Saturday, April 23, 2011

Metal Gear as an RPG?

For at least several years my mind has been toying with a concept.  Never really put forth great effort to make it work or anything...but there have been pieces of efforts floating in the aether of my mind.

So, for those of you who do not know, the Metal Gear franchise is a video game series (possibly with other media...I am not sure) centering on a special operations force soldier guy named Solid Snake or someone very much like him such as his counterpart a generation back named Naked Snake.  He, controlled by you the player, infiltrates heavily secured enemy military bases.  Generally he does it alone and with very little in the way of equipment.  His main two goals are to stop the enemy leader and to stop the Metal Gear, which is usually a bipedal tank equipped with a nuclear payload.  Usually along the way is an army of highly-trained soldiers and a squad of unique elite soldiers with special gimmicks or traits like being a pyromaniac or being obsessed with bombs or possessing psychic powers.  Also featured in the game is bleeding-edge technology such as nanomachines, cybernetics, supercomputers, and much more.  Perfect concept for a video game, I know...but an RPG?

The concept does fall apart a bit.  The games are about a one-man-army going into a base to stop a military/terrorist group and their fancy tank.  This could be an interesting concept for a one-on-one game with one GM and one player.  But with multiple players, it could work as a squad infiltrating.  Remember the squad of unique soldiers from above?  One of those squads could be the PCs.  But as a squad of "good guys".  Maybe the good guys cannot find a legendary super soldier like the games had...and so they have to send in a squad.

It still remains an interesting idea.  But what gaming system to construct it in?  I've toyed with d20 Modern but the problem is that it isn't quite deadly enough and the character creation tends to make characters more suited to modern fantasy than modern science-fiction.  I've toyed with Alternity as well but there is not much support for the system and I don't know how well it would work...but it might need a new look.  I've also looked at the CODA system and the MADS system as well.

My current champion is working with the Shadowrun system.  You have the emphasis on gritty deadly combat with firearms.  You have the cybernetic-nanomachine-weirdscience thing going on.  You have the mysticism magical psychic elements.  You have crazy vehicles and their big guns in the game.  The only problem is having to carve off the dystopian future cyberpunk elements...and having to regulate character creation.  And then there is the question of having to "purchase" their equipment, vehicles, cyberware, etc.  Does the Resources allocation correspond to the amount of stuff they enter the squad with...or the amount of stuff the squad gives them.  Surely, the financiers of the squad would not let them go into battle without the best of the best of the best in the way of equipment.  Is the battle helicopter something assigned in game or does the vehicle guy have to buy it?  If the heavy weapons guy needs a cybernetic part to shoot faster and better and didn't have the "money" wouldn't the squad pay for it to be installed?  I guess Resources represents the ability to requisition stuff as well as stuff already accumulated.  Or maybe it determines the "usual" equipment and anything extra is not guaranteed but might be awarded.  But then...why not short yourself on equipment so that the squad has to hand you the heavily armed battle helicopter or else you'll fail.

As for timeline of the game, the Shadowrun system would work well with the near future...say somewhere between 2020 and 2050 (around when the default Shadowrun game happens).  This is convenient since the last game event was in the 2010's and it is always easiest to work after the established timeline rather than in the middle of it.

Any other ideas on other systems?  Or how to implement the theme and style of the game?  Or something else?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Quick Thought: Character Portraits

I thought I would mention something that has poked at my curiosity the past few months: character portraits in games, especially in tabletop RPGs (but also other forms of gaming such as video games).

A good character portrait just tends to wrap up character creation (whether you create the character or have a character created for you).  On paper, your character might have +12 to this and a score of 27 in that and might be carrying 8 daggers just in case.  But as soon as you see the picture of a tough guy in cool armor with a sword leaning on his shoulder, the character goes from Mister +12 to the brave warrior known as George the Destroyer.

The problem is finding a good character portrait.  Most people out there don't have the art skills to satisfy their own needs for awesome character portraits.  Myself...I can't draw people.  I can draw the character's sword and get it perfect for my needs but the portrait?  No.

Sometimes a game company will publish some "iconic" portraits for their game (you can find these for 4E D&D and they are even properly sized and shaped for the official character sheet) and that can be useful.  However, that's maybe one or two portraits for any given intersection of class, race, and concept.  There may be more than a few "warrior" portraits in some of the common "warrior" races...but what about when you need a portrait of a female warrior of an obscure race (like a 4E genasi or dragonborn or deva) wielding a flail in one hand and a scimitar in the other?  Or perhaps the member of the giant stony race who happens to be a wizard with a staff decorated with a finial depicting a lizard?

I have found that Google can be your friend when the iconic portraits don't help.  If you type in a phrase like "elven warrior spear" into the image search you'll get a whole lot of pictures of elves, warriors, and spears and even a few elven spear warriors.  Even still, they might not be perfect.  Deviantart is also useful in the same way: search for a phrase and see what comes up.  Searching for images from a favorite show, movie, book, or other media can often find an image or two...if you don't might the image being recognizable such as your fighter looking a lot like Aragorn from LotR.  Another place to find images is to look for artwork found on cards for Magic: The Gathering.  Who knew that a company was compiling thousands of samples of fantasy artwork?  Generally, I have gotten into a habit recently of saving images that look interesting from around the internet.  Even if I am not thinking of a dwarf warpriest, the image of the dwarf warpriest might come in handy later on.

Even so, with these tools...I encounter a few problems.

First, I find that sometimes the portrait will influence the character.  If I cannot find the female halfling warrior with a scimitar and a flail, then maybe the character will now be using two swords...and cease being halfling...and cease being female...all because the picture I found was a male elf warrior with two swords.  Of course, with no ideas on the table, a cool picture can inspire a new character concept.

Second, I find art styles to clash against each other.  I have a wicked habit of tinkering with RPG systems in my free time and making different characters...and maybe find portraits of the characters I create.  But then I get a warrior drawn as a pencil sketch, a wizard immortalized in a painted image, a rogue borrowed from a still-frame of a video game cutscene, and a cleric represented by a photo of a person in costume.  And then I look at the group of characters together and sometimes it is just a jarring experience.  Separately, each of them has an awesome picture though so it's fine.  Getting a bundle of pictures in the same art style might be difficult unless you stick to the iconic portraits I mentioned above or else you're just using characters from a favorite show or game.  Not that having a pile of characters that look suspiciously like the heroes of Final Fantasy IV is a bad thing...

Third, sometimes the size and quality is a problem.  A lot of good pictures end up being very small or very large...and both can look strange when adjusted to the right size.  This especially becomes a problem with multiple portraits.  The fighter with crystal clear quality next to the blurry wizard can be jarring as well.

With creating a group of characters then, I suppose the question then becomes whether you start with the portraits and build the characters to match (and thus having similar art styles and qualities) or whether you build the characters and just find portraits to match.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Tabletop Gaming and Rules Issues

Hello and welcome to TheOmnigamer blog.

I had planned to open with a series of entries discussing changes to the Dungeons and Dragons game across editions and analyze which edition got what right and which edition is "best" for what elements.

But today, another issue came to mind: the rules of the gaming table.  They aren't always the rules completely as written in the sourcebooks.  But a bit of background first...

In early editions of Dungeons and Dragons, there weren't a lot of hard and fast rules.  You could expect a few rules to be written in stone like thac0 and armor class.  Houserules were very common and when you sat down at the table, you made sure to ask about what rules were used at the table and you just accepted them.  You could suggest a rule and the players and DM would listen and consider it...but the DM was the final word even if he was in contradiction to the rulebooks.  Optional rules also appeared in books and magazines and you figured out which books were in play when you sat down.  Again, the DM decided what was a rule and what wasn't.

When 3E (third edition) came out, it came out with a lot of new rules for everything.  Players and DM's learned the new rules and many could quote specific page numbers and consult the rules to their advantage and disadvantage.  It also came with a wave of new materials from dozens of splatbooks to hundreds of magazine articles and of course, the third-party materials that were created from the open gaming license.  Once again, the DM was there to decide which materials were allowed at the table.  Many gamers also developed their own rules to supplement the rules.

When 4E (fourth edition) came out, 3E ceased to be supported by its creators.  What happened next with 3E was a shift from published rules to houserules as DMs and players discussed new ideas, rules, and concepts without having any "official" answer.  The internet allowed for people to put these new ideas for review and consideration (often using the acronym PEACH meaning Please Evaluate And Critique Honestly) and if people liked your idea, they might use it.  Or they might suggest a change.  Or they might suggest you scrap it all together.  Or they might point out an existing rule that works better.  The "official rulings" ended up being slowly replaced by the "consensus rulings".  But it was up to the individual gaming group to use an optional rule or not.  And it was up to the individual gaming group to allow a published book or not.

Now, 4E brought in a new culture of gaming and a new concept towards rules.  Once again many books were published and new rules came out in magazines and internet articles.  The problem is that the general culture and the "official" word from the company is that everything is allowed and the DM can just deal with it.  A DM that wants to disallow a specific race or class will find a player opening a book and saying "the book says I can play I'm going to play it".  Sure, the DM can still disallow it and perhaps lose the player (or all the players) but the culture is now that the book trumps the DM.

One specific conflict I have seen recently is with the new Essentials line for 4E.  They changed character creating and leveling up and how the classes are built.  It uses the same rules for actual play but the characters are very different.  The "official" statement is that all of the Essentials line is 100% compatible with the "core" 4E but many DMs don't like mixing Essentials and Core (myself included).  However, when I bring up the fact that I don't want Essentials in my Core game (to people who aren't even in my gaming group), people try to say that I can't do that and that it would be selfish to disallow a Essentials build if someone wanted to play one.  What happened to the respected seat of authority that a DM used to have?  It used to be that players couldn't play without a DM but now perhaps they can.

Another conflict is with houserules.  Houserules used to be essential in 1E and 2E.  Houserules used to be common and central to 3E after the arrival of 4E.  But now with 4E, people don't like houserules because they aren't rules-as-written.  Recently I came up with an idea for an alternative class feature for 4E and decided to ask around online if there were any existing "official" rules or any existing houserules on the subject.  There weren't any "official" rules and no one gave me any houserules.  Instead I was given two answers.  First, I was given a suggestion of using an Essentials build in my Core game (because it is "officially" compatible).  And second, I was given a suggestion of just staying rules-as-written and not going with alternative class features.


To conclude...what do you think about using houserules with your gaming group?  Is the DM the final word for the rules or are the "official" rules the final word?  Should the rules-as-written be followed?  Or should rules-as-intended be more important?  Let me know what you think.