Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (11) - They Mostly Game at Night... Mostly...

If I continued writing about my history of "life" in gaming, I'd be reaching what I sometimes call the "long dark teatime of gaming" when I really didn't do anything at all. I didn't game, didn't write, I just became a self-absorbed misery and tried to do college stuff and desperately try to get a member of the opposite sex to see me as more than "just a friend".

I'm going to skip that game-less era, and head straight onto the "Second Renaissance" of my gaming, but that'll be next post.

Before I move on though, I want to mention a particularly influential movie and the amazing game that it spawned.


Back in the mid-late 80's, right through to the end of the decade, we had a regular tradition at our house which was "Friday Night Videos!" Basically, we hired a movie from what was our local video rental store (Dixons) and we took over the living room at my mum and dad's and we watched a movie. My folks were usually out until the mid-evening, and they hid in the bedroom until the movie finished, but every now and then we'd hire something that my folks were interested in and one or both of them would join us.

For some reason my dad thought that watching "The Terminator" was a great idea (which caused a slight awkwardness at the Reese / Sarah Connor love scene), but we all agreed (my dad included) that it was awesome. It wasn't my mum's cup of tea, but it didn't stop my dad describing the most violent and gruesome moments to her with a giggle of enthusiasm.

Aliens - What are you looking at Burke?
James Cameron was the new god, and when we first saw the trailer and making of documentary for his sequel to Alien, the Eight were all pretty keen.

I think I saw Aliens about three or four times at the cinema in the end. It was the first 18 certificate film I saw at the cinema, and I managed to see it with various members of the Eight at different times. Even today, Aliens is still awesome, and we can all recite most of the lines word for word.


Bill Willingham's ELEMENTALS
Meanwhile, as I mentioned briefly in the previous post, Pete had created his own game system called Odyssey. I don't really have much recollection of the system - Pete has mentioned that it was a 2D10 system, and I do remember having skills over 100% which allowed you to do extra actions. That's about all I can remember. But the real test for any game is whether you remember the system (and its faults and interruptions) or whether you remember the games themselves. And Odyssey certainly produced some of the most memorable games I'd ever experienced as a player.

What started as a more realistic and authentic RuneQuest style game proved that it could be used for any genre when Pete decided to use the system to run a superhero style game based on Bill Willingham's "Elementals" comics (published by Comico).

But the game really came into its own when Pete decided we'd play as Colonial Marines in the Aliens universe.

Most of us were troops. JR showed his natural born leadership skills by being the Gorman of the group, remaining in the APC and watching us all balls-it-up through our helmet cameras. I thought Vasquez was the coolest, so I played a similar character. A short, stocky, and hard-as-nails female Smart-Gunner.

Aliens. We were not as smart as these Marines...
Pete had predicted the similar space-colony background that would form the Spartans in the Halo-verse, having our group of marines being sent out to outlying colonies to quash resistance elements and rebels. The Smart Gun was rationalised, and made super cool with a really efficient tracking system, firing punched disks (rapidly bashed into a sharp cone of armour piercing metal) which made the ammo carrying easier. But it was the encumbrance rules that really stick in the mind.

I have very vivid memories of the colony's terraforming reactor being overloaded and damaged, about to cause a huge nuclear explosion (I think part of the damage may have been from stray gunfire, I'm not sure). We'd stopped the rebels, but the explosion was imminent and the squad had to run the 5k back to the dropship as our APC had been taken out, before the nuclear explosion wiped us off the planet. The encumbrance rules really added to the tension, as we realised we were never going to make it to safety without dropping all of our guns and equipment.

The later games had us encountering the xenomorphs from the movies, and we had a great one shot with different characters where each member of the party was taken out by an unseen force (that was revealed to be my character, under orders from the GM from slips of paper he kept passing me under the table).

Nothing really much to add there except that Odyssey introduced me to the idea of gaming in a group where one of the player characters was the secret villain, showed me how to do a faithful game that was tied to an existing universe, and showed me that you could create a game system from scratch and have some seriously kick-ass adventures with it. I really hope that people have as much fun with the games I've worked on as I had with Odyssey.


Next "Roll Your Own Life" brings us to the Vampire years...


Anonymous said...

Pete's Marines Odyssey was the best gaming experience I have ever had, and that's not an easy win. Great times. Out of the whole squad my pfc Bond was the only one to still have his M41a when we got back to the Drop Ship. I didn't have any ammo for it though...

David F. Chapman said...

I've had better gaming experiences (which I'll come to in the next couple of posts) but they've been GMing. Marines Odyssey has to be my best gaming experience as a player. Man, that was just fun. The smart-gun lock on, being able to shoot an accurate hole in the side of armour plating continually until you broke through... oooh, that was sooo cool.

I wonder if Pete still has Odyssey on file?

Peter Wake said...

The Oddysey system used for our Runequest replacement was quite different from the one used for Marines and Super Heroes.

The original "Oddysey 1" was basically a go at writing a Runequest 3 alternative. Avalon had neglected to sell it in the UK so we were denied an update to Runequest when RQ2 was discontinued as none of us had the money to import a copy of RQ3 at the time. As such Oddysey 1 was a d100 system that tried to patch up some problems with Runequest 2. I like to think it did a better job of staying true to the spirit of RQ2 than RQ3 did. RQ3 had some very unsatisfactory elements...

Later I was inspired by the idea of GURPS, but again didn't have access to a single GURPS book, and so tried to make up something that I thought would fit the basic principles of a generic system that scaled in any direction (from the very weak to the very powerful).

So along came Oddysey 2, which was rubbish. It was far too min-maxable. We played one proper session of it but it was hopeless. The combat was disasterous as the party was entirely full of the best swordsmen in the world, but nobody had bothered with health or damage resistance stats. The only thing I can think of that was as bad for insta-kill is Werewolf :)

I took a long hard look at what was so bad about Oddysey 2. It was overly complex and loaded with mechanics that looked interesting in themselves but weren't necessary. Original D&D was a crappy system but it worked alright due to unitended consequences more than intended ones. I resolved to look very hard at the 'gaps' in the system and try and come up with secondary consequences for mechanics that would make play more fun as well as primary mechanics that were functional.

The result in Oddysey 3. Its DNA was based on the simplicity of Ghost Busters and Traveller but with more depth and scalability. It also allowed coherent combat between fleshy creatures, machines, golems, spirits and all that sort of thing as a natural consequence of the design (this was all before Vampire or games like that).

The marines game, and then later the super heroes (marines came first) was a completely different system conceptually, based on opposition rolls and target values.

Marines didn't have to scale much, but it worked well for normal humans.

Super heroes was a proof of concept for the scalability, putting human scale characters against dragons and other super beings. It worked ok I guess, but the setting didn't have the same degree of buy-in from players that marines generated.

I think Frankie in particular disliked being given a 'dark' character arc and lost interest when he became lethally radioactive :) Though I'm sure we would have found a cure for that down the line if the game had continued.

I later re-ran the marines stuff in Manchester, but the super-jaded players there weren't terribly excited by the marines idea; all they did was grumble that ammunition was unrealistically heavy and produced detailed research on real weapons to make their case. I did tweak ammunition weights to mollify them a little, but I don't think it improved the game any.

Yes. I have Oddysey "on file". In fact I did a lot of work on it to add mechanics and equipment for a cyborg heavy cyber-punk type game back when we were doing the play-by-teamspeak stuff. I also toyed with adding advantages/disadvantages and a class/level system. While those things sound a bit odd as additions to a skill based system, they didn't remove or replace skills, just changed how you gained them. I see class/level as a kind of plug-in module you can add to Oddysey 3 or not, depending on how you want to do your character advancement.

I also have the files with the original scenarios, character sheets and so on (most of them anyway). A lot of it is incomprehensible 20 years later of course.