Monday, June 27, 2005

Active/Reactive Conflict Description

ARC is an opposed action resolution system based around the Fudge system of simultaneous combat rounds. It is designed for the simulation of any conflict situation, for those who don't mind their Fudge a little crunchy. Indeed, the spirit of ARC may be harnessed by those who have a taste for less rules in their descriptions, but I'm not going to explore that possibility here.

The way most combat systems deal with initiative is as a randomising factor at the beginning of each round. Sometimes initiative is set at the beginning of a combat and the same value carried on through consecutive rounds. Nonetheless, most initiative results have dramatically little effect on a conflict situation and the few that do their effects appear random and unrelated to the events of the conflict. This is, to my mind at least, unlike real conflict where getting the initiative through planning or skill is as much a part of winning a conflict as sheer luck.

I like the Fudge system for simultaneous combat because of its simplicity. It has a neat solution to the initiative dilemma: solve the action of opponents simultaneously. A successful action for one combatant means a successful offense and defense for them and a simultaneous failure in defense and offense for their opponent. At first I thought that had to be the best solution, no place and no need for a clunky initiative randomizer. Yet I was not satisfied.

I wanted to integrate the notion of initiative into the heart of conflict, to use initiative not as a randomizer but as another way of describing conflict. So I made ARC for those who want a little more strategy in their conflict resolution and who don't mind a bit of crunchiness getting it.

Offensive/Defensive Stances

Fudge presents offensive/defensive tactics in which each opponent chooses a stance before the start of a round: a normal stance, an offensive stance, or a defensive stance. An offensive or defensive stance increases a conflict skill in one aspect (offense or defense) and decreases the same skill by an equal amount in the other aspect. The five basic options for stances are:

  • +2 to offense, -2 to defense
  • +1 to offense, -1 to defense
  • Normal offense and defense
  • -1 to offense, +1 to defense
  • -2 to offense, +2 to defense

The choice of stance is decided on and then each combatant makes a single Opposed action roll. The rolled result is then modified for both offense and defense accordingly. The offensive result of each combatant is then compared to the defensive result of their opponent.

Active/Reactive Opposition

My idea for opposition came from the thought that, typically, at any one moment in a conflict, someone has the advantage, the upper hand, the initiative. Having the upper hand means that a combatant is not hindered or limited much by their opponent. This generally means they are capable of successfully initiating action as well as of resisting the actions of their opponent. That is, they can be on the offensive and the defensive simultaneously. Obviously, this is the way they should be: working at their best.

Unfortunately, combatants do get caught on the back foot. And this equates to being hindered or limited in some way by one's opponent. And this means that a combatant can only do one thing properly at a time, usually defend themselves, unless they are particularly tough or foolhardy and forgo any defense for an all-out attack.

ARC introduces a new tactic: active/reactive opposition. Unlike offensive/defensive stances, a combatant cannot directly choose whether they are actively or reactively opposing (active or reactive for short). Instead their opposition is decided by the success of their opposed action. If a combatant is successful in an opposed action (+1 or higher) then they will become or remain in active opposition (getting or keeping the upper hand). Likewise if they fail an opposed action (-1 or lower) they will become or remain reactive (getting or staying caught on the back foot). If an opposed action is a stand-off (a 0 result) then the status quo continues and so the combatant remains in their current opposition.

Opposition affects which offensive/defensive stances a combatant has available to choose. That is, combatants cannot always choose the offensive/defensive stance they want.

When in active opposition a combatant can choose any of the five Fudge options (though some claim the extreme ±2 stances produce results too wild to be credible). However, when in reactive opposition a combatant cannot choose any of the five Fudge options. Rather the reactive combatant can only choose to be in one of the two following reactive stances:

  • normal offense, -2 defense
  • normal defense, -2 offense

Note that active opposition is determined by successful opposed action. Potentially, any opposed action in a conflict could determine opposition, including actions that are not directly offensive or defensive. What other actions are possible I leave open but as an example an active combatant might be able to perform an action (like a strategic maneuver) by dropping their offense yet still maintaining their defense. Such capacity, however, would not be available to a reactive combatant who might have to give up both offense and defense to perform a non-conflict action (like running away).

The Circumstances of Conflict

When one combatant is active the other need not necessarily be reactive or when one is reactive the other need not necessarily be active. That is, both combatants can be simultaneously active or simultaneously reactive. For Fudge offensive/defensive stances allow for both combatants to be offensively or defensively successful simultaneously. And it is through the success or failure of their actions that combatants become active or reactive.

If both combatants are simultaneously successful in offense or simultaneously in defense should both attain active opposition? Or rather, because both also failed simultaneously, should they both attain reactive opposition?

To answer this we should look at the circumstances of the conflict. At the start of a conflict the opposition of each combatant must be decided. Whereas once the conflict is in motion the combatants opposition is decided by their actions, before it starts their opposition must be decided by other means.

Take two equal combatants on equal ground, both with the intention to fight the other. An example of this could be two equally matched boxers in a boxing ring at the start of a prizefight. Both boxers might be considered to have active opposition because of the circumstances of the conflict.

Here are some questions that could be asked about the circumstances of a conflict.

  • Position
    • Where is the conflict?
    • Is one combatant in a better position for offense or defense?
    • Is one in their natural environment or in their hometown?
    • Does the environment hinder or help either combatant?
  • Intention
    • Why is there a conflict?
    • Are both aware they will fight right now?
    • Is one currently occupied with something important?
    • Is one better prepared?
  • Perception
    • How does a combatant perceive their opponent?
    • What knowledge do they have of them and what misconceptions?
    • What emotions do their opponent stir?
    • How do they perceive the conflict should end?

These questions of the circumstances of a conflict are just a few possible examples. What is important to note is that what they are all aimed at is a question of control: Is one combatant in more control of the conflict and its circumstances? This is essentially what active/reactive opposition attempts to describe. If one combatant has something over the other, has the upper hand, then the advantaged combatant might start the conflict in active opposition and their opponent in reactive.

So back to our original question: because simultaneously successful combatants have both gained some success neither has gained more control of the conflict and its circumstances. So if both combatants simultaneously succeed in offense or simultaneously in defense then their opposition will not have changed and the status quo, their current opposition status, will continue.

Another use for the conflict circumstances is for allowing combatants to indirectly change their opposition status. Changes in the positions of combatant, their intentions to fight, or their perception of their opponent could change the circumstance of the conflict and thus change the combatant's opposition. This lets strategic maneuvering, careful dropping of gossip, or the discovery of an opponent's weakness have the potential to directly affect the conflict. The possibility of gaining a tangible advantage in a conflict by means other than offensive action should allow a conflict to be less of a slugfest and more of a dynamic and sprawling grasp for control.

Opposition Modifiers

As often is the case, a simple dualism like active/reactive, is not fine-grained enough. So a way to fine-tune differences in opposition is to modify when opposition changes.

Opposition modifiers could be used in place of modifiers for skill or used in place of deciding different initial opposition for combatants. The giving of an opposition modifier might be decided by contesting a trait of each combatant that is relevant to the conflict. Or an opposition modifier could be given by looking at what the circumstances of the conflict offer each combatant.

An opposition modifier can give a combatant an advantage (or disadvantage) that is not as overwhelming as giving them active opposition over their opponent or as powerful as other combat bonuses like a permanent +1 to offense. Here are two methods for opposition modification.

Utility Modifiers

The first method is to modify where opposition changes and where it remains the same. I called it the Utility Modifier because it changes how effectively combatants utilise the results of their actions.

Normally +1 action result is needed to become active, -1 to become reactive, and 0 for the current status quo to remain. This could be changed, for example, by removing the point of status quo so 0 result would be either an active or a reactive. Here are some examples:

Modifier active status quo reactive effect
Standard Utility <-- +1 0 -1 -->
Half Utility <-- +2 +1 <--> -1 -2 --> opposition change harder
Active Utility <--0   -1 --> easier to become active, no status quo
Active Half Utility <-- +1 0 <--> -1 -2 --> harder to become reactive
Reactive Utility <-- +1   0 --> easier to become reactive, no status quo
Reactive Half Utility <-- +2 +1 <--> 0 -1 --> harder to become active

Utility modifiers are useful for longer-term and larger scale advantages, better for describing differences in combatant's skills and traits. For example, a utility modifier is well suited for major differences in combatant speed, where the faster combatant might be given active utility and their slower opponent reactive utility.

Advantage Modifiers

The second method involves moving the transition point of opposition.

Normally the transition point for opposition is 0; above or below that point opposition changes. An advantage modifier essentially moves that point up or down, thus making it easier to become either reactive or active.

An advantage modifier works by adding the modifier to an action result but only for the purpose of deciding whether that action will change the combatant's opposition; it does not actually affect the success or failure of the action result. For example, if a combatant has an advantage of +2, and an action result of -1, the +2 advantage is added to -1 action result to give +1. The combatant's action result remains -1 but their advantage modifier virtually increases that to +1. So instead of their action result making them reactive, with their advantage modifier they become or remain active. If the same combatant then had an action result of -2 that would, with their +2 advantage, result in their remaining active because their advantage modifier would virtually increase their action result to 0.

An advantage modifier is slightly different from a utility modifier, for whereas a utility modifier effectively expands or contracts the field of opposition transition, an advantage modifier simply slides it up or down. In some ways this makes advantage modifiers easier to implement quickly, well suited for describing sudden changes in the conflict's circumstances. For example, an advantage modifier is well suited for describing a combatant being on higher ground than their opponent, providing +1 advantage.

Tactical Rewards

A more radical use for opposition modifiers is as a tactical reward for successful opposed action.

A successful offensive action is typically rewarded by a certain level and type of damage inflicted upon one's opponent and a successful defensive action by the thwarting of an opponent's offense and the deflection of damage. ARC also rewards a successful action with active opposition and a failing action with reactive opposition.

Still, no matter how successful a defender is the best they can attain from successful defensive action is to not get damaged, to remain active, and to keep their opponent reactive. And a successful offender can, at best, hope to inflict damage (possibly of lethal quantity), to remain active, and to keep their opponent reactive. Therefore, in the spirit of expanding the strategic options of conflict, perhaps a highly successful action could be rewarded with an opposition modifier.

First, to be tactically rewarded a combatant must be successful in their opposed action. Tactical rewarding may require a success of at least +2 or +3 (I'm not entirely sure how high a level of success will work).

Second, the tactical stance of the combatant determines the tactical reward:

  • A highly successful defense while in a defensive stance rewards the combatant with a +1 advantage modifier.
  • A highly successful offense while in an offensive or normal stance rewards the combatant's opponent with a -1 advantage if the successful offender foregoes inflicting damage. (Whether all damage should be foregone or just a level or two of damage is a question requiring experimentation. Some may not agree with any forgoing of damage but I think damage should not have to always be the result of an offense. The offender should be given a choice of strategies. And heaping more punishment on a failed defense by inflicting damage and -1 advantage also seems unfair and unnecessary.)

In this way, tactical rewards combine action result, opposition modification, and tactical stance. One consequence is it provides a reason for broader tactical use of defensive and offensive stances. Importantly, it also prevents combatant's actions from being rewarded dual success, that is simultaneous offensive and defensive success, and thus from them accumulating dual advantage.

Another interesting effect is if two opponents achieve successful actions simultaneously, one of the combatants could still indirectly gain more control over the conflict by gaining a tactical reward for their greater success in action and their fortuitous choice in stance.

Ultimately though, what tactical rewards mean is that success in a conflict has as much to do with strategies for gaining control of the conflict and its circumstances as it does with inflicting or deflecting damage. Of course, the inflicting or deflecting of damage involves some measure of control over a conflict but this control is at best simplistic and brutish. Focusing on controlling conflict only through damage can result in a lack of finesse, where tough skin and a bloody attitude are the only things that can amount to anything.

And the Winner is...

ARC is designed to use initiative as another way of describing conflict. That is, using initiative not merely as a randomizer but as another means of describing and resolving conflict. Indeed, hopefully this additional description will encourage more detailed conflict and provide a broader range of ways of resolving conflicts. Hopefully, ARC will provide more incentive for creative involvement in conflict resolution by providing an extra level of strategy. Players will no longer be able to simply fall back on the abilities of their characters to resolve conflicts, when tangible advantages can be gained through the strategic manipulation of the circumstances of conflict.

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Building stories on the fly

It's happened to all of us. As a gamemaster, we come to the table with our books, dice, pencils and favorite source material. The players talk amongst one another, getting their character sheets ready, asking you for pencils and rolling their dice to see how their luck will be during the following session. Drinks and snacks are brought before the horde and the game begins.

The gamemaster sits in a contemplative position, staring at the ceiling. The players lean forward to hear the introduction. The GM's eyes focus on the player across the table from him and says, "You're at the local tavern..."

Let down. Bummer. The GM didn't have the time or the motivation since the last session to come up with a plan for this session, and it shows.

Now, take the same situation and see what happens at another table:

The unprepared GM focuses his eyes on the players, one at a time.

"The caravan that you've been riding with since Ahmun Thar is racing through the desert. Arrows are flying past you on both sides and streaking overhead. As the Imperial cavalry closes, your caravan leader begins to shout orders to his guards, preparing to defend the wagons."

The session continues, with the players defending themselves against the Imperial cavalry, led by an ominous man in heavy armor, wielding an enchanted sword. They have no idea why they're in this fight, until they are approached by an enigmatic woman, a refugee, who'd been traveling with them. The woman hands one of the players a small crystal and pleads with them to take it and find a powerful wizard, or exiled warrior, or any other character that seems interesting. S/he'll know what to do with it.

It wasn't really difficult to think of a beginning to that adventure. In fact, it didn't take any planning at all to figure out what comes next. Nor did it take any foresight to know how it's probably going to end.

It ended with the players in a desperate fight to save a small desert village of normally peaceful nomads from the Imperial army, led by the ominous man described above. The bad guy has the power to command the forces of the desert and plans to use it to bury the good guys' village in a sandstorm. Only the crystal that the players were given has the power to stop him. Of course, the only one who could use that power, the powerful wizard, exiled warrior, etc. had died along the way. But not before teaching one of the players how to use it.

It's Star Wars, A New Hope with a fantasy twist. In fact, this mini-campaign lasted months with my gaming group. Only near the end did someone start to see the similarities between the movie and our games.

Why did it take months for the players to figure out the source of their story? The answers are simple.

First, things were described from the perspective of a different genre. Instead of a Rebel Blockade Runner attempting to get away from an Imperial Star Destroyer, it was a desert caravan evading mounted archers. Simple changes in the description threw the players off from the get go.

Secondly, the players had control over their actions. That alone altered the outcome of several events from the "script" and kept the adventure fresh in the minds of both the players and the gamemaster. Even the tone became slightly different from the original concept with the addition of world specific details and style.

Taking a ready-made story and using it in your games can be rewarding to the gamemaster as well. It's fun to watch the players solve problems in ways that differ from the movie. And it's nice to let someone else (the movie's script writer) come up with all of the story's fine detail for a change. It allows you, the GM, the ability to just play, without spending a lot of time in preparation. You'll already have a good picture of what major NPC's should be like and how they'll interact with the other characters in the story. Chances are, you'll have a pre-made history for them as well. As stated before, this takes away from the amount of preparatory work that you'll have to do before the session begins. It does, however keep a high level of detail. Gaming should be fun! Let someone else do the work once in a while.

Using this idea, you don't have to make a detailed record sheet for each NPC that the characters will encounter. Just keep notes on specific details and assign their abilities while the players' characters interact with them. Use something like a 3"x5" card to jot down your ideas as the story unfolds. Add to those notes as the players continue to interact with him/her. Soon, you'll have a fleshed out character that is believable, without having to fully invent him/her beforehand. The notes allow you to maintain consistency while the story progresses.

Fudge is particularly well suited for gaming on this level. Everything can be described in narrative using the standard trait levels provided, allowing a gamemaster to quickly assign in-game attributes to anything he wants as the game progresses.

Let's take a look at how this works, continuing with the idea of turning the Star Wars plot into a sword and sorcery style fantasy. We know that we'll need a few things for the beginning scene to work. Looking at the movie, these things are mostly obvious. We don't have to change anything except the descriptions and the environment that the characters are in.

The movie opened with a Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing from an Imperial Star Destroyer above a desert planet. No problem. We just change the Blockade Runner into a merchant caravan, and the Star Destroyer into a band of mounted archers.

So, the scene opens with a caravan (the Blockade Runner) being overtaken by cavalry (the Star Destroyer). There is a massive hand to hand fight as the caravan's guards attempt to ward off the highly trained soldiers that have come to stop them. (The same thing that happened in the movie when the Imperial Stormtroopers boarded the Blockade Runner and the firefight began.)

Looking at what you'll actually need for this part of the session is pretty easy. Just give the soldiers and the caravan guards a couple of basic skills at this point. I made the Imperial soldiers Fair [+0] fighters and archers (they're professionals), while I made the caravan guards Mediocre [-1] fighters (rag-tag mercenaries, at best). Other than their descriptions, that's all I really needed to keep the scene going in the direction that I wanted it to go.

Next, I had to represent the enigmatic Princess Leia, who gives R2-D2 the plans for the ominous Death Star. In this case, I kept her a beautiful and mysterious princess of a fallen kingdom (the Republic in Star Wars, after all, was a fallen kingdom of sorts). The players will now act as the droids. (This was kind of an inside joke for me when I ran this game.)

I didn't really have a clear idea for what would represent the Death Star at that time. Nor did I need to. I really didn't even have an idea of what the princess was going to hand the players. I just made it something that could have any sort of power that I wanted later on. I settled on a magical crystal. Of course, you can make it anything that you'd like. Just describe some kind of small item that could have mysterious powers later on (or not). You don't even really have to describe it right away. Just make it wrapped in a cloth, or sealed in an envelope.

In keeping with the movie, the princess approached the characters during the fighting, and handed them the item. She pleaded with them to seek an exiled paladin, and give the item to him. The paladin will know what to do with it.

The only other thing to do for the beginning scene was to introduce my version of Darth Vader. In keeping with tradition, I kept the idea of a powerful man wearing dark armor. The PC's never saw his face, as it was masked by a great helm. In place of a lightsaber, I just gave him one heck of a nice magical sword and a Superb [+3] ability to use it! I introduced the main bad guy as he stormed in, leading the soldiers against the caravan's guards.

The rest of the first session was a piece of cake. It was up to the players to evade the soldiers who were after the item that they were carrying. Of course, it took a while for the bad guys to figure out that the princess wasn't carrying it anymore, which gave the players, and me, some breathing room.

After the session was over, it was easy to determine what I was going to do for the next session. I simply began to break up the movie script into separate pieces and played each scene or series of related scenes as a separate session. The preparatory work didn't get any more difficult. I just had to figure out what I was going to change each element of the original story into so that it would fit the genre that we were playing in.

Sitting down at the table for the next session doesn't have to be a daunting chore for a GM. Just take a favorite movie, book or television show, alter the setting to mesh with your campaign and give it originality. Give the players enough room to move, and you'll be able to sit back and watch them with a satisfied grin on your face as they make their way to the end. Many times, they'll never know that they've just replayed the basic plot line of a movie they all know and love.

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Task Force 43

Introduction

In the early thirties, a not entirely sane general from World War I, Alan McBride, started to squander most of his family fortune in a quest to gather occult knowledge from all corners of the world.

After a few years, reading dusty tomes in forbidden libraries, obtaining weird items from beyond the sea, talking with self-proclaimed mediums, witches and warlocks, the search became more personal. The general became a little of a sorcerer on his own, risking his sanity and karma in his search of the lesser evil. Too late, to his chagrin, he found out there is no lesser evil in this field of knowledge....

1943

Task Force 43 was brought to the war effort in the beginning of 1943 by the aged British general, Alan McBride. This special unit was composed of very weird members he had "recruited" in the previous ten years from all over the world, and through him received the orders of the High Command (the command staff weren't too eager to get close to "McBride's weirdoes," and most missions involved only special operations, so they had little need of visiting the "circus").

How did the general manage to bring a group of supernatural creatures under his command, and get accepted by the Allied High Command? Nobody knows for sure except the ones involved, though it's said McBride brought unquestionable evidences to the High Command that the Axis already had intensive knowledge of the occult and that they were going to use it to gain an extra advantage in the war.

How the general found and enlisted these beings is a matter of speculation. With all the erudition in the occult he had gathered and his own sorcerous abilities, perhaps it wasn't a matter of persuasion but a demonstration of magical power, knowledge of the weak points of the creatures, an extraordinary empathy in the face of the supernatural, or a mix of all these possibilites. In the end, it didn't matter. He had their loyalty and knew how to use their special skills to the best effect.

The player characters will be members of this powerful unit, one of the example characters listed below or a new concept developed by the player. The characters will time and again confront supernatural menaces, created or recruited by the Nazi war machine, in an effort to help the Allied forces to win the war.

Task Force 43 members

Bastet

Bastet was the first member recruited by McBride. Found in possession of an Arab sheikh in Egypt, and held in an elaborate silver cage, it was bought for an outrageous price by the general.

McBride only managed to learn from the sheihk that he had found it long ago and held ever since in the cage, until its current grown size. Linking clues together McBride guessed the creature was some kind of cat-like lycanthrope of incredible physical might, restrained only by the silver of the cage.

Through power or wits, McBride won the creature's loyalty, and under his guidance, the newly named Bastet developed all its potential. Or perhaps not all its potential, who knew what such a creature might do if it hadn't been jailed for so long?

McBride named the creater after the Egyptian goddess Bastet, daughter of the sun god Ra, without ever explaining to anyone well learned enough to wonder if the name was indicative of the gender of the creature. Most people prefer to think of Bastet as sexless, especially after a half drunk Allied commando tried to find out on his own and lost his "family jewels" in a split second.

Bastet is supernaturally strong and fast, and very resistant to damage from objects not made of silver. Silver is both lethal and unbreakable to it. Against other wounds, it shows an astounding healing capacity.

It wears a light armored jacket (+1 DF) and uses two large, specially-made pistols (actually, two modified rifles a normal human couldn't use due to their weight and huge recoil). Bastet has, unfortunately, proven to be only a Mediocre marksman.

Note: As soon as Bastet recovered after the long years in the cage, McBride allowed it to return to Egypt and kill the sheikh. Perhaps he promised it to Bastet to make sure he had its loyalty.

Powers & Flaws

  • Mass scale +2 and Great strength
  • Claws and teeth : never unarmed, +1 DF in "unarmed" combat.
  • Healing : after a scene has passed, all damage received is healed, though recovery from exceptionally severe wounds (Near Death) may take several minutes. Silver damage is as deadly to it as any damage to a human being.
  • Lightning reflexes : in hand to hand combat, gains a +1 ODF. Gains a +3 DDF when dodging ranged attacks.
  • Night vision

Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa is possibly the most powerful member of Task Force 43, though its many flaws do more than compensate for its might.

Tabula's record is top secret. The specific ways it was created were, if the rumors are to be believed, lost after an attack by Nazi commandos.

Tabula Rasa has a humanoid form made entirely from fresh clay. What is not widely known is that it has a human brain in its head, enclosed in a steel sphere engraved with cabalistic symbols and filled with strange fluids. However when on a mission, it dresses in a military uniform like any other soldier of the unit.

Made (almost) entirely of clay, Tabula Rasa is almost entirely impervious to physical damage, as it can regenerate damage to its body with blinding speed. On the other hand, fire and long exposure to water can harm it much more seriously. Besides that preternatural toughness, it also has an incredible strength beyond human limits, due to its increased mass and density (double the human average density, weighing around 750 pounds).

Tabula's weak spots are related to its origin. The human brain enclosed within it didn't take very well to the time between death and its enchantment. As a consequence, it has forgotten its previous life and in many senses knows nothing. Also, it seems to suffers some kind of anterograde amnesia, and can barely retain anything that occurs after its creation, so it took a long time to acknowledge McBride and the other members of the unit as allies to fight with and not against.

Powers & Flaws

  • Legendary strength
  • Malleable : ignores damage of less than 4 points.
  • Regeneration : after a scene is passed, all damage received is healed, except that received from fire or water.
  • No internal organs : only receives the basic damage of the weapon (no sharpness bonus), unless hit by a critical hit (brain has a +2 armor bonus).
  • Dumb
  • Anterograde amnesia

Dynamo

Dynamo is the alias of an Allied soldier with exceptional abilities. According to McBride's investigations, he was born in a mystical node, a confluence of powerful ley lines (his mother died at childbirth), and spent most of his youth in the same place.

As a consequence (so thinks McBride) he developed the supernatural ability to handle such elemental forces. Depending on his proximity to such lines he's capable of incredible feats, amongst them shortcircuiting electrical devices, powering machines or launching devastating blasts of electrical force.

McBride recruited him as soon as he heard about his strange abilities, as a way to learn about his powers and control his awesome potential.

Powers & Flaws

  • Great Ley Manipulation : can manipulate electrical forces. Dynamo is able to disrupt electrical devices, throw blasts of lightning, etc. Roll against Ley Manipulation anytime he wants any of these effects, modifying the difficulty based on his proximity to a ley line and the desired effect.

Goblin

Recruited when McBride's unit started to become a force to be reckoned with, Goblin's record is also top secret. However, some collaborators of McBride say Goblin is a creature of faerie, who got accidentally caught in an abandoned mine in Cornwall by a cave-in and rendered powerless by the iron of the girders, until discovered by some farmers. McBride was the first to come after the discovery, and managed to get an oath from the creature, to serve him in the war until it was over. Bound by the oath and the iron, the whimsical creature had no other option but to agree.

Goblin's true form is almost never seen (though he always looks like a very short human male of around 5 feet tall), as he uses faerie glamour to create illusions that mask his own appearance and of the other members of the unit. Since he joined the team, Bastet and Tabula Rasa have managed to travel among normal people without much trouble.

He's also much tougher than his physical size would suggest, and heals very quickly, recovering from serious wounds in a matter of days (although it's supposed that wounds from iron would take him as much time as a normal human to heal, if they healed at all).

Powers & Flaws

  • Great Glamour: can create illusions to change the appearance (affecting all five senses) of people or things. The bigger the illusion has to be, however, the harder for him is to create and mantain it. Another limitation is that he can't imitate specific beings, only generic features. Roll against Glamour skill to create those illusions.
  • Toughness : +2 Damage Capacity
  • Supernatural healing : heals 1 level of damage per day (including Incapacitated and Very Hurt levels). Doesn't work for iron wounds. Steel wounds heal 1 level per two days.
  • Night vision

Lt. Martin Hatter

Lieutenant Hatter was one of McBride's regular men when the war started, but he also ran "special" missions for him. In one of these, he was captured by Nazi forces and subjected to occult experiments in his long imprisonment. Though he was rescued soon afterwards, as a consequence of the experience, he lost his sanity. Ever since, he's been unable to care for himself or do anything else but drool, try to commit suicide, and be utterly terrified by everything.

As a supernatural consequence, he developed an extraordinary ability to sense the supernatural. Amongst his senseless babbling, when close to otherworldy forces or places, he often utters very valuable pieces of information. That's why McBride kept him in the unit, always under strict vigilance and wearing a straightjacket.

In his few lucid moments, Hatter only wants to die and rest in peace. After all he has experienced during his imprisonment, and later in the special unit 43, it's hard to blame him.

Powers & Flaws

  • Illuminated : in his state of madness, he can sense and understand supernatural things nobody else can, as some kind of psychic sense. Unfortunately, he can't control his bursts of inspiration, and often he blurts out cryptic information which is almost impossible to make sense of. It's an uncontrolled power, so no skill is used for it.

Mime

Mime wasn't recruited by McBride. Instead, he came to the old general to offer his services. Able to imitate anyone and copy their signature skills with an incredible accuracy, he was a virtual one-man army. How he accomplishes this is kept in secret by himself and McBride, with whom he achieved some kind of agreement to work together until the end of the war.

Later reports say he also has a supernatural toughness and a very quick healing capacity, much in the same way as Goblin seems to have.

Powers & Flaws

  • Great Mimicry : after watching someone for around five minutes, he's able to duplicate the target's signature skills (Great or better) at a Great level. He has to roll against Mimicry skill to duplicate someone's skills.
  • Toughness : +2 Damage Capacity
  • Supernatural healing : heals 1 level of damage per day (including Incapacitated and Very Hurt levels). Doesn't work for iron wounds. Steel wounds heal 1 level per two days.
  • Night vision

Comeback

Comeback has been killed in action four times while on special missions for Task Force 43. After every death, he has returned from the dead in a new body, or so it seems.

No matter how different each of those new bodies looked, they always shared a spooky air of déjà-vu amongst the ones who knew him (them?) before, even when his general appearance had nothing special, in a very John Doe-like way. They always spoke with a dull, quiet and emotionless accent, had the same mannerisms and attitude, and what scared people the most, remembered everything from each of their previous "incarnations" as if a single, long memory to which death was a mere inconvenience. The only physical detail shared is that they always wore the same old and battered shades, night and day.

For those reasons, most other members of the team (at least the more human ones) find him spooky, even more so than the other blatantly supernatural team mates. Only McBride knows Comeback's secret, though others suspect it after his many returns. Comeback is a ghost, with the ability to possess living beings and use their bodies as his own. In this way, he can fight in this supernatural battle time and and again, no matter how many times his host bodies die (which doesn't mean he doesn't try to keep them alive). His motto is "the greater good justifies the means".

As a spirit, he feels no pain and is able to keep fighting even under extreme punishment. Besides needing little sleep (because otherwise the host would burn out too quickly), he must follow most normal human activities to keep his "borrowed" body well and ready.

McBride is sure of neither Comeback's motivations nor of his undead age (which might measure its power, actually). Like Mime, Comeback came to McBride offering his abilities to help "fight the Nazi menace which will cause so much suffering". Once again, McBride chose the lesser evil, allowing Comeback to inhabit a new body each time his host was killed, in order to keep him fighting to save the world from a greater evil (he just didn't want to know the host personally). Just to be on the cautious side, McBride has learnt a few rituals to banish Comeback from a possessed host and perhaps to banish him entirely and permanently.

Powers & Flaws

  • Ignores wound penalties and any physical pain, though he is aware of injuries.
  • Very ancient: has lots of knowledges, most of which are perhaps too ancient to be useful in this time, but also has an extensive knowledge of geography which allows it to walk at ease almost anywhere. Both things might be ran in game terms as a broad General Knowledges skill with a maximum value of Good and Geography and Local Area knowledges Good and Fair respectively.
  • Ghostly vision: it sees the world in a spiritual way so it doesn't mind if its night or day. However it can't see from beyond a few hundred meters, at most.
  • Unnerving: most people feel uneasy near him, though there aren't physical causes for that. Without the shades, his visage is actually scary, as if looking death in the eyes.

Skills

Use whatever list of skills you like the best, and for quick games my advice is using Rob Donoghue's "Fudge on the Fly" article.

Equipment

Besides any normal weaponry you could expect to find in a WWII setting, McBride sometimes equips his "men" with special stuff like silver or enchanted bullets, amulets and minor charms, holy wafers and such popular items. Most of times, they work to great effect though sometimes a good flamethrower is a better and more reliable option. Grenades do miracles, too.

There is little armor available in the era worth the effort of carrying due to its weight. Most firearms render WWII armor worthless, and the only armor capable of slowing down bullets is too heavy for normal humans. That's why only Bastet wears a bit of armor and even it doesn't wear a lot. Helmets, on the other hand, are standard equipment and can save your life.

Example adventures

Manhattan Project

The Task Force is sent to the desert region of Los Alamos in the state of New Mexico to watch over the scientists working on the Manhattan Project. The team only knows that the scientists are working on something to change the course of the war, and that the Nazis are planning to steal the research and kidnap or kill the scientists.

When they aren't working, the scientists are kept in a safe house in the middle of the desert, and it is there that the characters will be attacked by Nazi dopplemensch and a terribly strong and tough undead being created by the Axis sorcerer-scientists.

First Legion undead: bound entirely in black rags, no flesh of this creature can be seen, not even its eyes or mouth. The only color of note are the silver chains over its chest, holding up a large silvery belt, a mystical flight device. Mass scale +6, Flight (slow), Fault (phobia to fire).

Hatter's babbling: "He comes! He comes! They come! Fire and silver!"

Lost hotel

The characters are "borrowed" by a general much higher in the command chain than McBride to seek a Nazi spy fleeing from the counter-espionage up to a small, lost town (a very Lovecraftian one) in the middle of nowhere, England.

In truth, the general seeks his own daughter who fled with a young man against her father's desires. The general wants her back and this way, through McBride's monsters, he thinks he can keep it secret (who would listen to or believe such creatures?).

Unknown to all the people involved in this story, the town where the general's daughter and her boyfriend fled is the home of a pair of degenerate werewolves (passing as a middle-aged married couple) who run the only inn for miles. They have already killed and eaten the fleeing couple and will happily kill (and eat, too) anyone else from the outside world. The few villagers who live there are somehow permanently dazed by the insane atmosphere of the place and the horrors that hide just a few steps of them.

Degenerate werewolves: customize to your taste, they don't look like "purebreed" werewolves, but mutants with too many teeth, nauseating blisters and other kind of disgusting and terrifying features. In human form, however, they look perfectly human though they have trouble hiding their psychotic nature.

Hatter's babbling: "Out! Out! Evil! Rot! Evil everywhere! Let me go!"

Runic bomb

The characters are dropped by parachute into Germany to infiltrate a secret base set in the confluence of ley lines, where the occult Nazi scientists are building a runic bomb, a metal sphere covered with mystic runes which has been gathering huge quantities of ley energies to be later released at once, much like an atomic bomb. The characters' orders are to destroy the bomb and eliminate the scientists.

They also need to determine if the Nazis have more such bombs, because Intelligence has intercepted plans to use them against Allied cities to force a surrender, and needs to know if the information is authentic.

Occupied France

The characters have to infiltrate occupied France because Dynamo's special skills are needed to turn off a radar installation for a while (bombing it isn't too subtle) to allow a fleet of bombers to fly undetected to deliver their deadly cargo to a much more important target without anti-aircraft fire or early resistence.

Norsk Hydro Raid

The characters travel to the Norsk Hydro plant near Rjukan in German-occupied Norway to deliver the final blow when the Nazis get too close to finishing their own atomic bomb project. This time, the plant is well protected by Nazi dopplemensch and other monstrosities so the commandos also need to have supernatural abilities.

Hammers and Sickles

In mission to destroy some Axis eugenic laboratories, the task force finds a Soviet military unit not unlike themselves, whose members also have supernatural abilities but are kept in secret by the USSR. They also fight against Axis supernatural menaces but they might have ulterior motives!

Their captain seems to be a werewolf of a noble and ancient Russian lineage who is able to control his rage. Other members include an astounding (in 1943!) cyborg powered by zero point batteries (supposedly one of Nikolas Tesla's lost designs) which also enable him to discharge low range but powerful electrical attacks, with mass Scale +4 due to his steel body (Good Strength for that mass), a telekinetic woman able to unleash storms of flying daggers (of which she carries an amazing number) and another telepath able to kill with his mind (though he needs time, around 5 minutes or so, and a clear line of sight, but it can't be detected).

In this situation both groups of metahumans might easily clash and try to destroy each other, until they realize they're supposed to be on the same side. To further complicate matters, the Soviets have better information on the mission both groups have been sent on, so they think the 43rd are enemies defending the area (and the living weapon in it). Unless given unquestionable evidence to the contrary, they'll fight very hard.

Before both groups destroy each other, they will be detected and find themselves attacked by regular soldiers and, soon afterwards, a Nazi superman with abilities similar to Dynamo, but far more dangerous (able through extensive training and rituals to harness even more powerful mystic energies). Even the combined power of both special teams may not be be enough to defeat him.

Vril worker: able to harness the mystic Vril energies to form electromagnetic force fields around him, fly and cast devastating bolts of electrical power. Developed and trained as a living weapon to lay waste to the Allied armies, it is fortunate that only one of these beings was successfully created. However, he has little control of his awesome power but learns very quickly, so the longer both teams let him live, the more powerful, dangerous and accurate he'll become.

Hatter's babbling: "Lightning will kill us all! All of us! Twice!"

Flying saucers

The characters are sent to Germany to inflitrate a secret base where the Nazis are developing flying saucers with a technology never seen before in the world. Though in this case the base is guarded only by regular soldiers, they're also armed with technological wonders, in the form of ray guns which can prove very dangerous for the heroes. In this scenario, Dynamo's skills can be their best weapon!

Their mission in this case is, as usual, blowing the base apart and if possible, stealing the designs. A working prototype of a flying saucer would be asking too much, wouldn't it?

In this scenario, they might find the Soviet special unit again, looking for the same awesome technology. Can both groups work together (again) or is the prize too valuable to be shared? After all, the first seeds for the Cold War have already been sown....

Miller

On December 15, 1944, on a wet, cold, foggy afternoon, the musician Glenn Miller departed an RAF air base in a plane which would take him and other passengers to Paris. However, the flight never made it. The official version was icing conditions over the English Channel which caused the plane to crash...

That was the official version. In fact, a very powerful vampire managed to discover Miller's route and invoked a powerful storm which caused the plane to make an emergency landing on the shores of France. There the vampire eliminated the pilot and the other passengers and hijacked the musician to keep him as a "canary in a golden cage" to fill his eternal nights with music.

The crash site was found two days after and the description of the drained corpses sent to the High Command. McBride quickly clued to the vampiric activity with information of his own, and so the 43rd were sent to France to rescue the famous musician. It was feard that the morale of the troops would suffer if he were lost.

The vampire is a very old one so its powers (see Vampires below) should be an easy match for the 43rd, and it should have little difficulty in escaping should the heroes prove too much for it. A careful strategy will be required to both save Miller and destroy the vampire.

Supernatural enemies

Nazi eugenic übbermensch

Few of these übbermensch have been created because the resources needed to create them and grow to an adult form quickly enough are expensive and the process is prone to error.

Barring noted exceptions, the only eugenic men the characters will encounter are extraordinary specimens of human beings with all physical attributes well beyond the normal standard. Their mental level, however, as the process to develop better minds is less understood and also much more complicated, is more mundane and less than normal fifty percent of times.

In game terms they have mass Scale +1 or +2, and physical attributes Great or better. Some have physical abilities very high as well like Brawl, Martial Arts, Markmanship or even Swordmanship. Intelligence and judgement will often be lower than Fair.

Nazi dopplemensch

Created through black magic by adding a victim's life force to a willing vessel, those soldiers are twice as strong and hard to kill than a normal man (Great to Legendary Strength, one to three levels of Damage Resistance). As a side effect, they exude an almost palpable evil. Though twice as strong as normal human being, the stolen energies and the evil taint of the spell tends to burn them to death sooner than later.

They also gain night vision and in darkness, their eyes burn with unholy pinpoints of green light.

Dwarves

Enslaved by the Nazi sorcerers, these faerie creatures have built a few magical objects of great power, though too few to cause a great difference in the war. Amongst them, a downgraded version of Mjölnir, Thor's hammer (which is said can call forth lightning upon his enemies), and rings which make their owners invisible for short periods of time.

Redcaps

Somehow recruited by the Nazi sorcerers with the promise of blood and evil unleashed, they look like stocky old men with long gray hair and claws instead of hands. They wear red hats, colored by the blood of their victims. Red Caps move with remarkable speed, despite the iron boots they wear. They're said to be stronger than the strongest man (at least Legendary), but vulnerable to prayers or quoting of the holy Bible.

Nazi sorcerers

Not unlike McBride, some Nazi followers of the occult learnt how the mystical, chaotic energies of the world could be bent to their will with preparation and willpower. Long before WW II started, they studied and practiced until they mastered supernatural powers. Like McBride, they learned that the source of that power was evil beyond understanding, which ate away their souls with each enchantment, as power wasn't to be taken freely.

Many of the sorcerers revelled in the joy of raw power, and offered their abilities to the glory of the Axis to get a chance to do greater and greater exploits of magic (and to get funds and materials for their further research). Other, more pragmatic sorcerers, chose to keep working on the dark arts to make the Axis win the war and establish the Reich of their ideal, even if they had to self-sacrifice to achieve that goal.

Most sorcerers only have one or two different powers, which can be selected from the following list (or add up any power you think is interesting):

  • Harm people from afar (usually only a few hundred of feet at most)
  • Locate things
  • Kill people (without a mark)
  • Jam machines or electrical devices
  • Cover a place with mist
  • Create undead beings
  • Control a person or a creature
  • Cause unbearable pain
  • etc...

However, the most useful application of magic is used in rituals to create magic items. Combining the dark arts with alchemy (a refined form of the ancient art, mixed with modern day chemistry), some sorcerers are able to create supernatural creatures or to bind others to their will.

In game terms, they'll have a specific skill for each spell. They rarely fight directly but attack from the rear of whole platoons of soldiers or monstrosities of their creation.

Vampires

Fortunately, these nobility of the undead are very, very rare, because they're as hard to destroy as most myths and legends say. Typical vampires, if we can use the word typical, have monsterous strength and are invulnerable to physical damage.

In some cases fire, electricity, explosives or large doses of holy water can destroy a vampire fully and permanently. Other tried and true ways are beheading them, exposing them to sunlight, immersing them in running water, stabbing them in the heart with a wooden stake, or using extremely powerful holy relics like shards of the True Cross, the lance of Longinus, fragments of the Holy Shroud, bones of saints, etc. Many of these latter methods are futile due to the near impossibility of acquiring such items.

There are Top Secret reports of Nazi attempts to enlist the aid of powerful vampires in their ranks, and there are rumours that they've succeeded in a few cases, though there is no evidence of such a terrible pact. It is supposed that in this period of bloodshed, vampires feel free to move in the outside world with less restrictions, and that they do so to fulfill secret agendas, so in fact they might ally themselves with the Axis, if only for a while....

Vampires are solitary beings who live for the joy of the hunt. Being immortal, they learn immense patience over the years and develop at first cunning and later a general paranoia. Most of them also develop refined tastes in many arts or start collecting rare or valuable treasures. They're very sensual creatures, indeed.

  • Mass scale +2 or greater.
  • Hard to kill (varies as suggested earlier).
  • Even harder to kill (some vampires are so tough they have bonuses to reduce damage to anything that can harm them).
  • Some of them have Supernatural speed (they're even faster than werewolves).
  • Domination: some vampires are able to mesmerize humans in an opposed roll of Willpower (and most old vampires DO have a lot of Willpower).
  • Climb like a spider: some vampires can climb on any surface with ease.
  • Metamorphosis: some vampires can become clouds of mist, large bats, wolves or other creatures.
  • Night vision (of course they can see in total darkness).
  • Specific vampires may have other powers and/or weaknesses.
  • Vulnerable to sun light, holy relics and true faith, etc.

Nazi Wehrwolves

Those werewolves are lycanthropes forced to fight for the Axis by extensive use of magic and runes bound with silver over their body. This had to be done by the Nazi sorcerers because normal werewolves are psychotic, bloodthirsty monsters, impossible to control except by force. Posing as human soldiers, they are usually dispatched only as commandos in places where they can do what they do best: kill rabidly.

The Axis doesn't have too many wehrwolves at any time, because of the dangerous game of control they must play with them (they'd happily kill their controllers if the power of the runes fade away). Most of the wehrwolves were created artificially by infecting voluntary german soldiers with the lycanthrophy disease. What those volunteers didn't know is that they'd forget almost completely their former loyalties when the wolf's hunger dominated them.

  • Mass scale +2, Strength varies, usually Great at least.
  • Claws: never unarmed.
  • Wolf's jaws: these terrible weapons have a basic damage of +2.
  • Healing : after a scene is passed all damage received is healed (usually). Silver damage is as deadly to them as any damage to a human being.
  • Lightning reflexes: in hand to hand combat they impose a -1 penalty to defense due to their very quick movements. Also can try to dodge bullets with a situational roll of Fair+.
  • Night vision.

Nazi zombies

Animated through black magic and alchemy, they're slow and dumb, but very resistent to damage due to already being dead. Slicing them to pieces, or blowing them up are good ways to get rid of them permanently.

Nazi zombie machines

As the former, they're animated through black magic and alchemy, but they're enhanced with shielding and machine parts. Faster, tougher and more deadly, they're still very dumb. They sometimes have built-in blades or carry powerful firearms (they compensate their poor aim with sheer firepower).

Epilogue

Soon after the war was won, already in an unstable state of mind, McBride almost went over the brink. After all the shady deals he had to make to help defeat the Axis, he feared he had lost his own soul in the process. This fear, which had been troubling him for years after the war, was too much for him to endure. As a pragmatic man, however, as he had been all his life, he had a backup plan. Using his dark knowledge and shady contacts he made a deal with a vampire to become one of them and so avoid his fate after death. In his troubled state of mind it made sense entirely.

After the transition to undeath, he flew to a hidden bunker unknown to the Task Force 43 members. However, news of his fall and of his victims afterwards reached them and the High Command as well (as a neonate vampire he had at first little control over his hunger) so for the first time someone else than McBride ordered them directly. The order was very hard for them to follow, to kill their former leader, who wasn't human anymore.

Before they found McBride, Mime and Goblin had already deserted the army and vanished without a trace, as their oaths were already fulfilled and they weren't human at all so feared no retribution from military law. Lt. Hatter was interned in a mental institution as his abilities weren't valued by the new leaders of the unit. In the end, only Bastet, Tabula Rasa, Dynamo and Comeback (though the war was over, Comeback said "it was the right thing to do, removing a vampire from the face of the earth") were sent after him.

McBride almost killed them all because they couldn't fight as well as usual against their former leader. Comeback was in fact killed and wasn't ever seen again (after all, his work with the unit was already done), Bastet was seriously injured, Tabula Rasa barely did anything at all as its mediocre intelligence couldn't identify McBride as an enemy except when attacked directly by him (only once). In the end, when seriously hurt, Dynamo managed to find inside him a power greater than he thought he had, and blasted McBride with a massive lightning bolt which even melted concrete and steel in 3' radius.

One year later, after seing little action, the remaining three members of the team had to fight again one of their own. Dynamo, who was very affected by the death of McBride and by the intoxicating power he had found in that fight, had become more and more powerful and unstable, and thus more dangerous. Bastet and Tabula Rasa had to face him when, showing a power great enough to turn off all electrical sources in London, he threatened to reduce the city to rubble.

Task Force 43 was never heard of again after that day, above all because the world didn't want to believe such things ever existed, no matter who they did fight for the previous years.

Bibliography

Books, games and comics which might be (or already were) an inspiration for this game:

  • Hellboy and BPRD comics, by Mike Mignola
  • The World of Darkness (in a way), from White Wolf
  • League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, by Alan Moore
  • Weird Wars RPG, by Pinnacle Entertainment Group
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