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.
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.
One thing I don’t see in rules-light RPGs (or most that aren’t professionally published, really) is much advice about adventure design — how to create balanced battles with monsters, how to construct a story, how to keep the action moving without it being all fights, etc. That’s probably because adventures are tougher to write than rules are, since rules are simply math, while adventure writing is less easy to put into a structure. It’s also because rules-light games are more about collective storytelling than traditional RPG adventures, where a game master can simply read off the description of a room and what’s inside.
Let’s take a cue from the five room dungeon and the three act delve. This is a way to get an entire adventure in one night’s session — when I play (not often enough), this is what works best. An ongoing campaign, with recurring villains that strike time and again, is fantastic, but it’s hard enough to get people together to play once. Let’s not start a story we can’t finish.
This rules-light adventure design has six parts, in a row, which is why I call it the Six-Step Adventure.
1. Quest giver
The motivation to start the adventure. Traditionally, this is, “You meet at the tavern and a herald tells you about the captured princess” or “The king sends you to clear out the nearby dungeon.” But in a narrative game, reverse it. Pick a starting point and have these creative players, who have already invented their own Specialisms, describe what’s making them want to participate.
Yes, the beautiful elven princess has been kidnapped by the dragon. Why rescue her? Well, the dashing human rogue knows his answer, but what about the half-dragon berzerker? The real answer, of course, is that if he doesn’t help rescue her, there’s no game for the night. But in the world of the story, the player gets to stretch those creative muscles before he even picks up his dice.
2. Early encounter
A chance to try out the combat rules, or get a feel for the style of the adventure. This is the goblin skirmish outside the ruined temple, or the challenge of breaking into a locked building that is where the data files are stored.
3. Clue to final confrontation
This ties in to part 6, where the characters get an indication of they’re up against or how to defeat it. They find a gem that’s especially deadly against the final “boss monster” of the adventure, or rescue an insane man, babbling about the horrors he’s seen (and that the heroes will see in the not-too-distant future).
4. Secondary encounter or challenge
A more serious threat, like the boss monster’s number two guy or a massive dragon that’s the pet of the real villain. This doesn’t have to be a monster, either; the FBI can show up to take over the investigation just as the characters are making progress, or they have to figure out how to infiltrate the villain’s hideout — during a lavish party.
5. Secondary challenge or encounter (the opposite)
The reverse of the previous part. Not everything in any adventure should be about combat! Even in violence-focused games like Dungeons and Dragons or Star Wars, characters do things other than fight. The group could have to solve a riddle (what’s the Elvish word for “friend”?) or even face a moral quandary through role playing, without rolling the dice (should Chewie break free and rescue Han from the carbon-freezing chamber?).
6. Final boss
This is what everyone has been waiting for, the big finish. It’s usually a fight, since so many RPG characters (including USR ones) are build around combat skills. But it could just as easily be a challenge: planting a bomb and making a getaway before the timer runs out, or getting to the valuable civilian to the safety of a military escort before the enemy government’s goons recapture him.
This is a framework for adventures, one that can easily be expanded (the heroes need to collect several clues before they can move on) or shrunk (only one secondary encounter/challenge) to fit the time allowed for the game.
What does your Six-Step Adventure look like?
P.S. This is the first post at the new dominowriting.com/games site. My games are here, too; let’s keep all the fun in one place.
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.
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?)
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
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).
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!
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.
The Emperor works in the background, even during the final showdown at the end of “Return Of The Jedi” (all he physically does is shoot Force Lightning — and fall down a ventilation shaft, of course). He’s better represented as a Power Level VI monster than as a character.
We wrap up our series on the classic “Star Wars” films with the main characters, as of the beginning of “Return Of The Jedi.” Note that they have much less adventuring equipment than most RPG characters, since they don’t need to carry medical packs for healing, extra weapons, rope, 10-foot-poles, and so much more.
Those robes don’t provide any combat bonus. (image: LucasFilm)
Luke Skywalker, Level 3, Experience Points 10
Action D10, Wits D8, Ego D6
Specialisms: Jedi In Training (The Force) +2, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Force Spirit +1, Fighter Pilot +3, Impulsive +2
We’ll wrap up our series on the original “Star Wars” trilogy with statistics for the heroes and villains from the films. But first, a note on levels: unlike Dungeons & Dragons, the Fantasy Flight Star Wars RPGs, and other professionally published games, USR doesn’t rely on characters adding a host of new abilities as they gain levels. Yes, they may add Specialisms and hit points, but we don’t have a list of special abilities added at each level for each class. We don’t even have classes for characters. So here’s the guideline I’m using for Domino Writing-style USR characters.
As seen in the USR rules, you gain 1 to 3 experience points per adventure, and go up a level every 5 XP. In other words, one level per two to three adventures, or roughly one level for every five or so game sessions (depending on how long your game sessions last). A character can gain unlimited levels, but by levels above 5, most monsters will no longer be a real threat. So let’s say a level 6 character has to “retire” from adventuring, or at least stop gaining XP.
Here’s “A New Hope,” complete with experience point awards.
Read this text box to start the adventure. (image: LucasFilm)
First game session
Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi join Han Solo and Chewbacca (and the droids) in the Mos Eisley cantina, where they have to make a quick escape off the planet Tattooine. They escape to Alderaan, per the “quest giver” Princess Leia hologram. But Alderaan has been destroyed, and their ship is captured. 1 XP for everyone!
Everything before the cantina — the death of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, the escape of C3PO and R2-D2 with the Death Star plans — is backstory, helping develop the personalities of the characters. Obi-Wan and Han (and probably Chewie, too) should be level 2 or 3, really, but RPGs don’t often work with characters of different levels in the same party, so we’ll have to chalk it up to the difference between a movie and a tabletop RPG.
Second game session
In the Death Star, the party frees Princess Leia and Obi-Wan dies (soon to become a new Specialism for Luke). 2 XP for the dramatic conclusion to the game session.
Third game session
The Empire follows the Millennium Falcon to Yavin IV, triggering the dramatic space battle and destruction of the first Death Star. 2 more XP, and everyone goes up a level. The End.
You could define the events of the entire movie as one adventure (so they advance to level 2 at the end of “Return Of The Jedi”), but I want my heroes to gain XP a little more quickly. There are big challenges ahead; they need to be ready.
After “The Empire Strikes Back,” they go up another level. And since we’re only looking at the original films, that’s where we’ll stop. Despite what I said before, to “accurately” portray the characters, they’ll be at different levels. That’s what you’ll see next week, when we provide USR statistics for the heroes of Star Wars.
How many game sessions will it take to play the Harry Potter novels?
This time we’ll use the Specialism rules for weapons, armor and vehicles.
You can use the “Vehicles as equipment” option, as listed below.
X-Wing +1, TIE Fighter +1, Millennium Falcon +2, Star Destroyer +4
Landspeeder + 1, Speeder Bike +1, AT-ST +2, AT-AT +3
Alternately, because space battles are so important to Star Wars, vehicles can get an entire set of stats, as found in Somnium Void. If you’re using this option, characters who often fly starships (like Han, Luke and Vader) should have a Specialism like Pilot +2.
X-Wing, TIE Fighter
Zoom Bike (add a blaster +1)
These require their own rules. (image: starwars.com)
Weapons: Heavy linked blasters +6
Power Level I: Mynock
Power Level II: Dianoga, Gamorrean Guard, Stormtrooper, Tauntaun
Power Level III: Wampa
Power Level V: Rancor
Bacta tank (heals 5 hit points per hour)
Blaster (light +1 ranged weapon)
Blaster Rifle (medium +2 ranged weapon)
E-Web Repeating Blaster (heavy +3 ranged weapon)
Flight suit (light +1 armor)
Lightsaber (medium +2 melee weapon — it can also cut through anything except another lightsaber)
Pike (medium +2 melee weapon)
Stormtrooper armor (medium +2 armor — this also can be used for Mandalorian warriors, like Boba Fett)
Thermal Detonator (heavy +3 ranged weapon)
What other gear and creatures should be available in USR Star Wars?
The Force is one of the things that makes “Star Wars”… well, Star Wars. It’s not quite magic or psionics as seen in other works of fiction, but it’s easy to understand, and so well-known it’s even referred to outside of fantasy and science fiction (I can’t count the number of times someone has said “Use the Force” or “Jedi mind trick” without talking about Star Wars).
This is my new favorite meme. (image: youtube.com)
In the role playing games, novels and the video games they inspired, Jedi, Sith and other Force-users have access to dozens of powers. But since this series is only focused on the original trilogy of films, there’s only about a half-dozen abilities. Most of these names come from the d6 system Star Wars RPG, where they were created.
Battle Meditation, which Luke does while hiding from Vader in the Death Star throne room at the end of “Return Of The Jedi.” Qui-Gon Jinn does it better in “The Phantom Menace,” but remember, we’re only covering the original trilogy here.
Enhanced Reflexes, used when Luke leaps out of the freezing chamber on Bespin.
Force Choke, Darth Vader’s favorite gimmick.
Force Defense, which Vader used to block Han’s blaster, and Luke used to parry the speeder bike shots on Endor.
Force Lightning, the Emperor’s signature move.
Healing, which Obi-Wan does after Luke is attacked by the Tusken Raider.
Suggestion (the Jedi Mind Trick), Obi-Wan’s favorite for the weak-minded.
Telekinesis, or as “Weird Al” Yankovic put it, “I picked up a box, I lifted some rocks, while I stood on my head.”
Telepathy, Luke’s message to Leia shortly thereafter in “The Empire Strikes Back.”
That’s nine Force powers. You could make each one its own Specialism, but let’s take a cue from last week, where I described The Force (or Use The Force) as a Specialism itself. Each power, then, is just a way a character can use The Force. We don’t even need to detail “power levels” or anything like that; in most of the Star Wars RPGs, there are specific rules for how much damage Force Lightning causes, or how far a message sent with Telepathy will reach.
Yoda’s player is making a Wits + The Force roll right now. R2-D2’s player is eating some potato chips. (image: jediapprentice.tripod.com)
But this is USR, and specifics like that are not Unbelievably Simple. Narratively, it doesn’t matter. How high does Luke leap, on a successful Wits + The Force roll? As high as the game master decides works for the story. The target number is set based on the amount of stress the hero is under, the obstacles in the way of the leap and the need for the hero to succeed (in this case, our game master, George, set it at a 7).
Another example: the Emperor rolled well on his Wits + The Force roll when attacking Luke with Force Lightning, causing enough hit point damage to knock Luke to the ground and keep him sparkling with electricity. He doesn’t need a separate listing of damage caused by Force Lightning. It’s just an effect of this particular Wits + The Force die roll.
Training to gain powers is an important part of The Force in Star Wars. Since there’s only nine powers to choose from, let’s say a hero with The Force as a Specialism starts with two, and gains another after each level. You can increase or decrease that rate, of course, especially if you add more Force powers.
And then there’s the Dark Side. In the other Star Wars RPGs, you collect a number of Dark Side points each time you use a Dark Side power (here it’s Force Choke and Force Lightning), or if you do something else evil. Too many, and you’ve fallen to the Dark Side and become an NPC. You can do the same in USR Star Wars (say, a number of points equal to your Ego die value — 6, 8 or 10), or simply make it part of the story, where a character turns to the Dark Side when it’s dramatically appropriate.
A Kind Of Magic
The rules for The Force can probably be used for any other kind of supernatural power, too; because of the way combat is handled in Domino Writing-style USR, a killer fireball or a summoned mass of strangling vines is just a way to describe a successful Wits + Magic Specialism roll. Or it could be an Ego + Magic roll, to represent those characters who derive their power from their force of will.
What Force powers did I miss from our Original Trilogy list?