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Chop Shop

The Fifth Atrocity: Engelic Conversions

by Eric Brennan
Feb 25,2003

 

The Fifth Atrocity: Engelic Conversions

This month we'll be doing the first of the conversions discussed last time. Per popular request, I'll be converting White Wolf's new d20 game, Engel, to their venerable Storyteller System. The runner-up as far as requests go, a conversion of Amber into the Exalted ruleset, will have to wait for a few months - but rest assured, my sick mind is working it over even now. I apologize in advance to those who don't understand what's going on in this article due to a lack of knowledge of Engel or the systems involved, but by all means ask questions in the forums - that's what they're there for.

Now, to recap last month's article, there are three kinds of questions I need to ask before doing a conversion. Is the conversion going to be sloppy or detailed? What portions of the d20 system version of Engel do I really need to convert? And what system am I converting to?

The last question is easy - as I said, I'm converting d20 to Storyteller, as decided by the readers. As for the second question, I'm going to be happy with a basic, middling conversion - not too sloppy, not too detailed - one that will let me get an Engel game running quickly. I don't want it to be half-assed - I want something I can work with as a beginning point and then build on. I'd also like to be able to convert Engel PCs and monsters to Storyteller, so that's a factor in my conversion.

The important question is, what portions of Engel do I need to convert? Engel, for those who haven't read it, is set in a kind of post-apocalyptic Europe where the Engel, seemingly angelic beings, defend a new dark age European society from the alien forces of hell. Or do they? It's hard to sum up, since there's more than a little mystery and conspiracy going on - but the important points are:

The Important Points of an Engel Conversion:

* The Engel, angelic superheroes that they are, are really the stars of the show. The d20 system Engel makes a big point of allowing you to build normal humans, but I say, forget that. We all know everybody's going to want to play the Engel. I should focus on them. But just in case one of my players wants to be a jerk and play a normal human (there's always one, right?) I should keep a general idea of what a normal human looks like.

* With the focus on the Engel, I need to figure out how to convert their powers, called Potestates, and which are level-based, to an intrinsically non-level based system. This means I'm going to have to take liberties, which means I'm going to have to think long and hard about whether or not my changes are going to work to make the game something so different from the original that I no longer want to play it. I'm willing to bend the system to get a playable game, I figure, and I'm willing to bend it a lot as long as the basic background - Engels defending a dark age future Europe - stays intact.

* When talking to a buddy about the game - the fellow who loaned me the book, actually - he complained about the Engelic power level being pretty low compared to what he'd want. With him in mind, I make a note to make sure to err on the side of power, as opposed to fidelity with the d20 Engel rules.

* Finally, looking at the system I'm converting to, I realize I need to address several issues - Storyteller has several different "flavors," from the original version to the Revised version used in the World of Darkness Revised books, to the other revised version used in Trinity/Aberrant/Adventure! line of games and Exalted. Yikes. Each version has its own idiosyncrasies and quirks. In addition, each one utilizes point-based allocation for character generation, Willpower points (which allow one to buy automatic successes) and Backgrounds. One of these days I'll devote a whole column to what a great idea Backgrounds are and how they can be used in anything, but until that day, let's just say that these are all facets of the game I want to keep my mind on as I brainstorm.

Let the Conversion Begin...

At the most basic level, I've decided I want a Storyteller System that is easy for me to run, and I prefer the Exalted/Trinity/Adventure! flavor... For those who don't know, it's a dice pool system that uses 10-siders, and any dice that comes up above a 7 is a success. If you roll no successes in a roll and have dice that come up with 1s, that counts as a Botch and bad things happen. (I've plugged systems before and I'll plug them again, so here's the plug, since I'm exploiting White Wolf's games for my column - if you don't know Storyteller, pick up Exalted and/or Adventure! and get to know it.)

Okay, looking at Storyteller, we have 3 kinds of Attributes: Physical (Strength, Dexterity, Stamina); Mental (Intelligence, Perception, Wits); and Social (Charisma, Manipulation, and Appearance.) They're rated 1-5, with 2 being considered human average. Typically, WW games dole out three batches of attribute points, and you prioritize them into Physical, Mental and Social. Each player starts with one free "dot" or point in each attribute. For my conversion, I decide that Engel players will have to prioritize dots by 7/5/3 - I can put 7 in Physical, and 5 in Mental, and 3 in Social, or whatever. It could be any combination of numbers that you think will work, really - or you could deviate from Storyteller entirely and just give them a flat 15 points or whatever.

As a further note about attributes, let's talk about converting characters' stats from d20. Some of the attributes in d20 map to stats in Storyteller: Strength to Strength, Dexterity to Dexterity, Stamina to Constitution, Intelligence to Intelligence and Perception, Wisdom to Wits. It's not a perfect fit, but it works - so when converting PCs from d20 to Storyteller, I'll take the d20 stat in question and divide it by 4, then apply it to the Storyteller PC's equivalent attribute, rounding up. NOTE: In the case of this conversion, the PC does not get the first free dot in each attribute. EXAMPLE: A d20 Strength of 18 thus maps to a Storyteller Strength of 5, because 18/4 is 4.5, rounding up to 5.

In the case of Charisma in d20, however, it doesn't map to the Social attributes in Storyteller - you've got only one stat in d20, and three very different ones in Storyteller. So in this case, what I'd like to do to fix this is to divide Charisma by 4 like all of the rest, and then place the result in each Social attribute, with the caveat that players can rearrange the points in the Social attributes. This sounds more complex than it really is - say our d20 NPC has a Charisma of 12. That means he gets a Storyteller System Charisma, Manipulation, and Appearance of 3 each. However, he can move those points around as long as they sum to 9 - he can change his Appearance to 4 as long as he lowers his Manipulation to 2, for example.

Whew, now on to skills. Skillwise, I'm going to use a skill list from Exalted - it's basically suitable for a dark ages style game, it allows for roguish characters, and I can justify all of the skills. For those of you who want to know what the skill list looks like, download an Exalted character sheet from white-wolf.com or post in the forums and I'll fill you in. I don't want to waste space duplicating it here. I could just as easily have converted all of the skills exhaustively from the d20 version, or made up my own skill list. I went with the Exalted list because, essentially, I already know it and it fits the genre.

I have to decide how many skill points each player gets, and since I know the Exalted Skill list has 25 different skills, I decide to give players 20 skill points. This allows for competent but specialized starting PCs, I hope, but I make a mental note that I'll raise the number of skill points if I hear complaints from players during character generation. It also takes into account the fact that in d20's class-and-level system, players become more proficient with weapons as they go up in level, whereas in Storyteller certain skills determine combat prowess and dodging ability. A starting Storyteller Engel will be capable of far more in combat than his starting d20 counterpart, but to do so he'll be taking skill points away from other potentially important skills if he specializes in combat overmuch.

It bears mentioning that my decision to use a different skill list means that converting from d20 to Storyteller will not be as easy when it comes to skills - but I don't really care, since I hope that I'll be able to look at a d20 character and then decide, quickly, what Storyteller skills he should have. If I see a d20 character that's obviously a hunter, I know to grab "Survival," "Archery," and "Melee" as skills, for instance.

Of course, there are the usual Storyteller System stats, like Willpower and Health Levels. I'll assume that all PCs start with a Willpower of 3, and it can be raised by at the end of character generation with "freebie points" -- White Wolf veterans will know that players get 15 Freebie Points during character generation to "buy up" attributes, skills, Willpower, powers, and Backgrounds. In addition, all characters will start with the standard seven health levels used in the Storyteller System.

Unfortunately, the column is going a bit long now and I still haven't covered the Engel's special powers or Backgrounds. I think I'll save them for next month, since I have what I hope you'll think are some very interesting ideas, and I'd like to get feedback on them. As such, I'll sum it up, and allow anyone in the forums comment on my plan. (For those of you who remember last month's column, this is the part called "Asking for Opinions.")

My current plan is to have each of the Potestates work essentially as a rung in a ladder - to get to the higher level Potestates you have to buy the lower level ones. In essence, this will work like Disciplines in Vampire: The Masquerade or Charm trees in Exalted. It will also keep players interested in the game by giving them the urge to "power up" and buy more Potestates with experience points.

The only real problem is that in d20 Engel, Potestates are powered by the Engel's hit points - and the Storyteller System uses a very finite number of Health Levels. To fix this, I'll take a cue from other White Wolf games and create a "power battery" attribute, similar to Vampire's "Blood Pool" or Exalted's "Essence," or even Aberrant's "Quantum." I just need to figure out a way for PCs to replenish their battery, so to speak, and find a cool name for it that fits the setting - but those are the easy parts.

Conclusion

Wow - I hope that came across clearly. Comments are very appreciated - I'm trying to get through this without losing anyone but while still being brief. Next month we'll finish up our Engel conversion by describing Backgrounds and the Potestate system and summing up character generation as a whole, and we'll follow that up the month after with our d20 conversion of something, probably Battlestar Galactica or Babylon 5, since I'm feeling cheeky. See you in 30.

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What do you think?

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