Monday, June 29, 2020

Invisible Sun on Bundle of Holding


The contentious Black Cube and all books are on Bundle of Holding now: $25 for the cube, and currently about $42 total to get the whole set plus expansions. Considering that the retail for the Black Cube is $99, this is a very nice price point to get digital editions of four rulebooks plus something like a thousand cards and bits and bobs for the main game.....I'll just state that while the Black Cube in physical form is an expensive beast at roughly $252 it's well worth the purchase if you are in to surrealism and modern magic themed universes or a fan of the Cypher System (of which Invisible Sun is not exactly like but definitely adjacent to in design).

Anyway, check it out!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Last of Us Part 2 - The Grand Finale of the PS4

Despite thinking I wouldn't get it a few days ago, I did indeed decide that nope, I could not go long without picking up The Last of Us Part 2.

If you somehow own a PS4 and don't know what's the deal, here's the trailer:



The original game was the penultimate title worth picking up on the Playstation 3...indeed, I caved toward the end of the PS3's life cycle just so I could at last catch up on Naughty Dog games, which include The Last of Us and the entire Uncharted series. I replayed TLOU when it was remastered on PS4, and so naturally it was inevitable I would grab Part 2.

There's apparently been some controvery around this title. I've only seen a couple reviews that were at all disparaging, and those were from Youtubers who sometime seem to have an agenda behind their veiled dislike for certain games. As an example, the criticism I watched involved critiquing TLOU2's sotryline as having some plot issues, while suggesting it's play mechanics were not sufficiently new and innovative. Weird critiques, I thought, given Naught Dog's mechanics in their games are very well established and a key selling point....as is their amazing attention to story and plot. So....could it be this was the seven year design cycle that finally fell flat somehow?

Not really. Without offering spoilers (and if you played to the end of the first game, you ought to have some ideas of just where the sequel could go without much wild guessing at all), then you know this is a terrible world filled with all sorts of loss. A sequel diving deep into that makes sense. If you played the DLC for the first game, you know it was established that Ellie, the lead character in Part 2, is not your normal videogame hero stereotype. Joel is closer, sure.....and if you felt that the original game was principally about Joel himself, then you might be expecting more of the same in TLOU2.

Instead, you get an even bolder, darker and more poignant story. It's not really a political story, or driven by any agenda; trust me, it really isn't. But if a reviewer were to see some politics buried in it, that says a lot more about the reviewer at this point than the game itself. The game tells a very, very good story. It is not pulling punches and it is sticking to the dark world it portrays. But if some of their story and character choices bother you....well, maybe you weren't paying close attention in the last game, and maybe this is a chance to learn not to let it bother you and accept that you can leave that baggage behind.

I'll end the article here without spoilers by saying: The Last of Us Part 2 is an amazing game, I an glad I decided not to wait. Now....for those who care not about spoilers....

Here's the spoiler version (SPOILER WARNING!) for those interested in what I am talking around:

Did the spoiler free crowd leave?

Waiting....

Waiting....

Okay!

So Joel, the protagonist of the first game, dies. No one should have not suspected this would happen; at minimum all promos for Ellie strongly implied he would be out of the picture. Whether it was quietly due to heart attack or because a clicker ate him was the real question here. As it turns out, it was even more grisly: remember the end of the first game? The bloodbath Joel engaged to free Ellie from those who were going to sacrifice her life to make a vaccine against the cordyceps infection? Well, what goes around comes around, and Joel made many enemies. Worse yet, Ellie does not know what happened; she was unconscious for most of that. This was very nicely foreshadowed at the end of the first game, and I recall when playing it, "nothing good will come of this in Part 2," and I was totally right.

The secondary issue is that Ellie is not only our lead protagonist, but her being a gay character central to the plot is leaned in to, albeit in a natural and not "preachy" way. This world has too many other wrongs, too much other misery, for the game to obsess about the fact that the survivors of this future apocalyptic setting don't have much time to worry about who's sleeping with who. The story engages naturally; literally the only issue that Joe Gamer could take with the characters as this story unfolds is that Ellie isn't male (and straight). The guys who've done reviews bitching about game elements seem to step around this very carefully (because they don't want to admit it bothers them); it's a common issue with certain gamers out there, especially those who liked the first because they need to play a "relatable (male) character" like Joel in order to feel engaged with the story, and the loss of Joel mixed with Ellie's rise to prominence is probably a serious shock to this certain subset of gamers.

It shouldn't be, but it is.

Anyway....if you like single player experiences that are full of compelling plots, characters, graphics and gameplay then you owe it to yourself to grab The Last of Us Part 2 (and the first one as well if you haven't played that, either). Just be warned! It's an amazing game, but also a very depressing story and easily portrays one of the most miserable post-apocalyptic settings in gaming history.

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Nice, Clean, Traditional Pathfinder 2E Character Sheet

While looking for a character sheet that didn't contain a vomitous level of burgundies and blues, I stumbled across this redditor post from viemexis which offers up a very clean, traditional looking four page Pathfinder 2E sheet that is not an eyesore and is easy to use. Sure, it's still four pages long.....but at least it's easy to look at!

Character sheet here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Virtual Subtraction

I don't know how many of you are craving a real table with real dice, real paper and real books right now. Oh yeah...and real players! Gotta have that.

I'm four months in to Roll20 and as I've mentioned before, online gaming has perks. But it has a huge level of detachment, too. I game with friends I've been meeting for RPGs now for many, many years....in some cases we've been gaming together for 15+ years now. It's good we all have a way to keep meeting, even if the COVID-19 risk tends to be higher for us as we're all in older and sometimes higher health risk demographics.

Stuff I miss....such as hand drawn maps.....I've worked around by doing the maps as I wish then scanning them in (heck, even a good photo works these days).

I guess you could roll dice remotely if you really wanted. Or keep a character sheet on paper (I keep most of my gaming notes and stats on paper even with Roll20 anyway).

But just....sitting around a table with other humans? Yes, I miss that. Roll20 is absolutely better than nothing, but I find myself more and more wondering what people who are "heavily virtual" are getting out of it (and more to the point what is it they they have which differs from my experience. Despite being at heart a closet introvert, I've always considered direct human interaction more relevant and "real" to me; online gaming works, but just isn't the same. It's really a personal deal, and not a statement about others' experiences.....YMMV with this an all, obviously. But for me? Yeah, I can do Roll20, but it's just not quite the same as having a gang sitting around the table and playing games.

Monday, June 22, 2020

This Right Here (The Last of Us Part 2)

Just a comment that today's Penny Arcade precisely encapsulates why I haven't picked up The Last of Us Part 2 yet:


I feel bad for Naughty Dog. I bet it's an amazing game, but The Last of Us Part 2 was delayed several times, and I am sure they need to get it released before the next console generation comes crashing in, but this is precisely the kind of game I don't really want to play right now. It's not even a "horror" thing....it's the fact that this is a sequel to one of the most emotionally intense, depressing and miserable games of the last console generation, and the state of the nation (and world) right now just doesn't lend much room to voluntary misery.

Also, it probably doesn't help that we should all suspect a "TLOU2" remaster next year on the PS5. Just saying!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Pathfinder 2nd edition at Level 17; Advanced Labyrinth Lord; and other musings

Used as a pivotal scene in the current PF2 campaign
At last another post! After a prolonged absence I have returned. Our big event for the last four weeks has been moving. Not far...we're still in Albuquerque, but in  a nice house in a better neighborhood with a decent commute.

Anyway, my weekly Pathfinder campaign that has been running since PF2 came out is now hitting level 17. I thought I'd make a few comments about life with Pathfinder at very high levels of play. This all with the caveat that we've been doing our gaming on Roll20 for the last three months, so keep that in mind.

First and foremost: combat in most cases feels as quick and smooth as as lower levels, although with some minor hitches. There are monsters, for example, that I think are a pain in the ass to run. This is less about the mechanical side of things and more about design; when you have a species of rats with adamantine bone and teeth, for example, that soak most physical damage then yeah, they're going to be a tougher (read: longer) fight. With the way things work Pathfinder you as GM will see a bit of the cogs behind the curtain and realize that giving something 15 resistance against physical attacks is a bit like giving something 15 extra hit points for every hit it takes of that type. There are probably easier ways to do this that make the book-keeping or math simpler, while still retaining the flavor of "made of adamantine metal" and all that connotates without the extra layer of tracking....but it's hardly a significant complaint considering how much easier everything else is to run at high level.

The second item is the one that is tripping me up a tad: as many of you know, when you get to high level things get wonky. GMs who plan for serious overland journeys, for example, may be disappointed at the wasted effort when the players simply teleport or planewalk to their destination. In PF2, there are still some "fast track" options at high level, but they are considerably more restrained and prohibitive in their use, such that my players are less likely to attempt them unless they really need to....or are backtracking. As a result, some of my campaign assumptions that they would be fantasy-jet-setting around have been stymied, and I've made up for it with NPCs providing a teleportational lift here and there to keep things moving at the expected pace. That said, it also means I need to spend more time familiarizing myself with the possible realities of travel and  high level play in PF2, and specifically how it is more tempered than in other editions.

Third, and this is an odd one: I swear that as you creep up to 20,  the power balance of +/-4 levels as the ideal safe range for encounter design has narrowed. Encounters 3 or more levels lower may take some time, but they are ultimately mostly trivial threats. Meanwhile levels of equivalent challenge to the party level are even or greater matches, and +2 levels feels about the highest level of difficulty I can throw without too much risk of death. As a note: I am keeping to the rules on pacing magic items to roughly PC level (and in some cases higher). This is an interesting contrast from prior editions, where often by level 15 or greater risk of high level PC death was mostly a conceptual space, but not a thing that anyone took seriously. Could it happen? Sure, but the hapless PC will likely get resurrected, sure. In PF2 this is different.....the risk of a TPK still feels like it exists if the PCs bite off more than they can chew, and these really high challenge level encounters in PF2 leave me wondering just how a level 20 group will take on, say, the Jabberwok which looks to me like it has a nontrivial chance of mopping the floor with half of them. 

Still....all things considered, the next time you talk to someone who complains that PF2 is swingy, just note that you are talking to someone who didn't take the time to understand the game on its own design terms. PF2 is possibly the least swingy of all iterations of D&D I've played to date, and the easiest to predict how combats will go by relative challenge level. I can very consistently identify that a fight will go a certain way by simply dropping it 2-3 CLs or increasing it 2-3 CLs, and a big part of the reason for this has entirely to do with the +/-10 degree of critical success and failure baked into the resolution system. When you are fighting inferior opponents, for example, you know their likelihood of failure with each additional attack goes up more than if they were equivalent level. Likewise, a foe of greater strength against the PCs means the PCs proportionately have greater risk of failure on iterative attacks and are wiser not to use them....meaning the tougher opponent takes even longer.

All things considered I like the fact that I can design encounters with a strong sense of how it will work out, but there are variables. My next campaign will, rather than strive to rush to level 20, focus on level 1-10 play for as long as possible. There are a metric ton of monsters and interesting things at this level of play I haven't has as much time with for the last seven levels on Saturday.

Last week my son expressed more interest in playing D&D, but told me he wants to play "your game," which I realized was Pathfinder. I've been reluctant....it's a bit more complex, but my son appears to be on the path of becoming a budding hipster,* so he wants to play that cool game, not the one the other more plebian D&D gamers are all playing (my summary of the conversation! His statement was more along the lines of "I want to play the cool game, not D&D, that's what the boring guys play." Sigh.....barely nine and he's already edition warring. 

I have tried deflecting, though, by proposing Advanced Labyrinth Lord. I feel like it's at the right level of complexity for him, probably because ALL is at the precise level of complexity that I discovered around his same age with B/X D&D and AD&D, minus the Gygaxian writing. He seems keen on it....after all, it's not "just D&D" (whatever that means to him and his generation). Either way I win as the gamer dad!

In all honesty part of me would like to run a campaign in Advanced Labyrinth Lord just as a contrasting experience, or maybe a palette cleanser to the last twenty years of D&D mechanical design. AD&D never quite frustrated with its power escalation in the ways that contemporary editions of the game (from 3rd edition on) have been capable of, and I'd love to re-explore why that might be. Could you have grossly overpowered PCs back in the day? Yes, but the etymology of how they came to be that way was often easy to decipher, and the GM's power to rectify the matter was ever present. Pathfinder 2nd edition (and D&D 5E) both feel like strong answers to a legacy of questions that started with 3rd edition in 1999-2000, but both answer this issue in ways that draw upon, at least spiritually, the 1st and 2nd editions (and B/X) of D&D. 

Anyway....we'll see. Too much to do and not enough time to game!



*Not just D&D. He lectured me at length on why he won't buy ordinary Hasbro Beyblades, only wants to save his chore money for Japanese imported Beyblades, and the risk of Chinese knockoffs. If your first question is, "What's a Beyblade?" then welcome to my club.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Gamma World: Anomalies (also Cypher System)

I've been prepping a lot of Gamma World, and in the process have found plenty of new ideas in art and other sources for new Gamma Worlds beasts. Here then is the first of them, for GW 1E:

Anomaly
AC 4
Move 12
Hit Dice 15 (75 hit points)
Power Source: broadcast; solar powered; internal fusion core (112 year life) (pick any two)
Sensors: standard, infrared, ultraviolet, radio, maser
Control: cracked (removed controls); still responds to voice commands from PSH (35% chance)
Construction: the first sighted Anomalies were distinguished as "raw" android forms, missing humanoid imitative flesh and reflecting only the raw chassis. Later models show a great deal of modification due likely to necessary repairs with junk on hand.
   Anomalies are rogue artificial intelligences using robot or modified android bodies. They are inimical to humanoid life though they may irrationally protect pure strain humans. The stories speak of the earliest anomalies appearing near installations of the ancients known for lethal zones and other violent robot forms. Scholars of the ancients think these may be "drones" with the intelligence of the AI hive mind, sent out to serve as scouts and scavengers, but over time they became increasingly dangerous, attacking mutants on sight.

   Anomalies do not seem to be built with weapons and instead rely on scavenged goods. As such, they typically have access to what is available, though that is often (initially) a battle axe (1D8, +2 due to strength) and a laser pistol (5D6). After a while, the anomaly often loses or recycles these weapons and ends up relying on cruder weaponry it salvages. 


Cypher System:

Anomalies are Level 4 (Health 16; Armor 3), armed usually with laser pistols (4 points) or crude melee weaponry forged from scrap (6 points). Anomalies are highly resistant to intellect-based attacks (level 6 intellect defense) and immune to effects such as poison and gas unless it would directly affect the metallic body.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Weird OSR Quirks

I've been revisiting various OSR titles from the last fifteen or so years. OSR as a corner of the gaming industry is an interesting duck; it has a certain defined size and it's own specialized corners of what is arguably a cottage industry of gaming in general, and those quirks are often quite strange or unique. Here are a few of the oddities I have noticed or questions raised when I review the OSR titles I am familiar with or own in some form....noting of course that I used to be much, much more involved in the OSR games on this blog and have run campaigns in S&W Complete, C&C, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, SWN and White Star, so those tend to be the ones I am most familiar with. For my purposes enjoyment of the OSR movement stems more from appreciation for these rules on their own merits; starting as a gamer in 1981 left me with nostalgia more for the campaigns, people and general fun, but even from day one I was heavily modifying the rules to include skill systems, class freedom for demihumans, and other things some OSR circles consider sacred to the concept.

Anyway....the list! More musings than anything else:

1. What's the deal with Devils in OSR?

Devils appear in the AD&D Monster Manual, and are tied to the nine-point alignment system. As a result, a preponderance of contemporary OSR titles do not touch on devils because they often seek to emulate OD&D or B/X D&D, neither of which traditionally had complex alignments, therefore did not have need for lawful evil devils. In B/X they simply avoided demons and devils entirely. As a result of this you can only really find devils on OSRIC, and they tend not to show in games using only law/neutrality/chaos as the axis of alignment.

This has led to some oddities. For example: Frog God Games has adapted large tomes of monsters across multiple systems, leading to stats for devils which make sense in Pathfinder or D&D adaptations, but also leading to their appearance in Swords & Wizardry which otherwise is missing the parade of devils traditional to AD&D.

2. Weapon Proficiencies - Hassle or Mission Critical???

OSRIC is very faithful in catching the key salient rules of AD&D 1st edition while also making it a clear, comprehensive modern explanation of the rules. It is, so far as I can tell, the only version of the game to also faithfully adapt weapon proficiencies. Other games emulating later editions (such as For Gold & Glory) also do this, but aimed at AD&D 2nd edition sensibilities. Otherwise? You really don't see weapon proficiencies come in to play at all. B/X and OD&D variants need not worry, but for example even "inspired" ruleset like Castles & Crusades avoid these mechanics or bake them in to the fighter only.

3. Taboo Skill Systems

There's a compelling case made in Matt Finch's treatment on what Old School Gaming is that OSR treats the play experience not merely as a simulation letting you live vicariously through wizards, rogues and fighters but as a challenge to the player. There's an equally compelling argument going back to before 1981 when I first started gaming that says that having characters with a way to guage skill sets that may not be possible in the player allows for a better simulation. I once gamed with an avid GM in the early nineties, as an example, who argued that if you did not tell him in details HOW you saddled and rode your horse then you were doomed to failure. He allowed no room for players who were less proficient or knowledgeable in such matters than their characters might be; it was a sort of Villains & Vigilantes style thought process on gaming, the notion that your character was very much YOU in every sense of the word, just with a sword or superpowers or magic added on....but somehow not skills reflecting knowledge that a fantasy character might have but a modern gamer might not.

Back in the 70's and 80's when you decided you wanted agame system with a robust skill mechanic you wrote your own game. In AD&D land you waited until the Wilderness Survival Guide came out, a book which I distinctly recall I hated with a passion by then because I had already been exposed to smarter skill mechanics in Runequest, Palladium Fantasy and even GURPS (also the then late-great TFT). Today, in the OSR movement, you avoid skills like the plague, or maybe provide a simple mechanic such as a "skill" save or something....unless you're trying to replicate AD&D 2nd edition or BECMI, in which case go for it. SF retogames have skills....but see next!

4. It's always "Like Traveller, but OD&D"

Barring the Cepheus Engine which has lite versions of Traveller by Mongoose, few SF retroclones actually do retrocloning for the SF games of the 70's and early 80's, but they all have a habit instead of doing, "OD&D, if it were scifi" instead. Why is this? Stars Without Number is OD&D inspired with a loose Travelleresque skill system attached. Other SF games tend to be "retro inspired" rather than actual retroclones; I have seen nothing that even tries to actually emulate Classic Traveller, Space Opera, Universe or Star Frontiers, to name the Big Four I recall back in the day.

Some of this could be limits of the OGL, but the truth is the OGL has been applied very creatively to emulate mechanics of all types, so it should be possible. This unfortunate tendency to make the OSR all about OD&D and later iterations leaves a large hole, I feel, in the power of modern rewrites to bring back older systems as close to the spirit of intent while being legal as possible. For now, though, we instead have a field filled with games that evoke some of that, but maybe fill a niche of "this would have been an awesome game to have back then, but at least we have it now" type systems. Just imagine, for example, if White Star had been released in 1980....that would have clobbered Star Frontiers (IMO)!

5. OSR Is Weird and Sometimes Lurid but Also It Really Wasn't Like That

Okay, for some groups out there it may have felt this way, and maybe for some golden period in the early seventies there very likely were some groups that felt like Dungeon Crawl Classics as the genre is re-re-envisioned today. But the truth is: all the deliberately kitschy retro games out there from DCC, Venger Satanis, Lamentations of the Flame Princess and so forth, the original market was not predominantly about this. It's a better notion that there were definitely tables where such gaming went on, but the level of R-Rated content, X-Rated content, or just plain trippy hippy "too much LSD before the game session" content was not so common. The stuff we see today in the OSR movement which contains wild recreations of over-the-top madness is good now because it reflects a modern environment which lets people do really crazy stuff with their old buddies, but when I was a teenager the craziest thing we got up to was timid by comparison, totally PG stuff for its day and age.

Ultimately, the really crazy content out there today is great fun (if you're in to it; I admit I only like the DCC stuff of what I listed above) but its highly specific to tastes and tolerances of a subset of this cottage industry, a bit like how Heavy Metal is out there, but most comics are a lot more timid. Still, the prevalance of this content in the OSR probably gives the young'uns an interesting (and false) impression about the Wild West of the old days of gaming!


Anyway.....just random musings....


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Modifying Monsters in Pathfinder 2E - Round One


Pathfinder 2nd Edition introduces a range of rules in the Gamemastery Guide that let you design monsters according to the new monster design mechanics, which are aimed at challenge-appropriate builds in a process similar to (but more structured) D&D 5E. The end result is that you get "numerically on-target" stat blocks through a kind of reverse engineering; rather than building from the ground up you sort of design from the top down, asking "What do I need?" rather than "What can I make?"

The trick is...this can be a bit enigmatic if you're not sure how to interpret all the data the GMG provides on this. As it turns out, I found that by using some scaling assumptions with standard Bestiary creatures you can get a much better grasp on intent, and also which monsters fill which niches.

For example: the Orc Brute. A CR 0 creature, is designed to be a very low level foe for level 1-3 characters. After about level 3 they are serious fodder. Recently however I ran a game (level 15) in which a major conflict and battle between three warring factions took place, which included an army of orcs. The orcs as presented were mostly grunts and low level, so the players got a moment to shine as true heroic badasses on the battlefield. However, having a percentage of the orc population be heroic foes in their own right would make for a more engaging and risky conflict. As such, I thought about ways to bulk up the monsters....imagine, for example, a "heroic" version of the orc brute.....I started by assuming it was a CR 14 monsters, and boosted it accordingly using the guidelines. It seems like the simplest default is to add level to all relevant stats, then add additional modifiers based on reasonable proficiency levels. When done this way and compared to the charts in the GMG you can quickly assess intended level and scope of threat of the foe as it advances in experience.

When an orc brute grows in power he thus becomes an Orc Greater Thane. As I developed the character it became clear that adding an extra ability for a multi-action attack would make sense; this gives them some extra striking power while sticking to the core conceit: brutal thugs that beat things to death with their orc-brand cestii:


ORC GREATER THANE
CREATURE 14
Chaotic Evil Medium Humanoid Orc
Perception +21; darkvision
Languages Orc
Skills Athletics +24, Intimidation +20
Str +5, Dex +3, Con +5, Int +0, Wis +1, Cha +0
Items  +2 breastplate, +1 striking javelin (3), +2 striking orc knuckle dagger (2)
AC 33; Fort +24, Ref +20, Will +20
HP 210
Ferocity [reaction]
Speed 25 feet
Melee [one-action] orc knuckle dagger +24 (agile, disarm), Damage 2d6+9 piercing
Melee [one-action] fist +24 (agile, nonlethal), Damage 2d4+9 bludgeoning
Melee [two-action] flurry of knuckle dagger strikes +24 (agile, disarm), Damage 6d6+27
Ranged [one-action] javelin +21 (thrown 30 feet), Damage 2d6+8 piercing

And just like that you have a mook designed to fight level 15 characters and be a sufficient challenge that they aren't a total waste of time, while also not being enormously overpowered.

I'm going to explore some more evolutions like this as things roll along. In PF1E there were a number of books Paizo did (such as Monster Codex) that did something like this; perhaps we'll get lucky and Paizo will do more such tomes in the future.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Gamma World in Roll20


While poking around Roll20 to see what it can do, I noticed that among the many games with some form of character sheet support that there was one in particular of note: classic 1st edition Gamma World has a Roll20 character sheet someone devised. Even better, it's a nice character sheet, with hot buttons for figuring out artifacts, rolling for mutations, fun stuff like that. I think it could use some hot buttons for die rolls, but all told....it got me thinking.

Over the last two months, one of the first things I did with Roll20 was create a test environment "home game" to experiment with features. Early on I had my wife and son log on to help me figure out audio, character sheets, stuff like that. I used D&D 5E for this and was fairly impressed with the charactermancer (Roll20's official name for the D&D PC sheet) and the free OGL-tied content on offer. Although we have not as yet advanced with that for a real game, it laid the groundwork for the ongoing weekly Pathfinder and Cypher System games I am running.

Lately my son has expressed an interest in playing so I decided to revisit the idea. Here's how the train of thought on my end went:

1. I can run D&D 5E. But, I don't have the D&D books unlocked and they are kind of expensive purchases for what could be a one-off or possibly very short run on Roll20 if we can all game in person. Also, why doesn't Roll20 have the Dungeon Master's Guide as a compendium option? What madness is that???

2. Also....I am really enmeshed in Pathfinder 2nd edition, maybe I could try that? Even better, I could try running Pathfinder 2E with the Gamemastery Guide's optional Proficiencies without Levels rules, which would dramatically flatten the math for my son on most rolls.

3. Okay, so Pathfinder 2E character sheets are INSANE and I am impressed my players have figured them out. I get it....it's very thorough and works well....but it takes a lot of effort for the initial setup and I don't have that kind of time. If I don't have that kind of time then my son will not benefit from this at all. Plus, it looks like the proficiency+level is baked in to the sheet in such a manner I'd have to edit the code to remove it and I haven't got time to figure out how to do that.

4. So if D&D 5E will work but maybe not optimally, and Pathfinder 2E is too painful to set up for a young new gamer (note: doing this in paper and person would be much easier as I see it, but my son is enamored with the "video game" element of Roll20 so I'm leaning in to that) then what other options are there? Cypher System is an obvious choice, but I feel like exploring other options.

....and that's how I discovered that Gamma World and many other OSR titles have various levels of representation on the Roll20 Charactermancer. Gamma World in particular stuck out because it's the game that got me into RPGs in the first place. Although my father purchased the D&D Basic set for me a few weeks prior, I picked up Gamma World myself at around age 10 and proceeded to run it for my sister and some friends (we were all kids traveling around with our artist parents). For various reasons it resonated well; I think it helped a lot that I had just finished reading Starship and Hothouse by Brian Aldiss, as well as Piers Anthony's Battle Circle series, so I had a firm literary foundation for what Gamma World was about. Within hours of getting the boxed set I had found a map of the Hilton Hotel we were staying at on one of my parents' many art show events in Albuquerque and I was running a post-apocalyptic exploration of the region. That first group ended in a TPK when they wandered afar and found a nuclear missile silo which they promptly detonated. It was the time of the Cold War and I was regularly obsessed with the persistent risk of the end of the world; Gamma World fit well with these worries I had as a kid.

So here I am now, with Gamma World's reprint in my hands from Drivethrurpg, contemplating a game for the family. My son is the same age my sister was back then, and his interest in the thematics seems to be obsessively strong; he's not nearly as interested in fantasy as a genre so much as post-apocalyptic sci-fi and superheroes (not just any superheroes, either; he's primarily about the Flash, Venom and Spider-Man). So a game set in the apocalyptic wasteland featuring mutants might be right up his alley. Bonus since we're in the thick of an ongoing pandemic that is just deadly enough to disrupt the planet while not being deadly enough for us to feel like it's a genuine existential threat (yet; TBD).

Anyway....another perk is that there are a fair number of map packs out there for modern and apocalyptic settings, and scouring the internet brought be a veritable trove of wasteland and Gamma World specific images to be used as props in a Roll20 game. This aspect of Roll20 is great, really....when I do go back to tabletop gaming, I will miss the ability to quickly share images and maps with the players; I may be temped to continue using it even if we are all in person just for that purpose, to be honest. Heck, if the pandemic continues long enough I could, gee, maybe even get used to Roll20 as the norm or something. Maybe. But....man, I miss sitting at a table with live humans and rolling dice!

Anyway....the environment for the first game is fully prepped and ready. I'm setting it in New Mexico (easy fit, and a tradition) and will integrate the Albuquerque Starport module from the GM Screen. I may approach my regulars and see if any want to play, too. At least one of my friends may have to be reassured that I will houserule some less onerous poison damage tables into play....he was famous back in the day for immediately dying due to intense lethal poison/toxin exposure....!