Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tales of Gargentihr: Real Fantasy

Yet another British RPG from the mid-nineties and part of the ‘it only cost a quid’ collection, Tales of Gargentihr (ToG) is more impressive than the usual small-press offering. A 340 page perfect bound book with a large number of relatively well done illustrations (even though they seem to have been scanned at too low a resolution; there are pixels everywhere), the book is pleasant to read though some of the sidebars are a bit too busy due to a textured background.

The cover does remind me of the cover of Chaos Engine, a game for the Amiga.

Anyway, what is ToG about? I’ve decided it’s easiest to let the book speak for itself and quote from the back cover.
Real Fantasy

In 1492 two continents met and the humans known as Karro first sighted the New World. In the villages there they met a simple and peaceful people who greeted them as gods. From these bases the Karro explored and claimed their New Republic of Gevuria.

It is now 1585 and the Ha’esh villages have grown into pollution filled Karro towns; the Ha’esh relegated to second class citizens in their own land. The new Institutes of the Karro collide head on with the old guard of the Chuch, whilst the bordering realms of Khos-Tavar and Ja’Hall look on with growing apprehension at their swiftly expanding neighbour.

Into this turmoil come the Clondis, a secret society of adventurers from all walks of life; grizzled streetmen from the back alleys of Rol Katel, educated society men from the mighty capital of Treth and noble Channi, the holy warriors of the Ha’esh. The Clondis accept any who are bold enough into its ranks and turn away no task that it deems worthy.

Tales of Gargentihr

Gargentihr is a world far different from our own. The continents drift upon endless seas of silt whilst Sa-energy crackles overhead in the blackened skies. The continent of Agasha lies before you, awaiting discovery.

Gargentihr is a world both ancient and new. The Insitute of New Science explores the frontiers of technology, whilst the secret powers of the Ancients reign within the dark corners of Agasha. Man stands on the brink of a glorious new age of knowledge, but many would block his progress.

This strange world is finely detailed throughout the rules and plunges the players into an alien landscape ripe for exploration.

Notice something there? Not one mention about revolutionary rules or there being a thousand and one new skills and realistic combat. ToG is selling itself on the strength of its setting rather than its rules.

Characters are members of the Clondis, and form a Shevin attached to a Clon-hall.

Reading through the Clondis chapter, your characters are basically part of an extended A-team, without the ‘arrested for a crime they didn’t commit’ bit.

“If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire...the Clondis.”

Doesn’t sound quite right, but close enough.

Now to get started with character creation.

First, I need to decide what sort of character I'm going to play, this is easy enough, I’ll be trying to build a warrior-scholar. The game suggests four basic concepts for characters if you’re having trouble, the warrior, the scholar, the rogue and the mystic along with brief details of how such a character fits into the world.

Now to roll my Characteristics. There are there are ten of these, 6 physical, 4 mental. For humans they range between 1 and 10 with an average of 4. They’re generated by rolling a d20 and checking a table.

The table has three columns; Medium, Favoured and Slighted. The column you roll on determines the value. For example, rolling a 10 would get me a value of 5 on the Medium column, 7 on the Favoured and 3 on the Slighted.

All characteristics apart from Dalshra, which is slighted, are rolled on the Medium column. You can choose to shift a characteristic up a column at the cost of shifting one down. To get Dalshra to Favoured would require two shifts of other attributes to Slighted.

The Characteristics are Strength, Health, Agility (on which Initiative is based), Manipulation (fiddly desxterity), Stealth, Combat, Senses (perception), Knowlegde, Kai (charisma, empathy, spiritual well being), Dalshra (magic).

It doesn’t say whether you roll and arrange to suit, or roll and keep, so I’ll go for roll and keep. Before I roll I decide to Favour Combat, and Knowledge, and Slight Kai and Stealth.

Rolling and checking, I get the following results.

STR: 5
HEA: 5
AGL: 8
MAN: 5
STE: 3
COM: 10
SEN: 4
KNO: 7
KAI: 2
DAL: 3

Pretty good based on the human average being 4. However it should be noted that the Medium table is set up so that you have a slightly better chance of rolling scores above average. I approve of this; there are still too many RPGs that seem to want to make you play the lowest of the low.

Next I have to pick between one of the two types of humans, the invading Karro or the native Ha’esh. Reading up on them, I decide the Ha’esh are more interesting. PC Ha’esh have ceremonially died left their clans to seek enlightenment.

This gives my character a +1 to Health, and the following skills: Silent Way 4 (SEN), Speak Geruvian 5 (SEN), Speak Ha’esh 4 (SEN) and Cultural lore, Ha’esh 2 (KNO).

Next I roll my family background, getting a 16. My character grew up in a port as his family have been working for the Karro for at least a generation. I get the following skills: Cultural lore, Geruvian 2 (KNO), Ettiquette 2 (KAI), Literacy – Lathmirian 1 (KNO) and 4 Wealth points.

Rolling on the location table and starting age tables, I find my character grew up in the port of Treth and left home at 14.

The next part of character creation is lifepath based. You get 6 terms of randomly determined length to represent your character’s travels and adventures before they join the Clondis. During these terms your character follows an apprenticeship and at least one occupation. Not all options are available at all locations, but you can move between locations freely at the beginning of the term.

So, my first step is to decide what Apprenticeship I want my character to serve.

I don’t have a lot of options for my character – it’s not going to be possible to keep to concept.

Anyway, the only Apprenticeship open to my character is that of Pathsilker – part guide, part rural cop. I decide that my character travels to Ronth to train as a Pathsilker.

Rolling on the event year for that term at Ronth, I find out that my character was came into contact with a Geographical expedition that set out into the swamps. Rolling on the Event outcome table, it seems that my character made friends with someone on the Expedition. I roll on the Individuals table and come up with a member of the Institute of Law who has the trait of being Friendly.

My character spends one and a half years as a trainee Pathsilker, gaining 28 points to spend on appropriate skills.

My skill totals after spending points are:

Riding-sleth 1
Combat-ghurti 2
Endurance 1
Survival-swamp 1
Cultural lore-Ha’esh 3
Sense sho’ta 1
Boating 2
Corncraft 1
Silent way 4
Speak Ha’esh 4
Swimming-water 1

A ghurti is apparently a machete, a sleth is some sort of riding lizard and sho’ta is a soul trace – the skill allows my character to see them and to track people he knows via it.

Anyway, after a year and a half it becomes clear that my character doesn’t have what it takes to be a full pathsilker (they have a requirement of SEN 5) so leaves Ronth to travel to Rol-katel, where he becomes a Danja – a street performer, spending 2 and a half years there, gaining 36 SPs.

Event: Sarakern arrive at the Windbays and hold a trading festival; as a result of this my character ends up in debt to the sum of 350 Clys to a fawning criminal.

Acute balance 4
Crowd manoeuvre 2
Juggling 4
Heavy drinking 3
Gaming 2
Street lore 1

As a result of the money owed, my character decides it’s prudent to leave Rol-katel and travels to Jagan where he signs up with a Siltreaver crew. Unless the event rolls indicate otherwise, I’m planning to have him spend the remaining four terms as a Siltreaver based around Jagan.

Term one

Duration: 2 years, 32 SPs
Event: Non-human traders take an interest me in, with an outcome of my guy picking up something from them – I gain four extra SPs.

Term two

Duration: 2 years, 32 SPs
Event: A silt storm floods the dock area under a foot of silt. As a result of this and meeting a violent non-human (maybe a guard of one of the traders from the previous term?) I pick up 3 levels in a skill relevant to the event. Not sure what that would be yet.

Term three

Duration: 2 years, 32 SPs
Event: The Blood-scourge (a rather nasty plague) kills many in the town. As a result, I gain +1 to a related attribute. As it didn’t kill my character, I decide it should go on health, bringing his total health to 7.

Deciding that it’s time to leave, my character takes his leave of the Siltreaver crew and travels to Geva where he spends another one-and-a-half years as a Danja again, gaining 28 kill points.

Event: Strangers use secret paths to enter the port. As a result of this my character ends up owning several favours to a witty Doctor.

Time to spend all those skill points.

I have 100 to spend on Silt Reaver skills

Athletics 4
Combat-brawling 4
Combat military-davin 6
Endurance 2
Navigation-silt 5
Tactics-naval 5
Ropemastery 2
Sailing 2
Scaling 2
Bow-long 2
Speak Khan’Dha 2
Weather lore 1
Swimming-silt 2

A davin is a sword. I also decide that my three skill levels that I got in term 2 are best applied to the Swimming-silt skill, bringing it to 5.

For my final term as a Danja, I have 28 skill points.

Acute balance 6
Crowd manoeuvre 4
Juggling 6
Heavy drinking 4
Gaming 2
Street lore 2
Tjhav 3

Tjhav is a form of darts played with spiky balls.
At the end of my 6 terms, my character is 25 and a half years old and has the following skills.

Silent Way 4
Speak-Geruvian 5
Speak-Ha’esh 4
Cultural lore-Ha’esh 2
Cultural lore-Geruvian 2
Ettiquette 2
Literacy-Lathmirian 2
Athletics 4
Combat-brawling 4
Combat military-davin 6
Endurance 2
Navigation-silt 5
Tactics-naval 5
Ropemastery 2
Sailing 2
Scaling 2
Bow-long 2
Speak Khan’Dha 2
Weather lore 1
Swimming-silt 2
Acute balance 6
Crowd manoeuvre 4
Juggling 6
Heavy drinking 4
Gaming 2
Street lore 2
Tjhav 3

I havn’t spent any points on wealth, so I now check to see what my starting 4 WPs translates to, which turns out to be 240+(d6*20) Cyls. I roll 4, giving me 320 Cyls in starting money. I also get to pick the equipment from one of my occupations, and go for the Siltreaver stuff, giving me a Silt coat, Silt trews, Silt goggles and a weapon. I pick a military davin for that as it’s my best weapon skill.

There are a few attributes I need to work out, and then we’re done.

My character has an Agility of 8, so gets an initiative score of 14 and a Strength of 5 which means no damage modifier.

ToG uses something it calls an Energy Bar as a unified record of Fatigue, encumbrance and Initiative. A brief look at the combat chapter shows that Fatigue seems to replace hit points to a degree, though there’s a second damage status known as a Wound Effect which adds to the difficulty level of all rolls.

Character generation, though slightly longwinded, has provided me with a fairly interesting character. The lift path system used has given me both a barebones background and some plot hooks for the GM to work into the upcoming campaign.

However, this was the first of the non-random character generation systems that didn't allow me to follow my concept, though it would probably have been possible if I'd made a Karro rather than Ha'esh character.

The setting of ToG is detailed and looks interesting, but went out of its way to be strange for the sake of being strange - see the funny names for swords and machetes as an example. There are too many setting terms and odd names for all but the most dedicated players to want to remember. Also, many of said words and names feel like a collection of random syllables rather than an attempt to represent a coherant language.

Phil Masters has written a detailed review of Tales of Gargentihr over on his website, worth a read.

Next, Call of Cthuhlu, 4th edition.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

GURPS 3rd edition revised

Rejoice O readers, for today I am looking at a game that more than a handful of people will have heard of, GURPS from Steve Jackson Games.

The first real RPG I bought was a very second hand copy of the GURPS 3rd basic set when I was about 13 or so. I remember being amazed by the idea that I could stat out anything with it.

I’ve only played GURPS a couple of times; a doomed IOU campaign when I was at uni, and an equally doomed GURPs Cliffhanger adventure at GenCon a few years back. (Not the fault of the GM or the game, more that it was very late and the players were having a hard time concentrating.)

GURPS uses 3d6 for task resolution, and is a solid though not particularly inspiring system. If it were a car it would be some sort of little Honda rather than a Jaguar. It’s not particularly pretty, but it is reliable.

One of the strengths of the GURPS line are the high quality setting sourcebooks published for it; if you want a gaming orientated resource on a subject, there’s a good chance one has been written for GURPs.

Looking through the beginning my GURPs book, printed sometime in the early 90s – the last copyright date on its frontispiece is 1994, I notice that SJG encourages their readers to get a modem and connect to the Illuminati Online bbs via phone or to telnet in via the internet.

I can’t remember if this information was in the non-revised edition of GURPs I started with, but given that in the early 90s the Internet was still a very mysterious beast, the existence of the BBS shows a lot of tech-savvy and future-vision on the part of SJG.

GURPS, unlike the systems covered previously, uses points based character generation with no random factors.

As this is a setting-less generic game, I’m going to start with a character concept and some sort of barebones background to act as a guide for what things I should buy.

As stated at the beginning of this project, the basic concept for any sort of character where choice is allowed is a Warrior-scholar type. As for the world and setting background, let’s rip off the concept of the Library of Alexandria.

There’s a great library, and this library is trying to collect all knowledge, both by obtaining written works and getting written accounts of knowledge that doesn’t exist in written form. To this end they dispatch agents across the known world. Our character is one of these Library agents, just starting out on her career. The Library is located in a pseudo-Indian kingdom.

Now that we have some idea of who we’re playing, time for a name. Looking a list of Indian names we’ll call her Samiksha which apparently means ‘Analysis’.

There are four attributes in GURPS; Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence and Health. Due to concept, all four are fairly important – most of my 100 points are going to be spent here, but I’ll be able to make some back via taking disadvantages later.

ST: 10 (0 points)
DX: 14 (45 points)
IQ: 14 (45 points)
HT: 12 (20 points)
Total: 110 points

I’ll probably end up adjusting these values down, but for the time being we’ll try to make the points back via disadvantages.

Next step is to select my character’s Wealth, Reputation and Status.

I decide that agents of the great Library take a vow of poverty – all wealth is to be used to obtain knowledge for the library, however, since the Wealth attribute also controls starting cash, we won’t lower Samiksha’s wealth value here; she’s going to need decent kit to survive her travels.

For Reputation, I decide that the great library has a mixed reputation amongst other scholars and institutes of learning – their work is lauded, but their agents are also known to go to any lengths to obtain works for the library, and will readily resort to theft or other underhanded means if permission to copy a work is denied.

I decide to give Samiksha a –3 reputation (Agent of the great library) amongst scholars (small class of people) worldwide. This gives me back five points. (fifteen for the –3 reputation, modified to –5 because it only affects a small group of people.)

I leave Status as average.

At the end of this stage, I’m down to 105 points spent, however there’s an advantage that’s critical to character concept. Literacy. As this is a low-tech, poorly educated setting, Literacy costs 10 points. Back to 115 spent we go. Lowering those attribute scores is looking more and more likely.

Advantages come before Disadvantages in the book, but since I need more points, I’m turning to the Disadvantages first. There is a limit on the number of disadvantages you can take – a maximum of 40 points or one disadvantage of any value.

Social Stigma (female) could be appropriate, but I don’t find that sort of thing fun to play, so we’re leaving that as a last ditch option for five more points.
Okay, as mentioned above, I’ve decided that Library agents take a vow of poverty; this works out as a 10 point disadvantage.

The final list of disadvantages I pick are:

Bad sight (near sighted) –10 (I could pull –25 for this, but prefer to say that glasses are available in more civilised parts of the world)
Curious –5
Absent minded –15
Vow of poverty –10

That brings Samiksha to 40 points of disadvantages, for a total of 75 points spent.

I can also take up to five quirks, which are worth 1 point each. I’ll think about these rather than going for the cheap option of taking all five points now and making them up later.

Next I flip back to the Advantages section.

The Library could count as a patron, but due to the low tech nature of the world, it won’t be easily contactable once Samiksha has left the area, so we’ll leave it for now.

Eidetic memory would be nice, but at 30 points for the limited version, there’s no way I can afford it.

Language talent is going to be useful; Samiksha’s travels are going to take her all over the known world.

Literacy (10 points)
Language talent 3 (6 points)
Total: 16

We’ll leave it at that – everything else that appeals is either too expensive, contradicts a flaw or both.

The running total at the moment is:

Attributes: 110
Disadvantages (inc. reputation): -45
Advantages: 16
Total: 81

Which leaves us with 19 points to spend on skills.

Skills in GURPS are priced according to their complexity, and the score you want in them compared to their base attribute. For example, to buy a skill level in Broadsword (a physical/average skill) equal to my Dexterity would cost 2 points.

First I’m going to list the skills I want along with their type, complexity and default value.

Riding (physical/average, DX-5)
Artist (mental/hard, IQ -6)
Calligraphy (physical /average, Artist –2 or DX –5)
Writing (mental/average, Language –5 or IQ-5)
Bow (physical /hard, DX-6)
Broadsword (physical /average, Short sword –2 or DX-5)
Shield (physical /easy, Buckler –2 or DX –4)
First aid (mental/easy, IQ-5)
Navigation (mental/hard)
Literature (mental/hard, IQ –6)
Mathematics (mental/hard, IQ-6)
Research (mental/average, Writing –3 or IQ-5)
Diplomacy (mental/hard, IQ-6)

Language skills get their own section.

I decide that Samiksha’s native language is something along the lines of Hindi. This is also the common language of scholars, however it’s not the lingua franca of the known world, that being something like Arabic, and further west, German. I’m going to put them both at mental/average compared to Samiksha’s native language, however none of them are related to each other – defaulting between them isn’t going to be possible.

Having spent my remaining skill points, Samiksha has the following skill values.

Riding 12 (0.5)
Artist 14 (4)
Calligraphy 12 (0 – defaulting from Artist)
Writing 14 (2)
Bow 13 (2)
Broadsword 14 (2)
Shield 14 (1)
First aid 13 (0.5)
Navigation 13 (2)
Literature 13 (2)
Mathematics 13 (2)
Research 13 (1)
Diplomacy 12 (1)

I need to pick up a couple of quirks to pay for her language skills.

I decide that Samiksha is vegetarian when possible, and a compulsive doodler. The two points gained give me enough points to pick up the two common languages of the setting.

Hindi 17 (0 – remember that Language talent advantage I picked up? It lets Samiksha learn languages as if her IQ was 17)
Arabic 16 (1)
German 16 (1)

There are a couple of derived attributes left to calculate and then we’re done.

Basic speed: 6.5
Move: 6
Dodge: 6
Parry (sword): 7
Block: 7
Encumbrance values in stone are: none (20), light (40), medium (60), heavy (120) and x-heavy (200)

And there we are. I didn’t have to reduce any attributes, and whilst her skills aren’t great, they’re good enough for her to do reasonably well most of the time.

A brief flick through the equipment list shows that she’ll be able to buy a weapon, some armour and other supplies, but will be walking rather than riding at the start.

GURPS has produced a fairly competent though not spectacular character, and there were far fewer options in the main book than I remember from way back when, but on the whole I’m quite happy with the character that I’ve created.

Next we’re back to Obscure land with Tales of Gargentir.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

GMless or Automatic GM games

I came across this post on the Braindump blog and it got me to thinking about GMless games.

I've heard of the product he mentions before and have been vaguely intrigued by it in the past, though still not enough to plonk down any money for it.

Back when I was little, I used to run solo Tunnels and Trolls dungeon crawls for my character, using a set of tables to generate the dungeon, though I can't remember if they were tables I'd found in some rulebook, or ones I made myself.

I also ran some sort of trading game using the rules from the Republic of Darokin setting from Basic D&D's Known World setting.

These were pretty simple affairs, just rolling dice and making decisions based on the outcome, no plot complications or character developement.

There were also Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, in which the book took the role of a GM, much as a computer does with CRPGs.

Anyway, enough nostalgia, on with the plot.

How would a modern Automatic-GM work? One that can handle and generate more complex situations than killing things and taking their stuff?

There seem to be a few indie/alternative games that are geared towards the players providing most if not all of the content and complications, but I'm aiming for an Automatic GM that acts more like a traditional GM - it provides the nature of the complications, and the solutions remain up to the player, though obviously the player needs to stat out the complications as and when they occur.

A basic flaw of an Automatic GM is that it can only provide a narrative framework, with no real details unless it's coded to deal with a specific system and setting or type of adventure - any colour must come from the minds of the players or it just turns into an exercise in dice rolling and maths.

There isn't anything wrong with that but it's not everybodies' cup of tea, and is one of the reasons I stopped my T&T and Trading games. It could also be argued that many computer games are just dicerolling and maths in a pretty outfit.

My next post on this topic will start with the barebones of an Automatic GM system.

C&C welcomed.

Fifth Cycle

Whoops, missed a few days. Blame those dreadful Rikti for invading Paragon City.

Today’s character is from Fifth Cycle, another fantasy heartbreaker, but as mentioned at the end of the last character, not one from the ‘It only cost a quid’ collection. Not only do I have the main book for Fifth Cycle, I also have one of its supplements and an adventure. However my character will be created using just the main book.

Fifth Cycle is a 198 page perfect bound book, first published in 1990. The back cover depicts a large though sparse map of the Vice-royalty of Dolphinia, the game’s default setting. The front cover is quite striking, being mostly black, with the game’s title and a border depicting various characters and monsters from the game in a rainbow gradient. The same style of cover is used on the two supplements that I have for the game.

Inside, the text is large and in a pleasant font with clear headings, and the art, whilst sparse is reasonable. Nothing special, but it doesn’t detract from the game, and the icons for the schools of magic are quite nice. Overall the package looks more professional than both Dandanon and Darkurthe Legends.

Fifth Cycle comes with a sparse background, a barebones setting and a built-in reason for characters to go adventuring; they have an Archaeological Charter to investigate Third Cycle ruins. The game’s background is basically a list of the Cycles of the world.

The First Cycle began with the creation of the world; it was a time of barbarism and savagery. Magic was unknown. The second cycle began with the discovery of magic, and the rise of great civilisations. The third cycle was the age of the Tyrant mages. It was during this time that the various races were created. The fourth cycle was a dark age, when all magic was shunned and magic users hunted down. Finally, the Fifth cycle of the game’s title begins and magic starts to be re-discovered, and the excavation of Third Cycle ruins begins.

And now, Character creation.

Creating a character in 5thC is semi-random, that is, you roll to see how many points you get to spend on your attributes, you roll for your family’s profession, but can choose your own, and the amount of experience you get to spend on your own profession’s skill is based on your randomly determined age.

I roll badly on the attribute points table, getting the worst possible result, and 118 points to spend on my attributes. At this point I also decide to ponder what race to make my character.

Since I’m only using the main book, the only playable races are the ones that were created from humans by Tyrant mages of the third age, that is Dwarves, Elves, Waerlinga (sort of like halflings, but they wear shoes, and are renamed to Wynoc by a sticker inside the back cover of the book). To make a character non-human, you select it, then get two attempts to roll that race. If you fail, your character is human. If you make a character human to start with, they get a +1 bonus to a random attribute.

e.g.if I wanted to make my character an elf, I’d have two attempts to roll three or less on a d10, otherwise they’d be human.

Based on my lousy dice roll for attribute points, I decide on a human and roll a +1 to strength as my bonus attribute.

After assigning my attribute points, my character’s attributes and their primary and secondary modifiers (used to adjust the costs of skills, lower is better) are as follows:

Strength: 17 –1/0
Agility: 10 1/0
Hand manipulation: 10 1/0
Endurance: 10 1/0
Intelligence: 17 –1/0
Common sense: 15 0/0
Magical ability: 17 -1/0
Eloquence 14 0/0
Comeliness 10 1/0

These done, I now work out my character’s Magic Resistance, Movement rate, Encumbrance and Fatigue points.

Magic Resistance: 17 (this will change if I buy ranks in the Magic resisting skill)
Movement Rate: 2
Encumbrance: 27 kilos – every two kilos more than this that my character carries will reduce their agility and Move by one point. Rather harsh.
Fatigue points: 10

Next step is to roll my character’s age, which is 2d6+12 for all races. I get a total of 20. I then roll for my family’s profession and get 2 – Armsman. I decide that my character’s chosen profession will be Mage.

I also roll to see how tall my character is, deciding at this point to make her female. She turns out to be 174 cm tall. Character weight is based on height and mine weighs 146 Kg.

Now I get to start buying my skills.

I have 50 points to spend on skills from the Armsman and Common skill lists and 80 points to spend on any skills I want. Any skills not from the Armsman, Common or Mage lists will cost me more per rank. Any points not spent on skills must be banked towards improving set skills once play starts.

It is in skill purchasing that we see the first bit of small-press oddity from 5th cycle. Every skill has its own cost per rank. There is no unified skill costs table.

Anyway, let’s buy skills. First, the 50 points.

I decide on Combat Tactics, Strategy and a weapon skill. The first two adjust my initiative – CT during the round and Strategy when rolling for it, and a weapon skill just makes sense.

Looking at the skill cost table, the primary and secondary stats for Combat tactics are Endurance and Agility, giving a modifier to the cost of +1 per rank. The other skills work out at 0 for Strategy and –1 for Sword.

Combat Tactics: 1
Strategy: 1
Broadsword: 1

After buying a rank in each of the skills I wanted I have 11 points left.

Next to spend the 80 XP gained from my apprenticeship. I’m first going to spend these on magic skills, spells, then any useful common skills, and finally, if I have any points left over they’ll be spent on topping up my armsman skills.

The key skill for a Mage is Magic Training; it increases your spell points and controls the highest level of spell you can cast. I spend just over half my skill points and pick it up at level 2.

Magic training: 2
Magic Resisting: 1

Magic in Fifth cycle is split up into schools, and the school that you pick first controls the costs of all other spells you may want to buy – the closer they are to your school the cheaper they are. It also determines your opposition school – you can’t learn spells from that school until you’ve mastered two different schools of magic. I decide that my character’s primary school will be Darkness and buy the following spells.

Create Darkness: 2 (This is the basic skill in the Darkness school – all other spells have it as one of their perquisites)
Detect Traps: 1

After buying those skills and spells I have 10 skill points left. I now look at the Common Skill list and purchase the following, using both the 10 points left from my apprenticeship XP and the 11 from my family XP.

First Aid: 1
Swimming: 1
Riding: 1

The total cost of these is 18. I bank my 3 remaining XP in my Broadsword skill.
Also, now that I’ve bought levels of Magical training, I see that my character has 6 spell points.

Last steps are to work out my characters Hit points, Defensive bonus and starting money.

Hit points are worked out by cross-referencing the sum of your ST, EN and CS on a table. Mine work out as follows:

Head: 4
Torso: 8
Limbs: 5

For a normal human character there are 10 hit locations; each location gets its own set of hit points, so in this example, each limb would have 5 HP.

My agility of 10 gives me a –5 Defensive bonus.

I get 2d10+5 shillings as starting money, rolling 18, and basic equipment consisting of Soft leather armour, a couple of weapons for which I pick a broadsword and a dagger, some spare clothing and a pack to keep my stuff in.

And we’re done.

Next up, GURPs 3rd edition.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Another day, another game from the ‘it only cost a quid’ collection.

Dandanon, published by Wythchlight, is a British RPG published sometime in the mid nineties. The cover of the book is in black with an arcane diagram and the game’s name on it. It certainly looks nice, and promises an RPG with a strong occult theme.

The back cover is less enticing; it makes the usual fantasy heartbreaker promises. Of the two, it turns out that the back cover is the most accurate.

Undeterred, I crack open the book.

The inside of the book is far less inviting than the front; the font is small and sans serif; not the most readable thing in the world. Tables have no shading or other deliminator between rows, making them hard to follow.

Art is as expected; black and white line art, mostly amateurish, but few pieces are actively bad. An exception is the rather ornate dragon at the bottom of page 16-8, but since this is in a style not found anywhere else in the book, I suspect it was lifted from somewhere else.

Anyway, book savaged, it’s time to make a character.

First, we roll the stats. There’s nine of them in this game, and you roll them on 2d10, assign to suit. They’re then modified by your chosen race.

I roll and get
18, 5, 16, 11, 17, 11, 12, 13, 18
Having checked further ahead in the book I know that there’s no classes so I can assign these as I see fit and do so. I next pick my race.

Dandanon has the usual variety of elves, dwarves and humans, with added goblins, beastmen and orcs. Sadly these are all very vanilla, lacking the invention shown by some of the races in Darkurthe Legends. Since my previous two characters were human, this time I pick a high elf. As well as a few racial modifiers, this gives my guy +15 to his mythology skill. After racial modifiers are applied, my character has the following stats.

Physical Strength: 11
Manual Dexterity: 19
Agility: 12
Health: 10
Mental Strength: 11
Intelligence: 21
Memory: 18
Physical Beauty: 7 (hey, that 5 had to go somewhere, and ugly elves are amusing)
Size: 10

Next I roll my character’s social class, coming up with Merchant. Looking at the next table I see that there are two types of Merchants; Rich and Poor ones. I give my character a 75% chance to be from a poor Merchant family and roll 38.

No wonder the poor boy left to become an adventurer.

Anyway, being from a Poor Merchant family gives my character the following skill bonuses:

Oratory: +20
Bargain: +20
Townwise: +10
Read/Write: +20

He also gets 50-150 starting gold.

Next, we’re onto skills.

At this point Dandanon goes a bit funny. There are three ways to determine the base value of skills. They can have a set number, they can be based on the roll of 3d10, or they can be based on an attribute.

You get two pools of points to buy skills from. Physical skill points can be spent on Physical or General skills, and Mental skill points can be spent on Mental or General skills. The number of points you get is calculated from your Physical and Mental attributes.

Physical skills: 156
Mental skills: 200

Going through the list, I pick out the following skills. I also find that the game recommends that characters not be allowed to spend points on combat skills during character creation unless the GM has a good reason.

I decide that it’s no fun for characters to get killed in the first session is enough of a good reason and ignore this rule.

The mental skills I decide to spend points on are as follows, and for the purposes of this exercise I decide to split my mental skill points evenly amongst them. Once that’s done and their base values are added in I get the following results:

Creaturewise: 42
General knowledge: 40
Mythology: 58
Treat Wound: 34
Oratory: 63
Bargain: 63
Townwise: 40
Read/Write: 42
Thaumaturgy: 43

The same procedure is followed for my Physical skill choices.

Dodge: 34
Climb: 33
Hide: 34
Listen: 47
Parry Evasion: 22
Speed Specialist (sword): 22
Swim: 32

It should be noted that the book doesn’t say which category each skill comes under, I decided that myself.

Attributes, skills and social class noted, I’m done right?

No, no I’m not. Now I have to work out my character’s secondary statistics. There are a lot of these, and they’re all calculated off my main attributes or each other. Calculator time!

Encumbrance factor: We have a problem here. The calculation for ENF is apparently ENP/(PSTR*2). I can’t see anything that could be ENP, so leaving this for now.
Combat Speed: 6
Awareness factor: 10
Perception adjustment: -5
To hit adjustment: 9
Evasion: 4
Parry adjustment: 1
To parry: 12
Penetration adjustment: 1
Damage adjustment: 0
General hit points: 26
Wound class: 0
Shock hit points: 26
Shock class: 0
Spell points: 82
Word magic failure chance: 0
Short magic failure chance: 0
Long magic failure chance: 0

The last three secondary attributes are calculated with the formula of (11-attribute)^2, but equal 0 if Attribute is 11 or more. Okay, so it’s not complicated to calculate things to the power of two, but still, WTF?

Anyway, since the next chapter seems to be combat, I think I’m done with Bob the High Elf Merchant’s son.

Of the three games I’ve made characters for so far, this is the one I’d least like to play. Yes, seriously. I would play Synnibarr before Dandanon, and at least my Darkurthe Legends character has a pet fox.

Next is Fifth Cycle, another heartbreaker, but not from the 'it only cost a quid' collection.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Darkurthe Legends

Another one from the 'It only cost a quid' collection, DL is a fantasy heartbreaker. In short form, a RPG that attempts to improve on D&D, is obviously a labour of love by its writers and has a few neat features, but which ultimately fails to introduce anything new, and usually falls far short of the promises made to the players.

From the back of DarkUrthe Legends:

As the shadows of evil stretch across the land, calls come forth from the ancient kings of Darkurthe for champions.

Only a few brave souls dare to face the other-world horrors that were thought to exist only in legend.

Those that survive are changed forever, unable to return to the ordinary lives they have left behind.

They have learned that
… from trials come heroes,
from heroes come legends.

Thrilling stuff, huh?

A look inside the cover reveals a quite readable looking game, albeit one with amateurish artwork.

So, onwards to character generation.

First, as is usually the case, I have to generate my attributes. In Darkurthe these are Strength, Agility, Willpower, Intellect, Personality and Faith.

The first five are generated on a roll of 2d6+4. There aren’t any official alternate generation schemes, so I go with roll and assign in order, resulting in the following scores:

Strength: 13
Agility: 12
Willpower: 10
Intellect: 15
Person: 13

Your faith score is rated from 0-5, and seems to be determined by race or profession. If it isn’t dictated by either race or profession, you start with a rating of zero.

Next I have to select my race.

We have a few varieties of elf, including evil ones, some types of humans, barbarian half-giant types, and half elves and dwarves.

Looking at the humans I decided to make my character a Mohr as they’re described as being well educated and get three extra Race Skills.

Since humans don’t have any Race Skills listed, I look at the other races and decide that in this case my Race Skills can be treated as three extra skill picks. As we’re going to see, those extra picks will be important in letting me make the sort of character I want.

Attributes rolled, and race picked, it’s time to roll up a few characteristics; these turn out to be what other games call Merits and Flaws.

Again, there’s no official method to decide how many you get to roll, so I decide that my character will have 1d4, and roll a 2.

The first roll gives me Pet Friend from the Fortune category, the second Fast Learner from the Personality category. Other Characteristic categories are Natural ability and Social status.

I decide that my Pet friend is a Fennec Fox, as the Mohrs come from a desert country, and I suspect any sensible GM wouldn’t let me pick a Cheetah.

Fast Learner gives me more XP during game play.

Next it’s time to calculate my secondary attributes, by checking a bunch of tables and doing some simple maths.

My secondary attributes are:

Strength damage: d8
Combat Reaction: 0
Current Source: 3
NPC reaction: Friendly
Learn: 4
Life: 23
Health: 11
Speed: 120’

There are three options for classes in DL: Race Orders which are somewhat like D&D’s prestige classes. These have the most limits on who can take them, but give you more grounding in the world as well as more abilities than a Tradesman or Free tradesman.

Tradesmen have a set of skills that you have to take, with any left over picks being free-choice. Tradesmen should belong to one of the Guilds or Cults listed later on in this chapter, or they may as well be Free Tradesmen.

Looking over both the race orders and Tradesman lists I decide that none of them fit, and make a Free Tradesman using the Loremaster and Mercenary skill lists for inspiration.

Once more there’s no guidance from the book as to whether you can take a skill more than once in character creation (thus starting with a higher rating), so I assume not and use my seven skill picks as follows.

Ancient Lore
Military combat (this covers three combat skills, so costs 2 picks)
Magic Lore
Combat Mastery

The last thing is to roll up my money; I manage to have 15 gold. It’s a good thing that characters all start with a weapon, because looking at the price list, that 15 gold wasn’t going to go far – a set of common clothes and some leather armour seems to be my lot. Wonder if I can sell my fox?

Nothing really special here, most of my impression of my character comes from a combination of my chosen race and culture, and the random roll of the Pet Friend on the characteristics table.

A brief flick through the skill usage and combat chapter shows I’m going to have to be very lucky to win many stand-up fights, and fairly lucky to succeed at any skill rolls.

The book is less than clear in many places, and often tells the GM, ‘Well, we didn’t really know how this should be selected, so here’s a couple of suggestions or try something else if you don’t like those.’

World of Synnibarr

World of Synnibarr has been long regarded as the king of gonzo ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ and ‘WTF were they smoking?’ game design.

It’s one of the games that people joke about running, but don’t.

It has two types of bear with laser beam eyes: the Sea bear and the Giant flying grizzly bear. (Potential players will be pleased to know that the Giant Sunstone, Midnight Sunstone and plain Sunstone grizzlies don’t appear to have eyebeams). One of the character types gets a weapon called a ‘Midnight Sunstone Bazooka’ at level 40 as well as the ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ Big Gun at level 20. There are also Giant Armoured Bees.

It has a rule that states that if the GM fudges anything or otherwise deviates from the rules as written, the players are allowed to call his bluff and either get the adventure declared null and void and their characters reset to their pre-adventure state, or get double XP from the adventure.

It cost me a quid, and to this day I’m not sure if it was a rip-off or not. I’m certainly never going to play it, character creation doesn’t have quite the comedy value that it would in other games, and it’s only just minable for ideas.

And yet, here I am, making a character for it because it’s the first book on my games shelf.

Step one

Generate basic initial characteristic scores.

From the start World of Synnibarr makes no pretence that this is anything other than a ridiculously high powered game. Your six characteristics are rolled on 7 d20, dropping any that roll below 8, then dropping the two lowest and re-rolling one until it is both above eight and above the scores that you dropped.

I manage to get the following numbers: 14,10,20,15,17, and 19.

What? A 10? How did that happen? My two dropped rolls were a 10 and an 8, that’s how. They were replaced with the 19.

Attributes done, it’s time to pick a class. These are supposed to be done semi-randomly – you roll three times on the class table and can then pick one of the classes rolled. Not realising this, I go to the class section and pick an Archer as the best fit for my Warrior-Scholar build.

Archers in WoS are great shots, keen gamblers and appreciate the arts, running a museum that they all act as collectors for. Though the size of the museum isn’t that impressive; it only takes four days to go around; the Lourve is supposed to take at least a week for a proper visit.

Having decided on playing an Archer, I assign my dice rolls to the attributes. Archers get bonuses to their Strength, Agility, Dexterity and Wisdom. The other attributes are Constitution and Intelligence.

After assigning my rolls and adding the bonuses, my archer’s characteristics are as follows:

Constitution: 17
Strength: 19
Agility: 22
Dexterity: 25
Intelligence: 14
Wisdom: 11

Next, I quote the book.

Here comes the fun part. Now you get to fill in all the rest of the scores on your character sheet. Most of these are a simple case of cross-referencing your ability scores with the columns of the tables.

Phew. I thought that this might be the bit I need a calculator for.

Anyway, after much cross-referencing of tables I ended up with the following attributes:

Attacks: 2
Attack segments: 6 and 11
Advantage bonus: 4 (1.5 from agility, 2.5 from dexterity)
Surprise adjustment: -15
Dodge: 61 (2* Agility + my dodge bonus)
Beam attack dodge: 46 (75% of my dodge; I decided to round up.)
Block: 61
Damage bonus: *2
Weight limit: 200 lbs
30% chance to locate traps

I roll up a rather measly 370 life points (1d6*100 + con bonus)

Next are the saving throws:

Magic/Psionics/FP: 9%
Alchemy/Chi/Mutations: 12%
Metabolic shock: 44%
Poison/disease/chemicals: 27%

Whilst I have an Intelligence stat, the book decides that from now on it’s going to be called Ego. As Ego is shorter to type, that’s what I’ll use too.

Reaction bonus: none

I next roll on the Ego Flux table – this seems to declare whether I have a good or bad personality. I get a result of good, meaning no adjustment to my reaction bonus.

The last set of attributes to look up are the chances of my character being surprised.

These are as follows:

Surprise category: chance to be surprised

AA: 99%
A: 75%
B: 80%
C: 70%

According to the combat chapter, the surprise categories are, in order, Invisible ambush, Invisible, Ambush and ‘sucker punch’.

Also, whilst browsing the combat chapter I find a couple of semi-nifty rules. You can, if you have an attack on the same turn that you’re being attacked, try to attack your opponent before his attack is launched (but after you see if you’ve been hit or not) – effectively you’re attempting to retcon the last attack against you.

The second rule is in the same vein but allows the rest of the party to try to save you if you fail to avoid an attack. If the blow would have killed you, they get 1 XP per one of your levels, and if they get killed whilst trying to save you, the player’s next character gets a +2 bonus to all Attribute rolls when creating a new character.

Anyway, the hard numbers are down, time to roll up my characters physical appearance and starting money.

A few dicerolls later and I see that my archer is a good-looking 24-year-old Asian female with red hair and brown eyes. She’s ~7’ tall and weighs about 12 stone.

She enters the world with $13000 with which to buy stuff.

Final steps are to note down skills and any special Archer abilities.

All characters start with the following basic skills:

Balancing and Juggling, Climbing, Combat: Dodging and Blocking, Combat: Hand-Held weapons, Combat: Projectile and throwing weapons, Computer Operation, Cooking, Detect traps and secret doors, Fishing, Maths: basic, Medical: first aid, Navigation: air, Navigation: land, Navigation: water, Piloting: boats, Reading, Running, Sewing, Survival: wilderness, Swimming: basic, Weaving, Woodcarving and Writing.

Additionally, as an Archer, my character picks up : Ambush, Archery, Concealment, Gambling and Sniping.

Her special archer abilities at first level are:

Create Matter – an Earth Power spell that allows the creation of things like bows and arrows, but not money.

Basic Archer arrows – None of these require a physical arrow to be in the bow. The basic arrows gained at first level are: Earth Power, Entangle and Grappling.

I also get to roll twice to see what Special Archer Arrows I know how to create. These do require a physical arrow in the bow, and up to four effects can be placed on the same shaft. The arrows my character learns are Sight Arrow which is a clairvoyance effect, and Phazing arrow which ignores all defence that doesn’t specifically stop Phazed attacks.

And done.

Overall, character creation isn’t too complex, though the game itself continues to seem quite ridiculous.

The Archer is probably one of the least powerful characters I could have made, and possibly not a good example of the bad-craziness that infects World of Synnibarr. For that, have a look at the reviews on RPGnet.

World of Synnibarr entry on RPGnet's gaming index.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The 'Create a character' challenge

Well, it's not so much a challenge, more a reason to have a look at some of the games I've bought over the years.

Inspired by this thread on RPGnet, I'm going to be making one character for every RPG that I own.

Where character generation is random, the dice will be obeyed. Where it is not, or choices are allowed, the goal will be to make some sort of Warrior-scholar type.

Where different editions of a game are owned, a character will only be made for the most recent edition, unless there are significant differences between editions.

Equipment will not be purchased unless it's an essential part of the character, e.g. cyberware.

Sadly, I've bought a lot of rather rubbish games in my time as curios and 'How not to...' guides for when I get around to writing my own RPG (as every RPer is wont to do).

Looking at my gameshelf, the first five will be World of Synnibar, Dark Urthe Legends, Dandanon, Fifth Cycle and Gurps 3rd edition.

Fortunately, most of the stinkers are at the beginning of my games-shelf.