Sunday, December 25, 2016

Of Dragons and Dungeons

Art by David C. Sutherland III (from Dragon #12)

In 1976, Gary Gygax exposed noted authoress Andre Norton to D&D when she participated in one of his games.  Inspired by this experience, she wrote Quag Keep.  As an acknowledgement, Norton expressed “appreciation for the invaluable aid of E. Gary Gygax of TSR, expert player and creator of the war game, DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, on which the background of QUAG KEEP is based.”  Norton therefore had an early insight into role-playing games, a phenomenon that – as an 'Appendix N' writer – she helped inspire.  However, note that the term “role-playing game” was not yet in use and D&D was still considered a “war game.”

Quag Keep was published in 1978 and a preview of chapters 2 and 3 appeared in the February issue of The Dragon.  (The image above represents a portion of that issue's cover.)  Although that issue refers to Quag Keep as a “D&D novel,” there doesn't seem to be any official licensing; at least it isn't suggested in my copy of the book – a 1979 DAW paperback.  The first page – even before the title page – of this paperback displays two paragraphs of 'teaser text' with the heading “Of Dragons and Dungeons.”  This phrase appears nowhere else in the book and is doubtless intended to bring to mind Dungeons & Dragons without impinging upon TSR's intellectual property.  (The only specific reference to Dungeons & Dragons is in Norton's acknowledgement, shown above.)

Even without an official license, Norton's book certainly had Gary's approval.  In fact, most of the story takes place in the World of Greyhawk.  Not surprisingly, several people have analyzed Quag Keep in order to glean information about Gary's campaign.  Then there's this total dork.  (Ha ha!  Just kidding Mr. Mona, sir!)  As interesting as these analyses may be, your humble host would like to look at Quag Keep from a different perspective.  Quag Keep does not always conform to the D&D oeuvre.  Ultimately, Norton's book reflects her impression of Dungeons & Dragons, modified as necessary for purposes of fiction.

Quag Keep represents the completion of a full circle.  It is fantasy literature based on a role-playing game which itself is based on fantasy literature.  What if we go one iteration further and conceive of a role-playing game based on Quag Keep ?  This game would capitalize on the differences between D&D and the novel.  Perhaps the game could be called Keepers of the QUAG (Quest Under A Geas).

In the book, seven “real world” players find themselves in a fantasy setting.  The  consciousness of each player occupies a form based on a miniature that the player had selected.  So, people become part of the game they were playing.  (I suppose this plot was not yet trite in the seventies.)  Actually, the players' personalities are eclipsed by the characters' personalities.  In any event, our hypothetical game would require that each (player) character be represented by a figure.

The Quag Keep protagonists each have...
...a wide bracelet of a metal as richly bright as newly polished copper.  It was made of two bands between which, swung on hardly visible gimbals, were a series of dice – three-sided, four-sided, eight-sided, six-sided.
In the story, sometimes these dice spin of their own accord and produce some sort of effect.  I suppose there could be other dice as part of the bracelet, but the book only identifies these four and does not hint at any others.  Our game would be restricted to these dice.  Rolls in both the Hero System and GURPS commonly employ 3d6, providing a range covering 3 to 18 with an average roll of 10.5.  Now, 1d4+1d6+1d8 provides the same range and average.  However, 3d6 is not the same thing as 1d4+1d6+1d8; 3d6 can generate 216 combinations (6 × 6 × 6) while 1d4+1d6+1d8 can only offer 192 combinations (4 × 6 × 8).  Still, 1d4+1d6+1d8 should suit our purposes.  Incidentally, my copy of Quag Keep has 192 pages.

The protagonists/player characters represent a variety of classes types.  Let's examine each.

Swordsman:  In the illustration, the swordsman character, Milo Jagon, is shown wearing a helmet.  Wouldn't he just be a fighter?  Perhaps not.  Page 11 tells us that, “As a swordsman Milo was vowed to Law.”  It is absurd that “followers of Chaos” and “neutrals” couldn't effectively wield a sword.  Maybe there is a guild or order of swordsmen that take a “vow” and the proper title of a member of such is 'swordsman'.  Page 76 informs us that a swordsman (or perhaps any person pledged to Law) “cannot kill without cause.”  Also, a swordsman cannot “be twisted and bent into the service of evil.”

We also learn that a swordsman can have “perhaps one or two simple spells,” something that cannot be said of D&D fighters.  At one point, the bracelet-dice spin, causing pouches of coins to appear at the feet of the protagonists.  “And how about spells?” Milo then thinks, “Surely they had a right to throw also for those?”

Berserker:  The berserker character, Niale Fangtooth, is depicted on the right of the illustration, accompanied by his pseudo-dragon, Afreeta.  Rather than symbolic adoption of animal traits like real-world berserkers, Niale actually shapeshifts into a boar and is often referred to as a “were.”  It may be that all 'Nortonian' berserkers are weres, but are all were-folk necessarily berserkers?  For berserkers (and perhaps all weres), “the tongues of beasts were as open as the communication of humankind.”  However, animals do not always react well to the presence of a were.

Lizardman:  Gulth, the only lizardman in the illustration, is perhaps the most heroic of the protagonists.  His kind require heat and moisture in order to thrive.  This becomes problematic during the course of the story.

[ Some people (who give a pass to magic spells and berserkers able to change into horse-sized boars) experience major butthurt because Gulth uses a blanket to keep warm.  “He's an ectotherm,” they complain, “a blanket won't allow him to retain heat.”  To these oppressive mammals, I have two things to say:  (1) A pre-warmed blanket would help Gulth's body temperature.  (2) What part of “fantasy” don't you understand? ]

Cleric:  Daev Dyne, the cleric, resembles to some extent a D&D magic-user.  He is adorned with a “robe of gray, faced with white.”  With regard to weapons, he is “permitted no more than the knife of [his] calling.”  Further to the meaning of  'cleric', Norton indicates that Daev Dyne has “training as a clerk.”  With regard to magic, Daev Dyne performs a ritual to ascertain information about two rings worn by Milo.  He can also cast spells for scrying, light, and healing.  Additionally, he employs holy water to protect a camp site.

Bard:  The character Wymarc can play songs on his harp to accomplish various effects. 'The Song of Herckon' can discombobulate shadow creatures.  'The Song of Far Wings' can summon giant eagles.  He can also use music to bring “a release from tension, a gentle dreaminess from which all that might harm or threaten was barred.”

Battlemaid:  The character Yevele wears mail and wields a sword expertly.  She also casts a spell that temporarily paralyzes two riders and their mounts.  However, having cast that spell, she “cannot use that one again.”  With regard to spells, she has “perhaps one or two others [she] can summon.”

Elf:  The character of Ingrge is introduced as “one of the Woods Rangers.”  That he is an elf is not mentioned until the second paragraph of his description.  This may mean that all Woods Rangers are elves.  Yet perhaps not all elves are Woods Rangers.  Elves possess “mastery over communication with animals and birds.”  Actually, elves can use “mind-talk” to communicate “not only among themselves but with all the sons and daughters of nature who wore feathers, scales, or fur – or even leaves – for it is rumored that to the elves trees were also comrades, teachers, and kin-friends.”  Elves also possess a portion of magical “Power Lore” that can be used to “scent” magic.

Among the antagonists, there are other classes types.  Unfortunately, for most of these, Norton supplies little information.

Druid:  Druids are a “close-knit and secret fraternity.”  While some have “the brand of Chaos and the powers of the Outer Dark at their call,” the Druid enemy in Norton's story, Carlvols, is not so powerful and not beholden to Chaos.  Carlvols can “vanish in a puff of smoke” (along with his unnatural steed) as well as summon urghaunts.  On one occasion, he summons a bevy of shadow imps. 

Hitherblood:  When the protagonists encounter Helagret, they notice “an odd cast to his features, something that hinted of mixed blood, perhaps of the elven kind.”  We are later told that Helagret does “not have elf favor” and Ingrge claims that he is a “half-blood from the Hither Hills.”

Illusionist:  The character of Ewire twice lures a protagonist away from camp by assuming the semblance of a person known to the protagonist.  She can also cause her allies to appear in different guises.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Inspiration: The Star Rebellions, 5764 AD

Yes, technically it should be “AD 5764,” assuming we're talking about anno domini ; however, there is no definitive connection between this setting and Earth.  'This setting,' by the way, comes from Freedom in the Galaxy, originally published in 1979 by SPI, then published as an Avalon Hill bookcase game in 1981.  In the game, “a small but valiant band of Rebels struggle to withstand the oppression of an empire bent on total domination.”  In other words, it's a blatant Star Wars knock-off.  Even the title of the game (hereinafter FitG ) is one thin preposition away from the last four words in the introductory scroll of the original film.  Why use a knock-off for inspiration instead of the genuine article?  It is in the differences of the knock-off in which we shall find points of interest.

FitG has three levels of complexity:  'single star system' has a rating of 4  – on Avalon Hill's scale of 1 (easy) to 10 (hard), 'province' (4 - 6 systems) has a rating of 7, and 'galactic' (all 25 systems – 51 planets) has a rating of 10 – “the ultimate in S-F realism.”  The 32-page rule book informs us, “The full Galactic Campaign Game...takes about 20 hours to play.”

Aside from the rule book, the game includes a 12 page 'Galactic Guide' including a backstory for the setting and details that are mostly 'color', but some are ancillary to the rules.  In the age of the Interstellar Concordance, the Interspecies Genetics Project combined Rhone (i.e., human) genetics with genes from other intelligent species.  The resulting hybrids “traveled to the worlds of their respective parent races” where they “tended to breed prodigiously.”  Eventually the hybrids battled against the elder races in the Galactic Extermination Wars.  Civilization collapsed and the survivors, “mostly hybrids and Rhones,” lost the secret of faster-than-light drive.  Eventually, a Rhone population developed faster-than-light transportation again and used this advantage to establish an interstellar empire.  Over several centuries, corruption festered in the Empire.  To thwart the depredations of the Empire, the Galactic Rebellion came into being.  Some of the various races in FitG include:  Yesters (bird people), Kayns (dog people), Piorads (“Space Vikings”), Segundens (“a dark-skin humanoid race”), and Saurians (lizard people).

FitG is a two-player game; one player controls the Empire and the other controls the Rebellion.  The game involves planetary loyalty scores and space combat; however, “Central to the play of Freedom in the Galaxy are the characters.”  Sabotage, Diplomacy, and Free Prisoners are examples of missions that players can assign to characters (or groups of characters).  Missions are resolved by drawing action cards.  Each action card lists events that occur depending upon the 'Environ' that the characters occupy.  Once the event is resolved, a letter code on the card indicates if the mission is successful.

Each character has six attributes:  Combat, Endurance, Intelligence, Leadership, Diplomacy, and Navigation.  Each attribute is rated from zero to six.  Some characters have a special ability.  For instance, Zina Adora (“Princess of Adare”), “Receives one bonus draw on Gather Information mission.”

Some interesting characters:

Sidir Ganang (psuedo-anagram of SPI employee Sid Ingang):  “'Sidir Ganang' and the Ganang Gang was one of the most popular stereovision shows shows on Bajukai, and Sidir Ganang posters, dolls, books, movies and grebble-gum cards made him a millionaire.  But his fortune tugged at the greed of some minor Imperial functionary, and Sidir Ganang was blacklisted from the entertainment business, and his fortune was confiscated.  Formerly, Ganang had merely portrayed galactic warriors on stereovision; now he actually became one, fighting against the Empire.”

Ly Mantok:  “An Imperial Sub-Commander is not supposed to have outside business concerns, but this is a rarely enforced policy.  Ly Mantok would no doubt have gotten away with his corrupt dealings, had not ten thousand Mantok Laser Rifles refused to function in the middle of the Battle of Banjukai.  When Mantok was...dismissed, he swore that he would go to someone who would appreciate his abilities.  The Rebels, at the time, were desperate enough to do just that.”

He starts the game with an Explorer spaceship.

Barca (because he's a dog person – get it?):  “Like all Kayns, Barca has a fierce loyalty for his friends and little mercy toward his enemies.  For 40 years, Barca has been the Grand Marshal of the Imperial Army, both on planet and in space.  His remarkable military prowess and ability to handle tactical and strategic combat situations is at the disposal of the Empire, as Barca's loyalties remain fixed to the Imperial throne and whoever sits upon it.”

Thysa Kymbo (more wordplay from the impish wits at SPI):  “Daughter of the current Emperor Coreguya, the princess has spent most of her adult life waiting for her father to die, so that she may ascend to the throne.  Because she has spent most of her life pampered in the Imperial Court, she is unaware that Redjac may have other plans for the throne that do not involve succession.  The princess became the bitter enemy of Zina Adora when she learned that Rayner Derban was more attracted to Zina than herself.”

Her voice was “as alluring as it was Imperial...”

Characters can also have companions.  One such companion is Norrocks (“The Thieves Guild constructed this bodyguard robot to protect its most important members.  Sometimes, through proper bargaining, the Guild can be persuaded to part with one of its defensive robot bodyguards.”).  Another companion is Charsot (“Resembling a little dog, the Charsot, an animal from the planet Midest, can sense thought waves and transmit its own waves of pacification and reason.  It can also sense the future to a limited extent.”).

FitG offers a plethora of creatures with which characters might interact during the course of their missions.  A sampling follows.
Derigion:  “Giant flying lizard with quick movements aided by instinctive precognition.”
Gach:  “Two-headed feline creature with two conflicting personalities.”
Hysnatons:  “Sewer snakes with hypnotic powers.”
Leonus:  “An unheard-of cross-breed a lion-like creature and a reptile, incredibly ferocious and stealthy.”  (Although unheard-of, it has a name.)
Lomrels:  “Large canines used as mounts be the local populace, who alone know the secret to their control.”
Prox:  “Large, crawling carnivorous insect that has huge, rending teeth, but is slow.”
Sandiabs:  “Feisty desert rats get off on watching travelers fall into carefully covered sand pits.  Mean no real harm, though...”
Vorozion:  “Highly evolved, hostile thought being; very impatient.”
Zop:  “Friendly, furry creature that does not attack...However, it senses good vibrations from Rebel characters, and so it gives them ancient family heirloom kept safe in cave for eons...”

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Role Playing Adventure in Ancient Egypt

Two-and-a-half years ago, your humble host briefly addressed Palladium Books' The Valley of the Pharaohs.  Now it is time for a more detailed analysis.  Published in 1983, the rulebook – accompanying several maps and a template character sheet in a boxed set – consists of 48 pages (numbered 3 - 50).

Player Characters in The Valley of the Pharaohs (hereinafter TVotP) have five attributes.  Although the glossary mentions “Will, Intelligence, and Dexterity,” the actual attributes are Strength (“physical power and endurance”), Speed (“fleetness...coordination and nimbleness”), Intellect (“intelligence and mental capacity”), Power (“will and mental strength”), and Persona (“personality, appearance, and charisma”).  Values are determined, in the old school tradition, by rolling 3d6 per attribute.  I never understood why game designers would use a 'normal distribution' paradigm for determining player character attributes.  Just as there are no stories about Conan the Mediocre, I do not indulge in escapism to assume the role of an average person.  I think I would have players add together the attribute values of a character and subtract the total from 100.  This would result in a number of points (perhaps called ka points) which could be allocated for various purposes; for instance, increasing attributes (perhaps 3 points for +1 value, up to a value of 10, and 6 points for +1 thereafter, up to a value of 18).

Each character has a number of hit points equal to Strength × 2.  Should the hit points of character be reduced to zero, “that character collapses and goes into shock; if he/she does not receive care within ten minutes he/she dies.”  When “a character is reduced to negative hit points...he/she dies.”

Anyway, before dice are rolled for attributes, a character's caste is determined by rolling percentile dice.  The are four castes, each of which provides a +1 bonus to a particular attribute:  Nobility (Persona), Clergy (Power), Bureaucracy (Intellect), and Commons (Strength).  In my alternate character generation method, Commons would be a character's default caste, a different caste could be purchased with ka points.  Rather than providing an attribute bonus, a caste's attribute could be purchased up to a value of 19.

TVotP is a skill based system. Each character receives a number of 'caste' skills from a list of ten:  Agriculture, Archery, Combat, Cooking, Gaming, Hunting, Reading, Swimming, Throwing, and Writing.  'Reading' is a mandatory skill for every caste except Commons.  Nobility receive 4 - 6 skills with Archery mandatory, Clergy receive 3 - 6 skills with Writing mandatory, characters of the Bureaucracy caste also receive 3 - 6 skills, and Commons receive 2 - 6 skills with Agriculture mandatory.

There are five possible classes (called occupations in TVotP ).  Choice of occupation is limited by caste.  Nobility can be either Soldiers or Priests, Clergy can be either Priests or Scholars, the Bureaucracy caste is limited to Merchants, Scholars, and Thieves, and characters of the Commons caste have a choice among Soldiers, Merchants, and Thieves.  The only difference among occupations is that each has a list of ten skills distinct from the 'caste' skills. However, some 'occupation' skills apply to more than one occupation.  For instance, Merchants and Thieves both have access to Barter and Evaluation; Priests and Scholars both have access to History, Magick, Music, and Oration.  Each character receives four 'occupation' skills.

The initial score for any skill is based on attribute values.  For example, the initial score for Scouting is Intellect + ½ Speed; the initial score for Chariot Use is Strength + ([Intellect + Speed] / 3).  Perhaps ka points could be used to purchase additional skills and/or increase initial scores.

Character improvement comes in the form of increasing skill scores and acquiring new skills.  If, during a scenario, a character uses a skill (successfully or not), the character can attempt to improve that skill after the scenario concludes.  Percentile dice are rolled and if the skill's current score is exceeded, then the score is increased by 1d6.  Characters can also be trained “by a teacher who has at least a 60 in the skill taught.”  After two game weeks, “one...increase check is allowed.”

In combat, a d20 is rolled to see if an attack is successful.  If the result exceeds the Resistance Factor of the target, then damage is applied.  Armor provides a Resistance Factor.  Scale armor has a Resistance Factor of 14; an unarmored character has a Resistance Factor of 5.  A roll of less than 5 misses the target.  A roll equal to or less than a target's Resistance Factor (but still at least 5) damage is applied to the target's armor.  Combat rolls may be modified depending upon the Speed attribute as well as the scores of “Martial Skills.”  For example, with a Combat skill score of 21, a character has two attacks per round; at 31, +1 to hit; at 41, +1 to parry, etc.  Characters can use 'attacks' to dodge or parry.

Twenty Magick Spells are described and each is assigned a level.  The least powerful spell is Illumination (level 10) and the most powerful is Speak with Gods (level 90).  A character can only learn a spell if his (or her) Magick skill score equals or exceeds the spell's level.  A spell may be learned from a teacher, a tablet, or a scroll.  Regardless, “it takes 1 - 4 weeks of study to commit a spell to memory.”  To successfully cast  a spell, a character must roll (on percentile dice) less than or equal to his (or her) Magick score or the spell's Difficulty, whichever is less.  A spell's Difficulty is roughly inverse to its level; the Difficulty for Illumination is 85 (easy to cast) and for Speak with Gods is 25 (hard to cast).  Spell-casting characters have a number of Magick Points equal to the initial score for the Magick skill (i.e., Power + Intellect).  Each spell has a cost between 1 (e.g., Speak with Animals) and 6 (e.g., Ressurection [sic] ).  An unsuccessful casting still costs 1 Magick Point.

The rulebook spends about a page describing magical amulets.  We are told, “Gamemasters should limit the total number of charms and amulets which may be worn or divided (sic) each each individual charm's power by the total number worn...”  Here are a selection of amulets detailed in TVotP :
Menat:  “If worn or held it will restore 1d6 of hit points lost due to disease or poison and will eliminate all pain.”
Scarab:  “If this amulet is worn, the character receives +5% on any skill proficiency as well as an additional 1d6 of hit points.”
Shen:  “This amulet represents the sun's orbit and eternity...If worn it will give the character an additional five years of life.”  (I assume this refers to natural lifespan, it's not as though a character can be disemboweled and expect to live another five years.)
Tet:  “The wearer of this amulet will receive a 10% bonus against all magic cast on or within a three meter radius of him.”
Utchat:  “This amulet, which was by far the most numerous, represents the eye of Horus...If worn, this amulet has a 20% chance of neutralizing any poison and can restore 1d6 of hit points once per day.”

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Botany and Alchemy in Rêve

Art by Rolland Barthélémy

Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros devotes five pages to botany.  “If one might suppose that every plant that grows in our real world also grows in the universe of Rêve,” the rules suggest, “one might also suppose that others do too.”  While Dream Keepers are encouraged to come up with original plants, several examples are provided, categorized into five groups.

Some examples of Rêve herbs include:  Mercurion (“A blackish ivy one of the base herbs used in alchemy”), Moonflower (A rare alpine plant that – when “picked at night and under moonlight” – can be ingested to recover dream points; its potency is based on the lunar phase when harvested), and Murus (“A kind of minuscule thistle with purplish green leaves,” murus is used for healing; not to be confused with false murus, also used for healing).

Among the Fruits & Berries of Rêve, there are:  Clopinette (Having “very little juice...a neutral taste, not sweet, not even bitter, and...a pitifully low nutritive value” – this fruit is “ordinarily snubbed by the locals, and even wild animals.”  Clopinette is usually “left for Journeyers.”), Floom (The Floom fruit has “an acrid, bitter taste, and is even less nutritious than the clopinette.”  However, “a larval parasite...eats the interior of the fruit...leaving behind a brownish excrement, a sort of oily gelatin...[which] is highly nutritious, although it is most disgusting.”), and Lulube (This is a “small round red fruit whose taste is part cherry, part lemon.”).

Descriptions of Edible Mushrooms include a flavor value “from 1 (bland) to 5 (excellent).”  Some edible mushrooms are:  Dream Trumpet (A very rare specimen “shaped like a dark violet conch.”  Flavor = 5), Primoon (A commonly found, “small mushroom with a white foot and flat green tender cap.”  Flavor = 1), and Tricolite (A rarely found “mushroom with a white foot...and large green cap with blue dots.”  Flavor = 4).

Examples of Poisonous Fruits & Mushrooms include:  Thanatary Amanita (With “lightning-quick deadliness,” this is the most toxic mushroom and also one of the most beautiful...), Hecatomb (“A small red pear with a shiny skin, it has a not disagreeable acidulous flavor”), and Peevle (The fruit of the peeve shrub is not especially malignant; it “looks very much like a clopinette, but with a pearly skin”).

The various Venomous Plants of Rêve “produce swelling around the scratches caused by their spikes or contact with their leaves.”  Other “symptoms are feelings of suffocation, dizziness and cold sweats.”  Examples of these plants include:  Aggravile (“A false fern with razor-sharp leaves producing a mortal venom.”), Basilisque (“While this plant looks like it might be a relative of mint or basil, it  has hive-producing leaves.”), and Ossiphage (“Also called a bonesucker, this climbing creeper has triangular, purplish leaves.  Each leaf has three long spikes at each point of the triangle.  Its venom is so fast that the victim often succumbs in a few steps and dies entangled in the vine.”)

Rêve includes 'Principles of Alchemy' as a game aid.  Alchemy is not magical in that it is not a draconic art.  However, “some alchemical preparations may be enchanted in order to increase their potency.”  As presented in the rules:
Alchemy is a science of colors and textures.  It requires only basic equipment:  fire, a cauldron, mortar and pestle, a funnel, parchment for filtering, and a sealable vial.  Its practice revolves around three characteristics:  Intellect, for knowledge of formulæ and their implementation; Sight for identification of colors, and Dexterity for identifying textures.
Alchemical colors, “which correspond to degrees of heat,” can only be identified by using an Alchemist's Lens.  Such a lens is not among the equipment listed above.  While it may be purchased from an alchemist's shop, a lens can be manufactured using basic alchemical processes.

“The seven alchemical textures, more or less fluid, thick, plastic, etc. have been given animal names:  Fox, Goat, Horse, Owl, Rabbit, Serpent, [and] Sheep.”

There are three basic types of alchemical ingredients:  herbs, salts, and gems.  “Most can be readily found in nature,” but all can “be purchased from an alchemist or apothecary.”

Mercurion, satum, and nevropenthe are the three basic alchemical herbs.

The “seven common alchemical salts” are, in order of increasing value:  Candricle, Boralm, Green Obbyssum, Grey Obbyssum, Obadion, Nartha, and Chramaelium.  The first four can be found in nature; for instance, candricle is “a white powder found under the barks of numerous trees.”  The last three common salts require alchemical processing.  For example, “Obadion is a bluish powder obtained from the alchemical extraction of an ore called obadine, a kind of peat.”

Gems are measured in terms of size and purity.  Each grain counts as one unit of size.  Purity is represented on a scale of 1 to 7.  Size × Purity = cost in sols.  (For purposes of comparison, the price of a bastard sword is 30 sols; a saddle horse is 40 sols.)  A jeweler can add value to a gem.  The rules list “twelve gems [that] are the most sought-after.”  Some of these gems are:  Aquafane (deep green), Scarlatine (clear red or orange), and Turnmoon (violet or blue).

The rules describe seven common alchemical formulæ that are “assumed to be known to all characters with at least mastery in Alchemy” (i.e., level zero).  Each formula requires several skill rolls.
As one can only know at the very end whether a given procedure was successful or not, the character is assumed to perform the entire operation continuously and then makes all rolls together at the end.  If any one roll is a failure, the entire operation is ruined.
The described formulæ include basic operations, such as Alchemist's Lens and Alchemical Pulverization, as well as three potions, Strength, Dexterity, and Double Healing.  (A Potion of Double Healing increases the effects of a healing potion.)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Humanoids in Rêve

Humans are not the only playable race in Rêve – there are several humanoid species in the setting.  In Rêve, “Humanoids are those creatures who are both roughly anthropomorphic (head, trunk, two arms, two legs, etc.) and have language.”  The characteristic 'scale' is the same regardless of species.  So, as the rules state, “An ogre with a 10 Strength is as strong as an average human, but below average with regard to ogres.”  Just as with humans, 160 points are allocated among the fourteen characteristics for humanoids, but modifiers are applied that may take the final values beyond the human range of 6 through 15.

Cyan:  As their name suggests, cyan have blue coloration.  They live in nomadic tribes and raise small dinosaur-like creatures.  Each cyan is connected to all of his or her incarnations, past and future, so they have multiple personalities.  Also, “they are incapable of recalling people or places for more than 7 weeks” except when under the thrall of their luminous dreams.

Droll:  Drolls are also known as trolls.  Although misshapen, they tend to be larger than humans.  Aside from Size, they have positive modifiers for Constitution, Agility, and Hearing.  Drolls have negative modifiers for Sight, Smell-Taste, Intellect, and Empathy.  They have “2 points of natural armor” and possess “an ability to cast the evil eye.”

Faun:  Unlike traditional fauns, Rêve fauns have goat heads.  “War is their natural state,” the rules tell us, “Ferocious and cruel, they subsist on a vegetarian diet but drink the blood of their enemies.”  Fauns have heightened Constitution and Strength, but reduced Intellect and Empathy.

Feracat:  “Feracats are small, hairless, oily, simian humanoids with large, pointed ears and yellow slitted eyes.”  They have reduced Appearance, Will, and Intellect; however, they have enhanced Agility, Dexterity, Hearing, and Smell-Taste.

Gigant:  Gigants can be as tall as 2.5 meters and weigh as much as 300 kilograms.  This increased height and mass gives them two points of armor.  Gigants have increased Constitution, Strength, and Agility, but they have decreased Intellect.  “They speak a whispering tongue (to avoid avalanches).”

Gnome:  As mentioned previously, in the Rêve setting, gnomes discovered magic.  They “are the smallest humanoids, averaging 90 cm tall and 30 kg.”  They have a negative modifier to Strength, but positive modifiers to Constitution and Agility.  We are told they “are excellent swordsmen in spite of their small stature.”

Hounder:  “Hounders are dog-headed humanoids...[including] several races capable of crossbreeding:  bulldog-headed, spaniel-headed, greyhound-headed, doberman-headed, etc.”  They are slightly larger than humans and have a bonus to Constitution.  “Humans of the Hounders' in abject slavery...[and] Kept naked, they are raised in herds as beasts of burden and are considered animals.”

Mockturtle:  The Rêve mockturtle (one word) is based on John Tenniel's depiction below (from Alice in Wonderland).  While they have increased Will, they have decreased Size and Intellect.  “Their carapace affords them 3 points of natural protection.”

Ogre:  Ogres are almost as large as gigants.  Like gigants, they have increased Strength and Constitution, as well as reduced Intellect.  They also have a point of natural armor.  Unlike gigants, ogres have decreased Empathy and increased Smell-Taste.  They have “yellow eyes” and “have no hair on their bodies except their eyelashes.”  Ogres occasionally devour small human children, but fail to understand why they are hated.  “They think of themselves as gentle and good...”

Proudarm:  These humanoids are smaller than ogres, yet still larger than humans.  Male proudarms are “extremely muscular with large upper bodies and arms,” but are also microcephalic.  “Females, on the other hand, are a bit smaller than males and morphologically opposite:  their heads and upper bodies are human-proportioned, but their legs, thighs and buttocks are huge.”  The provided characteristic modifiers apparently apply to males:  increased Constitution, Strength, and Agility; reduced Dexterity, Sight, Hearing, Smell-Taste, Intellect, and Empathy.

Repvile:  “The most terrible of the humanoids, repviles are slightly smaller than humans, with scaly bodies and spiky growths at their elbows and knees.”  Their heads have lizard-like as well as frog-like features.  “In broad daylight, they protect their sensitive bulging eyes with a whitish nictitating membrane which does not impair their vision.”  They have positive modifiers to Constitution, Strength, and Agility, but negative modifiers to Intellect and Empathy.  “They benefit from 3 points of natural armor.”

Saurian:  Although saurians are air-breathers, they “can hold their breath long enough to stay underwater for several tens of minutes...”  They have slight positive modifiers to Size, Strength, and Agility.  “They benefit from 2 points of natural armor.”  Saurians weave silk “from the cocoon of an insect known only to them.”  This silk “is magnificent and greatly prized.”  However, saurians rarely engage in commerce (with non-saurians) due to their bellicose nature.

Snork:  “Snorks are porcine-faced humanoids endowed with snouts, hence their name.”  They serve as the Rêve equivalent of orcs.  These humanoids have slightly increased Size, Constitution, and Strength; however, they also have significantly reduced Intellect and Empathy.

Sylvan:  Although gnomes are considered to be “the smallest humanoids,” sylvans have the same Size modifier.  A sylvan's Strength, however, is not reduced as much as a gnome's.  Sylvans have enhanced Sight, Hearing, Smell-Taste, and Empathy.  They seem to be the closest thing to fairies that the Rêve setting affords.  Sylvans “wither” if they leave their forests.  Although female sylvans are “generally well-proportioned, pretty, adorable little dolls,” male sylvans affect “a somewhat diabolical appearance with small horns growing out of their foreheads, pointy beards, and curly locks.”

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Magic in Rêve

In Rêve, “Magicians are called High Dreamers because they perceive the complexities of reality differently from other creatures.”  Magic is accomplished by using the Draconic language to influence the Dragons' dreams.  However...
Draconic is...not a language in the common sense.  It cannot be spoken, phonetically uttered, and no syllable can express it.  It cannot be written, and no symbol, rune, hieroglyph, or ideogram can transmit it.
Low Dreaming “is the common reality which all creatures perceive.”  High Dreaming “is the realm of those beings referred to as the Dragons.”  Between the Low and High Dreaming are the Dreamlands, representing “a mental state, a sort of trance which allows the casting of magic.”  Only High Dreamers can visit the Dreamlands; they do so via astral projection.  In the Dreamlands...
...the slightest error can have catastrophic results.  Such a mental state, which places the High Dreamer's consciousness close to the Dragons', demands great discipline and is fraught with peril.  The high Dreamer may confront his own doubts, failings, dreams of past incarnations, vortices which may lose him, monsters which he must defeat or repress.
Projecting into the Dreamlands is called trancing and requires concentration, “takes a full round, costs one Fatigue point, and requires a Dreamlands encounter check.”  There are various types of 'terrain' in the Dreamlands, some examples of which are:  swamps, wastes, mountains, sanctuaries, cities, and necropolii.  The Dreamlands are represented in game terms “as a symbolic map divided into hexagons.”  A corner of this map is displayed below.

When entering the Dreamlands (and every round spent therein), there is a one-in-seven chance that the High Dreamer will have an encounter.  The Such encounters “usually represent the High Dreamer's own internal psychological problems, as well as the terrifying proximity of the Dragons' consciousness – but they can also offer assistance.”  With an encounter, a High Dreamer must attempt mastery, disengagement, or suppression.  In the event of an encounter, percentile dice are rolled to determine the specific encounter in a given terrain.

Some of the possible encounters include:  Violet Lotus (if mastered, can increase dream points), Steed (if mastered, transports the astral body to a chosen Dreamland), Whirlwind (if not mastered, transports the astral body to a random Dreamland) and Breaker (if not mastered, breaks the High Dreamer's concentration).  It is also possible to encounter a Dragon; mastery of such an encounter can result in a 'Dragon Gift' while failure to master it will result in one or two 'Dragon Tails'.

“Dragon Gifts are extraordinary benefits magicians sometimes gain in the pursuit [of] their calling,” the rules state.  They remain with the character for life and can include:  characteristic increase, the ability to detect lies, animal empathy, limited poison resistance, et al.  Dragon Tails represent “the mental perturbations High Dreamers sometimes experience as a result of bad magical experiences.”  If not repressed, Dragon Tails can cause selective amnesia, obsessions (including “only speak in animal noises,” “carry around rocks,” “blacken one's face with ashes,” or “crawl about on all fours”), or mad whims (including “dance naked in the rain,” “kiss a pig on the snout,” “break a glass object,” or “urinate in a violin”).

The High Dreamer must travel to a particular terrain type in order to cast a given spell.  For example, a Light spell can only be cast from a Plains hex and a Sleep spell can only be cast from a Swamp hex.  Normally, moving to an adjacent hex takes one round.

There are four Draconic skills (or 'Draconic Ways'), each representing a distinct interpretation of the language of Dragons and each reflecting a different 'type' of magic.  The Way of Onerios affects the physical world and its spells “include the ability to create heat or light, or transform wood to metal or air to fire.”  The Way of Hypnos represents sleep and permits the High Dreamer to affect the minds of others.  With Hypnos, a High Dreamer may “cast a spell of sleeping, or seem to be invisible, or conjure a powerful warrior.”  The Way of Narcos “represents torpor, inertia...[and] is the way of enchantments...”  Finally, the Way of Thanatos is “of nightmare and necromancy:  curses, metamorphoses, and animation of the dead are the tools of the practitioners of this dark art.”

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Monsters in Rêve

Jabberwock illustration by John Tenniel

Just in time for Halloween, here is a selection of monsters from the Rêve role-playing game.

Contrary to Tenniel's depiction above, a Rêve jabberwock (also called a bandersnatch) “has the appearance of an enormous toad, with a horse head, burning red eyes, bat wings, scaly hide, claws like daggers, pointed spines along its back and sides, and a hideous burbling roar.”  It weighs more than three tons so it cannot fly.  Since the jabberwock “hates all light,” it “inhabits the lightless depths of the deepest caverns, leaving only to hunt on moonless nights.”

The bane looks like “a small, grey-green hippopotamus” except it has two rows of sharp teeth in its crocodile-like mouth.

There is “a kind of giant roach” called chrasm (pronounced 'krasm').  It has “a crab-like carapace and hairy joints.”  Also possessing “strong and sharp mandibles, it is feared for its mortal poison.”

“The zider is a flying reptile akin to the pteranodon, having large membranous wings.”

A felorn is a talking cat “with grey-mauve fur.”  Its bat-like wings (“covered in downy fur”) permit the felorn to fly great distances.  “At first adorable,” we are told, “a companion felorn can soon become rather tedious.”

The gleepzook is a green monkey that seems to have a language; however, “gleep and zook are the only two phonemes used, and these are pronounced with a great variety of tones and in infinite combinations.”

The gong looks like “a huge toad, with scaly skin and claws and fangs.”  It is named thus because “it makes a sound almost exactly like the tolling of a bell.”

Grindlings are small larvae “about 1 to 2 cm in length.”  We are not told what the larvae turn into but, when their “tiny translucent scales” rub together, they generate “the sound of chalk grating on slate, but a hundred times louder and more wearing on the nerves.”

The killerbeast is thus named supposedly because its “raspy and guttural cry sounds like the word kill.”  (I wonder how this creature was named in the original French.  According to Google, 'killer beast' translates as tueur bête, neither part of which I can imagine being pronounced in a raspy and guttural manner.)  Anyway, “The killerbeast is a simian-like creature covered in spiny scales.”

“The razorfly is a giant dragonfly, some 2 meters long with a wingspan of three meters, with wings as tough and sharp as razors, beating at prodigious speeds.”  We learn that the razorfly “can cut through a 3 cm diameter bamboo stalk without slowing down.”

While anthropomorphic, stonebones “are not humanoids, as they do not have a language.”  They are “covered in a mineral-based, shell-like carapace” and “their heads have a stony crest.”

The necromorph is sometimes referred to as “a false ghûl or a black ghûl.”  It “is a human-sized, anthropomorphic, bipedal, upright animal, with a leathery, hairless grey-black hide.”  I suppose that – like the stonebones – the necromorph fails to qualify as a humanoid due to the lack of a language.

A turntooth “is an enormous [three meters tall and 800 kg] bipedal monstrosity, vaguely anthropomorphic, covered in extremely hard, overlapping horn plates.”  The plural of turntooth is turntooths, but this may be a translation choice since, in French, the word for tooth (dent) is made plural by the usual means – adding an 's' (i.e., dents).  Its arms, having 360° articulation, end in mouths “filled with sharp, pointed fangs.”  A turntooth “has no head, only a large blister in its place with a yellow eye 'in front' and one 'behind'.”  It seems that turntooth “genital glands” have commercial value; perhaps fortunately, the rules do not expand on this.

All of the above are 'creatures', meaning that each individual is dreamed by a Dragon.  Aside from creatures, there are 'entities' which come from the “collective unconscious.”  They are “the product of currents of the Dreaming, which, when they become too dense, spontaneously incarnate.”  Entities are categorized as either 'dream' or 'nightmare'.

Dream entities include the chimera (which can travel to any dream) and the unicorn (which can inflict curses or – with regard to an individual having “only the purest of intentions” – grant a boon).

Nightmare entities can be either embodied or disembodied.  Embodied nightmare entities include such familiar monsters as kraken, shadows, skeletons, and zombies.  Other embodied nightmare entities include:  coqmares (three-meter tall roosters whose cries, at sunset, can result in “hideous nightmares”), death dogs (they appear only at night), and sludgehammers (“like a great mud man...with two long tentacles for upper extremities”).  Disembodied nightmare entities are spirits that “appear as phantom specters with humanoid silhouettes.”  These entities attempt to possess corporeal beings.  Three of these entities are despair, fear, and hate.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Jack Chick (1924 - 2016)

It was a brilliant marketing concept.  Give consumers the real power to control minds, but instead of indulging other worldly pursuits, they will acquire more and more TSR products.  Of course, with the adoption of Second Edition, the real power was lost and TSR foundered.

The graphic above represents two panels from Jack Chick's anti-RPG 'tract' Dark Dungeons.  For decades, Chick proselytized his version of Christianity where God is paradoxically both loving and hateful.  The phenomenon of role-playing games was merely one of the many, many targets of Chick's crusade against perceived abominations.  Chick met his faceless maker last Sunday.  While this blog does not make light of the death of a human being, Chick's efforts deserve to be examined, if not ridiculed. 

Dark Dungeons was a symptom of the 'Satanic Panic'.  The tract begins with several people participating in a role-playing game.  A character dies and her player, Marcie, overreacts.  The remaining participants shun Marcie because, as Debbie – another player – phrases it, she “doesn't exist any more.”  Ms. Frost, the Dungeon Master, recruits Debbie into a Dianic coven because “the intense occult training through D&D prepared Debbie to accept the invitation...”

Everything seems to be working out until Marcie commits suicide and Debbie blames herself:  “If I'd left the game, she'd be alive today.”  Um, no she wouldn't.  If resurrecting Black Leaf was not an option, Marcie should have rolled up another character just like everyone else in her predicament.  Ms. Frost reminds Debbie that her “spiritual growth through the game” is important.  When Debbie demurs, Ms. Frost shakes her like a nanny and says, “I think you better let Elfstar take care of things.”  You're going to get that when you use the 1E spiritual growth rules.

Fortunately, Mike – a hunky classmate – has been praying and fasting on Debbie's behalf.  Mike takes Debbie to a meeting featuring a speaker who “came out of witchcraft.”  After some bible quotes and book burning, Debbie is saved!  Now, instead of “that lousy D&D manual,” the bible is her “final authority.”  At least she won't be affected by edition wars.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Character Creation in Rêve

Art by Rolland Barthélémy

There are fourteen primary characteristics for Rêve characters –
Size:  “overall mass”
Appearance:  “charisma and presence, in no way related to beauty”
Constitution:  “health, vigor, resistance to shock and disease”
Strength:  “muscular power”
Agility:  “overall coordination, graceful harmony of movement”
Dexterity:  “manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination and tactile sense”
Sight:  “More than visual acuity, this characteristic encompasses visual memory and especially observation.”
Hearing:  “Partly the auditory sense, but mostly the correct analysis and interpretation of sounds, as well as auditory memory.”
Smell-Taste:  “Detection, analysis and interpretation of smells and tastes.”
Will:  “force of will, character, courage, ego, morale”
Intellect:  “intellectual faculties...disposition to acquire knowledge and use it...[and also] memory.  It is in no sense...intelligence.”
Empathy:  “intuition, the ability to feel, to be spontaneously consonant with one's environment”
Dream:  “The faculty of dreaming and remembering dreams...It's a kind of 'Power' characteristic.”
Luck:  “how lucky a character is”
Players have 160 points to allocate among a character's primary characteristics.  The initial, minimum value for each characteristic is 6 and the initial, maximum value is 15.  The human average is 10.  Strength cannot be more than 4 points over Size.  We are told, “Only creatures and dream entities can have characteristics above 20.”  As an alternate rule, there can be a Beauty characteristic with a default value of 10.  This value can be increased using some of the 160 points; however reducing the Beauty score does not net additional allocation points.

Aside from primary characteristics, there are four derived characteristics:  Mêlée (average of Agility and Strength), Missile (average of Dexterity and Sight), Throw (average of Strength and Missile), Stealth (average of Agility and the inverse of Size [i.e., 21 – Size] ).

There are also a few values categorized as “Points & Thresholds.”  Life Points function as hit points; the number equals the average of Constitution and Size.  Constitution Threshold is “an indicator negative Life point level that equals death.”  It is figured by looking up Constitution on a table; values range from two to five.  Damage Modifier ranges from –1 to +2 and is determined by averaging Strength and Size, then consulting a table. Encumbrance Threshold is the average of Size and Strength.  (“As Encumbrance is often measured in tenths of points, do not round off this value.”)  Sustenance Threshold is the amount of food and water a character must consume on a daily basis.  It is based on Size and is either two, three, or four.  For each point of Sustenance a character must drink 0.2 liters of water and consume the equivalent of an “average inn meal.”

Endurance is either the sum of Size plus Constitution or the sum of Life plus Will, “whichever is better.”  The rules tell us, “Endurance may be lost due to strenuous activity (running, swimming), asphyxiation (drowning), weakness (starvation or illness), or trauma (wounds).”  Fatigue is twice Endurance and represents a number of boxes on eight rows appearing on the character sheet.  As rows are filled, the character suffers a penalty on all physical and mental actions.  Endurance loss also counts as Fatigue loss, but there are activities which cost Fatigue but not Endurance.  A complete loss of Fatigue causes the character to fall asleep; a complete loss of Endurance causes the character to fall unconscious and lose a Life point. 

Approximately seventy skills are listed on the Rêve character sheet, grouped into seven categories:  General, Mêlée, Missile & Throw, Specialized, Arts, Sciences, and Draconics (i.e., magic).  Discretion (which is described like Stealth) and Vigilance (“The talent of always being on on[e]'s guard”) are among the General Skills.  There are thirteen Mêlée skills – most of which equate to weapon use but also included are Dodging, Hand-to-Hand, and Shield.  There are eight Missile Skills – all of which are weapons – including Blowgun and Whip.  Specialized Skills include Commerce (“Evaluating the value of goods, services, or local currencies”) as well as Pickpocket, Riding, and various Survival variants.  Among the Arts, there are Navigation, Surgery, Swimming, and Gaming.  (However, Singing and Dance are General Sills; Acting and Music are Specialized Skills.)  Some of the Sciences are Writing, Medicine, and Legends.

Each category of skills has a base value (either –4, –6, –8, or –11) and each skill must be improved from this negative value.  “Level zero represents mastery in a skill” and while skills do not have an “upward limit...skills beyond +11 are exceedingly rare.”  Skill values are typically indexed against characteristic scores on a Resolution Table to determine a character's percentile chance of success for any given action.  For example, riding a horse would pair Riding with Agility but calming a horse would pair Riding with Empathy.  A starting character has three thousand points (!) to distribute among Skills.  However, all costs are in multiples of five so – hypothetically – the allocation pool could have been 600 points (which is still an intimidating volume).  Some examples of skill costs include:  'Polearm' at 0 would cost 80 points, 'Thrown Axe' at 0 would cost 100, 'Juggling' at –5 would cost 45, 'Running' at +3 would cost 120.

The Rêve character sheet has a section for “Peculiarities,” such as Age, Gender, and Handedness.  Also among the Peculiarities is Birth Hour.  In Rêve, each day consists of twelve hours; each hour has 120 minutes.  “The hours have been given the names of the constellations of the zodiac” and the “same names are also used to designate the months of the seasons.”  (These names are indicated in the graphic below.)  A character's Birth Hour is similar to an astrological sign.  It has some bearing with regard to magic and can modify Luck rolls.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Dream Journeyers

Art by Rolland Barthélémy

According to its glossary, “Rêve is a game of the Journey, a game of eternal quests: journeys by road, journeys across dreams, journeys to the depths of oneself.”  Most people in the Rêve setting develop a wanderlust “in their twenties” and undertake the Journey (thus capitalized).  Some return to their starting point; others, “having found a favorable site, may found their own villages.”  In fact, “most villages or towns of any importance were founded by former Journeyers.”  As a result, many villages have a Journeyers' House:
a kind of inn where, when the custom is observed, itinerant Journeyers are lodged and fed for free.  It's a common way of helping those who are still on the road, and of showing that even if the Journey is no longer in the legs of some, it remains in their hearts.
There are cities, but very few.  We are told that most cities date “back to the Second Age.”  Yet having survived the cataclysm of the Great Awakening they have been “significantly warped in one way or another.”  More specifically, “Whether it's a weird superstition, garbled legends, or absurd cults, each city is characterized by some folly or other.”

At the end of the Second Age, the Great Empire ruled over most of human civilization.  “Over the centuries,” the rules state, “the varied tongues spoken there eventually melded into a single language, with local variations in accent and vocabulary, but nevertheless a single, common tongue.”  Rêve intimates that 'Journeyer' – the common (human) language of the Third Age – is based upon the Empire's linguistic tradition.

A rift is a type of passage between two distinct dreams.  They “are never truly fixed” and the passage is one-way.  Rifts appear as “a colored flickering, a moiré in the ambient air.”  A violet moiré represents the open end of a rift and a yellow moiré represents the terminal end.

Page 140 states, “Player Characters are by definition Journeyers.” Actually, they are 'authentic' Journeyers:
...they have at least once had the experience of passing through a rift...As a result, they are not in their world of origin and they know that their chances of ever seeing home again are infinitesimally slight.
Aside from being a Journeyer, each player character is either a True Dreamer or High Dreamer.  The primary difference is that High Dreamers are magicians.  Since it is generally believed that magicians caused the end of the Second Age and are responsible for the ensuing cataclysm, “in many places High Dreamers are ill regarded.”  It so happens that, “In some cities, anyone even suspected (or accused) of practicing this crime [is] immediately put to death.”  However, death in Rêve is not the end of the line for a player character.

As indicated in last week's post, the death of a character means that the Dragon dreaming the character wakes.  The Dragon will eventually resume its slumber and the character will return (just not in the same scenario/dream in which the character died).  From the perspective of the player character, she merely wakes up in a new life and his or her prior existence seems as if it was a dream.
She may not be the exact same age as in her dream, is surely not dressed the same way, and may not even know how to do the same things.  But it is her.
Thus the character is reincarnated after a fashion.  “If the character dies again,” according to page 58, “she will awaken again from what she thought was reality only to realize it was a dream.”  Her characteristics will remain the same as they were in the previous existence.  If a given characteristic was improved by experience, the improved value will carry over to the next incarnation.  The character's skills, however, are reassessed.  A True Dreamer might become a High Dreamer in a subsequent life, or vice versa.

Each character has an Archetype:
A character's Archetype is his essential self, the sum of everything he has been throughout his supposed anterior “lives”.  The Archetype contains all of his acquired knowledge, his global memory.
In order for a character to be complete, his Archetype must be created.
An Archetype is created by assigning 'levels' to the various skills available in Rêve.  It is important to note that, “A character's current level in a given skill has no necessary bearing on a character's Archetype.”  However, if a character's current level in a skill is less than his or her Archetype's level in that skill, the character may be able to improve said skill via an experience method called Archetype Memory:
When subjected to stress, fragments of a character's former lives inhabit her nocturnal dreams.  These stress induced dreams are so powerful that upon awakening the character will recall actual experiences – and hence skills – of a former life.
Your humble host is reminded of TSR's AMAZING ENGINE® system wherein player characters are derived from Player Cores:  an array of dice pools that can be improved and used in creating subsequent characters in the same or another “universe.”  However, given the variety of AMAZING ENGINE® universes, Player Cores are limited to determining attribute values and do not affect skills.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

An Oneiric Fantasy

Art by Florence Magnin

Last month, I mentioned Rêve de Dragon, a game that merits some attention.  Originally published in 1985, I feel it qualifies as “old school.”  Of course, lacking any affinity for the French language, I must rely upon the English translation, Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros, which is based on a later edition.  (This translation is available at Lulu.)  Still, the setting remains the same and the setting is the subject of today's post.

The “reality” of the player characters is a gestalt of the dreams of Dragons (thus capitalized).  The rules employ the analogy of “collective unconscious” in describing the concept.  Each entity within the dream is an avatar of a Dragon.  “When a creature dies,” the rules state, “its Dragon (the one who dreams that creature specifically) has just awoken.”  The rules continue:  “Nevertheless, as this creature also exists in the dreams of all Dragons, the awakening of one dreamer has no other effect.”  Most entities are unaware that they exist as part of a dream.  Incidentally, in Rêve, the official title of the game master is “Dream Keeper.”

With regard to the Dragons, chapter 15 claims:
The Dragons are infinite...And if the Dragons dream the world – that is, the world from which the players' characters hail – they also dream an infinite number of others, like so many parallel worlds.
In game terminology, the word 'dream'...
...carries a double meaning.  On the one hand it means what is normally meant by the word dream, on the other it also means 'world', 'imaginary time or place', or 'adventure' or 'scenario'.  Thus by changing scenarios one changes dreams.
A 'world' might only consist of a region with anything beyond that region being part of a separate dream.  Thus, “the geographical continuity of...journeys [of player characters] are a mere minor concern.”

The history of the Rêve setting spans three ages.  In the First Age, the Dragons dreamed of themselves and also, “they dreamed a race of beings especially destined to serve them:  humanoids.”  These humanoids were usually either humans or gnomes, “but some more eccentric Dragons also created other avatars...”  Gnomes eventually discovered magical dream stonesthe tears of Dragons.  As a result, humanoids began to employ magic.  The Dragons did not take kindly to this development:
In order to rid themselves of this new nightmare, they awakened en masse.  The world suffered terrible cataclysms, and nine-tenths of all creatures died.  And thus ended the First Age.
When the Dragons returned to sleep, the Second Age began.  Magic became widespread:  “one in ten humans was a magician.”  Abuse of powerful magic caused rifts in the dreams.  Eventually, this led “to a crescendo of upheavals and raging cataclysms.”  The Dragons awoke again, ending the Second Age.  We are told that...
in the Great Awakening not all the Dragons opened their eyes at the same moment, some just waking up as others were falling back asleep.  There is some continuity therefore from Age to Age in spite of upheavals and ruins.  This is why, in the collective memory of humanoids, the 'Other Age' is still remembered.
Activity in Rêve is intended to take place about one thousand years after the onset of the Third Age.  “Between a few pockets of more or less autonomous civilization lie vast wildernesses filled with ruins and mystery,” the Third Age is described.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Where Fantasies Are Real & Reality Is FANTASTIC

My first exposure to Message from Space was when it played on a double bill with Superman so many years ago.  To some (many? most?), Message from Space is a gaudy Star Wars rip-off.  It's certainly gaudy and it would not have been made except to capitalize on the Star Wars phenomenon but, as Lex Luthor said that very same day:
Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it's a simple
adventure story.  Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper
and unlock the secrets of the universe.
While my appreciation of Message from Space falls somewhat short of unlocking secrets of the universe, the film offers more than a simple adventure story.  If we divest ourselves of the 'spaceships = science fiction' fallacy and accept the film as fantasy (as the tagline indicates), the film becomes more palatable.  Message from Space was inspired – in part – by Nansō Satomi Hakkenden, an epic of Japanese literature and one of the longest novels ever.  The influence is especially noticeable with regard to what Joseph Campbell referred to as “the call to adventure.”

Message from Space takes place twenty years after the last Space War, during “the times when earthling adventurers roamed the planets of the galaxy seeking riches in the form of resources and colonies.”  The warlike, steel-skinned Gavanas oppress the enlightened Jillucians nearly to point of extinction.  The Jillucian patriarch dispatches eight holy Liabe seeds to locate the assorted heroes who will save the Jillucians – and the universe – from the tyranny of the Gavanas.

The Liabe seeds, with the appearance of walnuts that sometimes glow, make their way to the film's protagonists who, in another context, might be player characters.  However, the meaning of the Liabe seeds (from the protagonists' viewpoint) must wait for exposition from Princess Esmeralida.

If the Liabe heroes (i.e., player characters) are destined to save the universe, then wouldn't that compromise player agency?  Well, yes it would.  As a matter of fact, in Message from Space, three of the chosen characters toss their walnuts* and a fourth declines the honor of being a hero.  This is representative of what Campbell aptly termed “refusal of the call.”  Of course, a story about characters deciding against doing something interesting isn't a worthwhile story.  Eventually, the characters that initially refused the Liabe seeds change their minds and accept their roles as heroes.  So, player agency is still thwarted.  Is that a bad thing?  Not necessarily.

Absolute agency is untenable in a role-playing game.  A player adopts a “role” for his or her character.  After all, we are talking about role-playing games, not agency-playing games.  Agency is limited in that player character knowledge should be restricted to in-game information available to the “role.”  Also, the player imbues his or her character (or role) with a personality and a psychology.  The way a character responds to stimuli – while not scripted – should be consistent with that personality and psychology.  Gygax addressed this issue by penalizing “aberrant behavior” with additional required training time/cost for level advancement (DMG, p. 86).  Of course, for Gygax, a character's “behavior” should be defined by class and alignment.

The notion of consistency should not preclude the organic development of personality and psychology (or “behavior” to employ a convenient term).  Yet, ultimately, it is a player's responsibility to play the role of his or her character with an established behavior and to interact appropriately within the setting.  Likewise, some of the GM's responsibilities include providing an intuitive (if not immersive) setting and accommodating (rather than curtailing) player agency.

Your character should refuse the Liabe seed if the character's established behavior suggests that course of action.  However, there should be circumstances wherein your character would accept the Liabe seed.  Is it an intolerable suppression of player agency if the GM arranges for those circumstances to occur?  I don't think so; I think there is a difference between 'railroading' and 'advancing the plot'.

* not a euphemism

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pages from Spellbooks (part II)

As a continuation of last week's post, here are nine more spellbook pages.  All of these images are adapted from 'real world' sources.  Again, Thoul's Paradise bears no responsibility for magical complications caused by its readership.

The Watchtowers of the Order of the Golden Dawn (such as the Great Western Quadrangle of Water, below) remind me of circuit board diagrams – as though a wizard could use such a talisman to trace a thought process for fashioning various magical effects.

The Great Western Quadrangle of Water

Similarly, the 'spirals' below might indicate the required sequence of concepts for casting a given spell.

The Dragon-Book of Essex (collage)

Spellbooks would likely provide information regarding the identification, cultivation, and preparation of material components.

Voynich manuscript

In the French role-playing game Rêve de Dragon, the spells that a magician may cast are limited by which “dreamland” the magician's astral body occupies.  For game purposes, there is a map of the Dreamlands where each dreamland is represented by a hex.  The so-called Zoroaster's Telescope reminds me of the Rêve magic system.

Telescope de Zoroastre (collage) and Enochian characters

Here are a variety of images for which I do not have particular commentary.

Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis (collage)

Sefer Raziel HaMalakh

Crowley's Goetia

Sphinx Mystagoga (collage)

Tabula Smaragdina

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pages from Spellbooks (part I)

Magic is a significant – if not essential – element of fantasy role-playing game settings.  Spellbooks are the primary means by which wizards are associated with magic.  Therefore, spellbooks, and the pages they contain, ought to enhance the color and flavor of a campaign.  In this post, we see what spellbook pages might look like in a fantasy campaign.  These examples are compiled from 'real world' materials, although some of the materials are not associated with magic in the real world.  Thoul's Paradise disclaims any responsibility for the injudicious use of magic by its readers.

Spellbook pages need not contain words exclusively.  A picture is worth a thousand words and, as such, symbols, diagrams, and images may be a more efficient means of conveying information for wizards.

Trésor du Vieillard des Pyramides Véritable Science des Talismans (collage)

Seals from The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses

Galdrabók (and other manuscripts) (collage)

The Dragon-Book of Essex (collage)

Ars Notoria

A spellbook would be reflective the spellcaster's school or type of magic, the spellcaster's culture, and the spellcaster's individual personality.  Below we see a page appropriate for a court magician.

The Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan
Contrast the above with the page below, which is more like a page from a murderhobo's grimoire with its gruesome imagery and jagged script.

Ardā Wīrāz-nāmag
Somewhere in between:

Codex Argenteus

Page 40 of the (1st edition) Dungeon Masters Guide states:
All magic and cleric spells are similar in that the word sounds, when combined into whatever patterns are applicable, are charged with energy from the Positive or Negative Material Plane. When uttered, these sounds cause the release of this energy, which in turn triggers a set reaction. The release of the energy contained in these words is what causes the spell to be forgotten or the writing disappear from the surface upon which it is written.
Spells are “forgotten” as a check against the power of spellcasters; spellbooks are necessary so that magic-users can memorize “forgotten” spells. In the 5th edition rules de-emphasize the memory aspect of spellcasting; instead the rules focus on “energy.” According to page 78 of the (5th edition) Player's Basic Rules :
...a caster...can cast only a limited number of spells before resting. Manipulating the fabric of magic and channeling its energy into even a simple spell is physically and mentally taxing...
Instead of using spellbooks to memorize forgotten spells, 5th edition wizards use spellbooks to recoup energy. Regarding wizards, page 31 of the PBR states: “You have learned to regain some of your magical energy by studying your spellbook.”

The Earthdawn role-playing game adopts the notion of a “spell matrix.” Per page 153:
A spell matrix is an astral construct linked to the intelligence of the magician, energized by the magical energies of the astral plane. Magicians in Earthdawn use spell matrices as a conduit through which they can transfer the energy of a spell from astral space into the physical world. (Emphasis in original.)
To me, the matrix paradigm makes more sense than forgetting spells or gaining energy through study.  Let's assume that each spell requires a psychic construct that becomes spent when the spell is cast.  The construct must be reconstituted through visualization and concentration before it can be used again.  With this paradigm, a wizard must study his (or her) spellbook as part of the necessary mental effort to (re-)formulate the construct or matrix (as opposed to memorizing a spell or recovering energy).  Such a spellbook might easily contain 'perception exercises', like those below, which would allow the spellcaster to access the cognitive state needed to manipulate magic.