Tag Archives: powered by apocalypse

State of The System and Ropecon mini-games

So, where is New Horizons? It’s been some 7 months of silence from my part (mostly because of a death in the family that derailed things), so I’ll try to get back on the track with short tidbits now and then maybe continue writing actual long posts further down the road.

Tokens I'm using now.

Quick update on the campaigns first: I’ve been running continuous games for Alpha and Bravo teams, ~15 sessions for Alpha, ~20 for Bravo. Bravo is just moving into Season 2 of the campaign with a big showdown in the last session we had and with Alpha we had a first team split to explore the characters in a more contained setting.

The feedback I’m getting from the players in invaluable (helps to have 7 people in the groups whose field of work is in gaming), which means that the system is updated often and keeps going through iterations quite fast. Officially we’re playing using the 2.3 version now, and I can’t count how many iterations the 1.x versions went through, but “countless” comes quite close.

The 1.0 rules were a shot in the dark. Anything that could even remotely fit a Corporate Scifi Horror campaign was incorporated. Way more mechanics than one could ever need, but that was sort of good. It’s easier for me to cut down mechanics than add new ones, it would seem. 1.x has had Death Moves (from Star Wars World), two interwoven stats (one set for approaches to situations, the other for professional expertise. They were just confusing), sanity-esque corruption-like mechanic and even a core Move (“You did … what?!”, which is basically “Are you crazy?!” from The Regiment 1.0) that was completely out of the style of the games that I was running. It had everything and the kitchen sink. Playtesting with the main groups showed me what got actually used and what had problems, and slowly but surely I honed the smaller details (like what stat to use where, or the wording of some Move) and kept in mind the big things I wanted to change.

Then came 2.0, which was basically the first big revamp. Reduced the system to 5 base stats (change of the stat “move” to “push”, ditch the role stats), one core Move for each stat, put more mechanical consistence on the way Moves work (for example, all role Moves that ask questions give an advantage (+1 forward) to a relevant follow-up Move), temporarily ditch the sanity mechanics so they don’t distract from the game, make the system actually geared towards teamwork, formalize the way threats and gear work.. and most importantly start building a vocabulary for Powered by Apocalypse games that works more naturally in Finnish. If all games are essentially conversations that are moderated by rules, the rules need to speak the same language as the conversation for things to flow perfectly. While the 2.x rules give the campaign some structure, but most importantly, they are geared towards one-shots, like convention games. If 1.x was a general shot in the dark, 2.x took weird stabbing motions towards a campaign play structure and the character advancement there had everything imaginable in it.

And as of last week, I’m now working on the 3.0 version. It will not hit the campaigns in a long while as I realized that there are huge changes that I need to do to the very core of the system. The character roles (playbooks) have always felt schizophrenic and overlapping, and after making pregenerated characters for a couple of con games, combined with feedback on the sanity system from Alpha team, I figured out I may have to take a dual-playbook approach to the game after all. Role book and Depth book (name pending), where the later is the character’s approach when things get shadow biosphere-y and the first one deals with the mundane. Moves will go through a language and functionality check so that using a Move becomes natural in the conversation of the game (so most adjective+noun combos like “calculating bastard” turn into something more action-y like “accept the cost”) and the effects reaffirm the corporate scifi horror theme. There is a huge need to revamp the roles as well. Empath, Seer and Voice roles will be rewritten to more mundane counterparts, while the shadow biosphere stuff moves to new parallel playbooks. Stats will move around for all the roles but the Leader, and this will again have an effect on the moves. And other things. All in all, my mind is primed with ideas.

Full set of character cards for one character. Moves, tokens, the work.

The other thing I wanted to mention was the Ropecon games and what I learned from those.

First thing I learned is that New Horizons is meant to be played around a proper table. It’s a funny by-product of the card system, but to function “as intended”, the game needs structured seating where everyone sees each other and have their cards in front of them. I am not sure what to do with this information in regards to the actual campaigns I’m running (where the game situations are … relaxed), but it might be so that I move the games to the kitchen from now on. There is some relevance in having the Leader at the end of the table, facing the GM as equal (this was impossible actually at Ropecon because of the noise) and everyone around the table seeing the cards and the tokens.

I ran two atypical scenarios at Ropecon, and playtested both before the con. The fact they were something else, allow me to look back and say things like “well yes, if this had been a normal +H game, there should have been some sort of an intel-gathering phase there at the beginning.” Which leads to me thinking that there needs to be a mission setup Move. 10+, you know two facts about the mission choose both (insert list). 7-9, as 10+, but you choose one, GM chooses one. 6-, as 7-9, but GM gets an extra Move for a Threat. Or something like that. In one, I used the gear system to the maximum potential, in the other, the Threats (I’ll have to talk about those in full detail later. They’re pretty much like Tremulus’ GM hold, but more nuanced).

It’s nice to see where the game is going and even if the players weren’t there to provide feedback for my game design, but to enjoy a game, it was interesting to see how they interacted with the system.

I will run the scenarios I did for Ropecon probably once more so I won’t put the details here to spoil potential players.

Five RPG Systems You Should Check Out

We are all the sum of our parts. And each game we run draws from our experiences of reading, playing and running games before it. No campaign is born in a void purely out of divine inspiration, and the same holds for systems. With New Horizons now underway and the system more or less fleshed out (still tweaking it daily), I’ve been thinking what RPGs have been most helpful for me lately, design-wise (more or less – the games I’ve stolen most stuff from)

Five RPG systems to enjoy

And while the actual list would be long and complicated, these are five systems that are making my mind tingle right now.

Continue reading

Things to Fiddle With: The 2d6 Card Deck

Tactile components are important for me in RPG situation. There is that feeling to having something to play with while gaming. As a Game Master, I’ve never been the one to build elaborate props, but I have a tendency to make up for that by using a good many physical objects as part of the mechanical system for the game.

Now, as much fun as dice are to use and one can’t deny the gratifying oomph of rolling them, there is a certain acquired elegance in cards that I’ve come to appreciate lately. How they feel in hand and how you usually don’t have to hunt them from under the sofa every second roll. I used a Tarot deck in the previous campaign, and for New Horizons I’m using a deck of (sort of) regular cards as an alternative to dice.

What the look and feel of my deck would be was clear from the beginning – I had participated in the Kickstarter for the Grid 2.0 deck by 4PM Design, and had a nice pile of those decks in my shelf waiting for a project to use them on. They also nicely played in unison with the blue-tinted color scheme I had planned for +H.

Card deck works as a beautiful 2d6 replacement

New Horizons is Powered by Apocalypse, in the most traditional Apocalypse World way. This means that to be a purist, the players should be throwing two six-sided dice around when executing Moves. Luckily, to make a deck of cards that imitates this randomization is not that hard.

I started with a single 2d6 spread – one 2, two 3s, three 4s, four 5s, five 6s, six 7s, five 8s, four 9s, three 10s, two Jacks (11) and one Queen (12). That gave me a very thin deck of 36 cards with the correct probability matrix, but I had to use only a few (4) cards from a second deck, leaving me with one really crippled deck that would be useless for any future projects.

So, to get a bit bigger deck and make use of more cards, I doubled the count. two of 2s, four of 3s, twelve of 7s, etc. That butchered a total three decks, but to a more satisfying results, mostly because of the next steps.

To get an accurate simulation of a 2d6 roll, a deck needs to be shuffled after each draw of a card. While that would work, it would stall the game and feel like a constant magic trick of “pick a card, any card”.

The quick and dirty fix I came up with was adding four Jokers to the deck as “reshuffle cards” – two black ones and two blues (also known as red in other card decks). Drawing one means you need to reshuffle the deck and draw another card to determine the actual result. This makes the reshuffles themselves random, causing a proper enough randomness to the method.

But something was still wrong.

After meditating on the matter, I realized that the game really didn’t need a dice simulator. If I was using a deck of cards, I should really use the deck more. So in the final version of the system, when you draw a Joker, you choose if you want to reshuffle the deck or not. After a pile of Jacks and Queens, you probably would like to. After a streak of failures because of low cards, you’d want to keep going because the deck is now stacked in your favor. And if you draw all the fourth Joker, you are forced to reshuffle.

Another tweak to them was that the Blue Joker should give a +1 to the result and a point of Confidence to the player, while a Black Joker brings a -1 to the result and adds one point of Terror to the pool. This skews the original pitch-perfect 2d6 scale just enough to justify the cards instead of dice.

And as one last detail, I added some imbalance to the blacks and blues of the deck. There are 30 blue cards in the deck (including the Jokers) and a total of 46 black cards. The colors come into play in the damage mechanics, which I will get to in a future posting.

And the good thing here is that the deck feels like a real object. It gets passed around the table and the players draw from it one by one. And the used cards spread around the table, reminders of the past actions. All in all, it has a good feel to it. You know, a solid, tactile one.

Introduction to the New Horizons RPG Campaign

Welcome, fellow RPG person. To the world that is not apparent to the naked eye. Where we as humans are not the only dominant species, and we are not even aware of it yet.

This here is the mandatory first post of a new blog. Something that’s usually the hardest bit for me to write, but I have a good feeling that since there’s a lot of ground to cover, I’ll manage to write something. And I’ll be expanding on each topic I touch here later in their own posts.

New Horizons has officially started. It’s a tabletop roleplaying game campaign that I’ve been planning and working on for a good while. The elevator pitch of what sort of a game this is is “team-based sci-fi horror game set in the modern day” with the players playing characters who form a field team of a firm called New Horizons (which is the source of the name, obviously).

Mechanically, the game runs on a system Powered by Apocalypse that’s been adapted to a more traditional team and mission based format. Biggest influences in system design have been Apocalypse World itself, The Regiment, Star Wars World and Tremulus. While the new mechanical things it brings to the table are few, the presentation and goals of the game differ quite a lot from that what Apocalypse usually barfs out.

The table morning after a New Horizons RPG game session

Structure-wise, I have two player groups in the campaign. Five-character (and five-player) teams each. Ten players quite a lot, but compared to my previous long-term campaign and the 54 players who participated, this is relatively manageable. The way I chose the players for the two teams was different for each.

The “Alpha Team” has five veteran GMs as players. The least experienced one has some 18 years of running games under his belt. I wanted people who knew what they were doing, and also people who don’t get that many chances to play games, because they’re busy running them all the time.

The “Bravo Team” has been hand-picked to build a team that would play out the horror aspect of the campaign the best. All of them are people who I know to be as immersive players as they come (not to slander the GM group – there is something that years of GMing games does to the way you view and play games), regardless of the experience.

Both teams’ players were given character roles to fill. The Leader, The Techie, The Seer, The Empath and The Voice. Each role came with a limited pool of things that they could choose to be able to do and a short description that might point at what the characters could be. The end result is two teams where the characters essentially fill the same purposes, but in descriptive text, they are quite polar opposites.

The game is a horror game and I’m planning on exploiting all the possible tricks in the book to get there. The initial idea of mine was that I wanted to do something of Cthulhu, but without resorting to a) the Cthulhu Mythos or b) all the tropes that come with Cthulhu. It’s my Cthulhu heartbreaker.

And it’s off to a good start. At the time of writing this, Alpha Team is somewhere in the rainy woods of Heartland, Maine; while Bravo Team is examining maps at a seven star luxury hotel in Dubai, UAE.