Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The 'Ancient World' of Avalon Hill's RuneQuest

Apart from the 'Fantasy Europe' map in the boxed set, Avalon Hill's Deluxe Edition RuneQuest contained two maps of the ancient world, both attributed to the fictional Korybos of Tiana; the 'Ancient Map of the Western World' on page 11 and the 'Ancient Map of the Eastern World' on page 83.  They were obviously two parts of a single map and your humble host wanted to see the combined whole.  Other than defacing the book, the only option was to re-create the map.  Without further ado, you humble host presents the meager fruit of his amateur effort.

'Blue' signifies coastlines, 'Gray' signifies mountains

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Special Abilities in Year of the Phoenix

All player characters in Year of the Phoenix have special abilities – either mechanical (“The result of a mechanical device permanently attached to the hero's body”), physiological (“Abilities present as a result of quirks of the metabolism, genetic oddities, chemical imbalances, and the like”), or mental (“Abilities present because of special training, psychic properties, or simply unusual force of will...”).  Each ability usually has a drawback that tends to balance out the effectiveness of the ability.  Special abilities are what entitled the player characters to be recruited for Project Phoenix – not expert aptitude or an exemplary service record.  The special abilities chapter begins with a quote from Major Roger Nathan:
          You've all been called to this gymnasium so that we can test each of your Special Abilities.  Your Ability is what got you in here, so we're determined to see what it can do.  To your left you can see that metal enclosure.  It's a steel box with a door, really.  That is for testing things like weapons and heat- sensing, and heat-creating Abilities.
          Over here, to your right, are an odd assortment of vehicles and computers.  I see a couple of Corvettes, an army jeep, and three old, reliable MacIntosh computers.  Those are for testing machine empathy, as well as interfacing and electrical powers.
          The rest of this stuff, like the trampoline, is fairly self-explanatory.  Oh, and there's a medical team standing by.  I'm sure there'll be some casualties today.
Thanks for your confidence, Major!

To gain an appreciation of the variety of special abilities available, let's introduce ourselves to the pre-generated characters and see what abilities they have.

Carol Horn is the team pilot.  Her ability is “Heightened Sight.”  Her 'Line of Sight' is quadrupled that of what a normal person's would be and she can make out detail on an object eight meters distant as though it was only two meters away.  This ability has some drawbacks, she has poor night vision and is colorblind.  Unlike the other characters, the nature of her ability (mechanical, physiological, or mental) is not stated.  I guess it doesn't matter.

Bruce 'Keeps' Keeler is 'Communications & Payload Specialist' for our band of pre-gens.  He is ambidextrous, “has a swimmer's body, and sports a never-failing tan.”  However, these attributes do not represent his special ability.  Keeps has two levels of “Speed,” which is described as a “psychic ability to borrow future time.”  He can “increase normal reaction time and movement distances” for up to an hour's duration.  Immediately thereafter, for the same duration he “is proportionately 'slowed' as much as he...was 'hastened.' ”

Anthony Quill has been appointed 'Commander' of the team.  Quill has the “Weakness Analysis” ability as a result of a “specialized microcomputer hooked into sensory gear tied to the optic nerve.”  He can cause double damage but, before he can do so, the computer “takes over [his] eyes” for several seconds.  Quill is blind during this time.  At the level which Quill possesses this ability, he should be limited to a broad category of targets (e.g., animals, vehicles, structures), but this detail is not supplied.

Cynthia Shanders is 'Infantry.'  Had Martin Wixted written Phoenix today, he would describe her as “Native American” rather than “Indian.”  A “microprocessor” tied to her nervous system somehow allows her “to determine the surface thoughts of a gamemastered character,” but not a player character.  In order to do this, she must touch the subject and remain immobile.  It takes several seconds “to power up or shut down this Ability.”

David Toth is a 'Heavy Weapons' specialist.  Before he joined the service, David tried out for the Olympics but was not successful.  (His Basketball skill is at 70%.)  His special ability is listed as “Weapon/Mechanical.”  This means he has “Extendable claws...[that] reside in and/or around [his] hands,” or it could be his feet.  Instead of claws, they might be blades or metal plates.  Wixted does not specify.  Anyway, David does +4 Damage but it's possible he can injure himself with this weapon, even outside of combat.

Julie Whitmore is the 'Medic' of the group and – given her Chef skill – most likely the group's cook.  She is “almost too thin for high fashion modelling.”  Her special ability is “Self-Heal” to the extent that her recovery time is three times faster than normal.  This ability is 'mental' and, as such, requires a Talent Skill Sphere roll and a number of hours of (daily?) meditation commensurate to the level of trauma.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Inspiration: Kung Fu 2100

In a routine raid, the CloneMaster's secret police picked up a prisoner and brought him in for questioning by their master.  They didn't know their captive was a fully trained Terminator, captured only by sleep gas.  As the CloneMaster walks into the room, the prisoner suddenly shatters his handcuffs and explodes into action...
In a comment to a post earlier this month, Ed “Anonymous” Green suggested that I look at Kung Fu 2100 as a possible source of inspration for a role-playing game campaign.  I knew of the game and I found the premise interesting; however, I despaired of ever obtaining a copy.  Well, it turns out that the game originally appeared in The Space Gamer #30 and the Neutral Good people at Steve Jackson Games have made TSG periodicals available for download (for reasonable prices).  Huzzah!  A PDF is not the same as the actual game, but that doesn't matter for our purposes.

With regard to inspiration, it is interesting to note how Kung Fu 2100 came into being.  It seems that the magazine's publishers receive some unsolicited art pieces from Mitch O'Connell, who eventually became the world's best artist, apparently.  One of the drawings depicted a martial arts battle in a laboratory which The Space Gamer used to create a contest.  Participants were to submit original game ideas inspired by the picture.  The winning entry was submitted by B. Dennis Sustare.  This happened in 1980, after Sustare had co-created (along with Scott Robinson) Bunnies & Burrows, but before the publication of Swordbearer.  Aside from being printed in the magazine, Kung Fu 2100 was good enough for Jackson to publish as a stand-alone game.  Denis Loubet was responsible for the art (other than O'Connell's cover) in both magazine and box versions.  While he may not be the world's best artist, Loubet is never a disappointment (to me, at least).

So, in the world of Kung Fu 2100, “cloning” was perfected in 2006.  Such cloning included rapid maturation of the clone as well as the ability to 'program' clones with the memory and experience of pre-existing people.  Cloning was expensive, but the privileged few who could afford it became effectively immortal.  This “caused worldwide social disruption” and, as a result, “much of civilization collapsed.”  Eventually the CloneMasters (as they came to be known) restored order – of an oppressive nature.  The general population was prohibited from using machines and engines; ownership of metal was not allowed.
          By the year 2100, the world was fragmented into individual fiefdoms, each controlled by a CloneMaster from his personal fortress.  Within this citadel was all he needed to grow and program his clones – letting him live forever in luxury.  Attended by guards, servants, and his computer technicians, snug in his haven, a CloneMaster need to give little thought to the Dark Ages beyond his walls.  Any organized revolt would be quickly dealt with by the CloneMaster's own secret police or by the armed forces maintained co-operatively by groups of CloneMasters.
Among the unprivileged, “a secret cult” was formed – the Society of Thanatos – the purpose of which was to bring lasting death to the CloneMasters.  To this end, members were trained from childhood to attain “the human limit in strength, stamina, unarmed combat, and immunity to pain.”  They could do things like punch through metal doors and dodge bullets.  Members of the Society were known as Terminators.  (Kung Fu 2100 was released in 1980, a few years before James Cameron's film would appropriate that word.)  Not all students were completely successful in their training and some were not able to endure “strict Terminator discipline.”  While not as adept as actual Terminators, these drop-outs nonetheless possessed formidable abilities.  Often, they would become Janizaries – guards in the employ of the CloneMasters.  Janizaries were pejoratively known as “Jellies.”

The sub-title of the game is “The Assault on the CloneMaster.”  In the course of the game, Terminators access a CloneMaster fortress in an attempt to kill the resident CloneMaster.  However, the Terminators must also destroy the cloning equipment or else the CloneMaster will survive as a clone.

Terminators eschew the use of weapons, but Jellies frequently employ them.  Otherwise, there are various martial arts abilities that Terminators and Jellies may possess:  Iron Fist, Lightning Foot, Body of Mist, Mountain Heart, and Monkey Soul.  Yes, Monkey Soul.  How awesome is that?  The game handles martial arts combat in an interesting fashion.  For each fight involving Terminators and/or Jellies, opposing players secretly select which abilities their Terminators/Jellies will use in the form of “tactics counters.”  Players alternate playing counters and effects are resolved based on which abilities are played (e.g., Monkey Soul offers total protection against Lightning Foot).  By taking damage, Terminators/Jellies lose abilities; this limits their tactical options in future fights.

In terms of role-playing games, Kung Fu 2100 was adapted as a GURPS scenario, but I think it could serve as the basis of a campaign setting.  Although they engage in cooperative endeavors, in Kung Fu 2100 each CloneMaster has his own fortress.  I can appreciate the need to personally supervise how one's clones are handled, but wouldn't there be CloneMaster families instead of individuals in each fortress?  This would suggest an ever growing CloneMaster population or caste; however, resource limitations would preclude a population beyond a certain size.  (In his first novel, To Live Forever, Jack Vance postulated a similar situation.)  Let's say that the CloneMasters have cooperatively agreed to a maximum number of immortals; a Technicians' Guild ensures that this number is not exceeded.  If all of a CloneMaster's clones and 'memory banks' are destroyed by Terminators (or some other mishap), there is an opening for a new CloneMaster.  This allows for all sorts of Vancian (if not Machiavellian) politics.

Regardless, despite the fortress/fiefdom social structure, there has to be an industry to manufacture and maintain cloning technology as well as other technology mentioned in the game, such as helicopters and sleep gas.  There must also be an educational system to ensure a sufficient number and quality of technicians to operate all of this technology.  In short, there must be population centers to house and cultivate castes that fall between the CloneMasters and the medieval peasants.  Given these considerations, I doubt that it would be effective to rely upon a truly medieval caste of farmers.  Although not to the extent of 'the Dark Ages,' the lower rungs of a CloneMaster civilization could still be severely oppressed and technologically limited so as to justify the Society of Thanatos.  Of course, there would be people – let's call them tribes – who exist in the 'wilderness,' presumably beneath the notice of the CloneMasters.  All in all, Kung Fu 2100 provides bounteous material and speculation for role-playing opportunities.

Got Monkey Soul?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Physical Fitness in Year of the Phoenix

In last week's installment, we discussed Skill Spheres in Martin Wixted's Year of the Phoenix.  Aside from Skill Spheres, Phoenix characters are also defined by a measurement called Conditioning (abbreviated CON%).  Essentially, Conditioning represents physical fitness; in terms of another RPG, it is a combination of Strength and Constitution.  According to page 6 of the Training Manual:
Conditioning affects how well you resist disease, and recover from wounds.  A low CON% (20%) indicates a feeble or out-of-shape character, while a high CON% (80%) means a muscular, physically fit character.
Phoenix characters have a Conditioning score “between 70%-120%.”  Wixted explains that player characters have better-than-average Conditioning because they are “heroes” and have just undergone military training.  According to the Gamemaster Screen, the average Conditioning score is 50%.

A character's Muscle (MUS) represents the amount of weight he can lift “without trouble.”  This is equivalent to his own weight multiplied by his Conditioning percentage.  The amount of damage a character can inflict with “[w]eapons requiring a character's physical ability to wield” (including unarmed attacks) is influenced by Muscle.  Wixted provides a chart by which a character's Muscle value can be referenced to provide a number from -1 to +5; this score is the character's Damage Class (DAM).  Wixted explains:
Since Phoenix Special Forces undergo severe training, they average a higher DAM than normal civilian types, while officers who specialize in physical training...often have appallingly large DAM values.
A perusal of the non-player character listings shows that the same 'DAM Chart' is applied to all characters, not just 'Special Forces' personnel.  So when Wixted states that Phoenix player characters have a higher than average Damage Class, it is only as a result of their Conditioning scores.

In any event, the Damage Class score is not applied to the results of a damage roll; instead, Damage Class affects the die to be used for determining damage.  let us look at an example on page 42 of the Training Guide:
Betty...has a DAM of +5 and is using a hammer which is listed at 1D7.  [Actually, hammers are listed at 1D8.]  Her hammer does 1D10 + 1D3.  She is also using a Knife, listed 1D4+1.  [True]  Adding her DAM gives her 1D9+1.
Wixted writes on page 4 of the Adventure Guide, “Odd-sized dice are easy to extrapolate from the dice included in the game.”  (Two ten-sided and two-six sided dice are included.)  He explains how to use percentile dice and how to use control dice to – for instance – obtain a 1-20 result from a D6 and a D10.  Given the dice that are supplied with the game, we would presumably roll a D10 and ignore results of 8, 9, and 0 so as to replicate the results of a D7.  Wixted's interpretation of a 'virtual' D13 as 1D10 + 1D3 is peculiar; the range of results is 2-13 rather than 1-13 and the probability distribution is not flat.  Normally, a D20 is used for determining hit location; however, 1D13+7 is used for kick attacks.  This is mentioned on the same page as the example of Betty and her hammer.  A flat distribution from one to thirteen makes sense for the hit location of kicks; however, with the 1D10 + 1D3 method, right arms are five times more likely as left arms to be hit by kicks.  Ah, it seems I digress.

Another measurement associated with Conditioning is the concept of Ergs.  The same roll used to determine a character's 'base' number of Ergs also determines a character's level of Conditioning.  “Ergs are units of energy,” Wixted notes, “your hero's ability to perform strenuous and/or stressful activities for long periods of time – your character's wind.”  A character's score in Ergs establishes how many times – without resting – the character can perform a 'fatiguing action' before suffering detrimental effects.  On page 34 of the Training Guide, Wixted rhetorically asks what constitutes a fatiguing action.  He answers, “Mechanically, it's any action requiring a die roll.”  So, in terms of combat, each attack is a fatiguing action.  When a character performs a number of fatiguing actions so that his Erg score is exceeded, he incurs a Difficulty Die Penalty.  This penalty is cumulative for every multiple of the Erg score exceeded without a 'meaningful rest.'  The 'Erg Action Track' appears on the right edge of the character sheet; Wixted recommends that players use a D6 to mark their position on the track with the facing of the die indicating the Difficulty level.  The die is set at the maximum number of Ergs for the character (excess Erg boxes are crossed out) and 'counts down' as actions are performed.  Characters can also 'lose Ergs' due to damage they sustain.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Inspiration: Rusta

Two Great Ladies will catch your fall
for they are the ones who catch us all.
Their children kept them far apart;
the Lady Light, the Lady Dark.
Dark broken, light storm
dead spoken, dreams torn...
and we will bring you home.
Long ago, in a faraway time called 1995, there was a made-for-TV movie called White Dwarf.  It was written by Bruce Wagner and starred the late, lamented Paul Winfield.  The ninety minutes of airtime provided a host of interesting concepts ready to be exploited for a role-playing game setting.  The story takes place in the year 3040; humanity has been colonizing star systems for hundreds of years.  Rusta is a world in a remote white dwarf system, hence the title of the film.  Although a VHS version was available, White Dwarf has not been released on DVD.

Rusta continually presents the same face towards its sun so that one hemisphere endures constant daylight and the other hemisphere remains in perpetual darkness.  Normally, this would result in extreme temperatures not conducive to supporting Earth-type lifeforms.  However, floating in Rusta's atmosphere are numerous metallic globes called 'regulators' that maintain environmental conditions suitable for humans and other terrestrial organisms.

The regulators were put in place by a pre-human civilization ten thousand years ago.  (Throughout this article, I assume 'years' means 'Earth years' and when I write 'ago,' I mean prior to 3040.)  Inhabitants of Rusta believe that the regulators are “breaking down,” which lends an air of fatalism to the setting.  Vegetation manages to grow on the sunless half of Rusta and the people there do not seem to be concerned about vitamin D deficiency.  Perhaps the regulators are responsible or maybe it's genetic engineering (or suspension of disbelief).

The Wall
Five hundred years ago, the (human) inhabitants built a wall separating 'the light side' from 'the dark side.'  Only an orange-robed sect of eunuchs called “the Davids” are allowed to travel freely from one side to the other.  (A group of Davids can be seen in the lower right-hand corner of the 'Dark Side Castle' picture below.)  At the onset of the story, the two sides are at war but efforts toward peace are progressing.  Thus, Rusta is a divided world in more than one respect.  'The Two Ladies' are abstract religious figures representing Rustan duality; two parts of a whole.  There are indications that Rusta is a genius loci – one of the characters refers to it as “a sentient place.”

The technology in use on Rusta is not as advanced as one might suppose – horses are used for transportation.  Light side civilization resembles that of the American Old West, complete with badge-wearing marshalls sporting antique firearms.  There are, however, some noteworthy exceptions – electrical devices are in use to some degree.  The reigning light side authority holds the title of “governor,” but the method of appointment to that office is not described.  In contrast, the dark side has a hereditary monarchy; the culture and technology are both medieval.  For denizens of the dark side, the crossbow is the weapon of preference.

The Dark Side Castle
'The Keep' is a prison on Rusta where Lady X is incarcerated.  Although she maintains her innocence (Don't they all?), Lady X was convicted of “being responsible for the plague on Earth.”  As of 3040, she has served 500 years of her 5,000 year sentence.  So that she may serve the entirety of her sentence, she has been granted an undying existence.  This is possible by virtue of Osh, the alien warden of the Keep, who secretes an unusual enzyme that somehow “gives immunity to the aging process.”

The Keep
For executions, warden Osh uses 'Keep Hounds,' nearly feral humanoids with canine characteristics.  However, Keep Hounds are not always thus; early in their life-cycle they are quite intelligent and have a mastery of many talents and languages.

A couple of miscellaneous tidbits:  Among the exotic locales of Rusta, there are “the grottoes underneath the dreaming sands” and the red-colored Sea of Tears.  An example of Rustan fauna is the pumyx, a panther-like animal indigenous to the dark side.  It is mesmerised by the human voice.  When ill or injured, it travels to the light side in order to die.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Game Mechanics in Year of the Phoenix

Year of the Phoenix characters do not possess attributes in the sense of traditional role-playing games; instead, they have Skill Spheres.  The 'kickstart' section of the Read Me First! pamphlet says:
Anything a character can do is defined by one of six Skill Spheres... Knowledge (KNO) (your education and street smarts), Talent (TAL) (your spirit, presence, and persuasion ability), Observation (OBS) (your five senses), Communication (COM) (your ability to entertain or teach someone through conversation), Manipulation (MAN) (skill with your hands), and Kinetics (KIN) (prowess with physical activity requiring your whole body).
Each Sphere has a percentage value.  To determine if a character can accomplish any given task, the player rolls d100 and adds the value of the appropriate Sphere.  If the sum exceeds 100, the task is successful.  The amount by which the total exceeds 100 indicates the quality of the result; each additional twenty percent represents an increased 'level' of quality.  Our boy 'Keeps' from last week tried to play the harmonica.  The Manipulation Sphere covers ability with musical instruments and Keeps' MAN value is 34%.  Therefore, a roll of 67 or greater is necessary for Keeps to successfully play the harmonica.

Characters have specific skills with values that add on to the appropriate Sphere.  For instance, 'Surgery' is a Manipulation skill, 'Forensics' is an Observation skill, and 'Pharmacology' is a Knowledge skill.  While Keeps doesn't have a specific skill for harmonica playing, he does have 'Boating,' another Manipulation skill.  Keeps' score with Boating is 44% rather than 34%.  Incidentally, a skill of literacy with a given language is part of the Knowledge Sphere, 'linguacy' is part of the Communication Sphere.  Linguacy – evidently a word Wixted made up – is the ability to speak a language (and, I suppose, the ability to understand the spoken form of a language).

Skill Spheres have a Skill Speed which is inversely proportionate to the Sphere's value.  Skill Speed refers to the amount of time required to complete a task; a lower Skill Speed means the task takes less time.  The scale of time (i.e., seconds, minutes, hours, days) varies from skill to skill.  Skill Speed cannot be any higher than 5, nor can it be any lower than 1.

One might expect a skill penalty in Phoenix to take the form of some number subtracted from either the skill value or the dice roll.  However, Wixted implemented penalties in a different manner.  In Phoenix a Difficulty Die is used when “a disability or a reduction in the character's usual chance of success” comes into play.  The Difficulty Die is a d6 rolled concurrently with the d100 normally used in determining success.  If the result of the roll falls within the penalty range, the character fails that skill attempt.  An injury might impose a Difficulty of 2.  In such an instance, a roll of 1 or 2 on the Difficulty Die would mean failure even if a successful result was indicated by the d100.*  Difficulty penalties are cumulative.

Another Phoenix concept is the 'Max roll' (as in maximum success).  If the d100 results in a Max roll, the character succeeds with the highest level of quality and any Difficulty penalties are ignored.  The 'range' of a Max roll is based upon the value of the appropriate Skill Sphere; the greater the value, the greater the Max roll range.  For example, Keeps' Manipulation value is 34% – the Max roll for this value is 98-00.  A value of 50% or greater allows a Max roll of 96-00.

Contrasting with the Max roll is the 'Klutz roll.'  A sufficiently low roll on the d100 represents a 'spectacular failure.'  The chance of a Klutz roll decreases with higher Skill Sphere values.  Keeps' 34% Manipulation value means he would 'Klutz' with a roll of 01-03.  With a value of 50% or greater, a Klutz occurs only with a roll of 01.

*  As an optional, more complex rule, rolling within the penalty range does not cause automatic failure.  Instead, a roll within the penalty range reduces the d100 skill roll by 20% x the Difficulty Die result.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Inspiration: Imirrhos

Jeff Dee's cover illustration for Revolt on Antares

As I look over the posts that compose the first year of this blog, I am reminded of some of my ideas that I have yet to exploit.  One such idea is to present games (but not role-playing games) – as well as other media – of yesteryear as potential settings for your role-playing adventures.  Today marks the first of an intermittent series of 'Inspiration' posts.  Given that today is also Tom Moldvay's birthday, it is only fitting that we look at one of his creations.

Starting in 1980, TSR produced a series of rules-light, low-priced 'minigames' which typically consisted of a rules booklet, a fold-out map/board, 84 counters, and two six-sided dice – all contained in a plastic shell.  One such game was Revolt on Antares.  Although the back cover clearly states “by Tom Moldvay,” I would be remiss if I did not mention Kevin Hendryx' 'Development' credit.

Being a 'minigame,' Revolt on Antares was meant to be easily learned and played; thus the rules are relatively simple.  Antares accomplished its commercial purpose as a 'good' minigame, but it's not the sort of game that has a dedicated fan base three decades after its publication.  Yet it is the setting, not the game itself, that draws our attention this day.  The setting hints at a rich background that does not deserve to be forgotten.  Antares gives us interplanetary intrigue, restless natives, psychic powers, combat, colorful personalities, strange aliens and stranger alien artifacts.

The game takes place on Imirrhos, the ninth planet in the Antares system.  (Moldvay must have liked the name Imirrhos; he also used it as the name of the leader of the Puppet Masters in his Lords of Creation game.)  Imirrhos is part of the Terran Empire (sometimes referred to redundantly as the “Imperial Terran Empire”), although local power is concentrated in “seven clan-like families” called 'houses.'  Military units available in the game are “power infantry, laser tanks, artillery, jump troops, hovercraft, and airjet squadrons.”

The houses, along with their respective leaders are listed below.  The indicated color refers to the holdings of a house on the included map.
  • Braganza (dark green)  “Catherine 'the Mad' Braganza can summon lightning.”
  • Edistyn (yellow)  “Nureb Khan Edistyn has precognition.”
  • Fitzgerald (red)  “Simon Fitzgerald can create ion waves” that can improve morale.
  • Kinrabe (light green)  “Barracuda Kinrabe has the power to cause hallucinations.”
  • MacKenzie (light blue)  In another instance of name recycling, “Black Dougal MacKenzie has teleportation power.”
  • Orsini (purple)  “Messalina Orsini has the power of fascination.”
  • Sessedi (orange)  “Ariton Sessedi has long distance telepathy.”
The game allows for three scenarios.  In the first scenario, rebel houses fight against Terran forces, loyal houses, and the natives of Imirrhos.  In the second scenario, the alien Silakka invade with the cooperation of some of the houses.  The Silakka appear to be part slug and part squid with three faceted, insect-like eyes.  (Moldvay also recycled the word 'Silakka' for Lords of Creation; however, in that game Silakka are giant, silicon-based porcupines.)  The last scenario is a free-for-all among the various houses that can accommodate up to four players.

The Imperial Terran Consul for Imirrhos is named Ward Serpentine.  The native leader is Mirrhos and the Silakka leader is called 'Magron the Invincible.'  Leaders are important in that they can engage in 'Leader Combat' with one another as well as with 'Galactic Heroes' than can be recruited.  The 'Galactic Heroes' include:
  • Andros is an android that can summon “The Phantom Regiment.”
  • Corvus Andromeda is an intergalactic assassin.
  • Doctor Death can create “zombie-like troops from the dead.”
  • Emerald Eridani commands a mercenary company of laser tanks.
  • The Iron General is a cyborg who commands a mercenary battalion of laser tanks.
  • Lyra Starfire is an intergalactic adventuress who commands an airjet squadron.
  • The Nullspace Kid also commands an airjet squadron.
  • Skarn 3 is an “Alien mercenary captain of a...jump troop.”
  • Subadai O'Reilly commands a battalion of power infantry.
  • Tovan Palequire is an “Intergalactic smuggler and weaponsrunner.”
“An unknown alien culture once flourished on Imirrhos.  The culture destroyed itself, leaving behind a number of artifacts now controlled by the seven houses.”  Without describing their game effects, the artifacts are the Devastator, the Dimensional Plane, the Energy Drainer, the Field Generator, the Force Cannon, the Sonic Imploder, and the UFO.

The map represents a (portion of a) globe; units moving off of the right edge appear at the appropriate hex on the left side and vice versa.  Although there are three types of rough “terrain,” they all have the same game effect – ground forces pay an additional “movement factor” in a turn when they enter one or more such hexes.  There are also no distinctions made among the “economic” symbols.  For scoring purposes, control of hexes with economic symbols grant one victory point each.  One imagines that Moldvay originally created a more complex game where the various terrain and economic types had distinct effects, but that level of detail was not appropriate for a minigame; thus we have a superfluity of symbols.  Of course, if we use Imirrhos as a role-playing game setting, these symbols acquire useful meanings.  Whether as a basis for an in-depth campaign or an isolated adventure, Imirrhos is a setting ripe with potential.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Characterization in Year of the Phoenix

Keeps plays the harmonica

In Martin Wixted's Year of the Phoenix role playing game, player characters are trained to be the first American “space soldiers.”  What exactly is a space soldier?  As the poignant flavor text quoted below indicates, not even the player characters know with certainty.  Of course, it doesn't really matter because the characters won't be space soldiers – at least not for very long.  Regardless, the cover of the 48-page book of character creation rules is fashioned to appear as an official government publication, Space Command Training Manual, complete with a 'classified' warning.  Most sections begin with flavor text in the form of conversations of the pre-generated characters as they proceed through their training.  (Rules examples are also presented as exploits of the pre-gens.)  Section 2.4 has the title 'Characterization' and begins with a discussion between Carol Horn and Bruce “Keeps” Keeler.
          Horn lay on her bed, listening to Keeps trying to play a harmonica.  He didn't have it yesterday, but that was nothing unusual – it would probably be gone tomorrow, traded for something else.  She swung her legs out from the cramped space and jumped to the floor.
          'I need a cigarette.'  It was a statement, not a question.
          'You know what the Major said about –'
          'I don't care.  I need a cigarette.'  He watched her face for a few minutes, dug into his knapsack, and produced a pack of cancersticks.  She held out her hand, but he pulled away.
          'You didn't get these from me, understand?'
          'I understand.'  She waited.  He dropped two into her hands.
          'That's all there is, Horn.'
          'Thanks, Keeps.'
          'Don't call me that.'
          'Sorry.'  She jumped back up, wrapped a sock around the sprinkler head she banged her head on at least once a day, and lit a cigarette.
          'What do you think they're training us for?'
          'Probably to bomb the Russians.  They need a good strafing – maybe a Hydrogen bomb right on Moscow *POW*.'
          Wake 'em up...How should I know?'
Wixted states on page 7, “[R]oleplaying is a game of characterization.”  He also writes, “[T]here should be something about [your] character you find challenging or intriguing.  Make a commitment to that character.”

First, Wixted provides a list of 'Appearance' details to prompt a player's imagination.  Categories and specific examples include:  Face and Hair (receeding [sic] hairline, conniving, oval, et al.), Voice (divine, tolerable, chilling, et al.), Build (dynamic, rugged, ample, et al.), and Overall Appearance (loose, foppish, sleepy, reedy, mature, et al.).

Next, Wixted introduces the concept of the 'Personality Profile.'  Page 8 of the Training Manual has a list of fifty traits – actually fifty pairs* of opposed traits such as 'Kind – Spiteful,' 'Shrewd – Forthright,' 'Envious – Satisfied,' etc.  Wixted's instructs players to choose at least five traits (not pairs), but players are encouraged to think of one or two traits not listed.  Each trait should be quantified with a descriptor:  Always, Usually, Often, Sometimes, or Never.  On the Gamemaster Screen (but nowhere in the actual rules), Wixted provides percentage values for these descriptors:  Always (100%), Usually (80%), Often (60%), Sometimes (40%), and Never (100% – which, one supposes, could be interpreted as 0%).  Two of Horn's traits are 'Sometimes Bitter' and 'Always Honest.'  Examples of Keeps' traits include 'Often Kind' and 'Usually Emotional.'

Last, Wixted provides his 'Personal History Generator' which your humble host reproduces below.
The idea is for the player to roll 1D30 at least five times (but no more than once for each year of the character's life) and record the numbers.  The player should then reference the results and – in whatever order – connect them to make a narrative of the important events in the character's life.  “This doesn't give you much except the bare bones,” Wixted writes, “Like everything else, twist and interpret this to your own desires and conceptions.”

*  To be technical, there are only 49 pairs; #13 is 'Liberal – Conservative' while #22 is 'Conservative – Liberal.'