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.