Sunday, October 15, 2017

Adventure #1: San Francisco Knights (spoilers)

Art by Bob Eggleton

Many campaigns begin with the expediency of murderhoboes meeting at a tavern.  Some campaigns – like the default Year of the Phoenix setting – require that an intricate backstory be presented before player characters actually have any agency.  The campaign presented in the first published adventure for CYBORG COMMANDO™ is among the latter type.

San Francisco Knights, released the same year as the CYBORG COMMANDO™ boxed set, is credited to Penny Petticord.  Known for being administrator for the RPGA network as well as editor for POLYHEDRON, Petticord has no other non-periodical credits in gaming.  The adventure was edited by Pamela O'Neill, co-author of the CYBORG COMMANDO™ tie-in novels.

The text begins with:  “This adventure is a work of fiction.”  Whew, what a relief!  I was concerned that details about cyborgs fighting extra-terrestrials in the year 2035 might somehow reflect reality.  Actually, there's some boxed text that dutifully lists the “names and locations [that] are real.”  (Just so you know, the Golden Gate Bridge is totally real.)

The GM's Adventure Notes from the boxed set suggests that starting adventures should feature the home town of the players.  “For impact and realism,” it reads, “bring the early action from the starting base into your home town.”  Also, “To practice the details of the game, run a few simple fights with aliens in your home town.”  San Francisco Knights, however, takes a different approach.

The adventure assumes that up to three of the player characters are assigned to the San Francisco CCF base.  The Campaign Book specifies that precisely three Cyborg Commandos are assigned to the base, so I guess it wouldn't be realistic to have a couple of additional player characters present.  (There is also a non-player, older model cyborg at the base.)  Six pre-generated characters are provided with the adventure, three of which represent the titular Knights. 

The GM is directed to read aloud the Players' Introduction – an entire page consisting of three columns of text.  This introduction begins:
          It all started three days ago, on January 11, 2035.  The sun rose over the famous San Francisco skyline as usual, bathing the still sleeping city in various shades of gold.
When your exposition explains that the “sun usual,” you may want to consider editing for brevity.  Anyway, the text accompanying the pre-gens states that January 11, 2035, was “two days ago” – not three.  Regardless, the player characters are briefed for a Priority One mission.  Specifically, the PCs are directed to go to Antarctica to investigate “a massive nuclear explosion,” possibly caused by a meteor.  (Antarctica is not listed among the “real” locations, so I suppose this must be a fictional Antarctica.)  We are told:
          The destruction of this Antarctica station has precipitated devastating weather patterns all over the globe as millions of tons of water vaporized by the explosion move with the air currents.  We expect the seas to rise, and tidal waves to hit all coastlines...
Inclement weather causes the player characters' jet to crash land somewhere in South America.  “By the next morning,” the players learn, “your underwater propulsion legs...brought you to the icy waters of the Antarctic.”  It is at this point where the San Francisco cyborgs team up with other player characters (if any).  The cyborgs recover videotapes from a Trans-American Union station that show “not a meteor, but rather a device of unfamiliar manufacture, hurtling though the atmosphere...”  The player characters then defeat “a huge, misshapen version of an insect,” bristling with weapons.  The cyborgs make their way toward the U.S., discovering that CCF bases on the way have been destroyed.  Eventually, they find an operational base “at Mazatlan, Mexico on the morning of January 17.”  Wait.  Wasn't January 11 just three (or two) days ago?  CYBORG COMMANDO™ doesn't seem to track the passage of time very well.

All of the preceding, from January 11 to January 17 (I guess), was backstory.  The players had no opportunity to engage with these events; they couldn't ask questions during the mission briefing, they couldn't fight the monster – nothing.  Why?  What's the point of this elaborate info dump?

Well, kids, it's like this.  The whole alien invasion scenario is the sine qua non of CYBORG COMMANDO™.  The player characters can't affect that.  However, instead of sending the PCs on an excursion to Antarctica without an iota of agency, I would have handled things differently.  Let's say the player characters are involved in excavating a CCF security bunker in the side of a mountain.  The Xenoborg attack causes a cave-in.  As the PCs extricate themselves, they find they are in a cat-and-mouse game of survival against the aliens in an underground network of tunnels.  In this way, the player characters are out of the big picture, but at least they get to do something of their own volition – namely, “a few simple fights with aliens” as recommended by the GM's Adventure Notes.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Inspiration: Strikeforce Morituri

Art by Brent Anderson

The premise of CYB✪RG C✪MMAND✪™ – heroic individuals undergoing a dangerous, experimental process in order to fight invading aliens – is good enough.  Unfortunately, the game does not implement this premise in an especially engaging way.  A better implementation of this premise can be found in the Strikeforce Morituri series published by Marvel Comics.

Created by Peter B. Gillis and Brent Anderson, Strikeforce Morituri began publication in 1986, the year prior to the release of CYBORG COMMANDO.  The story begins in 2072, four years after an extraterrestrial race, the “Horde,” began their depredations upon the Earth.  Human technology is no match for Horde technology.  Thus the Horde launch pillaging raids from their orbital base and several land bases without fear of reprisal.  The Horde have no interest in exterminating humanity or conquering the world, they just loot whatever civilizations they encounter.  Still, they have more personality than CYBORG COMMANDO's Xenoborgs.  The Horde use psychology against humans and Gillis does a good job of demonstrating their cruelty.

The Morituri represent the only hope humanity has against the Horde.  Only a select few are accepted to take the Morituri Process, which has two phases.  Phase one enhances the subject's physiology and grants increased strength so as to withstand the stress of the next phase.  Phase two imparts a super-power to a subject, the exact nature of which is impossible to predict.  Eventually, every Morituri subject will reject the enhancements with fatal results.  Hence the name “Morituri,” which comes from the Latin phrase nos morituri te salutamus (“we who are about to die salute you”); a phrase attributed to gladiators.  Whether or not any gladiator actually made that remark is immaterial to its relevance to our protagonists.  Ideal Morituri candidates are expected to live up to a year before the process kills them.  The “up to a year” lifespan is taken for granted, even though this assumption is made before any Morituri subject has survived for nearly that long.  It seems to be wishful thinking or perhaps we as readers are supposed to suspend disbelief in this regard.

The Morituri enjoy a celebrity status, which is as important (if not more so) than their actual military accomplishments.  In testament to this, the commander of the Morituri squad is not a Morituri herself, but had experience in the entertainment industry prior to the invasion.  This is the type of dramatic element of which CYBORG COMMANDO does not take advantage.

A game based on Strikeforce Morituri would seem to offer a richer experience than CYBORG COMMANDO's “setting.”  This is especially true in that there is little to distinguish CYBORG COMMANDO characters for one another while each Morituri subject has a different power.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Creating a Cyborg Commando (Part II)

In our previous post, we generated a CYBORG COMMANDO character via the 'basic' character creation rules.  In this post, we will examine the 'advanced' character creation rules.  Specifically, we will convert our basic character, Cappellan Jennings, to the advanced format.

Conversion begins with a character's skills.  In the basic procedure, skills are purchased at a 'field' level; however, in the advanced rules, skills become more granular.  Each field consists of a number of 'areas'.  For example, the Communications field includes the following four areas:  'Strategies', 'Tactics', 'Simple (non-electrical) Communications Devices', and 'Electrical Communications'.  In converting a basic character's skill field to areas:
Multiply the score in that field by 3.  Divide that number of points among the Areas in that Field.  You must place at least one point in each Area, for a resulting minimum score of 2 in each, counting the one you get free.
So, Jennings' score of 3 in Computer Sciences becomes 9 points to divide among the three areas of the field:  'Ancient Computers', 'Modern Operation and Software', and 'Modern Hardware'.  Allocated evenly (and given the 'free point' for each area) Jennings has a total score of 4 for each area.  Like the Computer Sciences field, Personal Arts has three areas ('Mental Arts', 'Physical Arts', and 'Error Avoidance') so the calculations are the same.

The Personal Movement field has six areas.  Nine, of course, does not go evenly into six.  After each area gets one point (as required), three points remain.  Three areas receive the minimal allocation ('Land-Based Special', 'Aerial (non-powered)', 'Extraterrestrial') and three areas each receive one of the extra points ('Land-Based Normal', 'Aquatic Unequiped', 'Aquatic Equipped').

The Personal Weapons field has seven areas.  In this case, five areas receive the minimal allocation ('Ancient Bladed Melee Weapons', 'Ancient Blunt Melee Weapons', 'Ancient Missile Weapons', 'Heavy and Special Weapons', 'Artillery') and two areas each receive one of the extra points ('Common Devices as Weapons', 'Modern Small Arms').

Psychogenics is actually two fields, one in the dynamic division and one in the static division.  For the basic character, I failed to make the distinction.  Now, let us decide upon Static Psychogenics, which has five areas.  As such, all areas receive two points except 'Sending (One-Way Telepathy)', which receives only one.

The advanced character creation rules do not reference the MadMac skills (either for original characters or basic conversions).  Presumably, the same procedure applies.  Since those fields have 10 'basic' points, 30 'advanced' points are to be distributed among the areas.  As indicated above, Communications has four areas.  Dividing the points as evenly as possible, two areas receive eight points ('Strategies', 'Tactics') and the other two, seven ('Simple', 'Electrical').

The two Energy Sciences areas ('Air, Light, & Sound' and 'Energy Sources') each receive 15 points.  The same goes for the two Law Enforcement areas ('Investigations' and 'Suspect & Prisoner Handling') as well as the two Unarmed Combat areas ('Occidental Style' and 'Oriental Style').  The Strategy & Tactics field has three areas ('Personal Tactics', 'Personal Strategy', and 'Military S&T'), each of which receive 10 points.

Once skills are converted, stats are adjusted.  On the Character Record sheet, for each stat, there are rows for Capacity, Integrity, and Recovery.  In general, 'basic' stat values are multiplied by three and the result allocated among the Capacity, Integrity, and Recovery for that stat.

Because Jennings has 24 (non-MadMac) skill areas (even though he would rather do without some of them), he must have a Mental Capacity score of 24.  This leaves 21 points to divide between Mental Integrity and Mental Recovery.  Let's say 11 points to Mental Integrity and 10 points to Mental Recovery.  For the Neural and Physical stats, Capacity, Integrity, and Recovery each receives 15 points.

Stat-derived calculations are next performed.  Psychlons equal Neural Capacity.  The table on page 14 of the CCF Manual incorrectly states “Skills = ⅓ Mental Capacity,” when it should read, “skill areas not to exceed Mental Capacity.”  'Train' equals 100 minus Mental Integrity in hours.  'Actions' and 'Speed' are both derived from Neural Capacity and fractional Speed values are permitted in the advanced rules.  'EP' means Endurance Points, “which measure the character's stamina, or 'staying power.'”  It is derived from Neural Integrity.  I would think that a disembodied brain need not be troubled by fatigue poisons, but apparently I would be wrong.  Rather than the “number of days the character can function before sleep is absolutely required,” the Rest score – derived from Neural Recovery – represents the amount of “EP per Travel Turn (2.4 hours) . . . recovered by sleeping.”  In the advanced character creation rules, “Heal” is not referenced.

The calculation of Integrity Points “= Physical Integrity × 3,” presumes the the Hit Location optional rule is in effect.
          Divide your total IPs by ten, and round down.  Write that result in each space except the one labeled “Body.”  Add all those figures, subtract the total from the original total IPs and write the remainder next to Body. . .

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Creating a Cyborg Commando (Part I)

My previously owned boxed set of CYB✪RG C✪MMAND✪™ contains a dozen or so copies of the character record sheet – waiting for an adventure that will never be.  Let us make use of one of these records in generating a character.

Step 1 is appropriately named “Start.”  This step is about describing “your character – the human, that is, not the combined human-machine (cyborg) he or she will become.”  We are informed that “the most important aspects of a character” are “Stats” and “Skills.”  However, Stats and Skills are not described until later steps.
          Other details will be left to your choice.  These include your character's physical appearance (height, weight, etc.), historical background (home, education, etc.), and basic psychological traits (outlook on life, likes & dislikes, and so forth).
In recording such “other details,” the character record directs us to “use other side.”

Step 2 is “Select Stats,” but a better description would be “Assign Stat Scores.”  There are three Stats:  Mental, Neural, and Physical.

Mental regards “intelligence in the abstract, and the amount of information that can be retained,” as well as “the speed at which information can be acquired (learned) and used (recalled), and the accuracy of such information . . . willpower . . . general mental stability, and the speed at which the mind can recover from psychological damage.”

Neural is defined as “physical agility and speed of action . . . accuracy in attacking . . . stamina (endurance), the ability to maintain control over one's body, and the speed at which physical control can be recovered after it is lost (when the character has been stunned, knocked out, or drugged).”

Physical means “brute strength . . . the amount of physical damage the body can withstand before becoming useless or destroyed, and the speed at which physical damage will heal itself or respond to medical treatment.”

A player allocates “Points” among Stats and Skills.  Said points are abbreviated as “SP” (“the S stands for both Stats and Skills”).  Each character has 60 SP; at least 20, but no more than 50, must be allocated to Stats.  An average adult has a value of 10 in each Stat, except men have a Physical Stat of 15 and women have a Neural Stat of 15.  Let's just allocate fifteen points to each Stat.

Step 3 is “Psychogenics,” the science of “the phenomena currently called ESP.”  The psychogenic score of a character is “measured in Psychons of power” and “is equal to the Neural Stat score.”

Step 4 is “Calculations,” and deals with some of the Stat-Based Data to be recorded on the character record sheet.  “Skills” refers to the “maximum number of Fields of skill” a character may have; it is equal to one-third of the Mental Stat.  “Train” refers to the number of “hours needed for education in any skill” per point; it is equal to “100 minus Mental score.”  Actions, Speed, and Rest each equal 1 for characters with a Neural score of less than twenty.  “Actions” has to do with combat activity.  “Speed” is the “maximum distance the character can move, measured in map hexes per time unit.”  What is the length of a hex or time unit?  The rules relate, “Don't worry about it now . . .”  “Rest” is the “number of days the character can function before sleep is absolutely required.”

Step 5 is “Select Skills.”  There are two Divisions of Skills:  Dynamic (which includes the categories of “Movement” and “Combat”) and Static (which includes the categories of “Arts & Language,” “Sciences,” and “Law”).  Among the five Categories there are twenty Fields.  A Skill's score is measured as Skill Rating (SR).  “Thanks to the intensive training before entering the CYBORG COMMANDO Force,” the rules state, a character “has a starting SR of 1 in every Field of knowledge, indicating a level of skill just above total ignorance.”  SP not spent on Stats are allocated among Skill Fields; each SR costs 1 SP.  Our character has 15 SP left and a maximum of five Fields, so we can assign 3 SP to each of five Fields:  Computer sciences, Personal arts, Personal movement, Personal weapons, and Psychogenics.

Step 6 involves “Other Details,” the nature of which were summarized in Step 1.  If “Other Details” are decided in Step 6, there's really no reason to have the Step 1 that is described.  Step 4 includes the statement, “Skills are determined in Step 4.”  It would seem that, at one point, Step 1 was “Select Stats,” therefore “Select Skills” would have been Step 4.  The “Start” Step 1 was probably added as an afterthought.

Step 7 is “The CC Body,” in which Physical Stat-Based Data is figured.  “The Physical Stat of the CC body equals [the character's] natural Physical score plus 100.”  “Integrity Points” (IP) are effectively hit points; a character has a number of IP equal to twice the Physical Stat score. “Damage” is the amount of damage the character can inflict without weapons; it equals Physical / 10.  “Heal” also equals Physical / 10; it represents the amount of damage a character can recover daily without medical aid.  However, “this applies to organic parts only . . . The CC body does not repair damage unaided.”  (I don't know why this data should be calculated from  the CC Physical value.)  “Heft” is the “amount of weight . . . that your character can Throw, Carry, or Lift.”  If the Metric system is employed, weight is represented in kilograms.  “Throw” equals the Physical Stat score, “Carry” is 10 × Physical, and “Lift” is 20 × Physical.

Step 8, the last step, is named “Meet MadMac.”  MadMac is an acronym for “Miniaturized Analog / Digital Macro-Algorithmic Computer.”  It is “a revolutionary type of computer that works with the organic brain, assisting it with the task of running the CC body.”  For purposes of character generation, the MadMac provides a SR of 10 to five Skill Fields:  “Strategy & Tactics,” “Unarmed Combat,” “Communications,” “Energy Sciences,” and “Law Enforcement.”

That's it for basic character creation; next time we'll tackle advanced character creation.

Both the Campaign Book and CCF Manual have the following statement on their respective title pages:  “Special Thanks to Jennings Cappellan of the Rare Earth Information Center.”  Jennings Cappellan is such an awesome name, I've decided to use a variation of it for the character.