Posts tagged Urban Arcana

Are Arbitrary Mechanics Part of a Setting’s Feel?

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First off, I’d like to say that the Wild Card Creator Kickstarter has just reached its funding goal! Thanks to everyone who backed! The Kickstarter is open until September 9th, so there’s plenty of time to pledge if you haven’t already!

Recently, Pinnacle Entertainment Group released Hell on Earth Reloaded, the Savage Worlds version of the post-apocalyptic western setting and sequel to Deadlands. It’s a pretty neat book, but to the surprise of many fans neither the Guts skill nor Fate Chips are used.

For those of you not familiar with them, both of these mechanics have been important mechanics of Deadlands since it was first released in 1996 and they have been part of every iteration of it and its sequel settings until now. The Guts skill is used to resist fear and keep yourself together in terrifying situations (of which there are many in the Weird West). Although some see the Guts skill as a point-sink, it thematically makes sense to use that rather than just plain Spirit because the average person should be terrified by the horrors on the high plains whereas the heroes need to steel themselves up to deal against them.

Ever since Savage Worlds Deluxe was released, the Guts skill has been reserved only for horror settings. Given that Hell on Earth has many horror elements and that previous iterations included a Guts skill, it was expected that Hell on Earth Reloaded would use one too. But to everyone’s surprise, it didn’t. The reason that was given was that unlike in the Weird West, everybody is exposed to the horrors of the Wasted West and people are generally jaded to all but the worst of it. Thus resisting Fear with a Spirit check was deemed adequate. Makes sense, but it was a strange transition and some people weren’t as happy with it.

Fate Chips are a special variation of bennies drawn at random during the start of the session and come in three types: the common white ones that work like regular bennies, the uncommon red ones that can optionally be used to add a d6 to the result of a roll (but the GM gets to draw a Fate Chip), and the rare blue ones that behave like a red one (but the GM does not get to draw a Fate Chip). Fate Chips make bennies slightly more powerful and also provide a bit of the “poker” feel of the Weird West.

But to the surprise of many, Fate Chips didn’t make it into Hell on Earth Reloaded. The reason given was that the powers that be weren’t there to help the heroes, as represented by the more powerful Fate Chips. Nonetheless, many fans disagreed with the reasoning and decided they would houserule in the Deadlands Fate Chips because to them it was an integral part of Deadlands. For comparison, an informal forum poll (started by yours truly) found that a supermajority of responders wanted to see the upcoming Deadlands Noir, another sequel setting to Deadlands, include Fate Chips. Ultimately though, the author revealed that they would not be used.

The strong feelings that came from this debate made me think: are there game mechanics that are actually “part” of a setting? Hell on Earth Reloaded and Deadlands Noir took away some of the integral game mechanics and there was some fan backlash, with many people wanting to houserule it back in to make it “feel” like a Deadlands game.

I imagine you would have a similar response if a new version of Shadowrun came out that didn’t use a dice pool of d6s or Savage Worlds dropped card-based initiative. Especially with the former, it’s a pretty arbitrary mechanic that has since become an integral part of the “feel” of the setting. You could argue that this is why why some fans felt that Dungeons & Dragons 4e didn’t “feel” like Dungeons & Dragons: because many of them viewed certain mechanics as being linked to the feel of the setting.

When I run Urban Arcana, I wouldn’t think of doing it for any system besides Dungeons & Dragons for this very reason. Of course, you could certainly try and come up with interesting situations like the Savage Worlds version of Greyhawk.

So, at the end of the day, I would say that yes, arbitrary mechanics are part of a setting’s feel. It probably has to do with how unique that mechanic is, how loved the mechanic is, and how long the mechanic has been around.

Urban Arcana Cover Art

Creating Urban Arcana for D&D 4e

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Urban Arcana Cover ArtAt WittCon last weekend, I ran a Dungeons & Dragons 4e game using the Urban Arcana campaign setting (the game is further described here). There were a few comments about the setting last time I posted about it, so I figured I would talk more about it.

Setting-wise, Urban Arcana is a lot of fun. During the mission at WittCon, the players were investigating the strange happenings at the Astral Sea Casino run by the Corsone Syndicate. They saw a lot of fun sights like a Githzerai in a white suit who the party suspected may have been using some psionic powers to rig a roulette game. The second group also wound up meeting Oliver, a burly Dragonborn in a tuxedo who was a high roller at blackjack.

One compliment I got from both sessions I ran was that the characters I gave the group were really memorable and exciting. I found this kind of surprising because I didn’t give the characters backstories. But I think what worked was that I made the characters iconic enough that the players were able to easily build them into whatever they wanted. The group consisted of:

  • Leonard, the Bugbear Street Warrior (Fighter). He’s a surprisingly civil bugbear who wears a three piece suit, but he can lay down the pain when necessary.
  • Darren Turner, the Gnome Technomage (Wizard). Rather than relying a spell tome, Darren prefers to use an iPad to generate his magical spells. And for all his cantrip-related needs, there’s an app for that.
  • Maddie Webber, the Drow Rogue. Although her punk nature sometimes clashes with Department 7’s leaders, her street knowledge has helped more than a few times. She wields a katana in her right hand and a modified pistol in her left.
  • Mixmaster C, the Halfling DJ (Bard). The Bard with a Boombox, he’s able to feel the funk to play just the right song to affect those who are listening. He especially loves the 80s.

By the way, everyone’s pictures are taken from the art in the Urban Arcana book, which is available online here. The exception was Mixmaster C’s picture, which surprisingly was taken from The Book of Wondrous Inventions, by TSR in 1987. Who knew that magic boomboxes were treasure loot in the AD&D era?

If you look at their character sheets (click on their names above), you’ll notice that I made some substantial changes to the D&D 4e mechanics. Most of the information on the first page is the same, but there are a few changes to Skills. I changed “Dungeoneering” to “Urban Awareness” to represent knowing general facts about a city or how to get around (e.g. where’s the nearest pizza place and are there any shortcuts to get there). Because Urban Arcana is a modern game, I also added Driving (Agility) and Computer Use (Intelligence) to the game. These small changes definitely helped the gameplay and were very easy to houserule in. The only issue I had was that I originally made the characters in the D&D Character Builder online and they don’t let you houserule new skills.

On page two, I only listed feats and racial features that would actually have an impact for the one-hour one-shot that I ran. I included basic melee attacks and everyone could use a pistol as a basic ranged attack (I just reskinned a hand crossbow to be a pistol).

But the biggest change was with powers. In D&D 4e, all characters have powers to represent combat maneuvers, spells, or other special actions that they could perform. Especially because this was a one-hour one-shot, I got rid of most of them, especially the ones that were basically “you attack with your weapon.” So Maddie Webber and Leonard in particular just use basic attacks, although Leonard has a “common tactics” section of his character sheet to indicate the special combat powers that I left in. Darren the Technomage still has several apps, including a “Burning Hands” app, but not nearly as many spells as he’d have as a standard D&D 4e wizard. And finally Mixmaster C has four songs he primarily uses (most of which are only once per encounter because playing it a second time just isn’t cool anymore) although I told the players that if they wanted they could play some other appropriate song.

I also did this all without miniatures. They were either in melee or some ranged distance away. And to my surprise, the players didn’t even seem to notice.

The result was that combat was a lot faster and players were more interested in describing their own complex maneuvers. For instance, we had Leonard leaping over a balcony and doing a drop attack on one of the Kuzzer Brothers. He didn’t have a powercard for that, the player just decided to do it. Since nobody was looking through their powercards or counting squares, it all wound up going a whole lot more quickly.

What did I learn from this heavily modified version of D&D 4e? The descriptions you give things are much more powerful than the mechanics that drive them. It was a simplified D&D, but I think it was the setting that made the game so much fun for everyone!

I’ve also learned that D&D doesn’t need all the powers and mechanics to still be fun and playable. Having them are still nice in small quantities, but I think this game has led me to the conclusion that standard D&D 4e has too many of them. I’m betting that D&D Next will be largely eliminating them like I have done. I’ll be looking forward to trying a D&D Next version of Urban Arcana as soon as it becomes available.

WittCon IX Debriefing

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I’m very sorry about missing a week here on the blog. I still intend to post on a weekly schedule. So to make it up to you, I’ll make an extra awesome post!

WittCon IX: The Wrath of Con was the largest convention in recent times that the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild has ever hosted with 103 people!

My Elder Scrolls game went well with everyone there having a great time! I was surprised to have two players who had never played any Elder Scrolls games before, but we were able to get them up to speed enough about the world to get them to enjoy it. There were a whole lot of “arrow in the knee” jokes, culminating with the Bosmer archer doing a double shot and my hit location die showing that he hit the guard in the legs. So the poor guard got not one, but two arrows in the knee!

Urban Arcana: Vegas was a blast both times that I ran it! The players loved the characters (who will be posted in another blog post) and had a lot of fun with the whole concept of D&D in the modern world. The only downside to the game was that it was two short. I scheduled it as part of WittCon’s “one hour one shots” series, but it could easily have been a three hour game. Regardless, everyone had a whole lot of fun and it turned out to be a great adventure!

For the third session, I got to play in a game of Hell on Earth (Classic Edition) and we wound up failing spectacularly. The group completely misread the townspeople’s intentions and intimidated them when they should have been friendly, had a Templar who seriously considered driving an SUV on difficult terrain, despite the fact that he had never done anything close to it, and in the end had our Doomsayer nuke anything and everything in a five mile radius. In the end, we all had a lot of fun, even if we were the worst posse ever!

And now, for a bunch of pictures (click for larger images)!

Signup sheets for all of our scheduled events.

A full table of Star Wars players!

Some players in our Magic: The Gathering tournament.

Several con-goers make chainmail items with the help of Genesis Maille.

The plot thickens in a game of "A Song of Ice and Fire"

Board gamers get a chance to come together.

Ovahk the Orc is guarding some pie from hungry adventurers!

A brave adventure challenges Ovahk for some delicious pie!

Poor Ovahk lies defeated on the ground while the adventurer claims his pie reward!

Mandatory WittCon IX Plug

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Two weeks from the time of this writing, the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild will be hosting WittCon IX: The Wrath of Con! It’s a full day of gaming at Wittenberg University in Springfield, OH from 11:15am-Midnight with over 40 events scheduled to run, including a Magic: The Gathering tournament and a live action version of Orc and Pie with real pie!

I’m going to be running a Savage Worlds Elder Scrolls game set in Summerset Isle (using my conversion that I released last week). Here’s the description:

Summerset Isle, the land of the Altmer (High Elves), has never been particularly fond of the Empire and now it seems their unrest has reached a new level with syndicates of wizards leading boycots of Imperial goods. Although the Emperor is concerned about this, he is more troubled by the fact that a member of the Blades who was investivating rumors of increased Daedra worship, but has gone missing since.

The Emperor is now sending a group of trusted Blades from across Tamriel to Summerset Isle’s capitol, Alinor, in order to determine what happened to the last person he sent and eliminate any threats to the Empire. Taking place three weeks before the Oblivion crisis, this adventure will allow fans of the epic video game series to journey into a never before seen land that is as extensive as your imagination!

This will be an investigative game which I’m hoping will lead to a suitably epic climax for a one-shot adventure. My plan is to have one pregen from each of the races available as a choice for the characters.

Later I’m running two one-hour sessions of Urban Arcana, my favorite D&D setting, using D&D 4e. I think the cover art for the original book (a d20 Modern setting) and the adventure description speaks for itself:
Urban Arcana Cover Art

In the world of Urban Arcana, dragons rule the boardrooms and bugbears rule the streets. It is a world where monsters and magic exist, yet the human psyche cannot fathom them and imagines that such supernatural events simply do not exist. some break that barrier and become aware of the strange world around them. And some are just trying to make sense of this new world that is now their home.

In this mission, Department 7 has assigned a group of agents to investigate some strange occurrences going on at the Astral Sea Casino in downtown Las Vegas, which is rumored to be run by the notorious Corsone Syndicate. But like everything in Urban Arcana, things are a bit stranger than they seem.

There’s a lot of stuff to be excited for in this con. If you’re in the Dayton/Columbus area on March 24th and would like to have an awesome-packed day of gaming, come to WittCon! More details and a full schedule can be found here!

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