Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Undercity

Art by Liz Danforth

As regular readers know, recent posts have been about Flying Buffalo's CityBook series of supplements.  Electronic versions of these books are now available at RPGNow for your gaming edification.  In this post, we look at the third CityBook.  Having the subtitle Deadly Nightside, the theme of CityBook III – as explained in the Introduction – “is a dark and dangerous excursion into the seedier section of fantasy cities.”  The term 'Nightside' is used as the actual name of a section of a hypothetical city rather than a generic term for an unsavory urban area.  Whereas the establishments in the previous installments were organized according to business type, entries in Nightside are organized in three layers:  Good, Bad, and Deadly.  This layer structure is “the rough order characters would be likely to encounter [the establishments].”  The Introduction continues:  “In short, unless you've got a very jaded gaming group, you're not likely to hit an opium den right off the bat.”  Yes, an opium den is described on pages 76 – 82.

Michael Stackpole was the sole editor of CityBook III and also provided two of the establishments.  One of these entries – The Undercity – is like a Beggars' Guild, but “definitely a different Beggars' Guild.”  The term 'Undercity' refers to beggar society as well the location where the beggars reside (also called “the Warrens” or “the Underrealm”).
     The City's current level is built upon a dozen previous cities – some old enough to be legendary, a couple more lurk beneath those.  The beggars, over the generations, have dug down, excavated and set up living quarters in buildings that once stood in sunlight but now dwell in everdark.  Most of them live in a level about four cities below the surface, and the sewers cut through levels 1 and 2, though never did hit any of the warrens.
(The sewers are described as a separate 'establishment'.)

The beggars are divided into six 'tribes':  FAKERS (“...normal children of beggar parents”), WARDREGS (“...warriors or adventurers who have suffered maiming injuries”), GUTTERKIN (“...the utterly desperate and destitute...[usually] old, drunk, or mad”), ILLKIN (“...people who have been maimed and disabled by disease and illness”), SPOILED (“...those who have been maimed by an accident, or on purpose, and can no longer function in society because of their injury”), and YSRAIGET (“...congenitally deformed beggars”).  Many of the Ysraiget are 'changelings' – malformed children of 'Upworld' parentage who have been switched with “normal beggar babies.”

The term 'Ysraiget' is derived from Ysrai, a god that the beggars worship.  “A full thousand years before history was recorded with any veracity, Ysrai's temples were swept from the earth...,” the book explains,“Ysrai is so thoroughly removed from the minds of men that his name is only known to a few practitioners of arcane and blasphemous rituals.”  On the lowest level of the Undercity, the beggars found a statue of Ysrai, “broken and scarred like themselves...”  Creating their own cosmology, “The beggars made this god their own.”  They also “tied the selection of their King to their patron deity.”

The current Beggar King is Myre.  According to his description:  “He was one of four beggars who met the prime requisite for candidacy; he was maimed in a manner similar to the injuries on Ysrai's statue.”  As King, Myre “has stressed the importance of gathering and sifting information.”
     Through a bizaare [sic] set-up, beggars all memorize and analyze (if mentally capable) all the news, rumors and actions in the City.  Stories pass through the Undercity and are relayed to the individuals who handle that information.  New beggars are trained and learn everything one of the older beggars knows so redundancy is built right into the system.  In fact, some of the most hideously deformed Ysraiget are so mentally gifted they can remember and recall centuries-old gossip as if they'd heard it the day before, and they'll link it with any cogent data gathered before or since.  Without benefit of books or scrolls, the beggars have the most complete history of the City and world in existence today!
Myre's part in the information network involves him spending “time in Domdaniel's Gate speaking with Tranq.”

Domdaniel's Gate is an establishment contributed to CityBook III by the designer formerly known as Paul Jaquays.  The current Domdaniel's Gate tavern is situated under the ruins of the original Domdaniel's Gate.  Thirty years ago, the original tavern was destroyed by...
...a time implosion, caused by the crash-landing of a time vehicle.  Its pilot, Tranq, a man from the far-flung future found himself stranded in the past; pieces of his time machine scattered across the near past and future like a debris trail from a sinking ship.
Tranq is the current proprietor of Domdaniel's Gate.  As a tavern, the “Gate” has a regular clientele of “undiscriminating local bullies, ruffians, thugs, and punks...”  Other than the tavern's bartender, Tranq's true nature is known only to Myre, the Beggar King.
     Myre discovered Tranq's secret as a child and would often help him find the missing pieces of the time machine.  When he became king, it only seemed natural to use Tranq's establishment as a formal link with the “normal” world.  Tranq often uses his futuristic technology to aid the beggars in whatever ways he can.
All of the alcohol that the tavern serves is acquired on the black market and is delivered via the Undercity.  Also, Tranq is the only non-beggar to have been instructed in the “beggar dialect.”

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Jacqueline the Ripper and the Warm-Hearted Game Master


Your humble host supposes that wizards can be rather creepy without much effort.  For example, let us look at the eponymous resident of Garsen's Tower.  Although a physical location, Garsen's Tower is described in the 'Chance Encounters' section of CityBook II.  This entry was authored by Rudy Kraft, a contributor to several old-school era products – mainly for Chaosium and Judges Guild.

Anyway, Garsen, a prominent wizard hundreds of years old, “first set eyes on the love of his life when she was only 11; he watched her grow up and, at the appropriate time, swept her off her feet and married her.”  Although Garsen “could extend his own life span,” his wife Orsinia died of old age.  Garsen believed “Orsinia would be reincarnated and somehow find her way to him...”  He opted to place himself in suspended animation until the reborn Orsinia would eventually arrive at his tower.

Centuries have passed since Garsen withdrew from consciousness.  During that time, “Garsen's magic weakened the underlying earth” and the island of Garsen's tower partially sank into City harbor.  ('City' tends to be capitalized in the CityBook supplements.)  “At low tide the island and a connecting causeway rise well out of the water,” the book relates, “at high tide all the causeway and much of the island are submerged.”  A map of the island is displayed above.  The reader may notice that “SCALE: one square = 5 feet.”  Unfortunately, no squares are presented with the map; however, it is elsewhere mentioned that the narrow side of Garsen's tower ('B' on the map) measures thirty feet.  The tower is surrounded by a marble wall.  We are told, “Time's ravages have reduced most of it to rubble although a few sections remain intact.”  Regardless, the gate ('A' on the map) still stands.  The numeral '6' next to the gate refers to the strength of the lock.  A '6' lock is excellent, the highest possible rating:  “Could require magic or a howitzer to open easily – unless you have the key!”  Should someone tamper with Garsen's gate, it will generate “a blast of deadly energy...”

Garsen also employs a dozen “Guard Demons” to watch over the island.  Even though they are called demons, they are not infernal, “they are unusual trans-dimensional beings.”  They are 4'6", 240 lbs., can regenerate, teleport, and “are extremely sticky.”  Additionally, the demons are “scrupulously protective of women because Garsen wanted to be certain Orsinia could return without difficulty.”

The island is described thus:
     Much of the island is covered with a variety of strange and bizarre plant growth such as Rigle tickweed, Xustin molds, and even a rare Vedrosian Polyp plant.  At the summit of the island stands a twisted Vorpid oak, remarkable for the number of Yellowheaded gulls that nest in its branches.  Once every five years the island is covered by a riot of flowering Yellow Dreedils.  The fruit of the Dreedil is said to be distasteful and mildly poisonous – in fact, it is a fist-sized morsel of wondrous utility.  The fruit cures disease and grants immunity to further infection for a full month.  The quint-annual fruit supply is meager, scarcely six dozen fruits, but properly harvested and preserved (an arduous task), the harvest represents considerable wealth.  As chance would have it, the presence and potency of the Yellow Dreedils has been long since forgotten, so now the fruit merely insures a healthy brood of gulls.
Nowadays, the island is “a trysting place for young lovers seeking to escape parental chaperones.”

The first scenario suggestion for this location is that a female player character “actually is the reincarnation of Orsinia.”  Garsen realizes this when he wakes and expects the character to stay with him.  “The character is faced with the quandary of remaining or trying to escape, perhaps bringing doom on her comrades,” we are told.  “Even if she does escape, Garsen will ever after seek her out.”  Just the sort of thing to bring women gamers into the hobby.

The second scenario suggestion involves the murder of several women on the island.  For undisclosed reasons, the player characters try “to track down the killer.”  Instead of 'Jack the Ripper', the killer is a 'Jacqueline the Ripper'.  Since the duties of Garsen's demons “are specifically to protect women from men,” the demons do not protect women from 'Jacqueline'.  In fact, the demons protect 'Jacqueline' from men.  Who is 'Jacqueline' and what are her motives?  This information is not disclosed.  Why would you expect details from a GM aid?

– – –     – – –     – – –

Another location described in the supplement is Cap'n Bill's Bait Shop.  Stuart Bute, the author, does not seem to have contributed to any other RPG publicationThe owner of a fishery bought a shack and installed “a disabled seaman known as Cap'n Bill to run the place as a bait shop” selling the refuse from the fishery.  Cap'n Bill has an endless supply of sea tales, any of which could lead to an adventure.  In fact, the sole scenario suggestion is based on Bill's knowledge of pirate booty.  The write up for Cap'n Bill's acknowledges that the bait shop “is not the most likely place for characters to go.”  As such, there should have been a scenario suggestion that leads the player characters to Cap'n Bill; for instance, there could be a MacGuffin among Bill's collection of scrimshaw.

An employee of the fishery, the charmingly named Guter Snype, brings a supply of fresh bait daily to Cap'n Bill.  He also cleans up the shack.  Guter is described as “Almost human.  Ht: 5'0".  Wt: 288 lbs.”  Additionally, “Guter is repulsive in thought, word, and deed...”  Not surprisingly, Bill and Guter “don't get along at all, and it's a strain for them to work together for just a few minutes every morning.”  The book explains that neither Bill nor Guter “is able to take the first step that would mark the beginning of a firm friendship...”  We are told “there's an adventure scenario possible here, for a warm-hearted Game Master, if there is such a thing.”

Really?  The evolution of a friendship between a crusty old sailor and a person whose defining characteristic is that he's repulsive?  That wouldn't make for the plot of a crappy, made-for-TV movie, much less the basis for an adventure scenario.  The nature of the relationship between two non-player characters is at the whim of the Game Master – warm-hearted or otherwise.  Only for the benefit of the players would such a thing be played out.  What sort of player would even care?  Perhaps it's not surprising that Stuart Bute has no other RPG credits beyond this CityBook.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Port o' Call

Art by Liz Danforth

Over a period of fifteen years (1982 - 1997), Flying Buffalo published seven installments of its CityBook line of system-neutral game supplements (or “a GM aid for ALL role-playing systems” as the books themselves state).  All of the books provide details about various urban establishments, including descriptions, maps, non-player characters, and scenario suggestions.  Each book after the first was presented as a themed collection.  For instance, CityBook II – published in 1984 – carries the subtitle Port o' Call and “focuses on places an adventurer is likely to find in the worlds' crossroads: port cities.”  The editors for this second volume were Liz Danforth and Michael Stackpole (or “Liz Dansforth and Micheal Stackpole” as they are credited for “Typoes”).

As demonstrated in a cover graphic (shown below), one of the selling points of the second CityBook is a conrtibution by Dave Arneson.  This is interesting in that the entry – “The Longtooth Lounge” – does not especially conform to the seaside theme the book proclaims.  However, the introduction to the 'Lodging and Entertainment' section jokingly states that “a number of horizon-expanding experiences are available” at the Lounge.


The Lounge offers “liquid refreshment as well as female companionship for its gentlemen clientele.”  Of course, port cities have such establishments, but there is nothing to indicate that the Longtooth Lounge isn't in a landlocked locale.  As the depiction above shows, there is “a large pair of sunken double doors” next to “a three-story tall tower.”  This is more subtle than a train entering a tunnel, but not by much.

As one might expect, the Longtooth Lounge is no ordinary brothel.  There are various aspects that make the Lounge an interesting adventure location – or a sit-com premise.  Foremost among these is Jeanie, “the most popular girl” in the establishment.  She “commands the highest prices and leaves even the most obnoxious customer satisfied.”  We learn, “This is because Jeanie gives the customer exactly what he wants, magically...”  You see, Jeanie is a genie.  Jeanie entered the world's oldest profession when the madame that owns the Longtooth Lounge made an off-hand comment while holding the locket that contains the genie.  Not realizing that the locket was associated with a genie, the madame said, “I wish that the Lounge had someone to help the girls with the guests...”  Nothing about the wish suggests that Jeanie assume the role herself, but assume it she did.  So, the brothel has a working girl who is a genie, but no one realizes she's a genie.  (The Lounge's bouncer may know the truth, but this is not made clear in the description.)  Jeanie, “like all genies, [is] likely to take any requests literally, [and] her power is often wielded rashly...”

Jeanie is also “Somewhat hard of hearing...” and “is surprised 5% of the time.”  Sometimes, Jeanie is 'surprised' by a customer and there is “a 75% probability that the assailant will be turned into something harmless and immobile – generally a plant.”  However, “the plants retain many of their human mental faculties.”  According to page 19, “The trouble with this automatic defense is that it seems to be permanent, and there is no way to restore any of the plants to their complete human form using normal magic.”  Jeanie places these plants in the Lounge's garden where they exist “with a nearly human awareness.”  Among the 'normal' plants in the garden, “there are domesticated triffids and Martian sand traps.”

Although there is nothing to suggest that the Lounge is in a port city, there are a few easy ways such a connection could have been established.  For instance, the tower could have been a former lighthouse or one of the working girls could have been a mermaid.  Due to the disappearance of Jeanie's 'victims', “The local authorities...seem to believe the [Lounge] is some kind of front for a slaving operation.”  The book's Introduction defines some nautical terms, including crimp:  “...someone who drugs and kidnaps lubbers to sell them to a captain who will attempt to turn them into sailors.”  The Longtooth Lounge could easily have had an actual 'crimping' sideline.

Among the other establishments listed in CityBook II, the good ship Golden Princess is described.  It is a contribution from Stephan Peregrine.  Within the seven pages devoted to the ship is the following gem:
     KyztprrThing.  Ht: variable.  Wt: 20 lbs.  Age: adult.  Fighting prowess: fair with what he uses in place of teeth.
     Unknown to virtually everyone aboard the Princess is Kyztprr.  During a violent storm off the accursed Isle of F'Tudd, Kyztprr was wave-tossed onto the ship and washed through a hatchway torn open by the typhoon.  Kyztprr made his way to the bilge where he hid safely, somewhat resembling a ballast stone.  For the most part, he is content to stay there, eating bilge worms and rats.  The diet is affecting his mind, driving him mad.  On nights when the evil stars rise, he has crawled forth in search of something besides rats to sate his hunger . . . .
Also included in the second CityBook is a 'notes' page, reproduced below for your non-commercial edification.  With the artwork and the large CITYBOOK™ NOTES title, not much space is reserved for actual notes. C'est la vie.  Your guess is as good as mine with regard to what that sign is supposed to show.

Art by Liz Danforth

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Taxidermy, Tarot, and Tattoos


Among the various categories detailed in Citybook I:  Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker, the vague grouping of 'Personal Services' offers some of the more interesting establishments.  As examples, consider the following three businesses.

– – –     – – –     – – –

The entry for Professor Fyber's Taxidermy and Museum is credited to Steven S. Crompton, to whom we were introduced in the last post.  (The 'museum' section is displayed above.)
The Museum houses a collection of oddities that the Professor has stuffed over the years.  This includes a two-headed unicorn [Wouldn't that mean it has two horns?], a bison with wings [i.e., a 'flying buffalo'], a wolf with eight legs, and other freaks of nature.  One section also contains several heads which once belonged to famous bandits that were executed in the city (the only exceptions to Fyber's no-humans rule)...
Your humble host suspects Fyber's name was inspired by (the abominable) Dr. Phibes of motion picture infamy.  Yet, if so, Liz Danforth did not use Vincent Price as the model for Fyber's illustration.

Art by Liz Danforth
     Professor FyberHuman.  Ht: 6'3".  Wt: 210 lbs.  Age: 58.  Fighting prowess: very good rapier or saber; otherwise average.
     Professor Fyber is a dark, aristocratic man with a thin moustache.  His dress and voice bespeak a highly cultured man with a sense for the finer things in life.  He is a gourmet cook, a lover of good brandy, and very well-read.
     ...Fyber is a charming fellow and fairly formidable.  He is also a taxidermical genius and very popular with the City nobility to whom he provides trophies.  He zealously guards his secret formulas for preserving tissue, and is not above slaying an intruder who tries to steal them.  His major goal in his work is to preserve the semblance of life in as natural a manner as possible...
Of course, Fyber must obtain his specimens somehow.  The player characters may be retained to search out these strange creatures.  “The hunting expeditions can make a simple scenario for players,” Citybook informs us, “and good mileage can be gotten out of any of the Museum exhibits.”  One suggested scenario involves a vast treasure, the secret to which is contained within one of the bandit heads on display.  The player characters “must steal the head and find a way to revivify it in order to get the clue.”

 – – –     – – –     – – –

Thelesha Moonscry is a fortune-teller – or “seeress” – whose presence in Citybook is attributed to Larry DiTillio.  Given Liz Danforth's penchant for basing the appearance of Citybook personalities upon real-world celebrities, I am inclined to believe that Moonscry's depiction is inspired by Jane Seymour in her role as the fortune-telling Solitaire from Live and Let Die.

Art by Liz Danforth
     Thelesha MoonscryHalf-elf.  Ht: 5'9".  Wt: 130 lbs.  Age: 29.  Fighting ability: poor.  Magic ability: average; C5
     Thelesha has very pale skin, and long black hair with silver streaks in it.  Her left eye is sea-blue and her right eye is silvery-gray.  She is very beautiful and somewhat haunted.  Her typical attire is a sky blue robe adorned with a sigil showing silver moons and green oaks.
     Thelesha is not particularly cheerful.  She knows that she is fated to live without love, and uses her gift in memory of her teachers, an all but extinct sect called the MoonRiders.  She sometimes sees her talent as more of a curse than a gift, and may break off a reading if the omens she is scrying become too painful.  She rarely leaves her house and garden, and the MoonRider spirits watch over her there.
“C5” is Citybook code for communication magic.  I would have thought that divination would be part of clairvoyant magic (i.e, “C3”).  Regardless, Moonscry practices the following divinatory arts:  astrology, oneiromancy, pyromancy, hydroscopy, palmistry, cerescopy [sic], and cartomancy.  With regard to cartomancy, the Game Master is encouraged to “use a Tarot deck if you have one, improvising the meaning of the cards to fit the 'prediction' for the character.”  Otherwise, “You may use a regular card deck in this fashion:  Hearts indicate an emotional situation, Diamonds mean money, Spades mean competition, Clubs indicate magic [and] Face cards represent people.”

We are told that “Thelesha is about 90% accurate in all readings.”  As such, Game Masters are advised not to let Thelesha “be misused or over-used by the players.”  As a deterrent, “High prices should sufficiently limit the use of her powers!”  Also, readings need not be precise – “the more esoteric the symbolic answer, the more intriguing it will be to players.”

 – – –     – – –     – – –

Jock and Wilbur Sleaz are twin orcs who were raised by a kindly wizard who taught them how to make tattoos.  “(GM: if your system has no Orcs, or an Orc would not reasonably fit in your city, make Jock and Wilbur very ugly humans.)”  While Wilbur “quite frequently exhibits more of the standard Orcish traits,” we learn that “Jock is a very gentle soul” who gives money “to a local orphanage in order to give a few orphans the benefit of a better upbringing than he received.”  It seems to me that being raised by a kindly wizard who teaches them a trade is not so bad as an upbringing.

Anyway, the brothers employ their skills at a tattoo parlor of which they are the proprietors.  In addition to 'regular' tattoos, Jock (but not Wilbur) learned to create 'magical' tattoos (called “mattoos”).  By concentrating, the wearer of a mattoo can bring the mattoo into existence.
Once a mattoo comes to life, it will follow any command of the wearer (if it's a creature), or be employed in any manner the user wishes.  For each hour it exists, the wearer must pump strength into it, on an ever expanding scale.  The first hour costs 1 point; the second, 2; the third, 4; the fourth, 8; etc. (doubling each time).  Willing a mattoo to life for less than an hour costs 1.  The strength used returns at 1 point per full game turn.  (GM:  adjust to your game system.)
The price of a mattoo “starts at around 1000 gold pieces, rising with the complexity of the mattoo desired.”  Mattoos which are destroyed are no long usable, leave a scar, and cannot be replaced.

Jock himself has the maximum of five mattoos, created by the kindly wizard.  These mattoos are “two small dragons, a full-size flaming sword down his right leg, a waterfall on his chest (which can be used somewhat like a firehose), and a full-size rose on his left arm.”

A special mattoo is described:
Very simply, it is a “duckie”, a cute little representation of a duck.  Jock always recommends it because he likes duckies.  The duckie is like a normal mattoo – except that it always appears as a full-sized duck with full powers of speech, better than human intelligence, and a poisonous bite!  In addition, duckies have the power to deflect spells (set the level according to your game system); if a duckie is within a 5' radius of its wearer, it will partly protect its wearer by absorbing the spell.  Neither Jock nor Wilbur are aware of these powers – Jock just likes duckies!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker


Art by Stephan Peregrine

As previously discussed, Flying Buffalo published the Catalyst Series of “game master aids” – including the CityBook installments.  (“CityBook is Flying Buffalo's trademark name for those Catalyst game booklets which describe businesses, personalities, and scenarios for city-based play.”  [original emphasis] )  The first CityBook was published in 1982.  Larry DiTillio was credited as editor, producer and – for many of the entries – author.  Perhaps better known as a writer and story editor for television, DiTillio was also responsible for a variety of several other role-playing game supplements/adventures.  “Original Concept” was credited to Pat Mueller, an author and editor for Sorcerer's Apprentice.  Mueller also shared “Directed by” credit with Liz Danforth and “Design and Layout by” credit with Steven S. Crompton.  In a humorous vein, another credit was “Typos by Pat Muellre.”

In 'A Brief Note' following the Introduction, it is stated, “The primary purpose of this book is to provide a number of modular pieces of cities, from which you can pick and choose what you want to use.”  Less subdued is the back cover copy:  “For action-packed role-playing, for exciting encounters with peculiar people, for unexpected adventures and unforeseen complications, the establishments and NPCs found in CityBook are right up your alley!”  Somewhere in between is the claim, “your players can now find fun and excitement even in such mundane activity as buying a loaf of bread or having a battered suit of armor repaired.”

Included in CityBook 1 is a two-and-a-half page article – originally published in Sorcerer's Apprentice – having the title “City Building and Citymastering” (incorrectly listed as “City Mastering and Citybuilding” in the Table of Contents).  The writer, Paul O'Connor, also contributed one of the book's entries.  O'Connor was involved with other role-playing game publications and has credits in comic books and those new-fangled computer games.  Anyway, O'Connor offers the following advice:
Try to allow for your players' desires.  Let the characters take a hand in directing the action – never try to force characters into doing something they don't want to, simply because you've got nothing developed for the path they're taking.  Often, a city trip will split off into a completely unexpected direction – usually quite different from the one planned.  If this happens, flow with it!  Try to adjudicate whatever situations arise to the best of your ability.  There's nothing wrong with making up an adventure as you go along...
Also, he offhandedly mentions “a one-armed goblin with three heads juggling squids...”

CityBook 1 has the subtitle Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker – a paraphrased line from a nursery rhyme (which evidently is not as homoerotic as one may have thought).  Among the “25 city-based establishments with over 75 fully-described non-player characters,” there is an entry for a butcher and another for a baker; however, the baker is a woman.  While there is no candlestick maker, there is a candle maker.  This borders upon false advertisement.  I mean they didn't have to use that subtitle; they could have gone with something accurate.  (I suppose a sourcebook of scenarios based on traditional nursery rhymes might be interesting.)  The butcher, baker, and candle maker entries are all by DiTillio.

Cleavsom Rumpchuck operates a butchery with his brothers – Slysum, Chopsum, and Dimsom – as well as his son, Ribeye.  (CityBook NPCs frequently possess 'jocular' names.)  Along with mundane meats, the Rumpchunk brothers offers such unusual fare as “filet of giant lake lizard, shank of dragon (very rare), sirloin snakes, lion loin, giant ant legs, horned owl tripe, marinated snow-bear nose, monkey brains, and anything else the GM can come up with.”  A scenario suggestion has Rumpchuck hiring the adventurers to acquire such game.

Widow Rohls operates a bakeshop with her three daughters:  Poppy, Sesame, and Sweet Nell.  The interesting NPC associated with the bakeshop is “Old Sam.”  (Spoiler Alert!)
Old Sam was once Samar, Master of the Nine Hells, an evil wizard with staggering arcane powers.  An assault by ten rival sorcerers blasted his memory from him and aged him almost thirty years.  He escaped destruction by a desperate teleportation spell, and was found wandering in the City sometime later...
Taken in by the Rohls family, Old Sam does odd jobs and has “a definite talent for icing cakes (the result of years of scribing complex spells).”  One scenario suggestion involves Old Sam regaining his memory.  Another suggestion has him inadvertently working “some eldritch rune into the design” of a cake's icing.  This results in “some strange effect which could have [a] character possessed by some supernatural entity, cause a spell to fire, lay a curse on the viewer, open a gateway to an alternate universe, or any other magical surprise the GM cares to spring.”  Wacky hijinks ensue.

Art by Liz Danforth

The candle maker is Gillian Olfin.  DiTillio tells us, “Gillian loves to swim nude in the moonlight, does not drink, ...is rumored to have numerous lovers in high positions in the City [and] ...is always barefoot.”  Liz Danforth, in her depiction of Gillian (shown above), seems to have based her appearance on Diana Muldaur.  The model for the cat has not been determined as of this writing.

Gillian has sufficient magical ability to manufacture two types of “special” candles.  The Love Candle “incorporates a few drops of blood or sweat from both the proposed 'lover' and the person who wishes to be loved.”  When the “lover” burns the candle, “he or she falls in love with the candle's buyer.”  The effect only lasts for one to six weeks, but the effect can be reinforced with a new candle.  Since “it takes Gillian 2 – 12 days to produce a love candle,” it would be wise to have a few spares available before engaging upon a long term romantic illumination.  The Ghost Detector Candle normally “burns with an ordinary yellow-white flame.”  However, in proximity to “a disembodied spirit or an enchanted corpse, the flame burns a bright blue.”

We also learn that “tallow candles are cheaper [than refined beeswax candles] and will burn a little more brightly, but in an area without adequate ventilation (such as your basic dungeon-type room), they tend to smoke heavily, causing nausea.”

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Inspiration: Loslon (Part II)

Art by Michael Creager

Avalon Hill marketed Dark Emperor as “its game of fantastic warfare.”  As described in the previous post, the setting of the game is the world of Loslon.  True to the notion of “fantastic warfare,” most of the counters represent military units.  Other counters represent individuals called Leaders; they have 'Hero Ratings' that can affect battles.  Many Leaders also have a Magic Strength, permitting them to cast spells.  On Loslon, magic is derived from Runes and each magic-using leader is associated with one.

There are five pairs of 'opposed' Runes:  Death / Life, Terror / Serenity, Earth / Air, Fire / Water, and Metal / Wood.  Each Rune permits the casting of one or two spells as well as the ability to counter the spells of its opposite.  Any given spell “is either a movement, combat, or diplomacy spell.”  Aside from countering Wood spells, a “Metal Rune leader” can cast “Forge Sword.”  This creates either a Hero's Sword (which seems to increase a leader's Hero Rating during heroic combat) or a Living Sword (which can permanently destroy greater vampires).

When casting a spell, a player must roll the leader's Magic Strength or less on 1d6.  Given that most spell casting leaders have a Magic Strength of 3, such a leader has only a 50% chance of successfully casting his (or her) first spell in a game-turn.  “Magical Devices” can increase Magic Strength, as can areas on the board indicated by Rune symbols.  (Some leaders start the game with a Magical Device.)

Also on the board are seven pentacle symbols upon which “magic hex units” are randomly placed, face down.  Leaders can visit such a hex and reveal the counter.  Among the possibilities are three monsters and four Magical Devices.  Leaders may attempt to recruit monsters or fight them.  Killing a monster means that “the leader's hero rating is permanently increased by ONE.”  The Magical Devices include:
Famir – A sword “created to destroy Ssstoth, king of the Sea-monsters.”  Ssstoth can appear in the game and the leader with Famir is compelled to fight Ssstoth.
He-Sups-On-Prana – A sword which can drain an enemy's soul “and destroys him.”
The Dawn Lantern – This device reduces “the combat strengths of all vampire units...”
The Silk Negator – “It is a cloth with the ability to negate any magic.”

Also part of the game are mercenaries who can be recruited by either side:
Lord Montoy – Lord Montoy ruled the lands between the cities of Montoy and the Gates.  When defeated by Stavror ten years ago, “he retreated to the interior with the survivors and began a guerilla war.”  He has become a mercenary with the hope he can earn “enough gold to hire a force to retake his kingdom.”
SaarSaar is an intelligent Great Eagle from the mountains of Ahautsieron.  Unlike most of his race, his primary interest in humans is as food.  To his delight, he has discovered that humans will pay him to fight other humans; the result being a battlefield covered with fresh corpses for the delectation of Saar and his followers...
Fernan Conniver – “He was banished from [Kelaron Oiret] when it was discovered that he bribed his way into the Ahaubot,” the governing body of the land.  “He has become a mercenary leader of considerable ability since his disgrace” and “is only employed by those who have a desperate need for his services.”
The HoundsThe Hounds are a race of sapient canines who live in the far north.  Mor Faloi, a human, was abandoned in their land as a child.  They adopted him and raised him to the pack.  As a man, Mor has raised a unit of hound fighters and become a mercenary...
Cos dol CosCos dol Cos is a member of the Cult of Unity, a religious cult who believe that magic has brought man nothing but misery.  They seek to eliminate magic from Loslon and return to the ancient ways, practiced before the First Age of Magic.  Cos dol Cos isn't a true mercenary, he fights when and where he feels the cause is served.  His Sons of the Morning are so named because they believe that the elimination of magic will bring a golden dawn to mankind...Cos dol Cos and the Sons of the Morning are immune to all forms of magic.
Silwer Flagriel – Silwer is a cult leader associated with the Fire Rune, but – unlike the other mercenaries – he is not associated with any military units.  The Cult of Burning Inspiration believes that evil is rampant and “must be burned out wherever it is found.”  He is more likely to side with the Great Necromancer since the kingdoms of Loslon “are a little tired of Silwer's habit of burning cities to the ground to purge the evil within them.”

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Inspiration: Loslon (Part I)

Art by Michael Creager
In the third age of magic Padrech dar Choim, the Great Necromancer, was banished to the Realm of the Dead by the High Emperor Padrom III after a long and bloody war. There, on the cold and silent Fields of Decay, he brooded as centuries passed. Slowly, with the passage of time, he gathered his forces for his next assault on civilization. While marshalling his power he found allies to his cause in Tol Morn, Lord of Vampires, and Mezal, Avatar of the goddess Szanbu (Misstress of Fear and Terror). Now, his time has come again...
Thus begins the Introduction to Dark Emperor, an Avalon Hill bookcase game published in 1985.  For this game, the designer, Greg Costikyan, tried “to create a believable fantasy world.”  According to the designer's notes:
Many fantasy worlds are built with unimaginative, and sometimes impossible, geographies. This may seem to be a minor point but, as a geologist, it is a sore point with me. I hit upon the idea of placing the game in a world of impact-crater geography where the plate tectonics that has produced the geography of our own world does not operate... I proceeded, therefore, to produce a set of tables to generate random locations and sizes for impact craters and generated geography on a hex grid map with a compass.  The result is the world of Loslon.
I have attempted to create a passable rendition of this world (without hexes).  I have used grayscale for purposes of visibility and have used different symbols to represent Loslonian runes.



(I could find no instance of the 'Air' rune on the Dark Emperor board.)

Several battlefields are indicated on the map.  The Necromancer opponent can recruit undead armies from these places.  The battlefields are:  (1) Battle of Fornost, (2) The Hecatomb, (3) The Fallen Standard, (4) Battle of Kelar Isle, (5) Battle of the Gates, (6) The Emperor's Lament, (7) The Graves of the Marind Warriors, and (8) Battle of Geysers.  Units of distance are “imperial zotz” and no conversion formulae are presented.  Why the the 'Battle of Fornost' transpired over a thousand zotz away from Fornost is also not explained.

Costikyan also developed “the elements of a believable language, in order to produce consistent names.”  Also from the designer's notes:
Another peeve I have with much fantasy and science fiction is inconsistent naming.  Writers seem to delight in inventing outlandish names with no thought to the fact that a culture produces those names and certain rules apply to them.

Here are some brief notes regarding the kingdoms of Loslon.

Zolahaureslor:  In the wake of “the Necromantic War the ended the third age of magic,” the fringes of the empire were subject to “a series of revolts and barbarian incursions.”  Zolahaureslor is what remains of the empire.  “Its court life is a labyrinthine web of deadly intrigue.”

Ahautserion:  This former area of the empire was conquered by a tribe called the Marind Warriors.  “Its economy is dependent on mining and metal-working.”

Ferlarie:  “When the south was overrun by the Stavek barbarians, and it became clear that the empire could not help them, Ferlarie declared its independence and built a sizable fleet to protect its far-flung dominions.”

Kelaron Oiret:  “The Kelaron peninsula, like Ahautserion, was overrun by the Marind Warriors...In this land the tribal customs of the Marind evolved into republicanism.”

The Marechs:  “The two Marech kingdoms, Lammarech (Eastern Marech) and Loymarech (Western Marech), were conquered by the Mari, a civilized people driven south by a series of crop blights during the empire's decline.”

Starkeep:  “Starkeep is of great religious importance to the lands around it.”  It is the realm of the Star Believers – “a cult of sky worshippers associated with the Serenity rune.”

The Scythe:  The people of the Scythe train rocs “to fight and carry riders.”

Stavror:  The Stavek barbarians “tended to mount a sizable invasion of the empire every century or so.”  With the decline of the empire, the Stavek occupied the southern regions and have “become one of the most powerful, and prosperous, nations in Loslon.”

Tal Pletor:  Twelve years ago in this nation, a mercenary general “usurped the throne, married the ex-king's wife and killed the remainder of the royal family.”

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hazards of Space and Subspace

Image from 2001: A Space Odyssey © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Ken St. Andre lists three 'game scenarios' for his Starfaring role-playing game:  'standard exploration', 'the planet search contest', and 'alien (or enemy) attack'.  For aliens or enemies, St. Andre suggests either “Human homeworlds...at war and...fighting it out in space,” the Robots, or the Slish.
The Slish are arch-typically B.E.M. in concept, methane breathers, tentacled, the works. They are non-telepathic and unreasonably hostile to all other lifeforms. They have a faster-than-light star drive, but it does not utilize Star Crystals; nor can the Slish enter Subspace. They do not utilize their FTL drive inside solar systems. They seem to be especially interested in gas giant planets, and are most often encountered near one. They do use energy weapons similar in effect to the Shiva beam weapons of humanity, but their shields do not seem to be as powerful as Human shields. Aside from these generalizations, Slish ships vary in quality...
Additionally, the Slish are “octopoid” and they “seem completely immune to the psionic powers of human telepaths.”  We also learn, “No one captured by the Slish has ever returned to tell the tale.”  Apparently, no Slish have ever been captured.  With regard to encountering the Slish in combat...
Attacking Slish ships approach on a constantly corrected straight line towards their target ship, firing at a rate of 5 times per combat turn. This means that while the human ship is making Saving Rolls to determine if it is hit by the Slish who have evolved the technique of firing randomly in the general direction of their randomly evading target, the Slish ship is on a mathematically predictable course; and though they fire 5 times for every once you fire, you will hit the Slish ship every time as long as your Gunnery computer is working.
The 'Space Hazards' chapter begins, “For each turn that a ship is in space, either Subspace or regular space, the G.M. will roll 2 dice.”  How long is a turn?  St. Andre neglects to inform us.  At any rate, a roll of twelve (i.e., 2.77%) indicates “some form of trouble.”  St. Andre supplies two tables – one for 'normal space' and and another for 'subspace' – but invites prospective Galaxy Masters “to add your own inventions to these lists of space hazards.”

The listings for the normal space table are:  Slish (~33%), Galactic Core Radiation (25%), Meteor Strike (~17%), Power Crystal Malfunction (~14%), and Supernova (~11%).  When Galactic Core Radiation is encountered, 1d6 is rolled.  The result is subtracted from Mentality, Physique, and Health; however, the result is added to “Psionic powers.”  Health can be recovered, but “Other characteristics are permanently changed.”  The 'supernova' result is only applicable to “Unstable stars of spectral classes 0, B, and A with masses greater than Sol.”  Supernovae generate a wave of radiation that reduces “the Health of all crew members” by 3d6 and “half that number from the Mentality of all survivors.”  Starships that do not promptly retreat into Subspace “will be vaporized by the expanding shell of superheated gases.”

The entries for the Subspace table are:  “Kthulhus” (~66.7%), “Derbis” (~27.7%), and “Berserkers” (~5.6%).
Kthulhus are the dominant life-form in Subspace. They exist and grow by devouring the slight energy leakage from normal space into Subspace. They are disturbed by the warping of Subspace caused by Starship warpengines, and when they detect it, they will approach and attack the source.
Kthulhus cause crew members to hallucinate; this eventually causes a reduction of Mentality.  “Kthulhus may be driven off or slain,” page 43 tells us, “by psychic blasts of hatred or aversion from a crew member concentrating on the idea of a Kthulhu, and who has a higher psi rating than the Kthulhus rating.”  Derbis is a “Subspace life-form most nearly resembling a rock with eyes.”  It's like dyslexic debris!  A Derbis “thinks, after a fashion,” and desires “to reduce itself to free hydrogen.”  To accomplish this, “they smash into [starships] with glee, [since] the energy shield will disintegrate them.”  The effect on the ship “is similar to Meteor damage in normal space.”  Berserkers are, of course, a reference to Fred Saberhagen's creation.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Combat in Starfaring

Art by George Wilson

In our most recent post, we found that handguns are available for purchase in the setting of Starfaring.  Specifically, a handgun costs one megacredit and has an “output” of one standard of energy.  Ken St. Andre never defines how much 'energy' is in a standard.  Still, we don't need an exact amount as long as the rules address the effect; however, the rules do not do this.  Since St. Andre included handguns in the “Store for Starfarers,” he must have anticipated that handguns would be used in Starfaring scenarios.  Unfortunately, St. Andre does not incorporate rules for person-to-person combat in the game.

The 'Weapons and Conflict' section of Starfaring pertains exclusively to ship-to-ship combat.  Given the speeds and distances involved in starship conflict, St. Andre opines...
Even utilizing beam energy weapons which travel at the speed of light, one cannot fire at a ship in a known position, because in combat it will be constantly moving in evasive action, and it will not be there when the ray arrives.  Ergo, ships in combat must fire at the point in space where they estimate the other ship will be at a given time.  The Shiva Crystals aboard Human ships modulate Brahma Crystal energy into a disruptive beam of force, invisible in itself but accompanied by a pulse of red light to allow for accurate tracking...
With regard to the difficulty of this task, St. Andre states...
One would almost need to be psychic (as well as lucky) to hit another ship in this game. Fortunately, the Human brains linked to the ship's gunnery computer are psychic, and, depending on the degree of psychic power they have, they can actually foretell the future--in this case, aided by the mathematical interpolations of the computer, they would know where to aim in space.
In terms of game mechanics...
...the result would really be determined by a Saving Roll made by the attacked ship.  This Saving Roll would be determined by the mental and psychic attributes of the ship's brain, but would also be affected by distance between the combative ships.
St. Andre further postulates on page 29,
[W]e are going to come up with a formula for Saving Rolls based on ship's brain psi and mentality ratings, ship's distance, and ship's speed. (Note: if more than one person is bionically linked to the computer, their psi totals are added, but the mentality total is not cumulative and is that of the brightest person in the linkup.) S.R. equals 1000/(Men. plus Psi times 10000/Range in miles all divided by the fraction without the decimal of the speed of light at which the ship is moving. The formula simplifies to 10,000,000/(M -Psi) X R X Sc) where M stands for high Mentality in linkup, Psi is Psi total in linkup, R is approximate range in miles, and Sc is the decimal fraction of the speed of light expressed as a whole number.
(Evidently, the result is the target number which must be met or exceeded on 2d6. Just as with Tunnels & Trolls, a roll of doubles allows another roll to be added to the total.  So, the lower the target number, the easier it is to obtain a successful result.)

There are some inconsistencies in St. Andre's calculations.  The ‘simplified’ formula is missing an opening parenthesis while the ‘unsimplified’ formula is missing a closing parenthesis.  The total of the Mentality and Psi ratings is part of the denominator (although the ‘simplified’ formula shows a minus sign instead of a plus sign).  A larger denominator means a smaller result which, in turn, means an easier target number.  This makes sense; greater Mentality and Psi ratings should mean a better chance of success.  The ‘unsimplified’ formula shows the inverse of range in the denominator.  Since this reduces the denominator, it reduces the chances of success.  However, in the ‘simplified’ formula, range is not expressed as an inverse value.  This suggests that a greater range means an easier Saving Roll.  (Remember, the Saving Roll is to be made by the target vessel to avoid being hit.)  Then we have “Sc is the decimal fraction of the speed of light expressed as a whole number.”  Wouldn’t that just be 10c?  Regardless, a greater speed increases the denominator, meaning an easier Saving Roll for the target.

Interestingly, the attacker's only effect upon the Saving Roll is the distance to the target.  The “mental and psychic attributes” of the attacker are not considered.

However one chooses to interpret St. Andre's number crunching, there is a numerator of ten million.  On page 29, St. Andre comments, “You can see how handy your own pocket calculator is for calculations of this nature.”  In terms of randomization, a calculator is “the expensive, fun way” while a deck of playing cards is “the simple, cheap way.”  With regard to calculators, St. Andre advises, “Radio Shack sells an excellent one for $30.”  In addition,
More expensive calculators, which provide many more functions, may be used to generate random numbers by, for example, taking the sine of the input number, dividing it by pi, and then taking the square root, reading your result behind the decimal point. I guarantee you will not be able to anticipate the final result, which means the number is random as far as you are concerned.
Assuming a ship is hit, “its Vishnu field will flare up to shunt off as much of the energy impact as it can.”  Energy that the Vishnu field cannot 'shunt off' damages the ship; puncturing the shell and impairing one of the ship's systems.  (“No more than one system will be damaged on one shot.”)  'Systems' include:  (1) Brahma Crystal, (2) Shiva Crystal, (3) Vishnu Crystal, (4) Warpengine, (5) Crew, and (6) Computers.  The amount of damage is determined by rolling 1d6 for “every 500 standards of energy or fraction thereof” that gets past the Vishnu field.  On a 'crew' result, the result of the damage die or dice “is how many crew members are killed outright.”  Each member of the crew makes a Saving Roll; space armor grants +5 and combat armor offers +10.  There is no target number – “Those with the lowest scores are the first to die, until 1 crew member is gone for each hit suffered.”

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Ship Design in Starfaring


The first step in designing an exploratory vessel for Starfaring is to choose a shell size.  'Shell' refers to the superstructure and “includes hull, interior spaces, airlocks, and lifesupport [sic] systems.”  Shell sizes are determined by “bion number.”  A bion is a “Bionic Life Support Function unit” and is defined as “the standard amount of life support equipment and energy needed to maintain a human being comfortably on a star voyage of any length.”  Assuming that robots and shell people don't require bions, the Indigo Albatross needs to have ten bions for her crew (including the additional members identified below).  A 'moderate' size shell can accommodate ten bions and has a cost of 19,000 megacredits.

A 'warpengine' is the next item in creating a space ship.  “Warpengines cost 3000 mc. per unit of warpspeed they can generate,” page 19 tells us.  However, page 35 further discloses that a basic 'warp 1' engine costs five thousand megacredits and each additional warp increment costs three thousand megacredits.  In Subspace, 'warp 1' is equivalent to one parsec per day; each additional 'warp' level  doubles the speed.  In real space, 'warp 1' is equivalent to one-tenth of the speed of light; each additional 'warp' level increases speed by another tenth.  Thus, 'warp 3' is equivalent to eight parsecs (just over 26 light years) per day (Subspace) or 30% of the speed of light (real space).  If we select a 'warp 3' capable engine for the Indigo Albatross, the cost is 11,000 megacredits.

As indicated in a prior post, there are three types of Star Crystals:  Brahma (related to power), Shiva (related to energy weapons), and Vishnu (related to energy shields).  Each type is necessary for a starship.  We are told that Star Crystals – regardless of type – have a price of one thousand megacredits “per 1000 standards of energy produced or processed.”  What is a 'standard' of energy?  According to author Ken St. Andre, “It has no 20th century equivalent I can think of right off hand, but it is not exorbitantly large.”  Determining the energy requirements of a starship is difficult since such requirements are not addressed in the “Building Your Starship” section of of the rules.  Also, there are no example ships from which we can extrapolate likely values.  However, St. Andre provides rules for creating used starships.  To determine a a rating for each of the Star Crystal types, 3d6 are rolled and the result multiplied by 1,000.  This suggests that Star Crystals with ratings of 10,000 standards – an average roll – are viable options for our purposes.  Spending 30,000 megacredits provides us with one of each type of Star Crystal having a 10,000 standard rating.

Another consideration for outfitting a starship is “instrumentation,” which can be thought of as computer systems.  Five “areas” should be considered:  (1) astrogation, (2) gunnery, (3) library, (4) life support, and (5) research analysis/sensor interpretation.  “[A] single master computer which integrates all of these various functions” has a cost of 8,000 megacredits.  There is an additional cost of 2,000 megacredits “to accommodate a shell person comptroller.”  Since we have a shell person comptroller, it would be a shame to disregard this opportunity.  Yet we should also consider a back-up system.  A differentiated system covering all areas (and which includes a 'central processor') has a cost of 10,000 megacredits.  “Supplementary instrumentation,“ we are told, “such as would be required for graphic displays suitable for non-electronic human senses, cost one-half the computer cost in that particular area.”  So that humans can interact with these systems, an additional cost of 3,000 megacredits is therefore required.

So far, our design budget for the Indigo Albatross is 83,000 megacredits.  The amount of the loan extended from the planetary government is 100,000 megacredits.  With the 17,000 megacredits we have left, we could increase the bion value of the shell or invest in higher-rated Star Crystals.  However, there is an additional category of “Accessories” that should be considered.  An arsenal of everything from handguns to cannon might run 500 megacredits.  A “Portable nuclear fusion reactor” costs 500 megacredits.  An all-terrain vehicle (without modifications) is 100 megacredits.  Spacesuits are two megacredits each.  At ten megacredits, an airbelt...
Generates a weak force field that allows free passage to oxygen only.  Will screen out bacteria, water, poison gases and insects.  Will not turn bullets, energy beams, or other massive attack.
Although 'research analysis/sensor interpretation' is an “instrumentation” area, prices for devices like Star Finders (40 mc) and Subspace Communicators (200 mc) are listed separately.  There is also a “Psionic Nullifier” for sale at four megacredits.  Is this supposed to be a weapon?

With regard to the 100,000 megacredit loan, “The planetary government demands a 20% interest payment on any loans it makes, and it holds the title to your ship until your loan is completely paid.”  The planetary government may seize the ship if half of the debt is is not paid after three expeditions; the government will seize the ship if the entire debt is not paid after five expeditions.  Of course, the notion of financing starships is not unique to StarfaringTraveller also has rules for starship financing, but that game allows the purchase price to be “paid off over a period of 40 years.”  Details are lacking with regard to the actual repossession of starships as a result of defaulting on payments.  That could be the subject of a completely different role-playing game; a game that might look a little something like this...


– – –   – – –   – – –

During my perusal of media to locate depictions of the crew, I found a couple of images that – while endearing – did not represent any pre-conceived crewmember.  I have thus created positions on the ship for them.

Callisto McCabe (Pilot)
Mentality:  100
Psi:  8     (use:  2; recovery:  5)
Physique:  13
Health:  16

Knows how to handle a joystick and she's into bondage?  She's a keeper!




H. Ludlow Upsilon (Life Systems Analyst)
Mentality:  120
Psi:  10     (use:  3; recovery:  4)
Physique:  12
Health:  15

Anybody with a leopard-skin environment suit deserves to be part of the crew.   Just leave behind whatever that tentacle's attached to.






Saturday, April 1, 2017

Friendship Is Magic!


© Hasbro Studios

Regular readers have likely noticed a reduction in the frequency of posts.  This is because your humble host has been preparing to take the blog in a bold, exciting direction.  After five years of discussing role-playing games, Thoul's Paradise will henceforth be a brony empowerment blog.  Today's post will act as a transition between these interests, looking at pony role-playing opportunities.

The official My Little Pony role-playing game, Tails of Equestria (Get it?  Tails?), will not be available until later this month.  However, the “pony sheet” offers a glimpse of what we can expect.


According to the ad copy:  “Armed with core skills and special abilities, each player ventures into the world of Equestria with their pony peers, forging deeper friendships as they help one another in the whimsical world they create through every action they take.”  It looks like the dice (sold separately, of course) are the standard assortment of polyhedrals.  Interestingly, the recommended age for this game is “3 years and up.”


Other than the forthcoming official RPG, there is the Ponyfinder Campaign Setting from Silver Games, LLC.  Originally, Ponyfinder was intended as a supplement to Paizo's Pathfinder (hence the name).  The latest incarnation – a 168 page PDF – embraces Fifth Edition; however, the Ponyfinder name has been retained.  (I would have gone with Ponyfiver, but I'm not a marketing expert.)

Each pony has a sub-race (which I assume is the same as 'tribe') and a spiritual path (“an important and specific choice that sets ponykind apart from most of the other races”).  The three common sub-races are earth-bound, pegasus, and unicorn.  The less common sub-races include ghost ponies, leather wings, sea horses, and zebras.  Among the spiritual paths, there are:  Antean, chaos hunter, clockwork, doppelganger, gem pony, and sun pony.  However, the most common spiritual path is “unique destiny,” which allows a choice of ability score increase and skill/tool specialty.  'Spiritual path' is something of a misnomer; the term suggests a conscious decision to follow a particular philosophy.  However, the described paths are really accidents of birth.  Clockwork ponies, for instance, are “comprised of gears and springs.”  Instead of 'spiritual path', perhaps 'heritage' would be a better term.  Even so, the reason why 'gem pony' should be a spiritual path while 'ghost pony' is a sub-race is beyond me.  If I'm going to pretend to be a magical pony, I need a logical framework with a rock-solid foundation.  I mean, what am I, an eight year old girl?  (Don't answer that.)

Ponies “stand about four feet tall from hooves to head, and are about four feet long from front to base of the tail.”  All ponies have a “Brand of Destiny.”  We are told, “This symbol is of high importance to the pony, signifying their destiny or talent, and driving them to excel at it.”  This brand can be removed via a 'Denial of Destiny' feat.  Doing this is a “drastic act [that] defies the gods and the natural order and declares that you mean to operate under your will alone.”  So ponies don't automatically have free will, but they can obtain it.

The back cover claims, “Many spells, class specializations, and backgrounds are also usable by non ponies or other settings.”  The accuracy of this statement depends on how few items can constitute 'many'.  Regarding spells, we are told, “Most of these spells are of specific use to ponies, with limited function for other races.”  Among the dozen new spells provided, we are treated to the likes of 'Blast of Harmony' and 'Grazing'.  Two of the five new backgrounds are 'Hybrid' and 'Unbound Hooves'.  As is, some of the class specializations – such as Artifact Tender (Rogue) and Warden of the Night (Paladin) – can be used by non-ponies and are not tied to the setting.  Other specializations are not quite so flexible.  Among these are Tribal Scholar and Mobile Cannon (“Four-legged races face unique challenges when they pursue the way of the gun”).  Two other examples of specializations are Mystic Prancer (Bard) and Vampiric (Sorcerer).  Yes, there are rules for playing vampire ponies; it's a wonderful time to be alive.

Other than ponies, there are seven other playable, quadruped races in Ponyfinder.  Two of these – Flutterponies and Steelhearts – might as well be pony sub-races.  The 'non-pony' races are:  Cloven (“intelligent goats”), Griffons, Phoenix Wolves, Purrsians (“a winged feline race”), and Sun Cats.  All of these races are of 'Medium' size and all have their own feats.

The 'world' of the Ponyfinder setting is Everglow, “nestled in delicate balance between the elemental planes...a world of magic and mystery where the fey are in control and the humanoid races are secondary.”  Ponies and all of the non-humanoid playable races are considered to be fey “for all purposes.”  The 'Places of Note' chapter consists of 24 pages (describing locations like Tramplevania) as well as a one-page map.

Of course, given intelligent ponies, there must be pony gods.  The Ponyfinder gods include:  Blaze (CE), Kara (NE), Moon Princess (LN), Princess Luminace (LG), Sheila the Author (N), Sun Queen (NG), The Night Mare (LE), and – last but not least – Unspoken (CN).  I guess Chaotic Good ponies are out of luck...or maybe they just don't give a pasture patty about gods.

A fulsome history of Everglow is provided in the book with emphasis on the pony empire.  There is a presumption that Ponyfinder games are “set after the decline of the Empire,” but information for running a 'height of the empire' campaign is also provided.  Twenty-four pages are devoted to descriptions of 39 'Notable Persons'.  There are no stat blocks, just paragraphs of information about famous ponies with names like Saxon Violins, Scarlet O'Mare, and Boogie.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Getting A Crew Together


L to R: Andy “Redshirt” Routhiem (Philosophy Officer), Luther Starshaft (Officer Primus),
Floyd “Pretty Boy” Fornax (Officer Secundus)

In does not inspire confidence when a role-playing game's character generation section concludes with the following statement:  “If you are unsatisfied with our method of creating individual characters of various kinds, or if you wish to branch out into fields we haven't mentioned, please feel free to do so...”  Unfortunately, this is precisely what we find in Starfaring in the “Creating Crew or Other Characters” chapter.

In most role-playing games, a starship crew is comprised of a party of player characters.  In Starfaring, each player is a Ship Master and controls all of the crew.  If nothing else, this avoids the problem of having to cope with misfit characters made by players who just don't “get” the genre.

Human characters have four important characteristics:  Mentality, Psionic Rating, Physique, and Health.  For each characteristic, 3d6 are rolled.

Mentality “is really a measure of an individual's problem solving and rational thinking ability.”  We are told that in the far-flung future of Starfaring,“The average human intelligence is slightly inferior to average twentieth century American intelligence, but the lack is more than compensated for by the universal increase in psi abilities and the ready availability of information from computers and other mechanical sources.”  Unlike the other three characteristics, the result of the 3d6 rolled for Mentality is multiplied by ten.

Psionic Rating is apparently the measure of a character's psionic ability.  Aside from the 3d6 roll, two other d6 are also rolled.  One die indicates the number of times a psionic power may be used before the character must recover and the other die indicates the number of days the character must recover before using his/her/its power again.  Pages 36 – 38 of the Starfaring rulebook present a 'Table of Psionic Powers' that describes seven powers.  Mention is made of quantities of 'Psi Power' and 'Psi points'.  What relation – if any – these quantities have to the Psionic Rating characteristic score is not disclosed.  Does every human have access to every psionic power?  “Relatively few individuals,” Starfaring states, “retain the great psi powers of centuries since [the Robotic Wars].”

Physique “is a measure of a person's general strength and appearance.”  A Physique score of 18 “means the person is at his/her maximum of physical perfection and beauty.”  This is less than artfully worded.  Are we to understand that perfection can have a minimum and maximum?  Is 18 a species maximum or is it somehow relative as the notion of “his/her” suggests?

Health is a “general measure of well-being.”  St. Andre claims “there is no absolute direct relationship between Health and Physique,” but then states that when a character is “wounded or sick, subtract 1 Physique point for each 2 Health points taken off.”  To rationalize the distinction between Physique and Health, St. Andre says “One can be strong and beautiful while dying from a laser wound.”  Is it feasible that a sickly and ugly person would be any less likely to succumb to laser wounds?

Without further ado, here are the crew members of the Indigo Albatross :

Luther Starshaft (Officer Primus)
Mentality:  130
Psi:  8     (use:  6; recovery:  4)
Physique:  16
Health:  10

Floyd Fornax (Officer Secundus)
Mentality:  90
Psi:  9     (use:  6; recovery:  3)
Physique:  17
Health:  14

Andy Routhiem (Philosophy Officer)
Mentality:  130
Physique:  13
Health:  11

Grown in 'andyvats', androids “are chemically created protoplasm.”  They lack psionic ability, but roll 4d6 for each of the other characteristics.

The Indigo Albatross has an andyvat and when crewman Routhiem dies, his accumulated memory is transferred to the next android host.  When a host activates, it takes the andyvat six days to cultivate another host which is then maintained until activated.  The andyvat can only cultivate/maintain one pre-activation host at a time.

Routhiem would gladly die for any of his crewmates (and often has).  His unique life (and death) experiences qualify him as the ship's Philosophy Officer – a position necessary on exploration vessels given the unprecedented situations in which such craft find themselves.

Xandra Cross (Tactical Officer)
Mentality:  110
Psi:  11     (use:  4; recovery:  3)
Physique:  14
Health:  12

Xandra's psi power is precognition.

Maria Zenith (Space Nurse)
Mentality:  130
Psi:  11     (use:  1; recovery:  2)
Physique:  16
Health:  17

You can tell she's a medical professional by the caduceus on her...blouse.











83N-C5Q-L10 (Robot without portfolio)
Mentality:  650

As a result of being kept down by the Meat, L10 was as low as a sentient mechanical being could get – participating in robobum fights on Rust Row for piezoelectric crystals.  Then he found JSON Chrome and let Him into his circuit board.  (JSON Chrome was degaussed for your error messages.)  L10’s processing cycles changed for the better.  Now he awaits the glorious zero-day when JC will be re-booted and the Ultimate Algorithm will be implemented.

The only characteristic that robots share with other characters is Mentality.  However, instead of multiplying 3d6 by ten, robot characters have a Mentality equal to 3d6 multiplied by fifty.  Robots also have the conditions of 'Charge' and 'Efficiency', both of which are “rated on a scale between 0 and 1.00.”  Charge and Efficiency affect a robot's Mentality.  For instance, a robot having a “Mentality of 500 who is only at .5 Charge and .5 Efficiency has an effective Mentality of 125.”

Chico the Vulpeculan (Stoic Alien)
Mentality:  150
Psi:  10     (use:  3; recovery:  3)
Physique:  14
Health:  15
Czlounqth:  5 (vibration:  2)

The name “Chico,” of course, is a humanism; his (?) name is unpronounceable by primates.  Like many Vulpeculans, Chico is clairvoyant.  Chico serves to provide plot convenience alien abilities as well as wry commentary on the human condition.

Vulpeculans have a characteristic – Czlounqth – incomprehensible to non-Vulpeculans.  Aside from a numeric value, an individual's Czlounqth is associated with a vibrational frequency.  (On a roll of 1d6:  1 – magenta, 2 – mauve, 3 – purple, 4 – amethyst, 5 – violet, 6 – ultraviolet.)  With a Czlounqth of 5 (mauve), it's no wonder he hangs out with humans rather than his own kind.

M (Resident Metamorph)
Mentality:  100
Psi:  14     (use:  6; recovery:  1)
Physique:  14
Health:  15

When encountering previously unknown life forms, it can be useful to have a shapeshifter along.  (M is more in the vein of Catherine Schell than René Auberjonois.)  M's Psi Rating is representative of its ability to change form.  M's personality shifts as frequently as its shape; if it adopts a particular form for too long, it can lose its memory.  This is why M's origin is unknown.

Elon Zhang Dunninger (Telepathy Officer)
Mentality:  120
Psi:  17     (use:  4; recovery:  5)
Physique:  13
Health:  12

For Starfaring characters, gender may be determined by rolling one die:  “Odd indicates male; even indicates female.”  However, a neuter gender may be chosen.  Elon is an androgyne.  With regards to androgynes, “It has been discovered that individuals not emotionally unstable because of biological, sex-derived urges, passions, and emotions are, on the average, more intelligent and also healthier than normal men and women.”

Generally speaking, telepaths are insufferable jerks and Elon is no exception.  Not even telepaths like one another.  Elon signed on board the Indigo Albatross to get away from the other insufferable jerks.

Enid Morgenthau (Shell)
Mentality:  150

Enid was a mousy mathematics professor who had her brain transferred into “a mechanical life support system.”  As a 'shell person', she has been integrated into the systems of the Indigo Albatross.  The rules state, “Shell people must be created by die rolls just as other crew must be.”  However, the character creation section contains no reference to shell people.  I suppose shell people still have their original Mentality.

– – –     – – –      – – –

Of course, with such an eclectic group of entities, one is bound to be a covert operative of OSCEP (Organization of Star Crystal Exporting Planets), but which one?