Tuesday, 14 December 2010

K.I.C.K. and Risus Part II

K.I.C.K. is staffed by a wide variety of weird and wonderful people and beings.

My idea was, originally, to mix the World of Darkness "splats" together, but with a system as flexible as Risus, you can have an urban wizard, a time-travelling refugee, a "normal" agent, a mad scientist, an ogre and a psychic flying alien monkey/bear hybrid all in the same team - and not only will the system be able to handle all these, they will all be pretty well playable in the same group.

It also allows all the players to shine - those who take non-combat powers and cliches, like Psychic Empath or Mad Scientist to shine - a psychic battle or working to make the right gadget IN A CAVE, WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS can be easily modelled using the system. And, of course, if they can figure out a way to use them in combat (and provide a hilarious explanation), even better!

I envision it as my "fallback" game - when player's don't turn up, or we have an extra last-minute game, or to wind down after a serious campaign. The idea of each session being a "mission" really helps, but it also opens up the campaign ideas - either a series of unconnected missions, or maybe a full-on plot, like an alien invasion or zombie apocalypse.

Also, I want to work out a few cliches the group can use as inspiration, or to stich together to form a character if they're lacking time or creativity.

Agent - weaponry, fighting, investigation, being the "normal" one of the group
Alien - weird tech, crazy accent, being out of place, crazy "alien" psychic powers
Demonically Possessed - speaking backwards, a knowledge of the arcane, putting on the Game Face, creepy powers
Everyman Hero - scraping through no matter the odds, thinking outside the box, having little knowledge about the "weird", Weapon Proficiency: Half Brick
Post-Modern Magician - "modern" magic with cellphones, computers etc, weird new-age philosophy, knowing about "consenus reality" (whatever that is)
Time Traveller - crazy future tech (that might as well be magic), knowing things that haven't happened yet, laughing at "old superstitions" like religion and "gravity"
Vampire (old) - seduction, turning into a bat/wolf/mist, being hard to kill, wearing capes and full dinner jackets, not drinking... wine, shrieking at holy symbols
Vampire (modern) - looking hot, being forever young, being strong and fast, attracting teenage girls, sparkling in sunlight (rumours of turning into unicorns unsupported)
Zombie - being dead, connecting to the spirit world, not needing to eat, breathe, feel pain

Remember, these are just a sample of what you can use in Risus - it's that easy and simple. None of these are exhaustive either - if he can explain it, the Everyman Hero can use his cliche to disbelieve the supernatural, win a drinking contest (if he's that kind of everyman), whatever he (and I) think would be appropriate.
Just a small sample, but seriously - I'll take everyone from Rambo to Gandalf to Jesus to Mork. So long as the character makes me laugh, it's all good.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Agents of K.I.C.K. and Risus

Another game I'm planning, and have run previously, was generallly referred to as some permutation of Agents of K.I.C.K., an urban fantasy/sci-fi/comedy game. Think Hellboy with a comedy basis, not horror, and you're pretty close.

K.I.C.K. was a government subsidiary, formed during WWII to fight the Nazi Thule Organisation. Unbeknownst to the public, these sorcerers, mad scientists, and weird creatures battled the Anti-Semitic Werewolf Squads and SS Powered-Armour Divisions across the world, finally securing peace when one of them punched Hitler's head clean off his shoulders.

Now, K.I.C.K. still exists, but have moved into the private sector - goverments and companies (as well as individuals) can hire out K.I.C.K. operatives to deal with the weird and unusual - whether it's alien invasions, rampant vampires, or cult activity, K.I.C.K. is ready and willing to offer you the right team for the job!

Assuming you have the cash, of course.

The idea started when I planned to run a tight, Glasgow-based personal-horror game of Hunter: The Vigil, and one of the players asked if he could play a Werewolf. I was... unsure about how having one of the most combat-ready creatures in the World of Darkness might affect the tone of horror and desperation I was after, but I allowed the player to submit a character sheet.


Well well well.

An SAS-trained, Kung-Fu werewolf. With dual Desert Eagles. And a trenchcoat. I was agog. Actually, I was entertained. I politely let him down, and asked for the character to be changed. I still recieved an American ex-military demolitions expert. With a trenchcoat. And a Desert Eagle.


But that furry kung-fu figting son of a bitch triggered something in my brain. Yes, it was innapropriate and kinda dumb. But it sounded entertaining as all Hell. So I thought about running a "pulpy" campaign for the New World of Darkness rules. Just for fun. Mainly inspired by Robert Rankin's Far Fetched Fiction, nextwave, Hellboy, and terrible 80's action movies.

The first group had:

Jericho Cross, Kung-Fu Werewolf (as previously mentioned)
Arnold, a Mad Scientist of the violent kind (see Genius: The Transgression, a fan-made WoD gameline)
Miss Mae, a Changeling held in an inter-dimensional poker hall
Mary "Justice" Waters, badass lady Hunter

And a few other concepts bandied around. The first mission was to infiltrate a nightclub selling drugs that turned people into monsters. We didn't get too far before the game died, sadly. It was then ressurected using the Hellboy Totally Unofficial Role-Playing System, a game based on the old West End Games' Ghostbusters game. Again, fun and madness followed, with Arnold and Miss Mae returning to the fray, along with a Lumberjack Commando, a man with a great knowledge of physics and a rocket launcher (and metal trousers) and a man who seemed to be powered by Awesome, but it never really kept off the ground very long.

So, I figured that what I might need was a fast-paced, rules-light system that can handle action, aswell as keep such diverse character concepts balanced.

That's where Risus comes in.

I love the ideas behind Risus. You have no stats, just 10 six-siders to share amongst "cliches" - things about your character. So, "Noir Detective" could be a cliche, meaning you can use it to detect, investigate, be sardonic and have an inner monologue, wear a trenchcoat and fedora, and be in black-and-white. So could "Hacker" - being good with computers, living on Jolt Cola and cold pizza, not sleeping, being able to manipulate anything that is justafiably online, and genius-level skills at DOOM. Cliches can be anything you want them to be, whether very vague and broad, or narrowly defined, but still flexible (the difference between "Magic User" and "Specialist Necromancer of the Dark Brotherhood Of Malificent Evil").Cliches act as Skills, Stats and Hit Points, all in one fell swoop! Any interaction uses the same resolution mechanic, whether it's fighting, dancing, debating, week-long court battles, year-long rivalries of one-up-manship - whatever you want to do, Cliches can do it. It's awesome.

Go read it. Right now.  It's 6 pages long. 2 of those are optional rules, so technically 4 pages. 5 minutes, tops. Do it. I dare you.

Next time, a bit on what I plan to do with it!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Transhuman Fantasy Setting - Races

So, I mentioned before - I was thinking about what races to include in this setting.

I already established something like Elves and Dwarves (you need something to allow newer players to jump in, eh?), and Humans. In a fantasy setting, Savage Races are a given. But I wanted to add a few more options, for players and me alike - so I'll look at the "niches" these races inhabit, and see what I can think of.

One of my big problems is racial "overlap" - in D&D, GMs are presented with a wide variety of monsters who differ only in stats or the tiniest amounts of background, leading to the moment you realise that having three or four of them in the same setting is... weird, at best, ridiculous at worst. So I want to trim down the influences here, and see what I can realistically reduce the baggage to.

Small and Sneaky - Kobolds, Kenku, and Goblins from D&D, Skaven from Warhammer - the underfoot, the vermin, the downtrodden. If available, always thought of as a "challenging" player race, due to the rest of the world's xenophobia (or, for Kobolds, terrible stats!). Personally, I like the Skaven - they look horrible, their background fluff is actually pretty awesome, and they fit the tech level about right... but I think with a few tweaks, the Kenku can do all that, and maybe a wee bitty more, while also adding a new angle to things.

Big and Angry and Raidy - Orcs, Gnolls, Ogres, Beastmen - living on the fringes of society, ruled by tyrants and despots, mainly evil for the sake of being evil, often following some evil religion or creed. Again, not the most common of player races, but can provide some good adventure and XP fodder. Also, it's sometimes (sadly) handy as a DM to have a fallback when adventures go awry - "Umm... uhhh... you are attacked by wandering orcs!"

"Evil" - Mindflayers, the Githyanki, maybe some of the smarter Chromatic Dragons, some of the forces of Chaos in Warhammer - the planners, schemers, the bigwigs on a grand scale. A more refined race of always evil creatures. Make good Big Bad Evil Guys, horrible traders and slavers, powerful informants and unlikely allies. Less player-oriented, more plot-device, but their effects can be felt throughout the Cities.

Anyone think of any other bases I should cover?

Transhuman Fantasy - The Setting and Inspirations

So, next up - the setting.

I decided early on that, to get a more people-focused game, I wanted the action to stick within a few cities at most.

So, I had planned on a High-, Middle- and Under-city triad.

The High City is where the rich and prosperous stay. Cosmetic mods are common, and most of them are ususual. Trading in relics, antiques and information is common. Lots of chances for intrigue, politics and theft, of course.

The Middle City is your standard living area in this world. People work hard for their money, and have enough material possessions to keep them going. Many aspire to life in the High City. Cheaper "common" cosmetic mods are outweighed by more practical ones (fire resistant skin for ironworkers, Darkvision for miners etc.). Generally not too much adventuring is done here, but it makes a good living area/base of operations, and has many taverns and entertainments for R&R. Lots of racial diversity. Will probably have some kind of trading port or caravan system, maybe a market quarter.

The Under City is, to quote someone far wiser than me, "a wretched hive of scum and villainy". Street gangs are common, mods are dirty and cheap (and often illegal in the other Cities), with a large number of cosmetics and "weaponised" mods. Good place for dark and grimy adventures, tangling with the locals, gaining black-market mods and info, and a great place for more morally ambiguous PCs to come from. Still some honest trade, but it's falling by the wayside as pirates and brigands swee the city's population.

Other cities exist, of course, but they are painted in broad strokes - they might be feudal empires, savage encampments, or very similar to these cities - but they're not our focus cities. Not yet, anyway.

I also wanted a wee list of my influences for this setting, to show you where I'm coming from and what I want to achieve. So...
Ghost in the Shell
Cyberpunk 2020 (including a special mention to Listen Up, You Primitive Screwheads!)
Traditional Euro-Fantasy D&D

No doubt more will be added as I go!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Transhuman Fantasy Part II

So, more thoughts before I put pen to paper:

  • Races - well, do I want to include the usual mileu of fantasy races, or create a few of my own? For now, I might use the standard races as placeholders, representing outlooks on Transhumanism and "templates" for ability scores etc. So, "Dwarves" shun the fancy modifications for those of a more practical nature, with a few pretty much becoming walking mining machines, becoming "More Dwarf Than Dwarf", "Elves" see the body as a canvas, and go for outlandish cosmetic alterations to enhance their uniqueness, "Savage Races" only really go in for those which enhance their combat abilities, or maybe provide a link to their heathen gods, "Humans" are a mixed bag. There will probably be some races which are altogether not comfortable with any sort of modification, yet remain a player in the world due to influence/resources. On the other end of the spectrum, you have something like Eberron's Warforged - things which are not human, and so can modify themselves pretty freely (or use modifications to become more human).
  • Humanity Is Not The Same As Human - "humanity" is a measure of morality, "alignment", etc., while Human is a race. While I wouldn't hold "Elves" and "Dwarves" to the exact same standards as a human, due to racial, cultural and geographical differences, basic morality remains the same.
  • Starting Modifications - I imagine that almost everyone with an adventuring bent will have some kind of mods to help alonmg the way, even at low levels - perhaps give 3 "mod points" to use (powerful races get less) at character creation to decide on what mods to have? Cosmetics are 0, utility are 1 or 2, heavy utility are 2 or 3, combat are 3?
  • Transhumanism Is Not Evil - might sound weird, but in "average" speculative fiction, transhumanist actions are frequently frowned upon - bad guys upgrade themselves with cyborg parts, dangerous magic, etc. - how often does a good guy decide to become a giant snake to fight his enemies? Bad guys do that shit all the time. This is due to an intrinsic loss of humanity - the less human you become, the harder it is to identify with the character, thus sliding them further into the "Evil" category. Becoming "inhuman" is a risk, but I see these definitions becoming... hazy over time. Of course, transfering your mind into a massive dragon-shaped war construct is still pretty bad news on the old Moustache-Twirl-O-Meter.
  • Humanity Loss - should I have a system where the more mods you gain, the less Human you become? Something akin to Cyberpunk 2020's "cyberpsychosis" or Shadowrun's Essence loss? How do these affect the aforementioned Warforged, who were never human to start with?
Maybe more to come, but I want those questions out there before I start.

    Wednesday, 1 December 2010

    Fantasy Transhumanism Setting

    So, I've been thinking about trying to write up my own setting for a while, and wanted to do something a bit different (and not in the "They're like Orcs, only they're tree-hugging hippies like Elves!" way). So I got to thinking about other genres that interest me, and how I can transfer themes from those into a fantasy setting. One of the ones which struck me was Transhumanist Sci-Fi.

    For those not in the know, Transhumanism is a movement concerned with how technology will affect humanity's development - how we will use it to change our bodies, consciousnesses, and how this will affect society and the individual. It's a pretty interesting philosophical area, and has generated a large amount of literature over the last decade or so.

    Something a lot of people overlook is that even in Dungeons and Dragons, most "vanilla" of all fantasy RPGs, transhumanism is pretty commonly touched upon, but not greatly expanded on. Your character uses sorcery, magic items and esoteric training to do things others can't - you become something post-human by the time you hit levels with double figures. You can (in theory) survive things that should outright kill lesser men, by virtue of how great a warrior you are. Face it - a twelth-level fighter isn't "normal" by any stretch of the imagination.

    To go into more fantastic realms, Lichdom is a sort of transhumanism - altering your physical state to deny natural processes like death. In sci-fi, this would be something like transferring your consciousness into a mechanical body or computer system - here, you utilise necromantic magics to the same effect. Similarly, options exist to gain grafts from magical creatures, add Warforged (fantasy robot) parts to yourself... D&D is pretty transhuman, in a way. But it doesn't focus on how these things affect people.

    So I wanted to explore what a truly transhumanist fantasy setting would be like, where people use magic to change their bodies, consciousnesses, etc. on a daily basis, not just as "great heroes" - and how these changes affect individuals as well as society.

    So, some of the basic ideas I had floating about:
    • Needs To Be High-Magic - magic must be something everyone knows about, and can to some extent utilise (in the way that D&D characters have the skill Use Magic Device). Maybe in the deepest, darkest far-away corners of the land, people will still be superstitious and wary of magic, but otherwise, it should be a part of everyday life. This, in turn, means that a lot of problems that normally plague a Dark Ages world no longer apply - frex, scarcity of food isn't a problem when Clerics can whip it up, neither is disease for similar reasons.
    • Should Be Focused - D&D is about world-(sometimes, universe)spanning adventures. As transhumanism is focused on the people, not the tech, so must this setting be people-focused. This might mean (at least at first) limiting the action to one country, maybe even a single city or group thereof.
    • Players Are Still Special - yep, being in a place where everyone has some form of crazy magic working on them is likely to make the players feel that their crazy magic isn't as awesome as it should be. There will be few chances for the players to leave peasents agog at their unique control of the mystical and arcane, but I want to ensure they still can.
    • System - well, I think D&D might be useable here, but at the same time, it might not. I'll try and keep things a bit more system-free until I work out some more of the setting.
    • Cannot Just Be Ghost In The Shell with Wizards (Regardless Of How Brilliant This Idea Would Be).
    More to come!