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The Kickstarter Campaign for Road to Armageddon should be going live ‘real soon now’ … allowing 1-3 days for approval by the KS Gnomes … the graphic is one of those that will be appearing on RPGNow to link to a low res digitally watermarked but otherwise complete version of Road to Armageddon: D10 System Core Rules which is freely downloadable so you can get an idea of what it’s like …

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Experience, Luck and Combat

One trend that has become widespread in RPGs in recent years is the (relatively speaking) ultra fast progression from novice character to demigod … particularly the idea of mandated level progression every X levels especially prominent in level-progression based systems … a development is not only unrealistic in the extreme but one that also makes gameplay and GMing more an arms race and numbers game than actual fun.

Does it have to be this way? Can you have player rewards that are satisfying and still allow the GM to have fun as well? Can the arms race of experience based progression be satisfying and yet at least somewhat resemble the real world?

I believe that it is possible and that the D10 system used in RtA achieves it.

The base assumption in RtA is that skill advancement (there are no levels) will be slow … or potentially so … that it will be a tradeoff and that this tradeoff will encourage (and probably require) Players to balance a desire for survival and instant gratification with longer term goals.

How is this achieved? Well, Characters have a Luck characteristic which can be used to protect them somewhat from the game world at a fairly major level – that lethal explosion that rendered their corpse into its constituent atoms may not actually have been what it seemed if you have enough Luck (shades of the Fu Manchu or Sherlock Holmes and the Reichenbach Falls!) … something happens that means they survive … maybe there was some unseen physical feature that protected them so that they are merely wounded and unconscious, maybe there was a hidden door they could exit through (retroactively found) before the explosion.

Something along those lines.

Now, this sort of thing isn’t at all new, especially in level-less game systems … and is quite an interesting way of handling those major effects. And a popular one, too. The problem is that it often doesn’t have a way of handling more minor, but no less threatening, problems.

This is where D10 is, I hope, different. PCs gain Experience Points for certain die rolls and other game effects, and also for some of the usual role playing schticks – and each unit of 20 EP allow a character to potentially increase a skill or acquire a new one.

Fairly standard.

Now, Combat in RtA is vicious … characters have relatively few Hit Points and weapons often do enough damage, unmodified, to kill them with one shot … and a successful attack roll can increase this base damage to really nasty levels. Body armour protects … a bit … just as it does in real life. But any player who has his character run around in the open trading fire with the enemy … well, they’ll soon be dead.

Absolutely Dead.

And even their Luck Characteristic will run out fairly quickly (it’s hard to replace/regenerate, as you might expect).

Obviously, characters should use cover and concealment and a fire off a lot of bullets to throw their enemy’s aim off … just as in real life … but, of course, Players won’t (or won’t want) to do that as often as they should … so how can they survive?

Well, this is where the EPs come in … and where Players will need to make tradeoffs with Skill advancement. You see, those EPs can be used for minor luck enhancements.

1 EP can add +1D to any roll they make, or add +1 Diff to any roll made against them, or reduce Damage by one grade … amongst other things. So they can do all those heroic things players want their characters to do … and probably survive doing so … but there will be a cost … slow, probably very slow, advancement … yet they’ll get to have fun, if they’re careful.

Just as importantly, the GM will still have fun without having to introduce more and more extreme measures (and ‘monsters’) to try and match the almost demi-god-like status that comes so fast in so many game systems … that RentaCop Mall Security guard can still get off a lucky shot, if the PCs are careless with their EP expenditure, and cause serious damage … no need to have a Boss Monster Mall Demon to make the contest ‘balanced’!

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The Soldiers

This is another piece of art destined for the cover of one of the seven books that will form the initial Kickstarter … a US (or Canadian) soldier with an M16, a British soldier with an Enfield IW and a generic NATO militiaman with an AK-47 stand over the dead body of a East Bloc soldier in the ruins of, presumably, a western European (or at least NATO member) house … this illustration is by Miguel Santos …

http://pictishscout.daportfolio.com

… a talented graphic artist who has done a number of other RPG commissions over the years.

Most of the other cover art has been commissioned and received … and the basic level of the KickStarter will simply be to pay for what is already on hand. Stretch goals will mainly be for more art – Chapter Headers (full page) and, if really really really successful, also for interior illustrations of 1/5th page or so …

The Soldiers 10 percent

Attack on Roman Mosque

Scattered throughout the three Campaign Books are news and information sidebars that provide a more detailed picture of exactly what was going on around the world in the chaotic period that led up to the outbreak of the Three Way War, the course of that conflict, and the aftermath of The Thirty Minute War (aka The Exchange). One of those stories is …

MASSACRE AT ROME MOSQUE
NewsWire FLASH. All Stations. Dateline: Rome.

At Friday evening prayers several muffled noises were heard coming from inside, but security services were not aware anything was amiss until a policeman on duty went in to investigate the sudden silence.

According to eyewitnesses he staggered out within minutes, twitching, frothing at the mouth and with blood streaming from every bodily orifice, fell to the ground and started convulsing so severely that his bones could be heard cracking – then going still.

Police and Security forces surrounded the Mosque and personnel in Hazmat gear dragged his body clear – and within minutes were using loudspeakers to warn the crowd to disperse as ‘the presence of Chemical or Biological Agents has been detected.’

Zombie Armour

As the 3WW grinds on, accumulating battle losses overwhelm repair and manufacturing facilities for all sorts of vehicles, especially armoured vehicles of any sort — as does increasing disruption of the supply chain(s) needed to keep the manufacture of such vehicles ticking over (and, eventually, the Thirty Minute War — the nuclear exchange — wipes out most of the heavy industrial facilities capable of manufacturing any major military vehicles.

However, ingenuity on all sides means that remaining facilities are repurposed to salvage and remanufacture nadly damaged or nominally ‘wrecked’ vehicles.

One such example is …

M-600 “POWELL” HEAVY APC

The US and NATO found themselves with increasing numbers of salvageable tank hulls lacking turrets and a declining ability to build new armoured vehicles of any sort just as the Russians had (see the BTR-T and BTR-P entries) and also had the example of the Israeli Achzarit T-55 conversion. As a result, they eventually started their own program of converting salvaged, surplus or reserve tank hulls into Heavy APCs.

The most common conversion fielded by the US and her allies in the European and Middle Eastern theaters was based on the M-60 Patton – and was formally named the M-600 Powell APC(H) by the US, though the troops (displaying the expected gallows humour) commonly referred to them as either M-666’s or as Zombie Armour.

The main difference between the US and other similar programs was that the majority of M-600’s were provided with salvaged APC turrets, either from LAVs (M-600a1) or Bradleys (M-600a2), though a small number (M-600a3) mounted Stryker Mobile Gun turrets. A very few (M-600a4) were equipped only with a remote machinegun mount (controlled by a gunner from the inside of the APC) or (even fewer) with a simple pintle mount, normally for a machinegun, (M-600a5) at the track Commander’s position.

No, there’s no artwork for this hypothetical beast – but their could be if some of the Stretch Goals for the KS are reached when it is launched!

Phil McGregor

It’s the History, stupid!

The World of Road to Armageddon

One of the key elements in any RPG is the background – it should be both realistic and believable. In some ways, this is easier for games with a pre-modern setting, as players usually don’t have the background knowledge to really grasp whether it is realistic or not … often relying on Hollywood or fictional ‘knowledge’ (which game designers often do as well) … and so really don’t grasp that the background is completely flawed … which, depending on the game, the players and the GM, may or may not matter.

For modern settings, however, the issue of realism and believability becomes more important – and for contemporary settings, such as RtA, it becomes vital … for the simple reason that even poorly read players are constantly bombarded with at least superficial knowledge of what is going on in the world … and most people have at least a solid basic grasp of key geopolitical realities (even if they don’t understand why those things are as they are).

So, for example, there’s no easy way a designer could believably have China invading the US (despite all those horrible, often self-published, novels that do just that which are on sale on Amazon) … the uninformed general public might believe it, but the general RPG playing crowd, especially those interested in modern military RPGs such as RtA, will generally require something much more believable than is usually presented for such scenarios, and will often reject them out of hand.

So, what’s the background for RtA?

The world of RtA is divided into four major blocs – the Western Alliance, the Russo-Japanese Alliance, the Caliphate and non-aligned nations (who really belong to no alliance, or only to local or regional ones not aligned with any of the big three).

The Western Alliance includes all the usual suspects – the USA, Canada, NATO, SEATO, Korea, the Phillippines, Australia and New Zealand (amongst others), but also includes a still Communist China (sort of – if modern China can really said to be ‘communist’ rather than merely ‘authoritarian’ or ‘dictatorial’ these days) increasingly worried about a militaristic and revanchist post-Putinesque Russia and Japan … on the basis of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’

Pretty standard stuff … and not too unbelievable, even allowing for current tensions between China and regional powers (and the US) over the South China Sea.

The Russo-Japanese Alliance is somewhat more off the wall – and assumes that Russia continues on the path being set by Putin, who is assumed to be out of the picture by the time of the 3WW, who have initially become commercially aligned with an equally revanchist Japan wishing to secure economic advantage through sole access to Russian markets in a move away from reliance on selling to a more protectionist US (and Europe) in a general move to the right for Japanese politics. The US-European response of increased protectionism and/or embargoes aimed at both parties drives them closer together, and drives the Japanese to remilitarising and supporting the expansion and improvement of the Russian armed forces.

The Caliphate. Well. A regional grouping of militantly anti-western Islamic states, mainly in the Middle East, was always part of the RtA background – and I must say that, while I in no way predicted the rise of ISIS/Daesh and its self-proclaimed Caliphate, I am not entirely surprised by recent developments.

In RtA the Caliphate includes Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan as core territories and Caliphate invasion of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States is a major trigger for the series of events that lead to the 3WW (‘Three Way War’) and the ‘Thirty Minute War’ (aka ‘The Exchange’), the nuclear devastation that doesn’t, not really, end it. Even if it probably does mortally wound the ‘war effort’ on all sides.

The Caliphate also expands into and takes over Libya and Sudan in the active player-participation part of the game … and these events form an important part of the backdrop for the main introductory campaign (as do hints of Indonesian attacks against Malaya, Singapore, the Phillippines, New Guinea and Australia).

Unlike most of RtA’s predecessors, the initial Campaign is not set in Western Europe – nor in East Asia, for that matter.

It is set in West Africa,on the peripheries of the rapidly worsening conflict between the three alliance groups.

Initially, it is set in Equatorial Guinea where a US/CIA funded revolutionary group is about to stage a coup in Nigeria, recreating the post-colonial breakaway state of Biafra in the oil rich SE part of that country in the face of the incipient collapse of the Federal Republic’s institutions in the face of its inability to govern the nation effectively and the rise of extreme Islamic fundamentalist forces in the form of the Boko Haram movement.

Why?

Well, it allows the players to gain experience without having to fight through a high level mechanised war … they’re on the peripheries, and they’ll be involved in actions at a much lower level, a level where commando and special forces actions are much more the state of things … just the sort of situation that suits small groups of PCs.

As the campaign progresses, they’ll have espionage/counter espionage, anti-Pirate and Commando missions in Equatorial Guinea, the Gulf of Guinea, and the early days of the Second Biafran Republic … but increasing Caliphate support for a fractured Nigeria (or the northern, Boko Haram controlled, ‘Islamic Republic of Nigeria’) will lead to missions into Cameroon and, eventually, Chad … and, finally, back to Biafra and thence to Equatorial Guinea … the latter after the 3WW escalates to The Exchange …

More later …

D10 System Character Creation

Character creation in RtA consists of several steps – determine Background (Unemployed, Working Poor, Rural, Blue Collar, White Collar, Professional or Entrepreneurial), which has some impact on how costly it is for characters to purchase some skills; Age (Teenager, Young Adult, Adult, Experienced, Veteran), which determines Ability and Skill points available … then choose five of the six Abilities (Health, Cunning, Aptitude, Deduction and Command) and roll for the sixth (Luck), on a 1-7+ scale (normal human maximum is 6, and the normal characteristic level is 3-4); choose Quirks (Positive or Negative, costing Ability Points), which are character defining … well, Quirks, and which are limited byCareers (see below) … including such favourable things as Ambidextrous, Internal Compass, (Military) Rank and Reputation and such unfavourable things as Clumsy, Fugitive, Pacifist, and Thousand Yard Stare.

Abilities are refined by the use of Focuses, which normally add +/- 1 or +/- 2 to a specific area of an Ability. So, for example, you could haveCunning (+1 Emotional Reading, -1 Hearing and Interpreting Sounds).

After the basic Character is thus fleshed out, you proceed to choose from a wide variety of Careers, both those that are primarily Civilian and those that are primarily Military, as well as crossover ones that link the two such as Armed Forces Reserve or Military Academy. These packages specify Skills related to that career (which cost 1 SP per level at creation – other skills cost 2 SP per level) and Mustering Out Benefits (Money, Quirks [from a Career specific list] and Equipment you start the game with). Each broad Career usually has more than one Skill List to choose from – for example, an Army Career has Support Personnel and Combat Personnel lists.

Once your Career is chosen, you choose Skills (and there are rules to cover the use of your Career as a Skill, or sorts, to cover situations where someone from your career background would obviously have some familiarity, but where your character doesn’t have a specific relevant skill) and any Specialisations within them. Skills normally range from Basic (2) to Unique (8) – gaining the Basic skill grants a Basic (2) in all Specialisations … however, increasing a Skill beyond that means the character must specialise eg Riding (2), Riding/Camel (3).

If your character has a high enough level in the right package of Skills they may learn Techniques, which offer enhancements that basic skills do not. They allow a PC to do very specific things in very specific ways … for example, Infiltrator Technique allows the PC to ‘win’ tied Opposed Rolls and to reroll any Calamity so as to misdirect any response to their failure (the guards will still be more alert … but in the wrong direction, hopefully!) amongst other things.

More on the Game System in a later post.

Road to Armageddon

From the back cover (as it stands at present) …

The dogs of warsoldier final 20% have been loosed – the world is facing down nuclear and biological Armageddon between the West and two ruthless power blocs aiming at nothing less than total victory and the complete emasculation and/or destruction of anyone who opposes their cultural dominance.

The struggle between these blocs has been going on for years, but has only recently become a hot war … normally called the Three Way War in the west, the Anti-Imperialist War in the Russo-Japanese alliance and the New Jihad in the Islamic states … and a nasty one.

Rationing is commonplace, consumer goods in short supply or, in some cases, completely unavailable … even the militaries of the nations involved have begun to suffer from the inability of their damaged national economies to build the needed equipment for their expanding war efforts (or, indeed, even to repair or replace damaged equipment).

It is against this background that your campaign will be set, and in which your players will be running the characters that they create using this rule booklet. They will have the opportunity to defend their nation and its allies and to oppose the fanatical plans of the opposition …

Can they do enough to make a difference?

The graphic? The current Front Cover for the first book, Background and Game System.

It depicts an Australian Infantryman in AUSCAM camo uniform wearing (atypically, in the field) the well known Aussie rabbit fur felt Slouch Hat (brim down, hiding the equally famous ‘Rising Sun’ badge of the Commonwealth Military Forces), wearing webbing and carrying a full pack, and armed with a Austeyr (Steyr AUG) Automatic Rifle with underslung M203 40mm Grenade Launcher

Most modern themed RPGs or campaign backgrounds emphases US or NATO forces, usually pretty close to the exclusion of all else – but Road to Armageddon occurs in a world where they;re going to end up involved in a nasty, brutish, devastating conflict that ultimately escalates into WW3 and a nuclear exchange (the Thirty Minute War) and continues well beyond, descending into the depths of crazy mutual annihilation (as best as reduced circumstances allow, anyway).

The core background units of RtA (though not of the multi-book Campaign that will be released with the Core Rules) consists of the last comb out of the US National Guard, some Canadian reservists (a mounted Infantry unit formed from RCMP and other SWAT units), a British Battalion returning from garrison duty in South America, a French Foreign Legion Demi-Brigade returning from the Pacific, USN, RCN, FRG and other Naval and Merchant vessels and, where the Aussie comes from, one of the world’s last fully mechanised Battalions from the (relatively less damaged) Commonwealth of Australia … in the Kickstarter there will be the chance (probably) to pay for some other nation specific cover artwork to replace him on a version of the Core Rules (if more than one nationality stumps up the cash, then there will be more than one version of the cover for that book!)