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For my Fortress of Tears game, I envisioned it being very much a LotR-clone, right down to the long marches overland. The characters are HERE, the monsters have the travelers checks HERE, kind of thing. To that end, I came up with a very detailed set of travel rules, with hex-by-hex turns that had Survival checks by the designated Guide to avoid becoming Lost, Perception checks by the Scout to avoid unwanted encounters, Perform checks by the Marshal to keep up morale and help avoid Fatigue, modifiers for terrain, weather, etc.
Then, looking at the (mostly) finished project, I just sorta blinked a few times and said, “What were you THINKING???”
It was a very playable system, and did a good job of simulating fantasy-overland-travel of the type likely to happen in a “war against the dark lord” sort of campaign, but when I was suddenly confronted with the question of “How does this actually make the game any more fun?” I couldn’t find a good answer.
Thing is, I can imagine once upon a time looking over a system like this and going “Cooooool.” Because why wouldn’t you have a detailed system for this? That’s what games have, is systems. That’s how your world and the characters’ world interact. You can’t just decide what happens, that’s cheating! But if I’m honest with myself, I can then just as easily imagine myself using the system for all of three “turns” and deciding it’s way too much work, throwing out any result that doesn’t interest me.
At the end of the day, I ended up with a slightly-modified version of the standard Pathfinder rules, which do little more than give you rough MPH measurements with some modifications for terrain and guidelines for fatigue if you push it. It’s not particularly nifty or cool in any way, but it does provide a reasonably fast framework for figuring out how long it takes to get from !The Shire to !Mordor by way of !Rivendell. Since any encounters that happen are only going to be ones that I think are “interesting” anyway, I might as well just spend my time coming up with those instead of wasting my time trying to simulate the boring bits on the off-chance that characters might come to an encounter lost or fatigued.
I don’t know what it is about the gamer mindset, that occasionally gets fixated on the rules as an end to themselves. Maybe it’s just a geek thing. But to paraphrase uber-geek E.G. Gygax, “A good GM often only rolls the dice to hear the noise they make.” A well-run game is all about the players and the story, not the mathematical construct that it rides on.
Are deep and dank and cold
With single sickly candle lit;
And there they count their gold.
Their walls are wet, their ceilings drip;
Their feet upon the floor
Go softly with a squish-flap-flip,
As they sidle to the door.
They peep out slyly; through a crack
Their feeling fingers creep,
And when they´ve finished, in a sack
Your bones they take to keep.
Mewlips are described by Tolkien in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, in which they are mentioned in a hobbit nursery rhyme. The poem sounds a bit like they’re a race of Gollums, or perhaps just a particularly damp race of goblins. In any case, in the Dawn Reaches, there exist creatures which the humans call “water babies” and the hauflin call “mewlips” which fit the same mold. Small, pasty, wretched amphibian humanoids wrapped in oily rags, mewlips lurk under the water’s surface, preferring to ambush their prey with surprise. They only venture forth at night (or in the sheltering dark of caves), and rise out of the water silently, looking disconcertingly like drowned children, wielding a spear in one hand and a net which they use to trip their prey in the other.
Mewlip (CR ½, XP 200)
CE Small humanoid (aquatic)
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +4
AC 15, touch 13, flat-footed 13 (+2 Dex, +2 natural, +1 size)
hp 5 (1d8+1)
Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +2
Speed 15 ft., swim 30 ft.
Melee spear +2 (1d6+1/×3), bite -2 (1d3)
Ranged spear +3 (1d6+1/×3)
Special attack nets
Abilities Str 12/+1, Dex 14/+2, Con 13/+1, Int 9/-1, Wis 10/+0, Cha 9/-1
Base Atk +0; CMB +0 (+4 trip); CMD 12 (18 vs. trip)
Feats Weapon Finesse
Skills Perception +4, Stealth +14, Swim +13; Racial Modifiers +4 Stealth, +8 Swim
Nets (Ex) Although a mewlip can’t attack to cause damage with its net, it is very skilled at using the net to trip adjacent foes. During the mewlip’s turn, it can make a single trip attack against any adjacent foe as a swift action. It gains a +4 racial bonus on trip attacks made with its tangling tentacles, and if it fails to trip a foe, that creature can’t attempt to trip the mewlip in retaliation.
A greater and larger form of mewlip, the “mewlip lord,” stays in their cave lairs and does not venture out except under the most extreme duress. Within their lair, however, they will fight to the death. They sometimes keep giant frogs or slurks as pets.
Mewlip Lord (CR 2, XP 600)
NE Medium Humanoid (aquatic)
Init +6; Senses Low-Light Vision; Perception +5
AC 18, touch 16, flat-footed 12 (+6 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 22 (4d8+4)
Fort +5, Ref +7, Will +3
Speed 40 ft., Swimming (40 feet)
Melee Claw +5/+5 (1d4+2 plus grab/x2)
Ranged Javelin +7 (1d8+2/x2)
Special Attacks Grab
Abilities Str 15/+2, Dex 22/+6, Con 13/+1, Int 6-2, Wis 10/+0, Cha 7/-2
Base Atk +3; CMB +5 (+9 Grappling); CMD 21
Feats Iron Will, Power Attack -1/+2
Skills Acrobatics +6 (+10 jump), Perception +5, Stealth +8 (+12 in water), Swim +10 Modifiers +4 Stealth in water
+4 Stealth in water (Ex) You gain a bonus to Stealth Checks under the listed conditions.
Amphibious (Ex) You can survive indefinitely on land.
Grab (Medium) (Ex) You can start a grapple as a free action if you hit with the designated weapon.
Low-Light Vision See twice as far as a human in low light, distinguishing color and detail.
Designer’s Note: On Reskinning
These critters are actually reskins of existing creatures. The base mewlip was created from the stats of a grindylow, just changing the tentacle attack to a carried net, and the type from aberration to humanoid. The mewlip lord, on the other hand, is a merrow with the “young” template. Reskinning! It’s the GM’s second-best friend.
The stat blocks in this post are open content; mewlips and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil are the property of J.R.R. Tolkien and his heirs. Artwork by LoneAnimator.
The figures are done! After a few sessions of the Savage World of Ghostbusters using the closest minis I had on hand, I decided I had to have proper GB minis. I took a long look at Carmen’s Fun Painty Time set of Ghostbusters minis, and while I don’t have Carmen’s sculpting chops, I am pretty pleased with the final result. For those interested in the process, I figured I’d write up some details here. You can click through any of the pics to see larger versions.
So I’m working on a Borderlands-esque game for Savage Worlds, and one of the things I’m poking around with is the gunnerriffic nature of it all. SW definitely loves its hardware and the intricacies of counting ammo, keeping track of how much 9mm you have versus how much .45, and so on.
I, on the other hand, am a bit less enamored of gun porn. Most of the time I handwave things like reloading or weapon cooldowns if they’re a factor at all– in my old Star Hero campaign I simply gave energy weapons batteries that could hold 50 shots at a time so that running out of ammo was never really an issue. The most “reloading” we’ve done in the group yet is the Ghostbusters having to spend a turn to “vent the pack” as one of the possible negative effects of Rolling a Ghost.
Now in the Borderlands computer games, reloading and running out of ammo is very important, and “magazine size” is one of the most important stats any given weapon can have. And certainly in a realistic military setting, it’s absolutely vital– after all, if running out of ammo wasn’t an issue, why wouldn’t everyone just pick up a machine gun and “spray’n'pray” all the time?
In the case of the setting I’m working on, I’m also looking at different types of ammo adding elemental or other effects– corrosive ammo to wear down the target’s armor, for instance, or bursting ammo that does an extra wound but only if it penetrates, things like that. In a case like that, tracking the ammo is pretty much required, at least for PCs. And it’s not really fair to give everyone the same “out of ammo if you roll a 1 on your attack” mechanic, because by doing so you effectively give somebody with a six-shooter the same amount of ammo as somebody going full autofire three times per turn. (And for that matter, you give somebody with Shooting d4 a 25% chance of running out of ammo every turn while someone with Shooting d8 only has a 13% chance.)
So, I think I’m going to have to just suck it up and go with counting ammo in this setting. It’s not that big a deal, I guess: 1 ammo per shot, 2 for doubletap, 3 ammo per burst, and (ROF^2) for full auto isn’t so hard to remember. It just seems weird and clunky, in a game that eschews hit points as being more trouble than they’re worth, to be counting the number of bullets in each gun. On the other hand, I can totally see players high-fiving each other when the boss they’ve been getting pounded by suddenly goes, “Oh crap, out of ammo!”
Next up: Vehicles. Why You Always So Difficult???
There is a certain style of RPG that I really enjoy when I can pull it off… but it’s very hard to pull off. For lack of a better term, I call it “Gung Ho.” It’s not a genre in and of itself, but it is a definite style: if you see Abraham Lincoln riding a bear and carrying a machine gun in each hand? That’s Gung Ho gaming.
Gamma World is sorta the archetypal (and one of if not the oldest) Gung Ho RPGs out there, and the recent 4E-ruleset reboot actually worked fairly well as far as it went. Unfortunately, once we finished the initial scenario, I just couldn’t stay interested. I thought for sure that I would, and bought all the expansions… but it didn’t happen.
There have been plenty of other attempts in our group to start and sustain Gung Ho games: Teenagers From Outer Space appears periodically in our repertoire, and my own Furry Battle Academy! was definitely in this vein. But in both cases, while the individual sessions have usually been quite fun, the campaigns have just failed to launch.
Some of it is probably sheer exhaustion. Gung Ho gaming seems to require a massive caffeine/sugar rush to get the ball rolling, and once it’s rolling, you have to keep momentum or you end up needing to start all over again. Some of it is also probably just the mix of players… as weird and creative a bunch as they are, their personalities tend to range from “rather reserved” to “painfully shy,” whereas Gung Ho gaming requires the willingness to be loud and quite often to make an idiot of yourself.
My most successful “Gung Ho” game so far has got to be the Ghostbusters game, but it’s only a bit Gung Ho. In fact, aside from the occasional silly NPC name and the tendency to do a lot of collateral damage with the proton packs, it’s hardly Gung Ho at all. Just… eccentric. Sure, they’ve battled animated modern art, been chased around the streets of D.C. by an enormous ancient Hittite dog-god, and accidentally teleported to Saturn  once or twice, but it’s not like they carry around guns that shoot chainsaws or anything.
 Actually an alternate dimension. They just call it Saturn, a la Beetlejuice.
The reason this is on my mind is because I was pondering the possibilities of a Borderlands RPG. With its over-the-top badassery and snarky sense of humor, I could easily see Borderlands being a fun beer-and-pretzels setting for a game, and the story arc of Borderlands 2 is for all intents and purposes a “Plot Point Campaign” straight out of Savage Worlds. It’s a natural fit.
And yet… I don’t think I can do it. For some reason, I just don’t seem to be able to come up with enough ideas in the Gung Ho mode. If handed an existing scenario, I can probably take it and make it work (as I did with the Gamma World starter scenario), but coming up with new ones is like voodoo to me. My brain keeps trying to make things make sense. (“Wait… this dude has shotguns grafted onto his forearms instead of hands? How does he reload? For that matter, how does he tie his shoes?”) That kind of thinking is the kiss of death for Gung Ho, but unfortunately it’s often how I come up with my scenario ideas. By thinking about the antagonists and giving them goals that make sense, I can figure out what they will do, how, and why, as well as what they might do when their plans go south (as of course, they will once the players show up).
Of course, it’s not like we need another game anyway. Two Pathfinder games (one of which has only had one session) and Ghostbusters keep our plate pretty full as it is. But whenever I find a new setting or genre that I like, my thoughts on it must eventually turn to gaming. It’s just in my blood, I guess!
One wrinkle about switching to Savage Worlds for my Ghostbusters campaign is that SW assumes the presence of miniatures, whereas the old UHM system wouldn’t know what to do with ‘em if you had ‘em.
Of course, there aren’t any readily-available Ghostbusters miniatures; the closest thing would be print-your-own “cardboard heroes” types found on the web. But not about let something like that stop me, I pulled out some of my various oddball moderns from the “Wall o’ Minis” that approximated the group “in their civvies,” as it were. On top of that, I went online and found a 2010 Hot Wheels “ECTO-1,” so here’s the team as it stands (click-through for larger photo):
Thing is, Obsessive Gamer that I am, I know I can do better than this. To that end, I’ve taken a leaf from Carmen’s Fun Painty Time and am hacking together my own proper GB figs. (If you’re interested in GB or minis, I highly recommend you follow the link and check out the related posts– the author goes into a pretty detailed step-by-step on the process they followed.)
In order to make the figs a little more readily identifiable at the table, I’ll probably take a cue from The Real Ghostbusters and put the different characters into different uniforms. Goth boss Lola has already been established in the game to be wearing a black jumpsuit (“only until I can find something darker”), with ironic bright pink trim and Hello Kitty motifs. I was figuring that Bruno could have an aggressive (or possibly inmate-ish) orange, Charley could have a classic Ghostbuster gray, and Ivan might go for scientific white, hazmat yellow, or possibly “Dr. Clayton Forrester” green.
Unfortunately, the Heresy stuff is coming from the UK and may take some time to get here! On the other hand, the way life seems to conspire to keep us from playing, we might still only have a session or two before the figs are ready. XD
Expect progress pics as progress is made!
PS: Yes, that is a miniature of Velma. And yes, I do have the rest of the Scooby Gang. And the van.