USR Wednesdays: Chases

Two weeks ago, we looked at vehicle rules — vehicles as narration, as equipment and as characters. One of the most common uses for vehicles in adventure fiction is in a chase, where one vehicle (the pursuer) is trying to catch up with another (the target), to make an arrest, to get in a shootout, or just to beat the target to the final goal.
stuntman 300x169 - USR Wednesdays: Chases
Or to make a cool getaway. (image: clockworkmanual.com).
Let’s take a page from the chase rules developed for the 3rd Edition d20 game system and track a chase in Domino Writing-style USR. In addition to the regular rules, you’ll need a piece of paper and a pencil. Draw a line and put a series of evenly spaced marks across the paper, about every inch or so. Put the pursuer at the first mark on the left (write “P” or use a miniature) and the target two marks farther along the paper (write “T” or use a miniature for it too), so there’s a mark in between them. The two vehicles will move across the line from mark to mark until they reach their goal — usually by going off the other end of the paper, or landing on the same mark.
IMG 3981 300x225 - USR Wednesdays: Chases
Like this, with a “P” and a “T.” Same idea as the picture above, but a lot less interesting, at least on paper.
Decide if the heroes are the pursuer or the target. Choose a target number based on the difficulty of the terrain (empty space is a 2, a crowded city street is a 7, lava flowing around you is a 10). Have the player acting as driver or pilot make a roll to control the vehicle (usually Action + relevant vehicle Specialism), and have NPCs who are pursuing or who are the target make the same roll.
If one group (heroes and/or NPCs) succeed at the roll, move them forward one mark. If the roll fails, the group doesn’t move.
The character who is driver or pilot is usually using his or her turn to control the vehicle, but everyone else in the party who’s in the vehicle can take a normal action, like firing the vehicle’s weapons or shooting their own guns out a window. In a game with more detailed vehicle rules, a character might spend their turn trying to repair the vehicle, or perform a scan for more enemies. If nothing else, a character can spend its turn offering support, providing a +1 to an attack roll or the driver or pilot’s control roll.

What do you do to visualize chases on the tabletop?

USR Wednesdays: Vehicles

Cars, trucks, tanks, spaceships, pirate sloops… there are dozens of kinds of vehicles in adventure fiction, and given their size and their power, it may be a challenge to see where vehicles actually fit in a role playing game setting. Here are three ways of looking at vehicles in your Domino Writing-style USR game.

1. Vehicles as narration: In most settings, a vehicle is just a means to an end, a way to get from one place to another. In a modern-day action story, the characters drive fast cars or ride in helicopters, but only because it gets them across the city quickly, and to the next story point. There’s no game rules when using a vehicle as narration; you can just say, “The heroes hop in their cars and get to the police station,” or even “The heroes get on horseback and arrive at the entrance to the dungeon in about an hour.” It doesn’t matter how fast they’re traveling, or what happens on the trip, only that they are traveling.

2. Vehicles as equipment: The flexibility of Specialisms in USR means it’s easy to make a vehicle a piece of gear, just like a weapon or a special tool. Some characters who are closely linked to their vehicles might include the vehicle as one of their Specialisms (for example, Han Solo with his Millennium Falcon +2, or Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl +2). A game master could provide a vehicle as equipment if it’s going to be integral to the story, and more than just narration; for example, the Enterprise could be a +2 Specialism to everyone on the “Star Trek” crew. It wouldn’t be a Specialism just for Kirk or Picard, because all of the heroes in the adventure make use of the Enterprise — as a weapon, as a research station, as a place of healing, and so on. Of course, Han Solo and Jack Sparrow have plenty of adventures not on board their ships, but no one else in their stories is so connected to those ships as they are.

Millenium falcon 300x198 - USR Wednesdays: Vehicles
There it is, the classic starship the “+2.” I mean Millennium Falcon. (image: wookiepedia.com)
Like weapons and armor, vehicles can be classified as “light” +1, “medium” +2 or “heavy” +3. A +1 vehicle could be a motorcycle or a horse, while a +2 would be a car or space fighter (an X-Wing or Viper), and a +3 vehicle could be something massive, like a semi-truck, a tank or the Enterprise itself.

Also like weapons or armor, you don’t need a separate Specialism for Pilot, Driver or Vehicle Gunner, unless that’s really a core element of a character. The vehicle Specialism includes its flying and shooting capabilities.

The Specialism would be used in any situation the vehicle could provide help — winning a race, carrying a heavy load, or firing its on-board weapons. If the vehicle is seriously damaged, it ceases to be a usable Specialism, until it’s repaired.

3. Vehicles as characters: Some settings are all about their vehicles: Mad Max, Mobile Suit Gundam, even Transformers. In those settings, the single bonus a Specialism provides doesn’t really offer enough to accurately represent the vehicle. So you can add more statistics to a vehicle, like top speed, armament, and maneuverability. Rules for that are in Somnium Void, starting on page 23.

We’re taking a week off from USR Wednesdays next week, but we’ll be back after that for a look at more genres.

How do you use vehicles in your game?

USR Wednesdays: Settings

By my count, USR has led to more than a dozen separate games, many found on RPGnow or on the creator’s own website. Here’s the list I have:
  • Anthropomorphic by Jay Murphy (animal people)
  • Beyond Fear by Scott Malthouse (cosmic horror/Cthulhu)
  • Blood And Silk by Shenron (samurai)
  • Ghostbusters by Shenron (um… Ghostbusters)
  • Go Wherever by Scott Malthouse (stonepunk among other ideas)
  • Halberd by Scott Malthouse (fantasy)
  • Halcyon Fantasy by Scott Malthouse (old school fantasy)
  • It Came From VHS! by Scott Malthouse (80s action)
  • Masquerade of the Sundered Sky by Scott Malthouse (gothic horror)
  • Sominum Void by Scott Malthouse (space opera)
  • Swarm Of Barbarians by Peter Segreti (Ancient Rome)
  • Tequendria by Scott Malthouse (Dunsany fantasy)
  • Fear & Loathing by Jay Murphy (gonzo adventure)
  • Sword & Sorcery by Jay Murphy (Conan-style fantasy)
  • Cyberpunk by Scott Malthouse (cyberpunk)
  • Moldvay Era by John Yorio (old school fantasy)

I also have a Western game that I don’t have an author credit for, and there’s a character sheet for USR Traveller farther down the USR Google+ page.
usagi 300x225 - USR Wednesdays: Settings
Rabbit bodyguards, Drakkar cage fighters, drug-addled journalists… they’re all possible with USR.
It’s exciting thinking about all the opportunities for games that are in these rules sets — combining them, too, gives us Shadowrun (Cyberpunk plus Halberd) or Usagi Yojimbo (Blood and Silk plus Anthropomorphic). I wanted to create this list to have a running total of all the USR rules sets in one place, and to spark ideas for settings that are “missing.” I’ve touched on superheroes in my last few blog posts, but haven’t created a full setting. We have Ghostbusters, but what about Star Wars (including all the eras of the story)?
I hope this list is an inspiration to you to find these games, try them out, and offer your own contributions to a future edition of the list. I’ll be working on some settings, too…
What genre should be developed into a new setting next?
(image: usagiyojimbo.com)

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)

USR Wednesdays: Miniatures Rules

Rules light games are known for being played “theater of the mind” style: everything is described by the GM and the players, including the stuff more crunchy rules sets use miniatures and maps for, like combat positioning and movement. Instead of moving a small plastic figure six spaces, then counting another few spaces to make sure your character is in range of a target, you just say, “I’m near the door, can I hit him?”

But if you’re like me, and you want to use all the miniatures and maps and terrain and stuff you use in other games and have spend years collecting — and at the same time you want to play USR — you need another option. So I’m borrowing from my own Microlite 20 rules for USR miniatures rules.

IMG 3877 300x225 - USR Wednesdays: Miniatures Rules
A recent game – elves and humans vs wolves and rats standing in for wolves.

If you have miniature figures (about 1 inch or 25 to 28 mm tall) to represent the characters and their enemies, you’ll need a ruler or a battle map covered in spaces (squares, hexes or 1 inch measurements). One space equals 5 feet or 2 yards, and the average human-sized character and monster moves 6 spaces per turn, even diagonally. This is the character’s movement rate.

Small characters (like halflings or gnomes) move 5 spaces per turn, while characters wearing heavy armor (splint mail, banded mail, half-plate, full plate) move 1 space less each turn. On older-style (i.e. OSR) maps, where one space equals 10 feet, the average character moves 3 spaces per turn.

Characters can move through the same space as another character or enemy, but cannot end movement in the same space as another figure. Rubble, darkness, heavy growth and other difficult terrain “costs” 2 spaces of movement per space moved by the character. Moving up and down is the same as moving horizontally (a character does not have to “spend” extra movement to climb or fly). Moving just 1 space is considered a “free” action, as long as the character does not move any farther that turn.

If there’s a question whether a character could see an enemy to hit it, draw an imaginary straight line from the center of the attacker’s space to the center of the target’s space (or one of its spaces, if it takes up more than one space on the map). If there is no major obstacle or enemy in the path, the character can make the attack. Allies of the attacker do not block its path. Characters can attack through windows and other partial obstacles at a -1 penalty to hit.

To avoid calculating attack ranges each turn, melee attacks must be made against an enemy in a space adjacent to the character. Thrown and short-range weapon attacks can be made against an enemy up to 10 spaces away. Long-range weapon attacks can be made against an enemy up to 25 spaces away.

There you have it, simple rules for miniatures. I’ve used them in several games I’ve written over the years, and they seem to be a good starting point. A character with a high Action stat or Specialisms related to agility and dexterity might move a space faster, and the difficult terrain and obstacles rules could get much, much more detailed (Action rolls to move through terrain? 1/4 cover?).

Do miniatures play a part in your USR games?

USR Wednesdays: Social Combat

Given the history of RPGs, finding ways to use the “Action” and “Wits” stats in USR is easy; Action  is everything from acrobatics to yo-yo tricks (admittedly, the latter is not a common Specialism…). Wits can handle research and the supernatural, like magic and psionic combat. Ego, or social skills, are less used in role playing. A character may need to roll to intimidate, seduce or seek information listening to rumors. But the number of times Ego is used compared to the other stats means Ego almost shouldn’t even be a stat. Let’s change that, and give debaters, manipulators and schemers a chance to fight the good fight.

cersei lannister - USR Wednesdays: Social Combat
Social combat can be just as interesting when fought by a master.
(image: celebdirtylaundry.com)

The Song of Ice and Fire RPG, and my other game, Microlite 20, have rules for social combat. For ease of use, it’s basically like standard combat, except with different Specialisms in play. In fiction, social combat is usually over much quicker than battle, so each character begins with “social hit points” equal to the highest value of his or her Ego stat (i.e. 6, 8 or 10). Each attack and defense uses Specialisms like Bargain, Stir up trouble, Stubborn or Immune to her charms.

There’s no equivalent to weapons or armor, though one Ego roll can affect the next. For example, befriending a powerful political family can help quell (or stir up) a rebellion. Allow players to describe what their characters are saying in the conversation. If it’s convincing or inspiring, grant an extra +1 to the roll.

Make a simple Wits roll as initiative, to represent the planning of meeting times and places that best suit the character’s goals. Social combat usually “heals” immediately after the combat ends. Just like standard combat, a character that loses all of his or her social hit points is defeated, but this doesn’t have to mean death or unconsciousness. Instead, political foes can be humiliated, and enemies can be outwitted (it’s much easier to trick an ogre than to try and cut it to pieces). Adventures can be just as exciting, and a lot less hazardous to life and limb.


What are the best Specialisms for exciting social combat?

USR: Archetypes: Modern-Day Heroes

Last time we looked at the classic fantasy races and classes. Now let’s move into modern-day action and adventure settings. Everyone’s human (usually), but the range of skills heroes need to succeed is bigger. These archetypes cover a lot of ground; a sneak, for example, can represent a James Bond-style spy, a Jason Bourne-style secret agent, or even a Jake Gittes-style private eye.
fbi - USR: Archetypes: Modern-Day Heroes
Or these dudes. (image: YouTube)
Diplomat
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Charm, Negotiate, Language, Leadership, Etiquette
Suggested Equipment: none
Entertainer
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Art (music, oratory, writing, etc.), Charisma, Athletics, Hundreds (Possibly Millions) Of Fans, Target Of Paparazzi
Suggested Equipment: Musical instrument
Gadgeteer
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Repair, Invent, Hacking, Works Best Alone, Focused On The Task At Hand
Suggested Equipment: Miscellaneous Gadgets, Tools
Pilot
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Driving, Flying, Repair, Adrenaline Junkie, Team Player
Suggested Equipment: Vehicle (if there’s more than one character with a vehicle in the party, maybe they have one big vehicle, like a space cruiser)
Researcher
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Knowledge (in one topic), Dedication, Bravery, Support Of A University or a Military Organization
Suggested Equipment: Computer, Library Of Books
Sneak
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Move Silently, Sleight Of Hand, Hacking, Disguise, Hide, Spot Clues
Suggested Equipment: Lock Pick (possibly an electronic one)
Soldier
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Endurance, Intimidate, Leadership, Toughness, Military Tactics
Suggested Equipment: Guns, Knives

Which archetypes are best for the modern world?

Playtesting

As I get back to working on my blog more often, it’s prompting me to take another look at my games. The role playing games will get special attention, since I have a lot of ideas for Microlite 20 and USR. They’re not dead games, especially since the latter just got a new book from its creator and the former is part of the d20 system, designed to never die (just look at Pathfinder).

So I’m going to look more at the other games I’ve put together, like Monsters Menace Monopoly, Plastic Attack and Mutant Hunter. Are those the best rules sets they could be? I “eyeball” my rules a lot, and don’t actually get people together to test them all that often. Solo playing games designed for multiple, competitive players, doesn’t always work. This is an ongoing project, but I can at least provide a more up-to-date version of the rules for people to enjoy.

Plus, I have hundreds of miniatures and dozens of maps, let’s make use of them somehow.

Tequendria: Our Heroes

So, the creator of Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying, Scott Malthouse, has released a new USR-based game, Tequendria, inspired by the works of Lord Dunsany, which I have not read (I did start “The King Of Elfland’s Daughter” thanks to Project Gutenberg).

A Dunsany-inspired game isn’t a Tolkien-inspired one, and as a result there’s no dwarf fighters or halfling clerics in this game. All characters can use magic, and the free-form style of USR means you don’t need the traditional D&D-based races and classes. So, instead of a cleric/fighter/rogue/wizard team, let’s create a more Tequendria-style adventuring party.

Because heroes who have access to intriguing ways to get around should be able to use them, we’ll include Aethership, where our heroes can cruise toward adventure.

Bramwell: He’s a bold young sailor, whose imagination was captured the moment he saw his first Aethership soaring high above the small farm where he grew up. He loves exploring and finding new decorations for his ship, and meeting new people along the way.

Bramwell, Aethership Pilot

Action D8, Wits D10, Ego D6
Hit Points: 9
Specialisms: Aethership (Action), Navigator (Wits), Mechanic (Wits)

Equipment: 50 shards, telescope, goggles, duster jacket, short sword
Ability: Aether navigator
While the tales of Lord Dunsany aren’t about wandering around, slaughtering thousands of nameless foes, there’s a need now and again for a little muscle. And so we have a warrior.
Nohote: She is no stoic killer, but instead a friend to everyone. She has weapons, and knows how to use them, but prefers to out-think her enemies instead of strike them down. She takes great pride in making her foes surrender without a blade pulled or a bow fired.
Nohote, Tulthian Warrior
Action: D10, Wits D8, Ego D6
Hit Points: 9
Specialisms: Athletics (Action), Speed (Action), Tactics (Wits)
Equipment: 10 shards, Tulthian totem (a giant eagle’s talon), lucky magma stone, leather armor, short bow, 10 arrows, light mace
Ability: Mighty
Every good fantasy adventure needs a warrior — and a wizard. Since Tequendrian characters can use any kind of magic, we don’t need a dedicated healer or blaster as most fantasy games do. We can instead go for the most interesting character for the story.
Khiok: To use his Icur magic, he has to be in the presence of three or more people. They don’t have to be human, and they don’t have to know he’s working his magic, at least until they feel the pull of their souls. That makes him effective in royal courts, where he “encourages” rulers to follow his instructions, and on the battlefield, where stone and flame appear from thin air. He tries not to seem devious and sinister when he does so, but sometimes, he just can’t help himself.
Khiok, Icur Sorcerer
Action: D8, Wits: D10, Ego: D6
Hit Points: 9
Specialims: Ancient Lore (Wits), Mountaineering (Action), Religion (Wits)
Equipment: 30 shards, incense sticks, jet bracelet, half mask
Ability: Icur
I don’t know about you, but I can picture Nohote and Khiok aboard a ship piloted by Bramwell, coming to dock outside the Hills of Hap. It seems they’ve heard about a long-lost treasure chest holding enough shards to finally pay off the merchant who’s loaning an Aethership to Bramwell…

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