Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Inspiration: San Serriffe

In 1977, The Guardian newspaper published a special supplement about the island nation of San Serriffe.  Your knowledge of geography isn't at fault if you haven't heard of that country.  San Serriffe is fictional; the supplement was included in the April 1 issue of the newspaper.  This journalistic prank rises to the level of inspiration due to the amount of detail infused into it at the time and later.

San Serriffe consists of two islands and – as the map shows – the resulting shape is suggestive of a semicolon. Many aspects of San Serriffe (including the name itself) are typography related puns.  For instance, the Flong are San Serriffe's indigenous population.  With or without the 'jokey' terminology, San Serriffe offers considerable potential as a setting.

Timeline of major events:
  • 10th Century: Islands claimed in the name of King Harsha Verdhana by Sant Sharrif of India.
  • 1432–1439: Colonized by the Spanish and Portuguese.
  • 1659: Annexed by Great Britain.
  • 1815: Ceded to Portugal.
  • 1824–1836: Era of the condominium between Portugal and Great Britain.
  • 1971: Gains independence from Portugal.
  • 1973: Oil discovered off Caissa Superiore, eventually leading to an influx of foreign investment.

These dates are accurate as far as 'official' history goes, but since the Fifteenth Century, “San Serriffe was colonized, conquered and retaken in rapid succession by the Spanish, the Portuguese, the British, the Italians and, on one memorable occasion, Luxembourg.”

I imagine San Serriffe currently to be a hotbed of international intrigue and espionage.  Yet there is also room for adventure in San Serriffe's colorful – if not confusing – past.  Surely, at some point, San Serriffe must have been a haven for pirates.  And just where did the Flong come from?  Lemuria?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

An Exciting Game of Super-Human Role Playing

cover art by Alvin J. Belflower

Villains hold a certain allure; they appeal to our baser desires.  A game where players assume the roles of evil-doers would seem to have a great deal of potential.  Supervillains was an attempt to capitalize on the 'bad boy' mystique in terms of the comic book super-being genre.  According to the back of the box:
SUPERVILLAINS includes scenarios which may be played as board games, and complete rules for setting up and running a role playing campaign game.  The game contains a strategic map, a tactical map, die cut playing pieces, and all the dice, charts, and rules required for play.
In fact, Supervillains presents itself as three games:  a basic game (“...the same as virtually any Adventure board game”), an intermediate game, and an advanced game (with “as much freedom of character play as any other role-playing game”).  The role-playing nature of Supervillains is often ignored.  Lawrence Schick neglected to list it in Heroic Worlds, even though he catalogues Masters of the Universe – a product with less of a claim to being a role-playing game.

The cover indicates Supervillains was a Task Force game.  Task Force was a company in the 80s perhaps best known as the (then) publisher of Star Fleet Battles.  It also produced a variety of 'pocket games'.  Apparently, Supervillains is Rick Register's only design credit.

One bygone summer, when he was a kid, your humble host purchased this game.  It was money well spent as he derived extensive use of the product those halcyon months so long ago.  Nowadays, kids have detailed HeroClix figures for games of super-being combat.  Back then, all we had were cardboard counters and we were grateful.  Nostalgia notwithstanding, Supervillains is not without its faults.

Part of the trouble with Supervillains is the premise; it's not easy being evil.  All a superhero has to do is stumble across a villainous plot and thwart it.  A supervillain must formulate and advance plots.  Also, the motivations of supervillains are myriad.  Among the various sorts of supervillain there are:  a misunderstood alien who steals electronic components to repair his spaceship, an operative of a hostile foreign power, a mad scientist seeking revenge against the civilization that spurned him, a megalomaniac attempting to conquer the world, a thug who has no aspiration beyond robbing a bank.  Supervillains does nothing to address character motivations or the need for players to create plots.

The RPG aspect of Supervillains includes what I call a 'schedule' game – a type of game I have discussed previously.  “In the Advanced game,” the rules state, “the players will inform the Gamemaster what actions their characters are taking during each segment.”  (A 'segment' is a half-hour of game time.)  Continuing, the rules state that “encounters between player-characters...will be played out...”  This suggests that player characters are not grouped as a party, they engage the setting separate from one another.

Here is the complete introduction to the game:
          The fiendish Dr. DuNos was running wild through the city terrorizing the populace and creating havoc.  As public enemy #1, the master of sound, had managed to evade both DAGGER and The Sentinels.  The mayor of New York City was so distraught over the matter that he had been ready to resign over the furor, when the Controllers volunteered their services to track down and arrest DuNos.  The intangible Null-Man, the Living Vacuum, Electro-Thing, The Battery, Soundwave, and the Gyro-Changer all had long criminal records; but the mayor had little choice.  He gave the Controllers permission to attempt what no one else had been able to do.
          Given their own headquarters, the Controllers soon proved their loyalty to the mayor by doing their best to track down the infamous DuNos.  Although DuNos managed to evade them time after time, they were soon given another assignment in addition; to capture the notorious Holy Crusader and Company.  The Holy Crusader, the Giver of Light, Perihelion, and The Crab were all wanted for numerous and various crimes against the state, one of the most ruthless of which included the brutal massacre of an entire squadron of DAGGER agents.
          Laboring night and day with little sleep, The Controllers were finally able, through luck, to locate the Crusaders' hideout.  They prepared to engage in combat with the fiendish foursome.  Both sides tensed, as each was waiting for the other side to make the first move.  As these Superbeings stood poised for action, suddenly a whining sound filled the air and the sky grew darker as two DAGGER air cruisers passed overhead, containing forty agents, who were authorized to eliminate both the Crusaders and The Controllers, each for their various crimes.  It would be a long and bloody battle and many Superbeings and DAGGER agents would lie dead before the day was over, but perhaps the city, for a time, would be free of the supervillains.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Philosopher's Stone

Season's Greetings!

Remember Jeff Swycaffer's article, 'Elementals and the Philosopher's Stone', in Dragon magazine #27 from thirty-five years ago?

Y-you don't?  Well, no matter.  Presented below is your humble host's gift to you – an example of Swycaffer's “Philosopher's Stone” die that you can assemble yourself!  (Please use scissors only with adult supervision.)  Those familiar with with Swycaffer's original die may notice that the color scheme has been updated for 21st Century sensibilities.

Swycaffer identifies four properties:  dry, moist, heat, and cold.  Each of the classical elements shares two of these properties.  For example, water shares cold with air and moist with earth.  “This is reasonable,” Swycaffer informs us, “as the alchemists of the 1200s depicted the elements in this fashion.”  He then adds a good/evil axis perpendicular to this elemental circle.  'Good' and 'evil' are each joined to the aforementioned properties by four qualities.  The four qualities linked to good are light, pleasure, fertility, and begin.  The four qualities associated with evil are dark, pain, barren, and end.

In his article, Swycaffer introduces eight new elementals based on the properties and qualities.  He reminds us that the 'standard' elementals are described in Dungeons & Dragons – volume 2, Monsters & Treasure. Swycaffer treats “the demons of Eldritch Wizardry, D&D Supplement III” as 'elementals' of evil.  For 'elementals' of good, he recommends “the Angels of Stephen H. Domeman that appeared in The Dragon #17.”

A 'pleasure elemental' has 3 hit dice and an armor class of 9.  According to Swycaffer, such an elemental...
...Appears as a normal human.  It can cause, pleasure, peace, and happiness by its touch.  It can heal wounds for 7 points daily, and diseases once per day.  It has virtually no attacks.  This Elemental stays in the material world when conjured.
I think I would have given it a tickle attack.  An 'ending' elemental “[c]loses doors (as a wizard lock), dispels good magic, and curses as an Evil High Priest.”

With regard to using the die, Swycaffer suggests “an unusual party game.”  Just ask a question, roll the die, and interpret the result.
If any one of the triangular faces with the astrological symbols lands face up (a rare occurrence) Do not ask that question again!  The answer is far beyond the power of the stone's divination.
Personally, I think the die could be used to answer that age old question, “What does your character feel when he puts him arm into the hole in the cavern wall?”  In any event, you can impress your friends by owning a die where 'moist' is a possible result.

Peace and goodwill towards all!

UPDATE:  As indicated in the comments below, Jeff “Warsprite” Swycaffer let us all down in a big way.  The least I can do is supply a version of the Philosopher's Stone die where the arrangement of faces conforms to Aristotle's notions of the elements.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A New Concept (for 1982)

As a lad, your humble host watched General Hospital.  This was during the 'Ice Princess' storyline with its elements of science fiction and espionage.  The soap opera enjoyed unprecedented popularity and – understandably – this popularity carried over into merchandising.  Cardinal Industries obtained the license for GH and published The Game of General Hospital in 1982.

So what does this have to do with old school role-playing games?  Admittedly, not much.  However, the game was marketed as “a role playing board game...”  The back of the box reads, “This new concept incorporates the simplicity of a board game with the freedom of a role playing game.”  It certainly doesn't conform to modern notions of what a role-playing game should be nor did it conform to then current notions of what a role-playing game should be.  Yet it was designed and presented as a role-playing game – or at least something with aspects of a role-playing game.  That brings it under the purview of this blog.  In any event, your humble host fervently hopes that – in this season of good will and charity – you will indulge him as he confronts his inner demons.

On the board, there is a multi-branched track of spaces upon which playing pieces – representing characters – move clockwise.  Spaces (or areas of several adjacent spaces) correspond to exciting locations from the television series; for example, 'Hospital Reception Area' and 'Floating Rib Restaurant'.

The game is intended for two to ten players and this represents one of the problems of the game.  The dynamics of the game require a sizable number of players but its the roll-and- move nature means the game becomes more tedious with more players.  Each player adopts the role of a prominent General Hospital character, of which ten are available.  One side of each 5½" × 5½" character sheet shows attributes; the other side provides a brief character description as well as strategy tips for playing the character.

Attributes include 'Resistance to Romance' and 'Charm'.  Among the characters, Resistance to Romance ranges from eight to ten.  When a character attempts to romance another character, the Resistance to Romance of the target character must be equaled or exceeded on 2d6.  Charm ranges from +1 to +4; three characters have +1, two have +3, and five have +4.  Charm is added to the 2d6 roll in romance attempts.  As one might suspect, 'romance' plays a key role in the game.

The other individuating aspects of characters regard gaining and losing points.  The four categories of point gain/loss are:  Material Gain, Romance, Power, and Reputation.

Material Gain is a measure of money accumulated during the game.  It is presented as “x points per $5,000” with a maximum amount specified.  Heather Webber has “12 pts. per $5,000 (maximum 60 pts.)” while Alan Quartermaine has “10 pts. per $5,000 (maximum 35 pts.).”

Each character gains a certain amount of points per romance with a set maximum number; after that number each additional romance causes a loss of points.  There is also an award for being in a happy marriage at the end of the game.  As an example, Joe Kelly gains 10 points per romance (maximum two romances), –8 points for each additional romance, and 30 points for a happy marriage.

'Power' might be better termed 'social'.  Characters can 'help friends' by giving money, cards, or points (or a combination thereof) without getting anything in return.  One can also help friends by confirming or denying rumors.  Characters can also 'double cross' others by failing to comply with an agreement.  For instance, Jackie Templeton can give money to Robert Scorpio in exchange for denying a rumor.  Scorpio can accept the money but not deny the rumor.  This – not surprisingly – counts as a double cross.  Most characters gain ten points for committing a double cross with a maximum of one or two times and then receive a penalty for committing additional double crosses.  Monica Quartermaine and Heather Webber can commit unlimited double crosses.

Reputation can only cause a loss of points, not a gain.  It is expressed as “–x for every undispelled rumor at the end of the game.”  X ranges from as low as 5 points (Luke Spencer) to 15 points (Amy Vining).

Two characters of opposite gender can participate in a romance under certain conditions.  They must occupy the same location (and no other characters can be present).  Characters can engage in a romance (1) by mutual agreement, (2) if certain Fate Cards are played by one character against another, (3) one character can overcome the other's Resistance to Romance via Charm.  Romances last for three rounds or until the characters marry.  A marriage that lasts until the end of the game is a 'happy marriage'.  A divorce can result from any of three conditions:  (1) a spouse enters into an extra-marital romance, (2) a spouse “lands on the Campus Disco” space, or (3) a 'mental cruelty' or 'cheating on spouse' rumor is applied to a spouse and remains undispelled for three turns (not rounds).  Undispelled rumors that apply to a character at the end of the game apply equally to the character's spouse.  Spouses cannot play, confirm, or deny rumors on/for one another.  The game recommends “an equal number of male and female characters.”

The first character to gain 100 points wins the game.  Since some scoring doesn't occur until the end of the game, there should be a different end-game condition, such as one complete round after the third board of directors meeting.  The character with the most points would win.

The trouble with double crosses is that there is no reason to trust a character who still has points to gain from committing a double cross.  Perhaps a roll should be required when double crossing.  If the roll is successful, the character gains points as usual.  If the roll is failed, the victim gains points from the double crosser.  Perhaps the roll should become more difficult with each attempt.

Rumors are the result of certain Fate Cards.  A character may play a rumor upon another character if he or she gets another character to confirm it.  Rumors can be dispelled with 'evidence' Fate Cards or if two characters other than the victim deny the rumor.  My problem with the rumor mechanic is that rumors randomly come into play via Fate Cards and they are generic – most rumors can be applied to anyone (the exception being marital rumors).

I know you didn't ask, but here is how I would handle it if I went back in time and had nothing better to do than work on game design for Cardinal.  All soap opera characters have skeletons in their closets.  Let's have these represented in the game as 'dirt tokens' – each character has a fixed number of dirt tokens specific to him or her.  At the beginning of the game, one or more dirt tokens for each character is placed in a bag along with some neutral tokens.  On his or her turn, a player may attempt to 'dig up dirt' by paying a sum of money to the bank or by rolling doubles or whatever.  The player selects a token at random from the bag.  If the token is associated with a character, then the player can target that character, either through blackmail or hitting the character with a rumor.  The rumor can only be dispelled through evidence cards or by a majority of characters denying the rumor.  Every round each player adds a token to the bag; either a dirt token for his or her character or a neutral token, the nature of the token is not disclosed to the other players.  At the end of the game, the player takes a penalty for every dirt token he or she hasn't put in the bag.  (Putting a dirt token in the bag is risky, but it reduces the end-game penalty.)

The promise of “the freedom of a role playing game” does not ring true.  Each character is distinct, but play is constrained to opportunities presented by Fate Cards and the board.  A player cannot make his or her own opportunities nor is there a Game Master to facilitate immersion.  There is an optimal strategy for each character that is spelled out on the character sheet; 'playing a role' is reduced to min/maxing scoring opportunities.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Wild Talents in Timeship

According to page 12 of the Timeship rule book, “One of the more pleasing aspects of Time Travel is that Voyagers gradually become more expert as their experience increases.”  Although the Voyagers, of course, are the players themselves, author Herbie Brennan is referring to game mechanics, not player skill.  Successful completion (i.e., survival) of a Time Capsule entitles a Voyager to points of PERMANENT ENERGY.  Whenever a player determines PERSONAL ENERGY before beginning a Time Capsule, any PERMANENT ENERGY previously gained is added to the total.

“[T]he more dangerous the capsule,” we are told, “the greater the quantum of PERMANENT ENERGY which accrues to surviving Voyagers.”  A Voyager who successfully completes the 'Murder at the End of Time' Capsule receives one point of Permanent Energy.  However, a Voyager killed in the Capsule “must deduct FIVE points of Permanent Energy.”  So, it's possible for a Voyager to have negative Permanent Energy and thereby deduct points when determining Personal Energy.  'The Destruction of Gomorrah' Capsule offers 3 points of Permanent Energy; however, this seems applicable only if the Voyagers deactivate a certain device and find an EXIT to the Capsule.  No provision is made if the Voyagers don't find the device; which seems strange since it's an Adventure Capsule and not a Task Capsule.  Dying in Gomorrah causes a loss of three points of Permanent Energy.  A Voyager successful with the 'Assassinate the Fuhrer!' Capsule gains four points of Permanent Energy but a Voyager who dies in the Capsule loses two points of Permanent Energy.

Other than PERMANENT ENERGY, Voyagers can obtain Wild Talents.  According to the rules, “Wild Talents are extremely rare, but it is well to recognize the possibility of their appearance, especially as their use does not invariably involve ENERGY expenditure.”  The rule book does not provide much information about Wild Talents.  However, Voyagers have an opportunity to gain a Wild Talent in 'The Destruction of Gomorrah' Capsule, specifically “FIRE RESISTANCE.”  There is a 21% chance that a Voyager in that Capsule will gain that Wild Talent “when entering a fire.” So I guess they really are rare.  FIRE RESISTANCE is also conveyed to whatever possessions the Voyager is carrying.

The 'Timelord Screen' supplies a “sampling” of Wild Talents as well as the following information:  “In some cases the Timelord may...determine the Wild Talent to only be useable with the expenditure of Personal Power in addition to the passage of a dice check.”
  • TELEPATHY – “This ability may range from picking up an occasional strong thought to the ability to completely read another's thoughts.  A negative aspect of this ability is the receiving thoughts from many people at one time, causing great confusion.  This ability is limited to reading only the thoughts of humans.”
  • PSYCHOKINESIS – “This ability may range from the ability to control extremely small objects for short distances to objects weighing up to ten pounds for several dozen yards.  A negative aspect of this ability is the uncontrolled and undesired movement of articles at inopportune times.”
  • PYROKINESIS – “This ability only works on flammable items. The negative aspect of this ability is the occasional, uncontrolled use of the ability when the possessor is either disturbed or frightened.”
  • PRECOGNITION – “This ability is rarely ever controlled and occurs most frequently while the person possessing the talent is dreaming.  Often the person experiencing it will not be able to tell if the event seen pertains to him or herself, or to another known, or unknown, person.”
  • EMPATHY – This Wild Talent should more properly be named psychometry.  “The negative aspect of this ability is that the person empathizing will actually experience the feeling obtained from the touched object..  For example, depending upon the mood of the subject, the player may feel extremely depressed, rejected, untrusting, drunk; even homicidal of (sic) suicidal.”

Interestingly, all Voyagers are capable shape shifting.  The rule book and the Timelord Screen contradict one another regarding the Personal Energy costs involved with shape shifting.  According to the rule book, “A full sex change...requires only” three Personal Energy points whereas changing “skin colour, hair colour, general racial characteristics or height (within normal limits)” has a cost of two Personal Energy points per change.  According to the Timelord Screen, “slight changes in appearance such as changing the color of the eyes, hair, or slight alterations to skin tone”...each cost one to three points of Personal Energy.  Note the spelling of 'colour' in the rule book but 'color' on the Timelord Screen.  We must assume the contents of the rule book represent the opinions of Herbie Brennan while statements on the Timelord Screen are likely from Stephen Peek.  According to the Timelord Screen, the “drastic alteration of skin tone, physical changes to the facial structure, and changes in height and weight” cost between five and fifteen Personal Energy points each.

The rule book suggests that “major shape shifting should be discouraged” but, when implemented, should cost 75 - 150 Personal Energy points (or more).  In any event, “such shifts do no more than create an appearance.”  This means...“Intelligence, speech, speed, strike capacity and general abilities are not affected unless the new shape renders them physically impossible.”  For instance, forms without hands cannot operate telephones, but “a human shape shifted into a mouse retains human strength.”  Yet...
Some advantages may be gained provided these are inherent in the new shape.  A human shifted into an owl would, for example, have the power of flight, since the ability to fly is inherent in the structure of a bird.  But a human shifted into a cobra would not have a venomous bite since poison is a characteristic of the reptile, not something inherent in the shape of a snake.
Shape shifting is one of the most intriguing aspects of TIMESHIP – and one that in certain circumstances, can be vital to a Voyager's survival.  But it needs to be kept under careful control, otherwise the entire game will degenerate into cloud cuckoo land. 
Remember, there is only a short distance between time travelling shape shifters and cloud cuckoo land.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Product Review: Proteus Sinking

Thanks to the beneficence of Oakes Spalding (and a meager application of talent on the part of your humble host), I am in possession of Proteus Sinking, the eighth in Geoffrey McKinney's 'Psychedelic Fantasies' line of adventure modules.  The author is Björn Wärmedal; McKinney being the publisher.  This post is my review of the module.

McKinney's stated idiom for the Psychedelic Fantasies products is thus:
Each stand-alone adventure module in the Psychedelic Fantasies line revels in unconstrained imagination. Every monster, every magic power, and every magic spell is a unique and never-before-seen creation of the author. No orcs, fireballs, or +1 swords will be found within. Leave the familiar behind to explore hitherto undreamed of wonders...
This is an admirable objective.  Additionally, McKinney has opted for a 'no frills' presentation.  No artwork is included in the product; the only non-text items are location diagrams.  McKinney may have implemented this policy for cost control reasons or perhaps he does not want to constrain the reader's imagination with defined iconography.  Proteus Sinking consists of ten pages of text (two columns) and one page of diagrams.  Currently, the Psychedelic Fantasies modules are available for $2.95 each (discounted from $3.50), so price should not be an obstacle.  (Actually, Proteus Sinking is offered as “pay what you want” with a 'suggested price' of $2.95.)

I do not think that any spoilers I may divulge are particularly ruinous given the ad copy of the product:
This adventure is set on a crashed starship of gelatinous beings. You do not have to wait until the PCs are high-level to get them into crazy sci-fi weirdness, for this module is for character levels 1-3. Start them off right away with the crazy. Don't let the Globo-Zen, Globo-Disco, and hallucinogenic mushrooms fool you into letting your guard down. This dungeon will kill you.
This indicates – to me at least – a poor man's Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  I still hold this opinion after studying the product; not that there's anything wrong with being a poor man's Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  Additionally, the following terms portend a 'gonzo' sensibility and an attempt at humor:  “crazy sci-fi weirdness,” “Globo-Zen,” and “Globo-Disco.”  I don't have a problem with either gonzo or humor, but they are not appropriate for every campaign.  More importantly (for purposes of this review), I don't think that gonzo and humor necessarily equate to 'psychedelic'.

According to my Second College Edition of Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (© 1978), 'psychedelic' means “of or causing extreme changes to the conscious mind, as hallucinations, delusions, intensification of awareness and sensory perception, etc.”  Examples of my conception of 'psychedelic' include Agent Cooper's dream sequences in Twin Peaks and Dave Bowman's journey 'Beyond the Infinite' in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  For something called a Psychedelic Fantasy, Proteus Sinking doesn't bring much 'psychedelic' to the table.  Had this adventure been branded as Quirky Quests or Wacky Escapades instead of Psychedelic Fantasies, I would have approached the product with a different mindset.  As it is, I find myself disappointed.  It's not that I don't like the adventure; if I genuinely disliked it, then the title of this post would have been 'Proteus S(t)inking'.

Let me try to explain my disappointment.  The premise of the adventure is “a crashed starship of gelatinous beings.”  So far, so good; the psychedelic potential is apparent.  We have alien gelatinous beings...except there's no communication barrier.  The crashed starship is positioned at a 30° angle relative to the ground; fortunately, however, artificial gravity is still working in the ship.  Doubly fortunately, the ship's gravity is equivalent to that which the player characters normally experience; so no inconvenience is posed.  Gelatinous beings (or “Globonauts” as they are called) ought to be able to tolerate gravity of various strengths and they shouldn't necessarily require artificial gravity at all.  The floor plans of the three decks consist of straight corridors and angular rooms; they could easily abut any given dungeon geomorph.  Globonauts wouldn't need straight corridors or angular rooms or levels.  I would imagine the interior of a starship used by gelatinous beings to consist of tubes and cavities; the concept of 'floor' would be relative.  According to the module, “The inside of the ship is almost completely metal – steel or harder.”  That's a human notion of what the inside of a starship should be like.  Why should Globonauts be limited to this paradigm?  Why should the ship even be solid?  What about a gelatinous ship for gelatinous beings?  Why not an organic, 'living' ship?  I'm not feeling the “unconstrained imagination.”

Proteus Sinking is not without some clever ideas.  Spalding considers the adventure to be “charming” and “whimsical.”  Read his take on it should you like a counterpoint to my peevish analysis.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Killing Hitler


Time Warp #1; 2013, DC Comics; Art by Ian Culbard

If anyone deserves an abbreviated lifespan, it's the “Greatest Fascist Dictator.”  Widely reviled as one of the most evil people in history, Hitler is often the subject of time travel hypotheses.  Remove him and prevent the horrendous volume of murder and misery he caused – so logic would suggest.  Of course, killing him after he perpetrated his evil would defeat the purpose.  Killing him beforehand isn't exactly fair and brings into question free will and predetermination.  Also, there's a paradox to worry about.  If Hitler is removed, then there's no motivation to go back in time to remove Hitler; therefore, Hitler isn't removed.

Anyway, with Hitler out of the way, we can't be certain how history would have changed.  Would there still be atrocities?  Would they be as extensive?  One argument against killing Hitler is that the alternative would be Something Worse; that we live in the best of all possible worlds.  Having endured his evil, perhaps we – as a civilization – have learned to be more tolerant.  Perhaps if Hitler didn't exist, we would be forced to invent him.

The third 'adventure' for Timeship is the most detailed of the three 'Time Capsules' included with the game.  “This is one of the most complex and difficult Capsules,” author Herbie Brennan writes.  It is a TASK Capsule and according to the Capsule, “It is the task of the Group to reach Hitler in those fearful, final days of April 1945 and ensure his death by assassination.”  Unless and until they kill Hitler, the Voyagers cannot return to their present.  By this time, Hitler has perpetrated his evil, so there seems little sense in disposing of him.  However, Brennan suggests that...
...the Fuhrer made good his escape, travelling secretly through Spain before sailing to South America, there to lay the foundations of a Fourth Reich destined to grow in secret for several generations before making its bid for world domination.
The back of the box posits a slightly different scenario:
On June 7th, 1956, World War Three began when the Nazi government of Argentina, led by Adolph [sic] Hitler, invaded Brazil.  Hitler had escaped capture at the end of World War II and begun the Fourth Reich in South America.  It is now April 30th, 1945 and you are stalking Hitler through the bunkers beneath a city in flames.  Your mission:  find him, then make it look like suicide.
Not only is the threat more immediate, but the party must make Hitler's death “look like suicide,” probably to maintain history as we know it.

Normally, Voyagers enter a Time Capsule through a Gateway that shows the destination.  However,
...times of war produce great stresses on the timestream.  Thus the Gateway is unstable.  Inform your Group there can be no absolute guarantee of their arrival.
Brennan uses the 'unstable' Gateway gimmick to subject the Voyagers to a montage of historical scenes:  the '36 Olympics, Neville Chamberlain's “peace in our time” speech, and the Nuremberg Rally.  This sequence takes up nearly a page.  Afterwards, the Voyagers do not appear at Hitler's bunker, instead they find themselves “materialized in Zone Red” (or Red Zone as it is referred to also).  The Red Zone is a ring area 3.7 km to 7.7 km from the bunker.  (These distances are an estimation since the provided sketch map has no scale.)  Exactly where in the Red Zone is at the discretion of the Timelord.  Within the Red Zone, there is the Orange Zone, then the Yellow Zone, and finally the Green Zone, the center of which is the bunker.  The Red Zone represents the area with most the most intense “Allied shelling and bombing” with interior zones subject to lesser and lesser activity.

In essence, the Voyagers must find the bunker, enter it, kill Hitler, and then find the EXIT.  If the back of the box is to be believed, the death must seem to be a suicide.  The Voyagers are left to their own devices to accomplish these goals.  Attempting to reach Hitler through violent means is not likely to be successful; subterfuge is necessary.  Even if the Voyagers manage to get close to Hitler and kill him, they must escape retribution long enough to get to the EXIT, the presence of which won't be known until after Hitler dies.  Making his death seem to be a suicide is a practical impossibility.  The 'Publisher's Note' concludes “that this Capsule will, if carefully handled, provide a Voyager group with an experience of exceptional interest and challenge.”  Realistically, there would be a time limit imposed in this Capsule; however, nothing of the sort of is mentioned.

Brennan includes an impressive amount of information with the Capsule, such as a description of documents German nationals were required to carry at the time.  Several personages are described including Martin Bormann, Hans Krebs, and Hanna Reitch.  However, with regard to game terms, Brennan provides only THN for the appropriate weapon, SPEED FACTOR, and damage capacity.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Was Empire of the Petal Throne one of the main inspirations for the magic system in Arrows of Indra?

This is a direct, uncomplicated question.  It is possible to answer it with a simple “yes” or “no.”  When the response to such a question includes personal attacks, unsupported allegations, defensive rambling, bizarre premises, and irrelevant arguments, it is only natural to become suspicious of the respondent.

But let's start at the beginning.

Arrows of Indra is a role-playing game authored by a person who chooses to identify himself as RPGPundit – the guy in charge of theRPGsite.  On that site there is a forum thread about “Magic in Arrows of Indra.”  In this thread, a person who chooses to identify himself as Prince of Nothing asks the question which serves as the title of this post.  (Full disclosure:  Prince of Nothing is an habitué of YDIS and is thus 'peripherally affiliated' with your humble host.)  As a reply, RPGPundit says many things, most of which are irrelevant to the simple question put forth to him.  Part of me wants to address all of his asinine remarks – the part that cries out for justice amid an ocean of obfuscation; yet I shall stay true to my course.

The portion of RPGPundit's response that actually relates to the question is:  “There's some similarities in the magic system.”  I'm no linguist, but this might be Uruguayan slang for “well, I changed the names at least.”  The Prince has been banned from RPGPundit's site, so he has taken up his discourse at YDIS.  The Prince shows that, instead of “some similarities,” the likeness is more akin to 'substantially equivalent'.  The two magic systems are not identical, but they are so alike that RPGPundit made a conscious decision to mimic Empire of the Petal Throne.  I don't have a problem with that.  I do have a problem with RPGPundit's steadfast avoidance of admitting the truth.

I would like to use graphics to demonstrate the Prince's points.  Material from Arrows of Indra appears courtesy of the Open Gaming License and is used for purposes of education and critique.  Although I previously discussed the EPT magic system, I will briefly cover some of the same ground here.

In both EPT and AoI, each class has a set of skills.  In EPT, skills later in a list are more 'powerful' than skills earlier in a list and, generally speaking, as a character gains experience levels, he or she acquires new skills in list order.  In AoI, there are basic skills and advanced skills and, generally speaking, as a character gains experience levels, he or she acquires basic skills before advanced skills.  In EPT, many of the 'skills' for priests and magic-users are actually spells.  In AoI, many of the 'skills' for Priests and magic-users Siddhis are actually spells.  Let's take a look; the thick red lines connect an EPT skill (left) to the substantially equivalent AoI skill (right).

First, we have priests/Priests:

And now, magic-users/Siddhis:

In EPT, priests and magic-users have access to a common group of other spells called “bonus spells”.  In AoI, Priests and Siddhis have access to a common group of other spells called “enlightenment powers.”  In EPT, the 'other spells' are divided into three 'groups' according to power level.  In AoI, the 'other spells' are divided into three 'groups' 'ranks' according to power level.  As characters in either game gain experience levels, they have percentile chances of gaining spells/powers from different groups/ranks.  Admittedly, the method RPGPundit 'created' for AoI is more user friendly:

Here are comparisons of “bonus spells/enlightenment powers” for each “group/rank.”  Please note that the order of the EPT spells as presented here is different from the order presented in the book (not that it matters).


This post is not a condemnation of the OSR.  It is certainly not a condemnation of Barker's work.  It's not even a condemnation of Arrows of Indra.  (However, I would recommend Against the Dark Yogi rather than Arrows of Indra.)  This post is a condemnation of RPGPundit's misrepresentations.

In replying to the question, RPGPundit ought to have said something like, “I adapted the magic system from Empire of the Petal Throne because Professor Barker handled it very well.”  Evidently, such a statement is too onerous for his tender ego to bear.

RPGPundit stood upon the shoulders of giants; sadly, he chose to wipe his feet on them.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

What Happens in Gomorrah Stays in Gomorrah


All except the poor are welcome.  No soldiers bar the gates excepting to an army.  No police patrol the streets.  In Gomorrah, it is said, you can go anywhere you wish, commit whatever crime you wish, subject only to your own strength.  There is no law, save the law of the sword, no punishment save that which your victim may attempt to inflict.
The second 'Time Capsule' presented with the Timeship role-playing game is 'The Destruction of Gomorrah'.  The phrase, “There is no law,” indicated above, refers only to moral law.  There is, indeed, an inviolable law in this Capsule – Gomorrah will be destroyed.  The Capsule states, “[T]he destruction of the city is inevitable and total and those who fail to find the EXIT must perish with it in the long dead past.”  Although this is an 'Adventure' Capsule – meaning the player characters have no set goal – locating an EXIT within a given period of time becomes a de facto goal.

I won't divulge the amount of time, but I will mention the clock starts ticking as soon as the party ventures through the Gateway to the bazaar scene (shown above).  As the party enters the Gateway, “an automatic pulse of energy” starts the timer of an atomic bomb.  (Of course, the players have no way of knowing this.)  The bomb has been placed in a particular location by extraterrestrial operatives who have decided to impose their alien values upon a developing culture.  They judged that the cities of Gomorrah and Sodom were “without evolutionary potential” and must therefore be destroyed.  In other words, an 'advanced civilization' uses extreme violence to 'solve' a problem that has nothing to do with them.  Is this supposed to be a lesson?  Why did they go through all of the trouble to hide an atomic bomb in Gomorrah as opposed to using a more direct solution?  Why did they arrange for the bomb to be triggered by time travelers?  Anyway, since the Voyagers don't know about the atomic bomb, they can't look for it; but, if they come across it, they can disarm it.  However, even if they manage to disarm the bomb, the alien Mother Ship will send “a disc which will release an explosive device of great power in the atmosphere above these cities.”  The “missile” takes an hour to reach its detonation point, giving the Voyagers time to find an EXIT.

One minute before the destruction of Gomorrah (whether from bomb or missile), “the party will hear a voice booming out across the city.”  This functions as a (literal) last-minute warning for the Voyagers to split the scene.  This “peculiar metallic” voice explains the aliens' rationale for mass their victims who will cease to exist in a matter of seconds.  “You will be unaware of your end,” the aliens helpfully inform their audience.  I guess this somehow makes sense to the aliens.

Let's set aside the doom and gloom and look at the opportunities that present themselves to the Voyagers as they explore this 'sandbox of sin' (so to speak).  I have it on good authority that the denizens of Gomorrah did not speak English.  This, however, should not daunt intrepid Voyagers.  A mere two units of PERSONAL ENERGY...
...will allow everyone who hears you in your travels to hear you speak in his or her native, or common, language.  By the same token, you shall hear all that is spoken around you in your native or common language.
At one point, author Herbie Brennan uses the phrase “Universal Translator.”  Doubtless, he is referring to this ability.

For the reader's edification, below is the map of Gomorrah provided in the Timeship box.  An astute observer will note that the map is not keyed.  This is because a random DESCRIPTION TABLE is to be consulted for each building in the city with the exception of certain areas:  the bazaar, the parkland, the palace, the ziggurat, and the guard stations.  Even so, some locations described in the table are meant to be unique and the Timelord is advised that “If [a particular description] does not appear to you to fit the prevailing circumstances, ignore it and roll again.”  Also, “as Timelord, you are not bound by any table.”

The Voyagers arrive at the bazaar.  Aside from slaves, a variety of merchandise is sold; Brennan spends a paragraph listing examples.  The guard stations house guards that have no concern for crimes other than (a) attacks upon a guard and (b) riots.  In the ziggurat, ten girls (“ages ranging between seven and eleven”) are about to be sacrificed to Moloch.  Don't even bother going to the palace; as soon as any Voyager enters the area, “the entire complex will [become] an explosive inferno.”  In the parkland, one is apt to encounter various combinations of persons indulging in carnal activity.  However, it's possible to meet a Hebrew prophet as well as a card-carrying “Time Traveller from the Twenty-Eighth Century.”  Also, watch out for snakes. 

The DESCRIPTION TABLE lists twenty-three establishments.  Often, a “percentile roll” is used to determine the number of occupants of a structure.  I think Brennan means for a Timelord to roll one of the percentile dice, thereby generating a number from one to ten.  Along with the various dens of iniquity, one may encounter a “Sorcerer's Lodge” wherein a demon is being summoned.  A patron of the “Prostitute's House” has a 76% chance of contracting body lice.  (There is no chance of contracting body lice at the “Brothel.”)  Relief from the body lice requires an expenditure of three PERSONAL ENERGY units.  Try to avoid getting leprosy.  (There is a “Leper Colony” location as well as a possible leper encounter on the street.)  Leprosy “will eat away four points of ENERGY for each hour's play subsequent to contracting it.”  Also, “within half an hour (real time) the player will have lost the use of his sword arm.”  For a Voyager, leprosy “will terminate its course once the victim has passed through an EXIT.”

When the Voyagers “enter a new street or district,” the Timelord is instructed to roll on the ENCOUNTER TABLE which offers twenty-two distinct encounters (and a 9% chance of 'no encounter').  There is a 30% chance of encountering a streetwalker of either gender or inclination.  Other encounters include thieves, pimps, pushers, and drunks.  Among the special encounters there is an “Angel...dressed in a vaguely luminous, skintight silver suit of metallic appearance,” a 3' 6" dwarf (who “will offer his services as a fighter to the males of the party and his services as a lover to the females”), and a homicidal hermaphrodite who “has stained his/her skin bright green.”

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Murder at the End of Time


Diana: Warrior Princess is a role-playing game by Marcus Rowland that posits how a future era might treat our time period considering how we treat ancient history.  To put it another way, “Imagine [our era] converted into a TV series by a production company with the loving attention to historical accuracy we have come to expect from such series.”  (e.g., Xena: Warrior Princess)  'Murder at the End of Time' – first of three adventures Time Capsules included with Timeship – was crafted with a similar, light-hearted perspective.

Before discussing 'Murder at the End of Time', I should disclose some information about Time Capsules.  Voyagers enter a Time Capsule via a Gateway; the processes involved were covered in previous posts.  Voyagers are unable to use the Gateway to return to their point of origin.  “Entrance Gateways are strictly one-way,” Brennan informs us.  (Presented above is the illustration of the 'Murder at the End of Time' Gateway; however, according to the text, “nothing may be seen” beyond the pillars.)

Voyagers depart from Time Capsules via EXITS.  Brennan states, “So far, experience has shown that every Time Capsule has a built-in EXIT.”  Well, if there were Time Capsules without exits EXITS, we wouldn't know about them because no one could have returned from one.  Anyway...
EXITS will usually manifest as shimmering Doorways, or, sometimes, as rather ominous Black Holes in the fabric of reality.  As such, they are generally easy to recognize, but not always easy to find.
There are two types of Time Capsules, Adventure and Task.

In Adventure Capsules, Voyagers “are bound to no specific purpose other they may determine for themselves.”  Adventure Capsules have at least one EXIT, “each permanently located in a specific place.”  However, Brennan tells us, “random factors in the timestream will cause an additional EXIT to appear at least temporarily in the Voyagers' vicinity.”

In Task Capsules, Voyagers are obliged to achieve a particular goal before an EXIT manifests.  “This naturally adds greatly to the dangers of a Task Capsule,” Brennan warns.  'Murder at the End of Time' is a Task Capsule.  Specifically,
The first murder in 300,000,000 years has been committed at the End of Time.  The Task of the Group is to solve the mystery.
There is an option for this Capsule requiring that the solution to the mystery be written down and submitted to a suggestion box.  Only the correct solution “will cause the activation of the EXIT.”  Submission of “an incorrect solution will cause the box to emit a silent burst of lethal radiation which will kill instantly the Voyager...”  There is no provision for activating the EXIT if the above option is not implemented.  The Time Capsule plays as a light-hearted romp, so the activation of the EXIT shouldn't be a concern – When the mystery is solved, the EXIT activates.  However, things aren't that simple; there's more than one mystery.

So, in the future, beings which are the results of “ultimate human evolution” have “discovered how to tap the basic power of the universe, hence anything is possible for them.”  Brennan explains, “Their greatest enemy is boredom” and “One of the few novelties remaining is archaeology.”  One of the terms used for these beings is “Superiors,” which is how your humble host shall refer to them.  The Superiors “decided it would be amusing to create a murder mystery for 20th Century detectives to solve.”  Based on their imperfect knowledge, “they set out to create as authentic a setting as possible...”  Brennan gives us an interesting bit of information:  “They then made application to the Time Traveller's Guild to have their work incorporated in a Time Capsule.”  Essentially they created a tourist attraction; that is, an attraction for temporal tourists.

The “setting” exists on “a rectangle of land 270' × 380'” which “is surrounded by an invisible Forcefield” that “will...ignore inorganic matter.”  Within the setting, the Voyagers encounter a variety of entities such as Little Red Riding Orphan Annie Oakley and “the Large Evil Wolf, a massive animal which walks erect on hind legs and dresses somewhat like Uncle Sam.”  The murder victim, by the way, is Count Dracula who is quite animate and “is intensely curious about the identity of his murderer.”

The Superiors have inserted themselves incognito into the setting and most of the other entities are either clockwork automatons or products of biological engineering.  However, the Superiors have kidnapped two humans from the timestream to make the setting seem more authentic.  If they can kidnap people, why bother making an application to the Time Traveller's Guild?  If the whole point is to design a setting that would seem authentic to “20th Century detectives,” abducting people to include in the setting hardly seems fair.

For Voyagers who may need assistance in solving the mystery (such as it is), a computer in Dracula's Castle can answer questions “truthfully, but only in terms of YES and NO (or INFORMATION UNAVAILABLE.)”  However, the computer requires “an input of of 15 ENERGY points per question.”

Far be it from your humble host to post the actual solution to the 'Murder at the End of Time'; however, after the fashion of the Information Matrices that appear in the Time Capsules, here is an Information Matrix of statements that may or may not be clues:

1. There is a butler named Jeeves.
2. Don't believe the parrot.
3. The “rocky outcrop” is edible.
4. Little Red Riding Orphan Annie Oakley is packing heat.
5. Mr Trenchcoat can pass through the Forcefield.
6. Underneath the sand, at a depth of three feet, there is a flat, metallic base.
7. Do you really want to kiss someone who sleeps on a golf course?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Welsh Legends in The Future King

Art by John Totleben

Among other interests, Tom Moldvay evidently had a fondness for Welsh history and legends.  We see this in Priddo, a Lords of Creation setting – a parallel world where Cymric culture flourished.  “Priddo,” Moldvay tells us, “is Welsh for earth or terra.”  Google Translate does not contradict this, but suggests that 'Daearoedd' may be more appropriate (and more difficult to pronounce).

In The Future King, Moldvay makes extensive use of Welsh legends, especially as they intersect with Arthurian legend.  The premise of the adventure, of course, is to rouse King Arthur from his profound slumber.  The first character the party encounters is Taliessin, who acts as a sort of expository vehicle for the Game Master.  If The Future King is a railroad, then Taliessin is the conductor.

Among the possible random encounters in The Future King, there are:
Gwyllion – “The Gwyllion is a hideous old hag with incredible strength.  She will try to drag a victim down into her dark, other-worldly dwelling...After the Gwyllion succeeds in grabbing a victim, the heroes have only one turn to defeat her before she disappears.”
Twrch Trwyth – This is a giant, intelligent boar.  (“It has the power of speech.”)  There is a 58% chance it will attack the party; otherwise it will flee.  It has an impressive 220 Survival points, an attack success chance of approximately 92%, and a damage bonus greater than that of Corvus Andromeda's blaster.  It also has poison bristles, meaning that the victim of the attack must succeed with a Luck roll or die.
Cyhyraeth – “The Cyhyraeth is an invisible bodiless voice.  It is basically an omen for good or bad luck.”  There is an equal chance of either good or bad luck.  Bad luck means the characters have a -1 Luck modifier while good luck means the characters have a +1 Luck modifier.  Either condition lasts only until the end of the next combat.
Llamhigyn Y Dwr – Otherwise known as a 'water leaper', this giant toad automatically attacks the party.  It has 160 Survival points, an attack success chance of approximately 78%, and a damage bonus greater than a shot from a pistol but less than a two-handed axe.  It possesses 'magical armor' and its 'bloody saliva' induces hallucinations in any victim that fails his Luck roll.  This means the victim will be easier to hit in combat.
Ellylldan – This is a Will o' the Wisp.  In game terms, if a character fails his Luck roll twice, “the hero follows the Ellylldan to his death.”

Standard encounters (i.e., non-random) include a fight with the Addanc, “a monster that looks like a giant cross between a crocodile and a beaver.”  Every turn it has a bite attack and two claw attacks.  It has 140 Survival points and moderate 'armor'.  At one point in the adventure, the characters are subject to the pranks of the Coranieid Folk, “a sort of Welsh variation of dwarves with special magical powers.”  If the characters ignore the pranks, nothing happens.  If the characters somehow “join in on the spirit of the pranks,” each character is rewarded with a stone that grants magical protection (but is not cumulative with other protection).  If violence erupts between the Coranieid and the characters, a total of eight Coranieid will confront the party.  They will use their 'apportation' power to cause small rocks to fall on the characters, causing an automatic 2-12 points of damage.  After one turn of combat, the Coranieid will 'teleport' away.  The Coranieid also possess 'telepathy' and magic stones of protection.  The Coranieid have only thirty Survival points each and – in the unlikely event they enter mêlée – they wield hammers with an approximate attack success chance of 56%.

During the course of the adventure, the party encounters a variety of personalities.  Their first opponent is the giant Ysbaddaden who perhaps has the best soliloquy in The Future King.  It begins with “You cursed savage manlings...”  Iddawg (“The Embroiler of Britain”) helps the characters cross a river.  Bran the Blessed treats them to a feast.  Merlin makes a cameo appearance after the heroes defeat Vivian, thus canceling her spell.  The party finds Bedivere and retrieves Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake.  “The heroes will find they cannot actually use Excalibur in combat,” Moldvay indicates, “only Arthur can wield the sword...”  Regardless, anyone carrying Excalibur gains positive modifiers to Luck, attack, and damage.

If the players are unable to solve enough of the riddles posed to them, they may fight Morgan le Fay, who has considerable magical protection and more Survival points than a giant boar.  Not only can she cast illusions, she can use 'fascination' to cause one or more characters to fight on her behalf.  The party's final opponent is Mordred.  With only one hundred Survival points and less protection than Morgan le Fay, such an opponent may seem anticlimactic.  However, Mordred is armed with two poisoned javelins that cause death unless a Luck roll is successful.  After using the javelins, Mordred resorts to using a magic spear (75% attack success) that causes double damage.  When using the spear, Mordred cannot be disarmed.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Meet the Heroes

Players of The Future King adopt the roles of six characters provided with the game.  Not merely pre-gens, these characters – described below – are historical personages that Tom Moldvay rendered in game terms.  Some also appear in Lords of Creation, which suggests a certain fondness on Moldvay's part.  Dave Billman provided the art shown here and he often contributed to Moldvay's non-TSR projects.  Billman is/was quite talented; unfortunately, I cannot find much information about him.


I place Nostradamus first because, compared to the others, he is likely closest to an average person in terms of physical ability.  He has 59 Survival points, no Initiative bonus, and a 'base attack' (knife) with a success rate of approximately 56% (once per turn).

Nostradamus can “heal each hero once...for a maximum of 36 points.”  He can also restore all of a person's Survival points, but only “two people total” in the course of the adventure.  He can perform 'psychometry' three times, engage in 'clairvoyance' three times, use 'mind block' to “defend himself against any kind of mental attack” three times, and employ 'true sight' to “see the reality behind any illusion” three times.  Also, by virtue of his 'premonition', the Game Master must warn the player when Nostradamus “senses possible danger ahead.”

Bruce Lee

Bruce is an interesting addition to the game in that there is no indication of licensing from his estate even though his name and likeness appear on the cover.  Anyway, he has 113 Survival points and +3 Initiative.  He can attempt three unarmed strikes per turn with a success rate of approximately 89% each.  The amount of damage he inflicts is equivalent to what a 16th century French physician would inflict with a knife; however, he gets a damage bonus for each attack where he rolls less than 34%.  If so, he inflicts more damage than he does with nunchucks, a weapon with which he can attack twice per turn at a success rate of 72%.

In addition to his martial arts damage bonus, when doubles are rolled for Bruce's attack, “he has hit a vital area of his opponant [sic] and does twice as much damage as normal.”  On the other hand, when an 'opponent' rolls double when attacking Bruce, the attack fails because “Bruce...has actually dodged the attack.”

Cyrano de Bergerac

Evidently, for his depiction of Cyrano, Billman relied upon a publicity still of José Ferrer from Cyrano de Bergerac.

Cyrano has 92 Survival points and +3 Initiative.  He can attack twice per turn with a knife at a success rate of approximately 64%.  He also has a one-shot musket (58% success rate) which takes six turns to reload.

Of course, Cyrano is at his best with a rapier, which apparently inflicts the same amount of damage as nunchucks.  With the rapier, he can attack twice per turn with a success rate of approximately 89%.  If he rolls less than 34%, he gets a damage modifier greater than that of a two-handed axe (see below) or, if he rolls less than 17%, he “has the choice of disarming his opponant [sic] instead of doing physical damage.”

Harald Hardraada

As someone who tried to conquer England, he is an unlikely choice to be a champion of King Arthur.  Yet, standing seven feet tall, who's going to argue with him?

Harald has 119 Survival points (which is more than any other hero) and +2 Initiative.  He is one of only two characters that wear armor.  He wields a two-handed axe with which he can attack once per turn at a success rate of approximately 78%.  He also has a sword that permits two attacks per turn at 69%.  However, he does more damage with the axe and does double damage when doubles are rolled.  He can otherwise attack with a knife twice per turn at 58%.

Harald also has a 'pilot' ability that gives him “an uncanny sense of direction” and allows him to “navigate by using subtle clues meaningless to most people.”

Doc Holliday

With a score of 57, Doc has fewer Survival points than Nostradamus, doubtless attributable to tuberculosis.  Sill, he has an Initiative of +3.

Doc can attack twice per turn with either a knife (at 72%) or a rifle (at 75%).  Doc's expertise, however, is with his revolvers.  With them he can attack three times per turn with a success rate of approximately 81%.  When using his revolvers, his Initiative bonus is +5.  If doubles are rolled when attacking with either revolvers or rifle, he inflicts greater damage or can choose to disarm his 'opponent'.

Doc also has 'sleight of hand' that he can use to “make any small object seemingly appear and disappear by magic.”

Owen Glendower

Owen was the last Welshman to claim the title “Prince of Wales.”  Billman apparently found it fitting to base Owen's appearance on that of noted Welsh actor Richard Burton.

Owen has 71 Survival points, +1 Initiative, and armor that offers impressive damage reduction.  He can attack twice per turn with a knife (at 42%) or a sword (at 64%).  He also has a longbow that takes a turn to “reload” and has a success rate of approximately 58%.  All of these weapons inflict the same range of damage.

Three times during the adventure, “Owen Glendower can lay a curse on a foe.”  The 'curse' will reduce the foe's Luck, attack success, and damage modifier for one combat.  In accordance with Henry IV, Owen can “summon spirits from the vasty deep.”  In game terms, this means that twice during the adventure he can use illusions to cause foes to “flee in panic.”  In addition, Owen can use 'necromancy' twice to “call up the shade of a dead person and talk to the dead individual.”  Finally, once during the adventure can summon a 'storm' that will cause his foes (but not his friends) 1d6×10 points of damage.

Le Comte de Saint-Germain

Although not a player character, Saint-Germain can appear as a random encounter and there is a chance (27.77%) he will attack the party.  Saint-Germain cannot die, but he can sustain 100 Survival points before he decides to leave.  He has an Initiative of +3 and can use a sword to attack twice per turn with a success rate of approximately 56%.  Saint-Germain has the powers of 'invisibility' and 'hypnosis'.

Corvus Andromeda

Discussed previously, Corvus can appear as a random encounter.  He might attack the party (16.66% chance) but is more likely (41.66% chance) to “help the heroes in their next combat.”  He has 90 Survival points and +3 Initiative.  Corvus' force field gives him less protection than what Owen Glendower's armor offers; however, unlike most armor in The Future King, the force field works against missile attacks.

At a success rate of approximately 78% Corvus can attack twice per turn with a vibrodagger.  It inflicts damage equivalent to nunchucks but bypasses non-magical armor.  Corvus has a blaster with four shots.  Each shot delivers an impressive amount of damage that also ignores non-magical armor.  Corvus has a 69% success rate with his blaster.

Sinbad the Sailor

It is also possible for Sinbad to appear as a random encounter.  Unfortunately, no game statistics are provided for him.  I suppose this is because he will neither attack the party nor fight alongside them.  However, there is a 41.66% chance that Sinbad will like the party enough to give them a magic dagger that “ignores most armor.”  All of the player characters (except Bruce Lee) have a listed combat ability with a knife so I assume skill with knives also applies to magic daggers.  Thus, any character (except Bruce Lee) could make use of Sinbad's dagger.  Bruce Lee also happens to be the only player character who isn't white – just an observation.  How hard would it have been to give him a knife attack?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

General Rules for The Future King

In honor of Tom Moldvay's birthday, here are the 'general rules' for The Future King.  These rules appear on an inset marked “Players have permission to photocopy this page,” so I feel no shame in providing them here.  (Well, no more shame than usual.)  Elsewhere in the book, Moldvay defines 'role-playing game' and provides advice on how to be a Game Master, but the section shown below comprises the complete mechanics of the system.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Future King

What do Cyrano de Bergerac, Owen Glendower, Bruce Lee, Nostradamus, Harald Hardraada, and Doc Holliday all have in common?  Well, they're dead humans with Y chromosomes – but more importantly for this post, they are the only player character options in Tom Moldvay's The Future King.

As Moldvay's birthday quickly approaches, we interrupt our analysis of Timeship with a study of The Future King, a 1985 “adventure booklet” published by Spellbinders™, an establishment located two miles from Moldvay's residence in Akron, Ohio.

At a mere 28 pages – including covers and inserts – The Future King promises to be a complete adventure, requiring only “a pair of common dice.”  It is therefore an attempt to provide an 'accessible' role playing experience; a game where one need not “learn some separate rule's [sic] system” or obtain “the odd-shaped dice used in so many role-playing games.”  The back cover blurb encourages the prospective buyer, “So just take The Future King home, read it, and you'll be ready to play.”

According to the Introduction:
Instead of stressing complex rules, The Future King stresses the interaction between the players and the Game Master.  This interaction is the basis of all role-playing games.  But role-playing basics are often lost amid a confusing complexity of rules.
The title is a reference to King Arthur, specifically the legend that he will return in a time of great need.  The bard Taliessin explains to the player characters:
          These are dark and troubled times.  Ancient evils banished long ago are returning.  It is time for Arthur to awake and once more take up the kingship.  But his return is being blocked.
          All actions in the eternal struggle produce reactions.  So the cry for six great heroes echoed through the corridors of time, and you six answered the call.  Without your help Arthur will remain asleep and the forces of chaos and destruction will sweep across this land.
Thus the adventure begins.  Saying that The Future King is a railroad is an understatement; it is a guided tour punctuated by combat.  The player characters fetch MacGuffins and are confronted by opponents and riddles; frequently, there are 'magical' changes of scene over which they have no control.  A strategic appearance by the magic cauldron of Bran the Blessed ensures that player characters who have died are brought back to continue the adventure.

Of course, The Future King isn't intended for seasoned Game Masters and players; it is meant to demonstrate the possibilities of role-playing games to people unfamiliar with them.  In that respect, a guided tour may be the only practical option.  Regardless, Moldvay informs us that:
It is simply not possible to predict the reaction of every player.  So the GM should feel free to change any part of the adventure if he thinks it will make the adventure better for his players.  On the other hand, the adventure is complete in itself and can easily be played without any changes being made.
The actual rules take up about a page and I will provide them in an upcoming post.  The mechanics are kept to a bare minimum.  There is no provision for character creation or improvement – it is an 'adventure' as opposed to a full-fledged game system.

In game terms, each character is defined by a few numerical scores.  Survival points act as hit points.  Essentially, Luck is an all-purpose saving throw.  (Luck value or less on 2d6 indicates success.)  Move is represented as number of feet walked in a (six second) turn.  Initiative bonus is applied to a 2d6 initiative roll.  (Each 'side' rolls initiative each turn to determine which side moves and attacks first; the highest Initiative bonus among the characters of a given side is used for the entire side.)  Armor (if any) reduces the chances of success of an opponent's attack.  (“Normal armor offers no protection against ballistic weapons or magic weapons.”)   For a given character, Weapons are listed specifying:  number of attacks per turn, base chance for successful attack, damage modifier, and range (if applicable).  A character may also have one or more special talents, such as Cyrano de Bergerac's fencing or Nostradamus' premonition.  Concepts such as “Strength” and “Intelligence” are not quantified in and of themselves; whatever effects they may have on survival and damage (for example) have already been calculated into those values.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Time Travel in Timeship

Salvador Dali     The Persistence of Memory (detail)     1931

As with many games, the back of the Timeship box provides a description of what the box includes.  In brief, the stated contents are a rule book (with “THREE Time Capsule Adventure Episodes”), a set of maps, a pad of character sheets, and a Timelord Screen.  Dice are not mentioned, although two twenty-sided dice (numbered 0 – 9) are included.  More specifically, they are “coloured spheres of many facets” says Brennan's translation of the TIMESHIP techniques.  They are the “Greater Sphere of Color” and the “Lesser Sphere of White.”

According to the translation, “By our arts we have embodied in the Spheres energy sufficient for each time trip.”  Voyagers (i.e., players) must “engage upon the Rolling of the Spheres” prior to traveling in time.  Results of the Spheres indicate “units of the ENERGY.”  Each Voyager rolls the Spheres three times, generating 3 – 300 ENERGY quanta.  This is the Voyager's PERSONAL ENERGY.  (PERSONAL ENERGY is generated anew prior to each time trip.)  Expenditure of PERSONAL ENERGY is necessary to transport personal equipment through time, to engage in physical activity once you've reached your destination, and – according to page 7 – to “[r]eturn from a Time Capsule.”  (However, there is no further mention about ENERGY costs for returning.)  Additionally, if your PERSONAL ENERGY falls to zero, you die.

The PERSONAL ENERGY scores of all Voyagers in a party are added together to determine GROUP ENERGY.  Although GROUP ENERGY is calculated from PERSONAL ENERGY, they form separate stores of energy ENERGY.  Use of GROUP ENERGY does not diminish PERSONAL ENERGY and vice versa.  Voyagers travel through time via Gateways; each Gateway opens upon a distinct time and place.  Before Voyagers can travel through a Gateway, it must be “activated” through the expenditure of GROUP ENERGY.

What happens when a party lacks sufficient ENERGY to activate a Gateway?  Voyagers simply re-roll their PERSONAL ENERGY until they have enough!  Duh.  In fact, Brennan implies on page 21 that Voyagers can re-roll their PERSONAL ENERGY anyway.  So, how much ENERGY is required to activate any given Gateway?  The Timelord makes up a number.  The rules speculate as to how Voyagers might prepare themselves differently when faced with a high cost Gateway as opposed to a low cost Gateway, but there are no examples from which a Timelord might learn to calculate a reasonable amount.

(I would have given each Voyager an amount of PERSONAL ENERGY equal to 100 plus the result of a percentile dice Sphere roll, maybe even allowing a player Voyager to transpose the tens and units in order to get a higher amount.  I would have made the activation cost for a Gateway equal to 100 multiplied by the number of Voyagers, optionally increased or decreased by as much as 25% depending on the Timelord's estimation of the difficulty of the adventure Capsule.)

The Voyagers may acquire collective equipment with any GROUP ENERGY remaining beyond the Gateway activation cost.  There is an ENERGY cost for acquiring equipment Voyagers wish to have on their expedition.  There may be further costs involved for actually using equipment.  For instance, the Gateway ENERGY cost for a Cadillac is 50; it consumes an additional 25 ENERGY “per base unit of movement.”  (Don't bother asking what a “base unit of movement” is.)  Weapons have a BASIC ENERGY cost which is multiplied by the number of centuries difference between the weapons' century and the Gateway destination.  Therefore, taking a bazooka to the Battle of Hastings would cost 1,350 ENERGY (each shell would cost 225).

“Voyagers may take through a Gateway, without PERSONAL ENERGY expenditure, any item of equipment they may have, physically, in the TIMESHIP.”  Stated another way, whatever a player brings with him or her to the game gets a free pass through the Gateway.  Otherwise, there is an ENERGY cost for equipment.  A club has a cost of 3 ENERGY, a dagger has a cost of 2.  A chain-mail tunic costs 40 ENERGY while a “Viking horned helmet” costs 10.  Although Voyagers can wear their own clothing through a Gateway at no cost, PERSONAL ENERGY can be used to obtain “specialized clothing.”  A complete outfit of period clothing suitable for the ruling class has a cost of fifty PERSONAL ENERGY; an outfit suitable for peasants costs only three.  Additionally, Brennan provides a list of items that cost 2 PERSONAL ENERGY each.  Among them are:  a blanket, flea powder, a 5-day pack of provisions, a fire extinguisher, a pencil, and period money equivalent to one ounce of gold.

Every attack that a Voyager makes costs one point of PERSONAL ENERGY.  Also, whenever a Voyager “travels a certain number of feet, one point of PERSONAL ENERGY is expended.”  (I assume the Voyager is traveling under his or her own power.)  Apparently, movement rates vary “from Capsule to Capsule; and will be calculated by the Timelord in advance.”  Running doubles “the normal movement rate” and also doubles the PERSONAL ENERGY cost.  Voyagers with a greater than average Speed Physical Ability can spend more ENERGY to go faster.  On page 20, Brennan suggests that a PERSONAL ENERGY cost may be levied when Voyagers attempt other sorts of activity.  Specifically, he reveals an “unwritten rule” which, as a result of being revealed, becomes a written rule.
In point of fact, when I'm running a TIMESHIP session, my unwritten rule is:  'If it's physically possible, they can do it.'  Especially if they're prepared to expend PERSONAL ENERGY doing it...
To assist in determining probabilities, the following 'Anything Table' is presented on the Timelord Screen.