Tuesday, February 25, 2020

[Obscure Games] Magical Fury

Star Princess Astraia getting angry
As I've mentioned before in this blog, I have a soft spot for magical girl (mahō shōjo) anime, manga, stories, and RPGs. There is something about the earnestness and kindness built into the genre—a kindness that is sometimes subverted, making the subgenre of Magical Girl Genre Deconstruction—that is a balm to my otherwise noir-inflected heart. There have been a number of versions of the genre set forth in roleplaying form, from the earliest ones like the character Bright Sun Angel described in GURPS Wizards (1998, and among the earliest published depictions of a magical girl in RPG format outside of Japan, though of course there were precursors in games like Teenagers from Outer Space and the like) or The Sailor Moon Roleplaying Game and Resource Book (1999, and of course Big Eyes, Small Mouth had already previously included ways to build such characters), through to today when there are many already published or in-progress magical girl RPGs available.

Back in 2015 or so, author Ewen Cluney was apparently struggling with putting together an RPG to describe a setting he had in his mind about a magical girl named Star Princess Astraia. He had been inspired by Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, and especially Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Unfortunately, he wasn't getting anywhere and so he decided to take a different tack toward the subject matter, just as a way to get his creative juices flowing. He started with Apocalypse World and simplified the rules considerably, coming up with a system he'd later simply call "Powered by Fury" (inspired by the "Powered by the Apocalypse" games that followed Apocalypse World) and published a short game titled Magical Fury.

The basic game is very short, only 42 pages at 6" × 9", and very light on both rules and setting. Characters are created by a simple process of answering a few questions ("What is your name?", "What does being a girl mean to you?", "What are you afraid of?", "What is your wish?", and so on), picking a few traits that describe your magical girl hero (how she changes in her henshin, or transformation, what her magical theme is, her dominant color, and of course her magical name). There are d66 tables for all of these if you can't, or don't want to, come up with your own, so beginning players are given ample assistance. Have you noticed that I haven't mentioned anything about stats? There are no stats. There's also no discussion of gender variance, magical boys, or anything like that. It doesn't really get much in the way of any particular interpretation that a Referee and their players might want to include, though.

Once the character is created, the game runs similar to a typical RPG, with description and response from Referee and players. To adjudicate actions, the Referee classifies them as (or the player chooses from among) any of a number of "moves". Each of these is a simple description of what the action boils down to ("Go on the offense", "Protect someone else", "Run away", "Sorcery", "Investigate", "Comfort", and the like; there are also special moves, only called for by the Referee, for "Desperation" and "Stay Calm"), combined with a short table on which the player will roll 2d6. The result from the table describes what happens, and may sometimes result in the character gaining Hope, Magic, or Trauma points. When one of these categories reaches three points, the magical girl experiences a "shift", or consequence to the character. There are four types of shift of each category, and when all four have occurred to the character and another shift is called for, then they must instead choose an Extreme Shift (for Trauma or Magic) or a Great Hope (for Hope).

Fights are very quick, consisting of picking moves, rolling, and taking points of Trauma or Magic as necessary. There is a table for figuring out the outcome of a fight based on the total number of hits scored by the players' characters compared to the number of characters there are.

The rest of the game is filled with suggestions for the Referee in worldbuilding their specific magical girl setting and tables to assist in various ways including with all of the choices in character creation (as mentioned). That's it. Super simple, particularly focused on narrative play.

I don't much like that sort of roleplaying game, generally. These sorts of rules always strike me as being slightly more complex versions of the games that amateur writers' groups play, and I don't much like them in those settings either—which is one reason I no longer go to writers' groups, probably to my own detriment. However, in this specific case, I am willing to go with the idea simply because the genre is that compelling to me. Also, things don't end there, as there are two supplements for the game, Magical Fury Companion and Magical Fury Appendix, as well as the "Powered by Fury" game Angel Project, which apparently (I haven't picked up a copy) describes another magical girl-style setting based around "Seraphim Suits" that can only be worn by pure-hearted girls.

Magical Fury Companion provides some new moves ("Hide the truth", "Keep up with life", "Lash out", "Patrol the city", and "Sense magic"), a new ability (Overdrive, drawn from Yuki Yuna is a Hero/Yūki Yūna wa Yūsha de Aru, which allows a magical girl to greatly increase the strength of her powers at the expense of a permanent disability), along with new tables to describe the magical girls, their various tsukaima, or animal companions, and the youma monsters that oppose them. There's also a table of potential secrets underlying the setting and the nature of magical girls for the Referee to use in worldbuilding.

Magical Fury Appendix provides a table of complications to help the Referee build a story when they're stuck, a list of types of places and some examples drawn from the author's "Star Princess Astraia" setting, a table of random youma, six example magical girls from the "Star Princess Astraia" setting (including a couple of dark magical girl antagonists), and a table of 36 more from that setting described briefly.

To my way of thinking—that an RPG should be an open-ended exercise in which the players are allowed to attempt literally anything through their characters, with success determined by the abilities ascribed to those characters—the limited nature of the moves allowed seems like a problem. [EDIT: The game does explicitly note, when discussing moves, that "you may find you need to invent new ones to do everything you want to do with the game."] That said, it is true that most things that players will try fall into a fairly limited set of categories. It's also true that the Companion shows that it is really a fairly simple matter to come up with new moves to cover whatever unusual action a player attempts. The Referee should probably familiarize themself with the ways that moves are put together and be prepared to generate new ones on the fly, but that isn't really discussed in the game anywhere. [EDIT: As I note above, it is.]

In the end, I wouldn't call this the best game, but it is certainly one that I would play if someone were to run it, or even run if I found a group or individual that wanted to. From some of the moves and the way that fights work, I think that it is probably better suited to a small group of players. Also, the tools provided to the Referee for worldbuilding are probably equally useful to a Referee of any other magical girl, or even just magical, game. The secrets suggested for settings (drawn from works like Puella Magi Madoka Magica—there are secrets that concisely describe the central secrets of both that series and Yuki Yuna) could be used as the deep secrets of a magical girl-friendly setting in a more structured game, for example. Basically, if you like magical girl RPGs at all, you probably should spend the few bucks to pick up this one and its two supplements. If that's not an interest to you, then only pick it up if you're interested in rules-light, narrative-style games.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Rumblings of Return?

I would like to get back to this blog. I think that, in this post-G+ era, blogs are where most of the interesting conversations about gaming are occurring. The groups on major social media sites are just too full of nonsense and babblings. No one cares about what alignment you want Rangers to be in your campaign—or if they do they're more likely to see it and pay attention in a blog post rather than a group post. The coming of blog "planets" like the Old School RPG Planet are helping that revival of blogs, too.

Part of this blog becoming a little less active than it once was is my own fault. Frankly, I'm really lazy about doing session write-ups. I have the first session of my new Stonehell Dungeon based campaign under my belt, but I still haven't written it up. I will, I hope.

Anyway, I was looking back at some of my series. The Obscure Games series is for sure going to be picking up, I think. I have a list of games still to review. I'll post them at the end of this post, probably behind a cut, so you can tell me what interests you most. These are games that I own in hardcopy that are broadly "obscure" by my own subjective criteria and that are not games I despise like FATE or whatever. In three cases, the fact that I own them in hardcopy is just because I or someone printed them out, but I can live with my own technicalities. There is one exception to those criteria, but only because I'm kind of smitten with the concept. And that's how reviews go here: if I don't have it in hardcopy, it will have to be ridiculously awesome to me.

I'm almost certain to do more Why I Like posts. I need to pick the games for it, though.

Goth of the Week is pretty much done, I think. It's a lot of effort for little return.

FBI Guide to Metahumans may return at some point. It may include metahumans designed for different systems than just Villains & Vigilantes, but I don't know.

Alternate Campaign Frames (for Traveller) may or may not return. It depends on if I think of something interesting to write for that concept.

My various campaign ideas that I am not actually running probably are going to stay on hiatus. I need to spend my time working on the game, or games as the case may be, that I am actually running. Unfortunately, that also includes the Real-Time Traveller thing that I didn't get very far with anyway. On the other hand, I may return to Flanaess Sector or GURPS Greyhawk because those are really high on my list.

I might do a solo game on here. Basically, I'd either pick up that Real-Time Traveller or some other campaign frame that interests me and run a solo game of it, probably using Mythic Game Master Emulator. I really want to do a Magic Noir game, whether based around GURPS Voodoo: The Shadow War, GURPS CabalMajus, or even Unknown Armies. Maybe even something else. However, running a solo game is a lot of effort that also requires writing up a session report, so it's a toss-up as to whether that will happen.

I might return to the WRG Game design exercise, but then again maybe not. I still find the idea intriguing, but my group seems more interested in playing something than helping design it. But who knows?

Anyway, without further ado, here's the list of games I currently have in the queue for Obscure Games reviews:

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Everything Has Changed!

The boom town is in hex 2409, Stonehell in 2207.
Hex 1816 contains the nearest city-state.
OK, not everything. I have changed the game I'm running. I've gotten tired of trying to balance long GURPS combats and non-combat sessions, so for now I'm just going to run an unholy mix of Delving Deeper and White Box Fantasy Medieval Adventure Game, plus a bunch of stuff I like. I'm going back to some kind of basics with it. The starting outdoor map is the Outdoor Survival map, though I also have vague plans to use Rob Conley's Blackmarsh even though I'm not yet sure where it hooks up to the classic map (and I seem to recall that it does connect to a couple of the Points of Light maps, which means I need to pick those up at some point). The game involves characters who have come to a boom town near Stonehell Dungeon in order to make their fortune.

  • Goblins are going to be influenced by Jeff Rients, especially the "What Are the Goblins Doing" table and the "Goblin Door" table.
  • I'm adding a Death & Dismemberment chart, specifically the one by Norman J. Harman, Jr. at Troll & Flame. I'm going to be crueler, however, and say that Clerical magic can't heal Death & Dismemberment damage directly. You just have to wait for those broken bones to knit.
  • I'm using psionics, with the Basic Psionics Handbook from New Big Dragon.
  • I like the concepts behind Courtney Campbell's On the Non-Player Character: Solving the Social Trap, so I'm using that. As a side note about those, it's a good supplement. Courtney has the right to price it however. In my opinion, though, it is worth $10 for the pdf, and it would be worth $15 for the print version. You could stretch the print price to $20 if you were the kind who doesn't worry too much about prices when buying your gaming materials, and you would probably not be sad about it. Unfortunately, that does mean that, again in my own opinion, the DTRPG pdf is overpriced and so is the print version. Sometimes the print one goes on sale, though. Note that I do link to all three there, and I don't have any code that gives me a cut. Take them or leave them, it is a good supplement, but not as good as Courtney apparently wants to price them at.
  • I'm changing out the spell list for Magic-Users to be the one from Delta's Book of Spells. It's more deliberate and I like the aesthetics. The only stumbling point for me is the inclusion of Magic Missile, but that's not really a big deal.
  • I've added the material components from AD&D 1st edition to the Magic-User spells, and tapped Dragon magazine #81 for the expansion on how to handle those. Clerics won't use material components, however.
  • I'm mainly using Delving Deeper, but I like the classes, experience progression, and single saves from White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game (which is, as you probably know, the same thing as Swords & Wizardry: White Box), except that I prefer the Cleric and Magic-User spell progression from DD. I also vastly prefer the dual classing method in DD.
  • I'm using a silver standard, replacing all references to gold pieces with silver pennies. I'm also using classic duodecimal coinage: four copper farthings to a penny, 12 pennies to a shilling, five shillings to a gold crown, four crowns to a pound, a pound and a shilling to a guinea. Only farthings, pennies, and crowns have actual coins, the others are notional units of account.
  • I'm incorporating a version of encumbrance by stone. In my system, there are coin weights, item weights, and stone weights. 100 coins equals an item and five items equals a stone, but round up for number of stones carried. Characters can carry up to Strength in stones, with more weight reducing their movement rate.
  • There are other classes in other regions of the setting, and Clerics and Magic-Users are mainly only found in the local region. Some of the classes I know about are Dragonriders, Mystics, Monks, Shamans, Illusionists, and Druids. Players will not be able to start as any of these, however.
  • I'm using the skill system from Savage Swords of Athanor. Sadly, you can't get that in print these days, but you can find the pdf in various places. Look at Scribd or something. EDIT: I was reminded by Sully that you can find it from Doug Easterly directly in the "Game Files" menu on the right side of his old blog.
  • I'm going to use Doug Cole & Peter V. Dell'Orto's "Grappling Old School" system, which was published in The Manor issue 8. I think you can still get it at Gothridge Manor?
  • I want to use a morale system, and the one in Rules Cyclopedia works well. I'll probably have to make Morale scores for some monsters, but that's not really a big deal.
  • I have a couple of other House Rules, which I've written up.
  • Alignments are Holy, Neutral, and Chaotic, but there are also other alignments out there. The players will not be able to choose those yet. Clerics must be Holy (or a similar alignment) and Magic-Users and Thieves may not be Holy. The vast majority of people are Neutral.
  • Around 1 in 20 people have a class and level.
  • Characters gain experience for spending money (1xp per sp spent), defeating enemies (100xp per hit die or level), converting NPCs to the character's religion (100xp flat), or a number of other means, probably taken from Pendragon's tables of Glory and Insight. Players may take advantage of the carousing rule, letting money spent carousing count double for experience (that is, it counts as spending money and then it also counts as carousing). I'll probably allow Holy aligned characters to gain xp by donating money to the Church, and Chaotic or Neutral ones to spend money on sacrifices, but those shouldn't be as beneficial as carousing.

So, that's fun. I wanted to do as little worldbuilding as possible, to do most of it as needed at the table, but I can't stop myself. Still, I've managed to not do all that much this time. I still haven't really named it. I know that there are six city-stats that collectively call themselves the Wilsur City-States, that they lie along a river valley, and I know the main structure of the Tetradic Church, which is one of the few that has Clerics. I know that Clerics are not always Priests, that sometimes they are holy people outside of the hierarchy of the Church, and that the Church is not very happy about that situation.