Monday, 15 November 2010

Enter the ninja: simples!

With Winter BenCon looming (although no date has been specified as yet), thoughts turn to the game I will be running. As established in BenCon 1, in August, there are three RPG slots to fill, namely morning, afternoon, and evening. In the words of the (in)famous meerkat, "Simples!"

I've volunteered to run a Runequest game, alongside the second part of Kelvin's Savage Eberron saga, and a Trail of Cthulhu offering from Irish Dave. I'd like to test drive the Mongoose version of Runequest to get a feel for it, and am hoping it won't be too much of a shock to the system, as I spent a large slice of the 1990s running Call of Cthulhu games. Having said that, there is new crunch involved in RQ, like strike ranks and hit point allocations to body parts, but overall, it seems somehow - simpler (there's that blasted meerkat again) than some of the more sophisticated rules I've been playing or reading recently (Pathfinder and Burning Wheel foremost amongst them).

I've chosen to run a Japanese fantasy one-shot because I'm vastly more familiar with ancient Japan than I am with Glorantha, plus Glorantha and its ducks bring Ben out in hives. Japan I've been to, and spent a good slice of my degree studying, so hey, I'm on familiar ground here, and Mongoose has kindly obliged my by publishing an RQ supplement entitled Land of Samurai.

Land of Samurai is interesting in that it really focuses on the period in advance of the Gempei War, the conflict between the Minamoto and Taira families which ushered in the Kamakura period and real feudalism in the country. Prior to that you have an imperial bureaucracy and associated nobility at the pinnacle of the social pyramid, with the samurai class doing the dirty business of fighting, killing, and conquering new lands from the Ainu in the north. Ultimately, the empire is semi-feudal in nature, with a strong clergy that, as with Europe, sits outside the social structure (although a priest from the nobility is going to get ahead quicker than a priest who was born in a grass hut).

I'm looking at five to six PCs for this game, depending on who shows and who doesn't. A lot depends on dates, as it will either occur just before Xnmas, or in the New Year. I'm guessing we're going to angle for a weekend, ideally a Saturday. Two players have already generated their own characters, or are in the process of doing so, while I'm looking at generating characters for Manoj and Irish Dave, leaving Sebastian to probably work on his own.

Hence, I have managed to run off my first PC for the game, at Manoj's request a ninja. Now, ninja were not around historically in the 11th century, but Mongoose have added them because, hey, it's a samurai game, someone is bound to want to play a ninja. What really impressed me with RQ was how quick it was to knock out a character. I sat down on Saturday afternoon with Sebastian (who has decided to put aside his Rokugan campaign in favour of a 4e Eberron game) and generated first a 4th edition D&D goliath fighter for Eberron, then my RQ ninja for Manoj, and then got started on my halfling alchemist for Kelvin's upcoming mini campaign using the Pathfinder rules.

I'll tell you what: in terms of time consumed, the RQ character was easily the quickest and simplest, followed by the 4e character. The Pathfinder character I didn't finish in the allotted time. You could argue that this was because the Pathfinder PC, Harry Beau, was 5th level, but so was the D&D character. Once you've played 4e for a bit, it becomes easier to knock out a PC. Heck, you can even randomise one, although the idea probably fills some people with horror. I happen to love random chargen systems, but then maybe that's just me!

Anyway, please find my first stab at an RQ character below:

Arasaka Shubichi, 25, Heimin Ninja

On: 23

STR 11, CON 9, SIZ 10, INT 14, POW 10, DEX 9, CHA 13

Combat Actions: 2; Damage Mod 0; Hero Pts 2, Move 4, Strike Rank 11

Finances: 180 mon carried; 3 koku income per annum

Languages: Japanese 64%; Kuji-kiri 64%

Basic skills over 20%: Athletics 25%, Dodge 39%, Driving 20%, First Aid 24%, Influence 23%, Lore - Plant 24%, Perception 34%, Persistence 30%, Resilience 24%, Sleight 24%, Stealth 29%, Throwing 29%, Unarmed 41%, Close Combat 20%

Advanced skills: Regional Lore 24%, Survival 24%, Farming Lore 14%, Disguise 23%

Weapon skills: Bojutsu 30%, Tantojutsu 30%, Kenjutsu 34%

Equipment: Do maru, wrist guards, entry equipment, firepot, smokescreen compound, 1d3 sleeping draft

I won't go into the hit points distribution, but that's it in a nutshell. As the meerkat says, "simples!"


  1. I also found Runequest's character generation to be quick, despite working from two books at once.

    One of the things that turned me off D&D4 was the extensive character generation, so I'm surprised to hear that it went quickly for you. I suppose, thinking about it, it doesn't take too long if you're making the character in isolation, but the game puts so much emphasis on team play that character generation becomes a case of juggling skills and abilities to best fit what everyone else is doing, while they're doing a similar juggling trick.

    I also love random character generation -- random anything really, whether it be rumour tables, encounter tables, random hat tables -- but I was always strongly waved away from that method during our D&D4 games!

  2. I found it easy to generate a 4e pc in isolation. I still wonder whether you should really generate a 4e pc with an eye on the rest of the party. Adventuring parties change after all. People come and go. But you're right that 4e is not very tolerant when someone in the group can't make it, which with our group is pretty much every week.

  3. Well, with Ben and Manoj both very keen on the idea of an optimised party -- which is a perfectly valid approach -- there wasn't much choice, but I can see how creating a character on your own, without outside input, would be a simpler proposition.