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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Character sheet form in pdf: Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes

Having witnessed more interest than I had imagined for my two posts about MSPE, here is another play aid, a fillable pdf character sheet. It is a very plain one, but I hope it shall be useful for you. You can download it here. And, of course nothing prevents you from using it with Tunnels & Trolls (I have added the stat Wizardry that I have sometimes used with MSPE).

It is, of course, nice to be able to fill a character sheet on screen, if only to avoid crossings out. But what are you going to do with it when it is filled? That's where things get more complicated (thanks Adobe).

Opening the PDF file and filling the fields should be no problem. You could just open it with Adobe Acrobat.
But, a window above the document shall warn you that you can't save any modifications or fillings you have made on the PDF. You can only print the page.
If all you wanted to do with your character sheet was to print it on paper, fine. But if you wanted to keep a filled document on your hardrive, there is one more step.

To keep a filled PDF file in an unchangeable format:

If you are on a Mac, no problem, the OS let you print in PDF from any application. Nice.
If you opened the PDF form with Preview or Acrobat Reader, you just have to choose "Print" "Save as PDF" and you'll have a document with filled fields. Those fields won't be editable anymore.

If you are on a Windows OS, you'll have to setup an application to print to PDF (which just means save your file in a non editable PDF). A program like PDFcreator (free) should work though there are others, free or not.

To keep a filled PDF in an editable format:

If you are on Mac, well, Preview let you also fill your PDF form and keep it in an editable format. Instead of choosing to print to PDF, you just have to save your document, that's all.
But, if you want still more functiunalities, there is PDFsigner, which can not only save an editable PDF, but also insert images on it.
This way, you can add one or more illustrations, which is quite useful for a character sheet. And the document is still modifiable.
The application is available on the Appstore for 9 dollars, which should not bankrupt you. A must for Mac users GMs.

If you use a Windows OS, Foxit (free) shall let you save your PDFs and change them later. And, what is most important, Foxit can also import images.

From all those options, Foxit is really the best and I can only regret that it doesn't exist on Mac.

If you know about alternatives applications, let us know about it.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Don't drink the water-Part 1

Having some free hours this weekend, I begun photoshoping the stuff I need to play the scenario "Don't drink the water" for Savage Worlds.
To avoid spoilers, let's just say that, at the beginning of the scenario, the characters can encounter the french foreign legion.
So, you'll find here two maps, one with a trail in the desert and another with a small house used by the legionnaries as a post or bivouac.
I have also included the image I am using for desert background.
There are two tokens one of a legionnary private and one of a NCO.
And, of course, there is the wagon (with and without canvas) used by the PCs.

All the maps, tokens, etc... are made for being used in a VTT (Maptool for me) at 128 pixels/square. So if you use other sizes, you should probably rescale them.
I use 128 px/square but I generally display the map at around 60-70%; this way, I can zoom in without losing too much quality.
If you use the drawings here at under 50% (either by rescaling or zooming out) most details shall become too small and quality will suffer.

I have tried to keep a consistent comics-like look for the maps, tokens and portraits. I hope you'll like it. Anyway, here is the zipped file.

Part 2 shall be about juarists, a ruined abbey and some undeads.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes (part 2): Tunnels & Thompson

Following from part 1

Tunnels & Thompsons is the title of a chapter in the MSPE 1st ed. rulebook, explaining how to mix the contemporary setting of MSPE and fantastic, horror, magic, fantasy... It was replaced by an expanded chapter called Nightstalkers in the Sleuth edition with titles like Science Fiction, Horror or Fantasy and stats for mummies, yeti or pteranodon.

Indeed, there are lot of examples of adventures from the pulps that include fantastic elements: magic, forgotten civilizations, malevolent artifacts, legends that happens to be true, crazy scientists or esoterists, lost valleys with remnants of old civilizations, transylvanian castles with undead lord, travel in the past or in the future or to an hidden planet…

MSPE lets you do pulps, it is part of its structure. So don't forget that pulps were not only contemporary adventures set in the "present" (20's to 50's), but was also any blend of horror, fantasy, western, scifi... And with an added twist for us: the future of the pulps was the future that could be imagined at the time. And that is easily modelled with rules like MSPE.

There are lots of supplements, adventures, books, movies or ideas that can be turned into MSPE stuff. The secret is to be as open as possible to the possibilities of the rules and forget any self-censorship... Here are some suggestions.

If you can lay your hands on “Lands of Mystery” of Aaron Allston, don't hesitate to grab it at any cost: it is one of the best roleplaying supplements to have ever been released, for any game. Following an agreement (at the time) between their respective editors, the products for Hero Games and MSPE contained the characteristics for the other system (it is, for example, the case with “Trail of the gold spike”, a scenario for Justice Inc. by Hero Games, but containing the characteristics for MSPE). Unfortunately Lands of Mystery was the first product published after this agreement and although it is still multisystem, you will have to figure the NPCs stats to use it (which is not very complicated).

Lands of Mistery contains a ton of useful material for the GM, not pseudo-literary stuff intended to boost the ego of the author, nor fifty variations on the same topic (subtly called factions) to sell paper.

The novels of Abraham Merrit can also provide you with ready-made universes and scenarios for your adventures in alternate places.

On another hand, if you like steampunk, Space 1889 lends itself particularly well to MSPE and the adventures and setting are easily available in pdf.
Indeed, the victorian period is already covered by the rules and steampunk technology is particularly easy to add. Just use modern technological instruments and add old-fashioned look and unreliable operation.
Your adventurers can then roam the solar system on steam powered spaceships or face the martians natives in the canyons of the red planet.
The range of scenarios is really widespread, just like the environments.

The most important thing, however, if you play in this period, is to face adversity with the cool and dignity of a gentleman.

But inspiration and scenarios should not come only from rpg sources if you don't want to stiffle your imagination.

You will find a lot of ideas for new scenarios in the novels from H.Rider Haggard or John Buchan (mainly known for his novel “39 steps”, but his other novels are well worth reading and those set during WWI are almost ready to play, "Greenmantle" pictured above is a good example).

In the same way, if you love pulps, there are lots of modern heroes thrown into retro-SF stories with a wonderfully obsolete scientific feel (Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, for example). If you want computers with the brain-power of a calculator to have the size of a house, or if you want your space battles to feel like Midway, this is the time-period for you.
You don't have to change anything on the rules, just give suitably archaic sf names to any piece of equipment you need (something like zapping gun or space destroyer...).

If you want to play retro-sf and would want to chart your own planets or galactic sectors, here are blank maps to do it. Planetary surface is represented in the form of the projection of a icosahedron (a D20 in fact…); by cutting and assembling it, it is possible for you to show your players a 3D model of the planet they want to study. You could even model them easily in computer 3D this way. For a result like that:

Now, if you want to have fun and surprise your players, place their contemporary characters in the middle of an odd storm or have them discover a strange object… and pooof! They find themselves at night in the middle of a field close to a river. At their feet, a humanoid of small size stumbles and falls, he gives them a ring, saying with his last breath “We failed...find…Gandalf… at the Prancing Pony… AAaaarrghhh.” and then he dies.
Under the moonlight, they can see black riders approaching. The full story is in Tolkien. Will your characters succeed in using their foreknowledge to change the story?

If you would like to play this kind of scenarios, it is possible to use Tunnels & Trolls (available at Flying Buffalo, see part 1) to enrich MSPE of fantasy elements. Moreover, as MSPE and T&T are completely compatible, that does not require any modification in the rules.
Simply use the rules of MSPE for character's creation, experience, etc… and include the elements of fantasy from T&T (magic, races, monsters, weapons, armours…).
Indeed, you could play straight fantasy using MSPE for the rules and T&T for the materials. But remember that you are not anymore in the Uberheroic feel of T&T . MSPE gives a much much more down to earth low level fantasy experience. If your players want their characters to survive, they should better be good.

One of my favourites periods for roleplaying is that of the swashbuckler's adventures; that of the novels from Alexandre Dumas, Michel Zevaco, Rafael Sabatini, or, nearer to us, those of Robert Merle, Arturo Perez-Reverte, Hubert Montheillet and Jean d'Aillon (fabulous!), or, if you prefer a small fantasy twist, Pierre Pevel.
And for something quite different, I would be tempted to play a campaign based on the comic strip “De Cape et de Crocs”, which is a real masterpiece of its kind. It would be enough to have some modifiers for the animals to be able to play in this universe.

In the past, I did use MSPE for some light-hearted swashbuckling whodunnits and I was only following what was recommended in the rulebook. Don't forget that MSPE was conceived from the start to make it possible to play during any historical period. After all, Mike Stackpole, the author of MSPE itself, announced in the rules (page 80 of the 1st edition):

"Shifting the time frame of an adventure can make it interesting. Everyone has enjoyed Three Musketeers movies and there is no reason the MSPE rules cannot be used to play out those adventures. Slipping magic, superstition or supernatural creatures into that type of setting would be easy and interesting."

I shall certainly not contradict him..

But if you want a campaign that offers all that at the same time: parallel universes, contemporary adventures, journeys in time, science fiction…, it is quite easy: play a campaign where your players can change from one game world to another with each new scenario.

If you haven't read them already, you can have a look at all the Time Patrol's novels by Poul Anderson (and you could also do worst than order at the same time his Space Opera or Fantasy stuff).

But time travel can be something else than being the member of atime patrol. The characters in a pulp game can be fighting a villain with time travel capabilities. And the help can come from a scientist with not-too-reliable time machine or a modern day shaman that can send the PCs in the past (but with their stilled bodies vulnerable in the present to complicate things). In the past... or to parallel universes, that don't have to mirror history.
Timeline from Michael Crichton would make a good scenario, ready to play, about rescuing lost peoples in the middle-ages (and a quite gritty rescue).

You'll find all you need to do that in the many GURPS supplements that will give you the basic information needed to carry your characters from universe to universe.

GURPS default setting consists of two similar organizations (but originating in different universes) which fight in the intermediate parallels universes for the supremacy of the multiverse.
This is obviously an ideal pretext to send your characters anywhere and any time.

French-speaking peoples should hunt down copies of Mega (1st edition preferably), the RPG from Casus Belli that took part of its inspiration from the classic comics 60s and 70's adventures of Valerian and Laureline (yes, the same heroes of the Luc Besson's movie).

Before finishing this post, I would like to stress that, by using the tricks that were part of pulps writing (dreams, memories, machines, hereditary memory, contents of a book, magical or mystic transes or artifact, part-time membership of a time or space patrol,...) the same characters could take part in all of those adventures. Which was something that happened to some recurring characters in pulps series (Bob Morane is the main exemple for french-speaking readers, but there should be others).

I could continue to multiply the exemples, but that's not my aim. What I wanted to explain is that MSPE is much, much more than a present day RPG... if you look at it the right way, MSPE spectrum is as broad as pulps inspiration. And that, was limitless.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes (part 1)

Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes is a role playing game published by Flying Buffalo inc. (Wikipedia).

It is basically a modern adaptation of the fantasy roleplaying game Tunnels & Trolls from the same editor. But where T&T was known for its fantastic and heroic tone (ok, and funny..), the fact of grounding MSPE in a more contemporary setting gave it a resolutely more realistic, even gritty, feel…

The blend of the simple and pleasant rules system of T&T and the needs of a more realistic setting gave birth to one of the most fluid and flexible gaming system ever written. Serendipity, like for some others games I love, but that's another story.
It has been one of my favourite games since it has been released. It is still available (see later) and my only regret is that a pdf version has never been released. It would have made the game easier to try, probably more popular and it would certainly have helped the paper edition sales.

MSPE is at heart a contemporary rpg in a very broad sense. It covers the three kinds of setting implied by its title: stories of mercenaries and action adventures (think Black Hawk Down, Eagle Has Landed or The Dogs of War), espionage adventures (think rather James Bond, Mission Impossible, or, novels of Ludlum or Higgins) and finally detective stories, whodunnits or noir (and there, you can refer to your favourite TV series, the traditional detective novels, or, even historical whodunnits, like the fabulous SPQR novels from John Maddox Roberts, as well as those of PC Doherty or even Brother Cadfael medieval mysteries).

The rules contain also indications on how to play horror adventures within MSPE, like Call of Chtulhu or Masterton novels (but I'll come back to that later in part 2).

MSPE can, of course, do pulps (think Indiana Jones, the Shadow, Doc Savage or Bob Morane (for french-speaking peoples)), it is one of its default periods and scenarios made for other games can easily be translated to MSPE.

Near future and anticipation are also within the field of MSPE and stories like Matrix, Dream Park or Blade Runner can easily be played. Time travel is another topic that lends itself perfectly to the use of MSPE, just like it is possible to use it to play Wild Wild West, SinCity, the League of extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta or Da Vinci code…

In short, MSPE is definitively a Gamemaster's dream, a toolbox to express your ideas and to work out the scenarios or the stories which your imagination can invent.
The very simple rules lend themselves easily to add what can be needed for your game.

As opposed to what the image of a contemporary rpg can suggest, the range of the game is extremely wide and covers a big part of the litterature of imagination and adventure, past, present and future.

In all those years I have been playing MSPE, I have made a few utilities destined to help a gamemaster to prepare his game sessions and to make in-session gaming easier, here are some of them:

The automated gamemaster screen for Tunnels &Trolls and MSPE. It is an Excel worksheet which contains all the tables used in play and that enables the gamemaster to make all the dice rolls called by the rules. Additional pages are added to record in advance all the characteristics which could be consulted during play, for PCs and NPCs. I don't use it anymore because most things that the automated screen does I would do now with Maptool, but it can help peoples who don't use Maptool.

And here is the french version of the automated screen.

Here is a character record sheet for MSPE/T&T, intended to be integrated into a notebook in which the player can write his notes, while keeping in sight the characteristics of his character.
There are an MSPE and a T&T version included (the only difference is the logo).
And here is the french version of it.

For those who would prefer a caracter sheet in the shape of small pocket (as those which are provided with the game in the boxed edition), it is still possible to order them from Flying Buffalo (look at MSPE character folders).

Here is a french translation that I have made.

Here are Photoshop brushes to customize images or illustrations by placing the characteristics of a character or/and the MSPE logo on them.
All you have to do is to find a picture or a photograph on Internet representing a character, an object, a weapon… usable in MSPE. You apply the brush to it, to indicate the characteristics, place the MSPE logo and the image is transformed into a play aid or handout. For pictures of characters of the 20's or 30's, have a look here.

And if you want to display the MSPE cover on your computer, here is the MSPE Wallpaper.

To get MSPE:

Flying Buffalo Inc PO Box 1467, Scottsdale, AZ the 85252 USA Phon: 480-945-6917 Fax: 480-994-1170 $9.95.

Online order. Flying Buffalo accepts Paypal payments.

I'll recommend that you add to your order the Case of the Pacific Clipper (by Dave Arneson, no less) to give you a feel of the game in a wonderful solo adventure (that also makes a good group adventure); and now you just have to wait for the postal service to bring you the game.

That's MSPE, but only the surface, and there are more things in MSPE, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. That's what part 2 shall be about.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Mon framework Maptool pour Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition

Ce petit billet est rédigé en français. Il n'y aurait pas eu beaucoup de sens à rédiger en anglais la présentation et le mode d'emploi d'un framework qui est en français.

Maptool est un programme gratuit de Virtual Tabletop. En gros une table de jeu virtuelle destinée au jeu de rôle.
Notez bien que contrairement à l'accent qui est généralement mis sur l'usage en ligne de Maptool (et des programmes VTT en général), c'est aussi (surtout?) un outil fabuleux pour jouer de la façon "normale", en face à face, avec des joueurs réunis autour d'une table.

Maptool n'est, au départ, destiné à aucun jeu en particulier (si vous utilisez le programme tel quel, c'est juste une carte pour déplacer des pions). Il est cependant possible d'adapter précisément Maptool au jeu que vous utilisez, et à la pratique que vous en avez, en créant un framework.
C'est un framework que j'ai créé pour utiliser Savage Worlds dans mon groupe de jeu que je vous présente ici.
Maptool peut être téléchargé ici.
Vous trouverez des explications en français pour l'utilisation de Maptool ici.

Tout d'abord, il faut que je précise que j'utilise Maptool exclusivement pour jouer en face à face, avec des joueurs réels, et non pas pour mener des parties en ligne. Je me sers de Maptool pour montrer la situation à mes joueurs et pour enregistrer plus facilement les données du jeu.

Le framework (c-à-d l'ensemble des commandes automatisées que j'ai programmées) reflète donc cet usage; et, une série de choses qui pourraient être automatisées pour du jeu en ligne (par exemple le tirage de cartes d'initiative) se font dans mon groupe de façon normale.

Si vous préférez un framework plus automatisé, je vous recommande celui de Savage Troll qui vous permettra d'effectuer la quasi totalité des manipulations à l'écran.

Voilà à quoi ressemble l'écran de Maptool en utilisant mon framework (vous pourrez trouver les pions utilisés dans cet exemple sur le blog, et la carte utilisée est l'oeuvre de Billiam Bamble et est disponible ici):

Comme vous pouvez le voir, le fait de placer la souris sur un pion fait apparaitre une illustration et quelques informations. Le terrain du jeu (dont on ne voit qu'une fraction ici) occupe la quasi totalité de l'écran et une colonne sur la gauche reprend les boutons des macros permettant de gérer le jeu.

Voyons un peu à quoi servent ces différents boutons.

Le premier bouton (Fiche de personnage) permet de faire apparaitre la fiche de personnage du pion sélectionné. Voilà par exemple la fiche de personnage de la dame en rouge entraperçue un peu plus haut:

Le second bouton(Input) permet de remplir ou de modifier cette fiche de personnage. Après avoir cliqué sur le bouton, il suffit de parcourir les catégories dans la fenêtre qui s'ouvre alors, et de cocher ou remplir les différents champs qui se présentent.
Les boutons (Blessures, Fatigue, Pouvoir et Destin) suivants permettent de modifier l'état du personnage en gérant les caractéristiques qui évoluent durant le jeu.
Le fait d'augmenter les points de blessure ou de fatigue peut entrainer automatiquement l'affichage de certains effets sur les personnages (par exemple un héros sera "Out" après trois blessures, un simple NPC sera éliminé après une seule,...). De plus, les malus seront affichés parmi les caractéristiques des personnages ainsi que dans la fenêtre à côté du portrait..

Cependant, afin de laisser un maximum de liberté au MJ, il lui est aussi possible de déclencher l'apparition de ces effets ou de les supprimer en utilisant les boutons de la section suivante, Etats.
Comme vous pouvez voir, il est aussi possible d'attribuer ou d'effacer l'état de choc qui est très utilisé dans Savage Worlds.

Voilà ce à quoi ressemblent graphiquement ces différents états:
Le Out correspond à la mise hors de combat par blessure ou par fatigue pour les héros. Cet état peut aussi être attribué directement par le MJ selon ce qui s'est passé dans son scénario.

La mort correspond à la mise hors de combat des NPCs ordinaires, ou il peut être activé par le MJ pour les héros selon les résultats et les effets des blessures.

L'état de choc peut résulter de nombreuses circonstances dans les règles de Savage Worlds. Il appartient donc au MJ de le gérer.

Les deux boutons suivants, de la catégorie Apparence permettent de gérer le portrait et le pion d'un personnage ou d'un objet.
Pour comprendre leur utilisation, il faut savoir que trois images peuvent être associées à un pion:
-l'image, à savoir le pion tel qu'il apparait sur la carte
-le portrait, qui apparait lorsque le pion est survolé
-un handout, une image qu'on peut faire apparaitre avec des informations supplémentaires (par exemple une lettre ou un objet que porterait le personnage).

Les boutons permettent ici de changer la catégorie de ces images pour obtenir des effets en jeu.

Le premier bouton (Image), permet d'échanger l'image du pion et le portrait.
Ce qui n'a pas trop d'utilité pour des personnages, mais cela me permet d'attribuer deux images à un objet et de passer de l'une à l'autre.
Par exemple, un chariot peut avoir deux images, l'une bâchée et l'autre non, ce qui me permet de cacher ou de découvrir l'intérieur du chariot.

Le second bouton (Portrait) permet d'échanger le portrait et le handout d'un pion. Ce qui permet, par exemple, de faire passer l'apparence d'un personnage d'une vieille dame tranquille à une sorcière grimaçante. Effet garanti.

La série de boutons suivants (Cartes) permet de manipuler des éléments présents sur la carte.

Le premier bouton (O H) permet de faire passer un élément du décor, du calque Objet au calque Caché, ce qui le rend invisible sur l'écran des joueurs, mais toujours visible sur celui du MJ. Ré-appuyer sur le bouton effectue la manipulation inverse.

Le second bouton (PCs) permet de déplacer tous les pions, qui ont été définis comme PCs, de la carte actuelle à une autre carte.

Le troisième bouton (Select) permet de déplacer tous les pions sélectionnés de la carte actuelle à une autre carte.

Les deux pions suivants (Z- et Z+) permettent, lorsque plusieurs éléments de décor se chevauchent, de renvoyer l'élément sélectionné vers l'arrière-plan ou l'avant-plan.
Ce qui permet, par exemple, d'empiler plusieurs étages d'une même structure (les ponts d'un bateau par exemple) et de passer de l'un à l'autre.

La dernière série de boutons permet d'afficher les effets (lumières ou templates) sur la carte.
Le premier de ces boutons (Eclairage) permet d'associer un éclairage à un pion ou un objet, ce qui permet de déterminer la zone qu'il peut voir.
Le second de ces boutons (Effets) permet d'associer à un pion ou un objet un des templates d'effet prévus par les règles du jeu. Ce qui permet, par exemple de déterminer la zone d'effet d'une explosion ou d'un sort.
Le cinquième bouton (X) supprime l'éclairage ou la zone d'effet associé à un pion.

Les bouton Invis et Vis rendent respectivement invisible et visible un pion. Sur l'écran des joueurs le pion disparait (ou ré-apparait); sur l'écran du MJ, le pion se voit attribuer un symbole permettant au MJ de se rendre compte qu'il n'est plus visible pour les joueurs.

Enfin, notez bien que le framework que je fournis ici ne contient que les éléments des règles de base de Savage Worlds.

Pour intégrer un nouvel avantage/handicap/pouvoir provenant d'un supplément ou imaginé par le GM, il faut:

Dans la liste des propriétés:
définir une nouvelle propriété:
exemple: CodeofHonor:0

ajouter à la ligne de la propriété Handicaps ou Avantages ou Pouvoirs:
exemple: [r: if( CodeofHonor>0, " Code d'honneur", "")]

Dans les macros:
dans la macro "Input", ajouter parmi les avantages ou handicaps ou pouvoirs:
exemple: "CodeofHonor|" + CodeofHonor + "|Code d'honneur|CHECK",

Et c'est tout!

Dans les exemples précédents CodeofHonor est le nom de la propriété tel qu'il est utilisé par Maptool et Code d'honneur est le nom qui apparaitra dans les fenêtres des macros et sur la feuille de personnage.
Les avantages, handicaps et compétences des règles de base sont déjà intégrées dans le framework.

Voilà, il ne me reste plus qu'à vous donner le lien pour télécharger le framework.

N'hésitez pas à le bidouiller. C'est un des plaisirs de Maptool. Et si vous avez des questions, je suis prêt à y répondre.