Zap! or Kapow in Spaaaace!

Since Dan’s interested in changing his Warhammer 40K setting using SavageWorlds over to Kapow! I need to get cracking on writing up a minimal set of the genre-specific rules for changing it from supers to space opera.

Broadly I think these are the areas that need tweaking:

Equipment

For superheroes, equipment other than vehicles is just an explanation of some heroes’ powers.  For most SF settings, gear matters and players care about it (and upgrading it).  Tentative rule: an item of gear is a power, with its own dice rating, but most gear requires that you have an appropriate Shtick to use it to full effectiveness; roll only 1 die if you don’t have a Shtick that covers it.  E.g. a Blaster might be d8, d8 but you only roll d8 if you lack a Shtick like Soldier or Gunslinger to justify it.  Some characters might still  take a full-fledged Power where the explanation is gear, such as a cyborg with a built-in laser, bought with the usual power rules.

Vehicles

Vehicles will have their own Scope appropriate to the vehicle, so a groundcar would be Scope: Planetary Region, while a in-system shuttle might be Scope: Interplanetary, and a star-cruiser Scope: Interstellar.  There will probably be more Scopes, so you can make distinctions between FTL where travel between nearby stars takes a couple weeks, a couple days, a couple hours, etc.  Movement will be rated in terms of Scenes. One of the things I’ve noticed about travel in RPGS, and in SF RPGS in particular, is beyond a certain point unless travel is insanely dangerous (as in wandering monster rolls every 6 hours) players tend to stop caring about how long trips take; a journey of 10 days is not really any different from a journey of 100 days… both will be blipped over with the exact same hand-waving.  Zap! will address this by requiring that you play out, or at least describe, a scene aboard the ship for each unit of distance traveled (size of unit determined by scope).  Hopefully the scenes will be interesting, since the point isn’t to punish players for wanting to travel longer distances, but to give the act of travel texture so that the trips become more memorable and make longer trips seem longer because you can expect to have and later remember more incidents happening during them.

Maintenance

Similarly, and along the lines of my musings in Clarke’s Law and SF Roleplaying, to make tech seem a bit less magical, we’ll give equipment maintenance ratings (and maybe Advantages/Disadvantages like Low Maintenance/No Maintenance and High Maintenance/Constant Maintenance)  that will also be expressed in terms of Scenes that need to be spent playing out or describing maintenance being done, or else it starts having chances of degrading or malfunctioning.  Scenes will probably require that a character with an appropriate Shtick make a roll, with failure or mishap resulting in having to spend extra money or get replacement parts.  I think this kind of thing is pretty important in SF…even in squeaky clean futures ships like the Enterprise require a ton of work to keep in repair, if the number of episodes where something goes wrong or needs replacement prompting them to make a landing and get in trouble is any indication.  Again the idea is to make sure that there’s some “spotlight time” devoted to players, particularly those who’ve focussed on Shticks like Engineering, doing the things that define this as SF.

Aliens

We’ll just be using the Template rules from Argh! to handle alien races that have unusual abilities.   We’ll probably also use the Argh! Templates for characters, but with new names if needed (e.g. Magician -> Technician).

Commerce

I’d like to come up with a simple way of handling commerce and trade, since that’s often important to star-faring SF.  Again this is probably going to be expressed in terms of Scenes rather than tables of trade goods and prices, perhaps with some notion of trading off travel distances and risk vs. profit.

I think that’s the gist of it… but I’m open to suggestion on things I might have overlooked that would be important to an SF campaign that aren’t already covered.

Rules they can’t remember are bad… rules they dislike are worse

Based on last night’s Argh! playtest that means we have two rules to change:

Non-simultaneous Actions – the original rule was you had to specify all your actions in your Turn at once, without pausing to assess what was going on.  The reason for the rule was to try to avoid the situation where because one player has a lot more actions than the others, that player ends up taking up most of the combat time as he does an action, assesses what’s going on as a result, does another action, and so on.  The problem is that the players, Wendy in particular, hate this… her character only has two Actions per turn, but she always wants to see if her first attack takes out the target before committing to another action.  So the new rule will just drop the restriction: if you want to take an action, and then decide what action to take next, that’s your prerogative. I still think that simultaneous actions are desirable (I throw a bar-stool at the first vampire, while I ward off the second one with my cross) both for game-play and for genre, so I’m considering encouraging people to use them by saying that if you describe the actions as simultaneous then the villains can’t react until you’ve resolved them all, whereas if you choose to go sequentially it’s possible for the villains to react after your initial action(s) and before you start your next.

What counts as an Action? The other thing that people had trouble with is what constitutes an action.  This surprises me, because I thought the rule was truly simple: using an active Power counts as an Action. Nothing else does, not moving, not talking, not grabbing something…  but for some reason this doesn’t seem to click with people.  Not just the players: both of the other folks who’ve GMed (Russell is the GM for Argh! and Mike GMed a Danger Room scenario in Kapow!)  charge players for actions for doing things like climbing ladders or opening doors, and players spontaneously charge themselves for things like kicking a gun out of reach even though it doesn’t require a power to do so.  I’m a bit reluctant to change this to something that’s (to me) a lot less cut-and-dried, and will tend to encourage a lot more asking questions of the GM (would X count as one of my Actions?  what about Y?)… but according to my principles I ought to…

Faster Than A Speeding Recap

  • Brian managed to show up, and played his super-speedster Fasttrack.  Fasttrack was originally created for a Silver Age Sentinels game that never got off the ground (I blame Doug and Paul for breaking the system before we even started), and a version of him became Brian’s main character in City of Heroes.  He seemed pleased to finally be able to role-play him….and he roleplayed the heck out of him, much to the amusement of the other players.  They were particularly taken with his rapid stream-of-consciousness speech patterns.
  • Fasttrack showed up in time for a brief confrontation between the Order of St. George (Vatican Special Monster-hunting Squad) and the super-group over the disposition of the Wraith’s (Doug’s) evil brother, The Revenant.  Eventually it was resolved with the Vatican “heavy hitters” Codex and Joan completely destroying The Revenant’s body with holy flame, releasing all the souls that he’d consumed over the years in a spectacular spiritual light show.
  • A call for help from Dr. Kelso at Paradigm labs brought the team to the lab complex, which was on fire.  Fasttrack leapt to evacuating the civilians, while the rest of the team plunged into the lab building where Dr. Kelso was, only to  come under attack by gorillas wearing exoskeletons.
  • The gorillas were led by a silver-back, sans exoskeleton, dragging Dr. Kelso by one ankle.  There we broke for the evening.

When next we resumed, the players were treated to the first genuine villain monologue of the campaign, which they sat still for and even seemed to find amusing.  At least part of the reason they bore it patiently is that last time they interrupted a villain’s monologue (in the Weird West Campaign), they destroyed the Universe before the villain had time to warn them against it.

  • The gorilla leader called himself Ape X, or Apex, was a product of Dr. Kelso’s continued research into nerve regeneration and repair.
  • He had dosed the other gorillas with it, but it took a while to take effect, and Dr. Kelso had managed to get away and call in the team before he was ready.
  • Apex tele-operating the other gorillas via the exoskeletons, using a modification of Redline’s (Mike’s) exoskeleton’s kinesthetic feedback controls.
  • Dr. Kelso was dying, neck broken by an inexpertly wielded tele-operated gorilla, but Apex planned to save her momentarily by putting her in a “Captain Pike” chair, where she’d be less trouble.
  • Attacking Apex failed, since what they saw was just a hologram.  “Didn’t I mention that I’m smarter than you?  I’m pretty sure I did.”
  • Jungle Gal was able to use her Animal Friendship to calm the rampaging gorillas, but before they could pursue Apex he warned them that he had sent some of his gorillas to set the Null Energy Generator project in Lab 57 to go super-critical so if they wanted to prevent the Earth’s atmosphere from being stripped away they should probably attend to that.
  • The team managed to stop the Null Energy Generator explosion through teamwork and the first “Power Play” of the campaign (a Kapow! rule that lets players combine their powers and through comic-book logic create a new power).  They then found that it was all a bluff, and if left alone the destabilized field would have damped itself out instead of destroying the world.  “The villain lied to us!” exclaimed one of the characters.
  • The team (except Jungle Gal) agreed that the remaining gorillas would have to be put down, since the evidence was that gorillas granted super-intelligence through the formula were dangerous.
  • Jungle Gal (Wendy) snuck back into the labs and absconded with the gorillas, using her wealth to charter a plane to some jungle island hide-away where she would reign as Queen of the super-intelligent gorillas… or at least guide their development so they didn’t become evil.   Wendy decided to use this as an opportunity to put Jungle Gal on the back-burner and develop a new character.
  • In other developments, the teleporting villain Technik invited herself on a date with Harbinger (Dan); this seemed to freak Harbinger/Dan out much more than I thought it would, given his character’s attitudes towards other attractive NPCs they’d run into.
  • Beef, the minor villain that Namaste and Jungle Gal had defeated, having been released from jail showed up at Namaste’s yoga studio seeking to study under her and “fix up his Karma and shit.”
  • Police detective George Kim showed up at the base, wanting to know what happened with Revenant.  Redline told him, only to find out that he was unhappy that the Vatican had exceeded its authority in this case by executing Revenant without due process.  The team had let them go ahead because they were dubious about the police and prisons being able to hold Revenant, and were afraid that he’d go on a killing spree as he had apparently done back in the late 19th century.  Kim didn’t blame the team, but explained that while in the past they had to rely heavily on the Order of St. George to track down and capture supernatural monsters they weren’t supposed to go beyond that, at least without a trial, and the police had reliable ways to deal with supervillains once they had been captured: there were power-nullification holding cells (using a bulkier version of the tech in the Wraith’s gloves) and for long-term imprisonment there was the super-max prison, the Oubliette, in a dimension where no super-powers of any kind worked.  Part of this was, by agreement with the players, to establish more firmly that the setting really did permit the heroes to turn over captured villains to the authorities without having to worry about a Arkham Asylum revolving-door situation.

All in all it was a highly satisfactory set of sessions.