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: Breaking The Fourth Wall

The tropes of role playing games can really help when you’re looking to make your game as unbelievably simple as it can be. We’ve already mentioned the archetypes of race and class, which after decades have become shorthand not only for what a character can do, but how he or she is expected to act (you know exactly what a dwarf paladin is as soon as you read the words. Same for half-orc ninja).
But there are other tropes that can shape your game, too, and, depending on the tone you’re going for, can be folded into every game session.

Montage

A movie cliche for years, this is the series of scenes showing the characters getting ready ― training for battle, building the ultimate vehicle, plotting the heist, even going on dates with not-quite-the-right-guy. If all the characters agree to be part of a montage, each one describes what they’re doing during the montage. After the montage, each player gains a +3 to any one die roll related to what was happening in the montage. This can happen only once per game; after all, a montage song is expensive, and the movie studio can’t afford to buy two of them.
The mysterious man in the corner of the tavern told the party about the dragon’s hoard in the nearby cavern. The heroes are gearing up for battle. During the montage, the warrior sharpens his sword and lifts weights, the wizard’s hands crackle with electricity as she practices spells, and the thief slides daggers into his boots. A synth-rock song plays in the background. When the dragon rears its head, the song’s chorus echoes in the cavern. The warrior gains a +3 to his first sword attack against the dragon.

Orc Vs Stormtrooper
Whomever wins, they’re both losers. (image: goodreads.com)

Mooks

Mooks are, of course, the faceless, nameless troops of the bad guy, all in the same outfit: COBRA, Imperial Stormtroopers, orcs, various aliens, etc. They’re meant as more of an obstacle than a threat, a way to introduce action without draining the heroes’ ammunition, powers, or health. The traditional way to represent heroes wiping out armies of mooks is to give them 1 hit point each. If you’re using miniatures rules, you might want to give them 5 hit points each, so they stick around long enough to get placed on the battle mat. For an extra-violent (or extra-silly) take on mooks, a hero’s die roll in combat isn’t compared to the opponent’s defense roll, like it normally is; instead, the attack automatically hits, and the total rolled is the number of mooks annihilated that turn.
The aliens come swarming over the hill as their queen scuttles behind them. The heroes grab their guns and open fire. An Action roll of 6 is enough to defeat the alien’s 4; it falls to the ground. One less beast to deal with.

Deathbed Vow

In a “serious” game, a hero’s death is very final. When the hit points are at zero, it’s time to create a new character. But other settings — superheroes, robots — are meant for heroes who don’t really die. In those kinds of settings, a hero at zero or fewer hit points just falls out of action (unconscious, or simply out of the line of fire, no longer a target for enemies). And a deathbed vow can revive them. Once per game, any hero can give a brief speech while next to or touching a character who’s at zero or fewer hit points. As long as the speech includes phrases like, “He was the best of all of us,” (even if he wasn’t) or, “Your sacrifice will not be forgotten,” the character will immediately regain half his or her total hit points. It’s a special kind of healing that can be done for the victim once per game session (hopefully a character won’t need it that often!).
“Commander! Say something!” called out Private Jackson, leaning over the officer’s bloody body. “You took that bullet for me, I can never repay you…” The commander opened his eyes and reached in his pocket. He pulled out a small Bible with a bullet through the middle. “Always count on the good book, son,” the commander said, and stood up.

Under-equipped or over-equipped

While writing stats for Star Wars and Superhero characters, I discovered something: the “spend 4 Gear Points” character creation rule doesn’t quite apply to movie and comic characters the way it does to RPG heroes. Most screen characters have a single favored weapon, and no armor, especially in modern-day or future settings. Unspent Gear Points are added to Narrative Points, which makes sense, given the amazing things most heroes do regularly. But a game master could also go back to the basic USR rules, and just give characters the equipment that seems appropriate for them. One hero might have a single sword, while his partner carries an entire arsenal of guns ― if the story they’re telling is still fun, there’s no need to “balance” heroes with Gear Points.

What’s your favorite movie montage?