Monthly Archives: December 2011

Cyborg Commando

CYBORG COMMANDO

(All-Caps NOT OPTIONAL)

(Not Gary Gygax’s Finest Hour… Or  Week… Or Year…)

So, what happens to an iconic creator when, for various reasons, he can no longer work on the products that made him so iconic? Well, he can start a failed computer company, or a failed comic book company, or produce a failed roleplaying game. Given the nature of this site, I hope you don’t have to guess too hard what I’m about to cover. (Hint: Read the title. It’s in ALL CAPS!)

CYBORG COMMANDO (this is how it’s written throughout the rules, and that’s how I’m going to write it here) is about COMMANDOS that are CYBORGS. What does it profit a man to gain built in missile launchers if he loses his soul? How much of your humanity will you sacrifice, to save humanity? At what point are you more metal than man? Is humanity a thing of the flesh, or of the soul? Are you more inhuman than the monsters you were created to fight? These, and other questions, are totally not even remotely asked in this game. CYBORG COMMANDO is about kicking alien ass with your built in cyber powers, and there is nothing wrong with that premise… but, according to many reviews and writeups, there’s a hell of a lot wrong with the game as a game. Or… is there? (Probably.) I’m going to find out, and you’re going to join me for the trip. (Or you’ve already dismissed this page and are eagerly looking to see if there’s any updates on goatswithboats.com.)

Let’s move on…

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Stellar Warriors Update

Stellar Warriors Update

I’ve mentioned, several times, my desire to an over-the-top sci-fi game inspired by late 70s/early 80s tropes in both game design and science fiction (and by “science fiction”, I mean, the pulp space opera, movies, and TV shows of the era and earlier, not the actual quality SF that dealt with meaningful themes of the era. We’re talking sci-fi, not SF.) I’ve been waffling badly on this, with a lot of initial design steps petering out. Going to far in the purely old-school mechanics, limiting myself to things like AD&D 1e as the defining point, bored me as a designer… if I found AD&D too limiting as a player back then, why embrace those limits? My attempt to do it as a full-fledged Pathfinder game got a bit further, but I felt I was spending too much time mimicing Paizo’s style and dealing with an accumulated body of rules that all had to be edited to fit my desire, with the risk of losing compatibility with each edit and the problem of balancing my content with the rest of the game. Finally, when rereading my collection of Knights Of The Dinner Table, it suddenly hit me I was looking in the wrong place for system inspiration. I’ve often praised Hackmaster 4e as the kind of old-school game that captured the spirit of old-school as I remembered it. Even stripped of the purely parodic/silly elements, the core of the game embodies the attitude that spells “old school” to me, the kind of exuberant, unapologetic, energy and enthusiasm that the best old school books have, and it makes no bones about complex mechanics — it has them and loves them and expects you to be smart enough to decide which to use and which are too much bother, and as for game balance… whatever. Good enough is good enough.

So I realized I don’t want to write, per se, AD&D in Space, or Pathfinder in Space… I want to write Spacehack, or something close to it. I want to capture the kind of universe implied, but never clearly defined, in Star Rovers and the Arduin miniatures line.  I want to pull from the same kind of influences that produced Encounter Critical, but not as a parody. I also realized I want elements of the first edition of Warhammer 40K, before it started taking itself too seriously — space dwarves and space elves and space vampires. I want bounty hunters and space ninjas.  I want it all… and I want it wrapped in a system that’s actually playable and that satisfies the things I look for in a game, as a player and as a GM.

At this point in the very mercurial development process, it looks a lot like AD&D 1e after going through a radioactive blender. We’ve got descending armor class (-10 is better than 2, and a +2 bonus to your AC lowers your AC by 2), attack charts cross-indexing level and AC (what the hell’s a thayko, anyway?) using a roll-under D20 mechanic, roll-over saving throws, and a skill system shamelessly borrowed from Hackmaster (in terms of some mechanical ideas, no text is copied and the actual implementation differs in many ways, let’s be clear here).

Some of the mechanics are deliberately more obtuse, contradictory, or idiosyncratic than they need to be… that’s  a big part of the spirit of the era. Percentile systems, roll-under systems, roll-over systems… I’ve got ‘em all. My hope is that the different types of mechanics will be siloed enough that you won’t actually have trouble figuring out what to use in play or how to resolve any situation the rules don’t explicitly cover.

I’ve also finally got the tone right, the authorial voice. If anyone thought Earth Delta was written with a bit too much snark… well, I’ve got the ghost of Gary Gygax whispering in one ear, Gary at his most authoritative and belligerent, the early Gary of the AD&D 1e DMG and the fire-spewing editorials in The Dragon, and David Hargrave whispering in the other ear. (The fact my writing in no way compares to theirs in quality and imagination is best attributed to poor communication from the spirit world, and it should be considered no failure of their talents that I am a poor, poor, copy of the departed masters.)

Here’s a sample… this may end up highly changed as the editing process continues, and certainly the raw mechanics will be tweaked a lot, but I simply like the tone of it all:

If you roll a natural 20 (that is, the number “20” is the number showing. Does this really need to be explained to you?), you have scored a critical hit if the modified roll would have hit the target’s Armor Class (so if you needed a 24 to hit, and you had total bonuses of +5, so your modified roll was 25, then, this is a critical hit). If the modified roll would have missed (say, you needed a 30 to hit his AC), then a natural 20 is just a normal, run of the mill hit, and, by the way, if you’re missing when you roll a freakin’ 20, this means that the guy you’re fighting is way out of your league, or you’re a blind epileptic diplomat using a weapon you have no proficiency with, or both. Run, you idiot! Where was I?

Oh yeah, Critical Hits.

Your basic, run of the mill critical hit is a Grade A critical. For every 3 points by which your modified roll exceeds the number needed to hit, the critical improves one Grade, so if you needed a 15 to hit and your modified roll was a 26, you scored a Grade E critical! (There are some things which can reduce a critical grade; a critical reduced below Grade A is Grade 0 (that’s “Zero”, not “O”). Grade 0 criticals are kind of “Participation Ribbon” criticals. You showed up, so you get a token to soothe your fragile little ego. Anything reduced below Grade 0 isn’t even a critical, it’s just an average hit. Better luck next time.

The critical chart is nothing more than a shadow of an idea at this point; it’s going to be a bear to complete, because I ultimately want different weapon types to have different critical effects, ideally with Rolemaster-esque flavor text.

The biggest design issue I have now is that I want a fairly rich set of skills, proficiencies, and talents which players can choose as they level up, but I also want a strong class system, and deciding what kind of things should be class-specific and which should be accessible to anyone who wants to spend the Customization Points on them is not always self-evident.

I’m also trying to decide if I want racial level limits. Limiting classes and levels by race has a great ability to add flavor to a race and to avoid some kinds of munchkinism, but it can also be a real game-killer if the campaign goes on too long. Multiclassing is another issue I’m playing with; I’m likely to part with tradition and let humans multiclass.

As with all my projects, this may go on to semi-completion, or it may be abandoned from this moment forward.

Wastespawn — Oilslick

That is not dead which can eternal lie…

Like I keep saying, Earth Delta is not dead, just pining for the fjords… the fjords filled with deadly killer mutant pine trees that fire explosive laser pinecones!!!! Hmmm… explosive pinecones… I like that… anyway, here’s the first Level 16 monster for Earth Delta, the Oilslick Wastespawn!

(In case anyone’s wondering, and I know you’re not, one of the distractions I’ve been dealing with has been my oft-mentioned but rarely-detailed Stellar Warriors. I should post about that…)


 

Wastespawn 

The wretched ruins of the Ancestor’s excess have left behind vast regions tainted with terrible toxins, not to mention awful alliteration. Various systems, including nanobots and genetically engineered bacteria, were usually dispatched to clean up and process such areas, but, during the time leading up to the Cataclysm, wars were fought by sabotaging and reprogramming such things, trying to turn the cleaners into killers. The mix of confused programming and reprogramming, and the passage of time, caused the ecosystems of cleaning bots, waste-eating bacteria, and offensive counter-programs to use the raw material of the wastes to form ever more complex beings, fast-forward evolution using the tools at hand. These creatures are now called wastespawn, and they live wherever the Ancestor’s offal is densely concentrated. They generally possess only fragments of intelligence, pseudo-minds composed of badly mangled bits of semi-aware code, but they are motivated by a strong hatred of an unknown enemy, which they assume to be any creature which enters their realm.

Some groups, especially rubblers and ratmen, have found ways to tame or herd wastespawn. The Annihiliation Army is known to sometimes capture them, contain them, and unleash them on strongholds as terror weapons ahead of their own invasions.

Wastespawn, Oilslick

Wastespawn, Oilslick

Level 16 Lurker

Medium elemental animate (ooze)

XP 1,400

HP 105; Bloodied 53AC 30; Fortitude 28; Reflex 29; Will 27Speed 5

Immune poison, disease; Resist 10 acid

Initiative +20

Perception +15

All-Around Vision, Tremorsense 50

Traits
Flammable
If the Oilslick takes more than 10 points of fire damage in a single attack, it ignites, gaining the “Burning” condition (save ends). This causes its slam attack to do an additional 1d10 fire damage, and gives it an Aura 2 that has “Any creature starting its turn in this aura takes 2d6+5 fire damage”. The Oilslick takes 2d6+5 fire damage on the start of its turn, as well.
Incorporeal
The oilslick takes full damage from fire and cold attacks.
Standard Actions
m Slam • At-Will
Attack: +21 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8 + 11 damage, and the target is covered with oil (save ends). Oil covered targets gain a +2 to all defenses against being grabbed, but all forced movement effects against them increase by 1 square, and all terrain is difficult terrain for them (as they tend to slip and slide a lot). Flying creatures are grounded. If the oilslick is burning, the target also has ongoing 5 fire damage (the same save ends this condition as well).
Slick Slam • At-Will
Requirements: Must be in Flowing Slick form.
Effect: The oilslick makes two slam attacks. These can target any creature adjacent to it, or standing on its body. It can attack the same creature twice, or two separate creatures.
Move Actions
Flowing Slick • Encounter
Effect: The oilslick spreads out to become a thin carpet of oil, 5 squares on a side. In this form, it ignores difficult terrain, and it can squeeze through any space of up to 1 square wide. Enemies can move through its spaces, though it can make a slam attack as an opportunity action against any creature who moves more than one square through its body. It costs 3 squares of movement to cross each square (flying creatures may move normally). It can return to normal form as a minor action. When it changes to this form, it can pass under any enemies occupying the spaces it will now occupy, and performs a slam attack against each enemy so engulfed, at a +2 bonus. Its AC and Reflex defenses are reduced by 2 when it is in this form.
Return To The Pool • Recharge 5 6
Effect: The oilslick flows into the pool of industrial waste which spawned it. In this form, it is considered to be hidden, gains resist 10 (all but fire), and regenerates 10 points/turn. It can end this state as a minor action. It can move at full speed while hidden in this way. It can take no actions except to move or return to its normal state.
Skills Stealth +21
Str 21 (+13) Dex 27 (+16) Wis 15 (+10)
Con 21 (+13) Int 3 (+4) Cha 15 (+10)
Alignment evil     Languages

Oilslick wastespawn are barely more than animals, possessing only rudimentary self-awareness. They dwell deep in pools and seas of industrial wastes, primarily, of course, oil, which still had many uses in manufacturing and industry, even though, by the time of the Ancestors, it had lost much of its utility as a primary power source. (There were also many stockpiles of it, sometimes locked away for centuries, against some future shortage.) Oilslick wastespawn are basically symbiotic colonies that combine thick, contaminated, oil and highly-mutated oil-eating bacteria, which now function to convert other substances into oil. The oilslick will arise from the pool as a vaguely tentacle-shaped wave or whip of oil, and moves on its own by flowing forward and then drawing itself up. If it senses that its enemies are using any kind of fire or heat weapons, including lasers, a primitive and malicious instinct will cause it to not use its flowing slick power until it is ablaze, and then it will engulf its foes in its burning mass.


 Design Notes

As with most great things, this started with something I saw in a Jack Kirby comic,

What I Stole This From Was Inspired By

but by the time it hit the page, it had very little to do with the inspiration beyond the idea of “oil slick as monster”. Because I’m a lazy-ass bastard, and I’d rather beat one semi-original idea to death than actually come up with more than one idea at a time, I realized that while an oil slick monster was cool, coming up with a whole bunch of monsters based on “animated waste and junk” was even cooler, and by “even cooler”, I mean, “would require very little mental effort to find viable concepts to fill a variety of roles”. So there will probably be more wastespawn in the future.

This one has lower hit points than average, because it’s such a bitch to hurt, and, if you attack it in its native environment, it has a very powerful “retreat and rest” mechanic. Lurkers are supposed to be frustrating as hell and require some thinking to beat. Setting it on fire is a wonderfully double edged laser sword, because while it takes some damage, it also becomes much deadlier, especially if it’s saved up its encounter power for just such a contingency. The ongoing damage from the flames is low because of the other effects the basic slam attack already imposes; without them, the ongoing damage would be 10. The increased forced movement effect isn’t especially useful to the oilslick itself, since it has no powers that do that, but pair it with a controller or a brute/soldier type that relies on push effects, and you’ve got a good game of PC pinball going. I like that it’s an interesting synergy mechanic and a logical effect of what the creature is and what it does. Likewise, the notations on how its powers affect flying creatures are there because I dislike that 4e either encourages you to ignore all logic and apply the rules as written, or makes the assumption the DM will issue rules calls as needed. I’d rather empower the DM by telling him up-front what the game-effect power is modeling (an oil slick) and give him some advice on the most common type of conflict or question which will arise, namely, “Why can’t I fly over it?” The answers, as you see, are “If you’re flying and covered with oil, it goops you up and you fall, but, if you’re flying over an oil slick on the ground, no, it’s not difficult terrain for you.” (Difficult Terrain is a perfect example of “90% is not enough” when it comes to rules. By this I mean, it’s obvious that the 4e designers looked at 3.5s myriad of terrain types and conditions and said, “Look. 90% of the time, all we want is ‘This terrain slows you down’, and it doesn’t matter if it’s slick ice or brambles or deep sand or a high wind.” The problem is that for all of those, there’s different possible countermeasures — can a fire spell melt the ice, or a fire elemental ignore it? A nimble elf can shift on brambles, but what could does being nimble do against a powerful headwind or heavy gravity or a ‘zone of slowness’? The DM is constantly forced to either apply the rules as written, even if they make no sense, or get into pointless arguments over whether or not the rules apply, because the effects-based design of 4e offers little guidance when it comes to interpreting the source of the effect, and this, in turn, causes loss of immersion. This, in turn, is also why I pointed out some of the uses of sand or other “gritty” material, because it’s the sort of thing clever players will want to try, and should be able to, without the DM having to be forced to choose between something like “Uhm, OK, the handful of sand completely blots up the man-sized living oil slick” or “No, there’s no effect, why should sand hurt it?” With the provided guidelines, the DM ought to be able to cover most common variations and have an expected “baseline effectiveness” to work from.

Gameworld wise, I like the idea of a “wolfpack” of these things arising out of a small “sea” of oil at the bottom of a ruined factory, or of a Stronghold using one or two as “moat monsters”. The “overuse” of “quotes” in my “writing” can be strongly attributed to the aforementioned Mr. Kirby.