One thing I noted in the Battlestar Galactica campaign we’ve been running is that the system doesn’t quite allow for the toaster splashing antics of Starbuck and Apollo, nor are the toasters as deadly as they could be. One reason for that is the Cortex Classic mechanic for damage in a fight. As mentioned in the Discussions on Damage post from today, the idea for these possible house rules catalyzed out of a Facebook group post that caught my attention. So without further ado:

Suggestion 1: Tying the damage die to success. You need a 7 to hit the target and get a 12. That’s 5 points basic damage plus the d8W for your rifle (or viper.) At this point, anything under 5…is a 5. That means when you roll the d8W, you get between 5 and 8 as a result, so a 3 stun and 7-10 wound. This makes you a ton more effective against the toasters…and vice versa.

Suggestion 2: A static damage number that is tagged to the basic damage. As per the last example — you’ve done 3 stun and 2 wound basic damage. Now your rifle does 8 wound. This seems a lot more dangerous, and isn’t the one I would recommend.

Suggestion 3: This is one I suggest separate from the above ideas, and is one I use in my Cortex games: characters always roll an Endurance (Vitality+Willpower) versus damage taken. If they succeed, no penalty is rendered; if they fail, they are stunned for the number of rounds they missed by. This can be bought out with a plot point, or if they have Cool under Fire or some such asset. If they are hit with an extraordinary success and the character misses the roll, they suffer the effects as per the normal rules (pg 94 in the Cortex core book.)

Suggestion 4: This has also been one I’ve used in our campaigns — an extraordinary success on an injury leads to some kind of lasting effect — a broken arm, or the like — that gives the character a temporary Chronic Injury complication equal to the wound, round down. So say you take 9 wound and 3 stun, but live…you have a d8 Chronic Injury, Broken Whatever that takes that many weeks of game time to heal.

As usual, feel free to completely ignore any or all of this.

One of the things that I’ve always liked about the old James Bond RPG rules set, and to a lesser extent Cortex, is that the quality of the success translates into how well damage is rendered on an opponent. In the JB:007 game, the quality result is checked against the damage class of the weapon and there’s the damage done. In Cortex, the quality of the result gives you basic damage — 1/2 in stun and 1/2 in wound, but then there’s the additional roll of the weapon’s damage — this can give anything from a disappointing 1 up to the max of the die in wound.

It’s the one issue in Cortex’s combat mechanics that has always bugged me. Bang! I do 3S and 3W on my .45 pistol with a d6W and….oh. One. The second bit of random chance just seems to fly against the point of the basic damage based on quality. Granted, an extraordinary success lends the attacker certain benefits if the target doesn’t make their endurance test (or in the case of mooks, I just call it an incapacitate.)

I have two suggestions to improve the way combat is handled in Cortex:

1) Weapons and damage — In the case of damage, I suggest the player be allowed to  “take the average” — if a pistol has a d6W (and most do), the weapon normally does three. With an extraordinary success, it does the max for the die, in this example six. (Ex. Ted (d6 Agility+d4 Guns with a result of 10) shoots Steve (dodging with a d6 Agility and d6 Athletics with a disappointing 7 result.) He does 1 stun from basic damage, and 4 wound. Had he gotten an extraordinary (say, Steve only got a 3), it would have been 4 stun, 9 wound.

This should speed combat and reduce some of the chance of combat. I would still allow them to roll damage if they were feeling lucky, but it might be a good option for the GM running a big, complex fight to cut down on rolling and paperwork.

2) Always roll Endurance when taking a hit. Sometimes, you get hit and while it doesn’t do any real physical damage, it knocks the snot out of you. I like to have the players test against Endurance equal to an injury they sustain in combat. They took 2 stun, 2 wound? Beat a 4, otherwise be stunned for a number of rounds equal to how much to missed. On an extraordinary success, stick to the rules on pg. 94 of the Cortex core book — wounds start d2 Bleeding per turn of strenuous activity or 10 minutes otherwise; stun and you’re knocked out; basic damage, you’ve taken some kind of debilitating injury.

As always, feel free to completely ignore these suggestions.

(Or “the John Maclane” rule…)

I’ve been a shooter for a long time, in civilian, military, and other capacities. One thing that most RPGs don’t model well, more for game balance than anything else, is multiple shots from a handgun. This rule is presented for those GMs that want their Cortex-based game to have a more modern, gun-fu sort of flavor to it.

Much like burst fire, rapid fire lets the character blast off multiple rounds with a single die test. But whereas a burst fire/automatic weapon doesn’t require the character to pull the trigger multiple times, a semi-automatic or revolver does. When using RAPID FIRE, the character trades a skill step for a damage step — this represents multiple rounds fired at a single target. Additionally, any other actions taken that round — like, say, during rapid fire on a second target, suffer from the usual multiple actions step down from whatever number of steps were used on the initial attack.

Example: SGT Snuffy of the Metro Dade County Police is up against a pair of baddies who are heavily armed. He’s gotten initiative and doesn’t want to get stredded with their MP5 sub-guns. He pops off three rounds from his Bren Ten in rapid succession against the first target. The 10mm has a d6W damage (he’s using substandard ammo), so he wants to crank his damage +2 steps. He has a d10 Agility, so he rolls his agility as a d6 plus his excellent pistol skill of d8. He gets lucky and maxes the roll for 16. He now rolls a d10W for damage on the guy. Still worried about the next bad guy, he turns his attention to him and rapid fires again — he can only do a single step, since his second action starts with a d4 — so he rolls a d2+d8 on the next guy and gets lucky, just hitting, and rolls a d8W damage.

Had he chosen to roll for cover after the first rapid fire, he would have rolled a d4 agility plus his athletics

This should give you the appropriate magazine-draining action that has been the norm in action movies since the ’80s.

 

We finished the latest episode of our Supernatural game, in which the characters are looking for a missing girl haunted by a huli jing (fox demon.) This was one of the most warped and funny nights of gaming in a long time. They investigate the missing girl’s whereabouts, checking her motel, then linking up with her cousin, a Chinese curio shop/mendicant guy in Chinatown. they arrive to find the older man having sex with the huli jing — it will steal his “essence” and kill him this way — but they interrupt. A short fight erupts, and the girl they are looking for enters in the middle. Father Canovas and she escape while Father MacEveney gets knocked around a bit before it escapes. they use a Chinese technique for breaking the spell the creature has over the girl, but it’ll be back.

They wind up setting a trap for it. They manage to secure the girl in the local rectory near the WTC monument and wait for it to come to them. It catches them in a super-expensive, but run-down Irish bar near the WTC visitor center (if you know the area, you can probably figure out the one I mean.) The huli jing shows up as a lycra-dress wearing temptress and Parkes, the drunken FBI guy who sees ghosts, gets tipped off by his ghost son as to which one she is. He manages to get her so drunk that they stumble into the bathroom.

The following was one of the most disgustingly funny bits in gaming in recent memory. The falling down drunk Parkes winds up having sex with the critter, which turns into its fox form, it’s so drunk (and allows them to cut it’s tail off, ending the curse.) But it was much much worse than that.

In the end, they find a file folder waiting in Parkes hotel room with clippings and forensics photos from grisly murders from around the world that are similar to the case that made his name. The “Avenging Angel” killer was executed in 1998, but weeks later Parkes own family was killed by a copycat. One of the scenes is similar to that of Father Canovas’ mother’s murder by his possessed father…they have a common enemy.

That’s the lead in to get them chasing the main villain, while helping folks worldwide.

A fortnight ago, we had our second Supernatural “episode” (what i call a complete story, rather than a game session.) We started with an action-packed teaser in the deep Congo, where Father MacEveney — the “James Bond of the Vatican” — and Father Canovas, his protege exorcist, have been dispatched by the Occidental Diocese in the country to investigate cannibalism against the Mbuti pygmies by the security forces of an international mining concern. They find the culprits are nephilim — the children of the “sons of God” and women of Earth. They’re giants (7-8 footers), powerful…and can’t be exorcised; they’re living creatures, not demons, and they stay immortal on the flesh of men. The priests have to remove them from the mortal coil the old fashioned way…not their MO. Canovas was captured in media res and questioned by the nephilim, and Mac wound up using their land Rover to stage a clumsy “rescue”, that involved burning down the colonial style mansion the baddies were living in, and having to injure them with quickly blessed holy water from stew pots. Mac blessed a machette to obvious purpose. they wound up killing one, maybe two of the creatures, but one is still on the loose so he can recur as a villain.

Cut to Leo Parkes, the former FBI agnet haunted by his dead son and others. He is in the worse neighborhood in Baltimore locating a runaway and gets into a car chase on snowy streets — the locals want his cherry ’68 Mustang fastback, but their black spray-painted SC430 (with great rims, of course) can’t handle one of the turns. Parkes winds up finding and returning the girl, and getting the thugs arrested. On the way home, he gets a call from the annoying Jerry Neimann.

Our red-haired, fat, comic/game/computer geek has been busy with his Ghost Chasers website, and has unwittingly been providing information to a Parkes stalker (we’ll resolve this next time, I hope.) He calls because a friend of his has a cousin he has gone missing. The girl is Chinese, has been in and out of institutions since the death of her mother (who drove herself into the Passaic River), but the psychologists always found her sane. The family hasn’t made her disappearance public, but her cousin pushes the matter. Neimann calls PArkes to help find her, and having seen video of the girl talking in tongues, bounced the cell video to Father Mac, who is sent to exorcise her.

Along the way they discover the family knew that instead of being mad, she is haunted by a huli jing — a fox spirit or demon — that was offended by a female member of the family two generations ago. The critter drives the women mad. they also feed on the essence of learned men around them. They finally all manage to get together and are trying to find the girl, who has run away to Brooklyn to make contact with a mendicant in the family who has a Chinese curio and medicine shop in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

 

Last week I finally introduced the Supernatural RPG that I have been preparing for. Mostly, it was a teaser to introduce the monster of the week and the characters, and to try to get an initial read on the flavor the campaign is to take. Overall, it was a qualified success.

1) Teaser: The game opened with Jerry Neimann — the fat, geeky ghost hunter that was played with gut-busting elan by my player Joe…you know this guy, gamers (or in this case, he’s a amalgamation of a couple of guys). Tall, fat, myopic, redhaired with the nerd beard (neird, Joe called it.) He’s an IT guy and ghost hunter, a comic book fanatic, a toy collector, who still lives with his parents because he’s stunningly cheap. He’s arrogant, not that well educated but thinks he is, and is a leader in his own mind. the kind of guy that with a straight face can tell you his 300 lb bulk studied ninjutsu and he can cloud men’s minds.

He and his friends Scott, the comic store owner and “amateur physicist” (he got kicked out of Cornell), and his friend Greg, the gay black LARPer who goes by his favorite character’s name since high-school, go into New York City to ghost hunt in the old IRT tunnels near City Hall. (Google them — they’re absolutely beautiful!) There they stumble onto a murder –a man being eaten by a massive, hairy, and pissed off man-thing. Scott is killed when he is swatted off the platforn and hits the third rail. Maloc (Greg) is tossed the breadth of the station. Jerry pees himself a bit, shows some courage, and then nearly gets capped by Transit cops who are wondering why the lights are on in a closed station under City Hall. Jerry and Maloc survive what is coming to be known as “The Werewolf of Manhattan…”

Next, we intro Leo Parkes, former FBI agent, with a dream sequence of him playing catch with his son at their place along the Cheasapeake. The kid goes missing looking for the ball. He goes to find him and sees the reflection of the serial killer Graves that he had captured with all-black, shark-like eyes. He runs for the house where suddenly there are cops cars and cops trying to stop him from going in. His partner Bob Morton is telling him not to go up, he doesn’t want to see this…and then there’s his son, hanging on the wall from pierced hands and feet with strange marking carved into him and painted around him on the wall…then his son looks up at him and tells him to wake up…

…to his assistant Wanda, who doesn’t know why she puts up with his drunk Irish ass. He’s been off the grid for two days on a bender, trying to keep the ghosts quiet. Bob Morton has been trying to call him for two days: they’ve got a wierd one in NYC and he wants to put him on the payroll as a contract investigator. If he’s sober. He flies to New York.

Next, we’re at the Vatican where we intro Father MacEveney and Dr. DellaMarina, and the Instituto del’Esterno Affari, a branch of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Led by a crusty old archbishop nicknamed “the Mastiff” (most of this cribbed from Arturo Perez-Reverte’s excellent The Seville Communion), they do mostly exorcisms, etc. around the world. But this time they have something more dangerous…three months of attacks in New York have led dellaMarina to conclude there’s a werewofl, or possibly more than one, on the loose in Manhattan. This is their next assignment: find and eliminate them.

Mac was a navy chaplain, but even there he never carried a gun. The people he helps, he hasn’t had to kill before. This is going to be a tough one. These people didn’t ask to be monsters; they might not even know what they’re doing. But unless he can find a way to contain them, they’ll have to be put down. He flies to NYC. (Canovas was not introduced; the player was out of town.)

In New York, Parkes gets briefed on the situation and why he was pulled in. There’s a terror alert for the 9/11 memorials and the FBI has most of the office working Joint Terrorism Task Force. It’s dark, rainy (there’s another hurricane off the coast being held at bay by a tropical storm…) and very moody as a setting. I think it hit it out of the park with the descriptions during play. He isn’t wanted there by the SAC, who nows of his drinking problems.

The evidence suggests a number of attacks. The first month there were a few attacks in Central Park over a two day period with one survivor that is considered unreliable as a witness as he was high at the time. The next month, the attacks trebled in number, in the Park — but at the same time there were a number in Tribeca (Where the first survivor lives) in the subway stations! There were two survivors of one attack. Last month, the number quadrupled — with attacks at NYU, Tribeca and the IRT (the teaser), and Flushing. Multiple suspect descriptions, including one woman (one of the survivors was a woman who lives in Flushing.) Parkes thinks it’s a conspiracy, and they start the investigation the next morning before he can have a chance to get drunk.

Father Mac and Dr. dellaMarina arrive, brief the archbishop and get put up at the old rectory where he was apprenticing when 9/11 happened (St. Peter’s on Church.) Lots of character stuff with the old priest he served under and going to view the construction and spotlights at the 9/11 site.

That’s where we left off after a three hour session…

The high points: the atmosphere was just about right — there’s some humor (mostly Neimann), but it’s dark, foreboding, but the real “horror” came from the Ground Zero descriptions and flashbacks of Parkes to his kid’s murder and Mac’s aiding people when the towers collapsed in front of him.

Neimann…this character was excellent and the player hit it out of the park.

They’re hunting werewolves, but in some ways, people are more scary.

The low points: pacing was, as always for a first night, spotty. The teaser clipped along but a lot of time was sucked up by great character stuff by Neimann; the rest was a bit slower, and most exposition and character bits.

More as it plays…

Luisa is the only daughter to Roberto DellaMarina or Rome, a real estate broker, and his second wife, Reina Pavahli, an Iranian-born vinter in the Etruscan region of Italy who escaped the Islamic Revolution (the family was Maronite Christian and her father a poet of note.) Her grandmother is alive and living in Switzerland, her cousins live in the United States.

She was born in Milan in 1980, and has two half-brothers, Paolo and Marco, both who live in Rome, and whom she is on decent terms with. Schooled at an expensive Benedictine-run girls school near the Vatican, and while intelligent and a good student, she was frequently subject to discipline for being willful and mischievous (although she suspects the nun that took the most relish in her punishment was secretly interested in her.)

She attended the University of Rome from 1997-2000 and graduated with a degree in history and religious studies. She went to graduate school for archeology at the University of Siena from 2000-2005. She specialized in sacred archeology, and in particular Catholic artifact and archeological restoration. As a result, she was hired by the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology in 2006 as a restorer, and later as a researcher. Her connection to the Institute for External Affairs began with support research for an exorcism that too place in Romania, but over the years she has increasingly worked as support for IEA priests in the field. She has a reputation for being highly competent, and a very fast researcher, but a bit of a cold fish. She lives in a very nice flat for her income, thanks to her father’s rental company, and also has a room at her mother’s place in the country. She usually has a few cases of her mother’s wines in her pantry.

She hides her personal life from view of her co-workers as her moral turpitude clause in her contract could be an issue…Luisa is a lesbian, and until recently has been particularly promiscuous. She has had a number of girlfriends that might be considered “high-profile” to certain denizens of the internet. (She’s dated a quasi-famous Czech porn star for several years.) Currently, she is trying monogamy with her roommate — a nun with the Visitation Order, Sister Agnes (nee Marianne) Jean Duchamps, a smart architectural major who took her vows a few years ago. Sister Agnes (or Marianne to Luisa) does not have to live cloistered due to her order and her work for the PCSA. While the women think their relationship is a secret, there are several of their workmates that suspect.

Luisa likes the finer things — she is a food aficionado (but does not cook) and a connoisseur of wines, art, and clothing. She likes to dress well and has a taste for Persian (never “Iranian”, “Persian”) jewelry, poetry, art, and pre-revolution culture. Due to her family’s treatment by the ayatollahs, she has a barely concealed hatred of Islam. She is passingly religious, Catholic after a fashion (like most modern Italians), but does believe in the supernatural. The people she works with have encountered it too many times. (She has noted an uptick in supernatural events over the last five years…but has yet to puzzle out the reason.)

Agility d6   Strength d6   Vitality d6   Alertness d10   Intelligence d10   Willpower d6

Life Points 12   Initiative d6+d10   Endurance d6+d10   Resistance 2d6

Assets: Allure d2, Higher Education d4, Natural Linguist d4

Complications: Dark Secret d4, Dull Sense, Nearsighted d2, Insatiable Curiosity d4, Klutzy d4, Lustful d4

Skills: Athletics d4, covert d4, Craft d4, Discipline d4, Drive d2, Influence d6, Knowledge d6 (Archeology d10, History d10, Linguistics d8), Lore d6 (Mythology d10), Perception d6 (Investigation d8, Search d8), Science d4, survival d2, Tech d6

 

She gets her looks from her mother, rather than her father, who was red-haired and is now balding and a bit fat. Her mother is still very good-looking. Her brothers are both reddish-brown and curly-haired and blue eyed.