USR Wednesdays: American Pantheon Part V

Teen Hero
God of optimism, enthusiasm, youth
Suggested Divine Domains: Good, Freedom, Movement
Favored Weapon: Switchblade
Colors: white, blue, yellow
Symbol: sunburst
He is the son of Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty, the one they count on to bring new worshipers to the pantheon. But most of the time Teen Hero is imagining himself champion of the world, the one who defeats all the villains and remains beloved by everyone while doing it. He wants to be a moody rebel like Lone Wolf or Independent Woman (though he’s a little frightened of her), but he’s too pure of heart and cute to make it happen. Some of his followers burn brightly, and flare out before their time. Teen Hero is what everyone wishes they could be, in a perfect world.

The green man is ironically not green.
Wildman is an ancient deity who has taken many forms. (image: marbleinspiration.co.uk)

Wildman
God of nature
Suggested Divine Domains: Air, Animal, Earth, Fire, Plant, Water
Favored Weapon: Staff
Colors: green, blue, brown
Symbol: Tree
Wildman doesn’t represent people, unlike most of the rest of the pantheon. He represents the earth itself, and often takes the female form of Mother Nature. But sometimes he needs to be more aggressive in defense of the earth, or more primitive for followers that want to test themselves against everything Wildman can throw at them. Wildman rarely speaks or acts unless he has to; he prefers to keep to himself and only reveals his true power to those who are quiet and peaceful in his presence.

USR Wednesdays: American Pantheon Part IV

Playboy
God of sex, money, and fame
Suggested Divine Domains: Luck, Wealth, Deceit
Favored Weapon: Dagger
Colors: gold, white, green
Symbol: diamond
Blonde Bombshell’s son is infatuated with himself, and how he looks and acts at all times. He manipulates his followers, and the other deities, to get what he wants, all the while insisting that any bargain he makes helps not just himself but the other person too. In his more positive aspect, Playboy encourages men to find their playful side, and loves interacting with mortals, the better to spread his message and gain more followers. Playboy’s priests are mostly male, with good grooming, the best clothes, and a lot of confidence.

Santa Claus
Father of imagination, god of children and gift-giving
Suggested Divine Domains: Good, Creation, Light
Favored Weapon: Quarterstaff
Colors: red, white, green
Symbol: Christmas tree
Santa represents not only commercialized Christmas but all holidays and special creatures, from the Easter Bunny to the Tooth Fairy. He represents the importance of children to families, and encourages good feelings in everyone. The dark gods of the pantheon dislike Santa’s joyful light, but mostly ignore him, since he’s rarely actively working to diminish them.

She blinded him with science.
A cleric of Science deep in religious ritual. (image: Universal Pictures)

Science
God of research
Suggested Divine Domains: Creation, Community, Healing, Knowledge
Favored Weapon: Needle
Colors: black, white
Symbol: computer
The Great God Science has introduced many amazing and helpful things to the world, but he’s also been responsible for some of its evils. He’s very independent, sometimes even insisting that none of the other deities deserve any attention. He’s been rising to a more prominent position in the pantheon over the last several decades, and his holy texts (science fiction) point to an even more lofty role in years to come.

USR Wednesdays: American Pantheon Part III

Lone Wolf
God of independence and travel
Suggested Divine Domains: Travel, Freedom, Strength, War
Favored Weapon: Sword
Colors: black, white, grey
Symbol: wolf’s head
Lone Wolf is the protector of a world that never was, a place where an individual has to live or die all on his own, and always makes the right choice when both options have value. He claims to be alone all the time but that’s not true; his priests are there to counsel people who feel like they’re ready to follow the wolf, so no one is really ever by themselves. His followers are young men, who usually mature into followers of other deities. More serious adherents of the Lone Wolf are hunters, ranchers and creative people like actors and writers.

The adventure is about to begin.
The Lone Wolf taking action on the Earth. (image: providr.com)

Man In Black
God of vengeance, the night, anger
Suggested Divine Domains: War, Chaos, Darkness
Favored Weapon: Assault Rifle
Colors: black, red, dark blue
Symbol: full moon dripping blood
The Man In Black is not evil, not in all his forms. Most often he represents the dark side that all people have. He stands for the anger of a young man whose friend is gunned down in a city street, the impotent road rage that leads to accidents, even the guilt of a parent spending too much time at work and not enough at home with the kids. He has few priests, because The Man In Black prefers to work through individuals, twisting them from the inside. He does encourage worshipers under the names of “psychologist” and “self-help guru” because each person who considers him important enough to worship is a person who gives him power.

Monster
God of bloodshed and horror
Suggested Divine Domains: Death, Evil, Insanity
Favored Weapon: Claws
Colors: black, red, yellow, sickly green
Symbol: crossed knives
Monster was once The Man In Black’s sidekick, a story told to make children behave, and a safe way to enjoy frightening things. He’s every vampire and every zombie ever seen on screen or on the page. But in recent years Monster has left The Man In Black behind and threatens to overthrow even Uncle Sam himself — he’s the patron of serial killers and mass murderers, powerful establishments and anyone who uses fear to control others.

USR Wednesdays: American Pantheon Part II

Foreigner
God of the unknown
Suggested Divine Domains: Secrets, Knowledge, War
Favored Weapon: Bomb
Colors: orange, black, green
Symbol: face with mustache
Foreigner changes from time to time, from “Savage Redskin” to “Yellow Peril” to “Desert-Dwelling Terrorist.” Though most legends put Foreigner in league with the other villainous members of the pantheon, like Monster, he’s not evil, and doesn’t encourage evil in his followers. He just has a different way of looking at the world and how his priests should behave.

Independent Woman
Goddess of femininity and justice
Suggested Divine Domains: Good, Freedom, Protection
Favored Weapon: Dagger
Colors: pink, white, purple
Symbol: full moon
She is the twin sister of Teen Hero, more serious and stronger, because her priestesses (and priests, there are some of both that follow her) are often the target of insult and injury. She appreciates the beautiful — like Blonde Bombshell — and the regal — like Lady Liberty, and gives the gifts of both to her followers as she can.

Statue of Liberty
The home of Lady Liberty’s power. Her priests must travel there at least once in their lives. (image: nps.gov)

Lady Liberty
Goddess of women and cultural expansion
Suggested Divine Domains: Friendship, Knowledge, Protection
Favored Weapon: Spear
Colors: white, yellow, green
Symbol: scales
Lady Liberty is the mother who births both America’s bounty and her peoples, and welcomes those who wish to join the great masses of the country. Lady Liberty first appeared as a native maiden, then gradually became Uncle Sam’s partner in many ways, great and small. She represents not only motherhood but the things that make a family strong: love and concern for all people, to one degree or another.

USR Wednesdays: American Pantheon

One of the reasons I introduced Divine Domains to Domino Writing-style USR is to feature these, the “American Pantheon” of god-like entities that represent aspects of modern American culture. They’re meant to be tongue-in-cheek, obvious stereotypes, but still representative of the U.S. today. And in a modern urban fantasy game, they’re probably more useful for heroes than gods are.

Here’s the first few:

Uncle Sam (G.I. Joe, Great White Father, The Man)
God of patriotism
Suggested Divine Domains: Law, Protection, War
Favored Weapon: Assault Rifle
Colors: red, white, blue
Symbol: bald eagle
Uncle Sam, often seen as a tall, thin white man dressed a ragged suit and top hat, is often criticized for his militant behavior, but is usually appreciated when he lends a helping hand (though sometimes his help isn’t wanted). He can be strict, telling the more fun-loving deities of the pantheon how they should live their lives, and sometimes interferes with divine powers of other pantheons. He is served by a donkey named Democrat and an elephant named Republican. His priests are politicians and soldiers, leaders of men and great warriors — and con artists who make others think they’re leaders and warriors.

Uncle Sam
He wants you… so he can give you divine magic. (image: public domain)

Blonde Bombshell
Goddess of desire and tragedy
Suggested Divine Domains: Love, Deceit, Luck
Favored Weapon: Whip
Colors: yellow, red, black
Symbol: red light
Blonde Bombshell often appears to mortals as a beautiful young woman, but she changes her hair color like she changes her mood (suddenly and often). She appears to have a perfect life on the surface, but the struggle to be what everyone wants her to be puts a strain on her and her priests. She likes looking good and doesn’t like thinking about anything serious. Her followers use their blessings to get their way, and they see nothing wrong with that; they feel good making themselves happy.

Comic Relief
God of jokes and pranks
Suggested Divine Domains: Deceit, Chaos, Good, Evil
Favored Weapon: Club
Colors: yellow, green, gray, red
Symbol: smiley face
The great comedian exists to make people forget their troubles. Usually he makes them laugh, but in recent years, he’s become darker and more cruel, making offensive jokes that hurt mortals. But to Comic Relief, any joke that someone laughs at is a good joke. His priests are comedians themselves, artists, musicians and writers.

Who else should be in the American Pantheon?

USR Wednesdays: Critical Hits

One of the few things USR doesn’t do well, because of the way it uses dice, is represent critical hits. In the d20 system, for example, a roll of 20 is a critical hit, since all attacks and skill rolls use the same die. But in USR, a player could be rolling a d6, d8, d10 or d12, and using the “you score a critical on the max result of the die” idea doesn’t work, mathematically speaking (you have a 16.6 percent chance of rolling a 6 on a d6, a 12.5 percent chance of rolling an 8 on a d8, a 10 percent chance of a 10 on a d10, and and 8.3 percent chance of rolling a 12 on a d12).

Critical Points

But scoring a critical hit is a lot of fun, and it opens the game to lots of different story opportunities — a quick search online turns up pages and pages of critical hit charts with different effects. The Unbelievably Simple option for critical hits is to simply add damage to the attack (called Critical Points in the chart below), hit points that the opponent loses, even if the enemy has a high enough roll to cancel them out.

Die Type

Critical Points

D6

1

D8

2

D10

3

D12

4

For example, Bragan the barbarian, with an Action stat of D10, rolls a 10 on the die, and adds his Greataxe +2 for a total of 12. Kyranathus the dragon, also with an Action stat of D10, rolls a 9 and adds +1 for his Scales, for total of 10.
Barbarian vs Dragon
Bragan and Kyranathus, just before the critical is rolled. (image: lmddd.org)

Normally, that means Bragan did 2 damage (since the defensive result is subtracted from the attacking result, and the leftover is applied to hit points). But with the Critical Hit roll, he gets 3 Critical Points, and the dragon takes a total of 5 damage. Even if the dragon somehow had a defensive total of, say, 15 (more than Bragan’s attack total, which would ordinarily result in no damage at all), the Critical Points would still apply, and Kyranathus suffers 3 damage.

Special Effects

Another option is spending Critical Points instead, or in addition to applying damage. These can be spent on the following options (and, of course, feel free to create more options):

  • Mighty Blow: roll 1d6 for additional damage, which can be blocked like ordinary damage.
  • Quick Response: make another attack against the same enemy.
  • Special Maneuver: the enemy is tripped, drops his weapon, loses the bonus for his armor, or some similar effect (the attacker chooses at the time the critical is rolled).
  • Sudden Movement: your hero moves up to half his ordinary movement rate immediately after the attack.

Use The Charts

Finally, you can roll a number of times on any critical hit chart you want equal to the number of Critical Points you have, and pick the option you like best. This may call for some judgement on the part of the game master if the critical hit chart has game effects that aren’t used in USR, but the simplicity of the system means it shouldn’t be hard to figure out.

What do your characters do when they crit?

USR Wednesdays: Divine Powers

In most fantasy games, there’s a pantheon of gods for cleric characters to choose from, that give them access to one or more domains, appropriate to the theme of the god (a god of fire gives access to the Fire and Light domains, for example). We took a look at Divine Domains last week; now let’s put them into practice and create divine powers, gods that offer different Divine Domains to heroes.

The latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons gives you the Greek, Egyptian, Norse and Celtic gods, with domains that can easily be translated into USR Divine Domains. So let’s go a little farther out for our sample deities, the Etruscan gods, which were absorbed into the Roman pantheon (as were the Greek gods), and in my case which are listed here.

That is awesome!
There is an Etruscan giant called Orcus. His mouth is a gateway to the underworld. (image: espressocomsaudade)

Some of these gods don’t lend themselves to traditional role playing positions — a cleric of the god of war, sure, but a cleric of the goddess of childbirth? That’s where the flexibility and creativity of USR comes into play. Divine Domains aren’t just a list of attacks; they’re also a description of a character’s behavior and even appearance. Is a priest of Thalna a midwife or doula? Is he taking a broad view of the term “childbirth” and summoning creatures to do battle with monsters? Is she “birthing” the world anew after a fight by healing wounds and cleaning up broken and ruined things?

Alpan: goddess of sexual love (suggested Divine Domains: Love, Passion)

Ani: two-faced god of the passages (suggested Divine Domains: Movement, Good, Evil)

Aplu: god of light and weather (suggested Divine Domains: Light, Storms)

Cautha: god of the sun (suggested Divine Domains: Light, Fire, Good)

Laran: god of war (suggested Divine Domains: War, Destruction, Death)

Menrva: goddess of family and strength (suggested Divine Domains: Strength, Life, Family)

Nethuns: god of water (suggested Divine Domains: Water, Storms)

Nortia: goddess of fate (suggested Divine Domains: Luck, Knowledge, Good, Evil)

Summamus: god of storms (suggested Divine Domains: Storms, Air, Water)

Thalna: goddess of childbirth (suggested Divine Domains: Life, Light, Birth)

Thesan: goddess of dawn (suggested Divine Domains: Light, Hope, Healing)

Tin: god of the sky (suggested Divine Domains: Air, Movement, Good)

Turan: goddess of romantic love (suggested Divine Domains: Life, Love)

Turms: messenger of the gods (suggested Divine Domains: Movement, Knowledge)

Uni: god of marriage (suggested Divine Domains: Light, Hope, Justice)

Voltumna: god of vegetation (suggested Divine Domains: Nature, Air, Earth, Fire, Water)

Which Divine Domains will your character use?

Microlite 20: Power Packages

I finished that project I started back in the fall. The one thing that most superhero RPGs have that Microlite 20 Costumes didn’t is a list of power packages, or combinations of abilities and skills ready to plug in to an existing template. Microlite 20 Costumes features six templates, generic character types at different levels:

  • Pulp (level 4)
  • Street Level (level 6)
  • Sidekick (level 8)
  • Typical (level 10)
  • Advanced (level 12)
  • Superior (level 15)

Each leaves between 20 and 90 Power Points available to spend on powers and abilities. And with the new Power Packages collection, you can pick your favorite power set, adjust them for number of Power Points you have to spend, and go. No need for a lot of math to calculate your superhero. Here’s the Power Packages available:

  1. Aquatic
  2. Battlesuit
  3. Brick
  4. Construct
  5. Cosmic
  6. Demon
  7. Duplicator
  8. Elemental Controller
  9. Energy Blaster
  10. Gimmick
  11. Jungle Lord
  12. Lucky
  13. Martial Artist
  14. Mimic
  15. Mind Controller
  16. Paragon
  17. Plant Avatar
  18. Psychic
  19. Rage Monster
  20. Secret Agent
  21. Shape Shifter
  22. Size Changer
  23. Sorcerer
  24. Space Explorer
  25. Speedster
  26. Stretcher
  27. Summoner
  28. Teleporter
  29. Vigilante Detective
  30. Weapon Master

That covers most of the superheroes found in the Big Two’s books, and makes getting started with Microlite 20 Costumes a lot quicker. The Power Packages are a separate document from the Costumes rules, though found in the same place here on the web site. Next up: a little road-testing of these rules, with an all-out superhero slugfest brought to life on the tabletop.

USR Wednesdays: Divine Domains As Specialisms

One of the things I like best about Dungeons & Dragons is the distinction between arcane and divine magic. A wizard or sorcerer doesn’t choose spells the same way as a cleric or paladin. While wizards have had schools of spells almost since the beginning of fantasy gaming, the divine equivalent — domains — is a newer invention. It was spheres in second edition, then domains in third edition and beyond.

You’re probably familiar with domains: a small collection of spells and a few special abilities related to a theme, like “war,” “light,” or “death.” Many fantasy games, tabletop and otherwise, that feature clerics or priests have a similar setup, where characters of that type can focus on healing, boosting allies, or attacking foes.

From a characterization perspective, domains often suggest a personality for a character, even if it is a little cliché (a fire cleric is hot-tempered, a cleric of death is quiet and slow-moving). And that makes a domain, or what we can call a divine domain, a perfect option as a Specialism in Domino Writing-style USR.

Light Cleric
This guy is definitely using the Fire Divine Domain. (image: winghornpress.com).

As I said early on in this series, “Specialisms are what a character can do, or how he or she does it, in a way that’s appropriate to the setting.” In this case, a divine domain is what a character can do — thematic attacks, changes in appearance, and so on. Let’s take a look at a few divine domain Specialisms. Because these are related to magical powers, we’ll say a character with a divine domain specialism can cast thematically appropriate spells. To keep things Unbelievably Simple, we’ll let the players and game master decide exactly what the spells are (though it would be easy enough to use the Classic Magic or The Force rules ideas I’ve described before).

Life Divine Domain: A character with this divine domain is a healer most of all, though some also dedicate themselves to destroying the undead. They dress in light-colored clothes and offer aid on the battlefield, sometimes curing injuries and helping the mortally wounded to their final rest, without making attacks themselves. They offer curative magic, like restoring hit points, removing disease, and providing life-giving energy (i.e., a bonus to a hero’s next attack).

War Divine Domain: This doesn’t just have to apply to a character’s ability to fight with hand-to-hand combat weapons, like it does in a traditional fantasy setting. War is also about strategy and tactics — a soldier with sword and a general with a map are both warriors, and a hero able to tap into the divine power of war is excellent at confrontation, with blades, guns and even their mind (isn’t survival on a wind-battered mountaintop a battle against nature?).

Death Divine Domain: Death can be a natural choice for an evil priest who desires to see all creatures wiped from the face of the planet, or risen again as soul-less creatures like vampires and zombies. It’s the opposite of the Life divine domain (and what kind of stories could be told with a hero who has both the life and death divine domains as Specialisms?). But it can also be used for good, for a hero who helps those in pain find a comfortable final rest, or for an undertaker who magically clears away scenes of horror and pain.

Fire Divine Domain: This divine domain immediately brings to mind priests dressed in red, hurling flames at their foes, and destroying buildings with a blazing hot touch. Like the Death divine domain, it can be used the opposite way, too, with a hero magically putting out fires and keeping evil priests with the Water divine domain in check. This divine domain makes it easy for players to describe their attacks (“I cause fire damage”) and offers plenty of ideas for personality traits too, aside from the cliché of “hot headed.” What about “simmering with rage” or “bright and energetic”?

What other divine domains can you create?

USR Wednesdays: The Eternal War

Let’s add a new setting to the USR catalog, a fantasy world that’s not quite traditional fantasy (like we see in Halberd and Swords and Sorcery), or the “light” fantasy of Tequendria: The Eternal War.

Thousands of years ago, the sages say, Miolte, the goddess of light, and Gurias, the master of darkness, made a wager, another confrontation in their endless battle. The goddess said a single powerful soldier was the best weapon. The master of darkess argued that a horde of troops could do more damage. So, in this battle of quality versus quantity, two forces were conceived: the Soldiers of Light and the Dark Army.

USR Wednesdays: The Eternal War
The Dark Army and Soldiers of Light in conflict. (image: kinyu-z.net, probably not originally)

Soldiers of Light are mighty warriors, crafty ninja and brilliant scholars. The Dark Army is made up of beasts, creatures spawned of hate and cruelty, that exist only to exterminate all life on the planet. Some are hideous fiends; others are beautiful and beguiling, seducing victims with their words. There are monsters like dragons and zombies in the world of The Eternal War, but only humans — no elves, dwarves, orcs or others of their kind, at least not that anyone has seen. There’s also no magic, no spell-casting except for the arcane gifts Miolte and Gurias bestowed on their warriors.

For every Soldier of Light, there’s 10, 50, maybe more of the Dark Army. But when a Solder of Light is killed, it is born again 24 hours later with the same strength and knowledge it had before death, with all the wounds it suffered healed fully. A Soldier of Light can never die (though clever members of the Dark Army trap Soldiers in boxes before killing them, or hang them from ropes: the Soldier is reborn in the same spot, trapped in an endless loop of death and rebirth).

A member of the Dark Army can be killed, torn apart with metal or wooden weapons like any creature. They aren’t born again after death; instead, leaders of the Dark Army can corrupt ordinary humans, turning them into servants of Gurias. In this way, by capturing innocents and giving hope to the hopeless, the Dark Army grows forever.

Archetypes

Warrior
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Strength, Weapon Forging, Battlefield Tactics
Suggested Equipment: Big Axe (+2), Heavy Plate Armor (+2)

Ninja
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Stealth, Sleight of Hand, Acrobatics
Suggested Equipment: Fencing Sword (+1), Throwing Dagger (+1), Smoke Bomb

Scholar
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Research, History, Herbalism
Suggested Equipment: Books of lore on monsters and the Dark Army, Herbs for healing

New Rules

This is a classic fantasy world — you’ll find swords, bows and chain mail here. There’s no magic, so no need for spells or magic items. And since heroes are Soldiers of Light, there’s also no need to create a new character if your old one is killed. Just move the story ahead 24 hours.

The setting is very action-oriented: note that both “warriors” and “ninja” have Action as their primary stat, and there’s no archetype for an Ego-based character. Soldiers of Light are focused on battling evil, not negotiating with it. There’s also little need for healers, since the Soldiers of Light are reborn, though it does take time for a Soldier to recover, and they can’t always wait around if the Dark Army is on the march.

The Dark Army is made up of monsters of all power levels. As in most games, the majority are level II or III, though leaders can be IV or V. Dragons, giants and similar creatures are at level VI, like in most fantasy settings (not every adventure has to be a battle against the Dark Army).

Adventure

Here’s a first adventure in the world of The Eternal War, using the Six-Step Adventure design concept.

1. Quest giver: The heroes find themselves in the city of Rivermoor, where Tykan, head of the guards, instantly recognizes them as Soldiers of Light, and asks for their aid against a band of Dark Army bandits. They have been raiding merchant caravans coming into Rivermoor, destroying the goods meant for sale and kidnapping young people to transform into more of the Dark Army. Tykan mentions an old stone watchtower a few days’ ride out of Rivermoor that can be used as a base of operations.

2. Early encounter: Soon enough, a horde of Dark Army minions strike at a horse-drawn carriage coming toward Rivermoor. There is one minion per hero (or more if the encounter isn’t challenging enough).

3. Clue to final confrontation: Whether by questioning a captured foe or following their tracks, the heroes come across the site where the Dark Army is making their wretched sacrifices.

4. Secondary encounter or challenge: The heroes arrive in time to break up a sacrifice, hopefully defeating the Dark Army cultists before the young man at the center of their circle is transformed into one of them.

5. Secondary challenge or encounter (the opposite): No matter what happens, the man will be saved in time. But now he has to be escorted through the wilderness back to Rivermoor while wild animals and more Dark Army troops follow.

6. Final boss: Hearing that Soldiers of Light are in Rivermoor, Rolzier, a Dark Army general, is waiting with his best warriors for the heroes to return.

What stories will you tell in the world of The Eternal War?