Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ars Magica 4th edition

Ars Magica is set in what it terms Mythic Europe. Players take the roles of Magi of the Order of Hermes, their companions and servants. One of the interesting features of Ars Magica is that it promotes the concept of Troupe style play. That is, each player will have several characters, typically a Magi and a few Companions and servants, and would rotate those characters as required by the story. It also suggests that a campaign doesn’t have to have the same GM all the time.

There are a few links between Ars Magica and the old World of Darkness, namely the Order of Hermes itself and one of the houses within in, House Tremere who at the time of Ars Magica 4th have recently been found to have been harbouring vampires.

Now, onto character creation.

As Magi as the main characters of the game, that’s what I’m going to make.

The Order of Hermes is an umbrella organisation of mages, containing several different houses from the animalistic Bjornaer, the social Jerbiton to Verditius, skilled in enchanting items.

I decide to make my character a member of House Flambeau. As their name suggests, they’re rather fond of Fire magic.

I decide to make my character female and name her Islode.

There are eight characteristics, with scores normally going from +3 to –3. I’m going to use the point buy method of character generation rather than rolling, so I have seven points to spend. I then have to decide on a speciality for any non-zero characteristic, though these don’t have any mechanical effect.

Intelligence +2 (memory)
Perception +1 (sounds)
Strength –1 (thin)
Stamina +1 (bloody-minded)
Presence 0
Communication +2 (explanations)
Dexterity 0
Quickness 0

I now pick Virtues and Flaws for my character. Magi are allowed up to 10 points of each, with the restriction that the total must be zero.

I decide that Strong Writer fits with Islode’s communication speciality, I also decide to give her the Life Linked Spontaneous magic Virtue which enables her to cast spontaneous magic at a specified level at the cost of health levels. (Normally the effectiveness of spontaneous magic is determined solely by how well you roll, this allows the roll to be boosted by burning health. The catch is that the level has to be declared before the dice are rolled – it is possible to kill a character with this virtue.)
That’s four points of Virtues so far, and I’ve only looked at the Magi specific ones. Before I look at the common Virtues and flaws, I’m going to have a look at the Magi specific flaws.

I pick Infamous master – Islode’s teacher had a foul temper and was not above setting fire to things and people that displeased him. I also pick Short-lived magic Islode’s spells don’t last as long as they should unless she uses Vis when casting, and finally I pick Stingy master - Islode starts with fewer points to spend on her spells and Arts. This is probably due to gaps in her education when her master was in too foul a mood to be safely approachable.

I now look at the General virtues and flaws, and currently have one point free. I decide to spend that on the +1 virtue, Second sight

Whilst there are a few nice Virtues that I’d like, there aren’t that many flaws that appeal, so I leave it at that.

Strong Writer
Life-linked Spontaneous magic
Second sight

Infamous master
Stingy master
Short-lived magic

It’s now time to buy abilities. Isolode starts with a few skills and 13+her age in experience points to spend on more. Since apprenticeship takes around 15 years, I decide to make Islode 27, giving her 40 experience to spend on abilites.

Including her starting abilities, after spending her 40 xp, Islode has the following skills - specialities are in brackets. Each skill should have a speciality, though I've only listed a couple here.

Magic theory 4
Organisation lore (OoH) 1
Parma Magica (Ignem) 4
Scribe Latin 4 (original composition)
Speak Latin 5
Speak French 4
Finesse (Ignem) 3
Penetration (Ignem) 3
Concentration (spells) 2
Scribe French 3
Certamen 2
Occult Lore 1
Etiquette 1
Second Sight 1 - Islode gets this from the virtue, I haven’t spent any points on it

Finesse and Penetration are related to spell casting; the former helps with things like targeting and the latter with overcoming your target’s magic resistance. Parma Magica is the ability to shield yourself from magic, and Certamen is the art of magical duelling.

I now need to spend points on Islode’s magical skills. Due to the Stingy Master flaw I only get 130 points to spend rather than the usual 150.

Magic in Ars Magica is semi-freeform. There are five magical techniques (Creation, Perception, Transformation, Destruction and Control) that can be applied to any of the ten Forms (animal, water, air, body, plant, fire, image, mind, earth and power). Any given spell falls into a combination of Technique and Form, but it is also possible to cast spells spontaneously, though they’re often much weaker than a learnt spell.

You cannot pick spells with a level higher level than your character’s Technique+Form+10.

As Islode is a Flambeau Magi, I decide that Creo and Ignem are the two Arts most of her training would have concentrated on, so buy both of them at 10, for a cost of 110 points, leaving me with 20.

The best I can do with my remaining 20 points is to buy two more Arts at level 4; I decide to buy the Muto and Perdo techniques.

Having spent those points, Islode has the following Art scores:

Ignem: 10 (fire)
Creo: 10 (creation)
Perdo: 4 (destruction)
Muto: 4 (transformation)

I now have another 130 points to spend on spells. The first ones I’m going to look at are Creo Ignem spells as Islode can have those up to level 30.

Heat of the searing forge (10)
Lamp without flame (10)
Flash of the scarlet flames (15)
Pilum of fire (20)
Arc of Fiery ribbons (25)

That’s 80 points spent, leaving me with 50. As I understand the rules, I can pick spells from arts that I have no score in, as the training of an OoH Hermes magus includes all Arts, they’ll just be limited to level 10, and my chances of casting anything above 5 without fatigue aren’t too good.

Anyway, the remaining points get spent as follows:

Show of flames and smoke (Muto Ignem, 10)
Sooth the raging flames (Perdo Ignem, 15)
Bind wound (Creo Corpus, 10)
Rising Ire (Creo Mentem, 15)

The main thing left to decide is Islode’s wizard’s sigil – a magical signature of sorts that occurs on all her magic. I decide that the spell’s arcane formulae appear around her in faint glowing lines when she casts.

Other details like personality traits have no real mechanical use and are something I usually decide in the first few sessions rather than at creation.

Next up are Kult, Jovian Chronicles, Core Command and Fading suns 1st edition.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The End

"The meek have inherited the earth. Poor bastards."

The End is a biblical post-apocalyptic game, set after the world has ended as per the book of Revelations. The evil have been dragged down to hell, the good have gone to heaven, and almost everyone else has died.

You play one of the Meek – those who were neither good nor bad, and had turned their back on faith. (Exact faith doesn’t matter – the God of The End accepted Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and good members of polytheistic religions.)

The game is focused on the ruins of North America, and details several small communities that have sprung up since the end of the world. These tend to be unpleasant, doomed or both.

Since The End, the world has started to revert back to nature – anything man-made that isn’t actively being used by people is decaying, animals, except for dogs, are getting larger and more aggressive.

I can’t decide if the End is depressing or hopeful. It has the potential to be played in either direction.

Character generation is quite simple and totally points based. I decide to play an ex-police officer, for the very munchkin reason that it allows me to justify having some combat skills at the start.

Attributes in this game are called potentials, which sounds a bit odd but makes sense in terms of the system.

We have 25 points to spend between the 8 Potentials, and an average human score is 3.

Dexterity 3
Endurance 3
Health 4
Strength 3
Charisma 2
Perception 4
Knowledge 3
Freewill 3

Next we have 40 points to spend on skills, with two restrictions: your character must have at least 15 skills, and no skill can start higher than 6.

Alertness 3
Area Knowledge (New York) 3
Cooking 1
Diplomacy 2
Disarm/subdue 4
Drive (manual) 3
Education 1
Firearms (hand gun) 3
First aid 2
Fishing 2
Hand-to-hand combat 3
Law 4
Scavenging 1
Search 3
Streetwise 4
Swim 1

Next I have 30 discretionary points to spend on skills. Extra levels of Potential cost 10 points, and extra skills cost 2 per level.

I can also gain an extra 10 points by taking a flaw.

I decide to up my characters Freewill and Charisma, bringing them up to 4 and 3 respectively. The remaining 10 discretionary points go towards improving skills, making the following changes:

Alertness 4
Diplomacy 4
First aid 3
Firearms (handgun) 4

Points all spent, it’s time to decide my character’s Sin – why he wasn’t allowed into Heaven or sent to hell. I decide Joe wasn’t very religious to start with, and his time as a cop made him unable to believe in the idea of a benevolent god. I decide that Atheist is the best fit.

Joe also starts with an Ennui rating of 50.

Ennui represents the effects of being alone on human beings. Characters gain Ennui when they’re not in a large community; the amount varies depending on how alone they are. When Ennui hits 100, the character dies or goes mad from loneliness.

And we’re done.

Before I go, a brief explanation of the system and a comment on the sample adventure.

The system is a bit odd, in that a skill check requires two dice rolls.

First, you roll your Potential vs. your skill rating. E.g. if Joe above was trying to fish he’d roll 3 dice (Knowledge – I’ve decided that success in fishing is down to knowing how to do it.) vs. a rating of 2.

I roll 8,4 and 1, giving 1 success die.

The success dice are then rolled against a difficulty number set by the GM. Any that roll equal to or below the difficulty are counted at their full value, any that roll above count as a one.

In our fishing example we’ll say that it’s a fairly good patch of water, so it’s not difficult to get a bite, and set the difficulty at 7.

Rolling our one successful trial die results in a 5. As this is below 7 it counts as a 5 point success. Good fishing for Joe.

It probably works but I think that two skill rolls for every check would bog things down a bit, especially during combat.

And now for the sample adventure. It’s no secret that sample adventures tend to be fairly dire, but this one takes the biscuit. If the PCs go even slightly off-plan, it falls apart totally, and there isn’t a player group in existence who isn’t going to think that there’s something terribly suspect about the entire set-up from day one, and plan to get out of Dodge as soon as their ennui has dropped to a safe level.

Next, we’ll be looking at Ars Magica, then more theological horror in the form of Kult 1st edition.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Published in 1990 by Stellar Games, Nightlife bills itself as ‘The Role Playing Game of Urban Horror’ on the cover and as Splatterpunk inside.

The cover depicts an eighties-new wave vampire holding a scantily clad woman on the tracks of a graffiti covered underground station, whilst werewolves crawl out of the tunnel and from under the platform.

The internal art is sketchy but fits the subject matter well.

In style, the game is best described as Vampire: the Masquerade’s crude and noisy older brother.

PCs are one of several supernatural races, collectively known as the Kin. Normal humans are termed the Herd. There are also several factions; The Commune who try to keep things low key and stop the actions of the other three groups - The Complex, The Morningstar Corporation and Red Moonrise from getting the Herd worked up enough to start monster hunting again.

The default setting of Night Life is NYC in the nineties but with a very eighties/early nineties look and feel. The book includes a necessarily brief overview of the city including groups and places of interest.

Character creation

First step, as usual is to roll my character’s ability scores. These are rolled on 4d10, then modified by the type of Kin I decide to make my character.

Strength – 20
Dexterity – 29
Fitness – 13
Intellect – 24
Will – 13
Perception – 16
Attractiveness – 17
Luck – 18

The monster types in Nightlife are closer to their mythological counterparts than those in White Wolf's games. I decide to keep things basic and make a Vampyre. This modifies the rolled abilities to the levels below, which lets me calculate Survival points and Base Hand to Hand damage. Race also determines my character's beginning edges and flaws.

Strength – 40
Dexterity – 34
Fitness – 18
Intellect – 24
Will – 13
Perception – 16
Attractiveness – 22
Luck – 18

Survival points – 36
Base HtH – 8

Beginning edges: Drain (blood), Mesmerise
Flaws: Environmental harm (Sunlight, immersion in running water) Substance vulnerability (Garlic, Wood, Fire, Holy relics), Repulsion (Holy relics, Garlic), Diet restriction (human or animal blood), Infection (chance to create new vampyres if humanity is lower than 50), Special (must sleep for 8 hours a day on a bed of consecrated earth from the cemetery in which they were buried)

Supernatural abilities are called Edges; some are common to all Kin, also, each race of Kin have a bundle that are inherent to that race. All characters have the potential to use any of the Edges allowed for their race, but the first time that they do so, they must pay the acquisition cost in Maximum humanity. Improving Edges also seems to cost max humanity at a ratio of points lost to points gained. E.g. to raise the Claws edge by 5 costs 1 max humanity.

As a vampyre, my character has the potential to use Animal control, Bat form, Infection, Mesmerise, Mist form, Rat form and Wolf form. He can also use any of the common Edges which are: Armor, Aura sight, Claws, Danger sense, Drain, Event Manipulation, Locate Human, Mental mapping, Nocturnal vision, Photogenics, Send dream, Speed, Time sense and Weather control.

Most are pretty self-explanatory, though Event Manipulation is interesting. It allows a ret-con of recent events, or the arranging of future events to suit. The cost and difficulty is based on the timescale, direction and number of people affected, but not the nature of the event itself.

Photogenics allows the character to be photographed – by default Kin don’t show up on film.

Since these can be picked up during play by spending Max humanity, I’m not bothering to select any extras for now, so my character’s humanity is 50.

Next we pick skills. Characters get 20 rolls of 1d10 to allocate between skills. All the points from a roll must go to the same skill. Skills start at a base level of their related attribute, and a skill level of 20 is assumed to be competent – rolls aren’t needed for mundane uses of the skill.

8, 4, 7, 6, 10, 3, 8, 9, 2, 6, 4, 5, 4, 9, 4, 4, 8, 6, 10, 2

A nice set of rolls.

My guy’s fairly strong and dexterous, and pretty bright. Everything else is a bit rubbish.

I decide that he was a college student who got distracted from his studies, fell in with a bad crowd and ended up a Vampyre.

After going over the skill list and adding my rolls to the skills I want, my character has the following skills.

Streetfighting - 40
Business (criminal) - 30
Pharmacology - 63
Science (Chemistry) - 42
Science (Biology) - 43
Scavenging - 34
City Knowledge (New York) - 32
Computer operation (Int) – 33

And we’re done. Not being too sure what to call him, I get the name Dominic Savage from a random generator, and decide that in a desperate attempt to sound cooler than he is, Dominic introduces himself as D Savage.

Next should be another Fantasy Heartbreaker called Legend Quest, but a brief glance through it shows that it's rather bland and generic and unlikely to be of great interest. Therefore, next are The End, Ars Magica 4th edition and Kult 1st edition.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Call of Cthuthlu 4th edition

I’ll be frank. I detest Call of Cthuthlu (CoC), it’s one of the games I refuse to play. Why this hatred?

The premise of CoC is that your hapless characters investigate the Cthuthulu mythos, go insane and die. Maybe not in that adventure, but they will. And they never ever have even the slightest glimmer of hope that their lives and deaths will have meant something or had a positive impact on the world. Worst of all, they don’t even make the choice to doom themselves as characters in other games may – their doom is inevitable.

Real life is depressing enough, thank you.

So, this one is going to be quick and dirty.

First, roll attributes. Most of these are rolled on 3d6, with the exceptions of Education, which is rolled on 3d6+3, and Size and Intelligence, which are on 2d6+6.

I roll and get:

Strength: 16
Constitution: 10
Size: 10
Intelligence: 10
Power: 14
Dexterity: 10
Appearance: 9
Education: 16

From these I work out a few extra attributes:

Idea: 50
Luck: 70
Know: 80

My character starts with a starting Sanity of 70; pretty good.

His STR and SIZ combined give him a +1d4 damage bonus, and the average of his CON and SIZ give him 10 hitpoints.

I now have to choose my character’s occupation. His two main traits are his education and strength. The listed occupations learn towards the academic, exceptions being the Private investigator and Dilettante. I decide to make Humphrey Winter a Professor.

I get EDU*15 or 240 points to spend on skills from his Profession.

I pick the following skills from the Professor list, raise Library use and History to 50 from their base values and split the rest of my points evenly between the others.

Archaeology 37
Anthropology 37
History 50
Library use 50
Linguist 37
Read/Write Greek 37
Read/Write Latin 37

Humphrey now gets INT*5 or 50 points to spend on any skills. I decide to top up his current skills rather than give him any new ones – many skills in CoC have default values that should carry him through any non-critical use of the skill.

Archaeology 50
Anthropology 50
History 50
Library use 50
Linguist 40
Read/Write Greek 45
Read/Write Latin 50

And there we are. Poor doomed Humphrey Winter.

Next, Night Life from Stellar Games.

On Skill point costs

You may recall that during the creation of my Fifth Cycle character, I had a bit of a go at the system for having different points costs for various skills, but that I allow GURPS to do the same thing with no comment.

In fact, many RPGs use differing points costs for skills, such as GURPS which bases the cost on difficulty, or BESM which uses genre utility to set the costs. The difference between those systems and Fifth Cycle is that they either have a set skill cost per level or a clear pattern to their skill costs.

For instance, take the sword skill. In GURPs this is a Physical/Average skill with a point cost as follows:

Skill level - Point cost
DX-2 - 0.5
DX-1 - 1
DX - 2
DX+1 - 4
DX+2 - 8


In BESM, combat skills are usually very useful, so have a flat cost of around 6 points per level.

In Fifth Cycle the sword skill is priced as follows:

Rank - Cost per rank
1 - 9
2 - 14
3 - 23
4 - 36
5 - 72
6 - 108
7 - 144
8 - 180

There's almost, but not quite a pattern.

9+(9/2 rounded up) = 14. 9+14 is 23. That's good. The next level must cost 23+14, or 37. No, it costs 36. Well, maybe the level after that costs 59? No, it costs 72. 2*36. But then, 72+36 does equal 108. 108+36 equals 144, and 108+72 equals 180.

Rank - Cost per rank
1 - x
2 - x+(x/2)=y
3 - y+x=z
4 - z+y-1=a
5 - 2a=b
6 - a+b=c
7 - c+a
8 - c+b

Comparing my set of rules to other skills show that they do match them, it seems the -1 for Rank 4 is due to rounding errors. However, there is no way that anyone can call that a logical way to work out skill costs.

So here's a challenge, dear readers, assuming we start with an even skill cost, say, 8 rather than 9, help me come up with a formulae that works for all skill levels and makes sense in a way that doesn't require Carol Vorderman to explain it.