Monday, October 20, 2014

Coventry - A fan-made Savage Worlds Setting

Continually I do see some discussion or a person pondering writing up a fan-made setting, when someone will aptly point out there are already some excellent ones available. As someone mentioned over in the G+ Savage Worlds community there seems to be a lack of reviews and/or awareness that these great fan-made settings are out in the wild. I could mention some great sites that culminate a lot of different fan-made Savage Worlds content. However I think it worthwhile to spend a little time highlighting some particularly good ones that folks have written up.

Borderlands is a popular video game and quite frequently I see in my blog and social feeds about some wanting to visit that as a setting, and continually I point to John Robey's Coventry. It's a fantastic job at taking a stab at the Borderlands setting all the while adding some more flavor to make it stand apart.

In a nutshell, Coventry is a planet rich in a resource commonly referred to as Indego. It's an immense power source that is exceedingly rare and seems to be abundant on the quarantined world of Coventry. The planet is spoils of a sprawling interstellar war where a terran corporation, Indicorp, took control of the planet. Control is a very loose word though, as their presence is maintained only as large ships and satellite bases in high orbit over the planet.

Coventry has become a prison planet. It is typically a one way trip. Players might be able to garner enough favor with Indicorp to gain a pardon, but most enter into a 25 year contract of indentured servitude. Not all the human residents maintain an allegiance with Indicorp, and there are a few independent settlements on the planet. Unfortunately, they are stuck there as any attempts to launch a craft are thwarted by the defense net of Indicorp in high orbit. It's like a space version Escape from New York and I love it.

Add to that weirdness, humans were not the only races that settled on Coventry. Rakashan (cat-like predator species) and Avion (winged humanoid lizard beings) also were early colonists that ended up being stuck on Coventry due to the war. Most have adopted to life on the planet and have decent relations to humans provided they keep to their borders, but among each other things are rather strained (seems Rakashan find Avions rather delicious). Add to this eccentric mix the mysterious fungal Mi-Go. The Mi-Go are truly space-traveling aliens modeled after the Cthulhu mythos. They are otherworldly and have their own unknown purpose and agendas.

Players can select any of these races, along with sentient robots, and all are fleshed out rather well. To jump start the character generation process, there are several pre-made archetypes that model the Borderlands characters, as well as incorporate some of the new races.

Like the video game, guns and gear are significant part of the setting. There are a few options for weapons and included are various types of ammunition for each, allowing for a lot of fun tricking out of firearms. Another interesting bit of protective equipment are personal shields.

These shields add a die type to your toughness and each hit reduces the shield defense by one step. Every turn the shield will recharge up a step to it's maximum defense die. So you've got this constant yo-yo defensive boon that ebbs and flows as players are hit. Given that the standard damage for most firearms are 2d8, the PCs need some sort of protection as the game can be rather lethal. It's a very clever system that matches the Borderlands gameplay pretty well.

Another key part of the game is transmat technology. This is a type of teleporter technology with a wrinkle, an object can be stored as digital data and retrieved remotely. This has led to GotJFree tech. Basically players can have a unit that monitors their lifesigns and upon termination, can store the user's biological data for a limited time until it is derezzed later. In effect it's a limited type of immortality (provided the GotJFree unit isn't vaporized along with its wearer). Different types of units allow for longer storage times, as well as automatic pattern data transmission to central locations. I love it. It's like a respawn system.

Some people might be put off by the shields and derezz technology, trivializing the lethality of the game. I actually feel that is part of the charm of the setting. It encourages a lot of balls-out crazy behaviour as aside from bennies, players have a lot of means to effectively get a do-over. And this works, as the world itself is supposed to be a bit mad. Indigo warps the wildlife, the landscape, and people that are around it too long tend to go a little bonkers.

Some more comments about the setting rules, they are presented in a colorful manner and are professionally done. There are well-written tables, a broad atlas of the world, along with an index of lingo and terminology. What I particularly like is there aren't tons and tons of new rules, edges, and hindrances. It's all done very sparingly but at the same time offers something new. Coventry offers a fresh setting, with a wonderful take on the Borderlands world. Give it a try and at the very least, give it a look. There is a lot of interesting ideas and material that can be mined for your own game.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Plastic Soldier Co. - British Universal Carriers

Slowly wrapping up my British platoon for Bolt Action I picked up a set of British Universal Carriers from Plastic Soldier Company. This is a nice model kit with 3 sprues for Mk 1 and Mk 2 carriers. Each includes 2 crew members, Bren LMGs, and a pair of passenger models. The kit for the most part assembles pretty easily. The one downside was the crew members.

Sort of temporarily fitting them together, I tried out slipping the driver in and thought it'd be no issue to paint it up separately. I found once assembled I couldn't quite get it in without a bit of force. Fortunately the gunner slipped in a bit easier. However, I then found out the Bren gun simply did not fit within the port slot. I had to work on trimming it down and couldn't quite get the angle right with the crew member inside. The front armor panel can be attached as a separate single piece. Working on this model again, I would get the Bren gun mounted to that first, paint and seat the crew, then add the front armor plate.

It is nice having a plastic kit though as assembly and doing some alteration is a snap. For myself, I've got two for transports and likely will convert the third for a Vickers MMG mount. A bit on the fence for that though.

There are a few small accessories such as a spare tread wheel and a folded canvas tarp for the back.

I modeled mine with passenger troops that could be removed. Just a simple way to model the unit as a full or empty transport, with a visual reminder using a figure.

Despite the hiccup with the Bren gun and the crew, it really is a great kit. The models are well detailed and you can't beat the price for a bunch of transports. Likely with a 5 man capacity, you'll want a few of them in your force. So getting 3 a pop is a nice buy. The models here are for 1/72 scale. Hopefully PSC will be pushing to expand their 28mm line. I'm certain these would be a great seller.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Scratch built scouring pad trees

My Bolt Action platoons are shaping up and I’ve been on a bit of a kick to get some terrain whipped up. One thing I sorely wanted were trees. However I’m just not able to bite the bullet and pony up cash for them. Looking around for pre-made scenery, trees are a bit expensive. A long time back I had gotten a bulk pack from woodland scenics where you could construct your own trees. It was a mess to put together and while great for a diorama, it just couldn’t handle the wear and tear for my wargaming table.

One tutorial I dug up described using cleaning pads for pine trees. Just right for my budget, so I jumped right in and looked into making some up. I picked up some scouring pads for less than a dollar and kept some skewers from some street food after a late night of drinking. I liked these skewers as they were thick ¼” diameter wood pieces.

I cut the pads into rows and then in approximately 1 ½” to 2” squares. I then trimmed the square pads into rough circles. I made sure to save a lot of the small corner bits of pad after cutting the major sections into circles. Some of the pads I cut into smaller circles of about 1 inch to serve as the top section of the tree, and followed this up by cutting the tree ‘trunks’ into 3-5” lengths. I found while larger trees are more realistically scaled, they are almost too big for wargaming.

As the I had to get the center wooden piece through the pad sections, I made a small cut in the center of the pads. Then came the more tedious bit. To give the pads some bulk, I teased apart the pad material for each section. This would almost double their thickness by simple pulling the material apart some.

With a hot glue gun, I added a dab to the center dowel and skewered a single pad section, moving it down to little over ½ the length of the wood. I repeated this, adding more glue higher up the wood shaft, adding more sections. I ensured the last section was a smaller diameter circle piece. All in all, I found 4-5 pad sections was enough for the trees to give them some bulk.

For the tops of the trees, I used the leftover parts of the pads from making the circle sections. Really teasing them apart, I could add 2-3 sections to the center wooden piece after placing some hot glue. This gave a nice small tapered top to them.

To mount my trees, I cut up some old software CDs, carefully rounding the edges. I placed a thick drop of hot glue in the center and then set the tree on the base. I decided rather than using watered down PVA and flock for the bases, I’d use a drybrush over a layer of modelling ballast. I wanted to do this partially to keep from getting flock all stuck up in the trees and also to ensure the trees could take a little punishment with storage and transporting.

I put down a layer of watered-down PVA glue and after letting the model ballast dry, set to painting it. I gave each tree a good coat of green spray paint. A nice part of this is that the paint will also act as a sort of cement for the ballast, and stiffen up the pad sections of the tree too.

After letting them dry, I painted the trunks a nice brown coat, and followed it up by drybrushing the bases with a lighter green to simulate grass and low brush. More chunks of flock could be added if needed, but overall I liked the effect it gave.

Note I did not highlight the trees any. I feel one solid color, with potentially a wash was enough. Drybrushing the tree leaf sections would likely only highlight the overall pattern of stacked pads even more. With one solid, uniform color of green, the detail of the tree leaf sections are muddled some. Afterwards I went ahead and gave the trees a matte varnish spray.

I think they look pretty decent and you simply cannot beat the price. I may very well likely pick up a few model trees and expect if I mix them in with the lot I made, they will look even better on the tabletop. This was a pretty fun project and an evening’s worth of work (minus the time needed for letting the trees dry due to spray painting). Now to just get some more games in!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Plot Crawl Campaign - Running my Cthulhu game with a pile of props

As I blogged about a while back, I am running a 1920s Cthulhu game on the side along with my regular Weird West campaign. I lifted an idea from the Secret Cabal Podcast which I found rather inspiring. Rather than your typical game where someone would initially approach the investigators to tackle a specific mission looking into the supernatural, instead it would be based on what the players wanted to look into. It’s a plot crawl campaign.

It’s much like your good old fashioned hex crawl game. While there isn't a map of randomly generated content, it’s open ended to allow players to go where they will. Like a hex crawl game, a plot crawl has adventure seeds acting like a map of sorts with a few details laid out to grab the player's interest. They make the choice where to go and what to look into. Sometimes more choices might branch out depending on what they investigate, but they can turn around and poke their heads into another 'section of the map' investigating some other adventure plot if they want to.

It’s designed to run very much as an episodic game. There really isn’t any over arching story. As things progress, you can have recurring villains, NPCs, and past events to weave back in as details if needed. It’s immensely flexible as you can tailor the game to deal with past events and players, building up a larger story, or just go for the 'serial adventure of the week' format instead. None of this has to be planned out either. You just think of 4 or 5 different adventure seeds and run with it. The details will be fleshed out as the game is played.

My players started the session being called together by a lawyer overseeing the estate of a recently deceased professor. All of them knew the person and had a relationship with him (be it a relative, colleague, etc.). They were each individually named in the will to be present for the opening of a trunk of the professor's belongings. They were all led into a room, given a key to a small trunk, and left alone to go through the contents.

Inside the trunk they found different files, photographs, and other tidbits of strange information. I had made up a series of props in the manner of photographs, handwritten letters, and fake newspaper clippings. Each group of clues were given codes to match as a set (so all the clues for adventure G were together, while ones for adventure B were in another set, etc.). The players could rifle through the papers and pictures, and decide what they wanted to investigate.

For my first setting, I did kick things into high gear having the lawyer killed under exceedingly strange circumstances. This was followed up with the players being hunted by undead lackeys. All of it emphasizing that the strange did exist, and there were evil forces at play which knew the players had knowledge to secrets better left unknown.

However at the end of the session I gave the players a task. They needed to continue going through the contents of the trunk and decide that night what they wanted to investigate as a group for the next session. All the clues were fragments of some story, location, or odd supernatural thing. I made it a point that there were more papers and files within the trunk (meaning I would add more to the trunk later), however there were 5 different sets of clues and props for them to go through at first.

This really worked well for the group. It was a task to have them decide on what to do next (expect at least 30 minutes or so at your table). However it really cemented the feeling of them investigating these clues of weird, strange events. That there was another layer of occult existence under the normal world around them, and they were slowly unearthing it. Best of all, I knew exactly what the next adventure would be and it was based on what the PCs wanted to investigate further.

It is a bit of a chore to create some convincing props. However I didn't have to flesh out any adventures. I just needed some ideas of a location, possible NPCs, and some weird thing for the PCs to look into. So you don't have to have six different adventures fully prepared at the beginning, just a few ideas presented as six different sets of clues. As the players pick what they want to look into, I can turn around and work on that adventure specifically. Since many of the details were rather vague, I could even use an adventure generator for assembling the next adventure if needed. It really is a surprisingly flexible way of providing adventure seeds where the players get to give input on where to go next.

Something like this can be adopted for other settings and I am really beginning to take a shine to it. Maybe it would be printed public notices posted around a fantasy city, or an infonet log players would look through in a sci-fi campaign. Either way, all I would have to do is sketch out a few ideas and let the players decide what they wanted to check out next at the end of the session. If you are struggling to think of ideas for your next campaign consider running a plot crawl, with props and leads for the players they can provide some inspiration for further game sessions.