Sunday, April 26, 2015


Art by Earle Bergey

The actual cover of Future*World shows only the name of Steve Perrin; however, the title page gives Gordon Monson co-credit.  Monson's only other published efforts in role-playing games are contributions to a RuneQuest supplement and a Shadowrun supplement.  Like the other genre books included with Worlds of Wonder, Future*World has sixteen pages (eighteen if you count the inner front and back covers).  Yet, while Magic World is bereft of setting information, Future*World is suffused with it.  I suppose with fantasy, we need no guidance; we are familiar enough with the tropes we want.  On the other hand, science fiction requires some sort of basis for us to conceptualize and build upon.

Future*World takes place in the time of the Third Terran Empire, which encompasses hundreds of worlds.  However, travel among these worlds does not occur by means of faster-than-light spaceships, but via interplanetary gates.  This allows Perrin (and Monson) to present a setting with multiple worlds without having to go into detail about space travel, ship plans, travel times between worlds, etc.  Also, a map of the physical space occupied by the Empire is irrelevant since the imperial 'network' of planets is not constrained by proximity to one another.

There are three types worlds in the Empire.  There are about thirty core worlds representing “the center of civilization.”  Each core world “has a population of about one billion, of which about 1% is poverty-level.”  There are about two hundred frontier worlds, “fully colonized/exploited worlds which contain no known threat to the Empire.”  One of the frontier worlds is GateHome, “which acts as a central transshipment and exploration terminal...”  Finally, there are thousands of outer worlds, many of which “are not suitable for exploitation.”

In terms of background:
No one knows if the Second Empire discovered the gates by scientific research or by looting an ancient ruin of a previous race, but those initial explorers obviously worked by hit-or-miss and were still discovering the possibilities.  Then the Second Empire was suddenly destroyed as hordes of alien invaders invaded and counter-invaded the Second Empire core worlds through the Empire's own gates.
A gate base installation focuses on the target world; no equipment is needed at the gate's destination.  Although a gate accommodates traffic to and from the destination, a gate is controlled from its base.  As a matter of Imperial policy, “There is never a gate base on an outer world that focuses on a frontier world, and never a gate base on a frontier world focuses on a core world.”  A gate base rarely has its destination on the same world for various reasons, including that such gates “have been known to go to a parallel world.”  Gates leading to a parallel world are “shut down immediately, but rumors of their existence are found throughout the Empire.”

The Empire includes many races.  Some races, such as “the catfolk of Rruuwor,” are similar enough to humans that character generation is the same.  The Rumahl are ursine humanoids.  Although friendly, they “tend to go berserk in battle.”  In terms of the Rumahls' standing in the Empire, “Socially and politically they are second-class citizens.”  The social status of robots is less than that of Rumahls.  As 'repayment' for their creation, robots are required to serve four terms of employment, after which they “face the universe on their own.”  While they have super-human Dexterity, they have low Strength, Intelligence, and Charisma.

Of course, there are races that are inimical to the Empire and Future*World describes two of them.  The Quertzl are “vaguely insectoid, and they are equipped with a hive mind...”  Quertzl come in different forms depending upon their function; the rules describe scouts, beetles, and drones.  Other than the Quertzl, there are the Sauriki, “a warm-blooded reptilian race.”  Fortunately for the Terran Empire, the telepathic sensitivity of the Sauriki prevents them from associating with the Quertzl.

Similar to Traveller, player characters in Future*World undergo terms of service in one or more careers.  Available careers include:  Civilian, Criminal, Science, Army, Scouts, and ICE (the Imperial Corps of Engineers – “an elite military, security, and law enforcement arm of the Empire, dedicated to the maintenance, protection, and control of all gate technology.”)  Each term provides a 15% increase in two or three skills allowed by a given career.

Characters in Future*World do not begin with the usual starting values for common skills afforded to other Basic Role-Playing characters.  For instance, in Future*World, the starting value for First Aid is 10% instead of 45%.  The skills of Jump, Climb, Listen, Spot Hidden, Throw, and Fist are grouped into the Future*World skill of Survival.  Although the starting value for Survival is only 20%, it counts as a single skill with regard to improvement.  Similarly, in Future*World, the skills of Move Quietly and Hide are combined into Stealth (with a base chance of 10%).

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Magic World (1982)

Art by Luise Perenne

Even counting the inner front and back covers, Magic World – the fantasy-genre portion of Steve Perrin's Worlds of Wonder – has only 18 pages.  Discounting illustrations and whatnot, there are but 16 pages of gaming material divided into five sections:  additions to the Basic Role-Playing rules, magic, creatures, treasures, and a sample scenario complete with pre-generated characters.

The 'additions' section includes skills, weapons, and combat options not covered in the Basic Role-Playing booklet as well as descriptions of “professions” that are analogous to character classes:  warrior, rogue, and sage.  (Sorcerers are covered in the magic section.)  For a character to be accepted into a profession, a certain number or less must be rolled on 1d%.  For warriors, the number is the sum of all characteristics.  For sages, the number is 5 × Intelligence.  For sorcerers, the number is the sum of Power and Intelligence (+1 for every hundred silver Crowns given to the Sorcerers' Guild).  There are no acceptance requirements for rogues.  Being accepted into a profession grants a character increased starting values in appropriate skills.  Beginning sorcerers get four spells at a proficiency percentage equal to 3 × Intelligence.

Magic World defines two “methods” of magical effects:  sorcery and ceremonial.  Sorcery is the use of “chants and mnemonics to produce immediate magical effects.”  Ceremonial magic...
...involves the use of ritual and days-long ceremony, usually to compel other beings or work one's will upon inorganic forces.  Such magics are subdivided into Wizardry (binding demons), Necromancy (raising and otherwise controlling the dead), Enchantment (making magical items), and Alchemy (making magical substances).
Ceremonial magic is not further described in Magic World since it is not usually the province of active adventurers.  Two dozen spells are described, about half of which also appear in The Adventurer's Handbook at the same prices.  While Magic World has 'Blast', the equivalent spell in The Adventurer's Handbook is 'Blaser', a contraction of “bionic laser.”

The 'Creatures' section describes twelve types of entity, including dragons, dwarves, and horses.  The Adventurer's Handbook has several of these creatures, although not necessarily with the same amount of detail.  If a Magic World ghost succeeds in an attack, the victim loses consciousness.  Interestingly, a successful attack from a ghost as described in The Adventurer's Handbook “may cause the target to flee, do as the ghost wishes, become unconscious, or whatever.”  Although Magic World only describes a dozen 'creatures', the Basic Role-Playing booklet contains armor and hit point ratings for sixty “natural animals, monsters, and intelligent races.”  Here is a brief selection:

Magic World demons each have 1d6+1 demonic features, the list of which is presented below.  Duplicate results can be re-rolled or cause the effect of the feature to double.

Using magical items requires use of an “activating phrase” which a sorcerer can discovering using a Vision spell.
The words are usually ones hard to pronounce and enunciate clearly, to guard against accidental activation, so the user of these artifacts must make a luck roll of POW × 5% to create the effect.
About one percent of enchanted items are “intelligent artifacts” that “have had demons placed in them.”
The user commands the demon on a successful roll of POW vs. the demon's POW.  If successful, the user can then command the demon for a day...[to cast] its spells.
If an intelligent artifact is somehow broken, “the demon is loosed.”

Not surprisingly, Magic World has almost no setting information.  However, we are introduced to “the city of New Sarnath in the Kingdom of Far Dales.”  Listed languages include Elven, Troll, Tzandian (old and not old), and Zirconian.  The provided pre-generated characters include Havnor (a warrior), Endras (an 'adventurer'), and the alliteration trio:  Sangor the Sorceror (sic), Rugbel the Rogue, and Sherl the Sage.  Endras is presented as a veteran of the sample scenario from the Basic Role-Playing booklet and thus is the proud owner of a suit of ring mail and a healing potion.

As an added bonus, here are the 'character silhouettes' provided with the Worlds of Wonder set.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Portion of Wonder

Art by Jody Lee

In 1982, Chaosium released Worlds of Wonder, a boxed set marketed as “3 Interchangeable Role-Playing Games in 1 Box!”  Included in the box were:
  • a 16-page “Introductory Guide” to the Basic Role-Playing system
  • a 16-page science fiction genre expansion – Future*World
  • a 16-page fantasy genre expansion – Magic World
  • a 16-page superhero genre expansion – Superworld
  • all dice needed to play
  • character sheets
  • a cardboard sheet of stand-up “character silhouettes”
  • a 4-page “Play-Aids” pamphlet
  • a 4-page pamphlet titled “A Portion of Wonder”
With a price of $16, Worlds of Wonder was quite a deal, even in 1982 terms.  Also, three role-playing games in 64 pages seems incredible nowadays, a time when some RPG publishers – Chaosium included – eschew simplicity for 'comprehensive' rule books having hundreds of pages.

To further lower the barrier to entry, character generation in each of the three 'world' books was tailored for players familiar with popular systems of the day.  In Magic World, player characters were assigned to “professions” very similar to classes found in D&D (and other fantasy games).  In Future*World, player characters engaged in “career paths” very similar to careers and terms used in Traveller character generation.  In Superworld, players allocated “Hero Points” to selected skills and superpowers very much like Champions.  (Superworld characters could even gain Hero Points by acquiring “Disabilities.”)

Beyond the three 'world' settings, there is a meta-setting connecting them all:
THE CITY OF WONDER exists on an island somewhere on Earth, but no one is interested in telling just where.  Only someone who needs to go there can find it, and then most folks pass through into one of the Worlds of Wonder and never return.
     Wonder is built at the confluence of Earthly probabilities, where everything that could have happened did happen in a related dimension.  The portals of Wonder each open into a universe very different than the one we know.  This box provides three such universes:  to distinguish them, we call them Magic World, Superworld, and Future*World.  But in those places the Earth is still the Earth, the Sun is still the Sun, and the Milky Way looks just the same.
     For every ten adventurers who journey into one of these worlds and settle there, one will make his home in Wonder and roam the various worlds as he or she pleases.  One of ten of these latter will finally retire from adventuring and stay in Wonder.  Most of the present businesses were started by such people, and they have intriguing stories to tell.
Each portal is at the end of an avenue dedicated to the world to which the portal leads.  Each avenue has businesses that player characters may patronize, like equipment stores and places of healing.  Characters can even acquire residences and rent office space.  The 'style' of each avenue is appropriate to its adjoining world.  For instance, Magic World Avenue has an alchemist and a heraldry expert; Future*World Avenue* has a Longevity Hall and a Travellers Aid Society.

Note 'Bronstein Hardware' in the upper left-hand corner.
Doubtless, it is an homage to Braunstein.

Next to every portal there are Purchase Agents.  Regardless of the portal, the description is the same:
Characters returning from [insert name of world here] can store goods here or sell them to these agents.  The agents change often, as do prices.  All storage is receipted; no one has ever lost items here.
Purchase Agents are necessary because...
No adventurer may purchase any artifact natural to only one world at any store other than a store on the street to that portal, and no one may bring a significant artifact out of the world past those same stores...
Although “Personal artifacts and spells are permitted,” characters may not introduce “technical or magical knowledge...[to] a world unsuited to it.”

The existence of the city of Wonder offers the premise that the player characters are not native to the settings of Magic World, Future*World, and Superworld.  Yet the character generation rules presume the player characters are natives.  One could suppose that the portals allow Wonder-dwellers to occupy the bodies of pre-existing natives of the settings except the transfer of physical objects through the portals is clearly intended.

In any event, if player characters use the city of Wonder as a base of operations from which they conduct forays into one or more worlds, suspense is compromised somewhat since – no matter how bad things get – the characters have a fallback 'reality' to which they can escape.

* Thus called in 'Short Guide to the Avenues', the map shows “Future*World Walkway.”

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Coming of Age in Wundervale

Spring festival time in Wundervale is when “young people who have recently turned 16” participate in coming-of-age ceremonies.  The main event is an obstacles course, shown above.  The course has eleven obstacles (or 'stations') that require a participant to engage in some activity – usually requiring a skill or characteristic roll.  This allows the characters to display their abilities.  It is also the means by which The Adventurer's Handbook teaches its readers how actions or tasks are resolved in terms of game mechanics.  Below are the instructions for the course.

1.  Down Cliff
Character can choose to climb down or jump down. A successful 'climb' roll means the character spends three turns descending. A failed roll means the character falls and takes 1D3 damage; character spends a total of two turns (one to fall and one to recover). A successful 'jump' roll means the character spends three turns descending. A failed roll means the character falls and takes 1D6 damage; character spends one turn falling and 1D3 turns recovering.

2.  Steep Path
Character spends a number of turns running based on Dexterity (DEX 13 or more = 1 turn; DEX 9 - 12 = 2 turns; DEX 8 or less = 3 turns). A fumble result on a percentile roll (00) means the character falls, takes 1D3 damage, and spends an additional turn recovering.

3.  Creek
Character can choose to swim across or run downstream and wade across. A successful 'swim' roll means the character spends one turn crossing. A failed roll means the character is swept downstream and spends a total of three turns crossing. A running character spends a total of three turns crossing. Since no penalties are mentioned for fumbles, the swimming option seems to be preferable.

4.  Brush
Character must find a carved stick hidden among the brush. Each turn, a 'spot hidden' roll is attempted; if successful, a stick is found.

5.  Dogs
Dogs are tied upwind from the course. A successful 'move quietly' roll means the does do not detect the character and no not bark. A failed roll means the dogs bark.

6.  Listening Post
Character attempts a 'listen' roll to identify a sound made by a hidden person. If the roll is failed, the character either does not hear the sound or misidentifies it.

7.  Rock Pile
Character must throw a rock and strike a target at ten meters. Each turn, a 'throw' roll is attempted; if successful the target is hit.

8.  Mud Ditch
A successful 'jump' roll means the character jumps over the ditch. A failed roll means the character falls into the ditch and takes a turn to climb out.

9.  Logs
Character can choose to shinny or walk across a log that bridges the creek. Percentile dice are rolled. The roll for a shinnying character is successful if the result is less than or equal to 1.5 × 'climb' value. Success means the character spends three turns to reach the other side of the creek. The roll for a walking character is successful if the result is less than or equal to 3 × Dexterity. Success means the character spends one turn to reach the other side of the creek. Failure for either roll means the character falls into the creek and spends two turns returning to the log in order to try again.

10.  Uphill Run
Same situation as Steep Path above.

11.  Up Cliff
Character can choose to climb the rope or use the trail. A character using the trail spends three turns reaching the end. A successful 'climb' roll means the character spends one turn ascending. A failed roll means the character falls and takes 1D6 damage. A fallen character waits 1D3 turns before attempting to climb again (or choosing to use the trail).

Skills performed successfully during the course have a chance of being improved.  When checking for improvement, percentile dice are rolled and if the result exceeds the current skill value, that value increases by five percentiles.

Although the event is a race, “winning is not as important as simply doing it.”  However, “members of the guilds will watch the events of festival day.”  Apparently, guild representatives are present to recruit apprentices. Mentioned guilds include “the Adventurer's Guild, the Sorcerer's Guild, the Guild of Sages who seek knowledge*, even the Rogues' Guild, the guild of honorable thieves.”  One wonders about what apprenticeship in the “Adventurer's Guild” entails.  One also wonders about the Rogues' Guild recruitment pitch.

After completing the obstacle course (and checking for skill improvement), the book indicates the “characters can play in a low level Basic Role Playing, RuneQuest, or Worlds of Wonder game.”  For an instruction book that otherwise dwells almost pedantically on rudimentary aspects of role-playing games, The Adventurer's Handbook is frustratingly reticent on finalizing character generation.  For instance, later in the same chapter, the book uses “the method of Worlds of Wonder: Magic World” to enhance Barostan's abilities; said 'method' being part of Magic World character generation.  Even so, The Adventurer's Handbook has Barostan increase his characteristics as a result of training as warrior – something not part of Magic World character generation.

For the other characters, The Adventurer's Handbook adopts another Magic World notion – one month of training provides a skill value increase of five percentiles.  The book, seemingly arbitrarily, determines how many months in a five year period a character can train and determines the results of that training.  Rokana trains for thirty months; however, without establishing any sort of rule-based methodology, The Adventurer's Handbook provides Rokana with three spells and a minor magic item before her official training begins.  Bridla's “work and lifestyle” permits only two months per year for training.  As an apprentice of the Thieves' Guild (which, I guess, is the same as the Rouges' Guild), Dernfara gets the benefits of eleven months of training per year (which is a different benefit scheme from what the rouge profession provides in Magic World).

As opposed to the Guild of Sages that flavor cuisine?