Friday, July 28, 2017

Crossover of the Dead: Masks: ANG meets Ex-Heroes

I’d hoped to sink my teeth into Mask: The New Generation more than I managed to. I’d been thinking about and planning my Masks spin on Peter Clines Ex-Heroes series and Paradigm Concept’s Rotted Capes rpg for a few weeks now. Here’s how I set that up:

It has been less than a year since the Outbreak, since something caused the dead to rise. Heroes fought against the tide, only to succumb themselves. Pockets of humanity remain, isolated and under threat. You play young heroes, trying to protect your community of survivors. But even though you possess great powers, you’re still kids. Older wounded heroes, adult leaders, and non-powered survivors regard you as untrained, irresponsible, and even dangerous.

In this setting frame, you deal with Masks’ issues of identity and self-image. But you also have a consistent deadly threat and restricted location. For this game, you’ll select from a limited set of playbooks. We’ll have a couple of environmental moves dealing with Resource Raids, Building, and the Community. You’ll get to pick projects to work on to build up the camp and give it a fighting chance against the zombie horde and even deadlier z-supers.

I planned to do character creation and building in the first half of session one and then play. We did that, but I think the game was cursed. For the first session I had a player drop just before we started. Luckily I roped Sherri in. Then we had technical problems that ate up a half-hour. Still we had a good time and set great things up. But for the second session, I missed a waitlisted player until just before the session start. I got him in and up to speed, but I felt like a dolt. To compound that, one player lost internet just before the game so they had to bag out and another player forgot the session. So we did the session with two players from S1 and a new player.

I dug it, but it went well due to good players more than my skills as a GM. I’ll need to try this setting again. We really didn’t get a chance to engage the new moves and concepts I developed. We interacted with the zombie threat and the world, but only a little. Below you can see the setting material, changes, and new mechanics I created.

You can see the two sessions I ran: Session One, Session Two

Please choose from the following playbooks.
  • BULL
  • NOVA

Please note Alien, Hidden Civilization, and Extra-Dimensional origins are off-the-table. Those change up the premise, so I’d like to keep those out.

This set up is shamelessly stolen from the Ex-Heroes series of novels (in turn based on someone’s supers campaign). We’ll be defining the setting a little in play, but the following facts in the fiction are established.

1. Six months ago, a zombie outbreak began in a major metropolitan area. At first, it seemed a simple supervillain plan. But soon that exploded and quickly spread to other areas. Heroes went to fight against this menace…and died.

2. And then came back to life, turned into Z-Supers. While normal zombies are mindless, Z-Supers are not. They’re cunning, retain many of their abilities, and can speak. But they’re also driven by their hungers and seemingly impossible to negotiate with. The one advantage you have is that they’re jealously territorial and will often fight each other for dominance.

3. As cities fell and the plague spread across the globe, researchers struggled to find an answer. While they could not find a cure, they discovered the source. A superhero known as the Undying had been struck down in a fight with Plague Master. The Undying’s powers, overwhelmed by the disease killing him, metamorphosed him into a new creature, the first Z-Super. The change affected the infection and created a super-powered virus.

4. No cure has been found. No resistance has been discovered. And now with most scientific facilities overrun, it seems hopeless. For purposes of these sessions, a cure is off the table, something to hope for, but not yet possible.

5. You are young heroes in Halcyon City. Heavily populated by supers, much of it has been devastated in battles between Z-Supers. But that mutual destruction has given you some breathing room.

6. You have taken over the Halcyon City Entertainment Center and Sports Complex. It combines an indoor arena, stadium, and mall. Barriers have been built around the facility and it is fairly secure. You currently have a population of 1,451 persons.

7. Everyone knows superbeings caused this plague. Despite acts of heroism, there’s an undercurrent of fear.

8. The compound’s run by a council of normal people, plus one non-powered superhero who revealed their identity. There are a handful of active Adult Heroes. They support the council and undertake large-scale, “important,” missions. They don’t have time to deal with younger heroes. They’re a risk. So they tell you to do minor tasks and stay in the compound. But more often they’re dealing with their own work and can’t monitor you.

9. We’ll define names, especially if we connect those to your backgrounds (mentors, role-models, family members, etc). I imagine there might also be a few seriously injured or depowered supers in the compound. As well, the line between hero and villain has been blurred. Any super might be one or the other. I’m including The Reformed playbook in case anyone wants to play a villain.

10. I will have some slightly changed relationship questions for each playbook and an entirely new set of “How you came together” questions. I’ll also have a few tweaks for some of the roles (Janus, Legacy, etc). I’ll post those before the game. You’ll get to choose some project(s) you’re working on and I’ll throw some incidents at you in play.

11. If you get bitten, there is an Infected move.

When you look for stuff in the rubble, Roll +Superior. On a hit you find something valuable. On a 10+ pick 2; on a 7-9 pick 1:
  • Resources for a project. Add a segment when you return.
  • Gifts. Gain +1 to Comfort and Support or Fit In
  • Important goods to use as leverage
  • Something significant to your past life. Clear a condition or add one to the team pool.

On a 7-9 your efforts attract attention.

When you stay on watch, you may Defend someone scavenging. Follow the usual rules. If you get a hit, you may name someone who won’t be targeted by the zombies. If you fail, you must name an NPC who is hit.

When you try to make yourself part of the normal community, roll +Mundane. On a 10+ you manage to establish some rapport. Gain a friend, clear a condition, or take +1 forward for interactions. On a 7-9 you connect with some, but alienate others.

Describe a project you’re working on and identify an area: Hope, Security, Food, Tech, Infrastructure, Knowledge. Each of these begin at -2 for the Enclave. Choose what you’re rolling on.
On a 10+ you increase the clock for this area by three segments. On a 7-9 you add two, but create a complication. On a failure, you still mark one but you lower another clock.

When you Take a Powerful Blow from a zombie and roll 13+, you may choose to have your character infected. At the start of session, roll +Freak. On a 10+ you’re aware of your infection and can choose how to deal with it: running away, sharing the secret, etc. On a 7-9 you’re unaware of the infection. On a 6-, you remain unaware. Mark a condition which may not be cleared by normal means.

If you ever have all of your conditions marked for any reason, you become a zombie and the MC takes your character.

Note that I didn’t go through and make changes to any of the playbook moves. I’m sure you could, but at a glance most of them work. You can make any necessary changes on the fly. These changes also assume a short game, so I cut the number of some picks.

Change Backstory Q4 to “Why have you stayed in costume, despite your lack of powers?”
Change Relationships Q1 to “____________________ is knows how to survive, and you take every chance you get to hang out with them.”
Change Influence to “You are terrified and excited to be here. Give Influence over you to three of your teammates.”
For the Beacon’s Drives, I replaced three which didn’t fit with these: Find and rescue survivors; Earn respect of the compound’s leaders; Save someone from a zombie attack.

Change Backstory Q4 to “What scares you most about the zombie plague?’

No change

Not a change, but Backstory Q2 should consider the new context of the compound and post Z-society. “Why do you still keep a secret identity?”
For Secret Identity, change relevant section to:
“Your mundane life comes with an obligations. Choose one or more…
Duties: Watch-person, custodian, cafeteria, farmer, student, health-care aide, messenger, mechanic
Home: Caring for injured family member, younger sibling, broken parent, black marketeer relative
Social: Significant other, best friend, close relative, mentor, ex-significant other.”

Change Backstory Q3 “How does the public perceive your legacy now?” and Q4 to “Did you want to take on this mantle?”
For Legacy, change the relevant section to:
“Your legacy is an important part of Halcyon City. How happened to your predecessor(s) in the outbreak?
Name the different members of your legacy (at least two):
____________________ is depowered/injured, but lives in the compound.
____________________ is among the handful of heroes still living here.
____________________ is the next possible member of your legacy.
____________________ has become a zombie...and is still at large.
____________________ is among the normal humans and opposed to supers.”

Change Backstory Q4 to “Why do the civilian authorities want to contain/control your powers?”

Change Backstory Q3 to “What is your mentor’s current state in the enclave (in command, hidden, injured, something else)?”
Change Relationship Q1 to “You and ____________________ teamed up a few times before the zombie outbreak.”
In Mentor’s Resources change relevant section to,
“Choose up to three resources that your mentor gave you and the team:
A hidden set of rooms, a supercomputer, communicators, surveillance equipment, a chem lab, a med lab, a weapon of last resort, security systems, simple robots, a food stash, a workshop, a cache of conventional weapons and parts, a secret escape route out of the enclave.”

Change Backstory Q4 to, “Who outside of the team still doesn’t trust you?”
For Past Villainy change relevant section to,
“You have ties a villain from your previous career who lives in the compound. Choose a specialty and a status for them. You begin with two obligations to them
You have ties to a villain from your previous career not in the compound. Name them. Are they missing, turned zombie, staying alive independently, or something else?”

Change Backstory Q4 to “What do the civilians fear most about you?”

  • Need to have more questions and table time to develop the Compound. It’s such an important part of the setting, we need more world building of that. I should draft some established places and names with questions. For example, where do you live in the compound? (the last theater of the multiplex, the baseball field dugout, the gymnasium, food court, the furniture store, etc) Who do you trust/mistrust among the civilian authorities? (list of names). That would help flesh this out more.
  • Might also help to have a sketchy or half-filled in map.
  • Do I need additional individual playbook moves? For example, should there be a Bull move for rushing through a zombie horde? Or a Protégé move for impressing authorities?
  • I winged the team formation questions—I need to develop them more. I want to take as a default assumption that they joined together during the crisis but before they got to the compound. Also should retool the Backstory questions even further to tie them into the setting.
  • Given what they’ve gone through, should the PCs start with an additional advance or maybe even their Moment of Truth unlocked?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bright Flash: A Tales from the Loop Mystery

In honor of the Stranger Things Season 2 trailer dropping, let's revisit Tales from the Loop. When I ran three sessions of TftL at Origins I used my own scenario, primarily to avoid spoiling the core book adventures. I had player ask about if I had a write-up of that story, so I've put one together. My set-up’s sketchy, it has a strongly defined inciting incident and then notes on where it could go. I hope others might want to borrow from it or use it whole cloth. It’s open ended and intended for a single session.

1. Present the basic concept and go over the time period & Kids age. Stress they’ll be friends and have a shared clubhouse. They’ll need to that have in mind during character creation. They need to figure out why they’re friends with one another.

2. Quickly walk through the seven points of the premise. (I have a sheet of these taken from the book and I speed through that). Establish a few ideas here: weird tech’s around; the kids can be endangered, but not killed, and adults aren’t going to be much help.

3. Put the playbooks out, name them all, and let the players pick. You can see my slightly revised playbooks here as well as other help materials. I changed some of the names, questions, and NPC details but only slightly. Important: Everything in this outline assumes you’re working from those.

4. After they pick archetypes and while they start making choices, explain the basic die pool system—stressing they just need a single success. Explain the rules and the skills. Pay special attention to defining the tech skills since they can confuse. Also explain Leadership, since it operates oddly and is important.

5. Have players work up to establishing player to player relationships. Stop and have them briefly introduce themselves. Then have each one in turn go through all their questions: PCs and NPCs. Write those down and especially note which NPCs they pick for relationships. You’re going to use that. Since it is a one-shot, have them only pick one NPC. Do more if it is going to be a campaign starter.

6. Ask leading questions, get them to detail their lives, figure out the clubhouse. Pay special attention to whoever picks the Troublemaker. They’re the character most likely to push buttons, get into it with adults, and move the plot. They’re often the one who least fits with the others. Keep an eye on that. Finally make sure they pick their favorite song—it’s a great detail.

Ideally this should take about an hour. Be involved and keep asking questions to make sure they’re plugged in.

Here’s where it gets interesting for the GM. Look at the NPCs they picked. Pay attention to the Janitor, any Scientist, the Singer, and/or the Punk Kid. We’re can tie them into the plot. If no one’s picked any of those, you’ll have to do some on-the-fly substitutions.

Begin the actual play with a home scene from everyone. Have them set the stage. Getting up and going to school’s a good way to frame this if you don’t want it too open. It’s important to give this time to breathe.

Next, we hard frame the group with statement and a question:
“You’re all out together alone in a park, after dark. Why?”

Work their answer into the starting incident. Answers I’ve seen: following up on a report of something strange, shooting off fireworks, meteor shower.

In the distance the Kids see unusual lights, flashing in a strange pattern. When they investigate, they’ll discover a device with lights all around the outside. I usually describe it as a tripod with a box atop it, but that’s up to you. Here are the important details:
  • It looks cobbled together. Some has built this out of scavenged parts.
  • There’s a company symbol on one of the parts that they don’t recognize immediately (unless they ask for a specific check). I used a Z with a lightning bolt through it, but you can change that up.
  • The object has been dragged here and set up. It is portable, but with effort.

If they investigate around, they will spot a PUNK in the shadows also observing the device. It’s unclear if he carried it here or like them came to check this out. If a character explicitly goes engage them, they should get some detail about the punk: general appearance, markings on a jacket, etc. They can use that to follow up later. The Punk will try to not be seen.

The players should get some moments to say what they’re doing, looking at, checking out. Give them space for a couple of rolls. If they go after the PUNK, start that but interrupt it with what happens next. All the PCs should be within reasonable range of one another.
There’s a blinding flash from the device.

The PCs wake up lying on the ground. Have the physically strongest or furthest away kid awaken first. The device is gone. Play up the details: backs wet from lying on the ground for quite some time, stiffness, cold. Let them get their bearings, but eventually someone should realize they’ve been out for hours. It is nearly dawn.

Dealing with having stayed out all night should be their primary concern, but we’ve got some other details to establish: most importantly that they’re now all invisible and silent.

You’ve got a couple of tricks to establish this: if they check the nearby road for tracks or evidence, then they will see a car coming. It should nearly hit them, not slowing down. This is a good opportunity for a check to jump out of the way, with them marking a condition from their stress if they fail. Alternately, a deer or other animal emerges from the forest as if the Kids aren’t there. Their voices can’t be heard, but they can make noise through objects—so stomping around will startle the animal. Another option is to have a Parks officer show up to check the area; that allows them to interact with someone.

This invisibility has limits—they’ll likely move to check these. They can see and hear each one other, but can’t be seen or heard by anyone else who hasn’t be hit by the device. They can physically affect objects—so they can lift things, write in steam, etc. Picked up objects remain visible. If they eat something, it’s hangs in the air for a moment and then vanishes. They cannot see themselves in mirrors or reflective surfaces.

Most importantly, and what they don’t know yet, is that this invisibility turns off at daybreak (and turns back on at dusk). Why? Weird Science!

The group may investigate the area before moving on. The device was dragged away to a nearby road while they were knocked out—someone clearly put into the back of a truck. If they ask to make checks, they can find a distinctive feature (find bits of broken plastic from a taillight knocked out during loading; unique double-back wheels, etc). It can be a good linking clue to find the PERPETRATOR later, but isn’t vital so don’t worry if they skip this. 

If they check where the PUNK was, they can see from the outlines in the grass that he too got knocked out. They can trace his path back to moped tracks by the road. If you want a linking clue to him, have them find a Dead Kennedys patch from his jean jacket. That’s important if they didn’t get a good look at him.

Right now their panic should be about getting home. Remind them: today is a School Day. Play these scenes out and put pressure on. Hold off on the reveal that they will turn visible at dawn. Switching towards the end of the home scenes helps change the dynamic and tempo. These bits are a great opportunity to see the characters’ family life and potentially their Problem.

Here’s where the story opens up in several directions. At this point that you need to make a choice as a GM: Who did this? You can choose earlier, especially if you want to connect that to on-site evidence. But generally you can select now based on which NPCs they mentioned in character creation, time remaining in the session, and direction the players seem like they’re heading.

Right now the players have the following details to chew on: The nature of their condition (i.e. who might have researched it), the design of the device itself, the label on the device, and some detail about the PUNK. They may also have PERPETRATOR vehicle links. The company marker on the device should lead to a small local lab that burned down a few months ago. If the kids check that out, it can be a linking clue to the PERPETRATOR. They had some connection to the lab, were spotted scavenging in the ruins of it, or bought the equipment from an estate sale or at the junk yard.

This rest of the story is freeform, but will likely start with the school day and/or a meeting at the clubhouse. The Kids should be tired—if you want, make them mark a condition. This can push them to their anchor and/or get someone to user Leadership.

We have a few possible combinations of PERPETRATORs and PUNKs. Ideally these should tie into the NPCs chosen during character creation:

SCHOOL JANITOR JEFFREY: You have a couple of modes for him. He could be a crazy garage-based weekend scientist and this was an accidental test. In this case, he doesn’t realize anyone got affected when he picked up his equipment. He’s still working special goggles to see the invisible (which they could find later) or doesn’t realize what the device does. If the Kids confront at school, he won’t know sitch with the Kids and will lie badly.

If someone has the missing librarian MARY as an NPC, you can connect that. In this case, Jeffrey accidentally turned her invisible and has been working on a solution. But doesn’t want to get in trouble. He may be holding her somewhere (the final conflict site). A good linking place for Jeffrey is his garage lab at his weird house. He’s not there, but that could lead to where he’s testing.

Alternately if you want to go high weird, then Jeffrey is using the device to reveal alien intruders. The Kids will find weird science conspiracy material at his location. This gives an interesting hook-- you can have the Kids spot strange figures and eventually the aliens themselves. Unaffected humans can’t see them, but the kids can. If someone’s chosen her, this can connect to the npc LEANNE’s story about aliens at the cooling towers.

In any case, the kids either need to get zapped by the machine to reverse the process or need to make a modified version of the machine to fix things. If Jeffrey’s hostile to this, they may have to work around him. Either way the problem lies in getting stuff. If they don’t have a strong tech character, then lean in the direction of just getting ahold of the device.

How does the PUNK fit into this version? The Punk has been following the Janitor. He thought he could lift keys to the school or that janitor was up to something. The Punk’s a good wild card. He could try to interrupt or steal the device later. Alternately, if a day or two passes, the kids might hear about a series of weird robberies as the PUNK takes advantage of his condition.

The punk could be PETER from the NPC list or someone entirely new. Maybe they’re part of LISA’s Wildlife Club. In any case, he can be used as a spoiler or a linking element,

FORMER SINGER MIKEY HAYES: You can sub him in easily for the Janitor role, especially if a Kid thinks he’s weird. It works less we if he’s a friend. You can combine him with the Janitor if both relationships are on the table. They could be rivals or partners. The kids can check out the Lake House to find a lab or weird conspiracy stuff (as per the Janitor).

THE SCIENTIST: We have two of scientists mentioned in the NPC lists DIANE PETERSEN (fired from the Loop and/or someone’s aunt) or OLIVIA MARTINEZ (asked to do experiments on the sports team). They can be connected to the burned out lab mentioned above (linking clue from the marking on the device). You can play this a few ways:
  • She’s an amoral researcher who wants to discover a way to move across dimensions. She doesn’t care how they test this. You can add the threat that the kids need to get this reversed before they “fade away.”
  • She’s seeking revenge on the Loop or another lab which fired them. In this case she’re building a larger version of the device to affect the entire town.
  • Aliens. She’s fighting against them (makes the scientist sympathetic), trying to capture them (makes the aliens sympathetic), or their in league with them (no one’s sympathetic).

In any case, this can lead to her house, former lab maters, etc. That should in turn lead to the new, secret lab the Scientist’s at. If the scientist is misunderstood, the kids might arrive and interrupt an alien kidnapping or assault. If the scientist’s a villain, then she might have someone kidnapped (Mary, if she’s been mentioned). The scientist’s lab offers a great opportunity to introduce a robot. She’s using it as a worker, a defense system, or a portable version of the device. This gives tech-based characters a chance to mess and/or re-program something cool.

How does the PUNK fit into this version? The PUNK has been working for the Scientist. They’ve been bragging about that work. But they’ve also gotten suspicious and followed the Scientist when they set up the device that affected the kids. In this version, they didn’t know what she was doing.

Alternately, the Punk’s more involved. In this case, the Scientist has already used the device on the Punk. He’s been committing a series of invisible night-time robberies to secure parts for her. In this case, newspaper reports and research will reveal a linking clue: items stolen correspond to things they saw on the makeshift device.

That’s the basics of the scenario. It has a likely pattern: character creation—daily life--- inciting incident—panic—daily life—investigation—linked investigation—confrontation—daily life epilogue. It doesn’t exactly follow the pattern presented in the Tales from the Loop book. Instead I’ve gone with a structure I’m more comfortable with. The end scene should present itself naturally, with a mix of action, tech, and other skills to deal with the problem at hand. Ideally the kids get the process reversed and reveal any villain to the authorities.

This is sketchy, so if you have questions, send those on. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Age of Ravens: A What the What? Overview

If you’ve come here from the ENnies voting page, you may think “what’s the deal with this graphically lame blog?” Rich Rogers put together a smart Episode Zero for his +1 Forward podcast (also nominated and awesome). So this is my “Episode Zero,” providing organized lists for the blog. With a few exceptions, I’ve focused on content from 2016 & 2017. I’ve shown admirable restraint and kept my lists to 12 items or less…

This is Age of Ravens’ ninth year. I started this one-person show January ‘09; I’m just shy of 1200 posts today. I cringe at some of my early, bloviating pieces. There’s good stuff there, but I want to mercilessly slash & burn it. The first couple hundred posts need a good edit and sharper focus. I’m much happier with the last several years: histories, hacks, at-table resources, talking about games from actual play, general overviews of whole systems.

I (usually) post twice a week and cover games from trad (Mutants & Masterminds) to trad-indie (Mutant: Year Zero) to story game (The Veil) to OSR (Silent Legions). I’m part of The Gauntlet Podcast. Right now I’m on the round-up episodes and do a monthly interview show. I’m also part of the irregularly scheduled Play on Target podcast. As part of the The Gauntlet Hangouts, I run two online sessions per week. Each Thursday I run oddball two-shots (REH Conan, Godbound, Coriolis, etc). On Sundays I run four-part mini-campaigns (Mutant: Year Zero, Changeling the Lost, World Wide Wrestling, etc.). That gives me a lot to talk about. You can also find actual play videos for many of these sessions on my YouTube channel.

If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or send me a private message. I hope you’ll consider voting for me in this year’s ENnies.

For the last several years, I’ve examined the publication timelines of role-playing games in different genres. I started with Horror games, and right now I’m in the middle of both my Cyberpunk and Universal rpg lists. I have a Patreon to support that work.

Sometimes you want to get into a big game, but don’t know where to start. I’ve put together guides to help new players—going over the basics and the major supplements available.

My collection of things you could use for your campaign. Some fit very specific situations (supernatural business offices), while others have more general utility (names).

I rarely do in-depth reviews, but I have put together play impressions for many games. I run at least three new-to-me rpgs a month. That’s broadened my horizons and I’ve discovered several new favs.

These posts come from longer campaigns. They’re a mix of game frames, overviews, and post-mortems. It includes an original AD&D module from 1985 (spoiler: a not very good one…).

This includes my general thoughts about gaming, crazy new rpg projects I’ve tooled around with, and ideas I’ve never gotten off the ground.

Thanks for reading through. I hope you’ve found something interesting, useful, and/or entertaining. If you’ve dug this, consider voting for me in this year’s ENnies (voting ends July 21st).

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Breaking Vegas: Godbound, OSR & Scion

I’ve always dug Scion’s premise—modern day children of gods fighting corruption and monsters. It has signature magic items, fate-binding, and cool powers that ramp that up. But I’ve never been happy with Scion as a system. I ran an extended campaign of it, but the “battle wheel,” dice pool fatigue, and tracking so many abilities & rules wore me down. I had fun, but felt like the system and I fought one another.

Later I tried a Fate adaption (pre-Fate Core). I borrowed from Strange Fate to manage scaling. It wasn’t terrible. But it wasn’t that great. I went too literal with my conversion. I included everything rather than stepping back to think about changing the mechanics to make them smoother. If I re-wrote that hack I’d do it differently, armed with new game tech like DFAE’s mantles.

All of that was in my head as I played Godbound, a high-level OSR game from Kevin Crawford. In it, youre fantasy character empowered by the divine bleed off from gods destroyed when humanity stormed heaven. Your world may vary. The bottom line is you roll a fairly standard OSR character and then pick from awesome and devastating powers (Alacrity, Night, Sword, etc). The rules scale your abilities—you do damage not in HP but Hit Dice. To represent your lethality, you get a free strike each round (called the Fray die) against lesser or equal level foes. Squads of minions will fall before you.

Godbound has an interesting sales pitch. You can go get it now, free and pretty complete. That version’s artless and lacks some of the advanced options from the full version, but it’s robust and playable. Seriously—if you’re at all intrigued by the concept or mechanics, you should go and pick it up. I ordered the full hardcover after one play—I dug it that much. The actual physical product’s gorgeous: great art, solid page design, and a ton of resources.

I’ve looked at several Kevin Crawford rpgs and dug all of them so. Each of the core books (Stars Without Number, Other Dust, etc) contains OSR-inspired rules, setting/campaign material, and some of the best random game generators. I talked about this in my earlier Silent Legions review. These books are amazing toolboxes. I especially love some Star Without Number supplements (like the alien ruins and espionage campaign ones). Other Dust has dynamite tools for any post-apocalyptic campaign. Godbound includes awesome tables for creating different kinds of fantasy courts, ruins, challenges, and foes. Great stuff.

In short a game worth picking up. There’s so much here. When I went to reskin Godbound to Scion, I ended up seriously cutting. Or maybe I should say I left things out—like the great Influence system. Since I knew I’d only be running two sessions I tried to keep things light.

You can see the Actual Play of these sessions here (Session One, Session Two)

I figured I could run Godbound as Scion with few rules changes, just trimming. I’d stick with basic systems and mechanics. Doing pre-gens would make the task easier. Secondary mechanics, like Dominion, Influence, and Worship, I’d leave out. To keep things grounded, I decided that while the characters would be second level (giving them a few more resources), I would limit their divine gifts. Usually at Level 2, PCs would have eight points to buy gifts. I gave them five. I thought that would help them absorb what they had. If I went back, I might even cut it down to 4 points.

Additionally to keep things simple, I gave each character just two unique Purviews (Words in GB). In Godbound you begin with three distinct areas. In Scion you can have a bunch, depending on your divine parent. Those gifts can be stat foci (divine its, manipulation, strength) or purviews (animal, fertility, prophecy). There’s also sorcery. Godbound has a parallel system for, but I left that out since it added complexity.

I knew I had four players and I wanted to give a broad range of pre-gens. I decided on eight, which is probably too many. I opted to give each pre-gen a choice of three divine parents, so the players could select a pantheon or concept they dug. That meant going through the list of all the gods from Scion to find overlaps. I also wanted to represent each pantheon a couple of times. All that took a spreadsheet to work out. It ate up a lot of time and was probably a dumb spend. I ended up with the following options; the first four are the ones the players picked for their characters. 

  • Artemis (Greek, Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt)
  • Dian Cecht (Celtic, God of Healing)
  • Hachiman (Japanese, Lord of war, fishing nets, and fertile fields)

  • Alacrity Base
  • Health Base
  • Faster Than Thought (Alacrity, Smite, Instant)
  • All Directions as One (Alacrity, Constant)
  • Merciful Gaze (Health, Action)
  • Vital Furnace (Health, On Turn)

  • Tezcatlipoca (Aztec, God of Fate)
  • Izanami (Japanese, The first woman and Queen of the Underworld)
  • Hades (Greek, God of death and Lord of the Underworld)

  • Night Base
  • The Darkling Stairs (Night, Constant)
  • A Familiar Face (Deception, Action)
  • Impenetrable Deceit (Deception, Action)
  • Knives of Night (Night, On Turn)

  • Ares (Greek, God of War)
  • Sun Wukong (Chinese, The Monkey King)
  • Tyr (Norse, God of Victory)

  • Endurance Base
  • Might Base
  • Defy the Iron (Endurance, Instant)
  • Amaranth Vitality (Endurance, Constant)
  • Fists of Black Iron (Might, Constant)
  • Loosening God's Teeth (Might, Action)

  • Shennong (Chinese, Second Sovereign)
  • Loki (Norse, Trickster God)
  • Shiva (Hindu, The Destroyer)

  • Fire Base
  • Luck Base
  • Consuming Gaze (Fire, Action)
  • Nimbus of Flame (Fire, On Turn)
  • Salting Away the Luck (Luck, Instant)
  • Spun Fortune (Luck, Instant)
  • Unmarred Beneficence (Luck, Constant).

  • Guan Yu (Chinese, Current Jade Emperor)
  • Isis (Egypt, Goddess of Magic)
  • Parvati (Hindu,The Incarnation of Shakti or feminine energy).

  • Command Base
  • Sword Base
  • Contempt of Distance (Sword, Constant)
  • Know the Inner Truth (Command, On Turn)
  • Shattering Hand (Sword, On Turn)
  • A Thousand Loyal Troops (Command, Action)

  • Izanami (Japanese,The First Woman and Queen of the Underworld)
  • Osiris (Egypt, Lord of the Underworld)
  • Baron Samedi (Voudon, God of Death)

  • Death Base
  • Earthwalker (Earth, On Turn)
  • Mantle of Quietus (Death, Instant)
  • Obduracy of Stone (Earth, Constant)
  • Rebellion of the Soil (Earth, Action)
  • Scythe Hand (Death, On Turn)

  • Frigg (Norse, Queen of the Gods)
  • Quetzalcotl (Aztec, God of Beauty and Art)
  • Susano-O (Japanese, Lord of Storms and Sea)

  • Sky Base
  • Disclose the Flaw (Knowledge, Instant)
  • Sapphire Wings (Sky, On Turn)
  • Stormsword (Sky, On Turn)
  • The Best Course (Knowledge, Action)

  • Apollo (Greek, God of the Sun and Art)
  • Atum-Re (Egyptian, God of the Sun)
  • Baldur (Norse, God of Light, Beauty, Love and Happiness)

  • Sun Base
  • Body of Burning Light (Sun, On Turn)
  • Follow the Threads (Passion, Action)
  • Snuff the Heart's Candle (Passion, Action)
  • Sunstrike (Sun, Smite, Action)

In Scion, each pantheon has a unique purview representing its approach or special purpose. That meant that the choice of parent could affect a character’s gifts. They’re important flavor so I adapted them. Four of these purviews have gifts that are new to or modified from Godbound:
  • Arete (Greek): Commit Effort for Scene. You gain an “Escalation Die” for yourself. Each round after this you gain a cumulative +1 to your attack rolls (up to a +6). This goes away at the end of the conflict.
  • Itztli (Aztec): Once per day you may roll 1d12 damage on yourself to immediately regain Effort committed for the scene or day.
  • Cheval (Voudon): Commit Effort. You can communicate from afar with any person whose location you know to within a mile. You can borrow their senses if they permit it. Persons who have spent at least a week in your presence or have been Fate-Bound can be reached wherever they are.
  • Tsukumo-Gami (Japanese): Commit Effort for Scene. You can communicate with an inanimate object, seeing and perceiving everything it has witnessed at a certain time of your choice. The spirits of these objects do not think as humans, but they can perfectly relay all the sounds and sights that took place in their presence. You must specify a particular time to focus on, however.

For the others, I simply used existing Godbound gifts. For Enech (Celtic) I used Deceiver’s Unblinking Eye from the Deception word. For Taiyi (Chinese) I used A Second Spring from Fertility. Heku (Egyptian) I used Heart of the Lion from Passion. For Samsara (Hindu) I used Nine Lives from Luck. Finally, for Jotunblut (Norse) I used Link of Unity from Beast.

ORIGINAL FLAVOR: My experience with Godbound isn’t just these two sessions. I played in two online games and I’m running it f2f for our Sunday night group. We’d just wrapped a year+ Middle Earth game with our Action Cards homebrew. It’s a striking shift to move from that limited scale to epic actions. And I haven’t yet introduced the concept of Dominion and Influence, ways in which the PCs can spend to change the world. They’ve hit level three so I’ll introduce that next time.

OVERSIGHT: In those sessions, I spotted a couple places where players get lost. First—Effort. That’s the energy the Godbound use to fuel their gifts. It takes a bit to understand that unless a gift says to commit energy for a certain period (a scene, a day), you regain that Effort after using it. It’s a limit on how many things you can have going rather than a mana system. Second, most Godbound Words have a default benefit which players can miss. Third, players sometimes disbelieve what the powers can do. They’re deliberately powerful, but they’re also a sledgehammer when sometimes you need a scalpel. Show them the awesome.

BRING THE BOOM: On the flip side—as a GM you may be shocked at how potent the Godbound powers are. Remember that just gives you license to throw more awesome shit at them. The book has some conversion guidelines for existing monsters and foes. I’ve dug out all my ld Monster Manuals and bestiaries to look at what I can unleash.

IT'S A MIRACLE: Make sure to spell out the mechanics for Miracles, improvised divine powers. They open up choices and push players to commit effort for the day. I like those kinds of resource-drain options. It’s easy to overlook these mechanics in the book.

HOLY SHEET: For the Scion game, ran online with Roll20 and Hangouts. I’m still having audio/video issues with Roll20, despite being a fully paid high level subscriber. I have to use alternate tools for that. There’s a Godbound character sheet—however be warned that it calculates and rolls some things incorrectly. You’ll want to check that if you opt to use it.

NEW GOD CITY: I ran the game in Las Vegas. The core Scion: Hero book has an adventure set there, but I’ve always ignored it. I have a gimmick that the gods can’t go to Vegas because of all the chaos of fate and chance there. They have to send in Scions and other supernatural agents to do their work. It means that Vegas has been a gathering ground for all kinds of forces trying to evade divine attention. I really love that backdrop for this. I might not dig Vegas in person, but it’s probably my favorite modern campaign city. Other folks loooove New Orleans, I dig Vegas.

SUCCESS? Does Godbound work for Scion? Yes and no. It did a good job in the constrained version I put forward. But I did trimmed and refocused. Doing a full scale conversion would be a ton of work. I’m not sure how you’d handle some of the most cool elements (merits and fatebinding for example). Scion itself has a weird power creep. You’re potent, but still kind of low-powered in the Hero range. Godbound bundles together abilities that individually would be equivalent of Scion’s gifts and knacks. But there’s a jump in power and complexity when you move to Scion’s Demi-God and God level. I think that’s probably closer to Godbound.

OR NOT? But Hero’s what I’m most interested in. Empowered characters, armed with strange powers, but still vulnerable and connected to the mortal world. Get too powerful and those things start to matter less. So the Godbound reskin I did wouldn’t—in the long run—create the campaign I want to run. It might work for people wanting a more potent campaign. I had a great time with the sessions, but the power scale wasn’t too high.

MORE STUFF: That being said, my reskin is a rough, quick patch job. Kevin Crawford’s provided an insane amount of additional material at the back of the Godbound book covering different campaigns: mortals, martial arts, Exalted-style themed PCs, fantastic war machines, cybernetics. But I haven’t really sat down to explore those since I’ve been more worried about getting the base game under my belt. I suspect if I go through there I’ll find ways to rescale Godbound to the level I’m looking for.

MORE ROOM: One thing I do want to mention about the online sessions if you watch them. At the end of session two we do a short assessment of the game. Jump there if you want to know the players’ reactions. In looking back, I realize I made a big mistake with the final fight. In it, the group assists a member caught by a bunch of Titan-empowered baddies. This takes place in the basement of an abandoned medical clinic. I absolutely should have blown that fight open and widened the terrain. As it is they fought in a large room and at the top of a staircase. An epic fight like this needs space and elaborate sets. I could have had the floor collapse into an underground cavern. More smartly, the powers being throw around should have destroyed the ceiling. Then they could have fought inside the whole of the abandoned clinic—with walls being smashed, movement, verticality, improvised weapons, and so on. Missed opportunity. I thought too small screen.

Godbound’s fantastic fun. It’s more than a little niche—you have to want to explore potent characters and high level play. For that it does a great job. It’s well-written, has great artwork, and delivers great campaign tools. Even if you’re not usually a trad or OSR player, it’s worth checking out if that concept grabs you. If you want to hack something like Exalted, Scion, or even Rifts, you’ll find ideas you can use. I backed the Scion Kickstarter, so I’m curious about what that brings to the table and if it’s more or less adaptable.

I should  mention the Godbound core book contains a fully-realized fantasy setting. While you can use the rules for generic fantasy (as we’re doing f2f), there’s a whole world presented. Crawford provides strong sketches and ideas rather than over-elaborating the material. He’s released a region sourcebook for that, Ancalia, about a country overrun by undead. More interesting to me, he’s released two “modules”: Ten Buried Blades & The Storms of Yizhao. These offer great sandbox plots, but more importantly they’re some of the best Wuxia adventures I’ve ever read. Their backdrop’s a riff on Imperial China and they feel like ‘80s-‘90s high fantasy martial arts films (Storm Riders, The Bride with White Hair, The Duel). It makes me want to run that kind of campaign again.