Sunday, September 8, 2019

For When You're On Your Own (YOYO) - More pre-generated characters!

So despite my intentions to have a break from Twilight: 2000 material, a recent post on the little-visited Twilight: 2000 subreddit prompted me to post this in response.

A while back I lamented the lack of pregenerated character for Twilight: 2000 as a potential barrier to adoption of the setting and the game by new players and presented six pregen "archetypes" to help provide inspiration and fill out a small party with some core roles if needed:

  • The Wheelman
  • The Heavy
  • The Scout
  • The Doctor
  • The Engineer
  • The Major

  • I had developed v1.0 versions of "Monk" and "Bobby Lee" based on the example characters in the rulebooks, then updated them to v2.2 ("the Wheelman" and "the Scout") and added in the other four archetypes as I had only limited information on the rest of the named characters, but I didn't have the time or inclination to develop all the characters mentioned in the example fiction.

    But it turns out a Reddit user known as "u/wbgamer" has now done exactly this according to his post.

    He's created a great resource of pre-generated characters in my view for both new and old players and referees alike. Apparently, he saw my original v1.0 characters on my old blog "My Life as a Grog" and felt inspired enough to complete the set!

    The twelve v2.2 characters are linked to a Google Docs zip file of PDFs of the "advanced" Excel character sheet developed by Marc on the Juhulin forums that include character portraits and some background notes, with an accompanying "Notes" file with suggestions for the group's backstory and vehicles (LAV-25 and HMMW M1029), weapons and other equipment they share in common at the beginning of the default Escape from Kalisz campaign scenario.

    I hereby salute you, good sir!

    For those interested in the breakdown, the characters are:

    • Alvarez (support - electronics, fluent Spanish, secondary combat medic)
    • Anderson (sergeant, 49yo, speaks Russian and has contacts)
    • Bobbi Lee (MP not ranger but scout and rifleman; see also my version
    • Carson (truck-driver for LAV-25, crack shot)
    • Gordon (former construction engineer and combat engineer support) 
    • Griffith (supply sergeant, scrounger and wheeled driver)
    • Jefferson (reservist, tank gunner and heavy weapons)
    • Jones (Welsh SAS / sniper with Polish and German, stealth and combat)
    • Major (prior enlisted combatant, now older officer; see also my version)
    • Monk (drafted pre-war mechanic support character, see also my version)
    • Toye (captain, typical infantry combat officer)
    • Wood (not actually a medic just "the closest thing")

    u/wbgamer's "Design Notes" for his iconic Escape from Kalisz Party

    Note: the zip file and PDFs are private documents initially but accessible upon requesting permission and being approved by the author. I'd be happy to mirror host the files here and will contact the creator to check what he's comfortable in sharing soon or if he has any issues with the screenshots.

    The Same, but Different?

    So that's great, but what's the difference between u/wbgamer's characters and my pregens?

    I mean you already have my pregens, what more do you need right... right?

    Well, it really depends what you're looking for, as I think the two sets of pre-generated characters are not only both useful but also complementary. Sure, we both present versions of "Monk" and "Bobbi-Lee" (which intentionally vary only slightly in end result according to u/wbgamer although Bobbi Lee is a very different build as he explains in the "Design Notes") and both groups have a "Major" but the two sets follow different design philosophies there are enough differences to comment on.

    character sheet by u/wbgamer

    Group #1

    My half-dozen characters were designed to be *supplementary* to an existing small group, ie. for a game with 3-4 players with their own individual characters who need or want some more developed NPCs than the standard NEVE / 2 card mooks, villagers and adversaries of the basic game with their set Attributes, Assets and random motivations.

    As a set they allow for most of the core roles of a Twilight: 2000 group stranded in post-WW3 Poland to survive, covering the major threats: food, breakdowns, disease, injury and social interaction. Probably I should have included a scrounger but I made a decision not to partly because Scrounging is a very rare skill limited to only a few career terms (as u/wbgamer notes) and because despite the setting's emphasis, there are no workable rules for scrounging presented (a significant omission - I'd suggest the rules from the Other Dust RPG could be readily adapted).

    They are also designed to be readily modified to give some basic builds and variants for new players that don't want to spend too much time on learning character generation, as inspiration for more proficient players or to provide a quick replacement or fill-in character when a primary character meets a grisly end or the group realise that they need more than a single-digit Mechanic Asset for the grease-monkey that's been tagging along and driving their 5-ton truck as a cardboard cut-out.

    Group #2

    u/wbgamer's characters, however, are a whole pre-generated group, ready to run as a unit and designed to function as a unit with the group assets and history to match. In that sense, his approach is more traditional providing the elements of a party for the initial campaign, much like the "iconic party" of a certain draconian spear derivative campaign for a particular original fantasy role-playing game. Sure, 12 characters may sound like a lot to run, but at least you have the option of choosing from the whole gang ready to go, there's an available specialist for all the major non-combat threats (including a scrounger) and the Referee can handle a couple of the others that provide key roles if they're looking for a more cinematic approach.

    Unlike my archetypes, a backstory is provided for the individuals and for the group as a whole, adding to the limited background presented in Escape from Kalisz and fleshing out the world just that little bit more. I think this helps give this set of characters an edge for a Referee kicking off a Twilight: 2000 game for a beginning group of younger players that may have never played the game before - they can just jump straight in and not only explore the mechanics readily but also have suggested interpersonal relationships from the get go. They don't need to get bogged down in character creation which some people find overly complicated.

    The group's shared equipment seems quite reasonable without being overpowered and matches the canonical LAV-25 / HMMV combination from the original v1.0 boxed set. This is an aspect I hadn't considered previously but provides an example to use as inspiration for your own player group or similar remnant groups from the US 5th Infantry Division.

    Final Comments

    I think u/wbgamer's pre-generated characters are a great contribution to the non-canon resources of the game, helping lower a significant barrier I believe exists for new players adopting T2k - the relative complexity and time sink of character creation. I like the way the dozen have been designed to interact as a group, their shared resources and their common backstory - they could even be used as a rival group to your game's player group and a source of potential allies or replacements.


    Sunday, August 11, 2019

    The Derropedia 2.0

    "Derro", by Ben Wooton

    So about a year ago, I had a whole other blog (actually even before that I had another one as well) dedicated to a specific theme - the derro. Now it's been a while since I've revisited the Derropedia, but looking over the site after a break, there are some interesting concepts that I think may well be worth exploring further.

    As a start, I'll break it down into groups of related posts/articles.

    Derro Culture

    These are some more generic derro themed articles

    Savants & Religion

    Savants and the madness of derro theology are a core concept - I've explored this in a few ways below, including variant savant concepts and idolatory: 

    Saturday, August 10, 2019

    Riverine Adventures II - More Resources

    I'm taking a break from developing Twilight: 2000 material, returning to more generic RPG topics and back to a returning interest of mine - rivers and waterways. I've come across a couple of interesting products due soon, a recent PDF resource and a couple of useful articles and an alternate map approach (maps here) that I think make for good resources for riverine / waterway adventures.

    Icelandic River (from Free Images)

    Monday, May 27, 2019

    Take the Initiative - Twilight: 2000 Initiative Mechanics and Options

    Initiative is a common feature of most RPGs, and there are a lot of posts and articles detailing the various ways of determining who acts first... and nearly as much written on discussions as to why this is important. Twilight: 2000 has a different Initiative approach compared to many systems, not only in terms of how Initiative is determined as a static derived characteristic but also it's interplay with two other the number of attacks/actions a character can take per turn and also somewhat uniquely in my experience, its influence on whether a character panics/freezes.

    Who Has the Higher Initiative Here? Who is Panicking?

    "An analysis of Initiative in v2.2 would be worthwhile. It's so important; high INIT characters can regularly get the drop on novices, and most everybody really. Several factors play into it: terms served in specific careers, wounds, two actions per turn by high INIT characters, etc.
    I like the INIT mechanic, yet find it occasionally frustrating in play as well. It's a clean system, but is too predictable, and heavily-skewed toward the players IMO."
    - Wayne Gralian (@waynesbooks), MeWe Twilight 2000 group, May 2019

    Starting Initiative and Modifiers

    Let's start with the basics of the v2.2 RAW (rules as written) that usually helps.

    Base initiative is determined by a 1D6 roll. (The minimum initiative is 1)
    • Regulars keep their base roll. 
    • Reservists divide by 2 (round up).
    • Draftees, militia and volunteers (including government agents) divide by 2 (round down).
    • Modify by Military Careers
      • +1 for rangers, airborne, special forces, force recon, snipers, and "equivalents"
      • -1 for support, air force enlisted, aviation enlisted, and military intelligence personnel
    • Modify if the character has spent 2+ Terms in the following Civilian careers
      • +1 for Criminal
      • +1 for Federal Law Enforcement
      • +1 for State/Local Law Enforcement
    • A character's current Initiative is reduced by 1 when slightly wounded, by 3 (total) when seriously wounded, and by 5 (total) when critically wounded. 
    Unlike many other games, a character's AGL (Agility) or similar does *not* modify Initiative.

    On average this means that a military character / regular with will have an Initiative of 4+ (average roll of 3.5 on 1D6 and +1 for relevant career), compared to a civilian character with an average Initiative of 2, maximum 4 (if 2+ Terms in an applicable career).  

    The effective maximum Initiative for a starting character is 7 (roll of 6, Regular, +1 for Military Career *or* +1 for 2+ terms in an applicable Civilian Career) - this isn't explicitly explained in the T2k v2.2 rules, but the equivalent section in Traveller: 2300 aka Traveller: the New Era (TNE) that uses the same "GDW home game" ruleset states the bonus is from either one or the other, *not* cumulative (TNE Corebook, page 36).

    Experience accumulates *separately* for Initiative (page 139). Given a character is only likely to gain a maximum of two experience points towards Initiative per session, and only if "they perform a particularly outstanding shot or superior feat of melee combat", it's unlikely to gain an Initiative of 10 or more without extended play. 

    Effects of Very High Initiative (PCs only)

    The majority of starting characters, about two-thirds of regular army characters and all civilian characters (draftees, reservists, volunteers) will have an Initiative of 5 or less - this is referred to as "normal" initiative range and the effect is roughly linear across the mechanics. By comparison, NPCs have Initiative in this range (Novice 1, Experienced 3, Veteran 4, Elite 5). Animals have Initiative 6.

    However, a regular army player character with a Term in a combat Career can achieve an Initiative of 6+ about 33% of the time (2 in 6; a roll of 5 or 6 on the D6 roll +1 modifier for career as above) - this is referred to as "very high" Initiative and has three implications which aren't normally available to NPCs if following the RAW (page 139-141).

    Initiative isn't just about the sequence of play, however.

    1. Sequence

    As even Elite NPCs only have an Initiative of 5, a player character with "very high" initiative of 6+ will act *before* every other human opponent they will encounter, and likely the same time as an animal or even earlier.

    2. Panic

    A character with a current Initiative of 6+ never suffers Panic! as the result of the1D6 roll cannot exceed their Initiative unless they become wounded (page 197).
    Whenever a character is knocked down by wound damage (see "Wound Effects and Healing," page 211) or surprised (attacked from an unexpected direction, ambushed, or surprised by an encounter as defined in the encounter rules), there is a chance that he or she will panic. This is not blind panic which sends the character screaming away, but panic which causes him or her to momentarily freeze. 
    To determine if a PC panics, roll 1D6If the result is greater than his or her Initiative rating, he or she panics. The PC may not conduct any action for the number of turns by which the die roll exceeds his or her Initiative. However, if the character is forced to freeze for more than one combat turn, he or she may go prone on the second turn and remain there until able to move again. If the character has already conducted his or her action for the turn, the following turn counts as the first turn frozen. If the character has not yet acted in the turn in which he or she panicked, the current turn becomes the first turn frozen.
    Animals, although they have an equivalent Initiative of 6 don't use the Panic rules.

    To me, this makes less sense to be tied to Initiative and action sequence which is more about reflexes/agility, whereas not freezing up in combat I would have thought would be linked to will and experience. Sure being experienced and not freezing up helps you react faster, but not necessarily the other way around.

    3. Multiple Attacks

    A character with a current Initiative of 6+ can make *two* actions per round, the second action at the step equivalent to the character's Initiative divided by 2 (rounded down) eg. step 3 for Initiative 6 or 7, step 4 for Initiative 8 or 9, and step 5 for Initiative 10.  

    Note: A character whose current Initiative level is reduced to 0 or lower, through Wounds or equivalent debility, may not act that turn at all. A character with "very high" initiative with two attacks that suffer wounds sufficient to drop their current initiative to 5 or less can then only act once per turn, losing their relative advantage.


    Initiative in Twilight: 2000 works very differently to most RPG games - although it employs a "list" or "statistic" based mechanic best known from classic D&D and derived games (roll a dice, either d6 or d20 and add usually Dexterity or similar characteristic modifiers), it's somewhat unusual in the sense Initiative is a fixed characteristic or derived statistic rather than being randomly generated, awarding initiative to the side that started the fight, using variations of index cards, playing cards or even dispensing with initiative altogether.

    The main implication is that the sequence of action is therefore comparatively *static*.

    Unless a character is wounded, their Initiative and hence the order in which they act in a combat sequence is predetermined and pretty much unchanged, not just for a particular combat round or combat, but for *every* combat for every session, for the whole campaign. 

    Essentially a character with a high Initiative will almost *always* act first and in many cases will even receive a second action during the turn sequence (see above). There's no random element or the possibility of variation which can lead to combat becoming somewhat predictable if there's a chance of a "one-shot" kill due to superior weaponry and/or skill. In Twilight: 2000 this is a very real possibility so acting first every combat has a major consequence and risk of imbalance.

    Compare this to the common 1D6 (or 1D20) roll for each side (or character) per combat (or per round), plus optional modifiers found in most games of this era and you'll appreciate the effect.

    As noted above, to compound this skewed advantage effect, a player character with a "very high" Initiative of 6+ not only acts first but is also immune to panic and attacks twice in one round - this effectively sets up a major power inflexion below which most other player characters and NPCs are linear in power advancement and above which characters are in a completely different power class.

    This may well work for many groups and clearly favours the PCs in an otherwise somewhat brutal and often lethal rules system but it's worth looking at the wider implications before allowing a character with "very high" Initiative in play as they are likely to easily dominate any combat situation in an otherwise more balanced mixed group.

    Options and Variations

    So maybe it's worth considering a few different options for determining initiative - let's have a look at some of the approaches used commonly in other RPGs and see how they might work for T2k and whether they can "even" out some of the potentially unbalancing consequences of "very high" Initiative characters or otherwise improve the game.

    1. Random Initiative

    Most RPGs determine initiative randomly with a dice roll, so let's consider that:

    a. Random 1D10 once per combat: this is the original Initiative system used in most retro-clone / OSR games based on a certain "original game system" but let's use the description from LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) because it's well written:
    "All player characters roll 1d6 for initiative individually, and the Referee rolls initiative once for each type of enemy they are facing in combat. Then the Referee counts down from 6 to 1 (with each of these units being a Segment of the combat Round), with everyone acting on their particular Initiative Segment. If opposing groups roll the same Initiative number, break ties using the Dexterity modifier. For creatures without a Dexterity score, the Referee can roll 3d6 to determine their Dexterity for purposes of Initiative only. If there are still ties, then all tied combatants act simultaneously." 
    So use a 1D10 and instead of using the Dexterity modifier as a tie-breaker, for T2k in the case of a tie the character with the higher AGL (Agility) score acts first.  

    b. Random 1D10 roll once per turn: as above, but each character rolls once per turn. 

    Both of these approaches allow a random element to determining initiative but result in difficulties with modelling experience unless you make XP in an "Initiative Modifier" and track it separately- characters with an applicable "combat" career Term (see above) or 2+ Terms in Criminal, or Federal / State / Local enforcement add +1 to their initiative Initiative Modifier and then increase it through play as normal from there.

    I think it's hard to model Panic using this random approach, however - see the insert below for suggestions on how to do this if you use this alternative Initiative system. This is not necessarily a bad thing as linking Initiative to the chance to freeze or panic has it's implications as noted above.

    For either of these options, characters that roll a 6+ for Initiative can optionally act twice in the one turn for the duration of the combat or round respectively at the stage equal to the roll divided by two (rounded down) as explained above. This consequence is a lot more random than the normal rules, reducing the set multiple attack advantage of player characters although still allows experienced characters to deploy multiple attacks.

    2. Non-random Starting Initiative

    These options are in contrast to "random Starting Initiative" which is the default for T2k v2.2. Both options allow for more player choice in order to determine their character's Initiative.

    a. Use Agility: use a character's AGL (Agility) score instead of rolling, modifying by +1 or -1 depending on appropriate military careers or 2+ Criminal / Law Enforcement Terms. Characters that have 6+ AGL can act twice in the one turn. This favours a deliberate approach to character builds but can lead to significant power creep compared to NPCs (maximum Initiative 5) in terms of player characters acting first and having multiple attacks, even if you use a less favourable variant that the AGL required for 2 attacks per turn is increased to 8+.  
    This approach doesn't really work for Panic however, so see the insert below for suggestions on how to do this if you use this alternative Initiative system.
    There's no way of increasing Attributes during play in the RAW however, so this results in static initiative unless you allow XP to accumulate towards a separate "Initiative Modifier" as noted in the random options above which complicates the approach.

    b. No. of Military Terms: in the 1st edition of T2k Initiative was modelled in a complex manner using a mechanism called "Coolness Under Fire" (T2k v1.0 Player's Manual, page 8), which determined how many of the 5 rounds in any combat turn a character hesitated, so a low score was better. The result for "Coolness Under Fire" was mostly random and still based on 1D6 (subtracting from 10), but there was a link between time in combat and better "Coolness Under Fire" that was lost in the move to 2nd edition. Military terms don't quite equate to military experience base (MEB) or time in combat however.
    Linking Initiative to the number of *military* terms is an option, although this tends to favour military characters significantly over those with civilian backgrounds as using this method civilian characters will almost always start with Initiative 1 unless they're in the reserves or spent time in law enforcement. As most characters start with 3-5 Terms, so this will typically result in comparable Initiative levels to NPCs.  As usual, characters with an applicable "combat" career Term (see above) or 2+ Terms in Criminal, or Federal / State / Local enforcement add +1 to their Initiative total.
    For this approach Panic and multiple attacks (characters with Initiative 6+ can act twice per turn) are worked out the same as usual and accumulated experience can increase the Initiative score after play. 

    Of the two options, the AGL based one is perhaps the most intuitive but requires a separate method for determining Panic, whereas the second option ties turn sequence, multiple attacks and the risk of freezing strongly to actual military experience, which I think makes sense.

    Coolness Under Fire in T2k v2.2: How to Panic Better (or Just the Same)

    The first three alternate approaches above (options 1a, 1b and 2a) work for action sequence (and multiple attacks) but break the mechanic used for determining Panic. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as the concept of acting first / multiple times and not freezing from panic don't need to be linked, but I think Panic is a core part of the T2k combat experience to retain.

    The simplest approach to this is to just use the old T2k v1.0 concept of "Coolness Under Fire" and determine it using the rules normally used for Initiative eg 1D6 roll modified by regular vs draftee/militia/volunteer status and specific military and civilian terms. This probably works better for the random initiative approaches rather than the AGL based initiative option.

    Using this option, instead of gaining Experience in just "Initiative Modifier", characters also gain XP towards their "Coolness Under Fire" score, which adds another score to track, unfortunately as the options above suggest the use of XP accumulating towards an "Initiative Modifier". One option to offset this is to award experience each session that can be used for *either* "Coolness Under Fire" *or* "Initiative Modifier*.

    Variant: use Military Terms to determine "Coolness Under Fire" as per option 2b above when using one of the other Initiative methods (random or AGL based). This makes sense and not only separates turn sequence from the risk of freezing but also factors in combat experience.


    Initiative in T2k v2.2 is much more than just a determinant of the action sequence.

    If STR (Strength) is the most important Attribute in game for most combat because it's linked to the most combat-related skills except for the AGL based acrobatic unarmed combat moves, then in the default game Initiative is likely a close second to have a high score in for a combat build character, but *not* by spending build points in AGL (Agility) like most other games as a good Initiative score is mostly determined by military Career choice/timing and chance.

    The random generation of Initiative potentially sets up not just an unpredictable gradient between combat oriented and non-combatant characters, but also a "two-tier" effect with combat oriented characters where some otherwise equal PCs will randomly have additional abilities based only on an arbitrary initial die roll. To me, this takes away player agency and enjoyment so I've suggested some options above that might help offset this effect.

    Saturday, May 25, 2019

    Twilight: 2000 Character Creation - Welcome to Hell? (Maximum Starting Terms)

    In the first post of this series, I commented on the "Careers" section of the T2k v2.2 Character Generation process and posted an example of the spreadsheet tabs of "Skills by Term" I used to help develop the various pre-generated characters in line with the "archetype" concepts I wanted. To fully develop character concepts I determined the number of "Terms" in advance but realised that the random nature of the "War Breaks Out" mechanic Term by Term could be problematic, although for some this is a core part of the "randomness" and feel of the game. I have worked out a different way of determining Total Terms *before* Skill selection so that a player has more agency when developing their character as although in Twilight: 2000 the character won't die during character like in some GDW games, not knowing the total Terms at the start of skill selection has its drawback for some players nonetheless...

    So When Does War Actually Break Out?

    The War: At the end of each term, roll 1D10. If the roll is equal to or less than your current term number, war breaks out (i.e. war breaks out at the end of the first term on a roll of 1, at end of the second term on a roll of 1 or 2, etc.). - page 23, T2k v2.2 corebook

    Looking at the cumulative probability from the table below, most starting characters generated using this default random method will have 2 or more career Terms (age 25+) and half will have at least 3 Terms. Only 15% of characters will be more than 5 Terms, the maximum number of Terms is 8 and the "average" character is around 3-4 Terms.

    Cumulative Probabilities of War Breaking Out...

    Apart from a couple of AGL ageing checks that have no major combat consequence even if failed, there's an inherent random difference in the power range (Skills) and resources (starting equipment) which can lead to an unbalanced player group. Of course, a Referee can always require players to create characters with a set number of terms or a range eg. 3-5 Terms to maintain a similar power level and age range across the group.

    A Simplified Mechanic

    Using the cumulative probabilities above, I calculated the below "single roll" table for either percentile roll or a single D10 roll - as constructed the latter provides a slightly higher chance of 6th and 7th Term starting characters but forgoes the possibility of an 8th term character:

    Optional: Single Roll Starting Terms

    This maintains the randomness of the original RAW but I think it adds value as a player knows at the start of the Career / skill selection section how many terms they have to realise their character.

    Summary & Conclusion 

    So taken together, we now have 3 potential character creation options:
    1. Classic: default "roll after each term" method 
    2. Modern: choose an arbitrary number of terms
    3. Revised: single roll for maximum terms 

    Sunday, May 19, 2019

    Twilight: 2000 Character Creation Spreadsheet - Starting Packages

    While creating the various pre-generated characters for my proposed T2k v2.2 "starter kit", I came across the rather large stumbling block of the dense text in the "Careers" section of the corebook. The layout and length of this section make it difficult to work out which careers are useful to progress particular skills when aiming for a particular "archetype" build eg "the Heavy", "the Scout", or "the Wheelman" or targeting a particular Asset for a character. 

    I then invested time creating a Google Sheet spreadsheet with what I think are useful tables and resources - the various tabs cover Archetypes, determining When War Breaks Out (maximum terms), Background / Education / Basic Training, US Army careers, US Marine careers and Civilian careers to date - I've so far not covered the other branches or non-US careers other than Basic Training for the most common forces in the default dstarting area (German, Polish, Soviet, UK) given the amount of work required and the non-US careers are mostly just minor variations of existing US careers.

    Background, Education and Basic Training 

    This first skills tab collates all the "core" parts of the Skill selection for character creation, listing which skills are Background, Education, Basic Training or allowed as Secondary Activity choices. 

    Background, Education & Basic Training Summary Spreadsheet tab(derived from T2k v2.2 pages 19-20, 30-31, 35

    A few notes on the notation and layout of the spreadsheet (used across all tabs):

    • Prerequisites by Skill are listed where applicable
    • Skills are grouped by Attribute
    • Skills in bold are core "Basic Training Skills" for Military careers
    • A numerical value denotes the skill levels granting by 1st career
    • A "x" denotes that the Skill is available, a "-" indicates unavailable
    • Comments are provided in the right hand most cell

    The resolution of the above image won't be enough to see the detail (you'll have to go to the actual spreadsheet tab for that) but I think you'll be able to appreciate the following patterns if you kmnow that the columns in order left to right are Background, Secondary, various Education careers, Military Academy and then the starting Basic Training packages:

    • STR based combat skills are mainly from military basic training or academy
    • (Aircraft) Mechanic is only available from Technical education, not Background or Secondary
    • AGL based skills are mainly Technical education or Background, other than Ground Vehicle: Wheeled
    • CON and INT based skills are nearly exclusively found in Background and Secondary 
    • Unsurprisingly EDU based skills all depend on specific Education careers except Medical: Trauma Aid
    • CHR based skills are scattered across the various columns 

    The patterns above become relevant, as for some builds it's the early choices that assist with prerequisites for later careers, Asset specialisation and knowing which Secondary Skills are and are not available at the start of character creation, thus guiding later choices from actual career packages. 

    Likewise, organising the skills by Attribute (rather than alphabetically in the corebook on pages 48-49 or in the appendix pages 264-65) gives a better idea on how to choose skills that will work to realise a particular character concept. This isn't to encourage min-maxing per se (although I admit the tables do assist this as a by-product) but help reduce player disappointment and frustration at character creation given the time investment needed to generate a playable character.

    Next Steps   

    There's a lot more to the spreadsheet than just the "starting packages", but I hope by posting this veteran and new players alike will find character creation easier. In subsequent posts I'll talk about archetypes as a means of streamlining character creation and an optional method for simplifying determining starting age and maximum terms. 

    Friday, May 10, 2019

    Answers to 20 Quick Rules Questions: OWB (Operation: White Box)

    I enjoyed answering "20 Quick Rules Questions" for Twilight: 2000 so much that I thought I'd look at answering them for another favourite game of mine that I understand some people have already used successfully as an alternate system for a Twilight: 2000 campaign:  

    This is based on the OSR blog post list that I stumbled across - Brendan S. of Necropraxis' 2012 post "20 Quick Rules Questions". Given Operation white Box (OWB) is based on the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons (the Gygax and Arneson one), the answers could provide a useful starting point for new players.

    For those of you unfamiliar with this system, it's created by Pete Spahn of Small Niche Games.

    Consider downloading the potentially freely available "Pay What You Want" PDF only edition to look over (suggested price $5 USD) or better yet support Pete and buy the actual softcover or hardcover! I'd highly recommend checking out some of the reviews available (such as RPGPundit's reviewRolling Boxcars' reviewthe one over at "Thoughts of a Barbarian" and for those who like videos Ol' Man Grognard's video review or Brendan Goeringer's video review).

    Operation: White Box - 20 quick Rules Questions

    1. Ability scores generation method?

    The standard generation is very "old-school" rolling 3d6 and assigning to the Attributes in order ie. Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma (page 2).

    There are two other options presented:
    "Some Referees allow players to have more flexibility in their choice of class. One option is to roll 3d6 six (6) times and "arrange to taste". This allows the player to place the best rolls on the Attributes that best fit the character concept."

    "For particularly heroic campaigns, the Referee might allow players to roll 4d6, dropping the lowest single die and add the remaining dice where they wish. This will lead to characters who are well above most normal individuals in the setting, making them more powerful in play." 

    2. How are death and dying handled?

    When a character's hit points reach zero, they die of their wounds. Optionally, the Referee may allow that a character becomes unconscious when they reach zero hit points, not dying for another one (1) turn, allowing the rest of the unit to come to their aid.

    This rule becomes very significant given that characters in OWB at the "Traditional" level of play use only a 1d6 for their hit points with only a small bonus from abilities using the Universal Attribute Bonus Table (page 5) and/or their chosen class (although a Grunt or Uberlaufer starts with 2 HD). "Heroic" level characters use 1d10 for their hit dice and "Inglorious" level characters roll hit points using 1d20, making for a more cinematic experience as it were... (page 24).

    In addition, the maximum level is only 5th level, which effectively means that the maximum hit points for a "named" character is only around 35 unless the optional Advanced Attribute Bonus rule is used (page 6). Sure, most weapons only inflict around 1d6 damage except for heavy weapons but this is significant as characters can potentially be slain by a single bullet at low levels.

    Fortunately, Gut checks are allowed when a special operative (PC) tries something beyond the norm and can potentially be considered a chance to avoid death - a character rolls 1D6 and if the roll *less* than their level they succeed (page 40).
    "Gut checks should be reserved for the most dire situations, where failure results in serious injury or death. Charging a machinegun nest unscathed through a hail of bullets, picking up three live grenades and tossing them back at the Germans, taking out a Tiger tank with a bazooka, running through a minefield, or crawling to the detonator and blowing the bridge even after being reduced to 0 Hit Points are some examples of gut checks." 

    3. What about raising the dead?

    This isn't a fantasy game, once a character dies that's it, they're permanently dead.

    If using the Nazi Occult mini-setting (pages 150-160), resurrection ritual might be possible through either a Natural Magic or Runic Magic ritual or through some kind of Nazi Superscience technology (pages 146-149).

    4. How are replacement PCs handled?

    There are no specific guidelines for replacement PCs.

    5. Initiative: individual, group, or something else?


    Each party rolls 1d6 - the highest roll wins and the winning party acts first.

    In the case of a tie, the parties act simultaneously (pages 44-45).

    6. Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work?

    Yes, as an *optional* rule (page 45).

    A roll of 20 can be considered an automatic hit, inflict double damage or hit two opponents at once. A roll of 1 similarly can result in an automatic miss and may result in dropping the weapon, the weapon jamming or the character tripping and falling.

    7. Do I get any benefits of wearing a helmet?

    A helmet provides a +1 bonus to a character's saving throw vs explosions such as a grenade.

    8. Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?

    When firing into a melee, it may be impossible to choose which opponent (or friend) receives the attack and the Referee must determine which random target is struck (page 46).

    9. Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?

    The game includes a specific sidebar to address this: "A Note on Combat Lethality..." (page 55).

    "The Referee and the players should be aware that combat in WWII: Operation WhiteBox is fairly lethal. The lack of body armor and the lethality of modern weapons makes even the most unskilled NPC soldier dangerous. The characters are encouraged to avoid pitched battles whenever possible and instead rely on superior tactics such as stealth, ambushes, cover and concealment, and overwhelming firepower to overcome their enemies. If the Referee prefers a more combat-oriented type of game, he is encouraged to look over the Optional Rules for Traditional, Heroic, and Inglorious levels of play on pg. 24." 

    10. Level-draining monsters: yes or no?

    Not in the basic game.

    Ghosts are given as an example monster in the Nazi Occult mini-setting (page 152-153) and can drain one level per attack. Vampires are also presented but don't have level draining powers.

    11. Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?

    Possibly, although there is no "save vs death" as such.

    There is only a *single* saving throw used by characters "to avoid something terrible happening to them", although different classes receive different bonuses against different threats (page 38).

    Saving throws mostly allow half damage - there don't appear to be any instantly lethal standard effects (or spells in the Nazi Occult mini-setting) so a failed save *may* result in PC death if the damage inflicted is high enough. Explosions typically inflict 2d6+2 damage unless a saving throw is made, but given the relatively low hit points of most PCs this can certainly be lethal.

    It's noted that being directly hit by a vehicle weapon (autocannon or higher calibre) would be lethal, but that individuals are difficult to target so potential hits from these weapons are treated as explosions above and inflict 2d6+2 damage (halved on a successful saving throw).

    The sole exception to the above appears to be the saving throw required to escape a destroyed vehicle before it explodes and instantly kills whoever fails to escape in time (page 59).

    12. How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?

    All equipment has a weight in pounds (lbs). A normal character can carry up to 25lbs of equipment without a Movement penalty;  special operatives (PCs) are conditioned to carry up to 100lbs of equipment without issue (pages 38-39).

    Specific equipment such as grenades, explosives and other mission-critical equipment *is* tracked.

    Ammunition is suggested to be tracked in the abstract rather than by each round or bullet (page 50).

    "The Referee is free to count every round (bullets or shells) if that suits the needs of his game. Otherwise, the Referee can have each character roll 1d6 after every three to five firefights. On a roll of one (1), the character is out of ammo." 

    13. What’s required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for downtime?

    PCs gain a level when they accumulate enough XP, no specific training is required.

    This isn't a fantasy game so there are no spells in the default game and magic works somewhat differently in the Nazi Occult mini-setting (pages 155-160).

    As XP is gained at the end of a mission, this does not occur in the middle of an adventure (page 39).

    14. What do I get experience for?

    Experience is awarded as a group when they complete missions, but not only for killing opponents, there are several other potential sources suggested (page 39).

    1. Overcoming or defeating opponents (use HDE/XP values)
    2. Use of Class Abilities to further the story or mission (1d6 x10 XP)
    3. Completing "side missions" (Targets of Opportunity) which thwart German plans (1d6 x25 XP)
    4. Completing assigned missions (1d6 x50 XP)

    Individual bonus XP can be awarded by Referees for roleplaying particularly well or taking great risks. In addition, each class have a Prime Attribute that provides additional XP and all characters gain an XP bonus from having Charisma or Wisdom values of 13 or higher.

    XP gained for vehicle combat has specific guidelines dividing the XP between both the PCs and the NPC crew in a 2:1 ratio as a group (pages 67-68).

    15. How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?

    There's no specific mechanic for detecting traps, but there are rules for finding Hidden Things - a character has a base chance of success equal to 1 on 1d6 if they move at half their normal Movement rate or less and specifically state they are looking carefully. This can be modified by certain character actions or Class abilities at the Referee's discretion (page 38).

    The same mechanic applies to Ambushes (page 50). Snipers have not only an improved chance of spotting an ambush but are also able to conceal themselves more effectively (pages 19-20).

    16. Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?

    There are no specific rules for retainers and hirelings. The Charmer, MaquisSniper and Uberlaufer gain a small number of loyal NPC followers at 3rd and higher levels (pages 14-24).

    A Tactician similarly gains a company, division or special forces unit at 3rd level (page 21). 

    Morale is left to the Referee's discretion (page 53):

    "The majority of people in the world will not continue to fight a hopeless battle, seeking to retreat, surrender, or flee if they can. Only rarely do people fight to the death. The Referee decides when enemies abandon a battle and retreat, based on the situation and the enemy's intelligence. In some cases, the Referee may have the enemy make a Saving Throw to determine if they will stay or flee, modified by bonuses or other factors."

    17. How do I identify magic items?

    This is not a fantasy RPG so there are no "magic items" as such in the default game.

    If using the Nazi Occult mini-setting, magic items are known as artefakts (page 151). These range from single-shot items that mimic spells, permanent magical items usually in the form of named family heirlooms or unique items, and legendary items with powers determined by the Referee. Given their relative rarity, the latter two types may be relatively easy to identify by their reputation alone.

    If using the Nazi Superscience mini-setting, conforming to Clarke's Third Lawsuperscience equipment may partially fill the space of magic items and should be readily identifiable as extraordinary (page 146-147).

    18. Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions?

    Not in the default game, see #17 above.

    In the Nazi Occult setting artefakts may be able to be traded for in return for successfully completed missions. Similarly, superscience equipment may be available to operatives in a Nazi Superscience campaign.

    19. Can I create magic items? When and how?

    No, see #17 above.

    For a Nazi Occult or Nazi Superscience mini-setting, creating or locating significant artefakts or superscience equipment may be a mission in itself - likewise thwarting the creation or activation of Nazi versions may well be an interesting mission concept.

    20. What about splitting the party?

    (Note this is my "standard" answer as I don't feel it's really a mechanics-specific issue.)

    Never split the party. It's always a bad move!

    OK, all jokes aside the main issue is the meta-game issue of player boredom while one group or player sits out while the Referee concentrates on the others but this is better discussed elsewhere (such as here, or perhaps here).

    However, splitting up the group makes a lot of tactical sense in many situations - scouting, foraging/hunting, maintaining vehicles and other "down-time" activities are often better split up between members of the group given the emphasis on resource tracking including time. So using some of the suggestions in the links above will be useful as it's not an uncommon occurrence.