Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Dark Superheroes with Night Shift: VSW


 Let's be honest: It's more than likely that there's a supers supplement for Night Shift: VSW on the horizon some day in the future. Here's the trick, though: you don't really need it to do supers with the game as it stands. You could do a street level supers game with NS:VSW exactly as it sits, and you'd still be well within genre. Look at TV shows like Arrow or Batwoman on the CW or the Netflix Marvel shows for examples of how street-level supers can be dark urban fantasy at its finest. 

Hell, consider Blade as an example of how the superhero genre can be mixed with horror. It's certainly not outside of the wheelhouse of Night Shift to experiment with superheroic games, particularly if you keep it at "street level" abilities. 

Let's check out the easy ways you can do superheroes with Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars

Start with the Supernatural Race

In Night Shift: VSW, you have essentially two options for your character "race," which we usually prefer to refer to as "species," as it's more scientifically accurate. These are your standard humans, and your Supernatural. The Supernatural PC character is highly customizable, and basically comes stock with a suite of superpowers. 

From the standpoint of getting started, there's your core. The only big differences I'd make is allowing the +3 to raise ability scores above 20 for Supernaturals, and maybe adding an option that multipliers of what you can do increase with every point above 18: thus, Strength 19 means you can double your carrying limit, 20 trebles it, and 21 quadruples it. For Dex 19 you'd double your base speed, for 20, treble it, and for 21, quadruple it, etc. This doesn't affect your bonuses for your attribute checks, which still scale as normal, just what you can lift, how fast you can run, etc.

This may not be a perfect solution when it comes to things like Con and the mental abilities, but the GM can easily come up with a modification for those abilities modeled on Str and Dex. 

Next, you may wish to rename the race/species, whether it's mutant, demihuman, metahuman, altered human, whatever. 

Finally, pick your power and go! You're out of the gate a superhero, and you even get to improve and gain new powers as you go. 

Character Classes Mean Customization

Don't ever imagine that character classes don't have a place in a dark street-level supers game. First, playing a normal human with a character class should, theoretically, still be balanced against your supernaturals, since supernaturals suffer an XP penalty for starting off with thair powers. 

Second, adding a character class to your supernatural character offers a degree of customization. What if you want a character who had a mystical encounter with a black cat on Halloween? She absorbed the soul of that cat due to a mystical ritual gone wrong in a nearby building, which she didn't even know about, but now she has the abilities of a cat. She of course wishes to apply them to selfish ends and is also a cat burglar. Simply choose the right powers, give her the +3 to Dexterity, and then choose the Survivor character class to give her abilities like move silently, hide, locks, and the like. You're done! You've got your superpowered cat burglar with the powers of an actual cat. Sure, it's a bit derivative, but we're offering examples, here! 

Of course, several of the classes already play nice with a supers game.  The Witch/Warlock, Psychic, Theosophist, and even Inventor are already primed for a supers game. Heck, the Inventor gives you that crime-fighting gadgeteer detective type character or the character with that flying suit of super-weaponized armor right off the bat, which you can improve with additional gadgets and effects as you go. It's even possible to retool the Inventor entirely and allow for the Science Points to become Power Points; instead of creating super science devices, your character simply purchases superpowers. 

There you have it! Street level supers with Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars. Learn more about it on our website or get your copy today!

Official Discussion Boards (where we'd love to see more talk!)

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

NEW RELEASE: A Faustian Dilemma (Night Trip for Night Shift: VSW)

 Welcome to the City...

The City is vast and sprawling, in many ways an archetype of every city in the world, from New York to Sydney to LA to Hong Kong, to Paris, London, Dubai, and beyond. It’s a city where the buildings tower so high into the sky and are so thick together that the sun doesn’t penetrate the streets and it’s always dark. Night is when the City comes to life, and few people here ever see the daylight anyway, because Night time is the right time in the City.

The City doesn’t seem to have a name. To those who live here, it’s simply “The City,” and it’s more than home. It’s heart. The City is a piece of those who live here, and those who live here are a piece of the City. It’s a City of contradictions—on one hand always dark and shadowy, with foreboding alleyways and oubliettes, on the other hand full of vibrant life where there’s always something going on. This is a City where shops don’t close at 9, but operate 24 hours a day, where people are sure they sleep, but can’t remember the last time they saw the sun.

Except in the Botanical Gardens. For some reason the sun is always up in the Botanical Gardens.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Why Re-Use Old Mechanics? Why Not Create a New System?

 This is a question I get asked far too often, and far too often it's with an accusatory tone, along the lines of, "what kind of a game designer are you if you can't create an original system?" or "Aren't you creative enough to come up with something unique and original?"

The truth is, I have worked with just about every kind of system you can imagine over my decades of game design. I've done stat + skill systems, roll and keep systems, fistful 'o dice and count kills systems, graduated die type systems, and more. All were fun, all were quirky, all were unique in some way. 

I did go through a phase where I spent a lot of time coming up with new and different systems. I even designed a couple from the ground up that used cards instead of dice. One, the Hoyle System, used a standard deck of playing cards with each suit and the jokers representing something different in play, and another used tarot cards as a means of resolution, where the major arcana had specific game functions. While they were fun intellectual exercises, for the lion's share of my professional game work, I have almost always come back to tried and true. 

Do What Works and Keep It Simple

Here's the reason. Tried and true works. If your game is entirely focused on your rules system, you're doing something wrong as a game designer (unless it's a board game; then the rules are what matters more than anything). But trying to come up with something "innovative" in an RPG is at best an exercise in futility, and at worst, arrogant pretension. The more "unique" your dice mechanic is, the more it draws attention away from the role playing and the more it forces attention on the mechanics, which is counter to the point of this kind of gaming. 

There's an old truism in gaming that states you shouldn't roll dice unless you have to, unless the situation really calls for it. Don't roll dice to climb a ladder unless that ladder is rickety and covered with grease. Don't roll dice to find a piece of information that the adventure requires the players to have for the story to move forward. If this is the case, why would you create a rules system that takes longer to adjudicate and/or forces you to put more attention on the dice than should be due?   

It might be fun to play with at your table but here's the simple fact: your system, no matter what it is or how it works, revolves around generating random numbers to mimic a probability. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: "innovative" dice systems are smoke and mirrors which in the end, use increasingly complicated means to just generate a random result, and overcomplicate things to no good end. 

It's really simple: if you're going to generate a random result, just roll a die. The more complex you make it than that, the further away from the simple idea of role playing and shared storytelling you get. If your dice system is required to drive the story forward, your game has failed and it may as well be a board game. Dice don't (and shouldn't) drive creativity. 

When you try to push something completely different out there, a full 99% of the time all you're doing is re-inventing the wheel. That's just putting a lot of time, thought, and effort into something that could be much better spent looking at other more creative aspects of your game. I've done a number of articles over at my Wasted Lands blog about not re-inventing the wheel, about how it's better to re-skin something you've already got that works, than it is to invent unnecessary subsystems. As a game designer, I firmly believe you should always apply the K.I.S.S. principle. 

Types of Systems

There's a few simple, straightforward ways to handle a dice system which again are tried and true, and to which I'll always come back. The first is the basic "roll a die and add modifiers against a target number" system. This can be seen in everything from the combat system in the earliest days of gaming to modern stat + skill vs. TN systems. Even basic roll under percentile systems fall under this category. It's easy, intuitive, straightforward, and quite simply, it just works and gets the Hell out of the way so you can concentrate on your story. 

Next is the dice pool, count success levels system. In this version, you throw a handful of dice usually generated by a series of trait ratings, and count success levels. My own Cd8 system works off of this mechanic--throw a fistful of dice and every 7-8 you get counts as one "fist bump." Tasks are rated based on how many fist bumps they need to be successful.

Finally, and probably the least common, is the roll and keep system. In this system, you generate a dice pool, roll a number of dice, and keep a lesser number, often based on a skill. You might, for example, roll dice equal to your strength and climbing ability and skill, and keep a number of dice equal to your climbing skill, adding them together and applying the result to a target number. This system usually crosses over with one of the above: either you'll total the dice you keep against a TN or you'll count successes on the dice you keep. 

The truth is, the vast majority of game systems on the market today fit into one of the above. It's just that too many try to mask themselves as something new when they're just a complicated coat of paint on the basic idea of generating a random result based on a simple probability. 

You Have Nothing to Prove

In the end, as a game designer, neither I nor you (if you're a new or experienced designer reading this) have anything to prove to anyone. You're a gamer first, after all. Make the game you want to play. That's the real takeaway from this. Your job as a game designer, your first responsibility, is to you. You have to make games you love. Otherwise you can't genuinely represent them to your fanbase. Understand that you can't please everyone, but if you're making a game you want to play, you'll get where you need to be in the end. 

Now, despite what I said above about pretention and presumption in innovative systems, if you legit don't find anything that works for you in the systems that are out there, by all means cook up something that's what you want to play. As you work on it, though, always look back to what's already been done and ask yourself, "am I just complicating something that works just as well, already is out there, and is easier to do?"

Note that I'm not suggesting you outright steal someone's system--never do that. Not only is it uncool, it's illegal. What you can do, though, is look at the variant general types of system (target number, dice pool, roll and keep, etc.) and see if something really basic like that is at the heart of your game, then strip it back. The faster, easier, more intuitive, and more streamlined your system is, the better off you'll be in the end. 

But in the end, you don't need to show off your awesome game design skills by coming up with something shiny, new, and innovative. Worse, the more you try to do so, the more you'll likely just be overcomplicating something that already does exist, when taking a simpler, more straightforward approach would service your game far better. 

My Design DNA

So in the end, that's where I stand. Over the years, I've written for such companies as Palladium Books, Eden Studios, Misfit Studios, Troll Lord Games, Goodman Games, and others. Every one of those companies has brought something to the table that influenced me as a designer. My design DNA is drawn from elements of all of them--percentile-based class abilities, straightforward flat target number systems, Fate Points, stratified ability scores, and the other elements of my games. 

All of this has come together to create something that I think is, in fact, unique, but still at the same time very straightforward and ultimately, intuitive and familiar so anyone who has played an RPG can grasp it and get up and running fast. I like to think that once you grasp the core systems, you can play my games without cracking a book, or only rarely doing so. 

I don't consider the O.G.R.E.S. system, the O.R.C.S. system, or the Cd8 system to be innovative in any way, but they do have a personality that's mine, and in the end, that's what every game designer should aspire to achieve and offer. 

As always, thanks for reading and be sure to check out Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars, now available from Studio 2 Publishing!

Monday, November 2, 2020

What Does Night Shift: VSW Bring to the Old School Table?

(This blog sort of dovetails off of an earlier one regarding what's innovative about Night Shift.)

What Does Night Shift: VSW Bring to the Old School Table?

Whenever a new game using old school mechanics is released, people very justifiably want to know what it brings to the table? What makes it worth buying? It's a totally legit question--let's face it, the old school table is stuffed to bursting with games, rules systems, and different takes on the way the earliest games were supposed to be played. When this whole thing started we had Castles & Crusades, followed by OSRIC, followed by Swords & Wizardry. A few others followed, including my own Spellcraft & Swordplay

Now we have Labyrinth Lord, Old School Essentials, Basic Fantasy, Dark Dungeons, Mazes & Perils, Blueholme, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Champions of ZED, and a litany of other games, all good, all solid, all astonishingly fun and created by outstanding designers and great guys. In the end, however, at our core, all of us are doing the same thing--looking back at the core of early gaming and putting out our own versions of those days, trying to address our vision and how we think the game should be played based on our own scholarship. 

This has led to a whole world of creative output but it has also, inevitably, led to burnout on the part of consumers. They rightfully want to know what one game offers that the games they already own don't? Is this just another re-presentation and re-working of the B/X rules? If so, why bother? Naturally, people have the same questions about Night Shift: VSW. 

The good news is, we do bring something new and (I think) worthwhile to the table. Let's dive in. 

The Design Intent and Meta-Setting

One thing many folks have started to do is take these old school rules and apply them to non-fantasy settings. We've seen that with games like Kids on Bikes, Stars Without Number, and Dark Places & Demogorgons. Night Shift: VSW applies this old school mindset to adult urban fantasy and horror gaming in a way that hasn't been done before, and it's completely compatible with your other old school games. It can sit on the shelf right next to your B/X rules and be used right alongside them. The statistics that went into the probabilities and character class progressions have been calculated to closely match those from the Original and B/X days of gaming, so there should be no problem there.

Obviously, we don't claim to be the first ones to offer alternate-genre takes on those old rules. The games I already mentioned above did it first. But we're the first to tackle this kind of broad approach, I think, where you can dive into just about any sort of modern gaming you want, from a game inspired by modern alien conspiracies in the Alphabet Soup organizations to that cheerleader who is chosen to hunt vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness to a succubus fey who refuses to sell out to one of the courts, to demon-hunting brothers in a muscle car to a sorcerous private eye with a talking skull, and beyond. 

The Toolkit Approach

Tim and I both enjoy old school play, but we are also very much into the rules lite new school approach, having both worked together on many Unisystem books throughout our careers. Our DNA is all over this game and we took a toolkit approach that's not quite like anything else that's been done. We have added options for a skill system, for character backgrounds, for madness, for exorcism, Fate Points, and a litany of other options. The forthcoming Night Companion will offer even more, including weapon classes, variable damage, and others.

Beyond this, however, we've built three levels of play into the game: the standard (which we call "realistic"), the gritty, and the cinematic. These three levels apply in different ways across most of the rules mechanics, and can be mixed and matched to create a custom game that suits your specific tastes. If you want cinematic healing but gritty and deadly firearms combined with the standard attack and class ability mechanics, just pick the options you want and go. You can even start with one level and change it out as the heroes grow in experience--perhaps you want to start off with Cinematic healing to give your players more survivability at low levels, but then you switch to realistic at mid-levels and gritty at high levels. 

That's the toolkit approach. 

Codifying the Game

We also did something that no one else has done yet: we took the three basic mechanics that are already in play across all the different versions of that original game, through its second edition, and simply spelled out in a codified form how they work. I talked about this in a blog I did over at my Wasted Lands blog a year or so ago, which was one of two blogs there that led to Night Shift: VSW being written in the first place. 

So we've taken the three mechanics that have always driven old school versions of play, and instead of scattering them throughout the game here and there to be figured out as you go, we've split them up and defined exactly how each works in the context of the game. It is my opinion that this forms a sort of Rosetta Stone for old school play. The O.G.R.E.S. system can actually help you better understand the workings of old school fantasy games. 

That may seem a grandiose claim, but I really think it stands. 

So there you have it; that's what NSVSW, as we like to call it, brings to the table. I hope if you're on the fence, you'll head over to my website and check it out

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