Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Nature of Magic in Tékumel

Before engaging upon today's topic, I would like to point out that, today, several blogs are participating in the Obsolete Simulations Roundup, a worthy idea presented by Tim Snider.  Why am I not participating?
  1. Apparently, I wasn't paying attention.  I blame the holidays.
  2. This is pretty much the raison d'être of my blog anyway but what I normally stretch out over a couple of months, I would need to encapsulate in one post.
Still, I would be remiss if I did not mention it for the edification of the dozens of people who might view this page.  Enjoy!

Emblem of the Temple of Wurú The Unnameable, He Who Appears Where
Evil Dwells, the Many-Legged Serpent of Gloom, and Cohort of Hrű'ű

As mentioned previously, the Tékumel solar system left 'our' universe.  It then became a 'Plane' unto itself.  The “multi-dimensional space-time continuum” is “formless energy” that encompasses the various Planes (including Tékumel's).  On page 14 of The World of the Petal Throne, Book 2, M.A.R. Barker writes...
The “skin of reality” which separates one Plane from another is rather thin over much of the planet and it is much easier on Tékumel to “reach through” and tap this inchoate, primal power than elsewhere in the cosmos.
This “inchoate, primal power” (or “formless energy”) acts as the fuel for magic.  If the multi-dimensional space-time continuum is analogous to an ocean, then Tékumel's Plane is analogous to a bubble.  Just as there are many bubbles in the ocean, so do numerous Planes abound in the continuum.  “Nexus Points” are connections between Planes which may be used for inter-Planar travel.  Page 16 informs us that...
A skilled mage can sometimes open...a Nexus Point...A few of these Nexus Points are relatively stable and always give access to the same other-dimensional world...Most Nexus Points are impermanent and perilous to use.
Denizens of these other Planes are called Sharétlkoi (i.e., “Demons”).  There are many Demon races representing a range of power from “semi-intelligent beings, animals, or even lower forms of life” all the way to “beings of such inconceivable power that they approach the 'Gods'...”

On Tékumel, there are two forms of magic:  ritual and psychic.  “Ritual mostly powered by the forces of the Planes Beyond.”  Correct performance of ritual magic produces a consistent effect.  “Psychic magic relies mainly upon the talents of the user himself.”  Since entering their current Plane, the humans of Tékumel have had thousands of years to increase their once vestigial psychic powers.  Such aptitude is represented in a character's Psychic Ability talent.  The two forms of magic are not mutually exclusive.  “In order to work...a psychic spell still requires a little power from the Planes Beyond as a sort of 'catalytic booster.'”  Likewise, “a ritual spell...requires a spark of psychic energy as a catalyst.”

A caster of either form of magic must be able to contain significant amounts of magical power.  This reservoir is called Pedhétl and is one of the five “selves” which compose every living entity.  Each self “has a separate identity and a certain degree of independence from the rest.”  The selves are:
  • Bákte – “the physical body”
  • Chusétl – “the Shadow-Self”  This is the self that exists in dreams and as an astral projection.  When the Bákte dies, so does the Chusétl.
  • Hlákme – “the conscious mind”  After the Bákte dies, “the Hlákme remains in the tomb, hovering near its bodily shell forever in a dreamless sleep unless returned to the corpse by necromancy.”
  • Báletl – “the Spirit-Soul”  In the afterlife, the Báletl “sheds its burden of identity and memory in order to be born anew upon ever more distant planes of consciousness.”
  • Penhétl – “the Enemy...the source of all emotion and passion and the motivating energy behind all action and ambition.”  After death, Pedhétl returns to the extra-Planar “sea” of energy.
Baker writes of “idiot savant[s]” with vast Penhétl but with limited intelligence and psychic ability.  These people are used by temples as “batteries.”  Barker also tells of “anti-psychic individuals” who automatically prevent spellcasting within a 1.5 meter radius.  Also, devices that use other-Planar energy do not work well (if at all) in proximity to such persons.

Humanity is not the only race to produce these “psychic dampeners.”  One-in-fifty Swamp Folk specimens are dampeners and the rest of that race “are genetically incapable of using sorcery of any kind.”  Also, “the Ahoggyá are generally poor magicians and one in every ten is a 'psychic dampener.'”  On the other hand, “Pé Chói and the Tinalíya are exceptionally good at sorcery.”

The energies of the Planes Beyond is more accessible at some locations and not others.  Regions where “spells work easily” are considered magically “fertile.”  Many cities – ruined or current – occupy such fertile areas.  In magically “barren” regions, “No spell operates...and even ancient technological devices work only once” and will not work again until removed from the area.  Aside from this more-or-less stable 'magic geography,' there are mobile “Nexus Points” that travel randomly over the world.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Inspiration: Arklyrell

City States of Arklyrell (halfling not included)

In 1983, Task Force Games published City States of Arklyrell, a fantasy wargame.  Like many such games of that era, players move cardboard counters (representing military units) around a hex map.  Like many such games, conflict is resolved by comparing 'combat strength', rolling a die (possibly modified due to terrain), and consulting a table.  Not so typical is that each player starts the game with a single unit – one of four unique 'Leaders' (Eorl, Cor, Arete, or Arion).  Leaders are unique because each has a different combination of 'Combat Factor' and 'Morale Factor'.  Combat Factor (as might be expected) measures effectiveness in combat; Morale Factor “indicates how persuasive the Leader is.”

In order to gain additional units, a player must recruit them by moving his or her Leader adjacent to a unit (not controlled by another player) and rolling equal to or greater than said unit's Morale Factor.  Strangely, a Leader's Morale Factor is not considered when recruiting units.  The only time a Leader's Morale Factor comes into play is when a unit accompanying the Leader suffers a 'disruption' result in combat; with a greater Morale Factor, a Leader has a better chance of maintaining control.  (Maybe a Leader's Morale Factor was meant to improve recruitment chances but that part was left out of the rules?)  Since all units other than Leaders begin the game as unaligned, they are not color-coded.  It is difficult, therefore, to track who owns a given unit – or if it is owned at all.

Anyway, “The game revolves around the conquest of the eight great Citadels, the seats of both political and economic power on the world of Arklyrell.”  I assume that 'Citadels' equates to the 'City States' of the title.  The object of the game is to simultaneously control a certain number of Citadels – the exact number depending upon the number of players.

There are various types of men available for recruitment – Berserkers, Barbarians, Nomads, and City Men; there are no humanoids/demi-humans, contrary to what the halfling on the cover might suggest.  Otherwise, there are Ships, Rocs, and Ice Worms.  Ships and Rocs can be used to transport troops.  Troop mobility is important in that – as the map below shows – the 'world' of Arklyrell consists of various islands and two coasts.

According to page 5 of the rules,
The mapsheet represents an entire world.  Players may move units off the east or west edges of the mapsheet.  The unit will then enter the opposite edge of the mapsheet, on the hex which corresponds with the hex it exited.
I have “cleaned up” the map slightly and in my efforts I made certain that no island was divided by the map edges.  As can be seen, the north boundary is ice.  The southern boundary is desert, perhaps geographically tropical.  This suggests not “an entire world,” but the northern hemisphere of a planet.  If we accept this hypothesis, then it follows that the map is a Mercator projection and distances of northern latitudes are exaggerated compared to the southern latitudes.  Alas, the distances are uniform.  Of course, since this is fantasy, we are not constrained by conventional logic.  Perhaps Arklyrell is cylindrical.  Another possibility is that Arklyrell is a sphere, but with one side constantly facing its sun.  In such a case, the map would represent the 'twilight ring' between the searing day side and the frozen night.  This would explain why units cannot exit the map along those edges.  Instead of the left/right edges of the map representing west/east (as the rules state), they would represent north/south.

There are seven locations where magical items may be located.  Magical item counters are randomly distributed, face-down at the locations.  Any Leader visiting such a location may reveal the counter in order to take the item.  However, there are only five magical items; the other two counters represent “poison wells” which cause the revealing player to lose a turn.  The five magical items are: 
  • Orb of Battlelust – Automatically recruit Berserker units
  • Diamond Ankh – Automatically recruit Ice Worm units
  • Sword of the Elements – Combat bonus
  • Mace of Kra – Combat bonus (usable in conjunction with Sword of the Elements)
  • Haser's Dust – Can be used once to negate an unfavorable combat result or to retry an attempt at recruitment
In an effort – I suppose – to keep the rules manageable, some situations may arise that do not appear to make sense.  For instance, Ships cannot be attacked unless they are in port.  Ships in port cannot attack and Ships at sea cannot attack one another; however, a Ship not at port can attack a Ship at port.  Perhaps every fleet on Arklyrell represents a distinct 'pirate tribe', but each tribe is free to align with whomever they want.  They do not attack one another on the open sea, but Ships at port are a valid target.  Even so, Ships attacked by ground units cannot retreat to open sea; they can only retreat to coastal hexes.  However, a Ship attacked by another Ship can apparently retreat to open sea.

Movement happens before combat, except a retreating unit could conceivably continue movement in a favorable direction.  Since Rocs must end their movement on land, they cannot attack Ships at sea.

There is no stacking other than a Leader with a ground unit or a Leader and/or ground unit on a Ship.  Therefore, after a Roc unit transports another unit it must have enough movement to continue to an unpopulated hex.  Also, a ground unit cannot embark upon and disembark from a Ship in a single turn.

Leaders cannot be killed; however, they can be trapped if the hex they occupy is surrounded by enemy units.  Rocs cannot rescue trapped leaders because, in order to be transported by a Roc, a ground unit must enter into the Roc's hex.

Lastly, there are two cities/citadels in the 'Arctic' region.  Although not a 'rule' question, why would they be in such an inhospitable place?  How do they sustain themselves?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Intelligent Races of Tékumel

Long ago,“Man and his nonhuman interstellar colleagues” attempted to terraform the world of Tékumel.  “The blood-purplish jungles were poisoned with chemicals and replaced with the familiar plants of the hundred worlds of Humanspace.”  Intelligent species indigenous to Tékumel “were allowed to survive only upon remote 'reservations.'”  Thus, Tékumel was colonized.  Then something happened.
It is clear now that through some freak of space, some fault in the fabric of time itself, the solar system of Tékumel was cast into some great other-dimensional “hole in the sky.”
In the ages that have passed since that event (tens of thousands of years), technology has declined to medieval levels, magic has manifested, and the indigenous races are no longer confined.  There are various intelligent species on Tékumel, most of whom – including humanity – came from elsewhere.  In Empire of the Petal Throne, Barker describes twelve intelligent nonhuman races, some friendly to man, some hostile, and others neutral.  “There are still other species,” Barker writes, “but players are not likely to encounter them in the areas of Tékumel in which they will operate.”

Barker does not populate Tékumel with elf-analogs and dwarf-analogs, nor does he have 'aliens' that are essentially humans with pointed ears or blue skin.  Barker has crafted beings that are decidedly unhuman, both in form and in sentiment.  For practical reasons, there is only so much information the rule books can convey about each of the races.  This is just as well since – with few exceptions – the nonhuman races tend to stay apart from mankind.  Without further ado, here are the intelligent (nonhuman) species of Tékumel.

Pé Chói (by Karen J. Englesen)
Pé Chói (“the Listeners”) – Among the various races, the Pé Chói are perhaps the friendliest to Man.  The have six limbs and adults are approximately seven feet tall.  Their hightened senses of sight and hearing allow them to easily perceive secret doors and invisible/inaudible entities.  “On a roll of 6 on a 6-sided die they can ESP a neighbouring room or chamber” in a manner, I assume, similar to the Priest spell.  When one of their number is slain, the Pé Chói will exact revenge on the perpetrator unless (a.) the slain Pé Chói attacked first or (b.) the death occurred during a battle in which Pé Chói are serving on both sides.  They are able to do this because the Pé Chói have “racial telepathy.”  This would seem to be quite useful.  The most obvious use would be to establish a long distance communications network; however, Barker makes no mention of any use other than revenge.

Swamp Folk (by Dave Sutherland)
Nininyal (“the Pygmy Folk”) –   These rodent-like beings stand about one meter in height.  They have exceptional hearing and can “see easily in pitch blackness.”   They are known for travelling and trading.  “Although they are capricious, they must be counted friends of man.”  They are ferocious in battle as well as bargaining.  (There is a Tsolyáni proverb:  'To bargain with a Pygmy is to throw away one's purse.')

Heglethyál (“the Swamp Folk”) – The Swamp Folk are four to six feet tall and have six limbs.  “They are squat, rotund, rubbery white creatures...with long slanted foreheads, [and] a bony central crest rising from the forehead and slanting backwards to a point...”  Although they do not employ magic, they are capable sailors and can “detect sloping passages, traps, and dimensional nexus points.”

Tinalíya (by Katherine J. Grantham)
Tinalíya (“the Gnome-like Ones”) – Although referred to by the rules as “humanoid,” these two-foot tall beings have two arms, four legs, and are “covered with horny integument.”  Although scholarly, they are viscous fighters when attacked and need not check for morale.  Each of “their lairs will contain at least one book of magical nature,” at least one scroll, and a few of those ancient technological devices known as “Eyes.”

Ahoggyá (by Sutherland)
Ahoggyá (“the Knobbed Ones”) –
They are knobbly, brownish, bristly creatures 4-5 feet in height, though tremendously broad and strong.  Their upper “chest” is surmounted by four powerful arms, and their eyes and eating apparatus lie beneath these under a horny protective ring.

Hláka (by Sutherland)

Hláka (“the Furred Flyers”) – As their wings and name suggest, the Hláka are capable of flying.  They have three eyes and greyish fur.  “Two arms and two legs are supplemented by a powerful tail fitted with a poisoned rapier-like blade.”  Barker does not inform us of the effects of the poison, but he notes that “Hláka make poor slaves and are always clamouring to return to their homeland.”
Also on Tékumel are the Shánu'u, “larger and heavier cousins” to the Hláka.  Presumably, they come from the same world.  Parties of Hláka are often found accompanied by one or more Shánu'u.  I suspect the relation of Shánu'u and Hláka is analogous to greater primates and humans.

Páchi Léi (by Englesen)
 Páchi Léi (“the Forest Dwellers”) –
They are doughy in appearance and have eight articulated limbs, using the first four to eat, fight, etc. and the remainder to move and balance in the trees of their jungle homes...They have a good chance at detecting secret doors and passages as they pass by them...Their huge, platter-shaped eyes give them nocturnal vision.
Although listed among the neutral species, Páchi Léi have a modifier towards friendliness on the Nonplayer Character Reaction Table and “have often become citizens of the human nations, and one or two examples of generals over human troops are recorded in history.”

Shén (by James Garrison)

Shén (“the Demon Warriors”) –
Their gleaming black scales and dragon-like appearance make them appear to be tall, demonic human warriors in fantastic plate armour.  They have long beak-like snouts and a glittering crest of slender spines, which they can extend or keep flat along their skulls...They walk on two legs and have two arms, as men do, but they also have a muscular tail with a mace-like horny appendage at the end.

Hlutrgú (by Sutherland)

Hlutrgú (“the Swamp Frogs”) – The illustration to the right shows the Hlutrgú as having four limbs; however, Barker states that they are four-legged creatures and that they “carry darts for spearing or throwing, using their four long arms.”  To me this suggests eight limbs, but perhaps there are only four limbs that can be used either as arms or legs.  (The illustrated Hlutrgú is shown grasping a spear with his 'foot'.)  Regardless, they “hate humans and nonhumans indiscriminately” and “have a particularly ugly reputation for torture and atrocities upon humans who fall into their clutches.”
I have not been able to discern if the Hlutrgú are native to Tékumel or if, in ancient times, they were interstellar partners of mankind.

Hlýss (by Englesen)

Hlýss (“the Spawn of the Old Ones”) – The Hlýss are an insectoid race who pre-date humanity's appearance on Tékumel.  They are described as “aquatic cousins” of the Ssú (see below).  They live on the Isle of the Hlýss with the great Hlýss mother and sometimes travel the seas “upon their hive-like ships, made from a stony bodily secretion.”  They possess “six legs and light chitinous armour, with a row of razor-sharp mandibles beneath their probosces” in addition to a tail with a sting capable of paralyzing opponents.  When encountered, Hlýss are likely to have magical weapons and ancient items of technology.  “The Hlýss collect all sorts of weapons, gems, and jewellery and have the latter set into their body-armour permanently.”

Vleshgayal (“the Shunned Ones”) – The Shunned Ones also pre-date the presence of humanity on Tékumel (and may even pre-date the Ssú).  They tend to remain ensconced in their sealed cities but “emerge from their isolation to seek magical items in the labyrinths beneath ruined cities.”
They are tall, ragged-looking spectral beings, with two extremely long arms and legs...They have a terrible and repellent stench that drives off humans and nonhumans alike.
Ssú (by Jeff Dee)
Ssú (“the Enemies of Man”) –
They are tall, slender, six-limbed beings wrapped in what looks like greyish shrouds (actually a loose integument which keeps shredding and pulling off).  They smell like musty cinnamon and make a high, sweet chiming sound.
Aside from their competency with magic, each Ssú of at least level IV can hypnotize 1-3 persons once per day.  If a saving throw is failed, the victim will be under the control of the Ssú “and he can be freed only by the death of the Ssú commanding him.”

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Characters in Empire of the Petal Throne

Masked guard – Priest Kings' Palace, Hmakuýal (by James Garrison)

Given the strong association of Empire of the Petal Throne and Dungeons & Dragons, similarity of game mechanics between the two is to be expected.  The differences are therefore noteworthy, such as the differences with regard to character creation.

The three 'classes' in original D&D are Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and Clerics.  For EotPT, the differences are in name only; the three 'professions' are Warriors, Magic Users, and Priests.  Similarly, while D&D has six 'abilities' for characters, EotPT has six 'talents'; four of these abilities/talents are identical:  Strength, Intelligence, Constitution, and Dexterity.  However, instead of Wisdom and Charisma, EotPT has Psychic Ability and Comeliness.  Although EotPT talents and D&D abilities are alike, the scores are determined differently; EotPT employs a flat distribution percentile.  According to section 410...
Should a player roll a totally unsuitable character, the referee (at his option, not the player's) may allow the player to roll over for a totally new character.  Re-rolling individual basic talents is NOT allowed, nor is it possible to transfer points from one talent to another.
Of course, with a flat probability distribution, EotPT characters have a greater likelihood than their D&D analogs of obtaining extreme values (either high or low).  The talent score 'groupings' (and their descriptors) are shown in the table below.  Interestingly, the 'average' range for every talent other than Comeliness is 41-60; for Comeliness, the 'average' range is 21-50.

Psychic Ability “is one's ability to employ magic, attain communication with the Gods, etc.”  It is the prime requisite for Magic Users in EotPT; in contrast to D&D, the prime requisite for EotPT Priests is Intelligence.  'Non-Psychic' individuals are unable to use magic.  'Barely-Psychic' characters can cast spells except those from the highest tier.

Comeliness is only a measure of appearance, it does not include elements of 'personality' that are a part of Charisma.  In EotPT, there are no rules indicating that Comeliness affects NPC reactions or hireling loyalty.  Most of the talents have six 'groupings' while Comeliness has eight, ranging from 'Hideous' to 'Wildly Handsome/Gloriously Lovely'.

A mechanism exists for increasing a character's talent scores.  A percentile die is rolled for a character upon advancing to a new experience level.  With a result of 81-99, a talent score is increased by five points; with a result of 00, a talent score is increased by ten points.  The talent to be raised is determined by rolling 1d6.  If the indicated talent already has a score of 100, “the roll is simply null and void” and there is no talent increase for that experience level.

In addition to talents, EotPT characters have background skills.  A percentile die is rolled to determine how many and of which group; the player chooses the specific skill(s).  There are three 'groups' of background skills:  plebeian, skilled, and noble.  So, in effect, the 'background skill' roll determines a character's original social class – not that it matters.  There are six possibilities:
  • One 'plebeian' skill
  • One 'plebeian' skill and one 'skilled' skill
  • One 'plebeian' skill, one 'skilled' skill, and one 'noble' skill
  • One 'noble' skill and two skills from among the 'plebeian' and 'skilled' groups
  • Three 'plebeian' skills and two skills from among the 'skilled' and 'noble' groups
  • Four 'plebeian' skills and three skills from among the 'skilled' and 'noble' groups
The 'plebeian' group is comprised of various trade skills such as grocer, carpet-maker, miner, perfumer, etc.  Among the 'skilled' group there are:  sailor, bird-trainer, scribe-accountant, swimmer-diver, etc.  The 'noble' skills include scholar, botanist, physician, 'assassin-spy-tracker', poet, alchemist, 'courtesan/Don Juan', etc.  At certain levels of experience, there is a 50% of obtaining additional skills.  Alternately, a “skill may also be learned in the game itself” provided money, time, and a suitable instructor.

Each profession/class has its own list of 'professional' skills.  Each character starts with 2 – 5 professional skills and gain an additional professional skill with each experience level.  Other than during character generation, professional skills must be learned in order, from the top of the list down.  Skills near the bottom of the list cannot be learned during character generation, so those skills will only be possessed by higher level characters.

The Warrior list consists of various weapon skills (such as “axeman,” “bola-slinger,” “crossbowman,” et al.), but the last three skills on the list are:  “sapper,” “catapult-artilleryman,” and “strategist.”

Although termed as professional “skills,” most of the items on the Magic User list and the Priest list are spells.  The first two items on the Priest list are “knows 2 modern languages” and “knows 2 ancient languages.”  Other items look familiar – “detect evil/good,” “cure light wounds,” “protection from evil/good,” et al.  The last item on the Priest list is “revivify.”

The Magic-User list has “astrologer,” but the rest of the items are spells (such as “clairaudience,” “telekinesis,” “necromancy,” et al.)  The first item on the Magic-User list is “control of self,” which can be used for various 'mind-over-matter' effects twice per day.  Examples of “control of self” effects are:  hold breath indefinitely, stop heartbeat, enter into trance, total memory recall, et al.  The last item on the Magic-User list is ominous sounding – “the Grey Hand.”

There are a variety of other spells (called “bonus spells”) that are divided into three groups of increasing potency.  Upon advancing to a new experience level, Priests and Magic-Users have a chance of learning bonus spells.  Priests and Magic-Users choose from among the same population of spells; therefore, only the 'professional skill' spells are not shared between the two professions.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The City Half as Old as the World

Combatants in the Hirilákte Arena; Richard Launius (1987)

Two weeks ago, I indicated that introductory role-playing games ought to have introductory adventures.  By virtue of being one of the very first RPGs, Empire of the Petal Throne is an introductory role-playing game.  However, it does not have an introductory adventure; it has something arguably better.

I have previously discussed Professor Barker, his game, and his world – so there is no need to include that information in this post.  While the setting of Tékumel is too intricate for me to analyze it with any justice, I hope to gloss over what I consider to be some of the more interesting aspects of Barker's world in addition to exploring of the game's mechanics.  (Incidentally, the first edition rules are currently available electronically.)

Anyway, according to the section “Starting the Game,” all EotPT player characters are recently arrived foreigners in the Tsolyáni port city of Jakálla – “Princess of the River, Mistress of Cities.”  Specifically... is assumed that [they] arrive in a small boat...It is also assumed that everyone speaks understandable, though non-native, Tsolyáni and can read the modern form of this language.
No reasons are suggested for why the characters are in this circumstance; none are needed.  Having come “from their (presumed) barbarian homelands,” their lives up to this point are inconsequential.  Strangers are limited to the foreigners' quarter, a sort of ghetto for adventurers.  The rules expressly advise beginning characters “to remain within the foreigners' quarter until contacted for a mission by some nonplayer Tsolyáni character.”  Player characters who venture out of the quarter unescorted “run the risk of making errors in speaking Tsolyáni or in the intricate rules of Imperial etiquette” – risks that can result in circumstances “from derision and laughter to a quick trip to the impalement stake.”

Jakálla Foreigners' Quarter; Craig James Smith
          Upon reaching experience level III, a player character may travel freely within the Empire.  When he or she attains level VI, Imperial citizenship is granted...
In Skyrealms of Jorune, player characters also attempt to become citizens.  This serves as both the motive and focus of play in Jorune, while in EotPT 'citizenship' seems more like an automatic, ancillary effect of successfully partaking in adventures.  Regardless, the “foreigners' quarter” restriction allows the characters and the players to be introduced to the alien nature of Tékumel at a gradual pace.  Yet life in the foreigners' quarter is not comfortable:  “The food is abominable – stomach complaints and diarrhea are common.”  Thus, there is an incentive to leave the quarter behind.  This is accomplished by undertaking missions.
While still dwelling in the foreigners' quarter in Jakálla...[player characters] are often visited by Tsolyáni seeking their services.  This form of employment is advantageous since such Tsolyáni employers or patrons can offer help, money, further personnel, and even magical items.  By undertaking these missions...[player characters] also form social contacts within the Empire and begin to establish a place for themselves, a circle of Tsolyáni friends, etc...
Possible visitors to the foreigners' quarter include (but are not limited to) Evil Priest/Priestess, Good Priest/Priestess, Magic User, Nobleman/-woman, Nonhuman, and Scholar.  Possible missions include (but are not limited to)...
Help in a quarrel, join in political intrigue, assassinate visitor's enemy...Join in an expedition to the nearest Underworld...Become the visitor's champion in the Hirilákte arena...Visit visitor's home (purpose decided by referee)...
Although not specified in the rules, I think there would exist 'agents' that facilitate contact between prospective employers and appropriate candidates.  I can't imagine that important Tsolyáni citizens would spend a significant amount of time in the foreigners' quarter in hopes of coming across a suitable employee among the riff-raff.  An agent would coordinate interests efficiently and with discretion...for a reasonable price, of course.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Inspiration: Arawan

Art by Chris White
          Centuries before the dawning of the New Age an awesome and terrible Dragon came to Arawan.  To the villagers, he was fearfully known as Brimstone.
          For countless years, Brimstone ravaged the land with sulphurous vapor and infernal flame.  Finally, a great and powerful mage, the fabled Thucidibes, came forth to challenge the Dragon's pitiless reign.
          With rites of unspeakable power, and swords of unparalleled worth, the mage launched his arcane assault against Brimstone.  Swords scored the Dragon's body, fire rained against the mage's defenses and magic electrified the air.  Each combatant strove with his mightiest efforts to end, forever, the other's deadly menace.
          Days passed, the conflict raged unabated.  Finally, the mage's defenses faltered before Brimstone's tireless assault.  Seconds before meeting Death, the mage realized that his arsenal lacked one vital ingredient – the unquenchable flame of Heroic Valor.  With his last mote of strength the dying mage dispersed his finest swords to the Kingdoms of Arawan and imbued them with protective cantrips and arcane power.  In the embrace of Death, every man's lover, he hoped the future would bring a man of awesome valor who would, by proven valor, earn one of these weapons and end forever Brimstone's reign of terror.
          Centuries passed.  The mage's death wish remained unfulfilled, Brimstone remained the true lord of Arawan.  Finally, with the dawn of the New Age, man is struggling against Fear's sleepy grasp.  Arawan's Hero-Kings, and their valiant followers, are contesting the Dragon's fearful imperium.
          Will their valor, and the potent Mageswords, suffice against the power that IS Brimstone?
          It is up to you!
Thus reads the introduction for Dragonhunt, “Avalon Hill's trademark name for its game of fantastic battle.”  Released in 1982, the credited designer is Garrett J. Donner.  The back of the box offers a bit more color:
          ...And in this way a New Age came to A Man and he shivered no longer in the darkness.  And in the Kingdoms of Arawan the New Age brought man a war of righteous retribution against the ancient peril of the land, Brimstone.
          We, the High Chroniclers of Arawan, could greatly detail the War of the Dragon for the student, but thus is knowledge too easily gained.  Instead, let the proclamation of the seventh year speak for our valiant progenitors:
          “By order of the Kings of Arawan, for the greater glory and majesty of our most holy God, Morah, let it be known that the Dragon, sometimes called Brimstone, is declared anathema in the sight of both Morah and man, a creature spawned in the darkest bowels of unholy perdition.  By this multitudinous acts of evil, and his centuries of the grossest violation of proper order, has he earned the just anger of man and the pious hatred of our lord, Morah.
          “All vassals and freemen of the six kingdoms are hereby called to arms, in service of Morah and their rightful liege lord, to rid the land forever of this, our scourge.
          “We, the Kings of Arawan, together and severally, do proclaim unceasing war on this Draconian blight and all secret servitors of his cause.  By binding oath, sanctified and potent, we do further declare and insure that he who shall slay the Dragon Brimstone shall be proclaimed, and enthroned, as High King and Lord of the Six Kingdoms of Arawan.  Let all men of true blood heed and obey this, our holy writ.”

Each of the Kingdoms of Arawan consists of a castle, a village, and a cottage.  In the game, the kingdoms don't have names per se, but they can be identified by their castles.  Clockwise from the north they are:  Castle of the North, Moss-Stone Castle, Castle of the Sea, Silver Castle, Sunken Castle, and Hidden Castle.  In terms of units, at the beginning of the game, each player controls a hero, four knights, two snipers (I would have called them archers), and six men-at-arms.

The object of the game is to destroy the Dragon; however, infighting is to be expected among the players.  By capturing castles and villages, a player increases the number of reinforcements to which he or she is entitled.  Of course, a player suffers a set back if his or her own holdings are captured by others.  So as to prevent player elimination, a player's cottage is inviolate.

Units have an attack strength and a defense strength.  The attacking unit rolls 1d6 and adds the result to the attack strength .  The defending unit rolls 1d6 and adds the result to the defense strength; also, the terrain that the defender occupies may provide a bonus.  If the attacker's total attack strength is greater than the defender's total defense strength, the defender is killed.  Likewise, if the defender's total defense strength exceeds the attacker's total attack strength, then the attacker is destroyed.  If both totals are equal, then both units are wounded.

Players roll dice to determine the movement of the Dragon, but any given player might have a choice regarding the direction in which the Dragon moves.  If, during its movement, the Dragon encounters a unit, it will attack that unit.  Dragon combat is handled differently than other combat.  Essentially, 2d6 are rolled and the defender's defense strength and any terrain modifiers are added to the result.  The Dragon Combat Table is then consulted.  When units attack the Dragon, attack strength is added to the roll instead of defense strength.  (Multiple attacking units may combine their strengths.)  The Dragon does not receive benefit from terrain except when attacked in his lair, in which case it is subtracted from the attacker's total.

The Dragon Combat Table allows for three possible outcomes.  One possibility is that a Dragon Card is drawn.  Otherwise, a number of units are killed (or wounded) and/or the Dragon is wounded.  The Dragon cannot die by virtue of the Dragon Combat Table.  The Dragon can endure any number of wounds with no effect other than the Dragon becomes enraged.  Dragon Cards can have various effects.  In some instances, the player drawing the card can direct the Dragon's attack; in other instances, the Dragon may attack the drawing player's units or holdings.  Among other effects, the Dragon may take a nap.

So what's the point in attacking the Dragon if you can't kill it?  Well, the Dragon can only be killed with a Magesword and the only way to get a Magesword is to “prove” your valor by wounding the Dragon three times.  Using a Magesword to attack the Dragon is handled differently than other forms of combat.  In Magesword combat, the attacker receives a random number of Magical Defense counters and the Dragon has a number of counters that represent his body.  Basically, the attacker rolls a die and the corresponding Dragon counter is removed.  Then someone rolls on behalf of the Dragon.  If the result of the roll corresponds to a Dragon counter that has not been removed, then one of the Magical Defense counters is removed.  The process repeats.  If the Magical Defense counters are depleted, the attacker loses.  If the Dragon's counters are depleted, the attacker wins.

Variety is added to the game by 'fantastic beings,' no more than two of which will be in play at any given time.  Based on turn order, players can choose which fantastic beings enter play and (to some extent) control their actions.
  • Banisher – If the Banisher attacks a unit and prevails, the player controlling the Banisher sends the unit to any unoccupied hex on the board.
  • Berserker – If the Berserker moves and kills a unit, it is possible for him to move and attack again that round.
  • Demon – Other than Heroes, any unit killed by the Demon is removed from the game.  Units other than Heroes and the Dragon cannot kill the Demon but only wound it with a 'kill' result.  If a player's Hero kills the Demon, the forces of that player can obtain additional Magical Defenses for use in attacking the Dragon.
  • Disperser – The Disperser can cause adjacent units, other than the Dragon, to move away from the Disperser.
  • Dragon Charmer – If the Dragon Charmer is in the same row of hexes as the Dragon, he can cause the Dragon to move away from or towards him (but only if the Dragon is awake).
  • Eagle – A player may use the Eagle either (1) to transport one of his or her units to an unoccupied hex on the board or (2) to 'harry' another player's unit.
  • Paralyzer – Units adjacent to the Paralyzer cannot move or attack.  This power does not affect the Dragon, other fantastic beings, any unit in possession of a Magesword, or any unit occupying a castle, village, or cottage.
  • Revivor – A player controlling the Revivor can return a dead unit to play.  This power does not work on units killed by the Demon.  “The Revivor has no power in Hell.”
  • Teleporter – The Teleporter can be used to teleport a player's unit to any hex (presumably unoccupied) adjacent to the Teleporter.
  • Troll – The Troll ignores 'wound' results.
A quest to kill a dragon is by no means original and – by itself – offers little in the way of inspiration.  It is the setting of Dragonhunt that offers inspiration for RPG scenarios.  Kingdoms ostensibly unified in combating a Dragon but taking advantage of the situation to gain territories at the expense of one another.  The Dragon is akin to a force of nature, but a kingdom can make surreptitious attempts to affect the Dragon's choice of targets by means of lures or magic or enlisting the aid of fantastic beings.  The hunt for the Dragon need not be the adventure, it can serve as a backdrop for a stage upon which Hero-Kings, fantastic beings, player characters, and a host of other entities may strut.