truncated campaign), the DM had to change things up and increase the opposition.


[4e] Not Your GM’s Keep on the Shadowfell: Magic Surges

October 6, 2009

As I related in my previous post, our old DM from a multi-year 3.0 homebrew has taken over running a regular 4E game for my Thursday night gaming group, and being who he is, can’t help but change things.  Last time I discussed identifying magic items, and withholding their abilities until worn for at least 24 hrs.  This time, I’m going to try and figure out how replacing Milestone refreshes of Daily Magic Item uses with Magical Surges changes things around.


[4e] Not Your GM’s Keep on the Shadowfell: Identifying Magic Items

October 1, 2009

First off, Mea Culpa on The Keep on the Borderlands articles that have been mentioned but failed to materialize.  Work and other obstacles have stalled me on that front.  But as my players have recently reached fourth level, and are taking a much deserved break back in the relative safety of the Keep, I may have a chance to catch that up as I prepare for the second half of the heroic tier.

In the meantime, I have started playing in another 4th Edition game with a different group, this time a weekly game (more or less) run by our old 3.0 – 3.5 DM.  While I am having fun, I feel the need to share some of the changes and modifications he’s made to the game, both for my own sanity but also so I can think through the implications and perhaps get some help pointing out the potential pitfalls, and avenues for exploitation.  The backdrop will be somewhat familiar to most 4th Edition players, as these stories will involve us progressing through his interpretations of the Heroic Tier adventures, starting with H1 Keep on the Shadowfell.


‘Aces’- yet another ‘Agon’ homebrew

June 21, 2009

So, two funny things happened while I was away on a business trip recently. The first was that whatever momentum I had working on Praxis got blunted, and I had ample time to let a new serial addiction to take root in my brain. The second was that I actually got to meet the Baron von Richthofen, descendant of the WWI ace, the Red Baron.

So, it was only natural for a young man’s fancy to turn to dogfighting.

See, I love Crimson Skies… the genre and setting at least, but not the rules. I *hate* the rules. But I got to thinking… could Agon’s abstract battlemat and combat system be used for a relatively rules light air combat game? I think it can.

As is my usual wont, I designed the character sheet first.

Here’s hoping I can play test this sometime soon. I have lots of cool Crimson Skies heroclix that demand some lovin’.

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