4/27/2016

Published on 4/27/2016 Written by 2 comments

Home Brew Black Ocean RPG

About 6 months ago I read through all of JS Morin's Black Ocean series.  These are short novellas, episodic in nature and feel a lot like the TV show Firefly where a crew of a ship gets up to silly hi-jinx while always looking for the next job, the next score, or the next get rich quick scheme.
The whole time I was reading the series, I felt like there was potential for a  RPG to be based on this setting.  It has all the essentials - an easy to sum up background, potential for fun quirky characters, and a familiar enough feel to get the uninitiated in to it.  Keep this last point in mind while I tell this next part...

Yep, this gets complicated....
A group of 6 or 7 of us have been playing a D6 Star Wars adventure fairly regularly for the past 4 months or so - typically meeting on Skype twice a month.  While not everyone can make it every time, we've managed to keep a fun adventure going with different characters popping in and out as available.  to be fair we're pretty spread out, one player in Newfoundland Canada, a bunch of us in Ontario, one in Alberta, and the last in Japan.  Time-zone coordination is a skill we keep adding ranks to.  Last week was supposed to be our next session, 8pm Friday night.  By about noon on Thursday it became apparent that not enough of us would be available to make it worth continuing the story, so the 3 of us that could make it talked about what we should do.  I volunteered to run a game. So, with about 30 hours to prepare, 19 of them spent at work and 7 sleeping, I did what I could.

While I had thought about a Black Ocean game, I hadn't gone past the very basic framework of an adventure.  I hadn't thought about the game system, or any of the details.  Once my 2 PC's picked character types, I made up some stats for each and sent them to the players to customize.

It's hard to sum up an universe created over 8 books in to a 2 paragraph email, but that's what I did.  Surprisingly, my players stayed mostly within the framework of the universe and the archetypes of their characters.  The impressive part of this is that neither of them had read any of the source material, I was the only one to have read any of it.

Being familiar with the D6 Star Wars game we had been playing, I based my system very loosely on this.
I picked skills relevant to each player type and gave them starting values.  To try to keep the game from getting too crunchy on the numbers, outside of the named skills, everything else starts as 1d6.  So if a player wants to try something, just roll a die and see what happens.  The skills that seemed most essential to that character started at 2d6.

Challenges are broken down in to difficulties.  To do something easy, roll a 3 or better.  So for those "everything else" rolls, players have a 50% chance of success.  If it's a skill they possess, they'll succeed 97% of the time.  These are the types of tasks that the average person can do most of the time untrained, and that people who are trained to do them do many many times in a day.  An example would be the pilot character coming in for a landing in good weather.
Numbers are fun!
To do a more difficult task, a 6 or better is needed.  At 2d6 players will still succeed 72% of the time, but there is a small but significant chance of failure.  Like the pilot landing in some fog with a cross-wind.
Next step up needs a 9 or better to succeed.  At this point only 28% of 2d6 rolls will make it.  Landing the ship in bad weather while running on auxiliary power only.
Difficulties continue to increase by 3 as things get harder and harder.  At 12, less than 3% of unmodified 2d6 rolls will make it. - landing in bad weather with aux power only and 6 ships shooting at you.
A failure on a roll doesn't mean the end though.  It just means there are some consequences to the action - in the landing example, maybe the ship is damaged and needs repair before it can fly again.  While you need a bit of danger to keep things tense enough, I wanted the players to be willing to try goofy stuff and experiment with the world knowing they wouldn't die at the first bad roll.

Things went well with some fun role-plays from my players, some of which I'll try to get to another post about soon, as well as some of the background I gave them.  I'm looking forward to our next Star Wars session, but I also hope we get to return to the Black Ocean some time soon.

Questions about the game?  Let me know in the comments.


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4/25/2016

Published on 4/25/2016 Written by 1 comment

Roleplaying Blind


To clarify, this post has nothing to do about playing a visually-impaired character, or playing a game whilst being visually-impaired yourself. In retrospect, it was probably a terrible idea for a title.

Sometimes it's nice to have no idea what you're doing.

On Friday I went into a game with a nearly complete blank slate. As I've said in the past, it's very unusual for me to play in a game (instead of game mastering), so when a number of my regulars couldn't make it to our Star Wars campaign, I quite happily agreed to let one of the players run a game of his own. It meant a change of pace for everyone and a bit of a break for me.

The game was a homebrew D6-hack based on JS Morin's "Black Ocean" series of novels. I didn't know the system (it was the GM's own invention and his first time running it) and I've never read the books, so I had absolutely no knowledge of the setting. I had made my own character with the scant information he was able to give us just before the game, but I had no idea what most of my skills or abilities did. I was going in completely blind and flying by the seat of my pants, and I loved it.

It helps that this series can best be described as "Firefly" with crazy space wizards.
Or at least that's how
I was playing it.
Usually (like, 99% of the time) I'm the GM, so I've always got to do some amount of prep-work before the game. Sometimes, with games like Dungeon World or Made to Suffer it's minimal, but other times it takes hours and hours to get ready. My Star Wars game has been like that lately, with me creating tons of background info that will probably never see the light of day. Fourth Edition D&D used to take me days to prepare for a single night of a couple of encounters. So for me, to go in with no prior knowledge or time to prepare was a total thrill.

Maybe a lot of players actually play like this. I've certainly run into plenty of folks who lose their character sheets between every session and have never read a rule book in their lives. But for me, I like to know what's going on. I prefer to play in settings that I'm familiar with for that reason, but even if I don't know the background, I still spend as much time as possible going over the rules and the system beforehand. How crunchy is it? How lethal? How does it reward roleplaying? What kind of cool and unique mechanics does it have? This time I had none of that. I was playing a gravity- and reality-manipulating space wizard with a "General Wizarding" ability listed on my character sheet, and I just wanted to see how much mileage I could get out of that.

GM: There is no spoon.
Me: No, it's a spoon. *rolls*
GM: Okay, fine. It's a spoon.
It worked because the GM and both players all knew each other well, and everyone played off everyone else and just kind of rolled with everything. I'm sure both players (neither of us had read the books) were making a mockery of the setting at every turn, but the GM let it slide. The other player ran a chemically-enhanced supersoldier fratboy who was just "bro-ing" out all over the place (alternating his time between masturbating and working out, he was still a way more useful member of the party than I was), and I tried to do whatever shit I could think of with my magic and the GM shoehorned it as best he could with only a few small exceptions. I'm still disappointed that while I can project an entire spaceship into the Astral Plane to travel faster than light, I can't conjure a couple of tropical fish out of thin air.

He did allow my "I turn into a box!" though, so I can't complain too much.

I typed "Illusionary Box" into Google Image Search and I keep getting pictures of this bullshit.
If anyone is interesting in reading up on the source material that we surely butchered, you can check out JS Morin's website right here. It actually sounds pretty cool. Any blurb that starts with "In the year 2254 gravity was officially declared to be magic" and goes on to describe the first interstellar space ship as "shaped like a hand giving the middle finger to science" is okay in my book. I'm probably going to have to check it out myself.

If JS Morin is reading this, then I am well and truly sorry for bastardizing your work.

If Jason is reading this (who is honestly probably the only person who is), then I'm sorry for being a goofus and screwing around and I hope you'll run us through a game again some time.  And hey, if you still have posting privileges on Rule of the Dice, throw up the rules for the world to see. Maybe next time I'll have half an idea of what I'm doing.

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