Converting Star Frontier’s Vrusk into Bulldogs!

The Vrusk

A cosmopolitan, business-minded, intuitive insect-like species, the Vrusk are practical and organized.  Read more about them in the Vrusk’ Star Frontiers Wiki entry.

Game History

The Vrusk originally appeared in TSR’s Star Frontiers RPG.  Steve Bartell’s “Alternate Frontiers” article in Dragon Magazine Annual 1998, ported the Vrusk into TSR’s Alternity RPG.  And Wizard of the Coast’s D20 Future RPG supplement ported the Vrusk to the D20 system.

Bulldogs! Conversion

Begin Open Game Content

Typical Aspects

Cosmopolitan

Invoke: you are at ease amongst other cultures. Though I’ve never had Wumpus intestine before, it is truly a complex and intriguing taste.

Compel: you can easily assume that other cultures are as open minded as you. I assure you I did not mean to insult the almighty Grand Tilixil by questioning his omniscience.

Industrious

Invoke: you are a hard worker. If we push through this, we’ll get it done ahead of time.

Compel: you just won’t let a project or task slide. That paperwork is due by 5pm, and you just can’t step away for a moment.

The Company is my Life

Invoke: You can bring corporate resources to bear when acting in its interest. I know I’m not authorized, but let me talk with my supervisor at PanGalCorp, I’m sure he can straighten things out.
Compel: Your first priority is to your company. “Yes sir, I will gladly get your suit dry cleaned.”

Seek Harmony in Beauty

Invoke: you are keenly aware of the ugliness of conflict. Hey guys, I know you’re upset but can I buy you a drink?
Compel: you may become too obsessed with art. That painting’s tone and lines are fascinating, I must have it.

Eight Chitinous Legs

Invoke: steady, impossible to knockdown or trip. I never understood the phrase “Don’t rock the boat”

Compel: You can’t possible fit in some places. Damn, this cockpit wasn’t made for me.

Special Abilities [-4]

Armored Carapace [-1]

Your body is protected by a thick insectoid carapace that protects you from bruises, cuts, and scratches. You have an automatic Armor: 1 against all hand-to-hand attacks.

Comprehension [-1]

You can size people up in a glance. Normally, using Empathy to get a read on someone requires at least a few minutes of conversation, if not more. You only need a few moments.

Extra Speed [-2]

Your quick reflexes and 8 legs help you move faster than most others. When moving as part of another activity, you may move one additional zone without taking the –1 penalty for a supplemental action. You also gain an additional +2 to Alertness for the purposes of determining initiative.

End Open Game Content

Bulldogs! Pre-Release Review

I was a participant in Brennan Taylor‘s Kickstart Campaign for the Bulldogs! RPG.  As I wrote about earlier, I received my pre-release PDF copy of Bulldogs! RPG.  Whereas that post was about my initial impressions, this post is a more in-depth review

Table of Contents

The table of contents is on a single page, providing a list of the 14 chapters and their related subsections.

  1. Introduction
  2. The Galaxy
  3. FATE Basics
  4. Alien Species
  5. Crew Creation
  6. Aspects
  7. Doing Things
  8. Advancement
  9. Skills
  10. Stunts
  11. Gear
  12. Ships
  13. Running the Game

The Wheat

Aspects Everywhere – As is expected, Aspects are everywhere: Corporations, Systems, Ships, Weapons, Scenes, Campaigns, Adventures, etc.  Entities (i.e. aliens, corporations, systems, etc.) in Bulldogs! have a two or three paragraph description followed by three (or so) aspects and possible invokes and compels. Below are the aspects of the Frontier Zone, an area positioned between two rival super powers.

Begin Open Game Content

The Frontier Zone Aspects

Patchwork of Jurisdictions

Invoke: evading pursuit, “We just left Korrell Consortium space.”

Compel: issues with proper legal authorization, “Well, that writ was good two systems over. It’s nothing but words on the screen over here.”

“On this planet, I am the law.”

Invoke: you’re in tight with the locals, “Well, my buddy’s the administrator of this station, so you might want to rethink that.”

Compel: local hopped-up bosses can mess with you, “I don’t give a damn who you work for. Write an appeal to the AFFS if you want.”

Your Rep is all You’ve Got out here

Invoke: your rep is good (or scary), “I heard you were a fair dealer. Let’s talk.”

Compel: you’ve left a trail of infamy, “Aren’t you the guy who shot up the bar on Galvatorix V? My brother lost an eye in that gunfight.”

End Open Game Content

Resources – I really like how Bulldogs makes reference to loans.  The idea that you are going to slowly payback something that is beyond your financial means is very interesting.  It is well established that scruffy looking space scoundrels naturally owe gangsters money.

Minions – There are rules for quickly defining minions, and how a group of minions can work together.  The rules are rather elegant, defining a single as Average (+1), Fair (+2), or Good (+3).  This reflects their prowess in combat as well as the amount of stress they can take.  There are then rules for having minions act together so they can receive additional bonuses.  A nice rule for generating a meaningful battle between a group of stormtroopers and a couple of heroes.

Alien Creation – Aliens are comprised of stereotypical aspects and stunts.  You needn’t select the stereotypical aspects for your character, but they do provide a mechanical backdrop for playing a character of that species.  The stunts further define the uniqueness of your character’s species.  Below is the mechanical write-up of the Saldrallans.  The suggested aspects and stunts show us what a Saldrallan is all about.

Begin Open Game Content

Typical Saldrallan Aspects

Exothermic

Invoke: you can lie very still and quiet when resting, “Holy crap! I didn’t see that Saldrallan there!”

Compel: you’re sluggish in cold weather, “It must be 10 degrees in here. I think I’ll take a nap.”

Lidless Gaze

Invoke: this can really freak people out, “OK, I’ll tell you! Just stop staring at me.”

Compel: you seem weird and scary, “I don’t want to talk to you. Just go away.”

Ruthless

Invoke: no one can tug your heartstrings, “Damn. I can’t believe you shot him down like that.”

Compel: you’ll cut even friends loose if you need to, “Sorry, there’s no time to wait for you.”

Eefficiency, Expansion, Power

Invoke: you’re relentless in pursuit of what you want, “This is what it takes to succeed.”

Compel: your desire for success can strain your friends, “Again? I’m getting tired of doing all this work.”

Tolerant

Invoke: you can get along with anyone, “I don’t mind his peculiar habits. He has an excellent eye for investigation.”

Compel: you may miss problems that actually demand attention, “Hmm. His gambling wasn’t an issue before.”

Flexible Morality

Invoke: doing bad things just doesn’t bother you, “This may be illegal, but the net gain is quite high.”

Compel: you don’t understand why it’s bad, “I am confused. You didn’t want to sell your vintage discs? The profit was exceptional.”

Saldrallan Species Abilities [–2]

Heat Sense [–1]

Saldrallans have heat organs underneath their eyes that allow them to see in the thermal spectrum. Any scene aspect that restricts vision or other senses must directly block this additional sense, otherwise the Saldrallan can ignore the aspect.

Poison Bite [–2]

Saldrallans possess long fangs that can inject poi- son into an opponent. Once per fight, in addition to any normal damage, a Saldrallan may place an immediate consequence on an opponent (Poisoned, Spreading Weakness, etc.) if Fists is used for the attack. Only the lowest available consequence is used, and you must successfully strike your opponent to use this ability.

Cold Blooded [+1]

Saldrallans require external heat or cooling sources to regulate their body temperature. The GM can compel this attribute as if it were an aspect once per session. If the player wishes to avoid this compel, she must spend two fate points to refuse. Check out the Aspects chapter for more on compels (page 55).

End Open Game Content

The Chaff

Guessing Aspects – Standard fare for most Fate games, I prefer aspects to be known but not free-taggable.  The idea of guessing that the encounter has the aspect “Shadow-filled” seems a bit odd.  Perhaps in play this works a bit better.

Pushing Beyond the Limits – I feel that Diaspora pushed the envelope of the Fate system, whereas Bulldogs! settled within the boundaries of what was already established.  Then again, if it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.

Conclusion

Bulldogs! is a very engaging system that builds on the solid foundation of Spirit of the Century and other Fate 3 games.  The tone of the game is all about playing a scruffy looking band of scoundrels flying around the galaxy in their hunk of junk.  I’m eagerly awaiting my print copy so I can proudly add it to my game shelf.

What a Difference a Year Makes

Since the arrival of 3rd Edition, I have primarily focused play and RPG acquisitions on Dungeons and Dragons (3E, 3.5E, and 4th Edition). Last year at GenCon, I purchased Luke Crane’s Adventure Burner, The Blossoms are Falling, Burning Sands: Jihad, and Bloodstained Stars.  Thus began my foray into the indie games.  Since then I’ve acquired a vast array of different games, in part to learn more about the world of role-playing games; In particular I’ve looked towards the “hand-crafted” rules from small-press companies (or single person shops). I may very well be an RPG hipster.

Fate RPGs

Luke Crane games

D. Vincent Baker games

Books about Games

  • Hamlet’s Hit Points: Robin D. Laws defines the narrative heartbeat, how it applies to RPGs, and then breaks down Hamlet, Casablanca, and Dr. No
  • Play Unsafe: Graham Walmsley‘s discusses the lessons RPGs can take from improv training…Say yes, and build from there.
  • Things We Think About Games: GamePlayWright‘s collection of koan-like game-related statements; Easily digestible concepts.
  • Understanding Comics: Scout McCloud’s detail essay, in comic book form, on the Comic Book medium.  Highly recommend by Luke Crane and other game designers.
  • A Theory of Fun for Game Design: Raph Koster’s analogous to Scout McCloud’s work, but with games as the focus.

Odds and Ends

  • Fiasco: Jason Morningstar’s game of “powerful ambition and poor impulse control.”  It is a nominee for the 2011 Diana Jones award for Excellence in Gaming. No GM required.
  • A Taste for Murder: “In an English country house, someone is about to commit a murder.  Even they do not know what they are about to do.” Designed by Graham Walmsley
  • Pendragon: A system where everyone plays a knight aspiring to join King Arthur’s table.  Some of the unique rules detail courtier love, the passing of seasons, the birth of children, retirement of aging knights, and the arrival of the next generation.
  • The Great Pendragon Campaign: Follow the tales of King Arthur in this truly epic campaign spanning 82 years of the Arthurian legend.
  • The Masks of Nyarlathotep: RPG.net‘s #1 Adventure, Masks is globe trotting adventure of unwrapping an ancient Cthulhu mythos plot.

Free downloads

  • Dungeon World: an Apocalypse World hack that works to evoke the 1st Edition Feel within the Apocalypse World resolution system
  • OSRIC: an OGL version of 1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons.  Now I have the rules for which I can run my plethora of 1st Edition adventures.
  • Lady Blackbird: John Harper’s amazing free system.  Take a look at Ryan Macklin’s post about implied setting and Lady Blackbird.
  • Cthulhu Dark: A very rules-lite Cthulhu-inspired game by Graham Walmsley that captures the essence of Cthulhu investigator.
  • Labyrinth Lord: an OGL version of the original Dungeons and Dragons.
It’s been a great year full of lots of gaming goodness.  Now, if I could just find some time to play all of these wonderful games.

Welcome to the Hive

Recently, we picked up a copy of Hive: Carbon, an abstract tile-placing game by John Yianni.  The game itself reminds me of mix of DVONN, Go, and Chess.

I have been thinking about getting this game for 8 or so years, but always wondered who might I play this with?  It turns out my lovely wife really enjoys abstract games, and was curious about this game.  So when she, the usually frugal one, suggested “What about this game?” I said “Sure! We can even play it outside because the pieces are waterproof”.  Huzzah for resin.

The goal of the game is to surround your opponent’s queen bee, using both your pieces and their pieces. The game starts from a blank slate with each player taking turns either adding a new piece or moving an existing piece.

At no time can the hive be disjoined;  A piece can be moved so long as in doing so all of the other pieces in play remain contiguous.

Akin to Chess, each of the types of pieces have different rules for movement.  Some pieces slide (i.e. you must be able to slide them out of their slot without having to move the adjoining pieces), others can step out of an enclosed area.

Akin to Go, you must concern yourself with degrees of freedom.

The Pieces

Queen Bee (x1): The queen is your most important piece, if she is surrounded, you lose.  She may slide one space.

Spider (x2):  The spider slides exactly three spaces.

Grasshopper (x3): The grasshopper steps out of their spot along a straight line over at least one piece.

Ant (x3): The ant may slide along the entire perimeter of the hive.

Beetle (x2): The beetle steps out of its spot and moves exactly one space; It may move on top of another piece.

Mosquito (x1): From an expansion, the mosquito may move as if it were any piece that it is adjacent too.

Ladybug (x1): From an expansion, the ladybug moves two spaces on top of the hive and then one space down; It may not end its turn on top of the hive.

The Play

The game takes about 10 to 20 minutes to complete, with the hive slowly gaining in size.  As players jockey to surround their opponents queen, pieces will join the board, others will become locked in place, and still others will move to further confine the queen.

Remember to focus on the queens freedoms.  By default, the person who’s queen has the most empty sides is winning.  But that doesn’t tell the whole story.  A grasshopper can quickly vacate it’s adjoining spot by the queen; Likewise a grasshopper can quickly jump into position adjacent to your queen.

Conclusion

I’ve enjoyed the handful of games that I’ve played. There is a depth of strategy to Hive.  I’m looking forward to further exploration.

Master of Bandwidth

Prelude

Years ago, I religiously read Ray Winniger’s Dungeoncraft column.  It is a treasure trove of insights into GMing Dungeons and Dragons, with many relevant insights for other RPGs. In his Action and Reaction essay, Ray Winniger names the three responsibilities of GMing:

  • “Providing effective descriptions.”
  • “Determining how to resolve the outcomes of the characters’ actions.”
  • “Deciding when you should automatically reveal information and when you should force the players to specifically ask for information.”

There are likely other assumed responsibilities (i.e. keeping player attention), but the outlined responsibilities are at the core of an effectively run role-playing game.

Lewd

This afternoon, my twitter feed had a very enticing tweet from Ryan Maklin concerning “The Fate Pot” and player-on-player compels. In it, he references the idea of the Fate Pot, a collection of Fate tokens that can be used by a player to compel another player.  Fate already allows players to compel other players, but they must expend their own precious currency to do so.  Ryan highlights a tremendous advantage of the Fate Pot:

[Wayne Coburn, the GM,] said that we were free to compel each other, taking coins from the [Fate pool] rather than using our own. I thought this was brilliant–the GM has to spend a lot of bandwidth keeping track of things to not notice every moment worthy of a compel.

Further democratizing how a character is pushed/pulled through the narrative in essence frees the GM for other tasks: describing the world and determining how to resolve action.  It frees up the GMs bandwidth.

Which ties into my academic understanding of Apocalypse World (I have yet to play this game).  In Apocalypse World the Master of Ceremonies has a very clearly defined method for resolving action.   The MC cannot throw a punch that does measurable damage until a player has acted.  Once the player has acted, the resolution is shared between the acting player and the acted upon player.  So the MC can focus on “barfing forth apocalyptica” and revealing information.

In addition, Apocalypse World is the first system I’ve encountered that keeps dice rolling strictly in the other players’ domain.  And the benefit of this?  Freeing bandwidth.  No need to worry about making opposed Stealth and Observation tests. The Master of Ceremonies can focus on framing the situation and reacting to the character’s action.

Postlude

So here we are, investing energy in freeing up a GM’s bandwidth.  Dungeons and Dragons 4E has focused on making the Dungeon Mastering easier.  They have worked to reduce prep time, continually refining stat blocks, and encounter presentation.  Which illuminates a general understanding that it ain’t easy being the Game Master, Dungeon Master, Referee, Master of Ceremonies, or Games Orderly Director.

I wonder how a person’s mental agility changes overtime for those that run a role-playing game versus those that don’t.  A longitudinal study would be quite interesting.

The Phoenix of Tichu

The Phoenix of Tichu is arguably the strongest single card, but it comes with a hefty cost. It compliments almost any hand, and certainly never hurts it.  Use it to make a run, a three of a kind, or simply beat that lone Ace that was played. It can be the glue that holds your hand together. This versatility is offset by its -25 point value. And unlike the Dragon, if you win the trick the Phoenix will come to roost with you.

It pairs well with the Mah Jong, improving the odds of an initial low card run.  While it can’t be used to explicitly fulfill a wish. (e.g. If someone wishes for a 5, I do not have to play the Phoenix as a 5).  However, if there is a wish to be fulfilled and you have the card that was wished for, but need the Phoenix to play the same denomination (i.e. a straight, or a pair, etc.), then you must fulfill the wish.

Imagine the glory of playing the Mah Jong as part of a five card run, wishing for an Ace, and watching as the trick is not taken.  Then you lead out with your triple 7s and watch as your opponent plays two Aces and the Phoenix.

As with the Dragon and Dog, having knowledge of who has the Phoenix is boon.  After all, once the Dragon is out, the Phoenix can be the highest card.  As such, I consider passing the Phoenix as a viable default.  If my hand has lots of pairs, the Phoenix can likely help my partner glue together a run.  If, on the other hand, I have lots of singletons, I’ll keep the Phoenix.

Never pass the Phoenix to your opponent.  If you can’t make use of the Phoenix, then your partner can…I promise.

One thing to keep in mind, as you are playing out the hand, is that you can give your opponents the Phoenix points by simply holding onto the card until the hand is done.  This tactic is best employed when your partner has gone out first.  The reason being that if your partner goes out first, then your tricks are safely yours.  But don’t slack off if there is a chance for you and your partner to go out 1st and 2nd.

Good News Everyone…Bulldogs! RPG is Here!

Full disclaimer: I have not read Bulldogs! in it’s entirety.  The book, however, renders gloriously on my Android tablet.

Update: My pre-gameplay review.

Yesterday saw the arrival of the Bulldogs! RPG (in pre-release PDF form), a Kickstarter Project, by Brennan Taylor of Galileo Games.  Bulldogs! was originally published as a d20 system game, but has been refreshed and re-imagined as a Fate game.

Take a look at Brennan Taylor’s blog post concerning developing Bulldogs! for Fate.  Creating balanced characters in the d20 system can be a tremendous choir, whereas Fate opens you up to defining your alien races via aspects and possibly a handful of stunts.  Certainly there are balance concerns with the stunts, but it just isn’t as regimented.

But What of Diaspora?

Don’t worry, I’m not dissatisfied with Diaspora, another Fate-based sci-fi RPG.  Quite the contrary, I love it, and eagerly look forward to our next session.

Where Diaspora is billed as hard science fiction, Bulldogs! is…

…sci-fi that kicks ass! Bulldogs! is a high action space adventure. Bulldogs! is about freebooting ruffians flying from planet to planet causing trouble. Bulldogs! is about far future technology—sci-fi movie technology that probably wouldn’t work given what we know about the universe today, but who cares? Bulldogs! is about blasters and faster-than-light travel. Bulldogs! is about hopping from planet to planet and running into a vast variety of weird aliens. Bulldogs! is about being shot at and pissing off powerful locals and fleeing just in time. Bulldogs! is about starship dogfights and ambushes by space pirates in rarely traveled star lanes.

Diaspora is a setting-agnostic toolkit RPG; Whereas Bulldogs! loudly and proudly lays out the setting  and tone.  The various organizations, races, etc are defined both with a bit of narrative fiction and with Fate Aspects.  The Aspects also include suggestions on how to Invoke or Compel them.  Unlike Diaspora, Bulldogs! rules closely adheres to Spirit of the Century and The Dresden Files RPG.

Diaspora models varying technology levels.  Bulldogs! has an assumed technology level that is available to the player characters.  Powerful things are modeled by wealth cost.  Personally I like the Diaspora model of civilian weapons vs. military equipment and the required stunt to use military equipment.

But What of Bulldogs?

Bulldogs! setting is also chock-full of aliens, each with a full color illustration.  The book includes 10 alien species and strongly encourages making others.  Thankfully, Fate makes this tremendously easy.  After all who doesn’t want to make a Vrusk?

The artwork is full-color and fantastic, invoking memories of my Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn days.  The world at large may be civilized, but your role as a space explorer/delivery boy is anything but civilized.

One element of Bulldogs! that I like is the better defined aspects for the spaceships.  Whereas Diaspora’s ships have 5 general aspects, Bulldogs! has you define 3 aspects: it’s high concept, it’s trouble, and it’s strength.  These constraints provide focus for the ship, and I believe provide greater clarity.

And lest I not forget, the stunts of Bulldogs! are exceptional.  Diaspora keeps the stunts very limited in scope, but in some ways it feels like a bit too much is left for the reader’s imagination.  Bulldogs! provides a healthy dose of example stunts, and they continue to build on the game’s setting.

In the days to come, I will most certainly be mining Bulldogs! for ideas and inspiration, and right now I’m waxing nostalgic. Kudos to Brennan Taylor and crew.  I love your work, and am proud to be a supporter of such a finely crafted creation.