Monday, September 26, 2011

Weird West and Emulators - Part 3

This is the last part of my  report on the experience of using the Universal NPC Emulator, Mythic GM Emulator and Weird West RPG together. Part 1 describes the creation of the characters and part 2 starts the adventure.

Scene 4 (Chaos: 4)

[The plan was to confront the mayor and the owner of the prospecting company to see if the truth comes out. However, I got another interrupt scene. Event focus: NPC Positive (mayor.) Event meaning: violate reality. Does the mayor disappear? Yes. How? calmly delightful.] As the party rides back to town, the mayor starts to whistle a tune. It is a soft, soothing and strange melody that none of the other men recognizes.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Zombie Game Roundup

Having played a few different zombie survival games, I decided to write a little comparison between them, not to find out the "best" but rather to understand the similarities and differences. In this little survey, I'm considering the following titles (in alphabetical order):
  • All Things Zombie (ATZ)
  • Fear and Faith (FaF)
  • Final Days
  • New World Disorder: Zombie Apocalypse (NWD:ZA)
  • Total AR:SE (a.k.a. Akula's Rules)
To get started, here is a comparison table, based on my experience with the games:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Weird West and Emulators - Part 2

This is part two of the report on my experience using the Universal NPC Emulator, Mythic GM Emulator and Weird West RPG together. Check out part 1 for the details on the characters.

The trio of adventurers arrive in Perseverance, a small town of about 400 people that grew from a settlement of farmers and prospectors. The community leader is Adam Kinsey, a kind man who tries to keep the town growing and peaceful.

[Adam Kinsey on the Universal NPC Emulator: kind performer, comparable power level, strives music, compels the wealthy, manages moderation.]

Scene 1 (Chaos: 5)

[I used the stand event generation to set up the first scene. Focus: ambiguous event. Meaning: transform of news.] As they stop by the Shady Tree Saloon they hear a story about how a newfound gold vein proved to be an illusion, with the gold turning into rocks days after being digged. Doc McPherson was intrigued by the possibility of the illusion being caused by some magical property of the land, while William was wondering about some kind of scam being played upon the prospectors. With some reluctance from Strong Tom (who was annoyed by the doc's interest in the matter) they decided to pay a visit to Adam Kinsey and ask what he knew about it.

Scene 2 (Chaos: 6)
[The plan was to have the party talking to Adam about the illusionary gold but I rolled an interrupt. Focus: PC Positive (William.) Meaning: arrive of intrigues.] News travel fast in such a small town, and even before the trio talks to the mayor, they are approached by a man by the name of Scott Atkins. He owns a prospecting company and had invested money into hiring more people and buying more equipment to mine the new vein. He suspects some kind of foul play -- possibly involving the mayor -- and wants to hire them to investigate. It seems he's heard good things about William and is even willing to pay some money in advance. The party accepts the job and leaves to check out the gold vein.

Scene 3 (Chaos: 5)
[The idea was to travel by horse to the gold vein and look for clues. I rolled an altered scene and asked a few questions. Do they get ambushed? No. Has the vein disappeared? No. Is the mayor at the site? Yes. Hmm...] As the party approaches the location of the illusory gold vein, they notice a man standing near a horse. He greets them and introduces himself as Adam Kinsey, the mayor of Perseverance.

[Rolling on the UNE Discussion Module, I get: the mysterious mayor speaks of shadows regarding the PCs' history.] Taking care not to be noticed, Doc McPherson drinks something from his medicine bag and proceeds to question the mayor about his motives for being there. [I made a Skill 2 test for the doc to get some reliable information. Rolled a 4, modified by -1 due to his low Skill. Rolling for the Medicine Bag bonus, I got a +3: success!] As they start talking, the mayor tries to imply that they are mere mercenaries and thus untrustworthy. However, Doc McPherson keeps the pressure and the mayor lets slip he is involved in this: "It shouldn't have happened like this!"

The mayor refuses to give further explanations and when threatened to be arrested and brought back to the town, he simply asks, "who do you think the town will trust? Me or a bunch of guns for hire?" [The idea was to try the party's luck. Rolling on the NPC binary response chart, Tom agreed and Doc was against it.] "We will take our chances", answered William. They tied the mayor's hands and William pulled his horse. Tom went on the back of the group, and they rode back to town.

To be continued... (Chaos for the next scene: 4)

Friday, September 16, 2011

All Things Zombie: A trip to the supermarket

I finally had my first playtest of All Things Zombie. It's not the start of a campaign, just a simple encounter run on a small table to get the hang of things. I used the same simple buildings and scenario from my Zombie Apocalypse test so if you're turned off by simple white boxes as terrain, you may consider stopping right now.

Anyway, here's my party of three civilians. James in the middle is a star (reputation 5) bringing with him a shotgun. He's agile and stone cold and has been surviving thanks to that. Matt (rep 3), on the left, is getting to grips with reality. Luckily for him, he used to practice martial arts a lot; his brawler skills have saved him more than once since the zombies started appearing. He carries a submachine gun and a machete. Tagging along is Tricia (rep 2,) who every day wakes up wishing it's just a nightmare. If she weren't James' cousin, it is unlikely that they would bring her along. Like most peaceful civilians, she's a wuss when it comes to fights, let alone facing an approaching zombie. However, James has been trying to teach her how to use a pistol.

This "Discover" scenario is set in the suburbs in the evening. The goal of the survivors is to reach the supermarket (large building on the left ) and search it for supplies. The small boxes er, buildings cannot be explored but the medium ones may, if they so wish. They enter from and must leave through the right board edge. At the start of the game the civilians were lucky, generating only eight zombies. Here's the distribution of them on the board.

The civilians lost initiative but the zombies couldn't activate anyone in the first turn. James wanted them to run to the supermarket but Tricia was scared so they approached it at a slower pace. On the second turn the zombies got another six, so none of them moved.

The civilians entered the supermarket and found three soldiers who didn't react very well to the sight of armed civilians. As the military team leader started shouting "stand down" and pointing to them, James fired his shotgun at him, blowing his head off and all hell broke loose. Matt opened fire with his submachine gun but didn't hit anyone and Tricia didn't fare any better. One of the soldiers shouted some orders to the other and they scrambled to other positions in the room. Next turn the survivors rolled a six, standing there unable to react while the trained soldiers employed their tactics. They fired their assault rifles at the civilians but missed them and exposed themselves to fire in the process. On the third turn the civilians won the initiative. James' shot stunned one of the soldiers and Matt stunned the other. On the following turn they managed to tie up the two soldiers. "We can't just let them here," Tricia screamed. "You know what will happen!" Matt glanced at James, who didn't say anything. Instead, he just grabbed a handful of canned food and the assault rifle from the dead soldier, saying, "he won't need this anymore. Let's go, those guys will be waking up soon and if they're any good, these knots won't hold them down."

At this point I noticed two things:
1. I forgot to move the wandering zombies on the three turns of the firefight and...
2. I forgot to generate more zombies due to the gunfire. However, I generated them afterwards and found out that I would need to add another eleven zombies to the board.

Fixing this up afterwards would be complicated as at least some of the zombies would have been able to enter the supermarket. In fact, most of them would be surrounding the supermarket. In order to get some closure for the game, I decided to have each character roll a difficult challenge to be able to move to the supermarket's roof, jump across to the small building nearby and make a run from there. Failure means they are defeated (although the star may use the "cheating death" rule.) All three characters failed meaning only James escaped, with a reduced Rep. At least he didn't get infected.

A note on the mechanics of the firefight: Instead of moving to another map of the supermarket's interior, I simply considered that everybody had line of sight to each other but also had available cover. Also, given the cluttered environment everyone's a little spread apart so it's not possible to attack more than one target at once. A group may try a challenge test to position themselves better. Success removes the opponent's cover until they activate again; failure exposes the figures taking the challenge instead.

Despite my intense fudging of the rules, this playtest battle was really fun (note that the rules do not require fudging but they did allow me to do so and save my solo game, which was cool.) After so much bloodshed, I'd say that James is right on the path to becoming a raider/ganger...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Weird West and Emulators - Part 1

Recently I found out about the Universal NPC Emulator, on the Mythic discussion group. This universal system, written by Zach Best from Conjecture Games, consists of two parts: the NPC Creator, meant to give an overall description and motivations to an NPC; and the NPC Association Emulator that takes care of the interaction between the NPC and player characters.

So I decided to combine it with the Mythic GM Emulator and run a solo game of the Weird West Role Playing Game by Stuart Robertson. I started creating a party of three characters. I allocated the attributes for all three, then used the NPC creator to get the motivations of Strong Tom and Doc McPherson.

William Hays (Adventurer): Fighting 1, Grit 2, Skill 1, Stamina 7. Equipment: leather duster coat, six shooter, knife.
William came to the west on a caravan of settlers and prospectors when he was eleven. He was fascinated by the weird things that would scare other people, and soon he started his carreer as a traveling jack-of-all-trades. [This is the "main" character and as such I didn't roll for his motivations.]

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thoughts on playing a solo skirmish

It's been a few months since I started playing miniature games and RPGs solo, and so far I've tried a bunch of different systems and read many blogs (mostly Solo Nexus and other blogs linked from there) and discussion groups, all filled with great ideas. The goal of this post is to sort out my thoughts and experiences, specifically on playing miniature skirmish games solo.

The basic approach
The most basic way of playing a skirmish solo is to set up two "evenly matched" forces and play both of them the best way you can think of. You can play most skirmish games this way although some will require adaptation when they rely on hidden information (for instance, placing face-down order markers for each unit.) The problem with this approach is that it gets old fast, but it's still good to learn the rules of a new game. If you play this way, the main goal becomes observing how the battle turns out, rather than "winning" the match.

Uneven scenarios or "War isn't fair"
One step above the basic approach is the idea of setting up a scenario with a noticeable inbalance between forces. As you become familiar with a game system, you get a feeling for matchups that are unbalanced but interesting to play out. You still play both sides the best you can but now your goals will probably involve trying different strategies. How aggressive can the stronger force be without risking victory? How much damage the weaker force can cause before being defeated, or how long can they hold their ground? Even if you keep the "kill each other" goal for these scenarios, the uneven forces or the "unfairness" of the battle bring new questions to the table.

Alternative goals
Often combined with the uneven forces approach, in this case the goal of defeating the whole enemy group gets replaced (or complemented) by something else. Common ideas include defending a region for some time, passing through a number of regions of the table, crossing the table from one edge to the opposite, stealing an item or rescuing a prisoner, eliminating or protecting one specific figure.

Random events
One problem with solo games, especially when playing both sides of a skirmish, is predictability. In my opinion, that's the main reason why solo players like activation rolls or card-based actvation systems. There is ample discussion on why such mechanics are good to model "fog of war" and uncertainty in the battle but in the end, making the game less predictable adds fun, in the absence of a human opponent. One approach consists in making a simple scenario with specific goals and then adding random events to "spice up" the game by adding new forces, ambushes and so on. Random events are usually checked at the end of each turn, or when specific values are rolled on dice during play.

Autonomous behavior
At the top end of the scale in terms of sophistication are the systems involving autonomous behavior for the opposition. From what I've seen in games, the great advantage of autonomous behavior systems is allowing the player to focus on one force and play against the opposition, rather than ultimately taking the role of a neutral observer (when playing both sides.) As such, these systems have two main goals: reduce predictability and avoid the need for the player to make arbitrary decisions where he could (even subconsciously) favor his force in the game. Systems for autonomous behavior range from general guidelines on the behavior of enemy forces to decision tables for every possible action.

The role of narrative
Narrative has an important role in solo gaming. It adds meaning and purpose to the battles and it is yet another way to compensate for the lack of a human opponent. A basic "kill each other" solo game is made more interesting if you view it as the report of a historical battle (even if it's in the history of a fantasy world.) Adding description and features to miniatures (at least the leaders of each force) makes them feel more relevant than if they were generic troops. Making a character's tactical decisions based on their personal goals may also add variety to the game.

An extension of the use of narrative is the creation of campaigns of linked games involving the same group of characters. The appeal comes from the narrative interpretation of an ongoing story and empathy with the characters that are part of it. Since the player guides one of the forces through the campaing, autonomous behavior and random events are usually adopted for the opposition.

This is a summary of things I've learned so far regarding playing solo skirmish games. As a nice post in Solo Wargamer puts it, flexibility (in form, rules, goals and time) is possibly the greatest appeal of solo play.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Review: All Things Zombie

The last zombie game in my playlist is All Things Zombie (ATZ), from Two Hour Wargames. It is based on the Chain Reaction system that can be obtained for free at their website, with modifications and additions to suit the zombie survival genre. That said, ATZ is a standalone book, there's no need for reading Chain Reaction beforehand. In this post I'll keep to a capsule review of the printed (or in my case digital) matter. Playtest reports will come soon.

Content: ATZ is a 92-page PDF that includes the rules for the game, definitions and behaviors for the different types of survivors and for zombies and rules for campaigns, starting at the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse and onwards. There are two expansions to the game but I'd say that the basic book has enough to keep you busy for quite a while.

The book is organized in several chapters and sections. The introduction presents an overview of the game setting and the reaction system. "Getting started" is about building your group of survivors, gang members or soldiers. "Rules of war" presents the game system: turn structure, actions and reactions, movement, combat, vehicles and buildings. The self-explanatory "Zombies" chapter contains all the rules for the living dead. Then come a few sections presenting a generic encounter system and three introductory scenarios which are good to practice the rules. The book wraps up with a comprehensive campaign system and the "Top Secret" chapter that won't be discussed to avoid spoilers.

Presentation: the book has color front and back covers and greyscale interior pages -- except for two color pages advertising some miniatures at the end of the book. The visual style isn't very different from the Chain Reaction 3.0 book, so you can check that out to see what the book will look like. Although the text is set in two columns, the font type may allow for booklet format printing (I particularly like printing rulebooks this way, to make them easier to carry around or leave them lying on a corner of the table while playing.) The book includes quick reference charts, summary and index, although neither have hyperlinks.

Writing: the text follows the same informal, conversational tone from the Chain Reaction 3.0 book, which makes it a good read. It is also more clear than the Chain Reaction book. For instance, there are more examples for the reaction tests that make them easier to understand.

Solo-friendliness: ATZ directly supports solo play through the Chain Reaction system. In fact, the text refers more often to solo play or cooperative play (which uses the same rules, only with control of the survivors split among players) than competitive play. In all cases, zombies are run by the game rules, not by a player. For these reasons, I'd say that ATZ is mostly geared towards solo gaming, and there are many battle reports to be found on the web that seem to confirm that.

All Things Zombie is a great effort at creating a niche product. Until the release of 5150: New Beginnings, I believe it is also the most recent book from Two Hour Wargames with rules fine-tuned to campaigns with a "role-playing" feel.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Qwik game board

Today I finally found time to build a game board for Qwik. I drew it on a 1mm thick sheet of cork and glued it to thick cardstock using spray glue. Then I made two sticks with toothpicks and glued them to small bases, also made of cork and cardstock. Here are the results.
 Each cell is 2"x2" which is more than enough for three 20mm square bases (you can have at most three figures in a single cell in Qwik.) In this shot I have placed three figures with round 22mm bases (don't ask) to show this.
Now I plan on creating a set of figures in 20mm scale for the Qwik teams, and a marker for the "bean" that I can place over the qwik's base when he's carrying it, or on the ground when it's dropped.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Supply Run

This is a battle report based on the Wasteland Wanderer solo scenario that I posted some time ago. I created a party consisting of two humans, a mutant and a robot. Here you can see, from left to right, Pink (Q4+ C3, Free Disengage, Telepathic Scream) equipped with a pistol, Ella (Q3+ C2, Savage) equipped with an electrical gun, Jones (Q2+ C2, Savage, Leader) equipped with a laser gun and laser-reflective armor, and MX40 (Q4+ C4, Artificial, Superior Software) equipped with an embedded power fist. They are carrying 9 energy cells and 6 food points.
 The Journey
The trip from Dust, a small settlement in the wasteland, to Mart takes about three days. It's dangerous as there aren't any fixed settlements or patrols in between, but the survivors must make it from time to time. After all, Mart is on the trade route from the merchants that come from the north and south, which means it's the nearest place they can go to find any goods we need. Which in this case are medicines.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Zombies and Implants

Cyber Zone and Zombie Apocalypse are the two expansions to the New World Disorder skirmish game. The first introduces implants and other enhancements, and the other, well... zombies. In an interesting twist, implants in Cyber Zone are not only the domain of tricked-out soldiers of fortune. In a future of advanced medical procedures, a low-grade robotic replacement may be the cheap alternative for the less fortunate.

I decided to combine both supplements in a single scenario, influenced by the ones provided in the expansions. Here, a gang of cybernetically enhanced humans must enter an area infested with zombies to retrieve credit chips stored in old terminals. They can sell the credit chips to a fence who provides them to people looking for untraceable money. To retrieve the chips, a character must stand next to a terminal and perform a |brains 4| test. On a failure, there's a 50% chance that the terminal will self destruct its circuits. If it doesn't, the character may try again with another action.