That's the Name of the Game
By this point, I know what you're thinking. OK, this is getting weird. He's given us about seventy thousand words on the back story and the mood and Steve Austin's fear of intimacy, and he hasn't said anything about the rules. Is it all d4s? Does it involve LARPing? Cosplay, maybe? What is he hiding?
Rest easy. We're about to get knee-deep in crunch. But first I'm going to ask your patience for one last blast of fluff.
The running theme of these Journals has been "rethinking"—how I ditched some ideas, and retrofitted others, between the first draft and final version of Damnation Decade. As you can guess, the game mechanics also got a significant overhaul during the revisions. But what changed the most was my approach to the rules.
Starting out, I had big plans. Along with the usual skills, feats and character classes, I wanted to develop some core mechanic that defined the game—like the sin system in Testament or the Force rules in West End's old Star Wars RPG. As it happened, I came up with three Big Ideas. First, a system that explained the impressionistic technology of 1970s sci-fi (Why does everything have to have blinking lights on it? And what the hell is the power source?). Second, an elaborate series of social bonuses tied to (you guessed it) the color of the jewel in your palm. And, finally, a mechanic that let your character's inner demons—and highest ideals—come out to plague him during the game. Like James Caan mooning over his lost wife in Rollerball, or Charlton Heston haunted by history in The Omega Man.
Well, much of it simply didn't work. My tireless rules editor pointed out lots of busted cogs, and the play tests were a nightmare besides—too many bonuses to keep track of, too many rolls to make. During games, I ended up ditching most of the new crunch to keep the action going.
So, for the revised version of the game, I was determined not to micromanage. The d20 Modern system was a good fit for the subject matter, and I didn't want to monkey with it any more than necessary—let alone reinvent the wheel by introducing new rules for, say, interacting with NPCs or buying pet rocks. For the most part, the new rules I've written simply fill in contextual color, adding feats and skills and character classes that set the game firmly in a fantasy version of 1976.
Moreover, in some cases, I've specifically decided not to address a big issue with new rules. For instance, when it came to the Wealth system, I chose not to incorporate inflation and endemic shortages—a 1970s backdrop if there ever was one. Yes, some new rules would've anchored the game even more strongly in the period. But they also would've put an undue emphasis on a side of role-playing that most people find crushingly dull to begin with, and often simply skip. Do characters really need to be piling up their pennies to buy, say, bullets? Or, worse yet, waiting on gas lines before they can start a high-speed chase? Asking the players to suspend disbelief on this point—or having the GM occasionally throw in some dialogue about high prices—seemed like a much more elegant solution.
The same goes for weapons and armor. Most of the guns and bulletproof vests in the d20 Modern handbook had close equivalents in the 1970s—whether actually in use or in prototype—and it seemed pointless to make up a whole new arsenal to accommodate fairly minute differences. So I've excluded a couple of existing guns, as well as some modern hardware, and let it go at that. (I've also added a bunch of new items, such as sonic stunners, Pleather armor and bionic limbs, to make up for the trims.)
Enough fluff! Let's take a closer look at the new rules.
Skills and Feats
The game offers a handful of new skills. Skate lets you pull off funky-fabulous moves on wheels, while Speak Language (Trucker) and Speak Language (Jive) clue you into two branches of esoteric lingo. Meanwhile, Computer Use has been revised to reflect the primitive state of the technology. You'll have to slog through stacks of punch cards and piles of reel-to-reel tapes just to do basic number crunching—never mind hacking or other advanced mischief. (Paradoxically, though, these Stone Age mainframes can become self-aware and try to take over the world. But I'm sure that won't happen in your game.)
As for feats, I've included over a dozen new ones that fit the campy contours of the 1970s. Most of them are centered on seduction and manipulation—a theme I'll explore in more detail when discussing character classes. Here's a representative pair:
You know how to shake your money maker.
Benefit: You receive a +2 bonus to Perform (dance) rolls. In addition, you receive a +2 bonus to Gather Information, Bluff, Diplomacy or Intimidate checks with someone who has just seen you dance.
Improved Dancing Fool
Dancing protects you from attack.
Prerequisite: Dancing Fool, Dex 15+
Benefit: Increase your Defense by a number equal to half your ranks in Perform (Dance).
Special: If you are flat-footed or otherwise denied your Dexterity bonus to Defense, you are denied this bonus as well.
You can take any starting occupation in the d20 Modern handbook, but I've added a new description for each, to put the job in context. After all, Damnation Decade takes place more than a generation before the time period in the Modern rules—and in an alternative history besides. In addition, I've created a handful of new occupations: Guru, Survivalist and Red Collar (a significantly more empowered version of the "Furniture" in Soylent Green).
Here's a look at how an old job has been revised to fit the times:
Jobs: Professional daredevils, big-game hunters, relic hunters, explorers, field scientists, thrill-seekers and others called to face danger for a variety of reasons
Context: Professional adventurers face a shrinking world. Their old playgrounds—the tropical forests of Suramerico, the teeming jungles of Swelt, the swirling sands of Maddamar—are being stripped bare by pollution and poachers, or blasted to atoms in proxy battles between the Cold War powers. Even relic hunting—and other muscular forms of archaeology—are seen as "cultural vandalism" back home. Only a lucky handful of daredevils become celebrities, entertaining millions on television by jumping motorcycles over burning school buses or leading documentary filmmakers deep into the wild kingdom.
Advanced Classes: The booming popularity of Omegaball has driven most Daredevils into the sport as players, trainers or (if they're getting on in years) coaches. Soldiers who aren't in the military have mostly become mercenaries in Third World hotspots, selling their services to the largely interchangeable factions in the region's brutal civil wars.
Prerequisite: Age 15+.
Skills: Choose two of the following skills as permanent class skills. If a skill the character selects is already a class skill, he or she receives a +1 competence bonus on checks using that skill. Bluff, Climb, Demolitions, Disable Device, Drive, Escape Artist, Intimidate, Jump, Knowledge (arcane lore, streetwise, tactics, or technology), Move Silently, Pilot, Ride, Spot, Survival, Swim, Treat Injury.
Bonus Feat: Select one of the following: Archaic Weapons Proficiency, Brawl or Personal Firearms Proficiency.
Wealth Bonus Increase: +1.
Next, here's one of the new occupations:
Jobs: Self-help counselors, past-life therapists and other charismatic figures who lead meetings of New Age cults
Context: The revolutions of the 1960s sent millions of people off looking for alternatives to traditional religion—making this a boom time for Aquarian cults. From the Seed of Sirius, who watch the skies for ancient astronauts, to Hunker Obliterative Processing, which will free your mind by teaching you radical selfishness, there is a self-help group for every preference and temperament. The gurus are the backbone of the system. Through sheer force of personality, they turn themselves into authority figures in the eyes of new recruits—something between professors, confessors and drill sergeants. The process often unfolds over weeks of seminars or therapy sessions, during which time the gurus convince members to sign on to the cult as a way of life—and to bring plenty of friends along for the ride.
Prerequisite: Age 25+
Skills: Choose two of the following skills as permanent class skills. If a skill the character selects is already a class skill, he or she receives a +1 competence bonus on checks using that skill. Bluff, Concentration, Diplomacy, Gather Information, Intimidate, Knowledge (behavioral sciences), Perform (act or stand-up), Sense Motive.
Bonus Feat: Psychobabble
Wealth Bonus Increase: +3
DD introduces more than ten new advanced classes, covering a broad swath of seventies culture—among others, the smash-the-system Militant and jive-talking criminal Middleman; the disco-haunting Groover and two-fisted Fightin' Acolyte; the Steve McQueen-styled Driver and deep-fried Trucker.
Many of the new classes, like most of the new feats, are geared toward smooth-talking your opponents and figuring out what makes them tick, rather than out-and-out combat. This reflects the pop-culture dynamic of the period: Genre heroes like Columbo, Jim Rockford and Karl Kolchak—not to mention Charlie's Angels—used brains and charm to crack cases, and hardly ever reached for a piece. Even fairly conventional tough guys like Dirty Harry or Shaft relied on attitude and savvy as much as bloody knuckles and foot-long handguns. (Likewise bad guys: The seventies were a golden age for villains who pulled strings from a distance, as agents of a faceless, suffocating Establishment.)
Just to reassure you, there's plenty of room for the all-action classes from the original game. (The Martial Artist, for one, is crying out to get the DD treatment.) And most, if not all, of the new classes have at least a couple of special features geared toward combat or Defense.
Extra-Crunchy Classes: The Psychic
I said at the start that I didn't want to invent big new rules systems for this version of the game. But I made exceptions for two of the new advanced classes.
Let's start with the Psychic. D20 Modern has a perfectly good set of psychic classes, and a host of powers to choose from. But they just didn't fit the pop-culture context of this game. I wanted extrasensory abilities to be tremendously powerful but also wildly unpredictable—flickering out and flaring up with disastrous consequences. (As in Carrie, for instance.) I also wanted the powers to be a bit more open-ended than the typical highly defined d20 ability. The players and GM should have a lot of wiggle room to stretch the boundaries of these effects, and create new ones on the fly.
Let me hit some of the high points of the new system, starting with the basic mechanic. (At this point, I should thank a couple of old buddies, Kim Pratt and Bill Simoni, who helped me smooth out these ornery rules. Bill also contributed mightily to the Omegaball system, which is coming up next.)
Any time you attempt to use a psychic power, you must make a roll to see if you can control it. Your bonus for this roll is your Charisma modifier + your level in this advanced class. The DC you're trying to beat is 10 + the control modifier for the power in question, which is listed in its description. The control modifiers get higher as the psychic powers get stronger and less stable.
If you succeed at your control roll, and you are using your powers against an unwilling target, the target gets a Willpower save to resist you. The DC for the save is 10 + your Charisma bonus + the control modifier for the power in question.
On the other hand, if you fail your control roll, you must make a Willpower save or face disaster. The DC for the save is the same as the one for the control roll. The effects of failing this save are listed in the various power descriptions—anything from broadcasting an embarrassing secret into your target's head to setting an entire city block on fire.
But things aren't all grim. Every psychic power has a Mental Momentum feature that kicks in if you roll double your target DC. You can use this feature to make your opponent's Willpower save DC much tougher, or increase the potency of your power. (How can you roll double a target DC of, say, 18 or 20? A few ways. For instance, if you roll a natural 20 on your control roll, you may add 1d6 to your total. If you roll a 6 on the d6, you may roll again and add the result to your total. You may do this multiple times if you roll multiple 6s.)
To give you an idea of what the powers look like, here's one of the most powerful, Psychic Shove:
Control Modifier: +4
Distance Limit: Same or adjacent room
Target Limit: 1
Psychic Mishap: You are stunned for 1d3 rounds, and on your next attempt with the subject, the DC for your control roll goes up by +2.
You can engage in all-out psychic warfare, forcing a target to perform actions, remember lies or hallucinate. With this version, you may attempt to make a subject:
1. Do something fairly innocuous that the subject may even consciously or subconsciously desire: kissing a secret love interest in public, jumping a turnstile
2. Experience a hallucination, indistinguishable from reality for 1 round
3. Recall a minor false memory, or forget a real one, such as a name or date
If you fail your control roll, the target doesn't notice anything unusual. If a target without psychic powers makes her save, she senses that someone was trying to fool with her, but nothing more specific. If a Psychic makes her save, she will immediately recognize the intrusion.
The Psychic Shove takes one round to deliver and takes effect immediately upon the target's next turn in the initiative order. The target won't be able to explain herself afterward.
Control Modifier: +6
Distance Limit: One-square-block area
Target Limit: 1
Psychic Mishap: You are stunned for 1d6 rounds. If your subject makes/made his Will save, he feels nothing. If he fails, it means he exerted too much Willpower in resisting you and "overbalances" by carrying out a violent action to keep from performing your order. He might smash his hand into a wall to drive a hallucination out of his head or stab his hand with a pen rather than sign a falsified form.
As above, except that you may attempt to make the subject:
1. Do something nonviolent that carries riskier penalties, such as falsifying a government form or shoplifting
2. Experience a hallucination, indistinguishable from reality for 1 minute
3. Remember a medium-size false memory, or forget a real one, such as an event or a casual relationship
Hallucinations require the psychic's complete concentration for the entire time period. You may maintain contact with the target for a number of rounds equal to your level in this advanced class without penalty. After that, you must make a Concentration check (DC 10, or higher if there are distractions) to extend the contact by another set of rounds equal to your level. You may spend an action point to bypass a check.
Control Modifier: +8
Distance Limit: Neighborhood
Target Limit: 1
Psychic Mishap: You are stunned for 1d10 rounds. If your subject makes/made his Will save, he is stunned for 1d3 rounds. If he fails, it means he exerted far too much Willpower in resisting you and "overbalances" dangerously. He will attack the next person, or destroy the next object, he sees, and will not disengage for 1d6 rounds.
As above, except you may attempt to make the subject:
1. Do something that carries risky penalties and actively harms another person, such as mugging a passerby
2. Experience a hallucination that's indistinguishable from reality for up to five minutes
3. Remember a major false memory, or forget a real one, such as a marriage or a life-changing event
Extra-Crunchy Classes: The Omegaballer
Omegaball also seemed to deserve some new rules. After all, you can't introduce a wildly popular sport into a game without giving people a chance to play it.
Let's start with the Omegaballer advanced class. It incorporates many of the abilities of the Daredevil from the d20 Modern handbook, but adds a few new special features focused on the field of play. For instance, there's the Go-To Guy ability: At 5th level, the Omegaballer has proved so resourceful and durable that he becomes the receiver of choice when the game is on the line. He receives the benefits of the Improved Initiative feat, and if his Initiative roll ties with another character, he may act first regardless of their respective Dexterity scores. If the Omegaballer already has the Improved Initiative feat, he may add +6 to his Initiative bonus instead of the regular +4.
So what exactly is Omegaball? Imagine lacrosse with no restrictions on the use of force. Contests quickly turn into all-out melees, with limbs snapped, necks cracked, and blood ground into the turf. Even the medics take abuse—including volleys of beer and giveaway bats from the stands—as they carry injured players off the field.
DD includes two subsystems for letting you play actual games of Omegaball. The first is no frills. Add together the Omegaballer class levels of all the players on your team. (Those who haven't reached this advanced class count as level 1, no matter what their character level.) Your opponent does the same. Then add that number to a d20 roll. The higher result wins—except that you automatically lose if you roll a natural 1 and automatically win on a natural 20. On a tie, re-roll. You can hash out the final score however you wish, such as rolling 2d8 and giving the winner the higher result, the loser the lower.
The more advanced method: You and your opponent roll a die to see what happens in the long boring stretches until the moment before a goal (an abstract amount of time called a "possession"). Then you play out the fast-paced scoring battle in combat rounds. Needless to say, whoever has the highest score at the end wins. (Since possessions don't measure actual time, you figure out before each game how many possessions you'll play.)
Monsters and Malefactors
In all, there are ten factions of bad guys, most of them including a new race of monsters and at least one "front man"-level GM character (in some cases, a host of secondary ones as well). I'm going to be stingier with the details here, since most of this crunch is supposed to come as a surprise to the players. But I'll give you a peek at two of the new horrors (albeit slightly edited to hide some secrets):
The early days of human history were crowded with competitors. The first men had to compete with their hideous cousins, the Sasquatch: hulking, shaggy man-apes ten feet high, with outsize feet and hands and significantly diminished intelligence. The monstrous mammals nearly spelled the end of mankind.
But the Ice Age spelled the end for the Sasquatch. The dimwitted giants couldn't adapt to the climate change and were forced to retreat into the mountains and deep woodlands to search for warm, deep caves, patches of vegetation and small game. Eventually the cold found them, and froze them where they slept.
Now ecological disasters have exposed the creatures' hiding places and sent them stumbling into daylight. They have no grand plan other than the brute animal instinct to eat and propagate their race. In both cases, however, this puts them on a collision course with their ancient enemy, humanity. Not only are more men and women invading Sasquatch turf as the cities fill up, they are destroying the forests with pollution—driving the beasts closer to human settlements for food and safety.
The Sasquatch can use simple tools, and create the occasional pit or net trap. But mostly they rely on their mind-boggling strength to overwhelm opponents. They are often encountered alone but also travel in packs of four or more. They speak a language of growls and roars unintelligible to outsiders. There is no formal religion among the Sasquatch, although they often burn chunks of their victims as an appeasement to the spirit of death—the only thing the ape-men fear.
The creatures make their homes in mountain caves and in hidden clearings deep in the forest. They usually dig a food-storage pit in the center of the community and arrange beds of straw and leaves around the perimeter. Lately, they have been making more and more forays into human settlements—mostly rural towns, where they paw through the garbage and carry off farm animals, but they are working up their nerve to attack cities en masse.
The Sasquatch are meat eaters, and have a deep racial hatred of their cleverer cousins. They will kill and consume any human they find.
Large Monstrous Humanoid
Hit Dice: 6d8+24 (51 hp)
Initiative: +1 (+1 Dex)
Speed: 40 ft.
Defense: 15 (–1 size, +1 Dex, +5 natural), touch 10, flat-footed 14
Base Attack/Grapple: +4/+16
Attack: Claw +11 melee (1d8+8)
Full Attack: 2 claws +11 melee (1d8+8) and bite +6 melee (2d6+4)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Improved grab
Special Qualities: Low-light vision, scent
Saves: Fort +9, Ref +6, Will +3
Abilities: Str 27, Dex 13, Con 19, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 6
Skills: Listen +4, Spot +7, Swim +12
Feats: Endurance, Run, Track
Challenge Rating: 6
Advancement: 7–10 HD (Large)
Improved Grab (Ex): To use this ability, a Sasquatch must hit with a claw attack. It can then attempt to start a grapple as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity.
Skills: A Sasquatch has a +4 racial bonus on Swim checks.
When the dinosaur line began to die, many of its members survived the only way they could: diving deep beneath the waves. Hidden by fathoms of water, these beasts largely lay dormant until prodded into ferocity by ecological catastrophes. (A few early risers did appear over the centuries, the germ of stories about dragons and sea monsters.)
Much about these fearsome creatures is a mystery. They can stay submerged for weeks at a time, showing themselves only as ambiguous ripples on the water's surface, and then erupt into a frenzy that leaves lakes littered with limbs. Despite their name, these beasts can be found in waterways of any size, from lakes to rivers to oceans.
Like the Sasquatch, the Lake Monsters have no grand plan. They want to feed and reproduce, and humans get in their way on both accounts—by dredging, damming, and polluting the waters.
The Lake Monsters are mostly solitary creatures. But now, agitated by collapsing ecosystems, they have begun seeking out their fellows to form families and expand their numbers. After centuries of isolation, they will be extraordinarily protective of their offspring, and pursue to the death anyone who harms them. They speak in a haunting, bellowing song, similar to whales. The beasts have no religion.
The creatures have been measured at anywhere from 30 feet long to over 200, including a tail half as long as their body. Mostly they appear as snakelike shadows on the surface of lakes—until it's too late. The creatures are strong, fast, and highly maneuverable, able to turn quickly and lunge at prey. When hunting, they travel with their head out of the water, snapping down quickly to seize prey.
Hit Dice: 10d8+66
Initiative: +2 (+2 Dex)
Speed: swim 50 ft.
Defense: 13 (-2 size, +2 Dex, +3 natural), touch 10, flat-footed 11
Attack: Bite +13 melee (2d8+12)
Full Attack: Bite +13 melee (2d8+12)
Space/Reach: 15 ft./10 ft.
Special Attacks: --
Special Qualities: Low-light vision, scent
Saves: Fort +15, Ref +9, Will +4
Abilities: Str 26, Dex 14, Con 22, Int 2, Wis 13, Cha 9
Skills: Hide +8*, Listen +4, Spot +9, Swim +16
Feats: Dodge, Great Fortitude, Toughness (2)
Advancement: 11-20 HD (Huge); 21-30 HD (Gargantuan)
Skills: A Lake Monster has a +8 racial bonus on Hide checks in water. Moreover, if players actually spot a creature that is hiding, it may attempt to Disguise (+4) itself as a snake or other surface disturbance.
That's all for this installment. Next time, some concluding thoughts about the game.