Gosh, it's been a while. Saying "I've been rather busy" is somewhat of an understatement.
As of late I've been having a but of a problem in the development of the Atomic Age RPG: I'm not exactly sure what the RPG is meant to be, in a manner of speaking.
You see, when I first saw the Archmage Engine SRD and decided "I could make a game with this", my original vision was to make something along the lines of Gamma World, and capitalize on that system's appeal. Create the utterly bizarre, and give the GMs the artistic liberty to create an environment that could be whatever they want it to be, however zany, off-the-wall and madcap they would want to make it. You know, gun-toting badgers and land sharks... that sort of thing.
But over the past four months of development it seems I've ended up with something different. The zaniness isn't there, at least not on the surface, and replaced with the elements of a gritty reality of a post-apocalyptic world. I found myself writing pages on gun mechanics, on vehicle driving rules, on poisons and toxins, on radiation exposure and so on...
That's mainly because, and I've mentioned this before, I'm a mechanics guy. As a computer science/mathematics major and a career software developer, I find myself at home writing crunch and could spend days, weeks, or even months writing mechanics. But writing fluff for me, quite honestly, is rather hard and takes a great deal of effort. You can't imagine how many rewrites I've done to some of the fluff pieces in this product... such as the icons or the geography. They're still 90% filled of "TODO" sections that are yet to be written.
So, after looking at the project as it stands now, rather than having something like Gamma World - which is what I originally intended, at least superficially - the RPG has ended up leaning towards something along the lines of Fallout or Mad Max. A gritty, harsh, post-apocalyptic world that has its share of weirdness, sure, but it isn't as over the top "WTF?!?" crazy that is Gamma World.
Although I accept that that's how the mechanics turned out, now I have to put together the fluff around it. The major dilemma I have right now is trying to decide what the system actually looks like... I need branding. I've asked a few people for ideas on what that should be, with the intention of at least getting a logo to start the social media blitz, but a lot of examples I've gotten in response to my inquiries have been leaning towards the original intent of this project: very Gamma World-like. And, now that I think of it, my project isn't that any more. And those that weren't GW-like seem very Fallout-like... I don't want to be "Fallout: The RPG".
Don't get me wrong: the weirdness is there. I have sentient plants, rampant AIs that want to kill you, an vorpal rabbits.
Part of the reason is that, by design, 13th Age is kind of open ended. They don't ram the setting down your throat, leaving it with a gray area on purpose and hoping that the GM will fill in the blanks. For example, very little is said of the icons, and the GMs can weave their stories any way they see fit without fear of breaking canon... because there is no canon. So for a while I thought to not pigeonhole myself in to something GW-like or not GW-like, leaving a gray area on purpose. If the DM wanted to make it like the Gamma World of old, he could do so with nominal effort. If he wanted Fallout, he can do that as well...
But the problem with that is that it makes it very difficult to present a product identity when the product doesn't have an identity in the first place. It's hard to give an elevator pitch to a product that's 99% gray area.
So that's where I stand right now... I have a whole metric truckload of mechanics waiting to be playtested, but no look and feel. It's ready to be reviewed, at least in terms of mechanics and playability, but I'm hesitant to do so without any identity. Yeah, that didn't stop D&D Next from getting playtested without a logo, but they have a foundation.
And I have to wonder... do I have an audience now? Doing something like Gamma World had an audience because that niche had yet to be filled, but since I'm not that I wonder how much appeal my product would actually have. And I'm not the type of person to turn my product into something like Gamma World by force just because it can be more successful. The product is what it is... 13th Age exists because it's the RPG the creators wanted to create and would play themselves. Atomic Age is in the same boat. I don't feel bad about that I suppose, but in light of my goal to have a successful Kickstarter I can't help but wonder if I'll have an audience for it.
Anyway, for now I'm going to work on reformatting all my Word documents into a PDF format for playtesting. By the time I'm done, hopefully, I'll have a better idea of what the project is and is meant to be, and maybe we can start getting it out there for my would-be audience to review and see if there's a place for it in this market.
In case you aren't aware, my pet project - the post-apocalyptic treatment of 13th Age's Archmage Engine SRD - has a name now: Atomic Age. We have a website and a Twitter account, but I'm not exactly advertising yet because I don't have appropriate branding for it. I want a logo and a few creative assets before I head unto the breach that is social media.
In the meantime, development continues... Most recently on the catalog of monsters that will be included with the core book. Initially I had created the "straight", not off-the-wall monsters that could be present in a semi-realistic post-apocalyptic world - robots, soldiers, wasteland marauders, etc. - but now it's time to do the weird ones that make a post-apocalyptic game entertaining and offbeat.
While I was converting Lepus Maximus to Atomic Age, someone mentioned Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And with that the thought process was unavoidable.
Since it's actually compatible with 13th Age, here you have my latest creation: The Vorpal Rabbit. Hope you enjoy!
Normal 3rd level Wrecker Beast [RABBIT]
Huge, sharp teeth +8 vs. AC - 8 damage, and the rabbit pops free from the target
Charge: The attack instead deals 12 damage on a hit if the rabbit moves first before attacking an enemy it was not engaged with at the start of its turn.
Natural 17+: 6 ongoing damage (hard save ends, 16+)
Quick footed: The rabbit gains a +5 bonus to disengage checks.
Leap about: As a move action and with a successful disengage check (if applicable), the rabbit can hop to any nearby space it can see.
Fear: While engaged with this creature, enemies that have 15 hp or fewer are dazed (–4 attack) and do not add the escalation die to their attacks.
Critical threat: When the rabbit makes a charging attack, it scores a critical hit on a 17+.
Vicious streak: When the rabbit scores a critical hit, it can move to engage another nearby target and makes a charging bite attack against it as a free action.
So although there is still a metric crapload of stuff to be done for my new project, I can't help but think of what I'm doing to do with it.
First off, a Kickstarter is probably a definite at this point, but that notion terrifies me more than you can possibly know. I've heard the horror stories, and although I've heard all the things that can - and probably will - go wrong I question whether I can avoid them. I'm afraid of doing it wrong and either paying a heavy cost or disappointing my backers.
But, honestly, what terrifies me most is that it ends up being hugely successful. Although I like to think I can make sound business decisions and have no intention of disappointing anyone who has placed their trust in me, I'm scared to think of what might happen if Amazon Payments suddenly drops several thousand dollars worth of backer funding in my lap. I'm not saying I'll end up at a crap table in Vegas or anything, but it's a big concern that I use that money wisely and not do something absurdly wrong with it. I mean, I can think of at least three half-million-earning Kickstarters that came out and sad "Sorry, we spent all our money. Project over." I don't want to be another statistic like that.
I've started to shop around for the resources I will need, filling the gaps that I know I am personally deficient in. I need artists more than anything, one or more people that would be willing to commit to doing several pieces of art for a project of this potential magnitude. I need editors, and possibly a layout person, and more editors, and probably even more editors. I may also need a cartographer because I suck at outdoor maps and I'm going to need a well-messed-with map of the continental United States. And did I mention editors?
Then there's the cost of printing and shipping, which combined are the downfall of many a Kickstarter. I've been shopping around for book pricing, and the spectrum of quotes I've gotten is hard to understand. As far as I know so far, printing a 200-page color book could cost anywhere between $6 and $60, depending on who you ask, how many copies, the type of paper stock, etc... Deciding what volume rate to base the Kickstarter goal on kind of involves Calculus to determine what the exact point is at which it all becomes profitable. And then there's mailing of course, having to worry about shipping costs to godforsaken places that have Internet but are so expensive to ship to you'd think they can only receive packages by way of dog sled.
And, while taking all those expenses into consideration, you have to find the sweet spot that is your Kickstarter goal. Make it to low and you'll lose your shirt in costs, make it to high and the project might not fund. Unless your Kickstarter listing has the words "Monte Cook" in it somewhere, you may have a hard time funding it if it's too high a goal.
Anyway, maybe I'm thinking too far ahead... but it is exciting in its own way. I want to do this right, get this done the way the project deserves, without mucking it up like so many other people have.
So what will the Kickstarter include? Well, here's what I'm envisioning... And mind you, this is some very premature thinking...
- The core rulebook, which will probably be slightly smaller than the 13th Age rulebook - but not by much - simply because I have less classes and some sections will be shorter.
- I'd like a nice big map of the United States as it stands today. I know which artists I'm going to ask for this, but they're pricy.
- Although I have to look back on the legalities of it all, I am considering converting Fire From the Sky in to the sample adventure in the back of the book (replacing "Blood & Lightning" in the 13th Age core book).
- The Fortress of Dr. Neb as a standalone adventure, for either Adventurer or Champion tier. Designed to be very Gamma World-like, zany and weird.
- Where Worlds Collide as a standalone adventure, for either Champion or Epic tier. Since this concept originally revolved around the LHC after the "Big Mistake", it may have to be reworked a tiny bit to fit in to the setting. It will probably be high difficulty, along the original intent of making it a Fourthcore-like adventure, and will probably be more serious and less zany than Dr. Neb.
- I'm also considering converting A Night in Seyvoth Manor, but that's a long story I don't think I can talk about yet.
Like I said, a lot of work to do... and I'm diligently working on it all as best I can. I'd like to get as much possible done before actually launching the Kickstarter, but my impatience might get the better of me. We'll see how long I can hold out before taking the big step into the realm of crowdfunding.
In the meantime, I'll keep talking about it... revealing some of the design concepts behind it... trying to detail my thoughts and what I'm actually doing. Just bear with me; should be a fun ride.
Oh... and this project still needs a NAME...
In the post-apocalyptic age, sometimes just having an average car isn't enough. You need to... how should we say... accessorize it.
Depending on the vehicle size, it will have one or more hardpoints, which are positions in the vehicle's frame where you can install something more. This may be as simple as an extra fuel tank or something more entertaining like an anti-tank cannon.
In the example we've been using, the Mad Max Interceptor Pursuit Special, Max had installed supplemental gas tanks that take up most of the rear of the vehicle. He instead could have installed some additional weaponry like a gun or RPG. These weapons do not necessarily take up the same space on the vehicle as the gas tanks do; the hardpoints not only reflect physical space but also reflect physical weight added to the vehicle. You try to drop a howitzer on to the back of the average car and you'd be lucky to drive it away from the shop.
With that in mind, we look at our three size categories:
- Small (motorcycle, moped, etc.): No hardpoints
- Medium (average car): One hardpoint
- Large (18-wheeler): One hardpoint on the cab, three hardpoints on the trailer.
Now what can we install?
- Extended Fuel Tank (1 hardpoint): We'll talk about fuel in a little bit
- Armor Plating (1 to 2 hardpoints, depending on vehicle size): Increases Physical Defense dramatically
- Booster (1 hardpoint): Anything from an advanced nitrous injection system to a full on rocket engine sticking out of the back. Something to make the car go faster.
- Basic Weapon (1 hardpoint): Machine gun, RPG, etc...
- Anti-Aircraft Gun (2 hardpoints): Designed specifically to aim upwards at aircraft
- Heavy Weapon (2 hardpoints): An anti-tank gun, railgun, missile battery, etc...
- Power Generator (1 hardpoint): Something that provides power to the vehicle, replacing the vehicles need for fossil fuels, such as a Mr. Fusion sticking out of the car's back.
- Wedge (1 or more hardpoints): Something to get other things out of your way or ram other cars with
So on and so forth.
Abstract the Rest
Besides weapon damages (which are separate from the core vehicle and mechanics needed to drive it), there isn't much else that needs to be explained in vivid detail. Everything else, as far as I can tell, is up to GM and player interpretation
In a post-apocalyptic world, fuel is somewhat scarce. Although some of the oil fields and refineries that dotted the midwest are still in operation, they are all under control of either The Warlord or The Desert Prince (both icons).
The question arises of how to keep track of fuel. I don't feel it appropriate to nitpick this, detailing a vehicle's MPG and exactly how long it has until it runs empty. I much rather prefer that GMs realize that a vehicle needs some sort of fuel and what the average expected range of a full gas tank will be, but I don't want them to be tracking it down to the gallon like some people use to track encumbrance.
That being said, the only thing that i may mention in a vehicle entry is what type of fuel it uses. Some vehicles may use good ol' gasoline, while others might have a Mr. Fusion installed on a hard point. Managing when a vehicle could, or should, run out of gas is up to the GM.
Another option is to simply have fuel become an issue when the plot demands it. In other words, the only time you'll run out of fuel is when it's a good time in the story to do so. If you're in a close race, battling dozens of marauders as they try to run you off the road, running out of fuel now is a death sentence and may bring the story to an end right quick. Instead, simply wait until the immediate danger is other and the party got away before making the car gradually glide to a stop and sputter out.
I intend to take a similar approach with guns... In a future installment, we'll talk about what I like to call "dynamic ammo".
Speed, Movement and Position
Just like movement is abstracted in a normal encounter, movement in a car should be allowed to be as equally abstract. We all know how fast cars can go and how quickly they can get up to speed; I don't see the need to overburden the rules with acceleration rates and maximum speeds.
Unless you're dealing with faster cars that have supercharged engines or dealing with slower cars that have taken damage, every car should be expected to be moving at about the same rate. As far as firing arcs, it should not get more complex than "behind", "in front", "left" and "right".
Combat and Damage
Like anything else in the world, cars can be damaged. How that is interpreted is up to the GM.
The thing about cars is that it's very easy to disable them; a single shot to a tire can cripple even the best of cars, but that's not exactly a thrilling conclusion and worthy of our heroes.So if a vehicle is taken down to 0 hit points you have to make a judgment call as to what exactly that means... if you think it's OK that the car stalls out go for it, and if you think that it's best that the car instantly explode in a glorious movie-like explosion don't let me stop you. But the former is the sort of situation that happens to our heroes, while the latter is something that happens to the bad guys constantly.
To put this all in to perspective let's go back to our shining example: Max is driving hard in his Interceptor and being chased by two dozen marauders. Now, if you gave each one of those marauders and their vehicles the same statistics that Max and his Interceptor had, Max would surely get creamed. So let's treat each one of these marauding vehicles as either a mook or as a monster with really low hit points.
Thinking about it, vehicles as mooks works fantastically. It allows you to have that dramatic situation where dozens of inexperienced drivers in weak cars band together and chase down our beloved heroes. I mean, you can just imagine these foolish mooks bouncing off the side of our hero's transport, slamming into a ditch, exploding in to flames upon the slightest bullet hit, etc... Let's say that Max points his gun out the window and fires at a nearby marauder, getting a critical hit and causing more than enough damage to take out two or three of them. Story wise, that's as simple as describing how the target lost control of the vehicle and skid into the path of another marauder, taking them both out. Whenever any marauder gets taken out, they should go out in a glorious display of carnage and vehicular mayhem, just because they can!
Now let's say that Max isn't exactly lucky in the die rolling department and the marauders end up causing enough damage to drop his Interceptor to 0 hit points. Even though the Interceptor is 50% gas tank, how anti-climactic would it be to have the car burst into a column of flame and kill Max instantly? If every marauder hit the Interceptor with a critical hit, would you still allow Max to die in such an anti-heroic fashion? Heroes don't go out that way, at least not usually, so Max will continue to fight until the only thing left of his trusty Interceptor are the floor mats.
In a nutshell, our heroes should always be able to walk away from an accident one way or another, even if the mechanics and the die rolls don't exactly reflect that. If a PC takes physical damage that would cause them to go unconscious or die, sure, but if their vehicle takes more beating than it could handle it shouldn't outright kill a PC unless the plot allows it.
Enemies, however, are not so lucky. When their car hits 0 hit points, it will take them out in the most gloriously dramatic way possible.
So the section on vehicles looks like it'll be shaping up like this:
- A very basic section on the required aspects of a vehicle, as discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this article series.
- Options for installing things in vehicle hardpoints.
- A brief section on maintenance and repair of vehicles, which will cover both the Wheelman profession and engineers with vehicular proficiency (that's an optional class talent).
- A great deal of descriptive text trying to explain how to manage the mechanics of a high speed chase without detailing every single thing in terms of a fixed ruleset. Some things may require concise rules, but I'll try to avoid that.
- An example combat sequence: basicaly, describing a sequence similar to Mad Max fleeing from The Humungus and his crew.
Should be fun...
Anyway, that's it for vehicles for now. Soon I'll be talking about something else that will hopefully be just as entertaining.
This is a continuation of yesterday's post in which I babble on about implementing vehicles in 13th Age.
Maneuverability and Skill, Revisited
In the three examples I provided - the motorcycle, the car and the 18-wheeler - the maneuverability and skill levels were equal, which seem to imply that there really isn't a need to define them both. So I sat down to try and decide what would represent the two extremes.
High Maneuverability, Low Skill: The Bicycle
Although I personally cannot ride a bicycle safely (due to an inner ear condition), it doesn't take a whole lot of experience to ride a bike. Heck, my son was doing it at an exceedingly early age. But someone who's very good at riding a bike can do some rather amazing things with it, if the X Games are an indicator.
Low Maneuverability, High Skill: The Forklift
Now this may sound odd, but I actually know how to drive a forklift. You would think it's easy but it actually isn't simply because it's counter-intuitive and not what you're use to because they usually steer from the back. So you pretty much drifting everywhere, and it takes some effort to get a feel for it before you go and slam into some freight.
Now think of two examples for a second... They somehow exist in your game, and the PC elects to use them somehow... Are you seriously going to do a skill check if they can? Quite frankly, if a PC wants to launch himself in to the air and do some tailwhips while he's at it are you seriously going to roll a die to see if he fails doing something that awesome? And failing to drive a forklift would probably be the single most non-heroic thing you can have a PC do ever. If anything, I'd make the drive a little entertaining and have the PC slam into a pallet or two, but I'd probably never touch a d20 to decide that.
I'm a proponent of not doing skill checks when (1) they don't matter, and (2) when they make the PCs less awesome, even with a success.
So how would this work mechanics-wise?
First off, I would probably never do a skill check to operate a "low skill" transportation unless there was some mitigating circumstances. Guy decides to hop on his bike and ride off? Go ahead... Guy frantically jumps on his bike and begins to fumble the ignition while the horse-sized mutant dogs race toward him? OK, that might need a check, but I think in that case the check is more about physically turning the ignition as opposed to being able to steer the bike.
For medium skill one could assume that the PC can put the key in the ignition, but beyond that it might be a little challenging. For example, not everyone can handle driving a Mustang at 120 MPH, even on a straightaway. It's not a matter of maneuverability since you wouldn't be making any turns, it's because you're driving a car with a much bigger engine and a lot more horsepower than you might be physically capable of handling. In this case, whether you make them do a skill check or not is kind of optional and should be decided on circumstance or not.
For hard skill a skill check would definitely be necessary. I may be an experienced driver, but if you put me in the pilot seat of an airplane the best I could do is try to remember the last 15 minutes of Executive Decision ("... Landing gear!!!"). I would need a miracle from the d20 gods to be able to fly a plane.
That being said, if a skill check to determine success or failure in basic driving ability is ever decided upon it should only happen once. Your skill's not going to get worse over time; you're only going to get better. And, short of Tank beaming the training into your skull, you either know how to drive something or you don't.
So, if you think a skill check is necessary...
- Decide whether you even need, or want, a roll.
- Use the environmental DC 15/20/25, factoring in backgrounds and whatnot.
- Rather than deny them the ability to drive, accept that they simply drive really, really badly.
Here is where it gets entertaining... Like acrobatics, doing something risky in a vehicle has its share of risks and the success depends on the driver's skill and the difficulty of the task.
For argument's sake, let's talk about three maneuvers: a 90-degree hard turn, a handbrake turn and a "bootlegger". Regardless of what kind of vehicle you're driving, each of these has its fair share of risks. Failing a 90-degree turn might not be such a bad thing, but failing a bootleg could up end you or break your steering column.
First of all, not every vehicle can do each of these. An 18-wheeler cannot physically do a bootlegger. It's just not physically possible by definition. So all you people that say "a DM should never say 'no'"... Sorry, but this one's a "no" right out.
Based on that, each maneuver should then have a minimum maneuverability in order to succeed. A 90-degree turn can be done by anyone at any time so it shouldn't require any rating. I don't know if an 18-wheeler can do a handbrake turn, at least not safely, so let's leave that requirement at a medium. A bootlegger should require nothing short of medium, so don't expect to be whipping your 18-wheeler or forklift around like that.
And then there's the difficulty of the actual maneuver. 90-degree turn, easy. A handbrake turn might take a little effort so let's say medium. A bootlegger is hard by any means.
So let's put together what we have so far.
Maneuverability: Medium or better
Maneuverability: Medium or better
Attempting the Maneuver
So you're behind the wheel and want to do something crazy like a handbrake turn or bootlegger. Time to pick up a d20.
First off you have to determine driver skill. If you're an average Joe, you have no skill so there's no bonus. If you're a professional driver or "wheelman", you should get a bonus, perhaps a significant one if its your own personal vehicle. Let's assume you have the Wheelman profession and are driving your own personal vehicle (or "signature vehicle", as I like to call it... For example, the Interceptor Pursuit Special is Mad Max's signature vehicle; he can do anything in that thing), so you get a +4 driving bonus.
Let's also status Jason "The Transporter, Only Less Greasy" Statham every conceivable bonus as a point of reference.
Now we have to compare the maneuver's difficulty to the vehicle's ability to maneuver. A medium vehicle should be able to do a medium maneuver without much a fuss, but a low maneuverability vehicle like a truck that could still make a maneuver (like the handbrake turn) might have some issues. So if the skill level is higher than the maneuver's difficulty, up the DC by +5 for each step.
One thing to consider is that "low" difficulty shouldn't have a DC at all and start the progression at medium. Therefore "medium" would be DC 15, "hard" would be DC 20, and "legendary" (we'll get to that later) would be DC 25.
Finally, I would think that the skill check would be Dexterity-based simply because it requires reflexes. Let's assume the PC has average Dexterity (+2 attribute bonus).
Using the environmental numbers, here is what we have:
Handbrake Turn: DC 15, DC 20 if you're in a truck
Bootlegger: DC 20, impossible if you're in a truck
Skill Check, Normal Human: +2 Dexterity
Skill Check, Experienced: +4 Wheelman (signature vehicle), +2 Dexterity = +6 total
Skill Check, Jason Statham: +4 Dexterity, +4 Wheelman (signature vehicle), +2 Engineer Affinity, +3 background = +13
An inexperienced driver has a 40% chance of success doing a handbrake turn. That feels high, but PCs are exception after all so things like that might actually be second nature despite never doing it before. A moderately experienced driver gets a 60% chance to do a handbrake turn. Jason Statham can only fail on a natural 1, which can be expected because he's that good, so much so that I wouldn't bother rolling that one. For a bootlegger, the percentages are 25% less, and Jason can succeed doing it 70% of the time which is fairly decent.
This sort of goes back to what I mentioned earlier... If you have an experienced driver behind the wheel, one that no doubt has done his fair share of handbrake turns in the past, why are you even bothering to check if he succeeds or fails? Would you dare insult Jason Statham like that? Give him the benefit of the doubt!
And what would "legendary" be? A bootlegger is pretty impressive and I give that only a "high". Now, if you try a bootlegger while getting shot at and returning fire out the driver side window, of if you actually want to try and aim while you're mid-way through the maneuver, then yeah... I might bump that up to "legendary" if you're crazy enough to try that.
Here are the conclusions:
- Each vehicle will have a skill rating (which determines how easy it is to drive; checked once) and maneuverability rating (checked when you do something extreme).
- I cases where there is no chance of failure, or there shouldn't be a failure due to sufficient experience, no roll is necessary.
- Some sample maneuvers will be provided, just as a frame of reference. Each maneuver will have a description, minimum maneuverability, difficulty and more information if needed. I'm not going to be specific about simple maneuvers like swerving or making basic turns, but people should know what a bootlegger or a J-turn is.
And here are our latest stats, taking this all into consideration:
"Interceptor" Pursuit Special
Medium automobile (1 driver, 3 passengers)
AC 18 PD 16 HP 54
A quick in place turn where you use the parking brake to slide the back end of the car around a curve, such as when "drifting".
Maneuverability: Medium or better
A risky maneuver to completely turn a vehicle around 180-degrees while on a narrow highway.
Maneuverability: Medium or better
This post got longer than I had anticipated. Stay tuned for Part 3, where I talk about vehicle weapon mounts and, if all goes well, how to put all this into practice.