one roll engine


Brief Overview

February 25, 1865, R.M.S. Caliban, under the command of Captain Gerald Macduff, three days from reaching Brazilian port of Belém

Our heroes had taken passage on the Caliban in search of the temple near the Amazon river that Confederate explorers had found – one that seemed to have a mystical altar missing a single gemstone – one our heroes had retrieved.

However, some three days away from Belém in some foggy weather, our heroes heard a loud bump. Something had struck the ship. Looking down they saw it was the emaciated body of an African, recently dead. Several more could be seen in the water. Fairly close was a transport ship. Mbizi immediately realized immediately what was transpiring – a slave ship. He shouted for the captain to immediately overtake her. Luthor, with his Royal Navy background backed up the order. MacDuff was hesitant but there was some profit in apprehending slavers and he agreed.

Realizing they were about to be overtaken, the slavers began dumping Africans overboard, healthy or not. Mbizi summoned his ancestor spirits to man the Caliban’s boats to rescue the slaves while Larry went to fetch the recuperating John Henry below decks. Grappling the slave ship our heroes boarded her. After a tough battle – no quarter was asked or given, our heroes were victorious, though John Henry had a nasty headshot wound which had nearly finished him. The slaver captain had been trying to complete some sort of ritual and had been dumping a nasty mix of human entrails overboard. What that portended was unknown.

Session Notes

There was really only one main encounter this evening – still a little goofy I guess. That said prior to the combat encounter, there was some decent roleplaying and giving out of willpower points like candy with some debate over whether or not to get involved in chasing the slavers.

That said, with real life intruding we’ll be making some changes to the structure of the game, trying to go for more self-contained adventures as opposed to the current run of one adventure leading directly to the next – that sort of structure makes it difficult to absorb player absences and we’re all married folks with careers and many of us with kids, making getting a full house very difficult. I won’t be dropping all continuity, rather I’ll be attempting to make the adventures self-contained though also fitting together, much like early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the linkages found in recent seasons of Doctor Who.

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Brief Overview

Ben Bell was not quite dead. He had been burned to a crisp a few minutes earlier but before out heroes’ eyes his skin regenerated – much as they had seen Luthor’s when he nearly had an arm torn off by one of those strange demon beasts. And they learned that Bell had concealed a spherical gem in a convenient… body cavity.

A little bit of intimidating interrogation on Dr. Greenfield in a rented tavern room revealed that he had expected to find a crypt here. His research had indicated that centuries ago a Viking, Hjort Dragon’s Bane, had been marooned to the south of “Vinland”. He eventully returned to Scandinavia. He told tales of encountering dragons in what Greenfield believed to be modern day Brazil. Hjort had also returned with a strange gem he had looted from a temple near a mammoth river.

Greenfield had come across a manuscript telling how in the 14th century Sir Hugh Neville had acquired the gem in question. He had been attempting to get funds fr the digging of a gasline in that area to look for a cache Greenfield had found evidence of beneath what was now Leadenhall Market. It was then agents of Alexander Stephens of the Confederacy contacted him. He was interested in occult artifacts and had found a temple in Brazil – one missing a gem… It was then that Stephens provided the funding for this digging. However as a loyal, though perhaps unscrupulous, servant of her majesty, Greenfield was hesitant to turn over such an item to Stephens.

Our heroes kept Greenfield and Bell at the Kerberos Club for the evening. The next morning they took a train to Exeter College at Oxford to gather Greenfield’s precise notes. However on the trip their train was attacked by Byakyee – giant bat-like creatures, apparently attracted to – or perhaps summoned to find – the gem. The creatures landed on the roof of the train and cut their way in. There was quite a scuffle but our heroes managed to overcome them.

Notes

We were a little silly during this game – even by our standards. This was our first game in a while with Christmas holidays. Of course scheduling problems hit us after this game session as well with scheduling issues followed by a medical scare with my daughter (she’s fine now, though while it was going on gaming obviously took a back seat).

We continued finding or Wild Talents feat – still a bit heavy on action, though it was neat seeing some characters I’d anticipated being more foes deciding to work with our heroes (Bell and Greenfield). I had some spreadsheets prepped in advance that allowed action to flow much smoother and I’ve further tuned them for the next session.

While I’ve done a decent amount of research on Victorian London, the next few sessions will probably take place away from London – a journey to Brazil, dealing what is found there, etc. The beastie Hound of Tindalos that was mentioned in the previous session is still at large, something that will be resolved in the coming sessions.

I’m clearly allowing some influence from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos to appear in this game. Back when I had a regular Star Trek game it was something I used often as well. Some day I’m going to have to get a Call of Cthulhu game going – one of those games I’ve owned for ages, played a few sessions here and there, but never had an outright campaign.

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My current campaign, about to awaken from its Christmas hiatus, uses the Wild Talents role-playing game, published by Arc Dream Publishing. Wild Talents is built using ArcDream’s “One-Roll Engine” (ORE), much like how the d20 System is at the core of the newer versions of Dungeons & Dragons. ORE is used for a variety of games including Reign (fantasy role-playing with an emphasis on the characters becoming in charge of organizations), Godlike (gritty World War II super-humans), Wild Talents (more generic superhero gaming), A Dirty World (Noir role-playing), and Monsters and Other Childish Things (school kids with real monster buddies – Call of Cthulhu meets Calvin and Hobbes).

The various ORE games are customized to best suit the needs of the genre they are modeling. For example, Monsters and Other Childish Things uses a fairly simple version of the rules, without much detail when it comes to hit location in combat but a lot of emphasis on what motivates our little tykes. A Dirty World has pairs of opposing ability scores (like Purity vs. Corruption) such that as your character improves in one area he may diminish in others, much like how characters in Film Noir change throughout the course of a film, hitting rock bottom, pulling themselves back up, give into their vices, etc. These abilities don’t improve like in traditional RPGs but rather move throughout the course of a game. Godlike and Wild Talents default towards a gritty and deadly game, with hit locations and bullets that can down most heroes in a single shot to the head, though Wild Talents has genre emulation rules to handle less gritty settings such as a Silver Age inspired game.

ORE uses what in gaming terms is usually called “buckets of dice” – your abilities and/or skills are rated by how many dice you get to roll when your character wants to do something. However, unlike most games, this one roll is used for things like initiative, accuracy, damage, etc. – all at once. What you do when attempting some action is roll the indicated number of dice and looked for sets of two or more. From this you find the height and width of these sets. For example, if you roll 7 dice (always ten-sided) and get 4, 4, 4, 6, 7, 10, 10 you have two sets, one of 3×4 (i.e. three rolls of four, a height of three and width of four) and one of 2×10.

Any matched set is normally a success. As height determines the quality of your roll, tasks of greater difficulty might have a minimum height requirement. In games that use hit locations, lower heights represent limbs while a height of 10 represents a head shot. The width of your roll represents your speed. For example, in combat all characters first declare then everyone rolls simultaneously. Widest roll goes first. Also, wider rolls typically do more damage.

So which is better, height or width? The answer is it depends on the situation. If you are trying to shoot first, width is more important. If you are going for a head shot, height is more important.

Obviously if someone is taking some action against you, you might want to stop them. This is represented in actions like dodging or blocking (or in various social combat actions like those which are often found in A Dirty World). Matches you get in these rolls count as “gobble dice” which allow you to remove dice from an opponent’s die pool after they have made their roll. So a set of two with one gobble due becomes an unmatched roll, turning into a miss.

The various ORE games all use this engine at the core of their system. The different games have different permutations, depending on what they are trying to accomplish. This includes things like vehicle combat, superpowers, multiple actions, doing your homework while your pet monster is distracting you, etc.

Finally, though I indicated all dice are ten-sided, there are in many ORE games special dice. In this post I’ll be referring to the dice as used in Godlike and Wild Talents, but other games have similar concepts using different names. The first kind of special die is called a Hard Die. This is a die in your dice pool which is always a ten. If you have two hard dice you always get a success. This is handy to represent powers which always work. It is also useful to represent deadly accuracy, but uncontrolled deadly accuracy – you can’t shoot to stun for example, or you can never do anything but teleport maximum distance or fly at maximum speed. You will succeed, but without any finesse. This is usually a good thing, but in the two Wild Talents campaigns I’ve GM-ed we quickly learned it was important to use Hard Dice carefully. In character generation, Hard Dice are typically twice as expensive as regular dice.

There is also the concept of the Wiggle Die. The term does sound a little silly. A Wiggle Die is a die which you can set to any value you want, decided after you roll any regular dice in your pool. This is extremely valuable, as a single Wiggle Die, paired with any other die, guarantees at least one success. This is fantastic for representing a very skilled character, such as Batman from DC Comics. Wiggle Dice are typically four times as expensive as regular dice.

ORE is a system that is hard to classify as rules-light or rules-heavy. The basic rules of all the games are pretty simple. Some games, such as A Dirty World or Monsters and Other Childish Things are kept deliberately simple as far as rules go. On the other hand, Godlike and Wild Talents, while keeping their simple core, have a lot of different possibilities, given all the permutations when it comes to possible abilities. Even at its most complex, no ORE game approaches the complexity of a Hero System or GURPS-style engine. I’d say that Wild Talents falls a few notches below games like Dungeons & Dragons when it comes to complexity. I’ve rather enjoyed the system – it makes GM-ing pretty easy when it comes to prep-work and it allows for a ton of player flexibility. I’d suggest checking out Arc Dream’s web page for more info, free downloads, etc. if you’re looking for more info. In the future I’ll take a look at individual ORE games, but first I wanted to discuss the system as a whole.

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Brief Summary

The session opened in December of 1864 at the Kerberos Club. Fellow member of the club, Bryan Quinn, Member of Parliament, asked the characters to accompany him to a reception for the visiting vice-president of the Confederate States of America, Alexander Stephens. MP Quinn explained that the Club had reason to believe Stephens was up to something in London – he’d been funding research that Professor Ian Greenfield of Exeter College at Oxford University had been performing.

The reception had Vice-President Stephens, Confederate ambassador James Murray Mason, and Professor Greenfield. As Quinn suspected, hosting two members of the Kerberos Club of African descent was somewhat disconcerting for many of the guests, serving to loosen tongues. Our heroes learned a variety of facts:

  • Professor Greenfield had been purchasing controlling shares in various organizations that were performing much of the excavation for gas lines, underground railways, etc. in the interests of making archeological discoveries as a side-effect of all the digging.
  • Professor Greenfield was not independently wealthy but was, as the Club suspected, getting financial support from Stephens.
  • Professor Greenfield was the son of American Loyalists who relocated to England after the American Revolution.
  • There was some sort of commotion during an audience Stephens had with Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. She expressed her disapproval of the Confederacy’s peculiar institution.

As the evening went on, a pair of waifs, one large and one small, entered the hall. They needed to speak with the Professor. Luthor chatted with them and discovered they were brother and sister, known as Big Hand and Little Hand. He took them to the professor where Little Hand explained how Ben Bell was not happy with the digging and needed to stop. Greenfield took a cab to deal with the matter with our heroes graciously accompanying him (though he did not seem to appreciative).

As they approached the dig sight at Leadenhall there was a big explosion – the sound of a gasline exploding. They saw the site of some digging, either for a railway or sewer, partially collapsed. The bottom was still on fire with the smell of cooking flesh and a moaning sound. John Henry stayed at the edge while Luthor jumped down. He dragged the severely burned man at the bottom to John Henry who pulled him up. They saw the burned man had been covering up a shaft. Out of the shaft emerged a trio of horrific figures, clad in clothing centuries out of date and appearing vaguely human but… transformed somehow… into beings with no curves, but all angles. They raked at Luthor with horrific claws dripping of a greenish ichor, nearly severing both his arms. The rest of the team ran to assist him (some faster than others), with much teleporting, summoned ancestors, and swinging of big hammers before they finally destroyed the creatures.

A prostitute, Polly, who had been holding up a wall at the time of the explosion explained how some… dog thing… had emerged first and fought with the burned man – a man who they could see was rapidly healing. The hound appeared much like angular beings, also dripping a nasty ichor.

Notes

This session was largely an exercise in getting used to Wild Talents again after a long hiatus. It went pretty well, we definitely seemed to have a better grasp of the rules this time around. Some of the players will be making tweaks to their characters as a result of the first session. John Henry was initially generated as a strong, but normal, human. He’ll likely be changing to have at least one wild die in his Body stat, meaning when rolling his dice pool he will be guaranteed of at least one success in Body-related tests. Mbizi wants to make certain his character gets a chance to be  inspirational in pursuit of his causes so he’ll be adding to his social skills.

The creatures in the first session are inspired by the Cthulhu-Mythos tale The Hounds of Tindalos by Frank Belknap. The humanoid variants weren’t too tough an opponent. The hound itself will likely be appearing in the future, probably the very short-term…

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So as you can see from earlier posts my group spent a fair amount of time going back and forth between modern, 1950s, 1930s, and Victorian-era gaming. In the end we decided on a game set in the Victorian Age with lower end superheroes – for those who are familiar with Wild Talents, a point value of 175. You’re basically talking characters who have one or two superpowers or who have focused on super-attributes. I like this level as it keeps the characters and their other abilities at the core.

Initially we had decided on a game set towards the end of the age to set up a possible encounter with Jack the Ripper. However, I fell into my infamous research fetish – a desire to know ever single possible detail about Victorian London of 1887, something that is just not going to happen. That is when I decided it would be best to use the Kerberos Club, which is an alternate reality in which, over the course of the 19th century, the world gets odder and odder and history diverges more and more. In this setting, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria separate as he becomes more and more concerned about how Strange his wife has become. As a result he lives far longer but is also not around to negotiate the Trent Affair, causing the UK to declare war on the United States in 1861, resulting in Confederate Independence. Ironically, the United States and United United Kingdom draw closer together after this and the Confederacy turns into a rogue nation, getting more and more tradition-bound and backwards, delving into dark magics and ancient religions (major inspirations from Call of Cthulhu and other Lovecraftian horrors).

The Kerberos Club itself is made up of people “touched by the Strange” and is dedicated to protecting society as best it can from being unduly influenced by the Strange. It is not quite a superhero team, but more a loose confederation of superbeings who have a common purpose and are able to take advantage of the club’s considerable resources, especially useful for non-white males.

I decide to begin the game at the end of the year 1864. The Confederacy has established itself as an independent nation and Abraham Lincoln has just been reelected for ending the dual front war with the UK and CSA without further loss of territory and some semblance of honor, with the addition of a post-war economic boom.

We have four characters in our group. In no particular order they are:

  • Mbizi – Escaped slave from the United States (pre-Civil War) – killed his master with his powers. Mbizi is able to summon beings he refers to as his ancestors. If you’ve ever read the New Universe comic DP7 and remember Randy O’Brien, you’ll have a good idea of what his powers are like. Mbizi descends from a South African Xhosa who was traveling abroad to West Africa for currently unknown reasons. Mbizi’s powers are centered on his ancestors and he has no other powers, though he is a skilled fighter and orator. Mbizi is dedicated to ending the illegal African slave trade, delegitimizing the Confederacy, and securing the independence of the Xhosa and other South African groups.
  • Larry (surname unknown at present) – Two-bit thief from the East End, Larry unhesitatingly accepted membership into the Kerberos Club as opposed to scraping by and staying ahead of the police. Larry has a very limited teleportation, or blinking ability. He has minimal conscious control over it and it seems to function only to allow him to better position himself to attach someone (i.e. blink behind them) or to unconsciously avoid harm (blink out of the path of a bullet). He’d very much like to be able to control the teleport as, while no longer a full-time thief, he certainly still likes valuables and being able to teleport through a door would be handy. In combat he tends to favor an iron pipe.
  • John Henry – “The name is Brown, John Henry Brown, sah.  I’m a free man on accountin’ I beat a steam drill with these hea hands my hammer and with the blessin’ of tha Lord, AMEN Brother!” Yes, that John Henry is also a member of the club. He is loyal to the club but even more dedicated to punishing those who supported slavery and proving his superiority over machines. He is incredibly strong and very deadly with his hammer – and very difficult to hurt. Not incredibly bright, but very driven.
  • Sir Luthor Smithson, KCMG, Esquire, Captain (ret), Colonel (ret) – Luthor was a born London gutter rat, and was press-ganged into the Royal Navy more than 250 years earlier. It was there that his unique abilities were first noted – particularly when he sided with the Royalists and was executed – repeatedly and unsuccessfully. With the re-establishment of the monarchy, Luthor came to the attention of Charles II. Fighting as a naval officer in the Second Anglo-Dutch war, then again in the Third Anglo-Dutch war, saw him rewarded for bravery under fire again and again. Strange rumors about him (specifically the ones about him being unkillable and therefore possessed), led him to be reassigned to the army, where he fought in the Nine Years War against the French, and then later the War of the Spanish Succession against France and Spain. Afterwards, Luthor spent a lot of time traveling the world, advising and participating in numerous small wars and studying all over the world. Recalled to service by a disbelieving crown for the French and Indian war, he was then shunted to the Royal Expeditionary Force fighting in the Cape Frontier wars, followed by recall to fight in the Franco-British war, and then later in the Anglo-Russian war. At which point Luthor took service with the government’s diplomatic branch, and began traveling the world.

I’ve noticed some interesting things about the characters. First, for the age it is unusual that a pair of the characters are of African descent. That does fit in quite well with one of my plans of using the Confederacy as one of the main baddies – indeed the first adventure features a visit from Vice-President Alexander Stephens of the Confederacy.

There is also a potential conflict between Mbizi and Luthor, given Luthor’s involvement in the Cape Frontier Wars against the Xhosa. Not sure why it is, but those two players always seem to make characters who have some amount of conflict between each other – and this one was totally unintentional…

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