Metro 2033+ . . . Seoul or Toronto?

Another computer game, another set of inspirations, another consideration of how I could port the experience to a tabletop RPG.

This time is it Metro 2033. This is a game I have long enjoyed, but because of its unforgiving nature – resource management is both very strict and very difficult in the game, especially the filters for your gas mask, absolutely essential when you go above ground – I have never got very far with it. I recently purchased the update – Metro 2033 Redux and Metro: Last Light Redux – and there is a version one can play on Metro 2033 Redux that is less resource management with the trade-off that there are more enemies to fight. I’m better with that, and have progressed further than I had previously.

I dig post-apocalyptic stories, and so Metro 2033 is right in my wheelhouse. For a guy like me who likes first person shooters but is actually quite bad at them, the game is extremely challenging. My only real issue with the game is that it is very railroad-y. One is following a specific story, rather than something like Fallout 3 and New Vegas – still my favourite computer games overall – which are totally open. So imagine something like Metro 2033 in an open world.

And there you’d have a great tabletop roleplaying game. My unreleased modern Spec Ops RPG, Direct Action, would work really well with only minimal additions – resource management is such an important aspect of Metro 2033, I’d need to include that in the game. I believe I would set it either in Seoul or Toronto – cities I know well that have very extensive subway networks and subterranean environments. Toronto would probably be the choice because the cultural starting point would be more recognizable for my players, and it can have really brutal winters, that I would like to weave into the plot.

What to call it? If this were Toronto, I’d probably call it the Cursed Path, since Toronto has an underground pedestrian network called the Path.

You can learn more about Metro 2033 here.

You can learn more about Metro 2033 Redux on Steam here.

You can learn more about Direct Action here.

You can learn more about Toronto’s un-cursed Path here.


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Building Stuff: Scenes

In my last post, I was talking about planning an adventure. We got as far as figuring out what the adventure would be about. Like a campaign goal, this is very high-level (strategic?) and has very few specifics about what will happen (operational?) or how they will happen (tactical?).

Honestly, the tactical nuances of an adventure – how things happen – I leave to the table. That’s why I do one-pagers. One-pagers give me my operational framework (events, places, and NPCs with which the PCs might interact) without getting to far into the weeds. But what if you want all the juicy details? What if you want to make sure, before the game happens, that each character will have a chance to be in the spotlight? That each character will have a chance to do what the player wants the character to do?

I think it is in everyone’s best interests that the GM be as responsive to my players’ interests as possible. At the level of the campaign, the very high-level strategic view of the game, one way of doing this is including them in the design process by having them help in creating create the campaign – I support this wholeheartedly, and rules and guidelines for this are going to be included in Nefertiti Overdrive, should it fund. But that happens at the campaign outset. What about during the adventure? What can one do to insure one has met the players’ interests during each adventure?

I’ve hardwired player interests into the rules for every game I’ve designed. I call them Pivots. In Nefertiti Overdrive, the Pivot section begins with:

A Pivot is a goal toward which the character strives. It is also a signal to the GM of the kind of situations and hooks which the player desires for the character.

If you look at the Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart, you’ll notice that each encounter in the adventure is keyed to certain characters’ Pivots. You can literally build an adventure by looking at the characters’ Pivots. And if you aren’t playing one of my games (jerk!), you might not have the specific tool I use in the design of an adventure, but there must be something on to which you can latch. If it’s D&D 5E, you’ve got Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws, all of which you can use to help shape adventures, not to mention Background and class traits like the Martial Archetype or the Druid Circle.

So, we’ve got an adventure in which the characters are going to Robin Hood the Assyrians (I like using Robin Hood as a verb). If I am going to write out an adventure in full, I break everything into scenes. Scenes are basically the items from a one-pager fleshed out to include all the pertinent data. In the Quickstart you can see some examples of this. Basically, it turns every item in my one-pager into a scene, and every scene is boiled down to a one-pager.

Let’s look at a couple at the Amazon and see how we can use Pivots to build the scenes in an adventure.

The Amazon’s Pivots are: “I shall prove that I am indeed a worthy queen of a warrior tribe” and “No man is my better.” So what does a worthy queen mean? I think one thing we can attribute to worthy queens, whether they be warriors or bureaucrats, is generosity. What about justice? I’d give the PCs a wealthy ally in the city, someone still supporting the Kushite dynasty. Throw in a scene in which that ally expects all of his wealth back after the PCs liberate spoils from the Assyrians. The thing is, the little people are desperate for money because they are starving. It would be interesting to see how the Amazon reacts to this, and if the player doesn’t get involved have whichever side seems to be losing the argument turn to her for support.

The “No man is my better” is the easiest Pivot to hit in Ancient Egypt, because every man is going to assume he is better than the Amazon, either tougher or smarter. Give her a chance to show them up. Usually, I do this with an Assyrian or Saite loyalist hero and give the Amazon a one-on-one fight. When running the adventures that will be included in Nefertiti Overdrive with my home group, the Amazon had a nemesis she regularly encountered, and you could make this character a male mirror-image of her, giving her someone who constantly challenges her. One key thing about this in Nefertiti Overdrive‘s rules is because the players get to decide what happens when a Challenge is removed from the scene, it’s important to get the player’s buy-in for nemeses so that when they are removed from a scene, no one ever sees a body, and then the nemesis can show up again in a later scene.

That turns out to be pretty satisfying for the player and a great way to shine that spotlight on the character.

You can find the Building Stuff series here.

You can find the free Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart rules here.

You can learn more about Nefertiti Overdrive here and here.

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Building Stuff: Adventures

Okay, so you have a plot for your campaign, and each adventure is somehow linked into that idea – a stepping stone toward the campaign’s goal, a sub-goal linked to that main one, or part of the story that is being created. For example, earlier in the Building Stuff series I posited a Nefertiti Overdrive game based on Star Wars: Rebels, in which the PCs are acting as a criminal gang in order to fund the opposition to the new dynasty. Let’s say the goal of that is re-installing the Princess’ cousin as Pharaoh.

Now, an adventure is either moving toward that goal or advancing the story that your group is creating based on that goal. I’m going to say that there is a strategically important town along the Nile which the PCs can’t really conquer – remember, they are working in the shadows – but can certainly turn the population against their new pharaoh, especially since the face of the new dynasty are Assyrians (not really historically accurate, but Nefertiti Overdrive is not about rigorous adherence to history). Let’s say this is Hermopolis, kind of the northern border of Upper Egypt and apparently a pretty swank place, second only to Waset/Thebes in the Third Intermediate Period of Ancient Egypt.

So, for an adventure, you can go all Robin Hood. The Assyrians are gathering a tax from the populace of Hermopolis. Let’s add another dimension to this and say that the new pharaoh – I’m calling him the Saite Dynast in Nefertiti Overdrive – has not ordered or even allowed this, but his factors in Hermopolis cannot control the Assyrians, who outnumber the Saite Dynast’s troops. This is a case of the PCs fighting the Assyrians and protecting the townsfolk, returning the wealth the Assyrians steal but also re-distributing what they can steal from the Assyrians and their Saite Dynasty paymasters. And the PCs might even find allies among the Saite Dynasty’s forces, since the Assyrians are actually robbing the Dynasty.

Breaking this adventure down into scenes – basically events, encounters, and challenges – is the next step, and for that I use Pivots.

Which I’ll explain next time.

You can find the Building Stuff series here.

You can find the free Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart rules here.

You can learn more about Nefertiti Overdrive here and here.

You can read more about Hermopolis at Wikipedia.

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Building Crawl

I haven’t seen a lot of movies that I would consider good “dungeon crawl” movies, but two that came to mind recently are Dredd and the Raid: Redemption. Both follow a very similar plot – though production schedules suggest that they did not influence each other much if at all. The hero(s) is trapped in a building and must fight his way to the top for the big boss fight.

This isn’t just a matter of following halls in either, because there are diversions through floors and walls. They really do work very much like dungeon crawls and provide some inspiration for crafting modern or sci fi takes on that game staple.

There’s a lot to be said for the crawl. It’s not something I would want to do as a campaign, but there’s nothing wrong with a session or two of crawling, mapping, fighting, and looting. If you’ve got a game going in the modern era and decide it’s time for some straight up brawling, sending the PCs in to arrest/talk to/otherwise encounter an individual in a building and then spring the army of mooks when they are half way up seems like a good idea to me.

And as I’m thinking on it, Lockout with Guy Pearce is kind of the same, but it’s IN SPACE! Everything is better IN SPACE.

I actually enjoy all three of these movies and would recommend them, although I think Lockout is a bit of a guilty pleasure while Dredd and the Raid are both well-made films.

You can read more about Dredd on Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can read more about the Raid: Redemption on Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can read more about Lockout on Wikipedia and IMDB.

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Killin’ Zombies! Nazi Techno-Zombies to be Precise

In my last post, I mentioned a short campaign idea based on the movie Outpost: Black Sun. The Outpost series (I see there are three of them) is basically a zombie movie franchise with a slight different: the zombies are technological in origin and they are Nazi. That makes them extra fun to kill.

Kill it! Kill it! From Outpost: Black Sun

But killing zombies isn’t easy in the Outpost series. Killing zombies at all is kind of difficult in most media portrayals. A headshot is not an easy shot to make, and in Outpost, the headshot won’t do it. The zombies are animated by an electromagnetic field that keeps them active even after catastrophic injuries. An electro-magnetic pulse renders them vulnerable, but those things – in the movie – are large and one-shot. After you fire it off, you’re just out of luck.

There’s no way I would put my players up against un-killable foes. Actually, I might, but it would be a very different game. It would be about remaining unseen and losing foes who have spotted you. That’s not the kind of game I was envisioning.

They’re here to kill zombies and chew bubblegum. And they’re all out of bubblegum. From Outpost.

So what are the mechanics of facing Nazi techno-zombies? I would throw out “the EM field keeps them undead” and switch that to “the EM field keeps them powered.” You mess up the device that routes the power within their body and they are rendered inert. You could put that device in their head no problem, and then the headshot trope works. I’d put it in the chest, behind reinforced ribs – I mean you’re cracking them open to put the device in anyway, why not leave a little extra protection behind?

The actual game mechanics are pretty simple. In a game like D&D, you’d have a super high AC but very low HP. You would make the target area really hard to hit, but not terribly difficult to destroy. In the games I’m running, it would pretty much be the same thing. Give them a target number of Olympian proportions, but the damage threshold of a Mook. Really hard to hit, but one shot can kill.

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Inspiring Outpost

I recently watched Outpost: Black Sun, the sequel to the movie Outpost. Both movies offer some gaming inspiration, but I think for a short campaign, Black Sun offers the most grist.

The story of Outpost: Black Sun is that of a young Nazi Hunter (second generation) who finds out about a secret Nazi project from World War II and in pursuing it, stumbles upon an old acquaintance who seems to be some kind of engineer/researcher of weird science – like Dr. Zarkov in our A Team of Losers Pulp campaign, but saner. In the Balkans, they stumble across an expanding bubble of electro-magnetic sciency wiency stuff. And the Nazi zombies are there. And there are evil special forces guys who are also good.

And loud roar! Scary!

Okay, anyway, Outpost was also inspiring, but much more of a “survive the night’s siege of supernatural monsters” game. That’s cool, but not really a campaign. I see Black Sun as a short campaign. I’d break it into four or maybe five one-pagers.

The first would be hunting down the evil Nazi who clues the team on to the Zombie-machine (of course he never admits that’s what it does, and since he’s old, if they are about to get that out of him . . . heart attack!). I’m thinking either the PCs are a group of famed, globe-trotting trouble shooters hired by McGuffin Exposition or they are a super-secret team from government of your choice. They know something about something – this scientist dude was involved in something and they finally have a bead on him – but they don’t know the whole story.

The second would be finding the outpost. It should be someplace remote and also shitty. There’s a low-grade civil war going on and both sides are firing surface-to-air missiles at everything, so no helicopters allowed. Besides, they don’t have an exact location, just a bunch of vague clues or half-remembered directions using long-lost landmarks. This is where the PCs hear all the crazy rumours from the townsfolk. Everyone says the village was ethnically cleansed, but the locals talk about werewolves and ghosts. This should also be the part where the team meets their first Nazi Zombie. And those things are tough to kill, not like regular zombies.

The third adventure would be chasey, shooty fun, as the team moves through a no-man’s land created by the expanding bubble of science in which the Nazi Techno-Zombies can operate. The PCs have a chance to help villagers and realize just how tough these bastards are. There’s also a dude that’s with the Zombies, and he doesn’t seem techno-zombified.

The fourth would be the Outpost – dungeon-crawl! It’s an underground base, a secret factory for putting stuff into people so that they are super strong and super tough to kill. The PCs need to destroy The Machine (patent pending) and then the Zombies will be regular Nazis – which are evil, but not so hard to kill. Of course, the heroes succeed . . . or get wiped out. It depends.

I’d do a fifth based on another team of specialists that seem to shadowing the PCs. If they are caught, it turns out they are working for the same employer OR for the same government, but a different agency. These guys are here to bring back all the techno-zombie tech so that employer or government can build their own zombies. In the fifth, I’d give the PCs a chance to track down the baddie, and stop the spread of techno-zombies!

While Nazi Zombies are pretty cool, I might do Soviet Zombies as well, and set it in Siberia or one of the Central Asian republics.

You can learn more about Outpost: Black Sun here.

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Innocent Guns: A Setting Proposal

In an email exchange, friend of the Accidental Survivors in Germany, Wolf, mentioned Innocent Gun, which another listener had mentioned (for those not in the know, we talk a lot about Innes & Gunn’s line of beers), and I wrote that it would make a good RPG title.

Wolf suggested a western, gothic, cyber-punk. I like that, but I’ll go one further – post-apocalyptic.

Dig this: it’s hundreds of years after a cataclysm that is known in the region in which the PC’s begin as the Event. Every culture has a different myth about it, but it was a huge disaster. The world is only just starting to recover. Part of this new recovery is an organic network into which certain people can tap. It is a decentralized information network that evolved after the Event. Resurrected industry is taking advantage of this much the way it takes advantage of computers and the internet in our world.

From the movie Priest

But this recovery is very localized. Certain places have factories, electricity, transportation and communications, but much of the world remains outside these “points of light.” Yes, “civilization” is advancing, but slowly. Carefully. The people who live on the fringes have civilization, sure, but it’s a frontier civilization. In many places, might makes right.

And there is a secret, whispered about on the network. Something is growing. Something powerful. A global geothermal energy project is coming back online. Its substations are spooling up one by one. An energy grid built to power a world beyond even the 21st-century’s voracious needs could change everything.

In my conception of this, I have no idea what the Event was. It’s unimportant. The network is due to nanobots that existed before the Event and are replicating, but due to the specifics of the ones that survived the Event, they can only work with individuals with very specific genetic markers. The nanobots are also powering up the geothermal grid – working on parameters set hundreds of years ago and happening now because they have replicated enough that there is a cascade, as more power increases production, which allows more power, etc.

Gothic, I think, is generally very intertwined with the aesthetics of cyberpunk. The world is constantly dark as the Event created an almost impenetrable layer of clouds (yes, I know this would have huge environmental repercussions, but so would magic and no one ever seems to care about that ;). It rains all the time. It’s a dark and depressing world in which wealth has created the kind of class divisions known during the Middle Ages (a representation of the current wealth gap).

And the PCs are the ones bringing order to both the cities (protecting the underclass rather than taking the barons coin) and in the frontier (where the network is starting to have a great impact).

They are the Innocent Guns. But how long will they remain so?

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