Sunday, December 4, 2016

Role Playing Adventure in Ancient Egypt



Two-and-a-half years ago, your humble host briefly addressed Palladium Books' The Valley of the Pharaohs.  Now it is time for a more detailed analysis.  Published in 1983, the rulebook – accompanying several maps and a template character sheet in a boxed set – consists of 48 pages (numbered 3 - 50).

Player Characters in The Valley of the Pharaohs (hereinafter TVotP) have five attributes.  Although the glossary mentions “Will, Intelligence, and Dexterity,” the actual attributes are Strength (“physical power and endurance”), Speed (“fleetness...coordination and nimbleness”), Intellect (“intelligence and mental capacity”), Power (“will and mental strength”), and Persona (“personality, appearance, and charisma”).  Values are determined, in the old school tradition, by rolling 3d6 per attribute.  I never understood why game designers would use a 'normal distribution' paradigm for determining player character attributes.  Just as there are no stories about Conan the Mediocre, I do not indulge in escapism to assume the role of an average person.  I think I would have players add together the attribute values of a character and subtract the total from 100.  This would result in a number of points (perhaps called ka points) which could be allocated for various purposes; for instance, increasing attributes (perhaps 3 points for +1 value, up to a value of 10, and 6 points for +1 thereafter, up to a value of 18).

Each character has a number of hit points equal to Strength × 2.  Should the hit points of character be reduced to zero, “that character collapses and goes into shock; if he/she does not receive care within ten minutes he/she dies.”  When “a character is reduced to negative hit points...he/she dies.”

Anyway, before dice are rolled for attributes, a character's caste is determined by rolling percentile dice.  The are four castes, each of which provides a +1 bonus to a particular attribute:  Nobility (Persona), Clergy (Power), Bureaucracy (Intellect), and Commons (Strength).  In my alternate character generation method, Commons would be a character's default caste, a different caste could be purchased with ka points.  Rather than providing an attribute bonus, a caste's attribute could be purchased up to a value of 19.

TVotP is a skill based system. Each character receives a number of 'caste' skills from a list of ten:  Agriculture, Archery, Combat, Cooking, Gaming, Hunting, Reading, Swimming, Throwing, and Writing.  'Reading' is a mandatory skill for every caste except Commons.  Nobility receive 4 - 6 skills with Archery mandatory, Clergy receive 3 - 6 skills with Writing mandatory, characters of the Bureaucracy caste also receive 3 - 6 skills, and Commons receive 2 - 6 skills with Agriculture mandatory.

There are five possible classes (called occupations in TVotP ).  Choice of occupation is limited by caste.  Nobility can be either Soldiers or Priests, Clergy can be either Priests or Scholars, the Bureaucracy caste is limited to Merchants, Scholars, and Thieves, and characters of the Commons caste have a choice among Soldiers, Merchants, and Thieves.  The only difference among occupations is that each has a list of ten skills distinct from the 'caste' skills. However, some 'occupation' skills apply to more than one occupation.  For instance, Merchants and Thieves both have access to Barter and Evaluation; Priests and Scholars both have access to History, Magick, Music, and Oration.  Each character receives four 'occupation' skills.

The initial score for any skill is based on attribute values.  For example, the initial score for Scouting is Intellect + ½ Speed; the initial score for Chariot Use is Strength + ([Intellect + Speed] / 3).  Perhaps ka points could be used to purchase additional skills and/or increase initial scores.

Character improvement comes in the form of increasing skill scores and acquiring new skills.  If, during a scenario, a character uses a skill (successfully or not), the character can attempt to improve that skill after the scenario concludes.  Percentile dice are rolled and if the skill's current score is exceeded, then the score is increased by 1d6.  Characters can also be trained “by a teacher who has at least a 60 in the skill taught.”  After two game weeks, “one...increase check is allowed.”

In combat, a d20 is rolled to see if an attack is successful.  If the result exceeds the Resistance Factor of the target, then damage is applied.  Armor provides a Resistance Factor.  Scale armor has a Resistance Factor of 14; an unarmored character has a Resistance Factor of 5.  A roll of less than 5 misses the target.  A roll equal to or less than a target's Resistance Factor (but still at least 5) damage is applied to the target's armor.  Combat rolls may be modified depending upon the Speed attribute as well as the scores of “Martial Skills.”  For example, with a Combat skill score of 21, a character has two attacks per round; at 31, +1 to hit; at 41, +1 to parry, etc.  Characters can use 'attacks' to dodge or parry.

Twenty Magick Spells are described and each is assigned a level.  The least powerful spell is Illumination (level 10) and the most powerful is Speak with Gods (level 90).  A character can only learn a spell if his (or her) Magick skill score equals or exceeds the spell's level.  A spell may be learned from a teacher, a tablet, or a scroll.  Regardless, “it takes 1 - 4 weeks of study to commit a spell to memory.”  To successfully cast  a spell, a character must roll (on percentile dice) less than or equal to his (or her) Magick score or the spell's Difficulty, whichever is less.  A spell's Difficulty is roughly inverse to its level; the Difficulty for Illumination is 85 (easy to cast) and for Speak with Gods is 25 (hard to cast).  Spell-casting characters have a number of Magick Points equal to the initial score for the Magick skill (i.e., Power + Intellect).  Each spell has a cost between 1 (e.g., Speak with Animals) and 6 (e.g., Ressurection [sic] ).  An unsuccessful casting still costs 1 Magick Point.

The rulebook spends about a page describing magical amulets.  We are told, “Gamemasters should limit the total number of charms and amulets which may be worn or divided (sic) each each individual charm's power by the total number worn...”  Here are a selection of amulets detailed in TVotP :
Menat:  “If worn or held it will restore 1d6 of hit points lost due to disease or poison and will eliminate all pain.”
Scarab:  “If this amulet is worn, the character receives +5% on any skill proficiency as well as an additional 1d6 of hit points.”
Shen:  “This amulet represents the sun's orbit and eternity...If worn it will give the character an additional five years of life.”  (I assume this refers to natural lifespan, it's not as though a character can be disemboweled and expect to live another five years.)
Tet:  “The wearer of this amulet will receive a 10% bonus against all magic cast on or within a three meter radius of him.”
Utchat:  “This amulet, which was by far the most numerous, represents the eye of Horus...If worn, this amulet has a 20% chance of neutralizing any poison and can restore 1d6 of hit points once per day.”

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Botany and Alchemy in Rêve

Art by Rolland Barthélémy

Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros devotes five pages to botany.  “If one might suppose that every plant that grows in our real world also grows in the universe of Rêve,” the rules suggest, “one might also suppose that others do too.”  While Dream Keepers are encouraged to come up with original plants, several examples are provided, categorized into five groups.

Some examples of Rêve herbs include:  Mercurion (“A blackish ivy which...is one of the base herbs used in alchemy”), Moonflower (A rare alpine plant that – when “picked at night and under moonlight” – can be ingested to recover dream points; its potency is based on the lunar phase when harvested), and Murus (“A kind of minuscule thistle with purplish green leaves,” murus is used for healing; not to be confused with false murus, also used for healing).

Among the Fruits & Berries of Rêve, there are:  Clopinette (Having “very little juice...a neutral taste, not sweet, not even bitter, and...a pitifully low nutritive value” – this fruit is “ordinarily snubbed by the locals, and even wild animals.”  Clopinette is usually “left for Journeyers.”), Floom (The Floom fruit has “an acrid, bitter taste, and is even less nutritious than the clopinette.”  However, “a larval parasite...eats the interior of the fruit...leaving behind a brownish excrement, a sort of oily gelatin...[which] is highly nutritious, although it is most disgusting.”), and Lulube (This is a “small round red fruit whose taste is part cherry, part lemon.”).

Descriptions of Edible Mushrooms include a flavor value “from 1 (bland) to 5 (excellent).”  Some edible mushrooms are:  Dream Trumpet (A very rare specimen “shaped like a dark violet conch.”  Flavor = 5), Primoon (A commonly found, “small mushroom with a white foot and flat green tender cap.”  Flavor = 1), and Tricolite (A rarely found “mushroom with a white foot...and large green cap with blue dots.”  Flavor = 4).

Examples of Poisonous Fruits & Mushrooms include:  Thanatary Amanita (With “lightning-quick deadliness,” this is the most toxic mushroom and also one of the most beautiful...), Hecatomb (“A small red pear with a shiny skin, it has a not disagreeable acidulous flavor”), and Peevle (The fruit of the peeve shrub is not especially malignant; it “looks very much like a clopinette, but with a pearly skin”).

The various Venomous Plants of Rêve “produce swelling around the scratches caused by their spikes or contact with their leaves.”  Other “symptoms are feelings of suffocation, dizziness and cold sweats.”  Examples of these plants include:  Aggravile (“A false fern with razor-sharp leaves producing a mortal venom.”), Basilisque (“While this plant looks like it might be a relative of mint or basil, it  has hive-producing leaves.”), and Ossiphage (“Also called a bonesucker, this climbing creeper has triangular, purplish leaves.  Each leaf has three long spikes at each point of the triangle.  Its venom is so fast that the victim often succumbs in a few steps and dies entangled in the vine.”)

Rêve includes 'Principles of Alchemy' as a game aid.  Alchemy is not magical in that it is not a draconic art.  However, “some alchemical preparations may be enchanted in order to increase their potency.”  As presented in the rules:
Alchemy is a science of colors and textures.  It requires only basic equipment:  fire, a cauldron, mortar and pestle, a funnel, parchment for filtering, and a sealable vial.  Its practice revolves around three characteristics:  Intellect, for knowledge of formulæ and their implementation; Sight for identification of colors, and Dexterity for identifying textures.
Alchemical colors, “which correspond to degrees of heat,” can only be identified by using an Alchemist's Lens.  Such a lens is not among the equipment listed above.  While it may be purchased from an alchemist's shop, a lens can be manufactured using basic alchemical processes.

“The seven alchemical textures, more or less fluid, thick, plastic, etc. have been given animal names:  Fox, Goat, Horse, Owl, Rabbit, Serpent, [and] Sheep.”

There are three basic types of alchemical ingredients:  herbs, salts, and gems.  “Most can be readily found in nature,” but all can “be purchased from an alchemist or apothecary.”

Mercurion, satum, and nevropenthe are the three basic alchemical herbs.

The “seven common alchemical salts” are, in order of increasing value:  Candricle, Boralm, Green Obbyssum, Grey Obbyssum, Obadion, Nartha, and Chramaelium.  The first four can be found in nature; for instance, candricle is “a white powder found under the barks of numerous trees.”  The last three common salts require alchemical processing.  For example, “Obadion is a bluish powder obtained from the alchemical extraction of an ore called obadine, a kind of peat.”

Gems are measured in terms of size and purity.  Each grain counts as one unit of size.  Purity is represented on a scale of 1 to 7.  Size × Purity = cost in sols.  (For purposes of comparison, the price of a bastard sword is 30 sols; a saddle horse is 40 sols.)  A jeweler can add value to a gem.  The rules list “twelve gems [that] are the most sought-after.”  Some of these gems are:  Aquafane (deep green), Scarlatine (clear red or orange), and Turnmoon (violet or blue).

The rules describe seven common alchemical formulæ that are “assumed to be known to all characters with at least mastery in Alchemy” (i.e., level zero).  Each formula requires several skill rolls.
As one can only know at the very end whether a given procedure was successful or not, the character is assumed to perform the entire operation continuously and then makes all rolls together at the end.  If any one roll is a failure, the entire operation is ruined.
The described formulæ include basic operations, such as Alchemist's Lens and Alchemical Pulverization, as well as three potions, Strength, Dexterity, and Double Healing.  (A Potion of Double Healing increases the effects of a healing potion.)


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Humanoids in Rêve



Humans are not the only playable race in Rêve – there are several humanoid species in the setting.  In Rêve, “Humanoids are those creatures who are both roughly anthropomorphic (head, trunk, two arms, two legs, etc.) and have language.”  The characteristic 'scale' is the same regardless of species.  So, as the rules state, “An ogre with a 10 Strength is as strong as an average human, but below average with regard to ogres.”  Just as with humans, 160 points are allocated among the fourteen characteristics for humanoids, but modifiers are applied that may take the final values beyond the human range of 6 through 15.

Cyan:  As their name suggests, cyan have blue coloration.  They live in nomadic tribes and raise small dinosaur-like creatures.  Each cyan is connected to all of his or her incarnations, past and future, so they have multiple personalities.  Also, “they are incapable of recalling people or places for more than 7 weeks” except when under the thrall of their luminous dreams.

Droll:  Drolls are also known as trolls.  Although misshapen, they tend to be larger than humans.  Aside from Size, they have positive modifiers for Constitution, Agility, and Hearing.  Drolls have negative modifiers for Sight, Smell-Taste, Intellect, and Empathy.  They have “2 points of natural armor” and possess “an ability to cast the evil eye.”

Faun:  Unlike traditional fauns, Rêve fauns have goat heads.  “War is their natural state,” the rules tell us, “Ferocious and cruel, they subsist on a vegetarian diet but drink the blood of their enemies.”  Fauns have heightened Constitution and Strength, but reduced Intellect and Empathy.

Feracat:  “Feracats are small, hairless, oily, simian humanoids with large, pointed ears and yellow slitted eyes.”  They have reduced Appearance, Will, and Intellect; however, they have enhanced Agility, Dexterity, Hearing, and Smell-Taste.

Gigant:  Gigants can be as tall as 2.5 meters and weigh as much as 300 kilograms.  This increased height and mass gives them two points of armor.  Gigants have increased Constitution, Strength, and Agility, but they have decreased Intellect.  “They speak a whispering tongue (to avoid avalanches).”

Gnome:  As mentioned previously, in the Rêve setting, gnomes discovered magic.  They “are the smallest humanoids, averaging 90 cm tall and 30 kg.”  They have a negative modifier to Strength, but positive modifiers to Constitution and Agility.  We are told they “are excellent swordsmen in spite of their small stature.”

Hounder:  “Hounders are dog-headed humanoids...[including] several races capable of crossbreeding:  bulldog-headed, spaniel-headed, greyhound-headed, doberman-headed, etc.”  They are slightly larger than humans and have a bonus to Constitution.  “Humans of the Hounders' worlds...live in abject slavery...[and] Kept naked, they are raised in herds as beasts of burden and are considered animals.”

Mockturtle:  The Rêve mockturtle (one word) is based on John Tenniel's depiction below (from Alice in Wonderland).  While they have increased Will, they have decreased Size and Intellect.  “Their carapace affords them 3 points of natural protection.”


Ogre:  Ogres are almost as large as gigants.  Like gigants, they have increased Strength and Constitution, as well as reduced Intellect.  They also have a point of natural armor.  Unlike gigants, ogres have decreased Empathy and increased Smell-Taste.  They have “yellow eyes” and “have no hair on their bodies except their eyelashes.”  Ogres occasionally devour small human children, but fail to understand why they are hated.  “They think of themselves as gentle and good...”

Proudarm:  These humanoids are smaller than ogres, yet still larger than humans.  Male proudarms are “extremely muscular with large upper bodies and arms,” but are also microcephalic.  “Females, on the other hand, are a bit smaller than males and morphologically opposite:  their heads and upper bodies are human-proportioned, but their legs, thighs and buttocks are huge.”  The provided characteristic modifiers apparently apply to males:  increased Constitution, Strength, and Agility; reduced Dexterity, Sight, Hearing, Smell-Taste, Intellect, and Empathy.

Repvile:  “The most terrible of the humanoids, repviles are slightly smaller than humans, with scaly bodies and spiky growths at their elbows and knees.”  Their heads have lizard-like as well as frog-like features.  “In broad daylight, they protect their sensitive bulging eyes with a whitish nictitating membrane which does not impair their vision.”  They have positive modifiers to Constitution, Strength, and Agility, but negative modifiers to Intellect and Empathy.  “They benefit from 3 points of natural armor.”

Saurian:  Although saurians are air-breathers, they “can hold their breath long enough to stay underwater for several tens of minutes...”  They have slight positive modifiers to Size, Strength, and Agility.  “They benefit from 2 points of natural armor.”  Saurians weave silk “from the cocoon of an insect known only to them.”  This silk “is magnificent and greatly prized.”  However, saurians rarely engage in commerce (with non-saurians) due to their bellicose nature.

Snork:  “Snorks are porcine-faced humanoids endowed with snouts, hence their name.”  They serve as the Rêve equivalent of orcs.  These humanoids have slightly increased Size, Constitution, and Strength; however, they also have significantly reduced Intellect and Empathy.

Sylvan:  Although gnomes are considered to be “the smallest humanoids,” sylvans have the same Size modifier.  A sylvan's Strength, however, is not reduced as much as a gnome's.  Sylvans have enhanced Sight, Hearing, Smell-Taste, and Empathy.  They seem to be the closest thing to fairies that the Rêve setting affords.  Sylvans “wither” if they leave their forests.  Although female sylvans are “generally well-proportioned, pretty, adorable little dolls,” male sylvans affect “a somewhat diabolical appearance with small horns growing out of their foreheads, pointy beards, and curly locks.”


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Magic in Rêve


In Rêve, “Magicians are called High Dreamers because they perceive the complexities of reality differently from other creatures.”  Magic is accomplished by using the Draconic language to influence the Dragons' dreams.  However...
Draconic is...not a language in the common sense.  It cannot be spoken, phonetically uttered, and no syllable can express it.  It cannot be written, and no symbol, rune, hieroglyph, or ideogram can transmit it.
Low Dreaming “is the common reality which all creatures perceive.”  High Dreaming “is the realm of those beings referred to as the Dragons.”  Between the Low and High Dreaming are the Dreamlands, representing “a mental state, a sort of trance which allows the casting of magic.”  Only High Dreamers can visit the Dreamlands; they do so via astral projection.  In the Dreamlands...
...the slightest error can have catastrophic results.  Such a mental state, which places the High Dreamer's consciousness close to the Dragons', demands great discipline and is fraught with peril.  The high Dreamer may confront his own doubts, failings, dreams of past incarnations, vortices which may lose him, monsters which he must defeat or repress.
Projecting into the Dreamlands is called trancing and requires concentration, “takes a full round, costs one Fatigue point, and requires a Dreamlands encounter check.”  There are various types of 'terrain' in the Dreamlands, some examples of which are:  swamps, wastes, mountains, sanctuaries, cities, and necropolii.  The Dreamlands are represented in game terms “as a symbolic map divided into hexagons.”  A corner of this map is displayed below.


When entering the Dreamlands (and every round spent therein), there is a one-in-seven chance that the High Dreamer will have an encounter.  The Such encounters “usually represent the High Dreamer's own internal psychological problems, as well as the terrifying proximity of the Dragons' consciousness – but they can also offer assistance.”  With an encounter, a High Dreamer must attempt mastery, disengagement, or suppression.  In the event of an encounter, percentile dice are rolled to determine the specific encounter in a given terrain.

Some of the possible encounters include:  Violet Lotus (if mastered, can increase dream points), Steed (if mastered, transports the astral body to a chosen Dreamland), Whirlwind (if not mastered, transports the astral body to a random Dreamland) and Breaker (if not mastered, breaks the High Dreamer's concentration).  It is also possible to encounter a Dragon; mastery of such an encounter can result in a 'Dragon Gift' while failure to master it will result in one or two 'Dragon Tails'.

“Dragon Gifts are extraordinary benefits magicians sometimes gain in the pursuit [of] their calling,” the rules state.  They remain with the character for life and can include:  characteristic increase, the ability to detect lies, animal empathy, limited poison resistance, et al.  Dragon Tails represent “the mental perturbations High Dreamers sometimes experience as a result of bad magical experiences.”  If not repressed, Dragon Tails can cause selective amnesia, obsessions (including “only speak in animal noises,” “carry around rocks,” “blacken one's face with ashes,” or “crawl about on all fours”), or mad whims (including “dance naked in the rain,” “kiss a pig on the snout,” “break a glass object,” or “urinate in a violin”).

The High Dreamer must travel to a particular terrain type in order to cast a given spell.  For example, a Light spell can only be cast from a Plains hex and a Sleep spell can only be cast from a Swamp hex.  Normally, moving to an adjacent hex takes one round.

There are four Draconic skills (or 'Draconic Ways'), each representing a distinct interpretation of the language of Dragons and each reflecting a different 'type' of magic.  The Way of Onerios affects the physical world and its spells “include the ability to create heat or light, or transform wood to metal or air to fire.”  The Way of Hypnos represents sleep and permits the High Dreamer to affect the minds of others.  With Hypnos, a High Dreamer may “cast a spell of sleeping, or seem to be invisible, or conjure a powerful warrior.”  The Way of Narcos “represents torpor, inertia...[and] is the way of enchantments...”  Finally, the Way of Thanatos is “of nightmare and necromancy:  curses, metamorphoses, and animation of the dead are the tools of the practitioners of this dark art.”