Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jean Wells, R.I.P.

Jean Wells passed away last week.  Thoul's Paradise expresses its condolences to her friends and loved ones.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Check it out, 7 fingers on each hand and 7 toes on each foot

So, you've received the Metamorphosis Alpha reprint that you ordered from Lulu and you're all proud because you think that you've reached the pinnacle of Metamorphosis Alpha geekhood. Please. It's a good start, but nothing says Pure Strain Geek like a Metamorphosis Alpha T-shirt. With one of these, you will have guaranteed geek cred, like you could get a loan from the geek bank without a co-signer.

Your humble host has finally read Jim Ward's short story “Footsteps in the Sky,” originally published in Dragon #19 (October 1978) but available at metamorphosisalpha.net for registered users. Essentially, it's a 'coming of age' story, but aboard the starship Warden and with mutants and robots. It contains some information relevant to today's post. It also contains information that definitively confirms one assumption and corrects another assumption I made in a prior post.

On page 18 are listed 'Mutated Human Types,' specifically five breeds of humanoid numbered one through five. Why numbers and not descriptive names? On the Metamorphosis Alpha boards, Ward states...

When I put numbers to them, I was hoping that others would make their own versions and then players could play in the different campaigns and be amazed at how different humanoid 1 was from game to game.

However, in issue number 5 of The Dragon (March 1977), Ward states in his article, “Some Ideas Missed In Metamorphosis Alpha,” that...

The number three humanoids, knowing all about poison, naturally have antidotes that are obtainable for things that these small humanoids could normally never get hold of.

This seems to suggest that number three humanoids should appear in Metamorphosis Alpha campaigns just as they are described in the rulebook. Regardless, I can understand why the humanoids do not possess descriptive names. How would each of these races of humanoids refer to themselves? I would think that each race would refer to itself as 'human beings' or 'people.' Since there is a single, common language used on the Warden, the same term would apply to all of them. How others refer to a given race will vary depending on perspective. In “Footsteps in the Sky,” number four humanoids are referred to as “the furred ones” (as distinct from furries). Assuming that the number four humanoids have a language, they would distinguish the other humanoid races primarily by their less than hirsute appearance.

Number one humanoids are short, stocky and typically inhabit hills or mountains. One is tempted to call them 'Dwarves,' but the similarity to the standard fantasy race ends there. They are “only semi-intelligent” but nonetheless possess the intellectual capacity to use bows and blowguns. Player characters should hope those are the only weapons they use. Due to their “triple-ply muscles,” they have a “strength factor of 24.” This means they inflict an additional ten points of damage when they hit with striking weapons. They also seem to possess the equivalent of the 'heat generation' physical mutation.

While they look normal (or even sickly) number two humanoids have a 'mental factor' of 18. When available, they prefer to wear cured pegasus hide.* They have a formidable array of mental mutations of Teleportation, Force Field Generation, Repulsion Field, and Telepathy. As a drawback, they have “a fear impulse for any intelligent plant.” I think I would probably get freaked out by intelligent plants too.

Number three humanoids are only one foot tall; however they seem to be very resilient. Aside from having a mental resistance of 17, an Armor Class of 2, and eight hit dice, they are resistant to: “poison, radiation, paralyzation, illusions, gases, chemical acids, and lasers.” Given their size, they tend not to use “technological devices.” However, curiously, they “have a very extensive knowledge of the antidotes for all mutated dangers.” Given their broad resistances, why would they need antidotes? Perhaps they have broad resistances because of their antidotes. Oh yeah, number three humanoids also have precognition.

Number four humanoids, “the furred ones,” are atavistic. They no longer walk erect and have paw like hands (including claws with poison sacs). They are – as their name suggests – furred. Their fur makes this type of humanoid “resistant to contact poisons and paralyzation attacks” and, seemingly, grants them an Armor Class of 5. Oh yeah, number four humanoids also have precognition.

The number five humanoids are the most common type. It's easy to understand why; they have “a skin that reflects all types of energy,” nine hit dice, a mental resistance score of at least 15, and they are “fully intelligent,” enabling them to effectively utilize “both mutated and technological materials.” They are easily recognizable due to their four arms.

*  According to page 16, “...[T]he creature [has] an unusually tough skin that is extremely difficult to pierce.” One supposes that this property is retained, at least in part, when the hide is cured. The pegasus has an Armor Class of 3, which is equivalent to 'thin metal armor or full carapace.' Number two humanoids have an Armor Class of 5, which is equivalent to 'cured hide or plant fiber armor.' I guess this is because of the pegasus hide rather than a default Armor Class without it. If so, the 'pegasus nature' of the hide does not seem to confer benefits in excess of 'normal' hide unless it is lighter than mormal (as suggested by the statement, “The race usually wears light body armor in the form of cured pegasus hide...”).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

On Atlantasia You Will NEVER Find a Silk Cap!

When we last left our nascent Atlantasian character, Johann Nederland – Spy Mage, we were attempting to determine if he had sufficient fiscal resources to afford a quarter-staff (price = 400 gold chips). (A wooden spear only costs 200 gold chips; maybe Johann could buy a spear and remove the spearhead.) Johann has two platinum chips. How many gold chips are they worth? John Holland, the author of The Realms of Atlantasia, doesn't provide any details regarding the rates of exchange among the various types of “chips.” That's OK, Johann will save the platinum chips for a rainy day. After cashing in the jewels, he has 900 gold chips to spend.

I really want him to have a quarter-staff so I have him buy one. This leaves five hundred gold chips. Johann is going to look somewhat conspicuous with 'saddlebags of charity' but no horse. Well, the cheapest mount is a pony at 750 G.C., so the Spy Mage will just have to look conspicuous. Perhaps it's just as well, in Atlantasia ponies have to eat or they'll die. (I don't think Johann could afford the food.)  Fortunately, Johann has a 'blanket of translocation' so his transportation needs are covered. Also, with the 'saddlebags of charity' he doesn't have to pay for room and board.

There is no indication in the rules that mages cannot wear armor; in fact, page 67 suggests that they can wear armor. Leather shin guards, bracers, chest protector, and helm have a combined cost of 350 gold chips. Johann has 150 gold chips left.

On page 37, there is a clothing chart; rows represent articles of clothing and columns represent material. So, if you wanted a cotton tunic, you would check the “cotton” column of the “tunic” row to find the price (9 silver chips). Unfortunately, Johann does not have any silver chips and no way to convert platinum or gold chips to silver chips. I guess he will just have to shell out for high-end clothes. Costs are not listed for silken hats; evidently, such things are not possible in realistic Atlantasia. A silk cloak, tunic, breeches, and stockings have a combined cost of 49 gold chips. Before spending the remaining 101 gold chips, let's see what else needs to be done with Johann.

Remember, Johann has a Ring of Reward (+ 1-2 psychic strength) and a Ring of the Gods (+ 1-2 all attributes). I have determined randomly +1 or +2 for each attribute (+ 2-4 for psychic strength). Johann's current attributes are:

Strength 6 (constitution 4)
Intelligence 12 (mental quickness 6)
Wisdom 9 (mental retention 12)
Dexterity 10 (agility 7)
Charisma 6 (magnetism 5)
Psychic Strength 15 (psychic defense 11)

This entitles Johann to: +1 damage bonus, +4 languages, +25% to diplomatic rolls, +3 to spell rolls, +25% to reaction rolls, +10% to pickpocket rolls, +20% to charm rolls, x5 spell damage, +25% to spell save rolls.

Johann has a magic resistance of 32% with regard to his school of magic (which we haven't chosen yet). His mental resistance is also 32%.

Remember when we calculated Johann's weapon proficiency at 25%? I hope you didn't think that was his 'to hit' number. Weapon proficiencies merely modify the 'to hit' number. Everybody's 'to hit' number starts at 10%. Because Johann's weapon proficiency is only 25%, his 'to hit' number is reduced to 5%. (If Johann had a 100% weapon proficiency, his 'to hit' number would be 20%). Because of his strength and dexterity, Johann's 'to hit' number is increased to 25%. Well, what do you know? It matches his weapon proficiency score after all!

Johann's base defense is 20%.

'Magic Source Points' are determined by rolling 3d6 and applying modifiers. Due to his high psychic strength, Johann has 20 magic source points.

Thanks to a high mental retention score, Johann can memorize a total of eight spells for any given cycle (1d4 + modifiers).

With regard to languages, everyone knows Common and (for non-humans) their racial language. “Cosmic Magi will also know Light Dragon.”* Cosmic Magi? I think we just found Johann's school of magic. Watch out Atlantasia, here comes Johann Nederland – COSMIC Spy Mage!

Well, it looks like I'm going to milk this Atlantasian character 'set-up' for all it's worth.  Next time I'll try to select spells.

* Light Dragon – According to page 165,

These are magnificent beings to behold! They are 150' - 200' long and encased in glowing gold scales. These dragons are beings of light and therefore, in a dragon’s neutral way, are pure compassion. However, that compassion could be turned against you if you interfere with what the dragon is compassionate about.

Can someone please explain to me the logical flow from "beings of light" to "dragon's neutral way" and then to "pure compassion"?  That would be great.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Intelligent (Non-Human Type) Races in Metamophosis Alpha

Before engaging upon today's topic, your humble host would like to inform (or remind) his esteemed audience that the 1976 edition of Metamorphosis Alpha is currently available as a print-on-demand product from Lulu.

Gamma World enthralled me as a young lad for various reasons; more for what it didn't say than for what it did – the unaddressed details. This, of course, spurred my imagination to “fill in” those details (which, I suppose, was the intent of Ward and Jaquet). The most obvious example was the map that came in the boxed set. It had just enough details to be recognizable as a post-apocalyptic United States, but mostly it was a blank canvas onto which we could project a personalized Gamma World. Civilization had collapsed, but there were efforts to rise up once again, including a minimal number of cities. What was society like in those cities? That's what I wanted to know. Of course, there were the cryptic alliances, but there were also races of intelligent beings – the two-headed Orlens, the reptilian Sleeth, the translucent Fens, etc. I thought it was a shame that these couldn't be player character races, but they would likely be unbalancing.

Similarly, there are intelligent races on the starship Warden and with intelligence comes some form of society. No provision is given in the rules for allowing player characters to be members of such races; however, there is no rule expressly forbidding such. Within the “Mutated Animals” section starting on page 17, there are six intelligent races of mutated animals proper, two races of intelligent “flying types,” no intelligent insect races, at least two (and perhaps as many as four) intelligent races of plants.

The following are the intelligent mutated animal races: metaled ones, cougaroids, bearoids, jegets, thief beasts, and wolfoids. Metaled ones have “a high order of intelligence” so I suspect that they have the intellectual capacity for communication and they possess telekinesis which suggests some level of manipulatory ability. Regardless, there is no indication of a society of metaled ones. Cougaroids have “the intelligence of a human” and “manipulative paws.” The illustration page 11 shows a quartet of weapon wielding cougaroids, so they definitely have a society. Per their description, they have “an attraction odor that prevents [them] from congregating in any number.” According to page 14, attraction odor “makes the mutant smell very edible to any meat eating creature.” (emphasis from original) I'm guessing this means that cougaroids will resort to cannibalism. Bearoids have “intelligence” and “manipulative paws.” They have telepathy to facilitate communication as well as several other formidable mental mutations. Jegets are “very intelligent” and have telepathy; they also have “manipulative paws” and telekinesis. Perhaps their size (2 feet) prevents effective tool use or perhaps they have no need for tools. Like their cougaroid cousins, jegets have the attraction odor mutational defect. Wolfoids are “fully intelligent” and have “manipulative paws.” They wear clothes, use swords, and they “have been able to master many of the mutated beasts and use them as guards and protectors.” Thief beasts seek out, study, and use technological devices more than any other mutant animal race on the ship. Like some of the other races described above, thief beasts are “highly intelligent” and have “manipulative paws,” telepathy, and telekinesis (as well as other mutations). Unlike the other intelligent mutant animal races, thief beasts lack any defects and do not seem to have any drawbacks. By all rights, these guys should be the dominant race on the Warden.

There are two intelligent “flying type” races, hawkoids and imitators. Hawkoids are “fully intelligent” and have “appendages...ending in hands” which make them capable of using bows and throwing rocks. Their capacity for communication is not mentioned. Through the vagaries of fate, these birds have the levitation mutation; I guess its useful if they get tired of flapping their wings. The description for the imitator says “it is fully intelligent but does not have the manipulative appendages to take advantage of it.” However, once a month, the imitator is able to “completely shapechange into any creature within 25 feet of it” which makes the imitator “resistant to the powers of that creature.” The shapechange lasts as long as desired, so I don't see the problem. Shapechange into something with manipulatory appendages and stay that way. In the “Example of Ship's Level 11” on page 26, there is an imitator that will assume the form of a party member and attempt to covertly replace that person, doppelganger-like. It uses a blowgun, so I assume that, before changing into the form of a party member, it maintained a form that could use (or at least carry) a blowgun.

There are two plant races that are obviously intelligent, singing vines and sword bushes. Also, there are two plant races that are arguably intelligent, dark fungus and death growth. The singing vine is a “fully intelligent plant [that] is able to move and converse with any creature, as it is telepathic.” It has “an unusually large amount of knowledge” as well as “the best set of manipulatory vines.” Somehow, “it is able to use sonics to cancel all violent action on the part of any possible [intelligent] enemy.” The sword bush is mobile,“fully intelligent,” and “has 3 manipulative tentacles.” It uses devices, including color bands. In the “Example of Ship's Level 11” on page 26, specifically keyed encounter M, a sword bush responds to every command of the “lone human female.” This strongly suggests a capability for communication. Although the dark fungus has an “intelligent state” (a concentration of at least ten pounds) with telepathy, “its only concern is increasing its mass” so a sophisticated conversation seems to be out of the question. The death growth “forms a symbiotic attachment to any warm blooded creature.” Presumably it is intelligent because it can “command” the host creature.

In the course of preparing this post, I came across a reference to “artificial sun” (not necessarily an artificial sun). Accordingly, I have updated my prior post that discusses sunlight in Metamorphosis Alpha.

Oh, by the way, where's Dave?

Friday, January 20, 2012

What Should You Buy?

Your humble host has noticed that the coming reprint of the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide will have the same price as The Realms of Atlantasia:  The Game Master’s Bible.*  This may pose a predicament among discerning -- yet cash-strapped -- gamers with regard to which item to purchase.  To help alleviate this concern, your humble host provides a checklist indexing the various features of each tome.

Hard cover
Interior art
Table of Contents
More than 500 pages
Complete game
"Eccentric" rules
Support material
Peppy, light-hearted website
Copulating chaos dragons
Saringetti (sic) encounter tables
Cherished by a generation of geeks
Accused of having satanic influences
Accused of reeking worse than a dead otyugh in summer

*  Technically, the Atlantasia book is priced in Canadian dollars, but that’s close enough.  I mean, it’s not silver chips versus gold chips or anything like that.
**  Please see comment below.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

What Happened to the Co-Creator?

Today’s big news is that Wizards of the Coast is reprinting the three core 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons volumes.  They are “premium versions” with new cover art.  “Available in limited quantities for a short time only, these are sure to be collectible.”

Any person likely to visit this blog will almost certainly be aware of this information before seeing this post.  As such, your humble host did not intend on writing about the announcement of this reprint, but something caught his thoulish eye…

The image above comes from Wizards’ solicitation document.  Please note the phrase “Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons & Dragons®.”  Readers of this blog may have heard of Dave Arneson, who has consistently been identified as a co-creator of D&D (at least since the settlement of certain litigation, the exact terms of which have not been disclosed).

Arneson did not have the charisma bonuses Gygax had and any ‘cult of personality’ associated with Dave was extremely minor in comparison to that of Gary.  Truly, D&D would not have been a phenomenon were it not for Gygax, but D&D would not exist were it not for Arneson.  Yes, there are Arneson detractors who insist his contributions were overstated or even marginal.  The fact is, Arneson was the first Dungeon Master; he was the visionary, he was the pioneer.  He deserves (and usually receives) recognition and credit.  I’m not suggesting that WotC is in violation of any settlement agreement by making the ‘creator’ reference; this is just a solicitation document and not the rules themselves (and, anyway, I don’t know the terms of the settlement).  However, I am interested in seeing whether Gygax will be listed as the sole author of these books as he was when they were originally published.

If the document said “co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons®” or even “creator of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons®” I wouldn’t have written this rant.  I even accept that Gygax is “the father of roleplaying games.”  However, Arneson is the midwife at the very least.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Atlantasia: It's Worse Than I Thought

In an earlier post, your humble host started to make a character for The Realms of Atlantasia, Johann Nederland – Spy Mage. In this post, I shall endeavor to continue this task. Previously, we determined that Johann had a bonus of +25% to reaction rolls. Allow me to clarify. This bonus is derived from Dexterity, so it's not “Does the NPC like me?” reaction, but more of “Get out of the way” reflex reaction. At least, I assume this is the case; reaction rolls are not explained anywhere in the rules. Other than the Dexterity bonus chart, there is no mention of 'reaction rolls.'

In Atlantasia, as mentioned in the earlier post, one cycle equals one day, but does one Atlantasian day equal one Earth day? If we assume this, we encounter some wonky issues with time. According to page 17, “20 segments = 1 cycle” and “10 semi-segments = 1 segment.” If one Atlantasian day equals one Earth day, then one segment equals 1.2 hours and one semi-segment equals 7.2 minutes (or 432 seconds if you prefer). A semi-segment is “one round of engagement.” Either Atlantasian days are very short or John Holland's calculations are off by at least an order of magnitude.

Let's see if we can figure this out. What's the standard movement rate for characters? Um...Character movement rates are not discussed in the rules. There is no indicated place anywhere on the eight page character profile to record a character's movement rate. There's a place to record the durability of each of a character's gloves, but not movement rate. Wait, there's a place for the “speed” of a horse. What do the rules say? On page 110, Holland graces us with this bit of knowledge, “all horses have a speed (roll d% for m.p.h.).” So, in Atlantasia, any given horse can have a speed anywhere between one and one-hundred miles per hour... Of course, we don't know what “hour” means in the Atlantasian reckoning of time. Does Holland mean a segment? Well, what about other creatures with Earth analogs? Many of the entities described in the “Encounter Compodium” (sic) don't have a movement rate, but antelopes are listed as very fast (300 ft per semi-segment). So, if an antelope was able to travel at maximum speed for an entire Atlantasian day, it would cover just over 11 miles. On Earth, an antelope's hourly speed is easily four times that distance. Perhaps Earth antelopes differ from Atlantasian antelopes (or Earth miles differ from Atlantasian miles). Sweet, merciful Trithereon, save me! Wait, why should we worry about this? The speed at which a character can move will probably never come into play (as opposed to the amount of damage a glove can sustain). Let's proceed...

The Atlantasian atlases have not yet been published, so for Johann's birthplace, let's just put “the City of Baba-Luna” and speak no more of it.

On the character profile sheet, there is a place for Alignment; however, there is no description of alignments. Certainly, alignment is mentioned in the book; there is a 'know alignment' spell and a curse that changes a character to the 'opposite' alignment. Alignments are neither defined nor discussed in the rules. Somebody on page 174 has an alignment of “NE” and mention is made on page 230 of an alignment of “UE.” I think that 'neutrality' is a viable option, so that will be Johann's alignment.

Next on the character profile sheet is Deity. Is there a convenient listing of Atlantasian gods? Of course not! How silly of me to ask. OK, I'm just going to go with Priss-nee-ich, apparently the goddess of venereal diseases. (No, I'm not making this up; it's on page 292.)

Now for “Life Points,” which are based on career. According to page 31, “[D]ouble or triple class characters use all class rolls.” So, Johann gets 3d6 + 1d4 Life Points – the result is 13 Life Points.

According to page 262, “All magic using careers only get 1 attack per engagement round (1 / ss)...” One attack per 7.2 minutes? That's harsh! Nothing indicates that spies get any additional attacks.

Under 'Weapon Proficiencies' on page 27, we find the following instruction:

To begin one must find their dominant hand (or if they are ambidextrous). To do this the player rolls % dice once. If they roll 100% they are ambidextrous. If not, they roll % dice two more times (once with their right hand, once with their left hand). These percentage numbers are listed on the first page under R.H. & L.H.

The first page of the character profile? Actually, 'right hand' and 'left hand' are spelled out. Anyway, Johann is not ambidextrous; his 'right hand' is 91% and his 'left hand' is 9%. What does this mean? I fear that I shall never know.

I assume that Johann has one weapon proficiency. “For each weapon proficiency...the player will roll the % dice once...This will be their starting proficiency.” For Johann, I roll 25. Ah, but what weapon? Some weapons have strength and/or dexterity requirements, but there doesn't seem to be any restrictions due to one's career. Since Johann is a spy, he needs to be subtle. A quarterstaff seems pretty innocuous and it does more damage than a dagger (1d6 vs 1d4). The strength requirement is 3, so Johann can handle it. The cost is...wait, this can't be right...400 gold chips?!?! A quarterstaff costs the same as two canvas topped wagons? (It's the gnomes; they're ruining the economy!) Maybe I should go with the dagger; it's only 100 gold chips.

Before I continue, I guess I need to determine Johann's starting possessions and see what weapon he can afford. First, there are the finance charts on which Johann receives a -40% modifier because he is low class. From the finance charts, Johann acquires: 2 platinum chips, 200 gold chips, and four jewels (1 @ 300 G.C., 1 @ 200 G.C., and 2 @ 100 G.C.). (Each jewel is valued at 50 – 500 G.C., so I rolled 1d10 and multiplied by 50.) Due to the unequal distribution of wealth on Atlantasia (for which the gnomes are undoubtedly responsible), Johann has no silver chips, copper chips, or gems. (I have no idea why Holland distinguishes jewels from gems.) Next, there are the 'Magical Stuff' charts; Johann's rolls are modified based upon his career choices and his low class status. Johann has no magical weapon and no magical armor; however, he is entitled to: one roll on the Magical Ring Chart, one roll on the Special Ring Chart, one roll on the Magical Items Chart, and one roll on the Special Items Chart.

Here are Johann's magic items.
Ring of Reward – grants + 1-2 psychic strength
Ring of Edged Perfection – grants x10 damage to edged weapons but is only usable by a 50th level priest(ess) of Ta-Khu. (That's bogus, I'm rolling again.)
Saddlebags of Charity – according to page 249, the possessor “never pays for food or lodging.” The catch is that “the player must be riding the horse or carrying the saddlebags” – the player, not the character.
An enchanted jewel – the enchantment is determined based upon the value of the jewel. (The value of the jewel is not given, so I'm rolling again.)

Johann's re-rolled magic items.
Ring of Divine Power – cast two spells at once (Only for priests, I'm rolling again.)
Blanket of Translocation – “translocates to a pre-determined location.”

Third time's the charm.
Ring of the Gods – grants + 1-2 to all attributes

Alas, it looks like at least one more post will be necessary to complete Johann.

As you can see, there will be plenty of challenges facing you as you adventure in Atlantasia!
                                                     – Atlantasia web site

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mutations (Part II of II)

The conclusion of a riveting two-part article comparing Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World mutations

Mental Mutations

In Metamorphosis Alpha (but not apparently in Gamma World) a mutant with more than one mental mutation must have a mental resistance of at least 12.

The differences between Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha regarding the 'precognition' mutation are detailed in this post.

Just as in Metamorphosis Alpha, the 'heightened intelligence' mutation in Gamma World adds four points to “mental resistance.” While mental resistance is a Metamorphosis Alpha 'ability,' the closest Gamma World attribute is mental strength. Is mental strength increased in Gamma World or just the defensive element of that attribute?* It is interesting to note that in Metamorphosis Alpha a mutant with four mental mutations is required to take 'heightened intelligence' as one of its mutations.

Gamma World mutants are able to 'teleport' about six times farther than Metamorphosis Alpha mutants (30 kilometers vs 3 miles). Also, Gamma World 'telepathy' has a greater range than its Metamorphosis Alpha counterpart by about one-quarter (10 meters vs 25 feet). The radius of effect for 'death field generation' in Gamma World extends five beyond the radius for the same mutation in Metamorphosis Alpha (20 meters vs. 60 feet). However, a 'telekinetic arm' in Metamorphosis Alpha has more than twice the reach of such an arm in Gamma World (50 yards vs 20 meters). Also, 'illusion generation' in Metamorphosis Alpha has a greater range than in Gamma World, but only by one meter (31 meters vs 30 meters). The Metamorphosis Alpha mutations of 'mental control' and 'repulsion field generation' have an extra half-meter range (15.5 meters vs 15 meters). Every little bit helps, I guess.

'Levitation' in Metamorphosis Alpha allows the mutant to rise vertically for a duration of up to 25 turns. Gamma World instead has 'telekinetic flight' is – as one might expect – more versatile and no limit on duration is indicated.

'Mass mind' in Metamorphosis Alpha is more risky than in Gamma World; there is a cumulative 5% chance of death (“mind burnout”) for all participants per melee turn.

Although the Metamorphosis Alpha listing for the 'cryogenics' mutation indicates it “uses the same limitations as pyrokinesis,” the Gamma World listing (with the name changed to 'cryokinesis') specifies that the freezing damage is applied in the same manner.

'Weather manipulation' is more detailed in Gamma World than in Metamorphosis Alpha. There is no area of effect suggested in Metamorphosis Alpha, but Gamma World specifies a ten kilometer radius. Metamorphosis Alpha has a chart of weather conditions establishing the percentile “Chance of Occurring” and the number of turns before the change takes effect. Chances are increased by 10% if the current meteorological conditions are similar to the desired goal. Gamma World requires an initial period of concentration of six turns and at least an additional twelve turns must pass before the conditions begin to change. In Gamma World, there are three weather aspects that can be altered: cloud cover/precipitation, temperature, and wind. The possible extent of change is based on the prevailing conditions; the chance of success drops (and the concentration time increases) for each 'step' away from the current conditions that the mutant desires. Metamorphosis Alpha states if the percentile chance fails, the mutant is unable to attempt another weather change for a day. In contrast, Gamma World states that the mutation is usable once per day if successful; failure requires a full week of rest before another attempt can be made.

In Metamorphosis Alpha, for 'density control (others)' mutation, the listed “advantage of having it is that you slow other attackers down.” Gamma World states that this mutation has a range of thirty meters and can be “an offensive or defensive power on other beings.”

Unlike Gamma World, the 'absorption' mutation in Metamorphosis Alpha states that, once the mutant has 'absorbed' an amount damage of the applicable type equal to its hit points, the mutant takes double damage from that damage type for 24 hours.

The incapacitation period after using the 'molecular disruption' mutation in Gamma World is one day whereas in Metamorphosis Alpha it is one week. Although only incapacitated for a day in Gamma World, the mutation may only be used once every 1d6 days (determined after each use “with result unknown to player”).

Starting on the second turn, two abilities per turn are taken away from a victim of 'de-evolution' in Metamorphosis Alpha as opposed to only one ability per turn in Gamma World. (In Metamorphosis Alpha both 'attributes' and mutations are called abilities but one supposes that this mutation affects only other mutations.)

The description of the 'dual brain' mutation in Gamma World indicates that “any increase in mental strength due to surviving mental attacks is awarded at one-half the normal rate” (i.e., an increase of one point for every ten successfully resisted mental attacks).** In Metamorphosis Alpha, the 'dual brain' mutation “allows a being to figure out any given artifact faster” while Gamma World specifies that 'dual brain' mutants have “a minus 1 on all die rolls when trying to figure out any ancient artifact.” Metamorphosis Alpha uses a percentile chance for discovering how to use artifacts but Gamma World uses a 'flow chart' system. A mutant with scientific 'genius capability' in Gamma World “may subtract 1 point from each die roll when trying to figure out ancient artifacts” while a 'genius (scientific)' mutant in Metamorphosis Alpha subtracts 10% from artifact rolls.

The description of the 'telekinesis' mutation in Gamma World indicates a range of 15 meters.

The description of the 'intuition' mutation in Metamorphosis Alpha says that the mutant is never surprised; this is absent from the Gamma World description.

Missing from Gamma World are the following Metamorphosis Alpha mutations: mental paralysis, temporal fugue, and charismatic effect. Missing from Metamorphosis Alpha are the following Gamma World mutations: empathy, direction sense, molecular understanding, radar/sonar, sound imitation, thought imitation, and total healing.

Gamma World does not have 'mental transparency' mutation listed in Metamorphosis Alpha, but it does have the much more useful 'light wave manipulation' mutation. A mutant using 'mental transparency' cannot make an attack while “invisible” and intelligent beings succeeding with a mental resistance roll can see such a mutant regardless. A mutant using 'light wave manipulation' is not hindered by these limitations and is capable of stopping laser blasts and creating a patch of darkness.

The Metamorphosis Alpha 'anti-leadership potential' defect is very similar to the Gamma World 'hostility field' defect. In Gamma World, beings with an intelligence of less than 17 have a 20% chance of wanting to attack the mutant “upon first entering the field.” In Metamorphosis Alpha, “humans or humanoids” with an intelligence of less than 17 have a 25% chance per day of wanting to fight the mutant. Are mutated creatures and plants in Metamorphosis Alpha not affected? In lieu of intelligence, which ability is appropriate in Metamorphosis Alpha, leadership potential or mental resistance?

*  In Gamma World, the 'mental defenselessness' defect specifies “mental strength” but the 'mental defense shield' mutation refers to “mental resistance.”

**  While Metamorphosis Alpha allows an increase of mental resistance for resisting mental attacks, Gamma World allows an increase in mental strength for successfully resisting attacks as well as successfully making attacks (p. 19). Do Gamma World 'dual brain' mutants gain mental strength at the normal rate for successful attacks?

Plant Mutations

The description for 'tangle vines' in Gamma World indicates the perils posed by a large patch (tripping, entwining, and crushing) that are not stated in Metamorphosis Alpha.

While Metamorphosis Alpha has listings for 'poison thorns' and 'poison throwing thorns,' it does not also have a non-poisonous 'throwing thorns' mutation as Gamma World does.

Metamorphosis Alpha states that 'squeeze vines' cause four dice of damage per turn. In Gamma World, 'squeeze vines/roots' inflict only two dice of damage per turn.

Gamma World establishes that the 'aromatic powers' fragrance “can carry up to 10 kilometers” and that saving throws are to be attempted within 30 meters of the plant. 'Aromatic powers' distances are left unstated in Metamorphosis Alpha.

The description for 'berries' in Metamorphosis Alpha provides examples of effects while Gamma World lists eight colors of 'berries,' each with its own effect. “Regeneration” and “decrease mental powers” are Metamorphosis Alpha example effects not mentioned in the Gamma World list.

'Dissolving juices' in Gamma World cause 5d6 damage to organic matter. The same mutation in Metamorphosis Alpha causes 4d6 damage but “no type of covering is protection.”

'Radiated plant fiber' can emit up to intensity 15 radiation in Metamorphosis Alpha but only up to intensity 12 in Gamma World.

'Color sensitivity and imitation' from Gamma World is somewhat similar to 'radiation sensitivity and imitation' from Metamorphosis Alpha; both mutations allow intelligent plants to activate and operate “color band machinery.” The Gamma World mutation allows the plant to change colors and appearance to imitate any other type of plant. The Metamorphosis Alpha mutation allows the plant to “blend in with the damaging power of any given radiation and not be affected.”

In Metamorphosis Alpha, the description of the 'electrical or heat generation' mutation(s) for plants is merely a reference to the physical mutation listing. Gamma World presents more details regarding how plants use these mutations. Plants with 'heat generation,' but without intelligence or “special” sensory organs, “attack anything which comes in range and stand a 25% chance of missing the target.” (My interpretation is that there is a 75% chance of the plant being able to attempt a “to-hit” die roll.) Plants with 'electrical generation' do 4d6 damage as opposed to the 3d6 inflicted by mutated humans and creatures. However, unlike their animal kingdom kindred, plants cannot use this ability every turn; they recharge 1d6 per turn and are 80% likely to wait until completely recharged before releasing another shock.

The following Gamma World plant mutations do not appear in Metamorphosis Alpha: adaptation, bacterial symbiosis, barbed leaves, boring tendrils, carnivorous jaws, explosive and/or radiated fruit or seeds, razor-edged leaves, saw-edged leaves, seed mobility, spore cloud and/or shooting seeds, thorns/spines, and wings/gas bag. The 'symbiotic attachment' plant mutation in Metamorphosis Alpha is changed to 'parasitic attachment' in Gamma World.

'Stasis in periods of darkness' is listed as a mutational defect for plants in Metamorphosis Alpha. In Gamma World, all plants are assumed to have this limitation unless they have the 'daylight stasis' mutational defect (appearing only in Gamma World). The 'low fertility' mutational defect for plants appears in Gamma World but not Metamorphosis Alpha.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Inclusion and the Fifth Edition

For the link deprived, here are links regarding the announcement of the Fifth Edition of the world’s most factionalized role-playing game:

Mike Mearls says, “The game is at its best when it is yours.”  In a sense, it already is ours (as I posted here), but we shouldn’t stand in the way of potential improvement.  Mearls wants our participation; he wants “to give a voice to all D&D fans and players of all previous editions of the game.”  It would be nice if all previous editions of the game were readily available – you know, like they used to be before WotC removed them from commercial distribution as electronic documents.  Reints (naturally) is all over that; he posted a nicely worded open letter on his blog requesting their availability.  We’ll see what happens.
If the Wizards truly “seek to build a foundation for the long-term health and growth of D&D” we should provide our input.  Of course, it isn’t possible to please everyone but this is an opportunity.  To take advantage of this opportunity, we need to examine and explain why we enjoy this game.  Only by doing so can we hope to have a Fifth Edition that’s worthy of the Dungeons & Dragons legacy.
What will be the fate of tabletop RPGs as we trudge through the Information Age?  I notice that the NY Times article is categorized under “video games.”  Instead of becoming more like an MMO, D&D needs to leverage its differences from computer gaming.  D&D needs to be defined in contrast to “computer games” and we should help define it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mutations (Part I of II)

A comparison of mutations in Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World

In Metamorphosis Alpha, a player with a mutated creature or humanoid character rolls 2d4 to determine the number of non-defect mutations; one die for physical and one for mental. There will then be one physical or mental defect or – if the total number of non-defect mutations is at least five – one physical and one mental defect.

Gamma World (when using the method that allows players to choose non-defect mutations) handles this process in a slightly different manner. A roll of three or four on a die indicates a defect of that type (physical or mental). If both of the dice have a result of two, then there will be one defect, either physical or mental. Otherwise, the character will have no mutational defects.

Metamorphosis Alpha is harsher; mutants will have at least one defect and a 62.5% chance of having two defects. In Gamma World, there is an 18.75% chance of having no defects, a 56.25% chance of one defect, and a 25% chance of having two defects.

Of course, in Gamma World, there is the alternate method of determining specific mutations by rolling on the appropriate mutations chart (physical or mental). With this method, a character could avoid defects regardless of the number of mutations or, potentially, be afflicted with more than two defects. For mutated humans, each roll on the physical mutations chart has a 28% chance of resulting in a defect and each roll on the mental mutations chart has a 25% chance of resulting in a defect. For mutated animals, the chance for a defect on the physical mutations chart is 17% and the chance for a defect on the mental mutations chart is 18%.

Interestingly, with regard to the choice method in Gamma World, the referee chooses defects of the appropriate type while in Metamorphosis Alpha, the judge will “roll randomly” to determine specific defects.

Physical Mutations

In Metamorphosis Alpha, Jim Ward explains how some physical mutations are incompatible with one another (at least for player character mutants). For instance, a mutant cannot have both 'taller' and 'shorter' mutations. Also, 'light generation' is incompatible with 'partial carapace' or 'total carapace.' I cannot see where conflicting mutations are addressed in 1E Gamma World. I suppose that if you've resigned yourself to gonzo, there's really no need to fret regarding logical inconsistencies.

Metamorphosis Alpha provides no instruction about determining the size of a 'taller' or 'shorter' mutant; it merely states a maximum of 25 feet for 'taller' and a minimum of one inch for 'shorter.' Gamma World, being all futuristic, restricts itself to metric measurements. A 'taller' mutant adds 1d6 meters to its height while a 'shorter' mutant rolls 2d100 to determine height in centimeters. A '00' is treated as zero, so a 'shorter' mutant has a maximum height of 198 centimeters and a minimum height of...zero. I guess this means there is a one-in-ten-thousand chance of a 'shorter' mutant being two-dimensional.

Metamorphosis Alpha offers the physical mutations of 'poison claws or fangs' and 'gills.' Although not specifically listed as examples, I suppose these would count as 'new body parts' in Gamma World.  'Teeth or fangs' and 'fur change' are Metamorphosis Alpha mutations applicable only to mutated creatures.

With regard to the 'radiated eyes' mutation, Metamorphosis Alpha fixes the intensity at ten while Gamma World has the player determine the intensity by rolling 3d6.

In Metamorphosis Alpha, 'heat generation' has the same effect as 'electrical generation.' In Gamma World, 'heat generation' is a ranged attack that does an additional d6 damage but is only usable once every three melee turns.

Although each version of the 'carapace' mutation “increases the basic armor class of the mutant” in Metamorphosis Alpha, specifics are not provided. In Gamma World, 'partial' provides an armor class of 6 and 'total' gives an armor class of 4. As opposed to Gamma World, in Metamorphosis Alpha, when the shell of a 'partial carapace' mutant is cracked, it can take up to a year to heal and the mutant suffers double damage until it is healed. Also, 'total carapace' mutants in Metamorphosis Alpha take triple damage once they have lost at least half of their hit points.

The armor class of a mutant with 'heightened dexterity' in Gamma World is 4; in Metamorphosis Alpha it is 1.

Mutants with 'wings' in Gamma World fly much slower than their Starship Warden counterparts. The Gamma World speed is 12 meters (13 yards) per melee turn while the Metamorphosis Alpha speed is nearly eight times that.

'Shapechange' in Metamorphosis Alpha is the same as in Gamma World; however, Metamorphosis Alpha offers two additional options. Instead of assuming the appearance of either animal, insect, or reptile forms, a mutant with 'shapechange' can choose to be able to assume the forms of any of the three types at the cost of having no other physical mutation. Also, Metamorphosis Alpha offers the “Subclassification of Shapechange” that offers immunity to radiation. (In Gamma World, I assume this would be a 'new body part.')

In Metamorphosis Alpha, 'density control' allows a mutant to become more dense, thereby changing armor class (and becoming more difficult to damage) by one per melee turn. Increased density causes the mutant to lose mobility, becoming completely immobile at armor class 2. The power lasts for 1-10 turns and may be used once per day. In Gamma World, duration is not limited nor is there a limited number of uses per day. A change in density is accompanied by a change in size. Changes are instantaneous and the mutant still retains some mobility even at maximum density. Gamma World also allows 'density control' mutants to reduce their density beyond normal, allowing such mutants to move faster by impairing armor class and reducing strength.

The following physical mutations are found in Gamma World but not Metamorphosis Alpha: heightened constitution, photosynthetic skin, and (as distinct from 'heightened vision') infravision and ultravision.  The 'symbiotic attachment' mutation appears in both Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World, but in Metamorphosis Alpha it is reserved for mutated creatures only.

The 'increased speed' mutation in Gamma World allows the mutant to move at twice normal speed and to attack twice per turn.  The 'speed increase' mutation in Metamorphosis Alpha is limited to animals and lasts for five melee turns twice per day; the ability to attack twice per turn is not mentioned.

There are also differences with regard to defects. In Gamma World, the effect of 'hemophilia' is described whereas in Metamorphosis Alpha, the precise effect is left to the discretion of the referee. Fainting as a result of 'poor respiratory system' in Gamma World lasts for 1-6 minutes while in Metamorphosis Alpha, it lasts for “an hour or two.” 'Vision defect' in Gamma World causes the mutant to subtract four from their combat die rolls whereas the analogous 'near-sightedness/ or double vision' defect in Metamorphosis Alpha reduces the mutant's chances in combat by 50%. The defects of 'fat cell accumulation' and 'increased metabolism' are provided in Gamma World but not Metamorphosis Alpha; however, Gamma World lacks the bizarre 'multi-armed' defect where the unfortunate mutant has 1-10 (mostly) uncontrolled extra arms, each one reducing the mutant's ability to hit in combat by one. (The mutant can, via concentration, use any two arms.) Amputation of each extra arm means a permanent loss of 2 hit points! It might be worth it.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Everybody Talks About the OSR but Nobody Does Anything About It

(with apologies to Samuel Clemens or Charles Dudley Warner)
Brad at Skull Crushing For Great Justice has announced he is “done with OSR games.”  In the comments, your humble host asked if there is a commonly accepted definition of OSR.  Other than an Alfred Whitehead quote Brendan presented as an allegory, I received no satisfaction.  As pithy as Whitehead is, I feel that a definition should have more…well, definition.
I believe that most of the community thinks of the OSR in a fashion similar to how Justice Stewart considered pornography, “[P]erhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly [defining it]…But I know it when I see it.”  Everyone has their own notion of the OSR; a concept vague enough to accommodate an unspoken consensus.  Isn’t that sufficient?  Can’t we just leave it that way?  My answer is “no.”  If people are going to complain about it, if people are going to defend it, if people are going to espouse it, then we have to define it.  This is hardly uncharted territory; we should see how people have attempted to define it thus far.
The best definition that Wikipedia has to offer is in its entry for ‘Dungeons & Dragons simulacrums.’  That article states, “The games are fostered and supported online by various forums and blogs, sometimes collectively referred to as Old School Renaissance (OSR), but are also increasingly finding their way into brick and mortar game stores.”  Does ‘OSR’ refer to the games or to the various forums and blogs?  Either way, it does not work as a proper definition.
Akrasia at Akratic Wizardry attempted to define OSR via the people who comprise it, but he acknowledged in the comments that merely identifying the demographic is insufficient.
Macauley at There’s Dungeons Down Under put some effort into establishing a definition of OSR and he listed contradictions of OSR criticisms.  What is the Old School Renaissance?  His answer:
A term used to describe the vigorous growth of activity and interest in TSR D&D over the last several years, begun online, but spreading beyond that medium.
Macauley is a follower of this blog, so I don’t want to offend him and I don’t want it to seem as though I am dismissing his work.  The fact is I don’t like this definition.  However, in the following paragraph, he makes a statement that is closer to what I think the definition should be.
Simply a bunch of like-minded individuals who love TSR D&D (and other games of a similar vintage) and want to share that passion with others.
Yes, this is merely the demographic, but it contains some useful elements.  “Other games of a similar vintage” is an important point.  Sadly, but perhaps understandably, there seems to be a myopic fixation on D&D.  There are other old school RPGs.  If the OSR is not about nostalgia, then it should not be limited to “the world’s most popular role-playing game.”  Also important is the mention of “love” and “passion.”  Ultimately, the OSR is the expression of a hobby, an activity to which people devote themselves.  Yes, there is a business aspect, but that is ancillary.  The OSR entrepreneurs (at least for the most part) display an undeniable affection for the material.
I have no delusion that the definition I set forth in this post will become the comprehensive meaning of the OSR, universally recognized henceforth, but this is what the OSR means to me.  If you disagree with this definition, tell me why.  I may even be compelled to revise it.  If you think this definition is worthwhile, then use it; perhaps it is the seed from which a common understanding shall arise. 
One definition of a renaissance is:  a new focus on a subject, especially the arts. So my definition of Old School Renaissance is ‘the new focus by hobbyists on vintage role-playing games, including newly created material compatible with those games.’
Obviously, there are specific details that this definition does not address.  When did the new focus begin?  What qualifies as vintage?  These exact details are open to debate, but I feel that my definition – as is – captures the essential nature of the OSR.  Do you agree?