Sunday, September 17, 2017

Creating a Cyborg Commando (Part II)

In our previous post, we generated a CYBORG COMMANDO character via the 'basic' character creation rules.  In this post, we will examine the 'advanced' character creation rules.  Specifically, we will convert our basic character, Cappellan Jennings, to the advanced format.

Conversion begins with a character's skills.  In the basic procedure, skills are purchased at a 'field' level; however, in the advanced rules, skills become more granular.  Each field consists of a number of 'areas'.  For example, the Communications field includes the following four areas:  'Strategies', 'Tactics', 'Simple (non-electrical) Communications Devices', and 'Electrical Communications'.  In converting a basic character's skill field to areas:
Multiply the score in that field by 3.  Divide that number of points among the Areas in that Field.  You must place at least one point in each Area, for a resulting minimum score of 2 in each, counting the one you get free.
So, Jennings' score of 3 in Computer Sciences becomes 9 points to divide among the three areas of the field:  'Ancient Computers', 'Modern Operation and Software', and 'Modern Hardware'.  Allocated evenly (and given the 'free point' for each area) Jennings has a total score of 4 for each area.  Like the Computer Sciences field, Personal Arts has three areas ('Mental Arts', 'Physical Arts', and 'Error Avoidance') so the calculations are the same.

The Personal Movement field has six areas.  Nine, of course, does not go evenly into six.  After each area gets one point (as required), three points remain.  Three areas receive the minimal allocation ('Land-Based Special', 'Aerial (non-powered)', 'Extraterrestrial') and three areas each receive one of the extra points ('Land-Based Normal', 'Aquatic Unequiped', 'Aquatic Equipped').

The Personal Weapons field has seven areas.  In this case, five areas receive the minimal allocation ('Ancient Bladed Melee Weapons', 'Ancient Blunt Melee Weapons', 'Ancient Missile Weapons', 'Heavy and Special Weapons', 'Artillery') and two areas each receive one of the extra points ('Common Devices as Weapons', 'Modern Small Arms').

Psychogenics is actually two fields, one in the dynamic division and one in the static division.  For the basic character, I failed to make the distinction.  Now, let us decide upon Static Psychogenics, which has five areas.  As such, all areas receive two points except 'Sending (One-Way Telepathy)', which receives only one.

The advanced character creation rules do not reference the MadMac skills (either for original characters or basic conversions).  Presumably, the same procedure applies.  Since those fields have 10 'basic' points, 30 'advanced' points are to be distributed among the areas.  As indicated above, Communications has four areas.  Dividing the points as evenly as possible, two areas receive eight points ('Strategies', 'Tactics') and the other two, seven ('Simple', 'Electrical').

The two Energy Sciences areas ('Air, Light, & Sound' and 'Energy Sources') each receive 15 points.  The same goes for the two Law Enforcement areas ('Investigations' and 'Suspect & Prisoner Handling') as well as the two Unarmed Combat areas ('Occidental Style' and 'Oriental Style').  The Strategy & Tactics field has three areas ('Personal Tactics', 'Personal Strategy', and 'Military S&T'), each of which receive 10 points.

Once skills are converted, stats are adjusted.  On the Character Record sheet, for each stat, there are rows for Capacity, Integrity, and Recovery.  In general, 'basic' stat values are multiplied by three and the result allocated among the Capacity, Integrity, and Recovery for that stat.

Because Jennings has 24 (non-MadMac) skill areas (even though he would rather do without some of them), he must have a Mental Capacity score of 24.  This leaves 21 points to divide between Mental Integrity and Mental Recovery.  Let's say 11 points to Mental Integrity and 10 points to Mental Recovery.  For the Neural and Physical stats, Capacity, Integrity, and Recovery each receives 15 points.

Stat-derived calculations are next performed.  Psychlons equal Neural Capacity.  The table on page 14 of the CCF Manual incorrectly states “Skills = ⅓ Mental Capacity,” when it should read, “skill areas not to exceed Mental Capacity.”  'Train' equals 100 minus Mental Integrity in hours.  'Actions' and 'Speed' are both derived from Neural Capacity and fractional Speed values are permitted in the advanced rules.  'EP' means Endurance Points, “which measure the character's stamina, or 'staying power.'”  It is derived from Neural Integrity.  I would think that a disembodied brain need not be troubled by fatigue poisons, but apparently I would be wrong.  Rather than the “number of days the character can function before sleep is absolutely required,” the Rest score – derived from Neural Recovery – represents the amount of “EP per Travel Turn (2.4 hours) . . . recovered by sleeping.”  In the advanced character creation rules, “Heal” is not referenced.

The calculation of Integrity Points “= Physical Integrity × 3,” presumes the the Hit Location optional rule is in effect.
          Divide your total IPs by ten, and round down.  Write that result in each space except the one labeled “Body.”  Add all those figures, subtract the total from the original total IPs and write the remainder next to Body. . .

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Creating a Cyborg Commando (Part I)

My previously owned boxed set of CYB✪RG C✪MMAND✪™ contains a dozen or so copies of the character record sheet – waiting for an adventure that will never be.  Let us make use of one of these records in generating a character.

Step 1 is appropriately named “Start.”  This step is about describing “your character – the human, that is, not the combined human-machine (cyborg) he or she will become.”  We are informed that “the most important aspects of a character” are “Stats” and “Skills.”  However, Stats and Skills are not described until later steps.
          Other details will be left to your choice.  These include your character's physical appearance (height, weight, etc.), historical background (home, education, etc.), and basic psychological traits (outlook on life, likes & dislikes, and so forth).
In recording such “other details,” the character record directs us to “use other side.”

Step 2 is “Select Stats,” but a better description would be “Assign Stat Scores.”  There are three Stats:  Mental, Neural, and Physical.

Mental regards “intelligence in the abstract, and the amount of information that can be retained,” as well as “the speed at which information can be acquired (learned) and used (recalled), and the accuracy of such information . . . willpower . . . general mental stability, and the speed at which the mind can recover from psychological damage.”

Neural is defined as “physical agility and speed of action . . . accuracy in attacking . . . stamina (endurance), the ability to maintain control over one's body, and the speed at which physical control can be recovered after it is lost (when the character has been stunned, knocked out, or drugged).”

Physical means “brute strength . . . the amount of physical damage the body can withstand before becoming useless or destroyed, and the speed at which physical damage will heal itself or respond to medical treatment.”

A player allocates “Points” among Stats and Skills.  Said points are abbreviated as “SP” (“the S stands for both Stats and Skills”).  Each character has 60 SP; at least 20, but no more than 50, must be allocated to Stats.  An average adult has a value of 10 in each Stat, except men have a Physical Stat of 15 and women have a Neural Stat of 15.  Let's just allocate fifteen points to each Stat.

Step 3 is “Psychogenics,” the science of “the phenomena currently called ESP.”  The psychogenic score of a character is “measured in Psychons of power” and “is equal to the Neural Stat score.”

Step 4 is “Calculations,” and deals with some of the Stat-Based Data to be recorded on the character record sheet.  “Skills” refers to the “maximum number of Fields of skill” a character may have; it is equal to one-third of the Mental Stat.  “Train” refers to the number of “hours needed for education in any skill” per point; it is equal to “100 minus Mental score.”  Actions, Speed, and Rest each equal 1 for characters with a Neural score of less than twenty.  “Actions” has to do with combat activity.  “Speed” is the “maximum distance the character can move, measured in map hexes per time unit.”  What is the length of a hex or time unit?  The rules relate, “Don't worry about it now . . .”  “Rest” is the “number of days the character can function before sleep is absolutely required.”

Step 5 is “Select Skills.”  There are two Divisions of Skills:  Dynamic (which includes the categories of “Movement” and “Combat”) and Static (which includes the categories of “Arts & Language,” “Sciences,” and “Law”).  Among the five Categories there are twenty Fields.  A Skill's score is measured as Skill Rating (SR).  “Thanks to the intensive training before entering the CYBORG COMMANDO Force,” the rules state, a character “has a starting SR of 1 in every Field of knowledge, indicating a level of skill just above total ignorance.”  SP not spent on Stats are allocated among Skill Fields; each SR costs 1 SP.  Our character has 15 SP left and a maximum of five Fields, so we can assign 3 SP to each of five Fields:  Computer sciences, Personal arts, Personal movement, Personal weapons, and Psychogenics.

Step 6 involves “Other Details,” the nature of which were summarized in Step 1.  If “Other Details” are decided in Step 6, there's really no reason to have the Step 1 that is described.  Step 4 includes the statement, “Skills are determined in Step 4.”  It would seem that, at one point, Step 1 was “Select Stats,” therefore “Select Skills” would have been Step 4.  The “Start” Step 1 was probably added as an afterthought.

Step 7 is “The CC Body,” in which Physical Stat-Based Data is figured.  “The Physical Stat of the CC body equals [the character's] natural Physical score plus 100.”  “Integrity Points” (IP) are effectively hit points; a character has a number of IP equal to twice the Physical Stat score. “Damage” is the amount of damage the character can inflict without weapons; it equals Physical / 10.  “Heal” also equals Physical / 10; it represents the amount of damage a character can recover daily without medical aid.  However, “this applies to organic parts only . . . The CC body does not repair damage unaided.”  (I don't know why this data should be calculated from  the CC Physical value.)  “Heft” is the “amount of weight . . . that your character can Throw, Carry, or Lift.”  If the Metric system is employed, weight is represented in kilograms.  “Throw” equals the Physical Stat score, “Carry” is 10 × Physical, and “Lift” is 20 × Physical.

Step 8, the last step, is named “Meet MadMac.”  MadMac is an acronym for “Miniaturized Analog / Digital Macro-Algorithmic Computer.”  It is “a revolutionary type of computer that works with the organic brain, assisting it with the task of running the CC body.”  For purposes of character generation, the MadMac provides a SR of 10 to five Skill Fields:  “Strategy & Tactics,” “Unarmed Combat,” “Communications,” “Energy Sciences,” and “Law Enforcement.”

That's it for basic character creation; next time we'll tackle advanced character creation.

Both the Campaign Book and CCF Manual have the following statement on their respective title pages:  “Special Thanks to Jennings Cappellan of the Rare Earth Information Center.”  Jennings Cappellan is such an awesome name, I've decided to use a variation of it for the character.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Combat in Cyborg Commando

When making attack rolls or skill checks, CYBORG COMMANDO players roll two ten-sided dice.  However, instead of adding the results together or interpreting one result as 'tens' and the other 'units', the results are multiplied together.  This method is called the d10x system.  The CCF Manual lists various reasons why CYBORG COMMANDO employs the d10x system:
  • “Most people can multiply two single-digit numbers easily, and often with less trouble than adding two-digit numbers.
  • “The system produces results that still span the convenient 1-100 range...but with unusual frequencies of results.”
  • Regarding combat, “a single d10x roll determines the chance to hit and, in many cases, damage as well.”
  • Regarding improvement of skill scores, “minimal gains in low scores produce great leaps in the percentage chances of success, but improvements in high scores produce only small increases.”
For skill checks and stat checks, success is determined by rolling a certain number or less.  However, for combat, the opposite is true:  “An attack is a 'clean miss' if the result of the d10x roll is a given number or less.”

Page 9 informs us:
The average result of a normal d10x roll is 30¼.  The median result is 24; that is, you are equally likely to roll either 24 or more or 24 or less.  Exactly one fourth of all the possible results are odd numbers; three fourths are even numbers.
As previously noted, a Combat Turn (CT) represents 8.6 seconds and is divided into ten phases of 0.86 seconds each.  The ten phases are split into two cycles:  phases 1 - 5 in the first cycle and phases 6 - 10 in the second cycle.  A character can perform a number of actions in a cycle equal to the “first digit of the Neural Capacity score (or 1 if NC is 9 or less).”  At the beginning of every Combat Turn, players must announce what actions (such as attacks) they intend their characters to commit for both cycles.  This establishes when in the Combat Turn any given character will act because each phase is reserved for a particular type of action (most of which are attack options):
     Phases 1 & 6:  Zap Weapons
     Phases 2 & 7:  Fast Projectiles
     Phases 3 & 8:  Slow Projectiles
     Phases 4 & 9:  Lobbed Objects & Projected Substances
     Phases 5 & 10:  Physical & Sonic Attacks, plus all Miscellaneous
Miscellaneous actions include any activity other than an attack or movement.  Phases are resolved in order.  A character always has the option to forgo an announced action.  If an action announced for the first cycle is forgone, “you may revise your intentions for the second cycle.”

Movement need not be announced at the beginning of the Combat Turn and does not count against the number of actions permitted to a character.  If a character is not otherwise committing an action in a given phase, he (or she) may move two meters (or yards).  The maximum number of yards (or meters) a character may move (under his or her own power) during a Combat Turn is ten times the character's Speed value.  (Speed equals Neural Capacity divided by ten.)  This movement allowance is reduced by terrain modifiers as well as what attacks the character attempts in the Combat Turn.  For instance, “Each laser shot has a -1 movement penalty, and each grenade, a -2.”  If a character forgoes an attack in a Combat Turn, the movement penalty imposed by that attack no longer applies.

Starting characters have a Combat Rating (CR) of 10.  If an attack roll is equal to or less than the attacker's Combat Rating, the attack misses, “not hitting anything.”  Assuming the attack is not a clean miss, any modifiers are applied to the result.  “If that total equals or exceeds the Defense Value (DV) of the target,” the rules state, “you have successfully hit it.”  Every 'target' has five Defense Values, “one for each of the five basic attack forms.”  These attack forms are represented by the acronym LITES:  Laser, Impact, Thermal, Electro-magnetic, and Sonic.

Prediction Aiming Digitizer (PAD) programs allow Cyborg Commandos to improve their attack roll results by expending additional Power Units (PU).  “The amount of the...bonus is always equal to the amount of PU expended for it.”

“The amount of physical damage the character's body can sustain” is measured in Integrity Points (IP).  The damage inflicted by an attack “is either fixed or standard.”  Hand-held weapons inflict fixed damage (1 - 20 IPs depending upon the weapon).  Standard damage is equal to the original attack roll (with a possible modifier).  Lasers – for example – inflict standard damage.

The advanced combat rules include special effects (SFX).  Special Effects come into play if the attack roll was doubles (“that is, the same number on both dice”) and otherwise successful.  For Special Effects, 1d10 is rolled and a table is consulted.  The specific effect depends upon the target:  Normal Human, Cyborg Commando, or Alien.  Possible effects include:  “Flees in fear,” “Weapon destroyed,” and “Damage doubled.”

Sunday, August 27, 2017


Eighteen years from now, in the world of the CYB✪RG C✪MMAND✪™ science fiction role-playing game, aliens will invade the Earth.
          The entire invasion is controlled, directly or indirectly, by one “master race,” the existence of which is not initially known to Man.  Members of this race call themselves a term meaning “controllers of reality” in their own language, but to the commanders of the invasion force, they are simply “the Masters.”
          A Master is a wormlike creature with trilateral symmetry.  An adult's smooth tapering body is 61 cm (2') long, 15 cm (6") wide at its thickest (uppermost) point, and topped by a bulbous head about 31 cm (1') in diameter.  Three sucker-like mouths and three eyes are evenly spaced around the head, and eighteen small tentacles protrude from the body, again evenly spaced and symmetrically located.  The creature's body masses about 41 kg (90 pounds), and has a total volume of 27,000 cc (1,650 cubic inches).
However, the entities that player characters encounter are called Xenoborgs.  “The Xenoborgs as a race are pawns of the Masters,” the Campaign Book states, “though they are not aware of this.”  Xenoborgs have no organs; instead they consist entirely of “X-cells” – which are capable of independent movement.  Immature X-cells are lozenge-shaped and mature X-cells have five sides.  By configuring their X-cells in various ways, Xenoborgs have a “shape-alteration ability.”

The graphic at the beginning of this post is page 42 of the Cyborg Commando Campaign Book.  Figure five shows a tessellation of four-cell tetrads; such tessellations “form most of the Xenoborg's body.”  Figure six shows cell groups that “are created to perform specialized functions, including those carried out by the organs of terran life forms.”  So, an entire page (out of a book of 64 pages) is taken up by two figures that exist only convey the concept that X-cells can fit together in different ways.  How does this better the game?  Is this supposed to facilitate immersion?  Perhaps they should have included diagrams of common Xenoborg forms and weapons – things that player characters would actually observe in the game.  At least the book defines various types of organelles like vacuoles and ribosomes – you know, important information every campaign needs.

The Campaign Book states that Xenoborgs resemble “giant-sized version[s] of the microscopic dust mite commonly found in households.”  For purposes of invading Earth...
          Their forms had been selected, with careful consideration of Man's psychology, to resemble something feared by the entire race.  Some of the policy makers had favored the reptilian form, but that idea was discarded – primarily because the myths of Man indicated repeatedly that humans always defeated the dragons, and dinosaurs were laughable.  A demonic form was almost used, but finally voted down because of its utterly imaginary origins, and also due to the popularity of a role-playing game in which such beings were routinely encountered and destroyed.  No, a perversion of reality was considered best; a deadly extrapolation of a normal creature, known to peoples of all social, economic, and political climates.  The attacking troops were made to resemble insects – but larger, more horrible, and far more dangerous.
The smallest Xenoborgs are 4.5 meters (or yards) long and 3.1 yards (or meters) high and wide.  Xenoborgs increase in size as they increase in rank; 'colonel' Xenoborgs are 7.1 yards (or meters) long and 4.6 meters (or yards) wide and high.  The Xenoborg Emperor has a size of “about that of a large building, roughly 450,000 cubic feet.”  We are told that, “All X-cells not dedicated to specific functions take part in communications exchanges and interactions – thoughts which, though slower than human thoughts by an order of magnitude, are nevertheless just as effective and intelligent.”  Thus, larger Xenoborgs are more intelligent.

From page 36 of the Campaign Book we learn:
          Though the aliens do craft and use devices of various sorts, they do not rely primarily on inanimate objects as tools.  Instead, the create genetically engineered beings to perform various tasks, because life forms provide maximum diversity and adaptability.
Xenoborgs have power sources which are “part plant, part animal” and are “known by a name which translates best as 'Powwers.'”  Seriously?  “Translates best as” 'powers' with an extra 'w'?  In the words of the late General H. Norman Schwartzkopf, I call bovine scatology.  Are we supposed to stress the second syllable in order to distinguish it from the usual 'powers'?  I would accept something along the lines of 'Ergmod,' but 'Powwers' is just dumb.  “Similar in principle (though not in practice) to Earth's electric eel, a Powwer stores energy and releases it...[when] carefully stroked and prodded in a certain way...”  (ahem)

Teleborgs are another product of Xenoborg genetic engineering.   They...
          ...are multi-purpose creatures with many abilities.  Generally, they are the mounts on (and occasionally in) which Xenoborgs travel, not only on land, but also through water, air – and even space.  Teleborgs can thus be divided into four basic categories according to their use...
          Reproduction is accomplished by budding.  Weight at birth is about 50 kg (110 lb) within a volume of 57 liters (2 cubic feet), but the creature quickly grows to full size is sufficient nutrients are available.  That density, about 877 grams per liter (55 pounds per cubic foot), is maintained by all the specie of this race, whatever their eventual sizes and shapes...
Some Teleborgs can function as supply bases.

Lastly, there are Bugborgs (or 'buglies').  However, less than a paragraph is devoted to Bugborgs.  “They comprise the aliens' major response to the rise off the CC Force,” page 47 of the Campaign Book indicates, “arriving about 8-12 months after the invasion.”

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The State of the World in 2035

Trans-American Union CC Bases Map (South)

The Introduction to the CYB✪RG C✪MMAND✪™ Campaign Book explains, “This rules set demands your creativity.”  (It's a shame it didn't demand the creativity of the designers.)  Yet, “Fantasy is discouraged...”  For instance, “the speed of light is an absolute limit.”  (Except it isn't, as explained below.)
The emphasis throughout this game is on hard science.  The details of the future setting have been realistically extrapolated by logical means from the current (1980s) world.  With respect to the setting and the characters described in this game, every detail may someday become reality.  (original emphasis)
(Yes, the writers felt compelled to indicate the “current” decade.)  Of course, “hard science” extends to 'brain-in-a-jar' technology and “psychogenic” abilities like telepathy and psychokinesis.  Extraterrestrials and galactic travel, however, are “assumptions.”  Nonetheless, “such things are at least possible, even if not likely.”

Four pages of of the Campaign Book are devoted to “Q-Space Travel,” the method by which the extraterrestrial invaders reach Earth.  In the original Traveller – a game where player characters actually engage in interstellar voyages – the particulars of the jump drive are described within a single paragraph.  This is because such details are unnecessary to play the game.  The four-page “Q-Space” section includes a half-page appendix with “Formulae relevant to the discovery, description, and use of Quantum Space.”  Said appendix begins...
Warning:  The actual derivations of the formulae are not given here; after all, Man has not yet discovered them.  This section does, however, gives the tools that will be used in the forthcoming discovery.  Feel free to attempt the derivations if you are both mathematically creative and also quite familiar with tensor calculus.
Seriously, why even bother?

Back in the Introduction, we learn that, “The technological wonders of the Century Revolution eased but did not conquer cultural diseases.”  I am not at all certain what is meant by “cultural diseases,” but “the Century Revolution” sounds like it could be genuinely interesting.  Sadly, this sentence is the only reference to it I could find in the rules.

The Introduction in the CCF Manual lists three “discoveries” that have had an effect on civilization similar in magnitude to transistors and personal computers:
Superconductivity:  Finally made practical, this basic principle changes the nature and use of electricity itself, and thereby all electrical devices on Earth.
SINC [Sub-cranial Interface & Neural Converter]:  This device is a direct interface through which brains and computers can be directly connected.
Psychogenics:  This new science results from a hard, critical look at ESP and the occult.  The real and provable has been separated from the fantastic and imaginary.
Thirty pages of the 64 page Campaign Book regard global politics in 2035.  Seven of the thirty pages are full-page maps of various regions (such as the image above).  Sixteen of the thirty pages are nation-by-nation lists of Cyborg Commando facilities along with the specific territory, metro area, population (of the metro area), latitude, longitude, and any notes.  For example:

TA 04 C.5    Virginia    Richmond    494,375   37.34°N    77.27°W   Intl. HQ, U.S.A. 3 & Bermuda

There are also helpful footnotes, such as:  “Fifty percent or more of the Mazatlán metro area consists of specialized high-tech facilities with minimal resident personnel.”  Although population is diligently recorded for hundreds of cities, Game Masters are evidently supposed to “accurately calculate the population of any area...”  To this end, there is a two-page “Population” section.  This section includes five tables that provide data about, for instance, average annual growth rates.  Curiously, the “Population” section is immediately preceded by an exhortation for players to use the Metric system – “'ll love how simple it make things.”  This is strange in that simplicity does not seem to have been a design goal for this game.

Figuring population is not a final step.  The game begins after extraterrestrial invaders have decimated humanity.  As such, near the end of the Campaign Book, there is a two-page Depopulation Table.  In conjunction with some dice rolls, a Game Master can determine the post-invasion population of a given area.  This is important because population “has a direct effect on the available resources of food, water, and technology.”  Perhaps the authors were saving the formulae for these 'direct effects' for inclusion in the anticipated (but never published) second set of rules.

According to the Players' Adventure Notes:
The political geography of the world is quite as important as the physical in shaping the history of Man.  The boundaries and governments are thus major factors in the campaign game, and must be dealt with in due course – perhaps not in your early games, but certainly in the long run.
(Then why include all of this information in the initial set?)  In 2035, some nations have combined, yet several islands have become independent countries.  For instance, “many islands of the Mediterranean (including Corsica, Sardinia, and the Balearics, but not Sicily) joined to form Tyrrhenia.”  In any event, the world's nations are divided among “five large territorial blocs,” often referred to as “the Five.”  The five blocs are supposed to “regulate international dealings only.”  However,
The Five had commissioned the creation of a new international language called Terran, to be used for all international affairs (including world government).  A global standard in 2035, the language is a blend of English, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, French, and a smattering of other tongues.
Bloc governments “pay all the costs of basic education” (whatever 'basic education' is supposed to entail) as long as “The teaching and regular use of both the national language and the Terran (international) language was required, and a top priority.”  It's nice that the reader is reminded that Terran is the international language five entire sentences after first being told.  Unfortunately, no additional information is provided about this language.  What about the written form of Terran?  Is there any accommodation for Cyrillic script?  What system is used for conversion of Chinese:  Wade-Giles, pinyin, or – dare I hope – IPA?  How am I supposed to take this game seriously when it missed an opportunity to disgorge even more pedantic, useless details?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Set 1: The Battle for Earth

Art by Dave Dorman


In the year 2035, Earth is attacked by aliens hostile Xenoborgs who selected our planet as the next addition to their galactic empire.  In mere days, man's conventional forces are destroyed, and the earth is overrun by alien troops.

Now, Earth's only hope lies with the CYBORG COMMANDO™Force (CCF) – a cadre of super-soldiers who are part human and part machine.  With their state-of-the-art defenses and built-in weaponry, the CCs may yet be a match for the invaders.  But time is running short!

With this game, you can be a member of the CYBORG COMMANDO Force and drive off the aliens.  This set includes everything you need to start the defense of Earth:

     A 48-page CCF Manual for players – with character skills, combat rules, and a technical section complete with diagrams of CC construction,

     A 64-page Campaign Book for the Game Master – including full details on the aliens and their invasion, the world political situation in the early 21st century, and an index of CC bases worldwide,

     A 16-page adventure booklet packed with beginning scenarios, and

     Two pre-inked dice.

The CYB✪RG C✪MMAND✪™ science fiction role-playing game was published thirty years ago, an era when “pre-inked” was a selling point for dice, not something taken for granted. Young people don't know how good they have it nowadays.  Back in the day, RPG box sets came with unembellished dice and a white crayon...and we were grateful.

Published by New Infinities Productions, at least three Cyborg Commando sets were contemplated; however, no sets other than “Set 1” were produced.  The reason is that the game isn't very good.  In his Heroic Worlds, Lawrence Schick is not complementary.  “The rules systems are eccentric,” he writes, “almost amateurish.”  Sub-par role-playing games are hardly unusual, yet Cyborg Commando is a special case – it is credited to Gary Gygax, Frank Mentzer, and Kim Mohan.  Given their prior contributions to the hobby, their target audience held expectations that the trio failed to achieve.

Ostentatious phrasing did not help matters.  For instance, page 41 of the CCF Manual defines 'light':
     This term here applies to the range of the to the electromagnetic spectrum from about 10¹⁶ to 10¹³ Hz, or wavelengths of 100 to 10 million Angstrom units (1 Å = 10⁻¹⁰ meter).  It includes ultraviolet (100 - 4,000 Å), visible (4,000 - 7,000 Å) and infrared light (7,000 - 10,000,000 Å).
With regard to the passage of time, a Combat Turn represents 8.6 seconds.  Each Combat Turn consists of ten phases of 0.86 seconds each.  Why not a phase of one second and a Combat Turn of ten seconds?  Because 8.6 seconds is “exactly 1/10,000 of a day.”  Now, doesn't that make for a better role-playing experience?  Except there are exactly 86,400 seconds in a day, not 86,000.  So much for “exactly.”

The “16-page adventure booklet” is truthfully sixteen pages.  Technically, the cover carries the title “GM's Adventure Notes” and is followed by eight pages of material (including the inside cover).  However, when the booklet is flipped over, the 'back' cover has the title “Players' Adventure Notes” and is followed by six pages.  While it is certainly an 'adventure' booklet, “packed with beginning adventures” is a misstatement.  The players' section provides setting information (“The infamous Berlin Wall was removed in 2003...”), playing tips, and lists of accessories and equipment.  The GM's section provides advice on running a game and creating adventures.  There are twenty scenario summaries and each summary consists of a couple of paragraphs.  The summaries are contained within two-and-a-half pages.  Even if we conflate 2½ pages of scenarios to 16, not all of the scenarios are of the beginning variety.  Eight scenarios are in the 'simple' category (i.e., they “have straight-forward goals and involve standard combat”), seven are 'tricky' (i.e., they “usually require clever and astute play if the dangers and traps are to be successfully avoided”), and five are 'tough' (i.e., they “involve very hazardous situations, and require astute play and imaginative solutions to problems”).

Ace Books published a trilogy of novels based on the Cyborg Commando setting and which were co-authored by Mohan.  In an attempt to gain an appreciation of the setting, I read the first book, Planet in Peril.  My analysis of this novel may be found here.

Included in my used copy of the Cyborg Commando RPG box set is an advertisement for Realms of Adventure (shown below) – New Infinities Productions' house organ that offered “...a wide variety of articles and adventures from authors all over the world.”  I am unable to find much information about this journal, but it seems at least two issues were published.

Also included in my copy of the game is a typewritten flyer for Rock-Con XIV (November 7 & 8, 1987).

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, rumored to have numerous lovers in high positions in the City [and] 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.”