USR Wednesdays: Superhero Movie Stars

Deadpool, Level 2, 5 Experience Points, Tier 3
Action D12, Wits D8, Ego D10
Specialisms: Weapon Mastery +2, Fourth Wall Breaking +3, Invulnerable +2
Hit Points: 25
Equipment: Guns +1, Pair of Katana +2
Narrative Points: 4

Deadpool & Black Panther: Movies At War
Is this a clickbait image? Yes, yes it is. (image: quirkybyte.com)

Black Panther, Level 2, 5 Experience Points, Tier 3
Action D12, Wits D10, Ego D8
Specialisms: King Of Wakanda +3, Black Panther Legacy +2, Endurance +2
Hit Points: 27
Equipment: Black Panther costume +2 (both weapon and armor)
Narrative Points: 5

Beast Boy, Level 1, 0 Experience Points, Tier 3
Action D10, Wits D8, Ego D12
Specialisms: Shapechange Into Green Animals +2, Friendly To Everyone +2, Practical Joker +2
Hit Points: 18
Equipment: none
Narrative Points: 7

Darkseid (or Thanos), Level 4, 15 Experience Points, Tier 5
Action D12, Wits D8, Ego D10
Specialisms: Lord Of Apokolips +4, Omega Beams +2, Hatred Of All Life +2
Hit Points: 35
Equipment: none
Narrative Points: 7

USR Wednesdays: Marvel Superheroes

We’ve met Thor and Loki before, but what about some of the other stars of the Marvel Universe? These versions are, like most traditional superheroes, at Tier 3, and blend the best of each version of the character (comics, movies, animation, and so on).

Marvel Superheroes
Pictured: All of today’s heroes, and more. (image: Marvel)

Captain America, Level 3, 10 Experience Points
Action D12, Wits D8, Ego D10
Specialisms: Leadership +3, Military Tactics +2, Shield Throwing +3, Art (drawing) +2
Hit Points: 30
Equipment: Chainmail Armor +1, Mighty Shield +3
Narrative Points: 3

Iron Man, Level 2, 5 Experience Points
Action D8, Wits D12, Ego D10
Specialisms: Billionaire Playboy Philanthropist +2, One Man R&D Department +3, Multi-Talented Scientist +2
Hit Points: 25
Equipment: Multiple Iron Man armors +2 to offense and defense
Narrative Points: 3

Spider-Man, Level 1, 0 Experience Points
Action D12, Wits D10, Ego D8
Specialisms: Shoot Web +2, Chemistry +2, Photography +2
Hit Points: 22
Equipment: Webshooters
Narrative Points: 7

Wolverine, Level 3, 10 Experience Points
Action D12, Wits D10, Ego D8
Specialisms: What He Does Isn’t Very Nice +3, Sense Danger +3, Lone Wolf Always Part Of Teams +2, Mutant Healing Power +2
Hit Points: 32
Equipment: Sharp Retractible Claws +2
Narrative Points: 4

USR Wednesdays: Earning Narrative Points

The way to earn Narrative Points in a USR game is simple: have fun with the game while you’re playing it. Years ago, I ran a game of Toon, where I awarded a Plot Point (that game’s equivalent of Narrative Points) to one of my players for something I found funny. Toon, as the name suggests, is all about being cartoony, but my players took it the wrong way, deciding that the way to “win” was to get me to laugh so they could collect Plot Points, instead of telling an entertaining tale. The moral of that story is to hand out Narrative Points often, so players see that they’re available for just about any reason, and earning them is fun in itself.

You start with three Narrative Points, and may have a few more if you don’t spend all your Combat Gear points when creating a character, or when you’re using superhero rules. So you’ll probably earn 2, 3 or maybe 4 back during a typical game session — enough to keep using them all through the game.

Then again, if the players and game master agree, Narrative Points can be handed out constantly. This creates a game where players are revising the story as they go, as in a fourth-wall-breaking cartoon (Daffy Duck or Deadpool), or boosting every attack and damage roll until heroes are blowing away legions of even very tough bad guys without a sweat (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone). It’s all up to the kind of game everyone wants to play.

The Merc with a Mouth... and lots of bullets.
He’s trying to earn Narrative Points by being cartoony AND violent. (image: 20th Century Fox)

Here’s a few ways to earn Narrative Points in your USR game.

  • Good roleplaying: Help tell the story in a way that makes it more fun for everyone, and in a way that makes sense. This can be suggesting an idea that improves a scene and that doesn’t make your situation better (doing that would call for spending a Narrative Point). Suggest a better way for a monster to attack the heroes using its surroundings, or make your best effort at using the exact dialogue your character would use when talking to the king.
  • Be true to your character’s behavior: When you created a character, you came up with a general idea of how he or she would behave. In other words, this is how you would actually role play your character (that’s right, a video game RPG is not an RPG, it’s a method of collecting virtual prizes). This could be sticking to an RPG cliché (following the law of the land, even if it would be easier to cheat) or taking a cue from a character from another work of fiction (talking at a rapid-fire pace, never stopping to take a breath).

Doing what makes sense for your character, especially when it makes the situation more challenging for the heroes, can be worth a Narrative Point. It should usually just happen once per game session — a character doesn’t need to constantly be rewarded for literally being themselves. Also keep in mind that role playing games are social games about heroes; there’s always someone who wants to be the lone wolf, going off on his own adventure, or who wants to murder everyone in town. In a typical game, that may be true to the character’s personality, but it’s not much fun, and shouldn’t be encouraged by awarding Narrative Points. It probably shouldn’t even be allowed for a character, unless you’re trying to role play “Grand Theft Auto” or something.

  • Doing “cool stuff”: This covers everything else, from making everyone at the table laugh at something related to the game, to rolling really well and describing how awesome your character’s performance was for that action, to another RPG cliché, bringing pizza for the group to enjoy.

Surprisingly, most professionally published role playing games have little to say on their equivalent of Narrative Points. Savage Worlds suggests you earn Bennies for good play. Fate gives specific requirements on how to regain a Fate Point, with its jargon of “compel,” “concede,” and “invoke.” Of the games I own, Toon actually offers the most help (interesting that it’s much older than the other games, dating to 1984). Its ideas are similar to the ones I’ve listed here.

What “cool stuff” would earn a Narrative Point in your game?

USR Wednesdays: Using Narrative Points

One of the things I like best about USR is the balance between a quick, rules-light narrative role playing game system and the “crunchy” rules sets of bigger games. Though Specialisms are meant to be very flexible, the rules around them provide more structure than games like Risus or Apocalypse World. At the same time, USR doesn’t demand a page full of numbers, like Pathfinder or the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars systems.

With Narrative Points, USR joins the ranks of games like Fate (Fate Points), Savage Worlds (Bennies) and even Fifth Edition D&D (Inspiration) in providing an option for players to have a more direct impact on the story, either by affecting die rolls, or in some cases outright changing the game master’s description.

Delicious as a snack and useful in a game.
Don’t use these to track your Narrative Points, you could eat them before they’re spent. (image: candystore.com)

In Domino Writing-style USR, Narrative Points can do four things, as listed on the character sheet:

1. Add to or change a scene the game master has described.

This is very flexible, definitely on the rules-light side of things. There’s no hard and fast rule, but a good guideline is that it should encourage the story. This use of Narrative Points isn’t to affect die rolls, but to (usually) make the situation more advantageous to the heroes.

If a thug successfully shoots your hero, the game master shouldn’t allow you to use a Narrative Point to say he missed (the dice already show that he hit). Instead, the police could show up — or just be heard in the distance, depending on the story the game master wants to tell. You could even spend a Narrative Point to say after that shot, the thug’s gun jams. He doesn’t run out of bullets, in case the game master wants the thug to attack again, but the moment or two while the gun is jammed may be enough for the heroes to make another plan.

Or imagine the heroes are trying to escape out of a building while guard dogs (or security robots) chase after them. They’re deep in the building and need a place to hide. Spending a Narrative Point, one character “suddenly” discovers a storage room where the heroes can huddle in the dark until the threat passes. A Narrative Point probably wouldn’t be used to “suddenly” find a door out of the building, on the other hand, since that could bring an abrupt end to the game — what if the heroes were supposed to be caught, or what if escaping the building means the adventure is over, and game night still has two hours to go?

2. Automatically succeed at a non-combat die roll.

This option also needs to be examined carefully by the game master, because it too can end an adventure right away. It’s a good way to speed up to more exciting parts of the story.

A thief character wouldn’t spend a Narrative Point to automatically undo a lock — picking locks is part of what makes the character fun. But on the other hand, using a Narrative Point to automatically pick a lock guarantees it’s opened safely, without triggering a trap or signaling an alarm.

It can also be helpful to avoid danger, like automatically crossing a swinging rope bridge, or to speed up time, like finding an important clue in the university library before the campus cops show up, wondering why there’s a group of heavily armed men walking past the shelves.

3. Re-roll a die roll in combat.

No one wants to miss, of course, but because damage in USR is dependent on the attack and defense rolls, you don’t just want to roll good enough, you want to roll as high as possible. There’s no limit to the number of Narrative Points you can spend at one time; spend a bunch to keep “editing” the scene until that bullet hits the bad guy in just the right way.

4. Regain d6 lost Hit Points.

Though Domino Writing-style USR allows for more starting Hit Points than regular USR does, an action-adventure story will always come with the risk of injury and death. Remember to describe the way those Hit Points are being recovered. Is your hero stopping to catch his breath? Is he grabbing a nearby first aid kit? Is he taking a break for a refreshing afternoon snack? Mechanically, adding Hit Points is a simple procedure, but it too can be a fun part of the narrative of the game.

As always, game masters have the final say, and as always, it’s more fun if the game master and players come to an agreement that makes for a more enjoyable story.

Narrative Points start with three, and you and add more if you don’t spend all your Combat Gear points, and even more if you’re using superhero rules and are at a different Tier than the base level of the game.

You regain your starting amount at the beginning of each game session, but you can also get them back during the game. How? We’ll look at that next time.

How do you use Narrative Points in your game?

Microlite 20: Costumes Templates

To make character creation faster, I wrote six “templates” for the Microlite 20 Ultimate Costumes rules, from the low end (Pulp) to the middle (Typical) to the high end (Superior). I noticed the math was wrong on the templates, though — only after it was included in 2017 Microlite collection! Ah well, the rules are still the same. Here’s a revision of the templates, though I’ve included it in the latest revision of the Ultimate Costumes rules, along with a handful of cosmetic changes.

Each template leaves about a third of the Power Points available for players to spend on powers and ranks for those powers. I’m going to make that simpler too, by creating “Power Packages.” It’s a brief description of a set of powers as seen in comic book superheroes, with ranks where appropriate. Each adds up to 50 Power Points (i.e., the amount you have left to spend if you take the Typical template). You’ll have to add or subtract powers and/or ranks if your character isn’t level 10.

Some superhero abilities, like toughness or incredible reaction time, can be replicated in the game rules with more hit points, a higher Initiative bonus, or by increasing another characteristic, not necessarily by adding more powers.

The Power Points cost for Super-Agility, Super-Intelligence and Super-Strength is the difference between what the Power Package suggests as a score and the Power Points already spent in the Typical template (4 for a STR of 14, 7 for a DEX of 17 and 2 for a MIND of 12). For example, a Power Package listing a STR of 20, which costs 12 Power Points, will cost 8 Power Points in a Power Package (since the character has already spent 4 Power Points to get that STR of 14). Remember that changing stats affects other abilities, like attack bonuses, which you’ll have to calculate yourself.

Iron Man and Sub-Mariner
There are more images of these two together than I thought I’d find. Play them in your Microlite 20 Costumes games. (image: marvel.wikia.com)

Here’s a few Power Packages to start with, with plenty more to come. For most powers, first the base Power Point cost of the power is listed, then the number of ranks of the power, if ranks can be purchased. As noted in the Microlite 20 Ultimate Costumes rules, not every power needs ranks. Other powers, skill bonuses and abilities are also listed with the Power Points spent on them.

AQUATIC (Namor, Aquaman)
Breathe (base 10 — 7 ranks)
Electricity (base 15 — 0 ranks)
Swimming (base 10 — 8 ranks)

BATTLESUIT (Iron Man, Steel)
+1 to Knowledge (3 Power Points)
Body Armor (gadget, 5 DR, 11 Power Points)
Breathe (gadget, base 6 — 2 ranks)
Flight (gadget, base 6 — 7 ranks)
Super-Strength 19 (gadget, 2 Power Points)
Weapon: machine guns (gadget, base 6 — 7 ranks)

VIGILANTE DETECTIVE (Batman, The Question)
Intimidate (base 10 — 2 ranks)
Stealth (base 15 — 8 ranks)
Weapon: darts (base 10 — 5 ranks)

Agents & Assassins

Things really do last forever on the internet. My original website from decade or more ago is long gone. I still have the content on that site (a few miscellaneous blog posts, old games), but no way to maintain the site. Despite it being lost in the wilderness of the internet, people have found those old games, some of which have made it to this site, updated and improved for gaming now. Others are so old-fashioned they’re not really worth a revisit.

Agents & Assassins was written for the 4C role playing game, a variant of the legendary Marvel Super Heroes RPG by TSR way back in the 1980s, known affectionately as the FASERIP system, after the attributes used by characters.

Time Trap Adventure FASERIP
This isn’t the original box cover, of course, but I have this adventure too. That’s the Avengers circa 1984.

I have the yellow basic set in a taped-up box, and the game is actually still alive online. Agents & Assassins goes a little lower-powered, for action heroes like Jack Bauer and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (now you know exactly when I wrote it). There doesn’t seem to be an official TSR book for characters like that, though I’m sure Nick Fury and SHIELD received stats somewhere along the line, maybe in one of the annual handbooks or a Dragon magazine. Agents & Assassins was published by Seraphim Guard Games not too long after it was written, under the name Super Agents, with different art. I have the original here on my site, with some public domain photos as the “art.”

I rebalanced a few of the rules and limited the power list to fit the level of the game; you won’t need anything but Agents & Assassins and some version of the basic FASERIP rules. It even has a game setting, which I didn’t remember creating until I took a look back at the game. I think I’ll keep using the setting in other games of mine going forward. 

Nothing ever goes away online, after all.

USR Wednesdays: Thor

Now that “Thor: Ragnarok” is coming to theaters, it’s time to take a look at the USR superhero rules and visit Thor and his fellow Asgardians.
As noted in the superhero rules, the Asgardians are high-powered (Tier 4) characters in a universe with a basic Tier of 3. They get stats of d12, d10 and d8 and a bonus 2 Narrative Points, because they’re just that much more powerful. Note this is Marvel Thor, the noble, sometimes goofy blonde hero, not the quick-to-anger redhead of Norse mythology.

USR Superheroes Thor: Ragnarok
This guy and some of his friends.

 Thor, God Of Thunder (or as some Marvel media calls him, “Prince Of Thunder” to avoid any religious controversy… didn’t roleplaying leave that behind in the 1980s?)

Level 3, Experience Points 10
Action D12, Wits D8, Ego D10
Specialisms: Strength +3, Lunkheaded Charm +2, Nobility +3
Hit Points: 30
Equipment: Armor +2, Mjolnir (hammer) +2
Narrative Points: 5

Loki the Trickster, Level 3, Experience Points 10
Action D8, Wits D10, Ego D12
Specialisms: Asgardian Magic +2, Deception +4, Loyalty To Asgard When He Has To Be Loyal +2
Hit Points: 28
Equipment: Armor +1, Magic Staff +2
Narrative Points: 6

Odin the All-Father, Level 5, Experience Points 20
Action D12, Wits D10, Ego D8
Specialisms: Leadership +3, Creation +3, Bravery +2, Battlefield Tactics +2
Hit Points: 42
Equipment: Armor +2, Spear +2
Narrative Points: 6

And now, just to change things up…

Jane Foster, Level 1, Experience Points 0 (Tier 1)
Action D6, Wits D10, Ego D8
Specialisms: Astrophysics +2, Medicine +2, Stamina +2
Hit Points: 16
Equipment: none
Narrative Points: 11

All four of these characters have a lot of Narrative Points, beyond the 3 a normal starting USR character has. As noted in the superhero rules, that’s to represent their incredible raw power (for the Asgardians) or their ability to survive and contribute in a world that’s much bigger than them (for an “ordinary” like Jane).

Which other superheroes need the USR treatment?

USR Wednesdays: Slasher Films

It’s Halloween season, time for a look at this classic genre for role playing. There are many ways to mix horror and gaming — fantasy has plenty of horror-themed beasts, and no game is complete without a nod toward H.P. Lovecraft’s creations. But today we’re going back to the 80s and beyond.
Slasher films feature a supernatural creature attacking a bunch of nobodies. Think “Nightmare On Elm Street” and “Friday The 13th.” This is not about setting the mood for a look into the darkness of the human soul; this is about teenagers having sex and showers of blood!
jasonvoorhees 300x246 - USR Wednesdays: Slasher Films
Time to roll for initiative: good luck. (image: New Line)
It’s a perfect genre for a game like USR, because statistics are less important in a narrative game. No one in the setting can go toe-to-toe with Freddy or Jason; they’re much too powerful. Instead, the protagonists have to out-think or at least out-run their enemy. You could have a game where players are the monsters themselves, but that’s really just a superhero game (without the “hero”), and it’s not what we’re going for here. This idea was inspired by the Slasher Flick RPG.
In a slasher film game, each player creates three characters, using the standard Domino Writing-style USR rules (though without assigning equipment or spending Combat Gear points). Specialisms in this game should lean heavily toward stereotypes, like Cheerleader, Jock, Redneck, Naive, and Rebellious.
You can determine Narrative Points and Hit Points for the characters, but they probably won’t use them. And don’t forget to create a slasher — make sure it’s got a signature weapon (a clawed glove, a chainsaw) and a gimmick (attacks in dreams, possesses the body of a doll).
When the slasher is ready to start its rampage, roll a die to decide which of the characters is the first victim. If there’s three players, that’s nine characters; roll a d10 to decide which one is first. Other characters may be in the scene, but the current victim gets the spotlight.
Create a scenario for that victim: what they’re doing before the slasher shows up and what they do to escape or fight back. The scenario should have three die rolls built into it. Here’s a few examples.
  • Run away from the slasher (Action)
  • Build a trap from stuff around the campsite (Mind)
  • Try to explain the horror that’s just up ahead to the gullible county sheriff (Ego)
  • Grab a farm implement and start swinging it at the slasher (Action)
  • Summon magical powers you only have in your wildest fantasies to attack the slasher (Mind)
  • Talk the slasher out of fighting back (Ego)

Tell a story with those dice rolls mixed in. It’s a “best two out of three” situation: if the character succeeds at two or three of the rolls, he or she survives… for now. After each character has told his or her own little story, count up the number of survivors. If more than half are alive at the end, the players win, but that’s the end of that horror movie franchise — fans are there for the clever kills, after all. If half the survivors, or fewer, remain, the slasher joins the fraternity with Michael Myers and Ghostface.

What does your slasher look like?

USR Wednesdays: Superheroes part 1: Tiers

There are some basic superhero rules in Domino Writing-style USR, mostly to emulate “elite” characters, like demigods in a fantasy world, or comic book super characters in a setting where most costumed heroes are a little more down to earth (think of Batman in Batman or Detective Comics). But with a few alterations, USR works just find for a bigger variety of superheroes (think of Batman in Justice League of America).
There are five tiers of characters in super hero comics:

  1. Non-powered characters, the supporting cast of superhero comics (Mary Jane Watson, Jim Gordon).
  2. Street-level heroes without many powers, like the 1930s/1940s pulp heroes (the Shadow, the Phantom) or characters like the Punisher or Luke Cage.
  3. Standard superheroes, which range from the low end (Robin, Dazzler) to the “average” hero (Spider-Man, the Flash)
  4. High-powered heroes, like Superman and Thor
  5. Cosmic entities that have power beyond what a USR character normally would have (Bat-Mite, Silver Surfer).

So, how to show that difference in the USR rules? First, select your basic character tier, then allow everyone at that tier and above to use the superhero rules (stats of d8, d10 and d12, and rolling twice, using highest result).
For each tier above or below the basic tier, award an additional 2 Narrative points.

The Avengers Movie Roster Concept Art 300x155 - USR Wednesdays: Superheroes part 1: Tiers
A nice variety of heroes: Tier 2, Tier 2, Tier 3, Tier 3, Tier 4, Tier 2. In the back? Probably Tier 4.

Let’s take the Avengers, specifically the movie version that’s pretty close to the comics, and is really well-known. They’re standard superheroes, so they start with stats of d8, d10 and d12. We’ve already stated that Thor is high-powered, so he starts with those high stats, and an additional 2 Narrative Points to represent his additional Asgardian awesomeness.
On the other end, Nick Fury fights with the good guys, but he’s no match in terms of raw power. We’ll make him a street-level hero. His stats are d6, d8 and d10, but he also gets 2 additional Narrative Points to help bring him level with Captain America and the rest.
Next week, we’ll look at Specialisms and other elements of the genre you can bring to your USR superhero gaming.

(image: screenrant.com)

M20 and USR: Captain America

“Captain America: Civil War” was released on DVD this week, though if you’re reading this, you probably saw it in the theater. As Honest Trailers suggested, it really was Avengers 2.5, and a lot of fun to see all the superheroes together.

Captain%2BAmerica - M20 and USR: Captain America
The movies are great, but I miss the red swashbuckler boots. And the little wings on the mask.

I created stats for Captain America on the old, now long-gone blog, but I’ve since updated the rules for Microlite 20 Costumes, so this the revised version. His financial status is Sponsored, to go along with his position in the movies (as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and to simulate his long career in the comics I might update him to level 14 or even 15.

Microlite 20 Costumes: Level 12, 180 Power Points
STR 21 (+5), DEX 19 (+4), MIND 17 (+3)
Leadership 12, Weapon (Shield): Gadget 12
Physical 17, Subterfuge 16, Knowledge 15, Communication 17
Hit Points 81, Initiative +11, Melee/Hand-To-Hand +18, Missile/Ranged +16, Magic/Supernatural +15, AC 20
Heroism Points: 12, Financial Status: Sponsored
USR superheroes
Action D12, Wits D8, Ego D10
Specialisms: Icon Of Bravery +2, Star-Spangled Avenger +2, Super-Soldier +2
Hit Points: 20
Combat Gear: Body Armor +1, Vibranium Shield +2

Narrative Points: 4