Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dave Ruins Things for EVERYone

So it's Saturday night, and I've been a lot of thought to some serious edits of my fantasy-punk game since Thursday night's play-test session..

Thursday's game saw the continuation of the assault that started the week before, but with the missing players (four of 'em) arriving late to the scene and joining the raid, mid-firefight. That all worked out fine (still digging the team leader works great for split parties and maintaining order overall)...though much like B/X Dungeons & Dragons, a skirmish level combat system has the tendency to bog down once you get more than a dozen combatants involved.

Not that things were all that much back with Shadowrun...

ANYway, that wasn't la problema. The problem was, some folks were disgruntled by the way things were going down, specifically by their own lack of effectiveness compared to other characters' "ultra-effectiveness."

Actually, "disgruntled" is too strong a word. Definitely, there was some acknowledged poor dice rolling on the parts of some individuals (which ultimately led to a number of folks being killed/taken out). But other characters certainly seemed to have more than a leg up on others in combat...receiving multiple attacks, striking first, and being nearly impossible to hit due to their low armor class (natural 20s needed).

Which kind of sucked considering other players had prioritized specifically for combat...and were weaker in combat than the guy who had assigned 0 priority to combat.

The problem folks, is physical adepts.

I've been starting to think that I may have made the game a bit too close to Shadowrun over all. Not surprising really, because my initial thought was,

"Shadowrun has a terrible game system...I could do better just converting the whole thing to B/X."

Voila...I end up with what might as well be called B/X Shadowrun (go figure). And yet I've borrowed and stolen and spliced pieces of other games (Cyberpunk 2020, Twilight 2000, Advanced Recon, Rifts) along with different genre movies (Ghost in the Shell, Appleseed, Strange Days, RoboCop) to give it the stuff I want.

However, there is a TON of recognizably Shadowrun stuff in the game, especially with regard to the magic system, and I'm starting to I really WANT a Shadowrun-style magic system?

Do I?

Definitely the physical adepts are problematic. Sorry, Dave...but after thinking about it for three days we may have to ret-con your character into something entirely different. See, I don't mind a player prioritizing RESOURCES and blowing their money on cyberware that makes them into a combat badass (with wired reflexes and bionic parts). In MY game, the trade-off results in Charisma loss, rather than some abstract, do-nothing stat like "Essence." Turning your character into a killing machine makes him/her a lot less likable a person.

So what, you say. Charisma is a "dump stat" anyway, right? least, not if you want to do things like use your Contacts...which is important to folks who want to, say, purchase or repair damaged cyberware. Not if you want to interact with folks on a level besides "waving gun under nose."

But while cyborgs have to contend with their own loss of humanity and alienation, the "physical adept" (a kind of "magic cyborg") takes no penalties for becoming a "super-soldier."

  • It doesn't matter if they lower the priority on resources; they only need a little cash for a few basic weapons and they can have as many of the advantages a million credit cyborg does.
  • It doesn't matter if they lower the priority on skills; their adept abilities can make them highly effective artificially ESPECIALLY with combat.
  • And because "adept status" is only priority B (as opposed to a priority A full magician), the character can have fat ability scores (at priority A) that simply get pumped into the stratosphere with their adept powers.
The end result is a character who's just a little too perfect. Steve-O may have been a walking cyborg nightmare, but he was still a nightmare...relegated to waiting in the car (or in back alleys) while the "grown ups" were having conversations with NPCs. His job was to walk point and take that first bullet.

But the adept? He makes the snipers and bruisers look redundant when he can dance around and shrug off gunfire and still "stealth" and "computer hack" and use that 18 charisma to negotiate with fixers.

Even in Shadowrun, the physical adept seems a bit of a sink for min-maxing madness...and yet, it's been included as an option in every edition beginning with the 2nd edition. After play-testing a few weeks, I'm about 90% certain I'm dumping it from my book. Hey, it's just more room for illustrations, really.

But now that I've opened this can of worms, I'm thinking about starting from scratch on the ENTIRE magic system and making it something that doesn't even resemble Shadowrun. I like the whole Shaman versus Sorcerer thang...and I LIKE the idea of minor magic-users (with lower magic priority). And I REALLY like the non-Vancian magic system.

BUT there are other magical traditions that I'd like to witches, for example. Dammit, I blame Tim Brannan in part for this. I started reading his Other Side blog due to this A-Z thing and his hardcore witch-blogging has completely reinvigorated my own interest in the subject. I, too, have at least one half-written witch RPG on the drawing board (and a 2nd with witchy over-tones), as well as a B/X witch character class in an incomplete supplement and at least one (also incomplete) B/X adventure module in which "witches" feature prominently. Ugh...shouldn't witchery be a part of any "dark fantasy" game?

Or is that too much like The Dresden Files?

Point is, I feel like my game it is FARTHER AWAY from completion than when I started, even though I've nearly finished writing the damn thing. Writing's been nearly finished, sure...but now rewriting (and re-conceptualizing!) may be necessary on a major scale.

Plus all this A-Z blogging is giving me the itch to play Dungeons & Dragons again.



  1. JB playtesting is the most important thing possible - else we won't have a game only a stream of your consciousness - entertaining enough but as a game?
    Keep playtesting and I hope you acknowledge your players in your games credits.
    I for one can wait for the finished fully playtested product. I have faith, that's why I'm jovial.

  2. Keep at it boss. You are my B/X modifier role model.

  3. Well witches under Shadowrun would be some form of shaman variant, so you could make the fit.

    As for adepts, I don't recall them being overpowered in my old games, so I don't remember if there were any checks and balances placed on them. I suppose the main thing was that they didn't have many options as far as powers go, but that doesn't help with the sidelining of the street samurai.

  4. Actually phyical adepts were in the Grimoire supplement for 1E as well. :)

    Look at it this way: your group is putting the rules through their paces, seeing of there are any problems in them. You found one.

    As to the cyborg CHA loss vs. nothiong for adepts, maybe do something as well for all mage-types as well (just not a severe). Several games have exploited the fact that mages are so esoteric and reclusive that they don't work well with other (Ars Magica comes to mind).

  5. Good luck. Physical Adepts were one of the things I wasn't a huge fan of when they were introduced later in the 1e product cycle.

    But then again, I really burned out on Shadowrun over the years - particularly the magic system.

    What I loved about 1e was the ability to buy groups of friends with your starting funds. You could make a starting character who had a small (and quite functional) army.

  6. @ JP: I will, I will!

    @ Pierce: Thanks, I'm flattered!

    @ Anthony: Yes, I'm aware the adept was in the 1E Grimoire...but it was apparently so darn cool/popular that it was included in every core rule book (2nd - 4th) issued thereafter. In 1st ed. it might still be considered "optional."

    As for Ars Magica-style "disconcerting gift" It's not really that type of game. Ars is mythic Europe where all such fairytale stuff is dark and ominous and fraught with superstition. This seting is one where the magic isn't dark and's the megacorporations and corruption and organized crime and easy-trade of humanity that's scary.

    @ Dyson: Yeah, I'm wondering if I need to cut it down a LOT.

    I AM including the "small army" contacts in the game, by the way.
    : )

  7. Hah, thanks, but I have to give you some credit for ruining at least some things.

    Seriously, though, my player feels very over-powered. In this last session, I considered advising everyone to leave the room since I would eventually kill all the baddies and they basically weren't able to hit me.

    I think you could tweak the cost/benefits the power adept chooses from and potentially remove the "go twice in a round" ability and it'd still be a fun character to play.

    That said, I'll love looking for more rules to exploit to ruin everything again if you want me to start a new guy from scratch.