Tag Archives: RPG

Spectaculars: the review

Spectaculars is the brand new superhero RPG by Scratchpad Publications, the label under which former D&D fifth edition designer, Rodney Thomson, has been producing games since leaving WotC a few years back. I missed out on the highly acclaimed Dusk City Outlaws when it Kickstarted back in 2017, which offered low-prep heist action. As a big fan of the superhero genre, there was no way I was going to miss out on his next offering when Spectaculars came to Kickstarter in 2018.

It arrived last week and its fair to say I wasn’t disappointed.

 

Behind the Mask

Components 1Spectaculars comes in a big euro boardgame-style box, chock full of cards, pads and dice. The boardgame analogies don’t end with the contents, as the rulebook is kept relatively slim (just 60 pages, in the same large square shape as the box). You can see Rodney’s experience in designing board games as well as RPGs shining through, as the rulebook only contains the essential rules to play, relying on the other components – primarily several decks of cards covering Powers, Secret IDs, Complications, Team roles – to pull their weight in detailing the rules that apply to each Components 2element.

No extensive lists of abilities here: if you want to know what an Energy Blast does, look at the Energy Blast card. Not great for GMs who want to know the ins and outs of every single rule in the game, but makes for much more accessible rulebook and suits the low-prep, high player-trust intent of the game.

 

 

Incredible Tales of Urban Warriors, #273

As you know, I’m usually about the crunch. But in Spectaculars, where the numbers you roll against actually come from is pretty interesting, so I’m going to start there. And as a story-led game, it all begins with the “Issue”.

Issue is Spectaculars’ name for a campaign, which reflects the game’s extremely strong tone towards emulating superhero comic books. This is worth emphasising: this isn’t just a superhero RPG, it’s a superhero comic book RPG. Throughout the game, Spectaculars provides comic book examples to illustrate each of its key elements, which makes it really clear what they’re referring to and helps fire your imagination. The box comes bundled with four ready-made Issues, which are provided on tear off pads and is an element that feels like a legacy boardgame as much as an RPG. As you play the Issue, you will mark up the sheets to reflect how your game went, creating a lasting record of your campaign as well as making it unusable for repeat play (no biggie – us kickstarter backers have it all on pdf to reprint and replay!). Not only does each Issue describe a unique campaign story, it also has a distinct tone, which is reinforced throughout the game.

  • The first few pages of each issue provide the available Team types (e.g. for the urban heroes Streetlight Knights issue, you pick either Mentor & Wards (e.g. Batman and his extended family) or Neighbourhood Watch (e.g. Birds of Prey). The tear-off Team Roster tracks the members, the team’s reputations and gets you started with three hooks: what brought you together, your mission, and what could happen if you fail.
  • Next, you get a bunch of hero Archetypes specifically suited for the theme and tone of the Issue. These get you thinking about who your hero is and what their powers represent. Each Archetype also gives one special ability – e.g. the Speedster gets to bump up their initiative, going earlier in conflict scenes.
  • Finally you get the GM content: a few Villain sheets, which give the template for the first baddies the heroes will have to face, and around 12 Scenario sheets, each designed for a single session and requiring just a few minutes read through to prep.

One cool thing is that as you progress through the Issue, as well as getting new Scenarios and Villains, you also occasionally get new hero Archetypes, so if a hero falls by the wayside for whatever reason, you get interesting new options as the story progresses. E.g. after Scenario 2, Streetlight Knights introduces the Investigator and Pulp Hero archetypes, and after Scenario 11, you get the Secret Agent.

 

Origin Story

So, you’ve picked your Issue, your Team and your Archetype – what next? Powers. Draw 5 Power cards, choose up to 3. Your first is rated at 80%, then 70%, then 60%. If you pick fewer, you get more Hero Points which let you do cool things. Again, the Issue gets involved, with powers chosen from a deck made up of 25 common powers and 15 issue-specific. You won’t get a Utility Belt in a cosmic superhero game, nor will you have magical Healing in your street-level investigations. They’re rounded off with 5 basic powers – Strength, Energy Blast, Flight, Toughness and Signature Weapon – which you can pick instead of drawing at random.Secret_ID

Next, you draw an Identity card, again a mix of generic and Issue-specific. These give you not only your job, but also your skills.

Finally, you choose a Team Role, which gives you a special ability which can be triggered by spending Hero Points, and gives you a sense of your tactical speciality within the team. Huntress and Nightwing are both street-level acrobatic martial artists, but while Huntress might use the Artillery role to do extra damage with her crossbow, as Tactician, Nightwing’s battlefield awareness can help teammates use power stunts more often.

 

The Mechanical Mayhem of the Machine Master!

Now we have some numbers. For the core mechanics, roll d% under your ability. Add Boons and Challenge dice to complicate things slightly (turning the basic d% into something more like FFG’s funky dice pools).

But what can each skills or power do? Anything. This is very much a free-form game in the style of HeroQuest or Fate – if you can provide the explanation, you’ve at least got a chance of doing anything you like with any ability. In addition, each power has a special Power Stunt which is usually limited by how often you can do it (e.g. with Phasing, you can ignore damage from an attack). DazzleThe default use of powers is the “attack”: roll against the power’s % rating, and if successful you inflict the value of the roll in damage. Similarly, skills can often be used for mental attacks. However, if inflicting damage doesn’t make sense, you have other options such as stopping movement (e.g. Elastic Body power) or adding challenge dice (one effect of which is to reduce the damage of an attack, e.g. Forcefield power).

This is a great, flexible system that makes superheroics very dynamic and character-driven. It does require players to have a degree of creativity to ensure narrative options make sense, but the GM can actively influence things with the Boon and Challenge dice.

“So, Anton, you want to Sneak Around behind the gangsters and ambush them? It’s pretty dark down that alley, have a Boon die to help you!”

“Oh, Zara, using Throw Money at the Problem to bribe the gangsters? Again? Have 4 challenge dice, they’re still flush from last time you did that…”

So far, so good. A relatively simple, narrative-heavy, rules-light superhero game. Cool, but nothing spectacular (oh, please). What gives it that extra bit of hero magic, is the story structure around the mechanics.

 

I must stop Nefario, but Steve is waiting for me at the Prom!

Spectaculars using a few different tools to help emulate comic books and reward players for doing so. Each session provides core scenes for the GM to run: any other scenes are created by the players using Interludes. Typically, these are used to gather more information, uncover clues or progress a goal. They are intentionally highly free-form: Spectaculars won’t tell you the PCs need to go to the Municipal Museum to find a clue as to Anubis’ evil scheme. The clue is (potentially) wherever the PCs want to look, the fun comes in determining what the obstacle is and how they overcome it. It requires a GM to think on their feet, but it’s entirely in keeping with the genre, again. And generally, each Interlude should have a simple, one-roll resolution, which keeps things fast and light.

Even more interesting are personal Interlude scenes. After the first session, every character should write their origin story, and gain an Aspiration and a Turmoil. I love that these aren’t included from the start, as this feels in genre – starting with the superhero and rounding out the character later. Then, before the Opening Scene of subsequent sessions, each Hero can frame an Interlude scene reflecting their Aspiration or Trouble, and earn that PC an extra XP advancement and a Continuity Token. This really helps tie character back-story into each scenario, in a way that really reflects the comic book genre. But with each Interlude recommended as being no more than 5 minutes, it shouldn’t get in the way of your traditional four-colour action.

As for that Continuity Token, it can be used to create Back Issues and Retcons. A back issue is a flashback scene to an earlier comic that gives you some information or advantage that relates to your current problem. A retcon establishes a new fact about a setting element, character or villain. Again, entirely in genre, and pure fuel for player creativity.

Jack, the yobbish wannabe-celebrity hero, needs information from the oily boss of a huge gambling corporation. He spends a retcon token, and establishes that he is in fact sponsored by them, with their logo proudly emblazoned across his super-suit. Now, getting that meeting is no problem. Whether he can get anything out of it, however, depends on Jack’s diplomatic skills. Oh dear…

 

You call that power, Megalad? Let me show you TRUE power!

And there’s more. The 40-page Setting Book contains key locations (Super-Science Lab! Crime Syndicate!) and major NPCs (Media Personality! The Agency Chief!) that crop up in most major comic book series. You fill this out collaboratively, building the world as you progress through the Issues.

Reputation tracks with the Media, Public and Government influence events throughout the Issues: maybe a high Public reputation helps calm some riots, or a high Government reputation brings unexpected help from on-high.

The Experience tracker awards Story Advancements as each hero engages with the Issue and their personal Aspirations and Turmoils. Benefits range from traditional (extra skills, more hero points, improved powers) to transformational (new costume, mutation, take on the Mantle of the Bat!) – with a fifth and final Retirement advancement for heroes that reach the end of their story (giving a boost to your next character, which could represent a continuation of the previous character’s story as a clone, AI creation or even your former nemesis turned to good).

Lasting Repercussions are story-based consequences from the events of Issues, enriching the developing narrative for individual characters. For example, if a science-based hero helped defeat the Mad Scientist villain, they might gain “Vengeance of Dr Mystery”. Now, every future time they meet, Dr Mystery will get a growing bonus to attack their new-found arch-enemy (and in turn, granting the PC the option of a Nemesis advancement, giving extra hero points for any scene where the villain appears)

Complication cards help GMs add features to conflict scenes that split the heroes’ priorities. ComplicationDo you spend your turn trying to defeat The Devastator, or tackle the fire that just erupted in the nearby apartment block (and earn a Hero point for doing so)?!

With four Issues included in the box, plus clear guidelines on how to create your own (and a digital creator pack that means you can be absolutely certain fan-made stuff will be hitting the internet soon) you have enough content for at least 50 sessions of fast, furious, story-driven superhero fun. With the exception of those lucky people with twenty year D&D campaigns, this ought to be more than enough for anyone. At around £1 per session, that seems like excellent value to money to me.

 

Oh Captain Wonderful, however can we thank you?

I am super-excited by this game. I do love crunch, but from many sessions of the likes of Champions, Mutants and Masterminds, DC Heroes etc., I felt there was something missing from superhero RPGs – an over-emphasis on the mechanics of super-fights, but not enough on emulating the genre itself. I always thought HeroQuest would be an excellent basis for super role-playing, and in some ways Spectaculars is this game, only more so. This game has provisionally leapt to the top of my extensive SHRPG pile, with it’s vivid four-colour art, episodic super-heroic action, and genre-reinforcing structure.

Caveat: I haven’t played Spectaculars, so this review is based purely on a read-through and my usual over-enthusiasm for any RPG that includes cards and components (see also, my unnecessarily large WFRP3 collection). But I am absolutely dying to give this game a good run through, and not just a one-shot, but a campaign. So watch this space…

 

Will The Dicemechanic actually organise an Online Campaign of this incredible new game? Find out in the next exciting issue of Spectacular Super-Tales!!

 

Spectaculars cover art featured at the top of the page is by David Lojaya. Ah, sod it, the whole team deserve credit for this great game, so here it is.

Spectaculars Credits

And just look at that list of names. Designer of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. Designer of Fate. Designer of M&M and Icons. Designer of Dungeonworld. Plus some prominent streamers/producers – let’s hope this game gets some internet air-time soon!

 

Multi-speed leveling – Example

What would different XP tracks look like in practice?

My last blog post looked at the idea of having characters level at different rates. I called this asymmetric at the time, but I’m not sure that’s quite right. I mean, they’re all getting XP for the same things, so it’s not truly asymmetry – it’s just they advance at different speeds.

I thought I’d throw out a worked example, to show what it might look like.

Take the D&D5 campaign, Curse of Strahd. The rear blurb announces this is for character levels 1-10. I immediately decide this means, by the end of the adventure:

  • Adventurers will be around level 10
  • Farmboys will reach level 12
  • Veterans will reach level 9
  • All characters will be equal level around level 7

So I create an XP table with the following key points in place

Adventurer Farmboy Veteran
1 0
2 300
3 900
4 2,700
5 6,500
6 14,000
7 23,000 23,000 23,000
8 34,000
9 48,000 64,000
10 64,000
11
12 64,000

Then, it’s a relatively simple job of filling in the blanks. First I make a couple of general assumptions:

  • I want Veterans to start at level 3, and to be ahead of the Adventurers at every level up til they hit 7 together.
  • I want Farmboys to be around 1.5 levels behind Adventurers until 4th level, and to have a fairly even progression throughout
  • I can broadly split the difference for Veteran level 8
  • I want to share as few leveling milestones as possible, to increase the chance of characters leveling at different times (and sharing the joy this brings!)

Using those two assumptions, my modified table now looks like this:

Adventurer Farmboy Veteran
1 0
2 300 1,000
3 900 3,000 0
4 2,700 6,000 600
5 6,500 10,000 2,000
6 14,000 15,000 8,000
7 23,000 23,000 23,000
8 34,000 29,000 42,000
9 48,000 36,000 64,000
10 64,000 44,000
11 53,000
12 64,000

Basically, the farmboy has progression increase by just 1k per level, with 2,000XP from 2nd to 3rd, 3,000 from 3rd to 4th. It takes a slight jump in the middle, to align with my desired parity level at 7th, but then resumes at 6,000 for 8th, 7,000 for 9th and jumps slightly at the end with 11,000XP for 11th to 12.

Other Considerations: Hit Points and Death Saves

As I said before, probably the main difference between levels if you’re not a spell-caster is just the number of hit points you have.  I suggested you might tweak Death saves to even this out, but I think you can do a bit more than that just to even things out.

  • Farmboy: you have to fail on 4 Death Saves to be killed. However, after the parity point, you get -2 HP per level
  • Veteran: you have to fail on 2 Death saves to be killed. However, after the parity point, you get +3 HP per level.

I’m sure you could do a lot more to tweak this further, including reducing the number of skills Farmboys start with and even tinkering with Hit Dice. But for me, this does enough to make things interesting without introducing too many new rules (and possible imbalances!)

Asymmetrical D&D Parties

I knocked this up quickly this morning on Twitter, and decided I felt so strongly about it, I’d drop it into a quick blog post as well.

The party is the core of most Fantasy RPGs. While I understand there are some people who hate the idea that someone in the party is more “powerful” than them, modern RPG thought tends to lean more on ensuring everyone can contribute *something*, everyone has a clear niche and that one player or character isn’t completely over-shadowing the rest. As long as you do this, mixed power levels work fine (just look at the Avengers).

For me, AD&D’s asymmetrical party was a feature, not a flaw, and allowed different PCs to shine at different times. How could you introduce that into the likes of D&D5e without completely messing it all up? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Make sure the combined party level averages out to suit the adventure. A group of adventurers of L3, L4, L5, L6, L6 should be fine for an adventure targeted at 5th level PCs
  2. Probably don’t vary by more than a couple of levels. While asymmetry is cool, you don’t want the lower level PC to be totally ineffective and/or vulnerable to insta-kills. Having said, playing a single session as a Level 1 character hiding at the back could be a fun roleplaying opportunity!
  3. I’d build asymmetry into the structure of the game, so everyone knows what they’re getting into. Think about the planned leveling arc of your campaign. Note the maximum level you expect characters to reach. Create 3 XP/milestone tracks:
    1. Farmboy goes slower at first, but accelerates, reaching Max+2 by end of campaign
    2. Veteran goes faster (maybe starts a level or two higher) but gains much slower, ending at Max -2 by end of campaign
    3. Adventurer progresses normally.
  4. Ask players which XP track they want to use for their character. You may need to negotiate a bit to get the right mix OR…
  5. Apply the XP tracks to specific classes, not PCs. Maybe every Wizard is on the Farmboy track. Maybe every Paladin is a Veteran. That can really add some campaign world flavour, reinforcing the fact that, e.g., the most powerful individuals in Tolkienripoffia are all Rangers

This model ought to work really well in D&D 5e, because of how the mathematics of the game have been structured. While HP and special abilities do advance quickly, basic competence and Armor Class are fairly static. So a lower level character will have reduced damage output, but their chance to hit and skills will rarely be more than a point or two different to their higher level colleagues. (indeed, one might argue this is the greatest flaw in my proposal – in 5e, for non-spellcasting classes, the only real difference is just the PC dying quicker)

And while this is ideally geared towards a full campaign, there’s no reason the approach can’t be taken in shorter adventures. E.g. in a 3-4 session one-shot, the Farmboy levels up every session, the Adventurer levels in session 3, Veteran never does.

Addendum: Death Saves

Quick extra thought. The XP track could also influence the Death Saves. The Farmboy needs 4 unsuccessful death saves to die; the Veteran only 2.Provides a bit of balance to the disparity in HP, and highlights that the Farmboy is destined for greater things, whereas the Veteran, who has been there and done it, feels the inevitable fate drawing ever closer…

D&D Basic Rules Re-write

Back in December 2018, I made the bold assertion that I could edit a chapter from a popular RPG down to 50% of its word count. Why would I make such a foolish assertion?

My own writing can be incredibly verbose. My university dissertation came in at three-times the targeted 10,000 words, and is so tedious I’ve barely been able to read it in the 25 years since. My increasingly rare blog posts are frequently gushing lakes of word soup. If words are my stock in trade, I’ve always favoured quantity over quality.

And yet, ironically, my day job is writing. But my business writing is always accompanied by strict space restrictions. Over the years, I’ve adapted my writing style to communicate often complex business concepts in highly prescriptive word limits. Believe it or not, I’ve become pretty good at it, despite what the indulgent word splurges of this website might suggest.

 

Why? And how?!

In recent years, it’s become increasingly clear to me that the average big-release RPG is seriously over-written. I first noticed it in Fantasy Age, a delightful and relatively simple RPG by Green Ronin. That’s a book that clocks in at just 144 pages, and yet never states any rule once when three times is better.

Conan Swimming

I saw it in Modiphius’ excellent Conan RPG, with its detailed and entirely unnecessary explanation of what the Swimming skill does. And it’s all over Pathfinder 2, with masses of repetition that suggests either each character class is designed to be printed and handed out to players separately, or the writer negotiated a strict, no-cap by-the-word contract.

So this is the context to my claim. And, after nearly 12 months of prevarication, I got down to it. The twitter poll decided the text I would tackle: the D&D Basic Rules, the free PDF of the fifth edition rules published by Wizards of the Coast.

Twitterpoll

My basic rule was, as much as possible, to keep the structure, headings and format. This wasn’t a rewrite, it was purely editing what was there. It should also read as prose, not purely a list of instructions. It took a little over 2 hours to reduce the word count by 45% in a first sweep. A quick review of which sections had been reduced the least, and I mopped up the remaining 5%. Last night, I took out another 0.5% just to be tidy. So there, less than half a day’s work. Done.

 

The results

So, without further ado, here it is, arranged in two columns: the original text on the left, and my edit on the right.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/puqxipk6nli1neb/Dicemechanic%20D%26D%20Basic%20Rewrite%20Project.docx?dl=0

I hope you’ll agree this works fine. You may prefer the original, but I’d argue that the rules are equally clear without the additional explanations the base text provides. And while flavour text may make the original easier to read, I think the fact it’s half the length more than makes up for this.

 

A conclusion. Of sorts.

The RPG designer, Dennis Detwiller, of Delta Green fame, has noted that as much as some people complain about big expensive glossy books, publishers use this format because the market clearly favours it: big glossy sells. I think this is probably true. The price of printing a few more pages may be more than balanced by the increased shelf real estate in your Friendly Local Gaming Store (especially where books are competing on the basis of spine not cover art).

It’s just a shame that the price of this format is generally more quantity, rather than quality. Tight writing isn’t dead. Indie games excel in delivering punch in the shortest page count possible. Black Hack and Cthulhu Hack are works of genius. King of Dungeons, by the Smart Party podcast’s Baz Stevens, compresses the essence of Pelgrane Press’ 13th Age into a pocket digest whilst adding huge amounts of colour and flavour. But where an ever-growing catalogue of RPGs are competing for shelf-space, perhaps having more pages is a necessary evil to get your book into gamers’ hands?

 

Copyright

The D&D Basic Rules are nothing to do with me. They’re owned by Wizards of the Coast and I have not been given permission to replicate them. I don’t claim to own them, and you can get the originals directly from the WotC website (just enter D&D Basic Rules into your internet search engine of choice).

I’m hoping what I’ve done constitutes fair use, and that WotC don’t send me a cease and desist for repeating copyright material. But if they do, I’ll be taking this down immediately, because this was nothing more than a proof of concept.

Runequest in Glorantha: Home-brewed

With the launch just this week of RCQ – Runequest Glorantha – the “true” successor to the much loved Runequest 2, many of my geeky chums are once more venturing to Genertela to explore the deep mysteries of the cults, runes and deadly combat from back on the day.

So what better time for my dear friend Stephen (@smginnessuk) , GM of our Runequest 2 campaign, to share his house-rules for elevating an aged system for a more enlightened gaming age…

Introduction

I played my first game of Runequest in 1978.  I played it almost exclusively until it made it to third edition.  My lack of enthusiasm for the new edition, the stuttering publication of that edition along with a distancing of the game from Glorantha, and several life events meant that I rarely played the game between 1987 and just a few years ago.  That did not mean I stopped reading stuff or buying almost everything Glorantha that I could put my hands on.

I did play a lot of other games, including a variety of other Gloranthan related systems: Mongoose Runequest, Design Mechanism Runequest, Hero Wars, HeroQuest.  When I came back to RQII I fell in love with its simplicity all over again but there were things that rankled me, especially when I no longer had the copious amounts of free time to play, or to manage the detail of the second edition. Not to mention having been spoiled by modern systems that accommodate narrative gameplay and give agency to the players.

Now Chaosium just releasing a successor to RQII, I thought before I read the shiny new PDF that this would be a good time to show others how I adapted RQII and imported things from other iterations of Glorantha to allow me to play Runequest now.  This is my first real attempt to do this and it will change and adapt to my players responses, its inability to cope with at the table situations and new cool ideas that I come across.

The main changes I’ve made fall into three categories:

  • Character design
  • Running the game
  • Heroquesting

The latter two will follow in a day or two. But, to kick things off…

Character Design

Characters are rolled and written up using pure RQII, just like I did it in 1978. Statistics, modifiers, spells and skills. I add the the previous experience rules to get more experienced starting characters, but that is as far things go there.

I do not use the old character sheet, but have designed my own, one based on the Heroquest way of doing things and designed to put the key information front-and-centre in a way that really supports play at the table.

Gundrig-RQ1-page-001

Skill Groups

This is where things start to change a little. Skills are organised into three key skill groups.  This is often narrative background things like “Pavis born and bred”, “Initiate of Orlanth” or “Experienced scout” with all of a character’s skills organised underneath those.  Each group is then assigned a skill level based on the best five skills in the group.  The skill groups have threshold numbers: 15%, 30%, 50%, 70%, 90% and 120% which I assign the titles used in the Robin D. Law’s King of Dragon Pass game: Fair, Good, Very good, Excellent, Reknowned and Heroic.

All skills that fall into the group are then treated as operating at at least the threshold skill level.

The upshot is that a character with Good “Pavis born and bred” can tell the GM at any time that someone born and bred in Pavis’ dusty streets should be able to find a decent short cut to Gimpy’s and use 30% as a chance for that.  The player might then list “Pavis backstreets” at 30% on the sheet and, if successful, give it a tick for later experience checks.  It is a way of providing a broad base to skills and allowing players to more effectively play the character they envisaged without having to think of every little skill they might need.

Gundrig-RQ2-page-001

The other aspect of skill groups is that once five skills within the group have advanced beyond the next threshold, the threshold goes up and so every skill goes up to the threshold.  E.g. a Good “Initiate of Orlanth” has just raised his broadsword attack to 70%.  Within this skill group, he already has Spot Hidden at 85%, Riding at 80%, Evaluate Treasure at 70% and Camouflage at 75% (all skills the player and GM agreed fitted within this skill group).  As broadsword attack was the fifth skill in this group to get to 70%, the skill group is now Very Good and all skills within it – including any new skills the player comes up with in play that fit within this this group – will be at 70%.

This reflects the idea that during down time, when they are living their lives rather than adventuring, characters maintain and update the skills associated with that life.  Initiates of Orlanth will find themselves using skills that such initiates use on a regular basis.

Next-up: Running the Game (coming soon!)

Xeno-Hunters

I’ve always had a soft spot for D&D 4th edition. Sure, it never felt like D&D for me, but the core engine was just so unlike anything we’d seen before in table-top RPGs.

My previous efforts to convert D&D4e into a fast-paced dungeon-crawl boardgame were documented on here some time ago, an experimental project which showed some promise but perhaps not quite enough to keep me interested.

However, a tweet from Dungeon World co-author, Adam Koebel (@skinnyghost), got me all a tingly again. Another bit of Dice Mechanic tweakery was on the cards…

image002

Creating Xeno-Hunters

Aim: to create an X-Com or Aliens themed game, based on the D&D 4th edition rule-set.

Methodology: I wanted to prove Adam’s thesis to its fullest extent. I knew I could house-rule and tweak 4e to make a sci-fi game – however, if I was to do this, I wanted to make it as close to vanilla 4e as possible. Reskinned but not house-ruled.

Browsing the Player’s Handbook, it wasn’t too difficult to start to equate different character classes to equivalent sci-fi roles. In 4th edition, Fighters are very much the tanks and blockers of the game, taking the hits and holding up the enemy so their colleagues can deal the killing blows. To me, the immediate image that came to mind was a power-armoured Space Marine struggling to hold back a scuttling mass of insectoid aliens. Wizard’s area effect spells are just magical hand-bombs. Ranger sharp-shooters are clearly 4th edition’s Snipers. Easy.

I decided to make the characters at Sixth level: this gives them a few more powers and feats, a few magic items and allows me a wider range of opponents straight out of the Monster Manual to match them up against.

Results: I’ve created six characters, almost 100% 4th edition compliant, and absolutely sci-fi through and through. I used standard character generation rules, races, powers, feats and equipment. The four relatively minor changes were as follows:

  • Feats: I accidentally gave characters one Feat too many. I spotted this on the 4th character, but by then I was committed and couldn’t be bothered to go back 🙂
  • Weapons: I created a custom weapon for the Assault Trooper, as nothing quite fitted. But I still think it’s broadly balanced in the context of 4e weapons. Everything else is a standard 4e weapon (though there’s a Bastard Sword and a Superior Crossbow in there if you can spot them)
  • Magic Items: the game does have rules for giving magic items to characters created above 1st level. However, instead, I calculated how many items an equivalent party would have earned through play and then shared them out.
  • Sniping: the 4e Player’s Handbook clearly says that Crossbows can be used for Sneak Attacks, but looking online it seems that may have been errata’d to just “Hand Crossbows”. I figured spending a Feat to broaden to all Crossbows wasn’t unreasonable, based on the precedent of the Elf’s Treetop Sniper feat.

The only change I made from my original vision was that, on studying the abilities a bit closer, I decided to make the Close Assault Trooper the Ranger, and the Sniper is a Rogue. It was pretty interchangeable, both classes have great abilities to cover both of these roles.

The Salvageers

After all this, here are the six characters: Salvageers, private contractors making a living by clearing out alien bug infestations from abandoned space wrecks.

I’ve re-designed the character sheet to completely mask it’s origins. I decided if I was going to re-skin things, I was going to re-skin everything. I tried to give it a sci-fi feel and also bury the abilities granted by Race, Class and Magic Items into themed power-sets.

Cleric / Commander: Warlord might be the obvious example for the Leader of this gang of XenoHunters, but Warlords don’t have ranged powers and I wanted to change as little as possible. I think the Commander makes for an interesting and effective character – and probably the only character in the party that is absolutely essential to make the party work.

Fighter / Power Trooper: a Goliath with a good spread of defensive-focused magic items and here you have it, a walking juggernaut who is probably the sole melee combatant as often as not.

Ranger / Assault Trooper: makes the most of the Ranger’s Prime Shot ability and range of move-and-attack combinations to be the group’s scout. And yes, he’s a halfling, but don’t hold that against him.

Rogue / Sniper: with a number of stealthy assassin-type feats in one of the later 4e character books, I was able to create a very effective ranged character. Indeed, in comparison, I feel like the Assault Trooper is a little hard-done-by

Sniper

Wizard / Grenadier: the basic powers were easy enough, but I had to exercise some creativity with the utility abilities a wizard has. I think it works pretty well, a bit fragile but a fun character to play.

Warlock / Psychic: an absolute loony-tunes of a character, with a range of very deadly attacks and a don’t-give-a-damn attitude. I decided to make the psychic abilities Encounter and Daily powers only, as I didn’t feel a constant flurry of psychic blasts fitted the sci-fi psionic aesthetic.

Psychic

I’d love to hear your thoughts / comments, either on the feedback below or via Twitter.

Next up: XenoHunters: the scenario. You’ll be amazed how a simple name change and bit of colourful description can turn a D&D standard into a scuttling alien menace…

Simple D&D 4th edition character sheet

I’ve been thinking more and more about running with my slightly silly idea for a D&D4th edition card-based dungeon crawl game. It would certainly have some challenges – managing the number of Encounter powers, for example, and how to balance simplicity with the exception-based rules of Feats – but I’ve decided to go for it.

With this in mind, I’ve created a simple Excel version of a D&D4 character sheet. It is designed to show little-to-no workings, just highlighting the important numbers that inform game play.

You can find it here: <link to character sheet>