Friday, May 4, 2012

I think I'm turning Japanese!

For quite a while I have wanted to game in the worlds of Hideyuki Kikuchi. His blend of wscience fiction, horror, supernatural, action, and Japanese culture seems tailor made for great RPG action. The question of course is what sort of rules engine to use. I have looked at several of the anime RPGs available, as well as horror, sci-fi and fantasy. Palladium Books' Rifts certainly provides all the needed tools, magic, mecha, demons, supernatural beasties etc. The problem with it is that I really have drifted away from the power gamer style and find the rules overly complex. There are just too many options. The same pertains to the various d20 rules sets. These are fine if you like crunchy detailed rules sets. Indeed I could see the various stunts and prestige classes of D&D working very well to model Demon City or Vampire Hunter D. However, I vastly prefer playing looser, more freeform games. So, my thought is that there is another game whose rules mechanics very well suit the style of game I want. That is Tunnels and Trolls. T&T? I hear you ask, isn't that just a fantasy dungeon delving game? Well, yes and no. It works well for that, but it has been adapted to sci-fi quite succesfully. Far more than most people realize the differences between sci-fi and fantasy are often just special effects. A "light saber" and a "vorpal sword" are pretty much functionally the same. A blaster and a crossbow both do missile damage at range. Armour is armour. A "force field" at it's simplest can just be given an armor rating. Psychic powers? What about wizard's spells? A space demon and a balruck are both large, evil nasties bent on your destruction. For the ultimate low crunch version of this grab T&T5, M!M! or BEAN! and assign dice ratings. For a slightly chrunchier version use 7.5 with special spite damage effects, specialists, etc for more solidly defined mechanics. In future entries I will stat up some of the creatures and characters from these stories, just for fun. I may even throw in an illustration or two.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The best things in life are free!

Some of my current favorite RPGs are available free. T&T fans will instantly think of the quick start rules, the same ones from the double solo books, widely posted on the web and at . This is however not the only great game out there for free.

Many of the TSR classics have been cloned and offered free. My favorite of these is Swords and Wizardry which clones the original edition of D&D. It goes farther than this though, offering supplements with new Classes, new magics and more.

Mutant Future also gets a nod. I love Post Apocalyptic gaming and MF does it very well. Fans of Gamma World will recognize the inspiration behind this one.

Great though these cloned games are, and there are many others as part of the Old School Renaissance, there are also some original designs that are well worth looking at and playing.

For Sword and Planet fans who grew up as I did on Edgar Rice Burroughs, H P Lovecraft, etc, there is the simply brilliant Under the Moons of Zoon. This game is set on a post apocalyptic world and features flying boats, psionics, weird science, mutants, swashbuckling, creatures from Beyond, and more. It has a simple d6 based system of game mechanics and just enough setting material to provide a spark to GM's creativity without shackling you to someone else's world. I love it. It has serpent-men as the main villains, one of my favorite pulp fantasy tropes.

The other great free game I want to call attention to is Olivier Legrand's Mazes&Minotaurs. M&M is a game from an alternate history of the RPG hobby. It posits that Gygax and Arneson based their first RPG not on medieval Europe but rather on mythic Greece. The result is two editions, four core rule books. Ten magazine supplements, plus adventure modules. All offered for free. The game is quite playable and a has a very enthusiastic following. I discovered it after I had written most of my Mythic Greek sourcebook for T&T (currently in preparation for publication by Peryton Publishing). Had I known about M&M I might never have written Sailing the Wine Dark Sea. M&M covers not only ancient Greece, but also analogues to Africa, the Middle and Near East, Europe, and the realms of the gods and monsters. It is not a strict recreation of Classical Mythology, but rather a fantasy game that draws its inspiration from myth and legend.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Cleric Conundrum

In prowling the message boards relating to Old School gaming and D&D I have encountered the question of he Cleric class. People ask "What character or type in fantasy fiction is this supposed to emulate?". My guess is that the origins of the Cleric as a class come from he other half of D&D's heritage. The original game was billed as rules for "fantastic medieval" wargames. The Cleric class come from the medieval half of this, not the fantastic.

The Cleric is based on medieval stories of holy warriors, saints and miracle workers. Early D&D had a definite Christian gloss on much of the game world. Devils, demons, holy water, crosses (holy symbols came later), St. Cuthbert, etc. Clerical healing spells come from this tradition, as do spells such as Bless, Protection from Evil, Purify Food and Drink, et al. The Cleric's ability to turn and even destroy undead by presenting a holy symbol and exercising faith also comes from this. So to does the prohibition on shedding blood and therefor the restriction on using any but non-edged weapons. This was a Papal decree.

In non-Christian mythology, and also in most fantasy written before D&D, priests do not necessarily gain spell casting or other magical abilities from their worship of gods as marks of divine favor. Instead a priest may become a wizard or sorcerer like anybody else by study or making the appropriate pacts, but this is separate from their role as a priest. Priests may also freely wield sacrificial daggers and such. Indeed for many non-Christian priests the ban on edged weapons makes no sense. A priest of Apollo or Diana should favor the bow as this is the preferred weapon of their deity. Likewise priests following the Norse or Germanic gods might well be expected to favor the spear. Priests of Thor being an exception as they would likely use the hammer.

The forgoing is mostly an historical gloss on the Cleric class in RPGs.

In T&T a "priest" or "cleric" is a social status and profession, not a character Type or Class. You are a priest if you lead the worship of one or more deities. A holy warrior is a warrior (of any character type) in service of a deity or religious sect.

For those who want to construct a "Cleric" character in T&T I suggest the following. A Rogue Type (remembering that Rogue is short for Rogue Wizard, that is to say not trained by the Wizard's Guild), with a Talent for "Turning Undead". Being a Rogue he character is allowed to use any weapons and armor. The weapons chosen should be appropriate to the deity or religion the character is a follower of.nSpells would be those taught by the temple, again suited to the cult. The. talent for turning undead might be based on Charisma with the SR difficulty based on how high the MR of the undead in question is.

For those emulating the traditional D&D type Cleric weapons chosen would be blunt, and spells would focus on healing and protection.

I selected Charisma rather than Wizardry as the base attribute for turning undead as it is the character's force of personality and strength of Faith more than inherent magical power that is driving off the foe.

Trollworld's Got Talent

One of the nice ideas in T&T is Talents. Those little things that your character has a knack for. These can be quite broad reaching such as a talent for wilderness survival, or very narrow and focused, a talent for Five Card Stud Poker.

A character gains a new talent with each advance in level. This helps to make character levels meaningful in the game. However existing Talents do not automatically improve when a character improves in level. Currently the only way to improve a Talent is to improve he base attribute for that Talent. This doesn't really change the effectiveness of the talent, it remains fixed at the same. Bonus rolled when the character first gained the talent.

My proposal is to allow characters to purchase improvements to Talents in e exact same way they purchase improvements to Attributes. Thus for a cost of 10 AP times the current level of the Talent they can improve it by +1. Talents are recorded as Attribute+Talent, for example Climbing DEX+3. For 30 AP a character could improve this to Climbing DEX+4.

This allows talents to improve over time independent of their base attributes. It is for the player to judge whether it is cost effective to improve talents or if the AP would be better spent improving attributes. If a character has several talents tied to the same attribute it will probably be better to raise the attribute, thus raising the chance of success for SRs applicable to ALL the talents. This is especially so if the attribute is a prime attribute for the character as passing a level threshold allows he character to add their increased level to SRs as well.

This change does make Talents a bit more like skills and increases their effect on the game.

Friday, January 27, 2012

It's Alive! or at least undead.

This morning I was thinking about the Undead. Not Vampires, Liches, and Wraiths, or even Ghosts, but rather zombies and ghouls and skeletons, oh my!

With the exception of Dennis Hopper in Land of the Dead "Zombies man, they creep me out." no one seems to be much fazed by these lowly undead. They are common minions of necromancers, haunters of graveyards, and guardians of dungeons, but the seem so blah and boring.

I know that if I saw a corpse get up and start walking I would be running in the other direction. Dry bones with no flesh would make me run all the faster. Even these minor undead should be scary if not terrifying. I think most people would face a dozen orcs more calmly that even one walking corpse.

Part of the problem may lie in the mechanics of role playing games. These lesser undead are usually push overs in a fight. Low hit points, low damage,often slow, unintelligent, why fear them when a quick oil&torch or splash of Holy Water takes care of them?

I have tried to ease this problem by such means as having skeletons that take only a fraction of normal damage from cutting and piercing weapons, zombies that must be hacked to pieces before they stop and the like. These work for about the first encounter. Undead that slowly pull themselves back together if not burned can be effective. Hours later when the party stops to rest the relentless undead pursuers they thought they had put paid to show up again. RoleMaster made the undead scarier by giving all of them a draining effect on Constitution and hit points. Spending time around the undead literally sucked the life out of you. Of course any GM can also just make the undead tougher. More hit points, better armour, more damging attacks...

The terror can aslo be ramped up by non-mechanical means. Compare these two descriptions: "As you enter the room three skeletons in chain mail leap to attack with broadswords." "As you swing the door open and enter the chamber the scattered bones and rusted armour of fallen warriors lie before you on the floor. You hear a rustle and scrape, as of dry twigs on stone. With clicks and creaks the bones re-assemble themselves into the shapes they took in life. Three ancient warriors rise from the dust to confront you. Their tattered chainmail jingles, the rusty broadswords in their hands again raise to guard. Slowly at first they stagger towards you..." The second is much more evocative isn't it? Instead of simply saying "You hit the zombie with your spear for 5 hit points" try "Your spear sinks deep into the spongey side of your foe. No flicker or grimace of pain crosses it's face. It simply staggers forward, black ichor dripping from the wound."

The old Fiend Folio for AD&D offered yet another option for making the undead scary again. A vast horde of monstrous foes all shared the general description of "a skeletal figure in a cloak". This could be a mere skeleton, a crypt thing, a wight, a liche, or any of a number of other horrors. Each monster had different strengths and weaknesses, different motivations and would provide a very different encounter. the only way to know which you were facing was to get closer, and by then it might be too late...

Much of this is true for other monsters as well. One of the first lessons of effective gamemastering being to describe not name what the players see. It is in the case of the weaker undead however that the difference between what the players know and what the characters are experiencing becomes a vast gulf.