Collateral 35: Fear the Living

In the latest episode of Collateral, I talked to John Jessop about his zombie apocalypse RPG, Fear the Living, Kickstarting right now.

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Running and Gunning on Pandora

Weapons in Borderlands create a problem for me in adapting the game to a tabletop format. Guns are very important in Borderlands, while melee weapons are there but are invisible except when used. All the guns have an intricate variety of interacting statistics while melee weapons just exist and cannot be replaced.

But there’s more: in Borderlands, characters had Weapon Proficiencies that improved with use. These were lost in Borderlands 2, which instead focused on gaining “rewards” that improved the use a variety of weapons or devices – like shields.

So I have three problems that I either need to ignore or create systems to address: weapon stats, proficiencies and skills.

I definitely think weapons are going to need stats something similar to what exists in the games, but there’s another stat not in the game that I would like to incorporate: range. It seems, playing the game, that this is an intrinsic property of weapons that is not overt. I would make it so. Elemental weapons are also very important, so that would need to be incorporated. Melee and ranged weapons will be treated the same, so you will have knives, long blade, katanas, etc. alongside revolvers, pistols, assault rifles, etc.

I dislike the “magic economy” of D&D (especially editions 3 and 4), in which PCs could go into a shop and buy a magic wand or weapon. So while having vending machines and occasional vendors is an important part of Borderlands, being able to purchase special weapons will not be part of Pandora Excess. Random tables will assign the stats to found weapons, and the player (not the GM) will roll on those tables, making each one unique.

I’m going to use a skill and feats system, so basically a melding of the Borderlands and Borderlands 2 approach. The Skill Trees and “rewards” would be counted as “feats” while the weapon proficiencies will be a basis for the Skills system, though given this will be an RPG and not just a first-person shooter, I will need to expand on those.

So, yes, this is going to be a robust system, closer to D&D than to Lady Blackbird, but I’ve come to terms to with that.

You can find out more about Borderlands here.

You can find out more about Pandora Excess here.

You can find out more about D&D here.

You can find out more about Lady Blackbird here.

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Wild Pandora or World War Pandora?

I’ve been thinking of the kinds of games I could run were I to complete the tabletop RPG emulating Borderlands I’ve started called Pandora Excess (working title). What struck me was that Borderlands is the Wild West while Borderlands 2 is Occupied Europe.

In Borderlands, you saunter into town, kill some bandits, and then fight a bunch of baddies and beasties in search of the mine/Vault filled with silver/technology.

In Borderlands 2, you link up with the resistance to fight the oppressive force that has conquered the planet/country.

Lucky for me, I like both of those scenarios.

You can find out more about Borderlands here.

You can find out more about Pandora Excess here.

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Robust or Needlessly Complex?

In thinking about Pandora Excess – an RPG concept based on the Borderlands series of computer games – I have come to realize it is not complex systems that I dislike, it is the pre-decided judgements that such systems seem to regularly include.

During the playtest of D&D Next/5E, I was thrilled with the game I was seeing in the playtest documents. That game is still there in the published version (free on-line), but it became the behemoth I had feared it would. It was not the system, per se, that created the bloat, it was the situational cases that have attached to it.

Not the feat system, nor the skill system, nor the saving throw system are bloated in the 5E core rules as presented. The problem comes in the minutiae that then follows, explaining what happens when someone falls down, when someone jumps over a chasm, when someone eats a bad mushroom, and on and on. As a G/DM, I don’t want that, and when I see a 200 page rulebook, I expect that is what I will get.

I can make a robust system, perhaps even with subordinate systems, without the bloat that I dislike. I can still build a sturdy and complex framework yet leave it to the players and GMs to flesh it out, to decide how exactly things will work in their world.

I can even leave shared narrative control that is so important to Nefertiti Overdrive. If I want to move forward with Pandora Excess, I can still do so with the design philosophy that has inhabited so many of my games – don’t ask me, tell me.

Yeah, this is probably all really obvious and I’ve been a complete tool the entire time. That would not surprise me in the least. However, for me, this is an epiphany.

And it makes me excited.

You can find out more about Borderlands here.

You can find out more about Pandora Excess here.

You can find D&D Next/5E here.

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Robust Pandora Excess

I have a problem. I fear that Pandora Excess, an RPG inspired by the Borderlands computer game, may need to be a robust system. I haven’t designed a robust system since I played with hacking d20/3E.

Here’s the thing: the design philosophy behind Pandora Excess includes over-the-top, cartoonish violence with fast combat and strong niche protection. These can all be done through a simple (or light) system, basically what Pandora Excess is right now. However, such a game would not be a spiritual sibling to the Borderlands computer game.

As a computer RPG – or at least a computer game with RPG elements – it is pretty much required that Borderlands have a robust system. That’s easy to do with a computer. It can also be done in a pen & paper game, but that ends up being complex and long, something like d20/3E. Given that Borderlands has skills and a system very much like feats, I believe the comparison is apt.

Presently, Pandora Excess isn’t a project as much as it is a conceit. I believe, though, that this system could be used for more than just Borderlands emulation. I also have the very basic bones of a skill system that would pretty much work perfectly for this. The feat system would take effort, effort that I’m not putting into it right now.

But after Nefertiti Overdrive has either published or perished? Then we’ll see.

You can find out more about Borderlands here.

You can find out more about Pandora Excess here.


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Pandora Excess: On the Borderlands

I’ve been away camping for a bit, and while I did a lot of reading – all of it for work – I also did some RPG work. Given my avowed love of the Borderlands computer game, I did a very quick and basic RPG to use as a foundation for creating Pandora Excess, my RPG inspired by Borderlands.

Along with a design philosophy, there were some mechanical aspects of Borderlands that I felt I needed to include, such as Shields. Weapons were a tough one, because my preference is to go with all weapons do the same damage, but Borderlands worked very hard on creating a variety of weapons. I worked that into the game as well, although I have it as an optional component.

The basics are 2d10 + bonuses against a Target Number, not like in Sword Noir. Also like Sword Noir, only the players ever roll, though unlike Sword Noir, every actor in a scene, PC and NPC, gets to act, so it’s a bit more like D&D that way.

This is my initial stats for Mordecai using the basic Pandora Excess rules.

Concepts: Hunter +2, Gunslinger +2
Skills: Revolver +2, Rifle +2, Tracking +2
Elements: Bloodwing (Short) +4, Stealth +2, Deception +2

You can find out more about Borderlands here.

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Borderlands on the Tabletop

Elsewhere I’ve admitted to be addicted to Borderlands. I had a quick dip into Borderlands 2 last night, and I figure I’ll probably be hitting that soon enough. Other than loads of entertainment, computer games can also give one a lot of inspiration. What am I getting from Borderlands?

There’s not a lot I can draw from Borderlands that I’ll likely use for anything other than a one-shot. The story is pretty basic. I think Fallout: New Vegas has a very strong story that would work well in an RPG campaign, and I can see adapting most of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series as well. The Borderlands plot doesn’t really offer much, at least nothing original or exciting.

Were I to run something Borderlands-esque as a tabletop RPG, I think I’d adapt the attitude and some of the NPCs. The attitude especially is inspirational. This would work well as a crazy, action-heavy straight-ahead game of Vault hunting and escalating fights. That could be a very fun beer & pretzels session.

I could see this working using a form of Nefertiti Overdrive, but I think a tabletop game inspired by the front-end of the character interaction of Borderlands could work and wouldn’t be too difficult. The one thing that I wouldn’t like is the accounting. Rather than increasing based on tracked usage – I think that’s how Borderlands works – I would do it closer to how I did it in Sword Noir, in which a critical failure provides a learning opportunity that can provide advancement. Since the more one uses a skill, the more likely it is one would have a critical failure, it indirectly rewards regular usage.

For a long campaign, though, Fallout: New Vegas gets my vote.

My confession is here.

You can find out more about Borderlands here.

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