USR Wednesdays: Warhammer 40,000

I didn’t get to see the preview of “Wrath & Glory,” the new Warhammer 40,000 RPG, at Free RPG Day a few weeks back, though it’s coming to PDF soon. The mechanic that I am aware of in the game, the one that caught my eye, is a balancing mechanism to make sure super-soldier Space Marines can be in the same party with low-level Imperial Guardsmen… it’s basically superhero tiers, like in Domino Writing-style USR. In that game’s case, the Guardsman has enhancements to reach the Marine’s level; in USR, of course, the lower-Tier hero has extra Narrative Points to accomplish the things other characters are expected to do normally.

But what if we added the 40K universe to the USR rules? There’s plenty of reference material — you know what an Adeptus Astartes is, even if you’ve never played any 40K game of any kind — and USR is a great way to tell the expansive variety of stories that can be told in that universe:

  • A down-and-dirty gang war (to show how tough and non-heroic ganger characters are, limit them to 2 Gear Points, take away all their Narrative Points, and roll dice to determine starting Hit Points, like in regular USR);
  • A battle against the ravening ork horde (take a cue from our exploration of tropes, and consider one ork blown away for each point of damage rolled by our heroes); or
  • A struggle between the mighty Space Marines and a daemon of Chaos (the main heroes and villains are at Tier 5 in a setting where the baseline character might be a Tier 2. Also, boost up their armor and weapons: Space Marine armor is probably worth more than a +3, maybe a +4, and Terminator armor is a +5 — higher than that and it will be tough for anyone to score a hit).
You're definitely stretching the rules with Space Marines.
Who doesn’t want to play these guys at least once? (image: Games Workshop)

If you’ve ever read any 40K fiction, or even watched 40K video game cut screens, you’ll know there’s not much to most characters’ personalities: with the exception of a few Imperial Guard characters, everyone in the 40K universe just wants to kill somebody else (usually a lot of somebodies). In a role playing game, characters need to be distinct somehow, to be a “role” you can play. If you don’t want to go too far off the traditional 41st Millennium character type, try Specialisms like “Lone Wolf,” “Carries Big Guns,” or “Quick To Anger” — they offer the right attitude without making the characters much more than traditional 40K killing machines.

Here’s some other Specialisms for 40K: Team Player, Aggressive (all orks), Good With Native Populations, Devoted To His/Her Commander, Natural Leader, Perfect Physical Specimen, Hates Psykers, Lockpicking Tools, Likes Big Explosions, Stealthy, Historian

Who will you be in USR 40K?

USR Wednesdays: One Big Hero

One thing that makes RPGs pretty unique among ways of telling heroic stories is that they’re designed to present the stories of a team. Most of the time, a story — a movie, a comic, a novel — features one hero: James Bond. Conan. King Arthur.

USR Wednesdays: One Big Hero
Many actors, one hero. (image: movieweb)

Some heroes have allies, but they’re definitely secondary characters: Little John to Robin Hood, Bucky to Captain America. There are teams in superhero comics (Justice League, Avengers), and of course in fantasy novels (Fellowship of the Ring, Companions of the Lance), but they’re less common. So, how can you portray a story with one hero, when your RPG group is made up of several players?

One option is to use the tiers introduced for superhero characters, where one character is tier 4 or even 5, while the others are 1 or 2 (they’re the base tier of character). Another is the option that games like The Legacy Of Zorro or Dr. Who take, where the main character isn’t a player character option. They’re off on their own adventures while the heroes of the game are doing something else to advance the cause.

Here’s two examples of a “One Big Hero” setting for your adventuring party.

Night Time Guardians: Vengeance is a super-powered warrior, the only one in the City. Even with his amazing dark powers, he needs help to stop villains like the Klown, the Back-Breaker, and master thief the Cat Burglar. Vengeance is a tier 5 hero for one player, capable of saving the day and battling the villains by himself (thanks to his extra Narrative Points). But he needs drivers, hackers and young martial artists at tiers 1 and 2 to keep the Double-Man’s minions in check while Vengeance goes after the big target. Vengeance’s super powers alone won’t solve the Questioner’s puzzles, either; he’ll need other heroes for that.

Hunters Of The Forgotten: Dr. Harry Smith is an explorer, searching pre-World War II jungles and deserts for valuable treasures. But he’s busy battling other treasure hunters and power-mad army generals. So he’s recruited you and the other heroes to find the ancient statues and mystical jewels hidden in ancient ruins and remote caverns that he doesn’t have time to seek out. The heroes meet Dr. Smith at the beginning of each adventure. He points the way to get the action started — and drops in whenever the game master thinks the characters need a little extra help.

What kind of “One Big Hero” story will you tell?

USR Wednesdays: Marvel Superheroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

USR Wednesdays: Dragons As Player Characters

I’ve been rewatching “Game Of Thrones” recently, in anticipation of the seventh season being released on disc (we’re buying each season as it’s released, and watching it then, so no spoilers). The CG for the dragons is impressive, for the most part, and every time I see them on screen I’m reminded of an old game, the AD&D 2nd Edition “Council Of Wyrms,” which boils down to “Dragons as PCs.” This is full-size dragons, not dragonborn; the character’s scale color stands in for race, and there are mages and priests and so on. I’ve never actually played in the setting, but “Dragons as PCs” is a great way to try the USR rules on an entirely different scale.

Dragons As PCs
You can make this very picture come to life in your USR game. (image: geek.com)

Dragons are, of course, powerful enough to rule entire kingdoms (as they do in the later “Dragonlance” novels) or destroy armies (as they do in “Game Of Thrones”). How do you recreate that level of power in USR? You could start with the superhero rules, setting them at Tier 4, but the tiers only work with varying levels of power — a Thor vs a Punisher. If everyone’s a massive dragon, take a cue from Risus, and change the scale of target numbers for non-contested rolls, decreasing them all by two points. So it looks like this:

2 Medium
3 Making a Close Range shot
5 Hard
7 Making a Long Range shot
8 Very Hard
12 Nearly Impossible

The characters can still fail on a die roll, but it’s a lot harder to do so, since they’re physically and magically utterly powerful creatures. Monsters in this setting are scaled down, too. A single human or elf has stats of D4 and 1 hit point. A party of adventurers out to slay your hero is probably at Power Level I or maybe II. A giant, an actual threat to a dragon, might be a Power Level III or IV creature. The rules don’t change, just the numbers.

Then there’s the adventures themselves. A group of dragons likely won’t be crawling through dungeons, unlocking doors and fighting goblins. Instead, try adventures on a larger scale:

  • Seek a treasure — in the realm of the gods
  • Investigate the murder of an ancient dragon, dealing with armies of humans, elves and dwarves firing arrows at you as you search for clues
  • Negotiate with other societies (giants, demons) to make room for the ceremony that will bring an elder dragon to godhood

What will your party of dragons look like?