Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Secret World PC MMO: Pulp Gaming Inspiration

As I have been "back to work" shed time has decreased but it's still possible to snatch a bit of gaming time indoors after the munchkins are asleep.

The Secret World
My latest game is The Secret World - a MMO about modern pulp.  Templars, Illuminati, and the Order of the Dragon investigating paranormal disturbances, wielding conventional weapons like swords, handguns and assault rifles alongside magic powers to fight Lovecraftian horrors.  Harry Potter joins the CIA, as you will.

 It starts out Walking Dead style....

The game is very much a "MMO" (easy to play - mash an array of buttons to auto-attack, without much hand-eye co ordination required) but pleasingly, can be enjoyed solo without the fruit loops other players that tend to frequent this game genre.  The storytelling is the greatest strength.  For example, the first "mission zone" sees you investigate Innsmouth Kingsmouth, where a lost trawler returns, followed by a strange fog which animates the living dead, and strange Davy Jones-esque fish monsters roam the bay.   Strange Illuminati symbols and runes are inscribed around the town by the founding fathers.  Exploring the uncanny environs of the town has been great fun, and further missions promise adventures in Egypt, Tokyo and Transylvania.   Whilst this MMO genre is not my usual cup of tea, it's genre, style and storytelling have me hooked.   There isn't a huge player base, which is a bonus, as outside the main "mission hubs" you rarely encounter other weirdos players, so it feels more "horror" as you battle your lone way through strange monsters and undead.  In addition, it does not lock you into the usual "classes" - you can unlock and wield every skill and power though you can only equip 2 weapon/magic types at a time.  If you like pulp horror with a Lovecraft vibe, you'll probably enjoy the stories and exploration in the game even if you aren't a gamer (and since it's a MMO catering to the lowest common denominator aiming for mass appeal, gaming "skill" isn't strictly needed). At $10 on Steam, it was a bargain.

..and takes a turn for the Lovecraft as we enter Innsmouth "Kingsmouth"

The game has inspired me to fiddle around with my modern pulp homebrew rules (best described as a mashup of the best traits of Infinity and SoBH) as well as looking through my Savage Worlds rulebooks.  The idea of secret societies fighting a secretive arcane "Cold War" whilst hunting down monsters with assault rifles and fireballs inspires my inner geek. 

Job well done... Templar wields gun, blade and blood sorcery....
Homebrew Pulp Magic
My current pulp "magic" system is based on a d10; mages must roll under a d10 to cast the spell.  Failing means they must miss an action next turn to recover and "recharge" their magic (or instantly regain it at the cost of losing their stamina - which acts as a LOTR might point).

The binary nature means balancing should be straightforward - without casting times, or a magic points pool etc - simply increase/decrease the difficulty in 10% increments until "balanced" in popularity/effect against other spells.

At the moment I'm trying to make up a list of generic spells, in the Savage Worlds style - i.e. describe the effect rather than the trappings (i.e. a "disguise" or "charm" spell might work the same as "invisibility" and share the same rules - i.e. enemy must pass a Will test in order to attack) thus minimizing the actual new rules to learn.  My current short list includes:

Dispel/nullify magic (AoE/single target)
Force field (AoE)
Arcane defence/deflect (self)
Heal (self/single target)

Fireball/lighting etc (AoE/spray/beam)
Pull/push (spray)
Magic/telekinetic strike (melee)
Super speed

Mind control

Super speed
Super jump/levitate

The rules are nice and generic and can be used to describe a range of effects.  In fact, I want innate abilities to share the same rules as magic i.e. a vampire's ability to leap or fall great distances can be mimicked by a mage's levitate spell; the only difference is the mage must pass a magic test  dice roll, and the vampire automatically can accomplish it (or perhaps tests against his Agility).  Furthermore, technology can also share the rules (i.e. rocket boosters/jet pack or steampunk spring boots can also have the same in-game effect).   I'm gunning for the maximum range of abilities and magic, with the minimum amount of actual special (extra) rules on top of the core mechanics.

My main issue with massively multiplayer games is they are full of other people.  Spot the human player in the street ahead of me - yeah, the one dancing Gangnam style.... I swear this genre attracts the biggest tossers in online gaming...

Speaking of special rules....
I often harp on about how special rules are over-used under the incorrect assumption they are simpler than stats (i.e. the poster child, SoBH, has only two stats but ~100 special rules; compared to the more conventional LoTR's 5 stats and ~30 special rules, that's actually 3x more things to remember/look up. That's not simpler!)

Anyway, I recently have noticed a few recent rules (such as Deadzone 2.0, and another which I forgot) now switching back to stats - i.e. adding in a movement stat, etc - in order to "...simplify and add differentiation, and remove confusing special rules."   Is the pendulum finally swinging back the other way into the common sense zone?

Below is a quick reminder of why I don't usually play MMOs.  Thankfully the oddballs primarily hangout in the non-mission social hubs where they can show off their dubious taste in monster hunting garb - the missions themselves are pleasantly deserted....


  1. Unfortunately Secret World is massively gear dependent and the only way to get the gear you need is to do the raid instances with other players who are mostly (actually all) complete dicks in this game, moreso than in any other MMO I've played.
    Having said that, the opening setting is good and Egypt is OK. After that you'll need the gear.
    The often bugged solo story sections are a real pain too but, again, the early ones are ok.
    I paid for a lifetimes membership at launch but I've uninstalled the game since then. If you plan to play it for a while and feel like some company I'll fire it up again though.

    1. '....with other players who are mostly (actually all) complete dicks in this game, moreso than in any other MMO I've played."

      Given the competition, that's quite an endorsement!

      Explains why the early zones are so (pleasantly) empty - everyone is raiding?

      I'm still pottering around with QL1 gear, but if you want to catch up, sure. Does the server matter (Cerberus)?

  2. Thanks for turning me on to this. Will have to check it out.

  3. The server is irrelevant, you can jump servers to team. I think I'm on Cererus anyway.
    My character is Ionbutterfly.

  4. Might have to have a go at this, I vaguely recall watching some videos on the game ages and ages ago but it's fallen off the radar since then. If it can be played decently solo then all the better.

  5. If you ever manage a hybrid of Infinity and SOBH rules with the flavour and flexibility of Savage Worlds I think you may well be close to a Holy Grail for skirmish gaming. I'd think a successful result would go beyond 'home brew'.

    1. The SoBH+Infinity+SW mashup was an accident, it sort of evolved into that through playtesting. It started out as Warmachine-meets-Bolt Action (don't ask why, it was a bet I made with myself)

      Each game is great but flawed:

      + great decisions, involvement
      - special rules ridiulously complex/vertical learning curve
      - active turn too powerful

      + good risk/reward activation
      - too many special rules, needs stats
      - too shallow/bland after a while, fails to hold long term interest

      Savage Worlds
      - combat is a little too clunky
      + brilliant use of special rules, minimising the amount of new rules while maximizing the usefulness (i.e. focussing on the "effect" of the special rule rather than the trapping - a cloaking device,a ghillie suit, a glamour spell and a disguise have the same EFFECT, and thus share the same rule; the opposite of the Infinity "have-5-versions-of-the-same rule")

      I'd also add LOTR to the brew - its Might/Will/Fate and sensible use of stats was also inspirational.

      My teething offspring have limited my gaming time severely, but feel free to experiment with the rules in the google group (there is a pulp version and a medieval one, the latter having very "toned down" reactions)

    2. I've applied to the group and look forward to looking at your concoction. Totally agree with your points on those rules (and not just because I've read your other posts that detail these points).

      I was wondering if you'd come across Pulp Alley in your travels? I've not played them but read through and seen many interesting uses of the system by others. I'd be interested in your take.

    3. I haven't bothered as they seem pretty much Savage Worlds (also a pulp ruleset, but $10) mechanics, with different intiative and "plot points" grafted on.

      Sadly I am more frugal nowdays as I am 2-kids/1 wage rather than vice versa.

      Pulp Alley look like a good solid ruleset, but pretty similar to what I have already/can homebrew myself.

      That said, definitely a ruleset worth trying if pulp is your thing. From what I can see, seems "good" without being a "must have."

    4. The "concotion" is perfectly workable (especially if you've played Infinity, you can "guess" at any omissions/lack of clarity) as it is essentially a cut-down Infinity, with SoBH-style risk-v-reward allowing initiative to switch mid-turn, and a LOT less rules.

      This was unintentional (originally had d10+stat mechanics and modified Bolt Action activation), but kinda evolved that way through playtesting.

      I mean to come back to it, but at the moment I'm interested in the best way to to min-max special rules. I.e. I'm trying to combine magic-technology-innate powers into a single special rule, to minimize what you have to remember.

      I.e. "darkvision" "night vision goggles" and "werewolf eyes" all share the same special rule.

      I'm trying to even go beyond Savage Worlds in their "universal" magic rules, into "universal" rules, period.