Sunday, June 3, 2018

WWII: Operation Whitebox

Recently I came across this fun OSR based World War II game. Operation Whitebox (OWB)is a 186 page RPG published by Small Niche Games and written by Peter C. Spahn. It utilizes rules from WhiteBox which makes for a wonderfully simple game and adds in some crunch to get the game to work for your Normandy invasion. That's right, you can recreate the Normandy invasion with this little gem or any other part of the great war. You could even create your own version of the war. Maybe the Nazis took over Great Britain or perhaps Russia joined the Axis powers.

In OWB, the player play the role of special operations forces in WWII. They may be formally trained allied military or members of the resistance of occupied Germany. They could even be covert agents working to undermine the German war effort. Which ever way you want to play it your characters are considered special forces operatives for the purpose of this book. This gives some added benefits to the player, namely increased Armor Class. Another added benefit is that you are the best of the best which means you can accomplish things most others couldn't. When in doubt as to whether a player can attempt a task, the GM should have the player roll a d20 to see if they fail on a 1 in 20 chance. 

Speaking of Armor Class, this book provides two methods, Ascending and Descending. I prefer the Ascending Armor Class so that will be used here on out. As stated earlier special operatives recieve bonuses to armor class and after a brief conversation with Pete Spahn, it appears this is an often overlooked aspect. Page 36 tells us that the natural AC of a special forces operative starts at 12, otherwise it would be 10 for NPC's.

So far I've only read through the book and created 8 pregenerated characters to use for a game I'm running in a couple of weeks, but right now I'm loving it. I've also created a form fillable character sheet from the one included in the book for anyone interested in that as well.

The simplicity of the game comes from the fact that players only need a d20 and a d6 to play the game. All weapon damage is some form of d6. For example a grenade does 2d6+2, a thrown knife does 1d6-2, and the standard M1 Garand does 1d6+1. There are a few other variations of weapon damage but for the most part it all comes down to trappings. The M1 Garand will do the same as a Lee Enfield which will do the same as a Mauser 98.

I should talk about range modifiers as well since this confused me a bit. Apparently this is also an often misunderstood issue. I'll be honest and say that I just skimmed this section and didn't take the time to fully understand ranges when I posed a question over at the OWB Google+ community page. So I look at it as a kind of stacking multiplier. Short range = the range listed on the weapon stat. Medium range = 2 times short range, Long range = 3 times Medium range, and Extreme range = 4 times Long range. Each of the increases in range modifies the to hit roll with 0, -2, -4, and -6 respectively. 

All other rolls are d20 based. Saving throws and to hit rolls are modified d20. The attribute modifiers are very simple as well, 3-6 = -1, 7-14 = 0, and 15-18 = +1. There is an alternate to the simplified modifiers if one chooses but I think simple is better. This game is also capped out at level 5 which means no real discernible power creep.

Character creation is simple, roll 3d6 six times and go right down the line and plug them into the attributes, then pick your class. Your character class gives you specific class abilities and tells you the rest of your character's stats. Now roll on a few tables to find out your characters life before the war and their current rank in the military. 

As I said before, this game caps out at level 5 which means you can level up to increase Hit Points and improve modifiers but for the most part I would say this game is geared toward a one shot or even a mini campaign. On page 25 the author even tells us that this game "is designed for one-shot play so characters top our at 5th level, reflecting the brief nature of the actual war."

There are a few more rules that I'll only briefly mention but make the game so cool. Suppressive fire, Ambushes, Mass Combat, Vehicle Combat, Impact, Timed, and Static explosives. He also includes mini settings. These are basically weird spin-offs of the war. Nazi Superscience, Nazi Occult, and Galaxy War - Space Operations. 

I'm really stoked to play this game and can't wait. Now I just need to set it up in Fantasy Grounds and figure out how to add some sound effects. I'll also probably run this game at the next Nerds-International Virtual Con (NIV Con) on September 15-16, 2018. If you haven't checked it out yet, I suggest you go on over to the Nerds-International Google+ community and chat with some of the folks there. Its a community of gamers with thick skin. We like to razz each other so if you get offended easily then you may want to think twice about it but there are also so many content creators there that you may just enjoy it anyway. 

I'd like to take a moment to thank the guys from Finding the Narrative and Imaginary Ramblings for giving me and my blog a shout out on their podcasts. Thanks guys!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Gettin' Crafty With RPG Maps

Some time ago I was asked how I made my maps and I told them in a short one paragraph social media post. Today I’d like to expand on that a bit more and add in some photographs of the process I use. It’s really simple when you think about it. Print the pictures, glue them down, and cut them out. The most important thing to keep in mind is the paper quality is what makes the maps look great. I used to be in the camp that paper is paper. There’s no need to waste money on expensive paper. But then I was never happy with the quality of the images. It took me well over a year to finally understand that the finish and quality of paper does matter. For this project I’m using Office Depot’s premium brochure & flyer paper.

The first step is to print out the tiles and I’m making a 24”x36” map out of 6” tiles which will give me a total of 24 tiles. Then loosely cut out the images with a pair of scissors leaving around 1/8” to 1/4” of white around the edge of the picture. Finding the tiles can be a challenge if you're as picky about as I am. DriveThruRPG is a great source. Conversely, if you can't find tiles then you could also take your own map and cut it up in Photoshop.

With all 24 images cut out we can move on to cutting up the 3/16” foam board. You did buy foam board right? No, well then go to Walmart and buy some. This project will require two sheets. I prefer the black foam board because the texture of the paper feels rougher to my hand which means the glue will have more tooth to hold onto. Don’t fret if you can’t find the black one. Just go ahead and get the white, it will work just as well.

While you’re there go ahead and buy some glue. I prefer the Scotch brand glue as it allows me enough time to readjust any misalignment and dries fairly quickly. I’ve used glue sticks in the past and would continue using them if I couldn’t find the Scotch glue anymore. One of these Scotch glue applicators let me adhere 37 of the 6” tiles.

Now that we have our craft supplies we can start cutting stuff. I like to start by cutting the foam board into smaller more manageable sizes. Lets cut them into 7” strips. Start by laying out the board so that the long side is going left to right. Then measure from the end 7” and make a mark at the top, middle, and bottom of the board.

Now line up a ruler and cut along the marks you just made. I didn’t have a ruler long enough to cut it in one pass so I started my cut in the middle and cut the side closest to me.

After a few passes, the bottom section can be lifted enough so that the ruler can butt up to it and be slid up to the top. The cut edge acts as a guide for the ruler. Now finish the cut.

Continue cutting the rest of both foam boards the same way and you’ll end up with 8 sections of 7” x 20” and a couple of scrap pieces.

The next step is to turn the foam board so that the 20” length is facing left to right and cut them into 6 ½” sections. You’ll end up with two 6 ½” x 7” pieces and one 7” x 7” piece.

Finish cutting the remaining 7 sections of 7” x 20” in the same manner and you’ll end up with 24 rough tiles.

Let’s start gluing. Because I’m right handed, I started at the lower right corner, went around the perimeter to the lower left corner then made a bunch of squiggly’s and end up back at the lower right corner. In order to keep glue off of my hands I made the squiggly’s far enough apart to allow me to place a finger to hold down the paper. The paper will curl up afterward so you can reach under it to pick it up.

Now place it on a piece of foam board. I use the bottom of my fist to hopefully spread the glue by starting in the middle and sliding out toward the edges.

Then I flip it over and place a heavy object on top until the glue dries. Here you can see me using a Variac and a fire extinguisher to weigh down the foam board.

After 30 minutes or so I remove the weights and finish cutting the tiles. Flip the tiles over and line up a ruler along the edge. Cut the tile while angling the knife so that an undercut is made. Make several passes and let the knife do the work. If it’s too hard to cut or you find yourself pressing hard then the knife is dull and you need a new blade. The first cut should be made slowly so that you get a clean cut of the picture. Then make more passes until the scrap piece falls away.

When everything is all done you’ll have 24 tiles and a box full of scrap foam board. Easy Peasy.

I should also mention that it will not turn out perfect no matter what you do. There will be blemishes and it doesn’t matter. It will still look great. You may see some slight bubbles in the tiles or some of your cuts might wander a little. The tiles will not be perfect 6” squares. Once you get past your OCD you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. Have fun with the project and don’t get bogged down by small details.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Savage Worlds Killer

This morning on my drive into work I was listening to Finding the Narrative, a Genesys podcast hosted by Tony Fanning and Chris Holmes. They started talking about combat and it made me realize that I like Savage Worlds more than any other system on the market to date. I do like Fantasy Flight Games' game and it does some stuff really well but Savage Worlds does it better.

Then I thought, what is it about Genesys that I like? Well for starters, its magic system is top notch. I think it performs better than most other systems. The magic user can adjust how powerful her spell is on a case by case basis. It allows free form sculpting of the spells on the fly and is only limited by the spellcasters imagination. Savage Worlds can't quite do this but it does come closer than anyone else with trappings.

Genesys' use of talents makes more sense to me than just increasing your skills. The use of talents allows players to have a bit more narrative structure to their character while also including boons to skill rolls, strain, or soak value. The tree by which talents are selected is designed to force the players to make difficult choices and also makes sure the character is balanced (i.e. not overpowered). Savage Worlds is very similar to this in the fact that some Edges have prerequisites. Players cannot simply take Improved Counterattack without first taking Counterattack. Then Counterattack in itself has requirements of its own. 

One last thing that I really like about Genesys is its use of Motivation. Motivation is a tool for both the player and the GM. It helps the player to better define the character by describing when and how they learned the skills that they have. It also provides the GM with ideas to incorporate the character's background into the story. I don't know how many times I've asked players to write a short background on their character and only get a few people to actually do it. Savage Worlds sort of accomplishes the same thing through the use of Hindrances but too many players only see these as a way to generate bennies. It is meant to help mold the character to your concept. Flawed characters are always more fun than perfect ones.

Now onto some of the things I dislike about Genesys. Combat actions, this irks the hell out of me and the deciding factor of why Savage Worlds is better. Much like D&D, in Genesys you only get one combat action. I remember the first time I saw Savage Worlds played by others. I saw someone perform multiple attack actions and move around. This was an epiphany to me. This is what I was missing from D&D. I was growing tired of the no you can't do that because you only have one action mentality. I wanted to be able to jump onto a table, kick an Orc in the face, swing from the chandelier, and tackle another Orc. Not gonna happen in Genesys or D&D. 

Let's talk about Cool and Vigilance used for initiative. This is stupid. Why are there two different skills for performing the same task? I understand they're trying to differentiate between someone being surprised and someone who is ready to engage in combat. It does speed up the surprise check process but it doesn’t make sense. Why do I need to invest points into two different skills that only has one purpose, combat initiative? Just have the players roll Perception for surprise, if they fail they act the next round. Then have all successful players roll initiative. The players who are surprised take the last available initiative slots. 

Abstract initiative turn order is not something I enjoy all that much either. I don't see a whole lot wrong with it but I see it as encouraging meta gaming. I'm not saying meta gaming is bad. I'd just like to see a little less of it during combat. Savage Worlds and Castles & Crusades gets this part right. Initiative is determined every round simulating the fact that combat is more fluid and you don't act at the same time every turn.

Before I forget, I really don't like how characteristics in Genesys are pretty much stuck after character creation. Or at least they should allow for a more accessible way to increase them after creation. Currently the only way to increase them is after picking up a tier 5 talent and that is pretty dang tough to accomplish. A tier 5 talent will cost 175 experience points minimum. In game terms that means you could increase one characteristic by 1 every 9 sessions assuming you don't spend it on skills.

Savage World is not perfect by any means either but it handles everything I've wanted in a game fairly well. Just to name a few things I'm not keen on are the different uses of Investigation and Streetwise to accomplish the same thing. They both perform the same function but are narratively defined differently. I've also heard that the new version will breakout Performance from Persuasion which again are serving the same function with different narrative descriptions. They will also combine Climbing, Swimming, and Throwing into a new Athletics skill. They really need to keep Throwing separate from Athletics. Throwing is a combat skill that needs to be on its own.

Basically what I'm getting at is that no game system is perfect and Genesys is not, nor will ever be a Savage Worlds Killer. I'm looking at you Jamie. Anybody who's familiar with the Nerds-International Google Plus community will know that SWK is just a term we use to joke around with about one system being better than the other but we all know that Savage Worlds just does some things better than others. It should go without saying that we put ICRPG into the same category of ribbing each other.

Even though I'm not a huge fan of ICRPG, I cannot deny the fact that it has changed how lots of people play table top RPG's in general. It has made a huge impact on the game industry as we know it. At least once a week I'll see someone on social media talk about how they don't play it but it has opened their eyes or showed them a new way to look at something. For that, I say thank you Hankerin Ferinale.