Sunday, September 30, 2012


Hans Hofmann     Cataclysm     1945

Last week I indicated that Year of the Phoenix (hereinafter Phoenix) is a post-apocalypse game.  The rules refer to the apocalypse at issue as the ‘cataclysm.’  According to Chapter 10 of the Adventure Guide:
          North Amerika was engulfed in a cataclysmic disaster over a century ago.  The exact nature of it is uncertain (letting the gamemaster tailor the facts to fit his or her campaign), but the results are all around.  World population is drastically reduced, culture has been altered, and the Zoviets rule North America.
          Two different versions of a possible holocaust (the Third World War) are included:  one at the beginning of this chapter, and the other at the end.  The first one stipulates that everyone knows what happened, while the latter assumes that portions of the world entered a 'Dark Age,' from which they are only now emerging.
The section on slang indicates that ‘Zoviet’ is the “[e]volution of the twentieth-century term, ‘Soviet.’”  ‘Amerika’ is “a rebel word, to distinguish themselves from the America the Zoviet government represents.”  Yes, the first paragraph of the quoted section above begins with “North Amerika” and ends with “North America.”  I assume that author Martin Wixted intended a consistent spelling.

In the ‘full-disclosure’ version of the cataclysm, the entry for the year 2007 begins:
          Testing of a new Ion Propulsion engine by Japan American Corporation in space leads to disaster for Earth as the magnetic effects wipe out many computer systems monitoring life support, water, sewage, and power use.  The polar ice caps begin to melt as Earth is ripped asunder.  The Van Allen belt disrupts the Ozone Layer, admitting vast quantities of ultraviolet radiation.  Earth's fault lines convulse and nuclear power plants around the globe suffer chain-reaction meltdowns.
The geographic upheaval of the cataclysm affected the continents in terms of coastlines and ecology.  A map of ‘North Amerika’ will have to wait for a future post, but I like to think that Wixted was inspired by the original Gamma World map when creating his setting.  Otherwise, here is a portion of the world map from the back of the box:

Most of the rest of the map is covered by a text box; however, for those interested, Australia seems to be Non-Zoviet.

Among the more drastic changes, page 7 of the Adventure Guide says...
          The North American continent settled, dropping many areas below sea level.  These areas were eventually reclaimed when the nuclear winter increased the polar ice caps...
          The great Mojave desert has all but disappeared, thanks to the shift in the weather and the increased size of the Great Salt Lake...
          No new mountain ranges sprang up as a result of the cataclysm, but most have changed in height to some extent, with several volcanoes active along the Northern West Coast.
Anyway, “The Soviets are hurt badly be the catastrophe, but gamble that the rest of the world is completely helpless.”  Despite the fact that “the comparatively undamaged Asiatic Conclave surges into Russia,” the USSR makes gains in Europe and successfully invades North America.  Nuclear weapons are used and “Disease begins its insidious spread as radiations sickness [sic], rabies, and cancer tear through the innocent populace.”  By the time 2197 rolls around, the Soviets Zoviets still occupy much of Europe as well as the (former) United States and Canada.  Also, the Asiatic Conclave “remains a deep thorn in the Russian side.”

The ‘Dark Age’ version of the cataclysm consists of flavor text on page 17 of the Adventure Guide on a graphic that is intended to represent a tattered document.  Beneath the document, the bottom of the page reads, “Discovered near the Blasted Heath, and translated by Sister Emmanuel Luth.”  ‘Blasted Heath,’ the slang section tells us, “Refers to any radioactive zone.  Originally meant a specific radiation-soaked area in the Southwest.”

The document is titled “St. Augin's Book of Days:  The Third World War” and consists of seven numbered, biblically-styled passages (20-23 and 57-59).  One supposes that “The Red Death,” “the Thing,” and “Evil” are synonyms for communist forces.  In passages 20-23, God commands “the ruler of the greatest nation which opposed the go forth and end this plague.”  The ruler and his “war chiefs” travel “across the great sea” whereupon the ruler “led the holy crusade across the length and breadth of the land...”

The last three passages tell us...
          On the twelth year of this task, it is written that God again came unto him.  In his vision the Lord spoke thusly, “Great soldier, your faith is steadfast, and your mission here is finished  Return now, to your homeland, and bear all of life’s misfortunes well.”  “It shall be done as you command,” the man spoke, and returned home.
          Ill was his heart at the words of God, and his foreboding was not misguided.  The Evil One had indeed fled from sight – and had struck at the ruler’s own family, rending their home asunder.  The ruler fell to his knees in dismay, crying, “Lord my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
          God heard his plea, and pitied him.  “It is your holy quest to destroy this Evil, to seek it out wherever it lurks and rid it from the face of the earth.  Once the world is again pure, you may live in freedom.  Your flock is gone, so that you may well heed my message and raise a new people who must obey my word or perish.”  The ruler accepted this mission and went forth into the daylight to fulfill the Holy Word of God.
Sort of like The Book of Job meets Twilight: 2000.

Wixted provides one last bit of ‘flavor’ regarding the cataclysm.  In the slang section, there is an entry for ‘By the Day of Great Blood.’  It is defined as “An oath to swear upon, ‘By the Day of Great Blood I do swear to uphold this treaty.’  Refers to unspecified past event, having to do with the cataclysm.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Character Creation in Edge of the Empire (Part I)

Art by Howard Chaykin

Contrary to the “Part I” in this post's title, last week we began to create a character for Fantasy Flight Games' Edge of the Empire (Beta) roleplaying game.  Specifically, we sought to define the beloved Saun Dann in game terms.  In our efforts, we managed to get as far as 'Obligation.'

The next step is 'Selecting a Species.'  Saun Dann is – of course – human.  Other options for player characters in EotE-B include Bothan, droid (class four), Gand, Rodian, Trandoshan, Twi'lek, and Wookiee.  The names of all species, except for droids and humans, are capitalized.  The eight species are differentiated from one another in terms of characteristics, derived attributes, starting experience, and special abilities.

EotE-B characters have six characteristics:  Agility, Brawn, Cunning, Intellect, Presence, and Willpower.  A value of 6 is the ceiling for characteristics and no characteristic can be increased beyond a value of 5 during character creation.  Not surprisingly, humans provide the standard against which other species are compared.  Humans have a default value of 2 for each characteristic.  Other species vary from this by having a value of 3 for one characteristic and a value of 1 for another; for example, Wookiees have a Brawn of 3 but a Willpower of  1.  Droids are the only exception to this pattern; they start with a value of 1 in each characteristic.  I am pleased to announce that – as of yesterday’s update – Gand now have a default Presence of 1 instead of a default Intellect of 1.  This means your humble host will forgo his planned hunger strike.

The derived attributes influenced by one's species are 'wound threshold' (ability to withstand physical injury) and 'strain threshold' (ability to withstand mental/ psychological injury).  Wound threshold equals a given species-defined number plus Brawn.  Strain threshold equals a given species-defined number plus Willpower.  For humans, wound threshold is 10 + Brawn; strain threshold is 10 + Willpower.

Humans have 110 starting experience points (XP).  Most speicies have 100 starting XP; Wookiees and Trandoshans start with 90 XP.  Droids have 175 XP but – remember – they start with low characteristics.  To appreciate the utility of starting experience, we must skip ahead to careers and specializations.

EotE-B offers six careers:  Bounty Hunter, Colonist, Explorer, Hired Gun, Smuggler, and Technician.  Each career has three specializations; for example, the Colonist career has the specialization of Doctor, Politico, and Scholar.  Players select a career and a specialization within that career for their characters.  Each career has eight 'career skills.'  Upon choosing a career, a character receives one rank in four career skills.  Each specialization has four skills that are considered career skills for a character with that specialization.  Some specialization skills might overlap with the skills offered by the career.  For instance, 'Skulduggery' is a Smuggler career skill and it is also one of the four skills associated with the Smuggler specialization of Thief.  Anyway, characters receive one rank in two specialization skills.  Also, each specialization has a 'talent tree.'

Characters can use starting experience to purchase and/or improve skills.  For career skills, a rank costs 5 XP times the rank to be attained.  Each rank must be purchased separately and no starting character may have more than two ranks in a skill.  For example, if a character possessed one rank in a given career skill and wanted to have two ranks, it would cost 10 XP; getting a third rank would cost an additional 15 XP.  Non-career skills cost 10 XP times the rank to be attained.

Characters can gain additional specializations with experience.  According to yesterday's update, purchasing a specialization within the character's career costs 5 XP times the total number of specializations the character has, including the specialization to be purchased.  Buying a specialization outside of the character's career costs 10 XP times the total number of specializations, as above.

Characteristics can also be improved with experience.  According to page 64, increasing a characteristic costs...
Ten times the purchased rating in experience.  Each rating must be purchased separately.
The catch is that experience points can only be used to improve characteristics during character creation.

Let's get back to Saun Dann.  We know he is a Trader, which happens to be a specialization of the Explorer career.  Saun Dann gets one rank in four Explorer career skills, specifically Astrogation, Pilot (Space), Knowledge (Outer Rim), and Charm.  From the Trader specialization, we choose Deceit and Negotiation.  As a special ability, humans have “one additional rank in each of two different non-career skills…”  It would likely be effective for a character to have a combat skill; however, so as to be true to Saun Dann's concept, we choose Mechanics and Streetwise.

Next week, we shall invest Saun Dann's experience points.  Until then, may the Force be with you.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Roleplaying Game of Amerika in 2197 C.E.

Although not labeled as such in its RPGGeek listing, FGU's Year of the Phoenix roleplaying game (hereinafter Phoenix) falls into the 'post-apocalypse' genre.  However, refering to Phoenix as a post-apocalyse game does a disservice to its premise.  Phoenix'  focused and elaborate premise is its most endearing feature; it is also the reason Phoenix is condemned to obscurity.

Phoenix embraces the Reagan era fantasy of a Soviet invasion of the United States.  It was published in 1986 (the same year as Fortress America), between the motion picture Red Dawn (1984) and the televison mini-series Amerika (1987).  To the extent that an invasion of the U.S. was likely at all, your humble host felt that the Chinese were a more plausible culprit (doubtless due to the influence of Heinlein's Sixth Column and “Free Men”).

A Soviet-occupied America – without further elaboration – is a sufficient premise for a role-playing game (see Freedom Fighters, also published by Fantasy Games Unlimited, also in 1986).  However, Phoenix is not content to stop there.  The following excerpt appears on the back of the box:
     It is 1997.  You are a soldier of the United States Space Command, a member of the warrior elite.  Backed by the most powerful nation on earth, your job is to protect our interests in space.
     But tragedy strikes.  During a rescue mission at the space station America, a freak explosion tears you from your Shuttle and plunges you through a time warp.
     Stranded in the future, a future where our great nation fell to the enemy over two hundred years ago, you and your surviving crew vow to continue your fight for freedom.
     “Welcome to Amerika, comrade...”
The back of the box also states:
Unique in the roleplaying experience, players are as shocked and unprepared as their characters when this tragedy hits.
Of course, that's only true for players who happened not to read the back of the box and who otherwise avoided exposure to information about the game.  The 'unique experience' was viable in a playtesting context, but it was hardly feasible to maintain such a pretense in a published product line.  Even if it were so, it would not necessarily be desirable; someone eager to play a 'space commando' may not relish the expected setting turning into an 'underground resistance' campaign.

Phoenix includes a four page Player Handout, a forty-eight page Training Manual (covering chapters one through eight of the rules), and an eighty page Adventure Guide (covering chapters nine through fourteen of the rules, along with three connected adventures).  The handout and manual do not betray the secret that the player characters will be transported to a future, occupied America; that information is in the guide, evidently intended only for the gamemaster.  Phoenix also includes a gamemaster screen; one side is for the gamemaster to view and the opposite side is for the players.  Among other things, the players' side displays weapons tables that provide information such as 'Year of 1st Manufacture.'  Many of the listed weapons have dates after 1997 – the year in which the game supposedly takes place.  Phoenix doesn't make it easy to keep the secret.

Phoenix was created by Martin Wixted (1962 - 1994), who contributed to various projects for West End Games, including The Price of Freedom – another game about a Soviet invasion of the United States, also published in 1986.  The table of contents page of the Adventure Guide makes reference to “The Epic Game Series” and credits Wixted, along with Scot Fritz, for the design of the “Epic Rule System.”  Wayne Shaw and Curtis M. Scott are listed as providing 'Developmental Assistance.'  (Curtis Scott, like Wixted, died at the young age of 32.)  The idea of Phoenix'  rules as a 'system' is fascinating; an idea we shall explore in future installments of Thoul's Paradise.

Most of the art for Phoenix, including the cover shown above, was provided by David Dietrick.  His efforts were uneven in Phoenix, spanning a spectrum from poorly executed to charming.  Patrick Zircher supplied the art for two pages of vehicle counters.

[This paragraph contains spoilers.]  In Phoenix, players create characters who are part of the United States Space Command in 1997.  For their first mission, they travel to the space station America (via the 'military' Space Shuttle Phoenix) in order to liberate it from Libyan terrorists.  (The aptly named station is a metaphor that Wixted employs to foreshadow circumstances that the player characters are fated to experience.)  Before they can confront the terrorists, “the characters are thrown through time and space.”*  Of course, the PCs are not supposed to immediately realize they have travelled to the year 2197.  In the intervening two centuries, a 'cataclysm' occurs.  “The exact nature of it is uncertain,” Wixted states on page 7 of the Adventure Guide, but it provided the opportunity for the Soviets to invade.  Thus, although the back of the box says “over two hundred years ago,” as of 2197 it would be less than two hundred years since the occupation began.  Given the current state of affairs, the PCs are expected to “vow to continue [the] fight for freedom.”  As such, the Phoenix symbolizes a renewed America rising from the ashes of Soviet domination.  Had Wixted gone with communist China as the invader, Year of the Phoenix could have taken on another level of meaning.

The last page of the Adventure Guide describes supplementary products for Phoenix which were never published.  Liberty the Fugitive!  would have continued the 'storyline' of the introductory adventures provided in the Adventure GuideSurf's Up!  would have been a distinct adventure module.  Also planned was the Year of the Phoenix Sourcebook.  Evidently, official Year of the Phoenix metal figurines were to be produced by Frontier Miniatures.

Wixted put a great deal of effort into Phoenix and it would seem to be a labor of love.  Sadly, the focus was too narrow to be commercially viable and the topic ceased to be timely a mere handful of years after publication.  Year of the Phoenix remains available for purchase from FGU.  An electronic version may be obtained at RPGNow.

*  On page 46 of the Adventure Guide, Wixted states that “if there are enough requests, FGU may publish a Campaign Pack for adventuring with the Pegasus in the year 1997.”  (The Pegasus is the sister ship of the Phoenix.)

Edited on 11/04/12 to clarify that Curtis Scott passed away.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Obligation in Edge of the Empire

To explore Fantasy Flight's Star Wars Edge of the Empire-Beta roleplaying game (hereinafter EotE-B), let us go through the process of creating a character.  In EotE-B, character creation is decidedly not old school in that it is (mostly) not random.  In other words, one must imagine a character concept first and foremost.  For purposes of our exercise, let us draw inspiration from that beloved Star Wars character Saun Dann.  If any fanboyz experience butthurt over my interpretation of good ol’ Saun, let me know.  Likewise, if anyone who fancies himself an EotE-B rules expert takes issue with my understanding of the rules, leave a comment.
Once concept is considered, each player character has an Obligation, a circumstance that may affect the character in a less than positive way.  Owing money to a Hutt could be considered an Obligation.  Each Obligation has a description and a numeric value.

A table provides a list of Obligation types.  Examples include obsession, bounty, and addiction.  In a concession to 'old school,' a player may make a percentile roll to determine Obligation.  With the Game Master's permission, a player may choose one of the listed Obligations or “make up his own.”  For Saun Dann, let's say he is 'dutybound' to help the Rebellion.  Not only could such a duty be inconvenient, he risks the ire of the Empire because of his association.

The 'value' of an Obligation is based on the number of player characters in the party.  For a party of two PCs, a value of 25 points* each is suggested; for a party of five (which is what we assume for our example), a value of 10 points is recommended.  Regardless of the size of the party, the starting values are designed so that the party's combined value will be between sixty and seventy points (or thereabouts).

A player character can take on additional Obligation – either five or ten points worth – and receive a benefit in terms of experience points or additional starting money.  Given that Saun Dann is a trader by profession, he needs a certain amount of 'stock' with which to trade.  We have Saun Dann assume ten more points of Obligation in order to have an additional 2,500 credits in starting funds.

Once Obligation has been determined for each character in a party, the GM creates an Obligation Check Chart.  Here is the chart for our hypothetical five-character party:

                              Obligation            Character
                              1 - 20                     Saun Dann
                              21 - 30                   Morgan Sunskimmer
                              31 - 40                   Camie
                              41 - 50                   THX-1138
                              51 - 60                   Jaxxon
Each character has ten points of Obligation except for Saun Dann, who has twenty.  In creating a party's Obligation Check Chart, the largest Obligation should be listed first with the remaining Obligations listed in order of descending size.  This is pursuant to the EotE-B update issued on September 4, 2012.  Order among characters with an equal amount of Obligation is supposedly unimportant, but see below.

At the start of any given session, the GM makes a percentile roll and compares it against the Obligation Check Chart.  If the result of the roll exceeds the total Obligation, then the party's Obligations do not affect them during that session.  If the result is equal to or less than the total Obligation, then “something related to their Obligation may introduce complications during the upcoming session.”  In terms of concrete effects, each character's 'Strain Threshold' is reduced for the session.  (Strain Threshold is a 'derived attribute' measuring the amount of “psychological and mental damage” a character is capable of enduring.)  Specifically, the character represented by the Obligation range containing the result of the percentile roll loses two strain while all other characters in the party lose one.  For instance, on a roll of 26, Morgan Sunskimmer would have two less strain than usual and everyone else would have one less.  When rolling doubles, the strain loss is doubled.  For example, with a roll of 33, Camie would be down by four strain and the other characters would be down by two each.

In a party of six or more player characters, the recommended starting Obligation is five points.  In such a situation, there would be characters who could not be the direct subject of a roll of doubles.  Even in our example, Saun Dann, who has twice the Obligation of any other character, has the same chance of being directly afflicted by a roll of doubles.  However, if Morgan Sunskimmer had the same amount of Obligation (i.e., twenty points), she would have twice Saun Dann's chance of being 'hit by doubles.' This offends my sense of fairness.

I would recommend that the double effect be applied when the percentile roll result equals the highest number of any character's 'Obligation range' on the chart.  So, with our example, the double effect would occur on a result of 20, 30, 40, 50, or 60.  In terms of the double effect, each character would have the same risk as any other character, regardless of relative Obligation.

* As of the September 25 update, 20 points each is the suggested value for two player characters.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

More Magic Items from High Fantasy

Before we bid adieu to High Fantasy, I thought that I might share some more descriptions of High Fantasy magic items as a complement to my earlier post on the subject.  First, here are a couple of items that I don’t particularly like.  Evidently, Jeff Dillow was trying to be “cute.”
The Kitchen Magician – This is also called “the sword of many swords.”  It looks like a well-made sword in a silver and gold scabbard.  When the sword is drawn and held out in front of the player [character] it creates a wall of whirling swords 10 feet away from the player [character].  The wall of swords is 10’ x 10’ and moves when the player [character] moves the sword.  It will last for five turns and then the wall will disappear.  Anyone hit by the wall receives damage on the 95 column each turn they remain in it.  The sword can only be used in this manner once a day and after that it reverts to a normal sword.  If the player [character] hasn’t used the sword wall that day then the sword will be a plus 5 column damage weapon until it is used.
The Super Wiz Biz Robe – A bizarre bright red robe cluttered with moons and stars.  That hat is long and pointy with a little crook at the end and is also covered with moons and stars.  There is a large W on a necklace that swings loosely about the chest.  The robe increases a wizard’s innate ability by 20 and adds 5 to his offense and 10 to his defense.  When other people see a person wearing this outfit it usually causes them to break out laughing with a 10% chance of going into uncontrollable laughter for 3 turns.  The robe is large and clumsy and has a 5% chance of interfering with the wizard so much that it causes him to cast the spell next to the one he intended to.  If there is no spell next to the one he is casting then a shower of flowers will spring from the wizards [sic] hand instead of the spell.
With the following item, we see that Dillow took inspiration from Hindu mythology.
Vajra “The Heaven Bow” – This is a 6 foot bow made of rainbows and strung with black clouds.  It’s [sic] arrows are lightning bolts that do 80 column damage whenever they hit.  The bow comes with six arrows but there is a secret hollow shaft that will turn any regular arrow placed in it into a lightning bolt, if it is left there for one day.  Use the same range that you use for longbows.  The bow only exists in daylight or magic light.  At night it disappears and will reappear in the same place when the light of the morning comes again.
Speaking of magic light…
The Elf Stone – A clear blue rock that glows if exposed to open air.  It can be used as a torch and if desired will have the same effect as a second plane fear spell on other creatures.
Here's a strange one...
The Sacrificial Breastplate – A large piece of armor that is worn to protect the chest.  It has an intricately decorated front and appears to be a very well-built piece of equipment.  The armor originated from a very peculiar style of area combat in the olden days.  Two combatants would put on one of these breastplates,* which would add +30 to their defense, and then commence to fight each other in the typical gladiatorial style.  When one of the combatants lost the winner would go over and tear the armor from the chest of the loser.  This breastplate burns a symbol on the chest of who ever puts it on.  When the armor is taken off it will reveal this symbol and unless this symbol is quickly covered up the loser would be in trouble.  The symbol marks the wearer for sacrifice to the demons.  For every turn the symbol is exposed there is a 60% chance a demon will appear and try to devour the person marked.  What a horrible thing it was to lose in the arena in the olden days!
Speaking of demons…
The Horn of Trumpeting Doom – A horn made from the tusk of a dead demon.  The mouth piece is finely spun silver.  The horn has been cursed and can only be used properly by another demon.  If the person** blows the horn in a building a part of the ceiling will collapse striking everyone in the room and will do damage on the 60 column.  If outside, branches will fall, rocks will slip or even meteors will descend and cause everyone in a 100 feet radius to take damage on the 80 column.
Last but not least we have...

Golden Death – A small gold statue of a lion that is amazingly intricate for its size.  This magical device was one of the Assassin of Nautpolis’s favorite devices.  When the lion is tossed into the air it will grow into a full sized lion before it hits the ground.  The Assassin would often use it to maul his victims and thus disguise the fact it was a definite assassination.  The lion will maintain its full size and golden hue for two complete turns at which time it will revert back into a statue.  Use the regular lion statistics located on the Creature Table.
*  I assume one each
**  I assume a non-demon

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Force Dice & Destiny Points

The one Edge of the Empire (Beta)* die that I did not dicuss last week was the Force Die.  Although EotE-B does not focus on the Force per se, the twelve pages of Chapter VIII are devoted to it; providing an introduction as to how game mechanics accommodate the Force.  The third installment of Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars Roleplaying Game, Force and Destiny (anticipated for 2015), will doubtless supply a more thorough study.

Force-sensitive characters have a 'Force Rating' from 1 to 7.  A Force Rating of 2 has a magnitude of Tenuous and the examples given are self-taught exile and Padawan.  A Force Rating of 6 has a magnitude of Formidable and the examples given are Jedi Master and Sith Lord.  An EotE-B character can become Force-sensitive by acquiring the Force-Sensitive Exile specialization.  This provides a Force Rating of 1; through experience, a Force Rating of 2 can be obtained.

EotE-B describes three Force powers that a Force-sensitive character may use:  Sense, Infuence, and Move.  Each must be purchased separately.  When a Force-sensitive character  attempts to use a Force power, the player rolls a number of Force Dice equal to the character's Force Rating.  Unlike other EotE-B dice, Force Dice to not generate success/failure symbols; instead, they generate 'resources' in the form of Force points.

Each side of the Force die has one or two resources represented, either 'light side' symbols (white circles) or 'dark side' symbols (black circles).  Six faces have one dark side symbol each and one face has two dark side symbols.  Two faces have one light side symbol each and three faces have two light side symbols each.  Although the two sides are balanced (each 'side' has a total of eight symbols on the die), it's more likely that any given roll will generate a dark side result (seven dark side faces versus five light side faces).

A Force-sensitive character can use light side results and dark side results, but there are costs associated with using the dark side.  Full- fledged Jedi and other powerful Force users suffer unique penalties for using dark side results, but – given the scope of EotE-B – those penalties are not discussed.  EotE-B characters employing the dark side of the Force must use a Destiny Point (see below) and suffer 'strain' damage.

While the Force may not play a significant part (if any) in an EotE-B campaign, Force Dice are still used.  At the beginning of each session, a 'Destiny Pool' is determined.  Each player (not GM) rolls a Force Die; the result indicates the type and number of 'Destiny Points' that will go into the pool.  (For instance, two light side symbols indicates two light side Destiny Points; one dark side symbol means one dark side Destiny Point.)  Players may 'use' light side Destiny Points to upgrade their chances of performing a task or to hinder the tasks of opposing non-player characters. Players may also 'use' light side Destiny Points to activate certain talents and special abilities.  Narrative elements of luck can also be introduced into the game, such as a character conveniently having a specific item of equipment that was not previously noted.

When a player 'uses' a light side Destiny Point, it doesn't disappear; it becomes a dark side Destiny Point which the Game Master can use against the players.  Of course, when the GM uses a dark side Destiny Point, it becomes a light side Destiny Point.  Thus is established an ebb and flow of fate.  To keep track of Destiny Points, I think that Othello/Reversi chips would be ideal.

*  From page 66, it seems a preliminary title was Edge of the Darkness.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Spells in High Fantasy

Within lies the ancient tombs and writing of our most worshipped predecessors.  Between the leather covers of this most ancient reading is the sum total of all the old scrolls and the power of our kind.  Meant for a wizards [sic] eyes only...
Thus begins 'The Spell Book' section starting on page 66 of Jeffery C. Dillow's High Fantasy role-playing game.  I suspect “tomes” was intended rather than “tombs,” but there's nothing I can do about it.

In High Fantasy, there are fifty spells; however, as I explained previously, when a wizard gains skill levels, spells can have improved effects.  Each of the five planes has ten spells, as listed below.  Before a wizard can use spells of a given plane, he must have all spells from all lesser planes.  Beginning wizards start the game with 3 - 6 first plane spells of their choice.

Here is a listing of the entire corpus of High Fantasy spells.

Plane 1: Binding, Paralysis, Create a Familiar, Temperature, Light, Interference Shield, Sleep, Wall, Detect, Negate

Plane 2: Control, Shield, Fly, Voice, Fear, Portal, Transmutate, Telekinesis, Language, Food

Plane 3: Catastrophies, Strike, Electric, Shadows, ESP, Communication, Maxi/Mini, Reverse, Sound, Strength

Plane 4: Summon, Return, Animate, Illusion, Invisibility, Change Shape, Symbols, Body Control, Passage, Aetherial

Plane 5: Hand, Exhaust Aether, Book, Time, Restore Magic, Curse, Undead, Duplicate, Possession/Exorcism, Clone

Spells in bold are “memorizable.”  If a spell is not memorizable, it “must be read from a book.”  How spell memorization affects game play is not readily apparent from the rules.  Nothing in the combat section suggests that casting a memorized spell is different from casting a non-memorized spell.  Neither the example of combat (pages 50 - 52) nor the example of play (pages 99 - 102) are instructive.  An 'advanced rule' only serves to confuse matters.

High Fantasy presents a constructive way for each character class to channel wealth accumulated via adventuring; this is the advanced rule called “Investments.”  Wizards can assemble a research library by purchasing “units consisting of old books, parchments, and symbols, etc.”  Each 'unit' occupies a 2' by 2' area and has a cost of one hundred silver tams.  With such a library, a wizard can reproduce spell pages, discern the abilities of magic items, and obtain additional manna.  Additionally, according to page 107, a wizard...
...will be able to locate shorthand memory tricks and substitute phrases that will enable him to shorten and therefore memorize additional spells.  There is a limit of two more spells to memorize per plane.  For every unit there is a 1% chance of memorization.  He may try to memorize 2 spells per 10 units and the same spell only once per 10 units.
The phrases “memorize additional spells” and “a limit of two more spells...per plane” suggest this process is not necessary for spells that are 'normally memorizable.'

Anyway, all spells in High Fantasy may be cast up to a distance of one hundred feet and (except for instantaneous effects) have a duration of five minutes for every skill level of the caster.
The 'Light' spell...
allows the caster to create light and absorb it...At third plane a caster may cast invisible light.  This is a light that allows anyone within the area to see as if daylight.  To anyone located on the outside of the area it seems to be dark.
Starting at third plane, a wizard can use a 'Sleep' spell to “cause the victim to dream of whatever the Wizard desires.”

A 'Catastrophies' spell permits the caster to create a whirlwind, wave or tremor.  The 'Maxi/Mini' spell increases or decreases another of the caster's spells by 50%; the spell may also be delayed for up to one day.

Aside from controlling “unconscious bodily functions,” the 'Body Control' spell “allows the caster to adjust personal body weight to float lightly down through air or to become just light enough to walk on water.”

With the 'Clone' spell, a wizard can “grow a duplicate of a humanoid creature from a piece of skin” provided that the original humanoid is dead, but the skin cannot be more than a month old.  The clone will have all of the memories of the original, “but possess only those skills the humanoid had minus two planes.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Edge of the Empire (Beta)

2012 © Lucasfilm Ltd., I guess

At Gen Con – just after his disappointing D&D Next playtest – your humble host attended Fantasy Flight Games' 2012 'In-Flight Report' presented by FFG Publisher, Christian Petersen.  As many of you know, at that time Petersen announced that FFG will produce not one, but three Star Wars® roleplaying games.  The beta version of the first, Edge of the Empire (hereinafter EotE-B), was simultaneously released as “a limited edition, 224-page softcover rulebook.”  In this case, 'limited edition' means a print run of 5,000 copies.  Your humble host is given to understand that FFG has sold out of this product; but it had a cover price of $29.95.  Anyway, everyone attending the announcement received a complementary copy.  Thus, your humble host came to be in possession of this tome.

There is a capable review on RPG Geek and this dude looks like he might post a lot about the game.  There also seems to be more forum chatter about it than there are womp-rats in Beggar's Canyon.  So why are we discussing this on Thoul's Paradise?  The blog description says, “old school role-playing games” and EotE-B is certainly not old school.  Nonetheless, your humble host is compelled to express his views on the game in his endearing, idiomatic fashion.  It is as if a great cosmic force has selected him for this purpose; it is his...destiny.  In any event, Thoul's Paradise is not forsaking the old school; weekly posts delving into old school games will continue unabated.

EotE-B uses “special dice” in a dice pool mechanic evidently related to that used for FFG's iteration of Warhammer.*  This is not surprising, given the same publisher and Jay/Jason Little, EotE-B's primary designer, was also on WFRP's design team.  Doubtless, FFG will sell physical dice at some point in the future, but for now FFG is selling a dice app.  A dice app?  Such a thing offends your humble host's 'old school' sensibilities.  Fortunately, there is an alternative – putting stickers on blank dice.  EotE-B comes with a sheet of stickers, but you can make your own if you download an image of the sticker sheet from the EotE-B support page.  (Character sheets are also available for download.)  The fruit of your humble host's labor appears below.

A protocol droid provides scale

The dice seen in the photograph are 16 mm.  The d6's and d12's have a white base color; the d8's are ivory in an attempt to affect an organic synergy.  One sheet provides stickers for the fourteen dice appearing here:
  • Two d6 Boost dice (light blue)
  • Two d6 Setback dice (black)
  • Three d8 Difficulty dice (purple)
  • Three d8 Ability dice (green)
  • Two d12 Proficiency dice (yellow)
  • One d12 Challenge die (red)
  • One d12 Force die (white)
Ability, Proficiency, and Boost dice are 'positive' dice while Setback, Challenge, and Difficulty dice are 'negative.'  Positive dice have success symbols and negative dice have failure symbols.  To determine if a 'check' or task is successful, a 'dice pool' is composed and the dice are rolled.  In essence, if there are more success symbols than failure symbols among the results, the check is successful.

For the sake of example, let us say that a character wants “to make the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs.”  There are three basic factors that are used to determine which and how many dice to use in the dice pool:  characteristic, training, and difficulty.  For our hypothetical Kessel run task, we will adopt the presumption that the appropriate skill is 'Astrogation' which is associated with the 'Intellect' characteristic.  Let us further say that the character's Intellect is two (average) and Astrogation is three.  The larger of the two numbers tells us how many Ability dice to roll and the smaller number tells use how many of these dice are upgraded to Proficiency dice.  We start with three Ability dice and two are upgraded.  If the Kessel run is 'hard' in terms of difficulty, three Difficulty dice are added to the pool.  As of now, the dice pool consists of one Ability die, two Proficiency dice, and three Difficulty dice.

Advantages can be represented by adding Boost dice to the pool and complications can be represented by adding Setback dice to the pool.  For instance, if our example character was using a ship that had “special modifications,” one or two Boost dice might be added to the pool.

There are symbols other than Success and Failure on the dice.  An 'Advantage' symbol “indicates an opportunity for a positive consequence or side effect, regardless of the task's success or failure.”  A 'Threat' symbol is just the opposite; in fact, Advantages and Threats cancel out one another.  Advantages and Threats “do not directly impact success or failure, only the result's magnitude or potential side effects.”  Triggering a Critical Hit is one example of how an Advantage might be applied.

There is one 'Triumph' symbol on the Proficiency die.  If rolled, it represents a Success as well as opportunity “to activate...potent effects” that would otherwise require several Advantage symbols or that are above and beyond what Advantage symbols can accomplish.  The negative dice version of the 'Triumph' symbol is the 'Despair' symbol.  It appears once on the Challenge die; it has the effect of a Failure symbol and it “can be used to trigger potent negative effects” such as having a weapon jam.

*  It is possible to use “normal dice” and consult a table, but this is less than practical.  EotE-B also employs “regular” d10's for percentile-like rolls.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Character Advancement and Spellcasting in High Fantasy

In High Fantasy, player characters gain experience points through their actions. With enough experience points, player characters advance in terms of “skill level.” Each skill level attained increases a character's effectiveness. This process is rather standard for many 'old school' role-playing games. However, beyond this point, High Fantasy begins to exhibit some differences.

Five experience points separate one skill level from the next, regardless of character class. From first level to second level – five experience points are needed; from fourteenth level to fifteenth level – five experience points, etc. According to page 41, an experience point is earned “when a player's character's ability leads to the destruction, subdual, capture or control of an opponent with a skill level equal to or higher than that of the player [character].”* The rules go on to say that a character “need only aid in conquering an opponent” to earn an experience point; that way, all party members participating in the defeat of a suitably powerful opponent get an experience point. Because of how High Fantasy handles experience, players are spared the burden of recording thousands – or millions – of experience points as their characters advance and the amount of experience required to attain the next level is easily ascertained. In fact, experience is recorded via a group of checkboxes on the character sheet.

A key point of the experience system is that it specifies a “player's character's ability.” This does not mean 'ability' in the general sense; it refers to the function of the character's class. To earn experience points, a wizard must use spells to overcome an opponent, a warrior must use weapons, etc. It is also possible to gain an experience point when a character employs “his [or her] subclass in a very useful way.” Following up on this remark, the last sentence in the 'Advancement' section explains such an award is appropriate “when the player [sic] has a less than 5% chance and accomplishes his task.” Apparently, gaining experience via a subclass necessitates a very useful task that has a very low chance of success.
In High Fantasy, a set of four skill levels constitutes a “plane.” Page 41 explains that...
When a player [sic] advances into another plane not only does he receive the common skill level advantages but he also receives additional bonuses...For example wizards may use more spells, warriors receive another specialty weapon, alchemist [sic] get a new gun and animal masters train animals faster.
There are five 'planes' of spells. So, a wizard can cast spells from a plane equal to or less than the wizard's own plane (assuming the spell is in the wizard's book).  As might be expected, spells of a given plane are more powerful than spells from lesser planes; however, as a wizard “progresses from plane to plane [the wizard] will learn more effective uses” for known spells of lesser planes.  For example, let us examine the 'wall' spell of the first plane.  A 'first plane' wizard (1st - 4th level) casting 'wall' creates “a smokey wall to obscure vision.” Yippee.  Cast at 'second plane' (5th - 8th level), the spell generates an illusion of a wall.  At 'third plane' (9th - 12th level), the effect becomes substantial – “a stone wall 6" thick.”  At 'fourth plane' (13th - 16th level), a magic-hindering iron wall comes into being.  Finally, at 'fifth plane' (17th level and above), the wizard can create an invisible wall of “annihilation” that inflicts two boatloads of damage upon anything “entering it.”

In High Fantasy, magic is defined as the reshaping of reality.  Wizards do this via spells, which are powered by “a natural resource called aether.”  Wizards “conduct” aether in units called “manna.”  This is the basis of the spell point system in High Fantasy.  Any given spell costs a number of manna equal to the plane at which the spell is cast.  So, even though it is the 'same' spell, a 'smoke wall' would cost one manna regardless of the wizard's level, an 'annihilation wall' would cost five manna.

The amount of manna a wizard has is based solely on level.  Players are directed to consult the 'Skill Level Table' on page 116 to determine the amount of manna available to wizards of a given level.  Essentially, up through tenth level, available manna equals the wizard's level plus two.  After tenth level, manna equals level plus three.**

In order to cast a spell successfully, a wizard must (1) have hand and voice free, (2) not be involved in melee, and (3) “roll...equal to or less than his innate ability score.”  Manna is still expended when a roll is failed.  Wizards recover manna at a rate of one point per twenty-four hours.

Although aether is ubiquitous “in the environment of the game,”  there are areas of greater or lesser concentration.  Nexus points have a greater concentration of aether; because of this, wizards gain a bonus to their (spellcasting) ability rolls.  Also, the effects of a spell might spontaneously 'improve' to the next plane.  Black nexus points are areas of lesser concentration of aether; wizards suffer a penalty to their ability rolls at such places.

*  The Creature Table on pages 97-99 dutifully assigns a skill level to each creature. Xermocs, however, are not listed on the Creature Table; they are described as part of the rouge's gallery for the solitaire adventure and no skill level is listed.

**  Perhaps to avoid the number thirteen?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Thoul's Pair-O-Dice

You humble host intended this to commemorate the blog's 100th post; however, due to the interview with Daniel Griego, this is the 101st post.  Regardless, your humble host provides his beloved readers with two 'specialty' dice (some assembly required).  Can there possibly be a use for them?

This image is not intended to foster belief in the occult

Void where prohibited