USR Wednesdays: Zombies

What better way to mark Halloween than with the most popular horror creature of all (right now)? In a game where the heroes are survivors of a zombie apocalypse, there’s several ways to approach central threat:

  • The zombies are an endless horde that’s easy to kill; the trick is to get away before you’re overwhelmed.
  • The zombies are a scary surprise as you try to come to terms with the new rules of living day by day. They’re easy to avoid — if you see them coming.
  • The zombies are a part of the environment around you, like having to try and maneuver through a heavy snowstorm. These stories take place several months after the apocalypse, when everyone is used to dealing with zombies, and a new world order is sorting itself out. The real danger isn’t the living dead; it’s other humans who don’t like that you’re not under their control.

I’m sure you can think of movies and books with each of these kinds of zombie settings, and more. Any of them can be a great zombie RPG setting — an action-oriented one, if the players are in the mood to slay zombies; a suspenseful story where the existence of zombies might be a plot twist; or a tale heavy in negotiation and tough combat, fighting off both the undead and the very much alive.

They're coming to get you, PCs!
As I’ve said before, the classics never go out of style. (image: refinedguy.com)

Hordes

The ever-present threat of zombies can be represented in USR with a simple rule for hordes. When the story begins, as the first zombies appear (unless you’re starting in media res, with an enormous mob of zombies), there’s 2d6 somewhere nearby. As the plot advances, or whenever the heroes make too much noise, or whenever the gamemaster sees fit, add zombies equal to (1 + the number of players)d6.

Zombie stats are usually low — D6 or even D4 for every stat, with no Specialisms or equipment. Maybe even use the mook rule, where a zombie has only one Hit Point (an attack total of 7 against a zombie’s total of 3 doesn’t mean a single zombie lost 4 Hit Points; it means 4 different zombies were destroyed). Don’t forget that zombies move slowly, and are unable to move past obstacles or think their way out of simple traps.

Survivors

The two big rules for survivors in a zombie story are searching, where a successful Wits roll against a target number of 4 means the survivor found food, medical equipment, a working car, or a weapon. A failed roll means nothing turned up. And a die result of 1 means something was knocked over during the search, or a window shattered: the perfect time for more zombies to join the horde.

The second rule is for “horror saves,” or resisting the shock and fear of a close encounter with the dead. It can be a Wits die roll (for characters trying to rationalize their way out of the encounter) or an Ego die roll (for characters who can bluff and bluster their way through anything). Use the higher stat for a high action or comedy-type game, and use the lower stat for characters in a traditional horror story. Failing a horror save means the hero just wants to get away from the zombies, maybe at the cost of his or her allies. And rolling a 1 on a horror save or an Action roll when in battle with zombies means the worst: an infected bite that transforms the hero into a zombie, whenever it’s dramatically appropriate.

USR Wednesdays: Animal Heroes

Not long ago, I released a series of archetypes for animal-folk, from apes to wolves. I called them animal-folk because I was thinking of bipedal creatures, basically humans in animal costumes, with maybe one or two of the real animal’s natural abilities.

But there’s another way to role play animal heroes: as actual animals who can talk. They don’t interact with humans (except maybe that one special human) but they can talk with one another. Animated movies like “Ratatoullie” and “The Secret Lives Of Pets” or novels like “Watership Down” or “Animal Farm” fit the bill. And even Aslan, the lion of “The Chronicles Of Narnia” books, is this type of character, though he’s more of a special fantasy race than part of a talking animal setting.

Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!
A classic VHS and perfect for this type of setting. (image: Disney.com)

The animal-folk archetypes work just as well for animal hero games: strong, tough, or sneaky animals should have Action as their stat with a D10, while clever, scheming characters can make their best stat Wits or Ego. The major changes are in combat.

An animal hero only uses the highest value of its Action stat to determine its starting Hit Points (so it would be 10, 8, or 6).

Also, animals don’t normally carry equipment — yes, a knight’s warhorse wore armor and had a lance mounted on it, but it was to help the knight accomplish his goals, not for the horse to fight on its own. So animal heroes don’t get Combat Gear Points, nor the bonus Narrative Points regular heroes earn for not spending all 4 Combat Gear Points.

This means animal heroes are weaker than human adventurers, which makes sense for the genre (humans rarely enter the story, and if they do, they’re as an all-powerful master or threat). The exception to this is super-pets, like Superman’s dog Krypto or He-Man’s Battle Cat. They’re somewhere between ordinary animal heroes and normal heroes. Krypto, being a Kryptonian dog, should have a d12 Action, and the Flight Specialism. Battle Cat has +2 Magic Armor and +1 Claws.

Since the characters are weaker, the game master needs to tone down the level of challenge in the adventure, too. Crossing a rushing river might take an Action roll to leap over it, or a Wits roll to build a makeshift bridge in an ordinary game. In an animal hero game, though, lashing together a few branches is impossible! The players will have to come up with something different. And a confrontation with a wild raccoon, not even a combat encounter in an ordinary adventure game, could be a major fight sequence with animal heroes.

USR Friday: War and Military Campaigns

Due to life happening, this is a Friday entry; I’ll get back to normal Wednesdays next week.

War! What is it good for? Well, in game terms, it’s good for a lot of fun adventuring. War doesn’t necessarily translate into RPGs — the military is for big units of soldiers, a role playing game is for one person per player — but military-style action does make for good gaming. Here’s a few ideas for a team of adventurers in a military game setting:

  • Commando raids to defeat or capture an enemy leader
  • Silent scouting raids to infiltrate enemy lines
  • Demolitions teams that plant explosives in strategic spots
  • Recruit reinforcements to bring to the battle
  • Negotiating peace talks despite extreme tension between the warring sides

But of course a military action campaign does need some guidelines for simulating the military action. Dozens or even thousands of troops are charging at one another or opening fire while the heroes slip off to the side to get their mission done. The heroes could take a turn as temporary battlefield commanders (think of the big battles in “The Lord Of The Rings” or many “Captain America” comics). Or the story could lead to an extra level of challenge if the enemy forces win the day: if the Nazis cut off the Allied supply lines but the adventuring party is pushing toward Berlin, they’ll have to make do with the resources available to them.

War! Good God, y'all!
The only kind of war I like: historical re-enactments.

The conflicts between the forces the heroes support and the enemy army can be simulated with a die roll, called a Battle Roll. The simplest way to do this (the USR way) is to assign each force a bonus, depending on a few factors:

Size

The force with the bigger number of troops gets a +1. If they’re reasonably evenly matched, no bonus to either side.

Ability

A well-trained, disciplined force of elite troops (like Warhammer 40,000 Space Marines) gets a +1. A force of wild barbarians is strong and intimidating, worth at least a +1. A rag-tag group of insurgents or freedom fighters, or an unruly mob armed with pitchforks and torches, is probably a -1. Most troops, though, are the “average” soldier and offer no bonus (Star Wars stormtroopers, World War II grunts, and so on).

Equipment

Tanks and fighter jets, when the other side doesn’t have them, provides a +2 bonus. A samurai katana and a knight’s longsword are equal, but the force with assault rifles has a +1 against them.

Heroes

If the player characters take direct part in the battle, they provide a +2 bonus to the combat.

Add up the bonuses, and roll 1d6 + that total for each side. The higher result wins the round of fighting (representing a few moments to months of battle, depending on the story that you’re telling), and the losing force earns a -1 penalty to future Battle Rolls. If the rolls are a tie, there’s no penalty applied; the battle just slogs on. When one force’s roll is zero or less, the battle is over. There may be more battles to fight, or this may mean the end of the entire war, leading to time for peace talks or for a vanquishing army to add more territory to its holdings.

If the heroes’ side of the battle loses a round of fighting, one of the characters is personally affected (choose one randomly). It could simply be hit point damage, or it could affect the story: maybe a valuable item is lost, or a close friend is killed in the fighting.

Sir Lacren turned to face the men and women behind him. Last night, elven scouts had reported an army of trolls on the march. Lacren, the mage Ysellius, and the nature priest Berrak agreed: they would lead the army of South Watch against the trolls. The trolls were on foot; their slow movement gave Ysellius and Berrak time to create a few catapults and trebuchets to support the archers, mounted knights, and swordsmen and women South Watch could call to arms.

Adding up the bonuses, we have:

Trolls: Strong +1

Humans: Led by heroes (player characters) +2, War machines +1

The battle commences! After the players fight through one-on-one combats between their characters and specific trolls, a Battle Roll is made. The heroes roll a 5 and add 3 for a total of 8. The game master rolls for the trolls, and gets a total of 4. The trolls lose this round of the battle, and have a -1 to their Battle Rolls until the battle is over.

USR Wednesdays: Espionage

Last week, I introduced the concept of Free-Form Specialisms, where instead of pre-determined skills and abilities, a character can use his “+1s” to do anything he needs to do on an adventure. You lose two “+1s” if you settle on a Specialism. Let’s put this concept to work in a popular RPG setting: the world of secret agents, master thieves and assassins.

In fantasy and space opera-type science fiction, the character archetypes are instantly familiar (and have already been created for USR on this very blog): wizard, rogue, pilot, bounty hunter. Espionage games have their archetypes too — hacker, mastermind, femme fatale — but secret agent characters have more than one ability.

Pick your suave super spy.
Bond. James Bond(s). (image: eurochannel.com)

To represent this, give your hero a single Specialism as his archetype, and then also put for “+1s” on the character sheet. This is something like Pierce Brosnan-era Bond or the efficient, nick-of-time thieves of the “Ocean’s” movie series. If you’re playing a high-level espionage game, like a Roger Moore-era James Bond or Marvel S.H.I.E.L.D. story, you might want to tack on another “+1” or two, and that’s not counting any bonuses awarded for super-spy gear. Characters in a more down-to-earth game (say, Jason Bourne, or even something like “Taken”) could have fewer “+1s.”

If a character is only in the story for a moment, they’re probably best represented as NPCs. Q, the gadget-maker for James Bond, shows up just long enough to deliver a few spy tools to 007, then disappears. If he traveled with Bond, creating weapons and devices while James was seducing women and negotiating with super-villains, then he’d be a player character.

What’s a good spy archetype? I mentioned a few before, but there are more:

  • Brawler — hand-to-hand fighting, martial arts
  • Detective — seeing clues others miss, following rumors and suspicions to the end of the line
  • Driver — every spy can drive (or fly) fast; only drivers can pull off stunts that strain vehicles to their maximum
  • Femme Fatale — seduction, keeping attention on herself (or himself) so others can do their jobs
  • Gadgeteer — inventing tools, detecting and defusing traps
  • Hacker — breaking into computer systems, writing viruses
  • Infiltrator — breaking into buildings, slipping through locks, defusing security systems
  • Mastermind — conceiving a plan, changing the plan on the spur of the moment when it goes wrong
  • Politician — con artist who’s good at making allies and using his words to cool everything down
  • Sniper — master of all firearms, expert at extremely long-distance shots
  • Soldier — punching, shooting, staying in the fight longer than anyone else

USR Wednesdays: Tournament Fighting and Wrestling

There are a handful of pro wrestling-themed RPGs, and even an official “Street Fighter” game. Yes, really, from the early ’90s, when I was playing tournament fighting games. And though a setting that’s 95 percent combat seems like it should require a complex combat system, tournament fighting and wrestling-themed games can work very well in USR. Here’s how.

An ordinary character can be created, though most characters will have Action as their highest stat. But a player who wants to try something different, like a wrestling manager or a Vince McMahon-style macho businessman, could take Wits or Ego as the highest stat.

Combat Maneuvers

Combat Gear points don’t really apply in the setting; wrestlers grab chairs but don’t have one as a primary weapon. A fighter like “Mortal Kombat’s” Scorpion does have his “Get over here!” spear, but that’s not a weapon, in USR tournament fighting. Instead, it’s a Combat Maneuver. Characters typically have one +1, one +2 and one +3 Combat Maneuver, and the another single Combat Maneuver of any bonus, selected when they’re created. A heavy hitter might have two +3s, while a fast character has two +1s, staying in the fight for a long time by moving around swiftly. In game terms, there’s no difference between one +1 attack and another; that’s where your creativity comes in… although the narration can affect your attacks — if a character’s hands are tied, he can’t throw a punch. Name your attacks something interesting and action-packed.

In addition, all characters start with these two Combat Maneuvers.
Punch (could also be a kick or even head-butt) +0: in other words, a basic Action die roll.
Block: if your character chooses a block, he doesn’t attack on his turn, but until it’s his turn in combat again, he can make his defense die roll twice and use the best result. This gives the character no Strain — but he doesn’t recover Strain either (see below for more on Strain).

Here’s a few examples of Combat Maneuvers:

Grab +1
Jab +1
Quick Kick +1
Taunt +1 (this uses the Ego instead of Action)
Tough Skin +1 (this is for defensive rolls, not attacks)

Body Slam +2
Force Field +2 (this is for defensive rolls, not attacks)
Spin Kick +2
Summon an ally (to make a sudden attack, then disappear) +2 (this uses Ego instead of Action)
Throw +2
Uppercut +2

Weapon (sword, spear, pistol) +3
Hadoken Fireball +3 (being magic, this uses Wits instead of Action)

Fighting game finishing moves aren’t Combat Maneuvers; they’re just fun to describe.

Hope you brought a roll of quarters.
I could go either way on this fight, really. (image: Capcom)

Combos

An attack roll that gets the highest result on the die (for example, a 10 on a D10) starts a combo. The attacker can continue to make attacks, as long as they are on the same target as the first attack, and as long as each one hits. When an attack misses, the combo is over. In this setting, everyone has roughly 15 Hit Points, like a typical player character, to keep them in the game for a while, and to give heroes someone to try and score combos on.

Strain

Combat Maneuvers are, in a sense, weapons: they offer a bonus to (usually) Action rolls. But they also come with a cost. A character in this setting has a Strain total, which starts at zero. Each time a character attacks or defends using a Combat Maneuver — only one of each per turn — add the bonus the Combat Maneuver provides to the character’s Strain. If the Strain is less than or equal to the character’s current Hit Points, there’s no problem. If it goes above the Hit Points (or the Hit Points fall below Strain), the character can only make a basic attack, simply rolling a stat to attack without any Combat Maneuver bonus. A character’s Strain drops 5 points if he doesn’t use a Combat Maneuver at all on a turn, though it can never go below zero.

Specialisms

Sure, you can simply create a few tournament fighters or wrestlers, set them up in a playoff bracket-style showdown, and duel it out. But there’s more to the setting than fighting, believe it or not. Think of “Street Fighter’s” struggle against M. Bison, or the romantic storylines of WWE. While you’re thinking about what to call your character’s Combat Maneuvers, don’t forget they have Specialisms too. Even professional warriors have interests and skills — maybe your hero is a Spy, an Expert Pilot, or an Anthropologist who found another hero, a strange man-monster, deep in the Amazon jungle. Perhaps the hero is a former champion passing along his knowledge of Tournament History to the younger characters, or is Suave (or Wealthy) enough to impress non-player characters unimpressed with his talents in the ring.

What does your Tournament Fighter look like?

USR Wednesdays: Young and Old Characters

Most characters in adventure fiction (movies, novels, comics, games) are somewhere between age 20 and 40. Thanks to the popularity of young adult fiction ― the “Hunger Games” and “Harry Potters” of the world ― that age range is getting lower. Older characters are getting a little less attention, though for every wise “Obi-Wan“ mentor there’s a still-vibrant older protagonist: think of the “Taken” series, or “The Expendables.”

Older versions of Dungeons & Dragons have rules for younger or older characters, which basically boil down to: older characters have more mental ability but less physical ability, and vice versa. Very young children (under 10) are not playable because they can’t keep up with adult characters. But of course there’s plenty of child-focused action-adventure fiction: “PJ Masks” and “Stranger Things” on TV, Power Pack in the comics.

RPG rules adjusting character stats to account for age do seem to be a thing of the past. So instead let’s look at a few potential settings for young and old heroes.

Kid Supers

Teen superheroes may be tortured with the angst of gaining unique, incredible powers while trying to fit in. But kids actually enjoy having powers: it’s not a burden, it’s a joy. Our kid supers are mutants, born with abilities and living with kind and loving families. No horrifying scientific experiments or orphaned children here; this setting isn’t about grim darkness. These heroes have fun being super, and stopping bank robbers. Our model here is Dash from “The Incredibles.”

Kid Paranormal

Like animals, kids can see the supernatural when adults can’t. They can peer through the mystical illusion created by ghosts which makes them invisible, and the one cast by vampires which hides their undead nature. Kids know the truth; getting adults to believe them is difficult, so a lot of the time they have to stop the monsters on their own. A secondary trope of this genre is the power of belief; a child’s courage or fear is more “pure,” more powerful, than an adult’s, which is tempered by skepticism and being too busy to think about things like monsters. The 1987 movie “The Monster Squad” and Stephen King’s “It” are the models.

In both of these “Kid” settings, the children are as competent as adults, if not more. Giving them lower stats or fewer Specialisms would be a punishment, and not really represent the characters as seen in fiction. Instead, the players should be challenged not by game mechanics, but by societal rules that hamper what they can do. A young character can’t get anywhere he wants to go, unless he can ride his bike there, or get someone older to drive him. A young character isn’t old enough to have a credit card… but she has resources, if she’s good at using the internet (in a setting where it exists).

Eleven is a little more powerful than the others.
Kid Paranormal at its finest. (image: Netflix.com)

Older Heist

A bank robbery or a sting operation is fun to watch on screen ― as long as the team making it happen knows what they’re doing. The best way to guarantee the heist happens like clockwork is to bring in the long-experienced experts. Start characters at level 4 or 5, toward the top of the Domino Writing-style experience track. Pick skill Specialisms like Hacking, Lock Picking, and Getaway Car Driving. The heroes will be able to accomplish almost everything, but remember that the difference between the die roll result and the Target Number can tell the game master how well they accomplish a task: Say there’s a thief making an Action roll against a Target Number of 6, to sneak past the guards. On a result of 12, he gets past them easily. On a result of 7, he still gets past them, but not without making a little noise ― cut to a scene of the guard radioing to his partner that he’s going to investigate a sound (on a result of 4, the guard wouldn’t hesitate, he’d just sprint over to where the thief is).

Royal Intrigue

There’s an old saying: Old age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill. Everyone in a royal court is scheming to increase their power and influence, but it’s the veterans in the palace who have the connections, the money, and the ruthlessness to succeed. A character in this setting should put the d10 in the Ego stat, then follow up with the d8 in Action (for former generals) or in Wits (for master courtiers). Heroes don’t fight the battles; they send poor saps out to do the fighting. A die roll in this setting isn’t about quietly, carefully assassinating a foe ― it’s about how convincing the character is in pretending to grieve the “mysterious death” of a rival the next morning.

How old will your characters be?

USR Wednesdays: Gun Locker

Continuing where we left off last week, we’re turning to firearms and explosives this time around. These weapons add new rules options to Domino Writing-style USR combat.

Ammunition: USR, in any form, is much too unbelievably simple to worry about ammunition. It’s assumed a character has enough ammunition (arrows, bullets, explosive charges) to never run out. But to add a little more challenge to a combat encounter, consider the following option: on an attack roll where the die result is a 1, the weapon has enough ammunition for just a single attack before it will be completely useless (or it jams). The hero won’t have time to refill ammo until it makes sense to do so in the story.

NERF Guns!
Guns everyone can agree on. (image: gadgetreview.com)

Pistol weapons
+1 (Light) weapons: Dueling pistol (1600s to 1800s), needler
+2 (Medium) weapons: Regular pistol (assault pistol or revolver: .357, .38, .44, .45, 9 mm, Wild West “six-shooter,” WWII Mauser), laser pistol

Rifle weapons
+1 (Light) weapons: Matchlock rifle (arquebus), flintlock (musket, blunderbuss)
+2 (Medium) weapons: Carbine (Wild West “buffalo rifle”), WWII infantry rifle
+3 (Heavy) weapons: Hunting/sniper rifle, laser rifle

Ranged weapons
+1 (Light) weapons: Blow gun, bola, boomerang, sling, whip

Area of Effect weapons: When making an attack, the player names an enemy target, as usual. The attack is made with a +2 bonus to Action rolls. But an attack with one of these weapons also affects every other character (enemy and ally) within 5 feet/1 space of the target at a +1 to Action rolls. All of these attacks count as the same action for the attacking character.
The assault rifle, sub-machine gun, shotgun, “Tommy gun,” grenade, and the chain gun/mini-gun (which has a +3/+2 bonus) are all Area of Effect weapons.

Flamethrower: This is an Area of Effect weapon, which it continues to burn anything it hits, possibly causing more damage on the next turn.

Bombs and dynamite are Area of Effect weapons, but they’re also explosives. A weapon that is on a timer doesn’t rely on a hero’s skill to make an attack. Instead, treat a bomb like it has an Action stat of d10, “attacking” whenever it’s set to detonate. To disarm a bomb, a hero has to make a non-opposed Wits roll against a target number of 7 or more — and make sure the disarm attempt is appropriately tense!

Stun gun, taser: This is a special weapon that has a +1 bonus to attack, and if it hits, the opponent loses d3 turns in combat instead of taking damage. These rules can also be used for entangling weapons like nets, webs, and even whips and vines.

Tranquilizer gun: A larger version of a stun gun, with darts that attack with a +1 bonus. If the target is hit, the opponent loses d6 turns in combat instead of taking damage.

Chemicals: A chemical, whether coating a sword blade or fired from a grenade launcher, has an effect above and beyond the damage the weapon does to its target, if any.

  • Acid: d6 points of damage.
  • Nerve gas or tear gas: the opponent has -4 to his or her next die roll.
  • Poison: 1 point of damage per turn until the target is healed.
  • Sleep drug: the opponent loses d3 turns in combat.
  • Smoke gas: the opponent is unable to see on his or her next turn.

Even bigger guns, like a rocket launcher, bazooka, pulse rifle, and rail gun, may not be available to heroes to buy with Combat Gear points. If they are, the weapons probably provide a bonus of +4 or even +5.

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: More Archetypes

These are some of the most, well, archetypal kinds of characters found in role playing games, assembled in the Risus Companion and revisited here for USR characters in almost any setting; earlier I created archetypes specifically for modern-day adventurers.

The A-Team: A Perfect RPG Party
A warrior, a driver, a charismatic and a noble plus lots of guns and a cool van makes for a great adventuring party. (image: iofabric.com)

Some of these archetypes overlap in their suggested Specialisms or in their role in an adventuring party. That’s fine; most characters have more than one dimension to their personality, and few adventuring parties have room for a dozen heroes.

Athlete (soldier, martial artist, jock)
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Endurance, Honest And Reliable (And A Little Dim-Witted), Strong, Fast
Suggested Equipment: none

Charismatic (bard, con artist, rock star)
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Inspire, Perform (music, rousing speeches, etc.), Charm, Seduce
Suggested Equipment: Musical instrument

Detective (private eye, seer, psychic investigator)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Investigate, Interrogate, Sneak, Perception, Hard Drinking
Suggested Equipment: Trenchcoat, Revolver

Driver (pilot, knight on horseback)
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Driving/Piloting (multiple vehicles), Gunnery, Repair, Riding
Suggested Equipment: Vehicle — but only a basic model, one he can update and improve constantly

Mechanic
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Inventing, Repair, Research
Suggested Equipment: Tool kit, Several strange gadgets that nobody should touch unless they want to put a smoking crater in the wall

Medic (Doctor, Cleric, Therapist)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Medicine, Psychology, Chemistry (or Alchemy)
Suggested Equipment: Medicine bag

Noble (CEO, King, General)
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Leadership, Resources, Inspiration
Suggested Equipment: An unlimited amount of money (temporarily)

Outdoors (Ranger, Hunter, Scout)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Nature Knowledge, Perception, Survival
Suggested Equipment: Longbow (even for modern-day characters)

Scholar (Sage, Scientist, Professor)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Research, Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, Ancient History
Suggested Equipment: Library (of books or material on an electronic device), A weapon that he’s mastered after reading about its use in a long-extinct culture

Sneak (Thief, Spy, Assassin)
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Move Silently, Observation, Remain Motionless, Lockpicking, Hacking, Agile Enough To Avoid Tripwires And Sensors
Suggested Equipment: Lockpicks, Black clothing

Warrior (Soldier, Fighter, Knight, Mystic Warrior)
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Weapon Mastery, Endurance, Spiritual Control, Athletics, Unshakable Faith
Suggested Equipment: A big gun or sword, Armor

Wizard (Sorcerer, Gadgeteer)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Inventing, Spellcasting, Knowledge Of Other Worlds
Suggested Equipment: Spellbook, Devices that violate the laws of physics

Which archetypes did I miss?

USR Wednesdays: Adventure Ideas

We’re putting the Six-Step Adventure design to work, with two different adventure ideas. They haven’t been playtested (yet), but they’re examples of how the adventure design can be used for brief, but still satisfying night of role playing.

Fantasy Adventure: This one takes place in a generic fantasy setting (for example, Halberd or Tequindra). It’s a pretty straightforward “dungeon crawl,” the kind seen in RPGs since the 1970s, and that makes it a good way to try out the format in a familiar context. Don’t forget to add some unique elements to the combat encounters — a battle in an empty room or forest clearing isn’t that exciting, but add obstacles, a time limit and different locations, like a high balcony to shoot down from, or the top of a moving train, and you’re adding to the action.

  1. Quest giver: The heroes are accompanying a merchant carrying a valuable treasure of some kind in a simple wooden box that’s magically locked. The merchant doesn’t know what the treasure is, only that he’s supposed to get it to the sorcerer who hired him.
  2. Early encounter: The merchant and his caravan are attacked by a group of bandits. There are more bandits than the heroes can handle, so that no matter how many they defeat, the merchant is killed and the treasure taken.
  3. Clue to final confrontation: The heroes interrogate a bandit, or (more likely) find a map to a wizard’s tower with the symbol of a rival wizard on it.
  4. Secondary encounter or challenge: The map leads through obstacles, like a small battle with a bear, and a rickety bridge over a lake. These are meant to be brief encounters, a chance to experiment with unusual environments or unique ways to use their Specialisms.
  5. Secondary challenge or encounter (the opposite): Once over the bridge, the heroes enter the wizard’s tower and confront the wizard’s monsters — for example, a dragon or a mechanical guard, or even more bandits.
  6. Final boss: The rival wizard himself, who uses the treasure, which has some kind of combat effect (for example, it fires a beam of energy, or creates a magical force field).

Defeating the wizard ends the adventure; the heroes can return the treasure to the sorcerer and earn gold and prestige.

Fantasy Adventure: Wizard's Tower
This wizard’s tower is almost exactly what I imagined for this adventure, except not necessarily in Minecraft. (image: Kokotoni)

Modern Adventure: Here’s a story in a more contemporary setting, with a little bit more social interaction. The heroes meet a rival team of explorers, giving them a chance to compete with or cooperate with that group. Killing off the rival team also demonstrates the danger of the adventure, without keeping the heroes from completing the story.

  1. Quest giver: A government agent hires the heroes as a salvage team to recover a lost treasure (gold from early explorers) on a shipwreck — it’s in pirate-infested waters, so he doesn’t want to risk veteran divers.
  2. Early encounter: The heroes are attacked by a pirate ship that wants to take them over; another salvage crew appears to help fight off the pirates. They are from a private salvage company.
  3. Clue to final confrontation: The other crew shares the location of the shipwreck from their research.
  4. Secondary encounter or challenge: The heroes are lowered into the ocean with other team of searchers to begin the search, but their shark cage has been tampered with, and sharks attack.
  5. Secondary challenge or encounter (the opposite): The two teams race to recover the treasure.
  6. Final boss: No matter who recovers the treasure, the heroes and the private salvage crew return to their ships to find the government agent waiting there, with his own set of troops. The sailors on both ships are dead; the government agent wants the treasure for himself.

How do these Six-Step Adventures work in your gaming group?