Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day

Doctor Draconis takes a leap

Over the years, I have played or gamemastered the Hero System more than any other role-playing system.  I started playing the Hero System back in 1982, when it was ‘just’ Champions and the late Mark Williams seemed to do all of the art.  I loved me some Hero System; it was (is) consistent, adaptable, and scalable.  Until GURPS gathered a head of steam, there was nothing like it.  Although I didn’t pick up ‘Espionage!,’ I was all over ‘Justice, Inc.,’ ‘Danger International,’ ‘Fantasy Hero,’ and, when it finally came out, ‘Star Hero.’

When the responsibilities of maturity precluded extensive involvement in role-playing games, my attachment to the Hero System waned.  I bought the new additions as they came out, if only to support the publisher.  Something bothered me about Fifth Edition, but I couldn’t specify what.  I attributed it to the onset of becoming a curmudgeon and I went on with my life.

Then came Sixth Edition – two huge volumes (perhaps too huge volumes). What had become of my beloved Hero System? It was a bloated...thing...with more than 700 pages – more than three times the length of the Fourth Edition Rulesbook. Was all this...necessary? I know, I know...“It’s a toolkit!  Take what you want and use it how you want!”  Well, sometimes I don’t want a toolkit, I want a game. Sometimes I don't want an aggregate of customized sub-systems stitched together like some lurid quilt; I want a book – one book – that I can use to run a game. It doesn't need to be perfect and it doesn't need to account for every circumstance. For the sake of atmosphere, I welcome idiosyncrasies.
The Old School Renaissance made me realize that 'later' doesn't necessarily mean 'better' when it comes to RPGs. Older games still have much to offer the hobby. Not surprisingly, much (but not all) of the focus of the OSR is upon “the world's most popular role-playing game.” Yet there are many other games out there; many other vistas awaiting (re-)exploration. With this blog, your humble host hopes to do his part to draw attention to some of these other vistas. For some readers, this attention will be in the form of a remembrance; for other readers, it will be a learning experience.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Other Little Brown Book

En Garde!  Being in the Main a Game of the Life and Times
of a Gentleman Adventurer and his Several Companions

En Garde!* was published in 1975 by Game Designers' Workshop, two years prior to the more successful Traveller. (For the record, my copy is the revised edition from 1977.) The game was created by the inestimable Frank Chadwick and the somewhat less prodigious Darryl Hany. To be fair, Hany's name is listed before Chadwick's in the game design credits, so it's reasonable to assume that Hany's contributions outweigh Chadwick's. GDW stalwarts John Harshman and Loren Wiseman are given credit as game developers.

The status of En Garde as a 'genuine' role-playing game is open to interpretation. The introduction states that “En Garde is a semi-historical game/simulation” and no claim is made in the book that it is a role-playing game per se. Of course, in those very early days, the actual term “role-playing game” was not necessarily used in RPG products. (For instance, the term does not appear in the original three D&D 'little brown books.')

In the game, each player controls a character. Characters are defined, in large part, by abilities that have a randomly determined, numerical value. Players make choices as to how their characters interact with (1) the setting environment and (2) one another. The ramifications of said choices are often determined via rolling dice and consulting charts. There is a focus on combat. En Garde shares the preceding features with 'genuine' RPGs but, for other matters, En Garde differs from the usual concept.

En Garde represents a peculiar development from the dawn of role-playing that I (due to the absence of other authority) categorize as 'scheduling games.'  (Superhero 2044 is another example of a scheduling game.) These games combine qualities of 'proper' RPGs with play-by-mail games in that players interact with one another face-to-face but the actions of characters are plotted out in advance. In effect, a player composes a schedule of activity for his (or her) character. For En Garde, such a schedule can cover a month of game time or, in the case of fighting a duel, scant moments.

Speaking of fighting duels, in En Garde, each player controls a 'gentleman adventurer' of France in the time of the musketeers. As mentioned above, the game is “semi-historical.” The goal is not realism so much as a representation of the swashbuckling genre. (The game is dedicated to Alexandre Dumas, Danny Kaye, and Sir Harry Flashman.) Evidently, the game was intended originally to be a way to simulate fencing and background 'color' was included to provide rationale for duels. Eventually, the background 'color' became more prominent than the actual duels. The essential objective of the characters is to acquire status; dueling is merely a means to that end.

Each character has four abilities. Strength (ability to inflict damage), Expertise (skill and experience with fencing), and Constitution (general health) are determined by rolling 3d6 for each. Endurance (ability to absorb damage) is determined by multiplying Strength by Constitution.

Next week we shall examine the fencing rules.

*  The cover appellation includes the exclamation point, a convention that is not observed in the body of the work. For the sake of convenience, your humble host will forgo said punctuation when referencing the game henceforth.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

If You Kill a Squirrel in Atlantasia, Be Sure to Eat It

In Atlantasia, the gods take a direct role in wildlife conservation. For instance, we learn from page 111 of John Holland's The Realms of Atlantasia that squirrels “are prized by the goddess Dannuih.” (From what I can tell, Dannuih is some kind of druid goddess – like, D&D druids, not historically accurate druids.) This means that anyone who kills a squirrel loses 5 experience points. I'm down with this; I mean, it's not like you're going to become some big, macho hero by exterminating squirrels. Dannuih isn't a hard-ass about it, if one or two squirrels are killed for food, she lets it slide (“the goddess gives the world this” – mighty white of her).

Dannuih likes dolphins too. If you kill a dolphin, you lose 25 experience points, whether you eat it or not. However, losing 25 E.P.1 is the least of your worries if you threaten a dolphin. The leader of the mer-people, Tri-Danté2 (a.k.a. “The Demon of the Deep”), and a posse of mermen will show up to protect any threatened dolphins. According to page 174, “Tri-Danté stands 30' tall, with...a strong set of fins for legs.” Page 129 tells us that “Tri-Danté uses a uni-whale as his mount! ” Uni-whales have a single horn and “two magical attacks (tidal wave & ice).” Uni-whales “have a high intelligence (7).”3 I guess dolphins are more than twice as smart since – as indicated in a previous post – they have an intelligence of 15. Anyway, Tri-Danté is loaded with magic items.

Meridian lizards are one of the few things about Atlantasia that I actually like. They are sensitive to “energy lines.” As such, “The stripes down their back will change color” depending upon the power of any given energy line. That's the extent of what I like about meridian lizards; Holland, however, can't leave it at that. There's no E.P. value listed for meridian lizards, not even a negative amount. Per page 119:

It is absolutely FORBIDDEN to kill a meridian lizard...Should anyone be caught killing a meridian lizard (and you WILL be caught), you would owe a quest to the first Deity that shows up after the death of the lizard (usually 3 – 10ss).

That doesn't sound too bad. If you're bored, just kill a meridian lizard and some god will show up with a quest.

Another (rare) good idea from Holland is his treatment of unicorns. Killing a unicorn “costs you the life of one you love...and the Deities will ensure this...” The twist is that the player chooses which loved one the gods kill off. I guess the gods know if you really love someone and aren't just throwing out a name. Unicorns don't provide any E.P., so the only reason to kill one (other than spite) is to collect its blood. Supposedly, according to page 147, “putting unicorn blood on a weapon and striking any who are not of pure heart will curse them to a painful, burning death within 1 season.” If you really need to kill a unicorn, you might not want to do so on the faerie island of Xyla. Unicorns are serious business there; every Faerie Being on the island will be trying to kill you within two semi-segments after you kill a unicorn.

Sea turtles are worth 200 E.P. but, according to page 127:

Sea turtles are revered by sailors because sea turtles ride the currents of the oceans they reside in. Thus sailors will always know where the tides are and in what direction the tides are going. A ship of sailors will develop a special relationship with a certain sea turtle. Therefore, should that turtle die, those sailors will know and will avenge the death of their friend.

In other words, within three cycles of killing a sea turtle, a ship of sailors4 will show up to battle the killer.

House cats, horses, oxen, and camels don't offer any E.P., but there do not seem to be any inherent negative ramifications for killing them.

1 E.P. is more realistic than X.P. because 'experience' begins with an 'e.'
2 Get it? Tri-Danté – trident – Neptune. Get it?
3 Regular whales “have a very decent intelligence (8) ,” but they don't have magic attacks.
4 “10% chance of being pirates”

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Over three months ago, I expressed my intent to perform a cover-to-cover analysis of Metamorphosis Alpha (First Edition). Rather than going from beginning to end, I skipped around so as to illustrate my points more effectively; nonetheless, while not painstakingly thorough, I feel that I have accomplished my goal. There is little else in Metamorphosis Alpha I can address. This is not to say there is little else in the game, merely there is little else about which I can provide additional insight by virtue of commentary. It is thus that your humble host concludes his scrutiny of James Ward's memorable contribution to the world of role-playing games and peregrinates to other offerings.

It is my sincere hope that readers have found my posts to be of at least meager value and that – perhaps – I have prompted some new degree of interest in this classic game. As a reminder, a print copy of the first edition is available via Lulu. For those that have a preference for new-fangled electronic documents, a PDF of the first edition (including a sheet of trendy hex paper) is available via RPGNow. Ongoing support is available at the official Metamorphosis Alpha forums. Also, generous readers should consider joining the Friends of Starship Warden.

The title of this post is taken directly from the back cover of the first edition. Any given level of the Warden may be considered a 'world' (as I discussed previously); however, I believe Ward intended for referees to create their own 'worlds' of Metamorphosis Alpha and that he described the Starship Warden merely as an example. I am not surprised that many referees latched onto Ward's 'example' as the basis for their campaigns; I can think of two reasons for this. First, the necessary preparations for “moderating” a campaign requires a considerable commitment of time; the less a referee has to do, the better. Second, Ward asked referees to venture forth on the sea of imagination. Yes, many referees entered that sea but, in the early era of role-playing, they were too timid to leave the sight of land. The rulebook represented their safety zone, their anchor (to continue with the nautical analogy). Of course, there were some who did create their own worlds – perhaps to a greater extent than Ward envisioned. Metamorphosis Alpha was certainly the inspiration for Synnibarr and Jorune and (as discussed in the comments of this post) there are many similarities to be found in Paranoia.

Among the 'variants' of Metamorphosis Alpha, there is one presented by Guy McLimore in issue six of (The) Dragon (April 1977). In his article, “Clone Bank Alpha: An Alternate Beginning Sequence for Metamorphosis Alpha,” McLimore posits a different way for player characters to begin the game. 'Clone Bank Alpha' was an emergency protocol for the Warden; however, its execution was delayed due to the disaster. Player characters are clones of the ship's (former) crew. They are 'activated' in order to resolve the predicating emergency. Alas, the 'memory implants' were incomplete; the clones realize they exist to solve a problem, but they lack some of the necessary knowledge to do so. Any given clone may have mutations.

Players may choose from among major and minor skills, but the number of skills is determined randomly. Among the major skills are 'Medical Officer' (“Can heal 1 point of damage per man per day with minimal equipment”) and 'Computer Technician' (which is not described). Among the minor skills are 'Food Service Technician' (“25 per cent chance to identify harmful substances”) and 'Shuttlecraft Pilot' (“Able to fly ship's shuttle vehicles”). There is a 1% chance of a character obtaining a “special skill.” Although the seven special skills are for humans only, the seem much like mutations: Psionic Healer, Machine Talent, Immortal, Probability Shifter, Resurrection Talent, Mental Battery, and Ability Duplicator.

For what they are worth, I provide a few of my own imaginings with regard to Metamorphosis Alpha.

Radiation in Metamorphosis Alpha (“foreign to all previously known radiation types”) functions much like radiation in comic books. To me it seems somewhat silly. What if, instead of a radiation cloud, the Warden encountered a colossal swarm of nanotechnology? This technology could have been created by alien beings eons previous to the disaster. For ages these things could have existed in space replicating themselves over and over. Eventually, minor changes would creep into their programmatic code; they would evolve (or devolve). Upon encountering the Warden, they attempt to 'communicate' by interacting with the genetic code of the inhabitants. Due to the alien nature of the nanotechnology, communication is not feasible; however, they continue with their attempts. The nanotechnology interaction is fatal in a great many cases, but sometimes 'mutations' result.

Well-studied readers may recall that in the “Azathoth” fragment, Lovecraft made reference “to many secret vistas whose existence no common eye suspects” among the voids between the stars. What if the Warden came into the gravitational pull of one of the “dark stars” of the old ones?

Finally, what if the Warden is really a prison (as its name might suggest)? The current inhabitants are descendants of the original prisoners (humans and aliens) and do not realize the nature of their world. Perhaps the civilization that incarcerated the original prisoners has collapsed, yet its efficient construct, the Warden, persists in its ceaseless function.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Spies in Atlantasia

John Holland concedes that the fantasy setting of The Realms of Atlantasia necessarily obviates some degree of realism so, in fairness, we cannot criticize each instance of inexact correlation between Atlantasia and our quaint reality.  Now, your humble host makes no claim to expert knowledge of espionage practices in the real world; however, espionage in TROA differs decidedly (and perhaps necessarily) with how espionage is portrayed in real world media.

In the real world (or so the media would have us believe), espionage is the clandestine collection of information, typically sponsored by a political and/or military entity.  This ‘collection of information’ is effected, in part, by covert operatives (i.e., spies).  A complication of espionage is that the information source often has its own espionage apparatus.  So, there are various entities, each trying surreptitiously to acquire information about one another while simultaneously safeguarding their own information.  These activities engender not just agents, but counter agents, double agents, sleeper agents, etc. Things get complicated and confusing, causing an inefficient deployment of resources. The situation is different with Atlantasian spies and their activities.  Holland presents an intriguing concept but – as is his want – he imbues that concept with Atlantasian goofiness.

In Atlantasia, any and all spying is conducted by the Spies' Guild.  There are no competing organizations to complicate matters.  Like most guilds, the Spies' Guild does not take kindly to outsiders plying the guild trade.  Every once in a while, some journeyman thinks he’s slick enough that he can get away with a freelance operation.  Well, he can’t.  A thief can get away with an occasional side job without the Thieves’ Guild taking notice, but nothing gets past the Spies' Guild.  You have a better chance of finding a half-elf sunbathing in Baba-Luna than you do of successfully defying the guild.  Holland has too much decorum to detail what happens to freelancers, yet between the lines a gruesome fate is implied.  In fact, Holland spends less than a page discussing the Spies' Guild; much of this post is extrapolated from the notion of an espionage monopoly in a fantasy setting.

The Spies’ Guild has a Guild Master in every city.  Each Guild Master oversees a spy network that extends beyond his (or her) city.  According to page 524, “The Spies' Guild is run by a being no one has ever met, or at least no one has ever remembered meeting this being.” 'This being' has its own network that relays communications from the Guild Masters to 'this being' and vice versa.  (I have a theory as to the identity of 'this being' but I shall not disclose it in this post.)

There is no permanent Guild House for spies in any city; the de facto Guild House changes frequently. Typically, the “top members” take turns in hosting the Guild House “with a room always available for the Guild Master (who[m] no one ever sees, just hears) whom all information goes through.” Apparently, individual spies are granted an audience with the Guild Master in order to convey information. In an effort to control the dissemination of information, spies are not allowed to congregate. You see, “the...members have no idea who the other members are!”  More to the point, anybody can be a spy:  a dwarf shaman, a gypsy horse trader, an elf noble, a priest of Ta-Khu, a gnome sailor, a cosmic mage...anybody.  I bet there are even dolphin spies.*  "The point is; spies are everywhere!"

If spies don’t know one another, how do they gain admittance to the Guild House?  Holland doesn’t say.  I would think that any worthwhile spy should be able to infiltrate any household.

If the location of the Guild House is secret and the location varies, how do spies know where to go (especially if they do not communicate among themselves)?  Good question.  From page 524:

Spies know where the Guild House hidden messages placed in certain inns around the city. These messages are placed in places only a spy would know to look and written in symbols only spies know. 

Please note the phrase “in symbols.” The Thieves’ Guild has its own language, but the Spies’ Guild doesn’t.  If they had their own language, then it would be possible for non-spies to learn it or understand it via magic. Using “symbols” the Spies' Guild can place messages in public places yet maintain their secrecy.

Holland says, “All full-fledged spies have small pins that distinguish them as spies and those are only shown to the Guild Master. ” I think that Holland is supplying Spies' Guild disinformation to us in this statement. How can you show something to someone who is never seen?  Perhaps it is time to discuss some of the benefits that spies obtain at high level.  At 50th level, spies gain the ability of 'True Insight.'  Holland doesn't explain what one can accomplish with 'True Insight' and the success rate is 75% at best, so I don't think it's very useful.  At 90th level, however, spies get a 'Helm of Telepathy.'  Guild Masters don't need to see any secret decoder pins; they know who their agents are via telepathy!

Inquiring readers may want to know how prospective clients actually contact the Spies' Guild.  That's another good question and I have thought many times about this.  The way I figure it, you don't contact the Spies' Guild, they contact you.  Their information gathering abilities are so effective, they can anticipate the needs of their clientele.  Perhaps much of the guild's business is simple blackmail.

If the Spies' Guild is the only game in town, doesn't it present a conflict of interest?  If you want the services of a spy, isn't it likely that the subject of your spying may want to spy against you (or at least be informed that they are the targets of espionage)?  That's the brilliant part; the Spies' Guild plays both sides against one another.  Ultimately, after taking money from both sides (I don't think that Helms of Telepathy grow on trees, but I could be wrong), the side that prevails is the side that is more valuable to the Spies' Guild in the long term.  That's why you can't afford to antagonize the Spies' Guild, they can (and will) help your enemies.

Finally, how are spies recruited?  I refuse to speculate.
*  Atlantasian dolphins have an Intelligence of 15.  The highest Intelligence score a player character can have (without magical aid) is 14 and that is only achievable by a noble spy (or a spy noble) where the player rolled a 10 for Intelligence.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Feigning Ignorance

How many times have you watched your favorite movie? How many times have you read your favorite book? Why bother? You know what's going to happen. Aren't there plenty of movies you haven't watched and books you haven't read?

The reason you watch your favorite movie and read your favorite book again and again is that your enjoyment of these things is not derived from mere novelty. They possess endearing, entertaining qualities that resonate with you. Doubtless there are movies you haven't seen and books you haven't read that you would find enjoyable, but by returning to your favorites you know you won't be disappointed. Revisiting your favorites allows you to recall things you may have forgotten, appreciate different interpretations, and perhaps discover subtle nuances you may have overlooked previously (like how the Mona Lisa doesn't have eyebrows).

Likewise, it is no longer possible for players in Metamorphosis Alpha to experience the epiphany that it all takes place aboard a spaceship, yet the value of the game is not compromised. The setting is sufficiently robust in its potential despite the players being aware of 'the big picture.' It is, of course, a matter of player knowledge versus character knowledge. Players must adopt the pretense of ignorance.1  (Certainly, this is not limited to Metamorphosis Alpha, but it provides a convenient example.)  Part of the challenge (and hence the fun) is feigning ignorance, especially when doing so puts the player's character at risk. Properly done, it can be suspenseful.

In a similar vein – in Metamorphosis Alpha – a player may realize that his character has come across some type of pistol, but since the character doesn't know what it is, the player must play dumb. (The player must play... That is what players are supposed to do, after all.) With the 'Item Complexity' rules, Jim Ward makes it easy for the players to make it difficult for the characters.2 Devices have 'levels' of complexity; the most complex devices have a level of 'one' while the least complex devices have a level of 'ten.' A chart compares complexity level against a character's ability score. (Originally, 'leadership potential' was the ability but with the 2007 errata, it has been officially changed to 'mental resistance.')  The chart shows a percentile value that must be equaled or exceeded on a d100 in order for the character to comprehend the device at issue.  The 2007 errata states, "Human players receive a +1 to any die roll on how to figure out tech items."3  A measly +1 on a percentile scale?  Humans should have +5; give those dudes a break.  The more complex items have a minimum 'mental resistance' threshold; for instance, characters with a 'mental resistance' of seven or less have no chance of comprehending devices of complexity level 1 - 3.

According to page 22, if the item complexity roll is failed, "the item has a chance of harming or killing the handler or somebody...nearby."  Aside from having a complexity level, each item has a danger category.  There are four such categories; 'category one' items present the most danger while 'category four' items are safe.  So, when an item complexity roll is failed for an item of danger category one, two, or three, there are percentile chances of injury to self and/or others.  If an injury is indicated, there is a further chance it will be fatal.  I think there should also be a chance of destroying or ruining an item when the item complexity roll is failed, like there is in Gamma World 1E.

Alan Moore said that there are no tired characters, only tired writers. The same could be said for role-playing games, settings, and even modules; these are not tired. Game masters who do not foster inspiration are tired. Players who do not invest themselves are tired. With apologies to Shakespeare: The not in our sourcebooks, but in ourselves.

1 Alas, some players seem unwilling (or perhaps unable) to partition their knowledge. (Fortunately, your humble host has not encountered such entities in quite some time.)

2  In Gamma World 1E, rather than 'Item Complexity' rules, there are 'Artifact Use and Operation' rules that incorporate three flowcharts: one for simple devices, one for complex devices, and one for very complex devices. I think the flowcharts are a nice sub-system and I prefer the Gamma World rules to the Metamorphosis Alpha rules, especially since Metamorphosis Alpha allows only one roll per week. 

3 I would think that most – if not all – players are human. I guess it could be read to mean “players of humans” but perhaps “human characters” would be a better way of saying it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Combat in The Realms of Atlantasia

Since I recently expounded upon combat in Metamorphosis Alpha, it is only fitting that Thoul’s Paradise examine the particulars of combat in John Holland’s memorable role-playing game, The Realms of Atlantasia.  To accomplish this, let us stage a hypothetical conflict between Johann Nederland, cosmic spy mage, and a run-of-the-mill goblin.  For the sake of effective example, this bout shall occur in a pit – small enough to prohibit retreat, but open enough so that Johann may bring his exquisite quarterstaff to bear. 

Lest my devoted readers foster unrealistic hopes, allow me to explain that beginning TROA characters seem to be quite fragile; I do not expect Johann to survive this theoretical monomachy.  Atlantasian goblins have a minimum of 35 Life Points; Johann has a mere thirteen.1  (May Priss-nee-ich preserve him!) 

If conditions permitted Johann to cast his ’Falling Star’ spell, it is likely that he could readily dispatch the goblin.  Alas, the casting time for said spell is one semi-segment; the goblin would doubtless disrupt the spell before completion.  However, we can assume that Johann cast casted his ‘Sun Shield’ spell immediately prior to the combat.  This gives Johann +5% defense for 5 semi-segments. 

According to their description on page 69, goblins have a 20% chance of having armor. A roll of the dice indicates that Johann's opponent does not have armor. Any given goblin may or may not have a weapon. Since a goblin's fangs can potentially cause more damage than a broadsword (d12 vs d10), our goblin will just rely on his fangs. 

Attack order starts with the being having the highest dexterity and continues with successively lower dexterity scores until all combatants have attacked. I guess we roll a d10 for the goblin's dexterity. The result is 7; Johann goes first. 

We previously determined Johann's 'to hit' value at 25%. He attacks...and misses. We now roll “to determine how bad the miss is.” With a 14, the result is “player slips and hits them self [sic] (damage is at x2).”2 Let's just assume that the character hits himself. (Better him than me.) A quarterstaff does 1d6 and with a roll of 6, Johann does 12 Life Points of damage to himself. He has 1 Life Point left.

It's now the goblin's turn; his 'to hit' value is 23%. He attacks...and misses! A roll of 31 on the 'miss' table means the goblin slips and does damage to himself. Specifically, the goblin loses 3 Life Points. Goblins get two attacks per semi-segment and with his second attack...he (barely) misses. On this occasion, the goblin does x2 damage to himself. He takes 8 Life Points of damage and is thus reduced to 24 Life Points. 

I suppose that Johann and the goblin spend the remainder of the semi-segment (7 minutes, 12 seconds) chatting about how gnomes are ruining the economy. 

In the next semi-segment, Johann has first attack.  However, thinking that the best tactic would be to allow the goblin to bite itself to death, Johann forgoes his attack. (My calculations indicate that, whenever Johann attempts an attack, he has a 26.5% chance of hurting himself. So, it is more likely that he will hit himself than an opponent.) 

The goblin lunges...and misses. Yes, he manages to hit himself again. He takes an additional 11 Life Points of damage; he has 13 Life Points left. On his second attack...he hits. Upon a successful hit, the goblin "must determine where the attack connects" by rolling on the placement chart. A roll of 64 means "chest & upper arms (roll for which and which arm)." 3 Uh, OK...Let's say even = chest and odd = upper arms. Our realistic method of determination indicates that the attack connects with Johann's chest. Now the goblin must determine the precision of the attack by rolling on the precision table; this will affect the amount of damage inflicted. Depending on the number rolled, the attack could do anywhere from x¼ damage to x10 damage. The goblin rolls 28, meaning no damage multiple. 

Now, Johann makes a defense calculation. His total defense is 36%, which is greater than the goblin's 'to hit' %, and so he rolls on a certain table. (Had his defense been lower than the opponent's to hit roll, he would roll on a different table.) With a roll of 90, the result is "attack glances off armor (0 damage, armor takes 1d4 off durability)." YESSS! Johann still has a chance! The durability of Johann's chest armor is reduced to 8.

With a smile of grim determination, Johann forgoes his attack in the third semi-segment. The goblin attacks...and misses. A roll of 94 on the 'miss' table means “weapon glances off opponent's armor taking 1d4 off durability.” Does the armor lose durability? The weapon? Both? Let's call it a wash. The goblin attacks again...and misses again. With a roll of 92 on the 'miss' table, it's the same result as before.

It's the fourth semi-segment and Johann lets the goblin attack. He attacks...and misses. A roll of 10 on the 'miss' table means the goblin does x3 damage to himself. A roll of 12 for damage means the goblin takes 36 Life Points of damage. He's dead! Johann is the winner! Take that, punk! Mess with the best and die like the rest!

Of course, had this been an actual combat, Johann would have used his Blanket of Translocation to get away.

Let us reflect upon the moral of today's story; if your attack is more likely to cause damage to you instead of your opponent, then don't attack.
1  A 1st level, single-classed warrior without a constitution bonus would have 11 Life Points on average.
2  It seems that if a being misses its attack roll, there is a 35% chance it will inflict damage on itself.
3 With a roll of 100, the goblin would have decapitated Johann.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Combat in Metamorphosis Alpha

I have a love/hate relationship with the combat rules in 1E Metamorphosis Alpha.1 On one hand, the rules present interesting concepts and options. On the other hand, the rules are frustratingly incomplete. Metamorphosis Alpha offers different rules for combat, but these rules are not necessarily mutually exclusive of one another. I shall refer to them as 'primary' and 'alternate.'

The 'primary' are so-called because the applicable 'hit or miss chart' is included on the “perforated page...[that] shows the most important game charts.” Metamorphosis Alpha employs an 'armor class' rating very similar to that used by D&D. A rating of 8 indicates no protection and the amount of protection increases as the armor class descends; therefore, an armor class of 1 represents the greatest amount of protection.2 In D&D, of course, an attacker's ability (in terms of class/level for characters or hit dice for monsters) is checked against a defender's armor class to determine the minimum result required on a d20 – rolled by the attacker – to inflict damage upon the defender. Rather than representing a capacity for avoiding a blow, armor class more accurately represents resistance to the penetrability of damage.

Since Metamorphosis Alpha does not use a level-based experience system, it requires a different approach. That 'different approach' is the notion of weapon classes; weapons are categorized into eight distinct classes.3 Weapon class is checked against armor class to determine the result necessary to inflict damage. The degree of success of the attack roll is irrelevant; either the target sustains damage or it does not.

Let us now address the 'alternate' rules; however, they appear earlier in the rulebook than the 'primary' rules and no indication is given of their 'alternate' status. These rules regard ranged weapons in the Weapon Systems section that begins on page 8. These rules are 'alternate' in that the same weapons are assigned to specific weapon classes for the 'primary' rules. The alternate rules take into account three range steps (short, medium, and long) as well as three severity levels for damage (shallow, half-penetration, and full penetration). Instead of a 'to hit' chart, there is a 'protection' graph, with the type of protection arrayed against range. For instance, with regard to the protein disruptor, the scores for plastic protection are: short, 7-9; medium, 10-15; and long, 16-18. To inflict damage upon a plastic-protected target at medium range, an attacker would need to roll a ten or greater. Rolling the minimum number inflicts shallow damage, rolling any other number listed for a given range inflicts half-penetration, and rolling higher than the maximum number for the applicable range inflicts full penetration. To continue our example: a roll of 10 would mean shallow damage, a roll of 11-15 would mean half-penetration, and greater than 15 would mean full penetration. Interestingly, this alternate method uses 3d6 and not 1d20 for resolution.4 Not only does this mean a 16-point spread instead of a 20-point spread, but 3d6 will tend to generate results near the mean as opposed to the flat probability distribution of the d20. Mental Combat also uses 3d6. Why not use a d20 consistently?

The situation does not become more intuitive when the 'alternate' method for bows and crossbows is discussed on page 19. Like the 'Weapons Systems' weapons, bows and crossbows have different success thresholds for different ranges. Unlike the 'Weapons Systems' weapons, bow and crossbow attacks are resolved with 2d6 and not 3d6. In the original edition of the rules, neither armor class nor protection type is relevant for the alternate bow and crossbow rules; however, the 2007 errata indicates that the listed minimum numbers needed to hit are for armor class 7. Each 'level' of armor class better than seven increases the 'to hit' number by one. Are we to assume that an armor class of 8 would lower the 'to hit' number? When armor class was introduced as a factor to the alternate bow and crossbow rules, the appropriate table should have been redesigned for 3d6 resolution or, better yet, convert all combat to d20 resolution.

Now we arrive at the reason I believe the rules are incomplete.  What about attacks by creatures who don't use weapons? In D&D (and Gamma World), 'natural' attacks by monsters are resolved by consulting an 'ability vs armor class' table with 'ability' defined by hit dice. The 1E Metamorphosis Alpha rules provide no guidance on this topic; judges are left to their own devices. I suppose one could incorporate a hit dice table from another game or assign each type of attack to a pre-existing weapon class. There is a list of weapon classes for creatures in the Metamorphosis Alpha forums. (I would provide a link, but it's only for the cool kids.) Better late than never I guess.

I thought of a solution wherein a creature would attack a character and – instead of the judge rolling to determine if the creature successfully hit – the player would roll to determine if his or her character avoids being hit; a combat saving throw, so to speak. The minimum number needed to 'save' (on a d20 of course) would equal ten plus armor class minus half of the character's dexterity. In other terms:

save > or = ( 10 + AC – [Dex / 2] )

I have always considered it odd that some of the early role-playing games assumed that characters would necessarily use weapons for any physical attack; no consideration was given to fisticuffs. What's up with that?  Sure, a fist doesn't do the same sort of damage as a dagger (or whatever) but it's still damage.  How should this be reflected in Metamorphosis Alpha?  Well, tucked away in the description of the 'third stage slug projector' on page 9 are rules for 'subduing damage.'  In short, if a being sustains subduing damage equal to or in excess of half of its total hit points, unconsciousness ensues.  A hit from a slug projector inflicts 2d6 subduing damage.  I suppose that a weaponless strike from a character would do 1d4 or 1d6 subduing damage (plus any modifiers due to strength).

1 Yes, I realize how geeky that sounds.

2 In the original rules, a duralloy shield – by itself – represented an armor class of 1. With the 2007 errata, a person with only a duralloy shield has an armor class of 5. To achieve an armor class of 1, a person must have a duralloy shield and wear thin metal armor.

3 The 2007 errata introduces a ninth class to represent vibro-weapons. Although listed among the weapons in the original edition, vibro-weapons were not described with much detail.

4 It thus follows that it is impossible to inflict full penetration damage at long range.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Atlantasia Über Alles

So, The Secret DM interviewed John Holland, creator of The Realms of Atlantasia, and nobody told me.  If you have any interest in John Holland, I suggest you read the interview (and my comments) now.  For a self-described ‘curmudgeon,’ The Secret DM serves up a soft, ‘feel-good’ interview.

Let it be known that my opinion about The Realms of Atlantasia has not changed from that which I expressed in this post; however, I was wrong when I said that Holland was arrogant.  He certainly has my admiration for surviving three bouts with cancer, but that hardly ameliorates the deplorable nature of The Realms of Atlantasia.

There are a few items from the interview that I’d like to discuss.

The Secret DM states,

I set out to find a quirky gamer who spent way too much time designing a game and didn't know the first thing about how to publish anything.

Nothing in the published interview suggests anything contrary to that statement.

Remember when Greg Christopher bemoaned the insularity of the role-playing game Internet community and implied that we should pity the poor little recluse?  Well, Holland doesn't see it that way.  Holland states that he “did a lot of research online through chat rooms…”  Holland also discounts the notion that he is “out of the loop” when The Secret DM asks Holland if he sees his “lack of involvement/engagement [with the community] as a weakness.”

Apparently, Holland is prescient; he says, “I have seen…the eventual rise and fall of Wizards of the Coast.”  He probably means “rise and eventual fall…”  In any case, I would like to know if he’s betting on the Patriots.

When describing the game, The Secret DM lists three ”key features,” namely:
  • If you don't care for your horse by feeding it and giving it rest, your horse will die
  • If a regular riding horse goes into battle, it will rear up and bolt at the first scent of blood
  • Your armor, weapons, and clothing all take damage and have to be repaired
I began to wonder how the game actually addresses these circumstances.

The rules specifically state that "all horses need food and water to sustain them."  However, there are no specifics regarding the game effects of starvation or thirst.  How many meals can a horse miss before it dies?  Although it doesn't do much for helping a horse rest, there is a spell called 'Animal Feed.'  On page 308, it is described thus:

This spell enables the Priest(ess) to feed a horse without stopping. When casted the animal's belly will automatically be filled.

Page 110 says that horses not trained for war "most likely will bolt at the first sign of battle."  So the second 'feature' is addressed to my satisfaction.

Clothes, weapons, and armor do take damage, but the repair of said damage is glossed over.  The only reference I found to repair* is on page 45:

If this damage is not dealt with by a blacksmith, the weapon could fall apart...The same could be said for your armor!

Do blacksmiths charge for this service?  How much?  What about clothing and leather?  Do blacksmiths sub-contact seamstresses and tanners?  If page 215 is any indication, blacksmiths in Atlantasia make slings.

*  There is a 'repair' spell, but it "is used to repair stone structures..."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Magic of Atlantasia

Continuing the glorious creation of Johann Nederland – Cosmic Spy Mage

In our post last week, Johann purchased a set of clothes; however, I forgot to have him buy footwear. Let us correct this oversight at once. In Atlantasia, one can buy short boots or high boots and there are three options for each type: soft leather, hard leather, and “hard with trinkets.” For high boots, the costs are 1 gold chip, 15 gold chips, and 30 gold chips respectively. Johann buys high boots made of soft leather for one gold chip and – what the heck – let's splurge for a hard-with-trinkets wide belt for three gold chips. (Wide belts are the only kind available.) For those of you keeping track at home, Johann has 97 gold chips left.

On Atlantasia, careers have talents which are like specializations; priests, however, for reasons known only to John Holland, do not have specialized talents. Talents are determined by random rolls. Johann's spy talent is “spider (+30% to climb walls).” His mage talent is “scroll writer (+40% to scroll writing rolls).”

At first level, Johann's spy abilities are:

     Locate Traps 1%

     Locate Secret Doors 1%

    “Extra Hearing” 10% (Extra Hearing is not explained.)

     Climb Walls 35% (this includes the spider talent; normally, it would be 5%)

     Hide in Shadows 5%

     Use Disguise 10%

As a mage, Johann has a 20% chance of detecting magic within an item. At first level, he knows the first three spells of his school (cosmic). These spells are: Sun Shield (+5% to defense for 5 semi-segments, magic cost 2), Falling Star (1 star doing 1d4 damage, magic cost 3), and Free Breath (“This spell allows the mage to breathe when there is no air available for a period of time,” magic cost 7).*

So how does spell combat work in Atlantasia? Well, it can involve several rolls of the dice, especially during the Season of Chaos. “The first roll of the % dice will determine if the spell is successfully casted [sic].”** There is a 15% chance that the spell will backfire and a 20% chance that the spell with otherwise fail; this means an attack spell will be successful 65% of the time. There are no modifiers to this roll; a first level character has the same chances as a twentieth level character. “The second roll of the % dice is to determine the power behind the spell.” Thankfully, Holland tells us that we don't have to determine the power of an unsuccessful spell. Not only is that realistic, but I'm certain that it saves a lot of time! There is a 10% chance on the 'power roll' for a spell to fizzle, so even a successful spell can wind up being unsuccessful.

In the Season of Chaos, it is possible for a spell to have effects beyond what the caster intended. Depending upon the specific cycle during the season, the 'chance of altered spell' can be anywhere from 1% to 95%. If a spell is altered, another d% roll is made to determine the effect. There is a 5% chance that 1-20 “garter snakes fly out” and there is a 15% chance that “strange bird sounds erupt.” Whether or not a spell is altered, there is a chance that the spell will hit a companion; there is also a chance that the spell will backfire (presumably only if it doesn't hit a companion). For a period of seven cycles in the middle of the Season of Chaos, the chance for backfire is 100%.

If a spell successfully hits a target, a d% roll is made and the result checked on the 'Placement Chart.' (In other games, this is called a Hit Location Chart.) It's not that damage can affect different parts of the body differently; a roll is made on the 'Placement Chart' to determine which piece of armor or article of clothing (if any) is subject to damage.

Sometimes, a target will have a certain degree of resistance to certain forms of magic. For instance, Johann's resistance to cosmic spells is 32%. This resistance is not the chance Johann has of ignoring the effects of the spell; instead, this is the amount by which damage caused by the spell is reduced.

That's it for magical combat! “Wait,” you ask, “what about the spell save roll? It has a modifier derived from Psychic Defense.” Well, what about it? Oh, you think that “spell save roll” is defined somewhere in the rules? No, not a chance; it's not even mentioned anywhere other than the Psychic Defense table. In that regard, it's just like “reaction roll.” Does Holland mean for the “spell save roll” modifier to be applied to resistance? I guess it's possible, but resistance isn't rolled.

There's more to come.

*  We assume, of course, that air will become available after said period of time expires.

**  Yes, John Holland, author of The Realms of Atlantasia, uses “casted” for the past tense of “cast.” (Or is that pasted tense? Gosh, the English language can be difficult at times.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ceatitle Trodar Northman

In memory of Jean Wells, Thoul's Paradise presents her character from The Rogues Gallery (1980), a publication that credits Wells as one of the designers.

Chaotic Neutral Human Magic-User (10th level)

Strength 12
Intelligence 16
Wisdom 11
Dexterity 14
Constitution 13
Charisma 14

Hit Points 25
Armor Class 10

Ceatitle (Cea as she is called by family and friends as well as for convenience) is a slight, short woman of moderate bearing and beauty. She generally wears worn-looking clothing with the colors green, brown, and yellow predominating. She usually has a bag of goods slung over one shoulder and a quiver for her wands over the other.

Cea by nature is a miser. She buries caches of treasure about the countryside to be used later. She tries to portray herself as a poor but studious magic-user. Cea values information greatly, although she seldom uses it. She enjoys being curious. Finally, she is very mischievous, often getting herself and her party into trouble. Although she will generally aid a party all she can, she will use her dimension door spell to escape the minute things look bad. In extreme cases she will teleport home. Usually she will feel insecure if there are less than 2 escape routes available to her.

In general, Cea carries the following spells: magic missile, ESP, stinking cloud, web, fireball, lightning bolt, suggestion, ice storm, dimension door, cloudkill, and teleport. She may have more spells memorized, though.

Cea has a passion for collecting things of rarity not normally seen as useful nor designed to provide immediate comforts, but seen as a standing of luxury. These include a singing teacup, an ivory ring carved with bears, a small crystal statuette of a dolphin, a magical portable bathtub, and a singing book. She also possesses a familiar – a black cat named Light, who has a permanent unseen servant to open doors for it. The more useful magic items Cea has are a wand of metal and mineral detection, a wand of illusion, a wand of secret door and trap location, a hollow wand filled with poison (non-magical), a ring of protection +3, a bag of holding, and a staff of commanding.

Jean Wells married Corey Koebernick.  Tom Moldvay named one of the Lords of Creation 'foes' after Koebernick and he is listed among the "Playtesters and Other Helpful People" in the credits for that game.  As a special Thoul's Paradise bonus, here is the listing for "Koebernick."