Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday, 26 September 2021

A Bounty of Action & Action Points

Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game is designed as the world’s easiest roleplaying game—and it is. Mostly. Published by Great GM following a successful Kickstarter campaign, it is a Science Fiction roleplaying game in which the Player Characters are galactic bounty hunters. The need for law enforcement has grown to the point where it has not only been commercialised, but institutionalised, and whatever their species, their background and their former occupations, today’s bounty hunters are graduates of Bounty Hunter School. Now they ‘Seek Capture Return Get Paid’. Their clients are governments, law enforcement, corporations, and even individuals. It is a lucrative business, but expenses, in particular, operating their own starship, are high.

Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game comes not as one book, but three. They include ‘Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game’ along with ‘Bounty Hunter Resource: Huntari Region’ and ‘Bounty Hunter Bounty: Halcord Midmo’. However, they are not separate books, but have been compiled into one book and compiled into one book without each being renumbered. It gives the book an odd feel, but not necessarily a feel that impedes play. That oddity aside, Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game comes with everything necessary to play, including rules and character generation, setting, and a scenario.

A character—a Bounty Hunter—in Bounty Hunter is defined by his Species, Skills, Action Points, and Equipment. The creation process is a matter of making eight choices. These are for Species, Birthright (or origins), Education, Career prior to becoming a Bounty Hunter, Reason to Become a Bounty Hunter, Six Interests, Abilities, and Name. In the default setting of ‘Bounty Hunter Resource: Huntari Region’, eight Species are given and at each choice up until Reason to Become a Bounty Hunter, a player has nine options to choose from and each choice provides a Bounty Hunter with two Skills. At the Six Interests step, a player is free to select extra Skills his Bounty Hunter does not have—the number depending on the number of players, whilst for Abilities, he selects a single one. An Ability is an extraordinary or dramatic talent, such as Fast Draw, which allows a Bounty Hunter to automatically act in the First Phase of a Dramatic Scene with a Ranged Attack or Doctor, which increases the amount the Bounty Hunter heals from five Action Points to six. Also up until the Six Interests step, all of the options are accompanied by a piece of flavour text, which a player is encouraged to copy and modify to help develop his Bounty Hunter’s background. With more than one player, the creation process is intended to be collaborative, with players discussing the Skills they have chosen so that a broad range of Skills is available to the party.

Thorby Baslim
Species: Human
Reputation: 1
Birthright: Slave Pits
Education: Streetside
Career: Spy
Reason: Death
Skills: Culture, Deception, Engineering, Logic, Melee Combat, Mounted Weapons, Ranged Combat, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Strength
Ability: Polyglot
Languages: Slavesk, Galactic
Action Points: 20

Mechanically, Bounty Hunter is simple. It uses an Action Point economy. Every Bounty Hunter starts each day with a total of twenty and they represent not just his capacity to act, but also his health. To act, the Bounty Hunter must have the particular Skill and simply expends one Action Point. If he does not possess the Skill, then he cannot undertake that task, though he can defend himself in combat. If the Bounty Hunter has the Skill and the Action Point is spent, he automatically succeeds at the task. It is as simple as that.

However, Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game gets a little more complex when it comes to opposed actions, with participants in a situation—for example, a Bounty Hunter using Intimidation against a small time crook NPC with more information about a bounty, the Game Master using Psychology to mentally defend himself—expending Action Points to counter each other. Typically, this countering of Action Points continues until one participant decides to give way, switches to a different Skill which cannot be countered or defended against, or one participant exhausts his Action Points. Tasks can also be Repeated, requiring the Bounty Hunter to expend Action Points over multiple rounds for it to succeed, and they can also be Chained. This is again, more complex in that a player will need to expend multiple Action Points to succeed at a task. For example, to fire a weapon at another spaceship, Thorby Baslim uses the Mounted Weapons Skill, but to target a specific location on another spaceship, his player needs to link or Chain three Skills, in this case, Engineering, Logic, and Mounted Weapons. His player pays an Action Point for each use of the three Skills, for a total of three. In general though, Chained actions are used for starship combat.

Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game is played in Freeform or Dramatic scenes. Freeform scenes are when general or supportive actions and roleplaying takes place, Dramatic scenes are when the action and excitement take place, and could be a shootout, an interrogation, a computer hacking attempt, and so on. Each Dramatic scene is divided into two phases, a First Phase and a Last Phase. Each participant can take one significant action in a Dramatic scene, but must choose whether to act in the First Phase or the Last Phase, and if a participant wants to act in the First Phase, he must expend an Action Point. This is in addition to the expenditure of an Action Point to use a Skill. Within each Phase, all actions are simultaneous and each player needs to declare his action lest his Bounty Hunters be unable to act for that Scene…! In combat, if an attack is successful, damage is inflicted in terms of Action Point loss—two for a punch, three for a martial arts strike, five for a sword, five for a RAN ‘Rail-Assist Nil Point Variance Projectile’ Pistol, seven for a PHASE ‘Phased Hayer-Accelerated Single Electron’ Pistol, and so on.

Starship combat in Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game adds another degree of complexity, but not overly so. Players and their Bounty Hunters are still using their Skills and expending Action Points to act, but a starship has various components, from communications and countermeasures to scanners and transponder unit, each of which has a Power Pool of points. A Power Pool is slightly different to Action Points, in that although it represents how much damage a particular component can suffer before being knocked out, it also represents how effective it is. A player can spend Action Points to have his Bounty Hunter shift points from one Power Pool to another to increase a component’s effectiveness, for example, increasing the damage done by a RAN turret, or to repair damage done to a starship.

Beyond a handful of NPCs and sample spaceships, the latter running from single-pilot craft to warships, Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game includes a sample setting with ‘Bounty Hunter Resource: Huntari Region’. This details a region of space occupied by several different factions, not just Humans, including the Rakesh microbe colonies, the tentacular Lonlaneek, the militaristic and dispassionate Goraan, the warlike and feline Baharresk, and more. There are eight different Species in the region, plus AIs, all of them playable as Bounty Hunters. They are all different and they are all interesting, although the Baharresk do feel like the Aslan of Traveller’s Third Imperium setting and the Kzin of Larry Niven’s Known Space tales. A nice touch is that their descriptions do include their preferred pronouns. The various polities and sectors are described in a fair amount of detail in just a few pages each, covering governance, unique features, military and police, individual worlds, and a list of bounties. So the Greypan Alliance consists of human-dominated worlds in a mutual defence and trade pact, which heavily patrols against intruders from the region of space known as the Rift which dominates the Huntari Region, contains a completely neutral sector space within its borders, and is home to the Mefausa Henad, a ruthless criminal syndicate that the authorities have failed to stamp out. Conversely, the Noso Protectorate is completely surrounded by the Rift and is home to the amphibious humanoids, the Trafye, who are more interested in science and the mysteries of the Rift and its black holes, neutron stars, and so on, than in expanding. There is a wealth of detail here for the Game Master to include in her campaign, although the Huntari Region as a whole is missing an overview that would help the reader before it dived into its detail.

Rounding out Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game is ‘Bounty Hunter Bounty: Halcord Midmo’. This is a beginning scenario designed to take place after the Bounty Hunters have graduated from Bounty Hunter School. It is specifically designed for a party of four players, so may need some adjustment if this number is different. This is a good introductory adventure for both the Game Master and her players and it nicely escalates in scale. It should provide a good session or two’s worth of play.

Physically, Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game is very nicely presented. It is full colour throughout, the artwork is excellent, and throughout there are not only well written examples of the rules and play, but boxes marked ‘Critical Concepts’. Most are for the Game Master, though there are some for the players, but they all explain particular aspects of the game and how it is played. These are very helpful and to the point. Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game does need an edit here and there, but the problem with it is the lack of cover. Printed on good quality paper stock throughout, it does feel as if it should have a cardstock cover for better protection.

Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game is designed as the world’s easiest roleplaying game—and it is. Mostly. Play comes down to whether or not a Bounty Hunter has the right Skill and not just sufficient Action Points to act, but whether or not a Bounty Hunter has enough Action Points to act now or needs them for the next Dramatic scene. So it is a resource management game as much as anything, and the switch to diceless mechanics, as easy as it is, also requires a shift in how the game is played. The player more used to the dramatic, sometimes last minute, even unskilled, desperate roll of the dice to save the day will need to adjust to considering just how much effort or resources his Bounty Hunter has every day. Which will limit what his Bounty Hunter can do each day. In a traditional roleplaying game, this limit might be due to timing or damage suffered and the need to heal, essentially down to the randomness of the mechanics, but in Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game, it is built in. In the long term, as a Bounty Hunter increases his Reputation by bringing in more bounties, the number of his Action Points will increase, but that limitation in resources will still be there.

In terms of storytelling, the removal of dice—or other random mechanic—from Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game also shifts the storytelling. Both players and the Game Master need to be proactive in their narration of outcomes and of making scenes dramatic and exciting, because there is no ‘Woah!’ moment of that stunning dice roll. This is not necessarily a criticism, but both need to be aware of it before playing this roleplaying game, and for some players, that shift might just be too radical a step. That said, the lack of dice and the simple resource economy of the Action Points in Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game make it perfect for playing online.

Ultimately, not every playing group is going to adjust to the mechanics of Bounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game, but its simplicity makes it easy to learn and teach, and the lack of dice does give player and Game Master alike greater control of the narrative—as long as they have sufficient Action Points, that is. For example, for a group wanting to do space opera in the vein of The MandalorianBounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game would be a good choice. Exactly forty years on from the first diceless roleplaying game—Phage Press’s Amber Diceless Roleplaying GameBounty Hunter – A Diceless Tabletop Roleplaying Game provides an impressively simple, narrative driven roleplaying game with an equally simple premise and set-up.

Saturday, 25 September 2021

A French Sword & Planet RPG

It is the Modern Age. Three hundred years ago, at the beginning of the Age of the Havoc, Joskales, the last Incarnate of the Astarite died and the few remaining of that race fled their dead cities. Two-hundred-and-three years ago, a colony ship arrived from Earth lost en route to Alpha Centauri, and founded four colonies. The colonists discovered a world already settled by several species, each of them also colonists who had come to the world in the centuries long past. They include the almost plant-like hermaphrodite Ælfyn; the four-armed, reptilian and mercantile Agamids, who command a fleet of sky-junks; the short, stocky, almost egg-shaped Dakti, know for their technological acumen and their Karkan, specialised exo-skeletons they use for exploration; and Orcs, nomadic hunters and warriors who distrust technology. They also discovered the world was infused with ethereal energy which the Astarites had harnessed both psychically and technologically, constructing a network of stelae known as the Chain which enhanced their abilities and created a planetary communications system. However, their attempts to restart would lead to an Æthero-magnetic storm which would disrupt all technology and lead to increased friction between numerous nations that would escalate into a series of violent wars in the Age of Conflicts.

Thirty years ago, H.E.R.O. (Heuristical Exploration and Reconnaissance Operations), now known as the Free-Lancers’ Guild, was founded during the First Crater Council. It was established to undertake independent operations free of politic influence, to conduct expeditions to the ancient Astarite cities, and once there recover the surviving items and blueprints of Arcanotechnology that have survived, and also to research the Alteration, a strange, gangrenous fungus which was found to be spreading from the ruins. In the years since, the Free-Lancers’ Guild, operating out of Patera, the Crater City, has continued to undertake the same missions, but also provides guards, exterminate monsters, mediates conflicts between communities, and also acts against dragons. These creatures fall as seeds from the stars and when they hatch and grow, they can devastate whole communities. In return, members, known as Freelancers, receive lodging, support, training, and more.

This is the set-up for Lore & Legacy: Fantastic Adventures in a World of Science and Magic, a French science-fantasy role-playing game published by Empyreal Media Productions. It takes place on the fantastical world of Empyrea, a vast planet home to numerous species who have come from the stars and settled. In the long years since, they have forgotten their homeworlds, how they got to Empyrea, and how to operate much of the technology. Indeed that technology has come to be regarded as akin to magic and only a few have the skill to use what has become known as Arcanotechnology. Empyrea is also a world of many ruins, especially of the grandiose and sinister necropolis left behind by the mysterious Astarite civilization that came before anyone settled on the planet. They are said to contain lost treasures and forgotten technological wonders, but also many dangers—antediluvian biomechanical guardians and creatures corrupted by the poison of the Alteration, a mysterious fungal gangrene that spreads over the regions that once formed the heart of the Astarite kingdoms. In recent years, the Alteration has begun to spread again and Dragon Seeds have fallen from the sky, giving birth to Dragons, creatures of unrivalled destructive power. Where such threats occur, the Free-Lancers’ Guild steps forward to protect and investigate. Found throughout many nations, its members coming from many different species, the Free-Lancers’ Guild sends out those determined to unravel the mysteries of the past and to venture beyond the borders imposed by incomplete maps, to protect the population, lift the veil on ancient lore, and reclaim their lost legacies.

A character in 
Lore & Legacy is defined by his People (or species), seven Attributes representing his physical and mental prowess, various Abilities in which has either been trained or is gifted, and a number of Traits representing his personality quirks, special talents, obsessions, phobias, and the like. The Peoples of Empyrea—at least on the northern half of the continent of Enelysion, especially in and around the Great Crater and its neutral city of Patera, are the Ælfyns, Agamids, Dakti, Humans, and Orcs. In more recent times, they have been joined by the Disincarnated, sentient androids who once served the Astarite who have awoken devoid of personality and knowledge, but quickly grow to acquire both, as well as the traits of the other Peoples of Empyrea. The Attributes are Acumen, Fortune, Mastery, Presence, Robustness, Temper, and Vigour, and all bar Fortune are represented by a single six-sided die plus a modifier. Fortune is a straight value representing the number of Fortune dice which a player can roll each day. Now not all of the remaining six Attributes are not exactly clear as to what they are from their names. So, Acumen is the character’s ability to observe, reflect, and analyse; Mastery is agility, dexterity, and precision, and ability to think and react quickly; Temper is his willpower; and Vigour his raw physical strength. This runs counter to most naming conventions for attributes and may well be confusing for some players.

Abilities include Arcanotech, Charge, Investigation, Melee Combat, Passion (Painting), Wizardry, and more. They are always represented by a single ten-sided die plus a modifier. Traits tend to apply situational modifiers. For example, ‘Beast of Burden’ increases a Player Character’s Luggage Points by three; Healer which grants a Fortune die any non-magical healing action; Agoraphobic, which levies an Adversity die on all actions when the Player Character is in an open space; Ancestral Weapon, which grants the Player Character a weapon with the Ætheric, which reduces the Magic Resistance of a successfully struck opponent; and Remarkable, which marks the Player Character out in social interactions with members of other races, levying an Adversity die and adding a Fortune die. A Player Character also has a number of derived secondary characteristics, including Health Points, Magic Points, Physical, Magic and Mental Resistances, and so on.

To create a character, a player selects a race, which provides the base attributes and traits. He has six points to assign to his character’s attributes, eight to spend on traits and ten to spend on abilities. One of the latter points must be spent on a passion or a hobby. Lastly, a character receives some money and equipment, and if he has studied magic some spells. In general, characters tend to be fairly focused and specialised, backed up with more general skills.

Our sample character is Zuwena whose fascination with Arcanotech has never extended beyond the library. She has joined the Freelancers’ Guild in the hopes of joining an expedition, if not actually leading one. In the meantime, she has to undertake other tasks for the guild, perhaps to prove herself worthy, perhaps to gain a bit more experience of the world outside of her books.

Zuwena
Human

Temper 2 Acumen 4 Mastery 4 Presence 2
Robustness 1 Vigour 1 Fortune 2

Racial Traits: Noticeable, Technophile
Traits: Bookworm, Little Genius

Abilities: Archaeology 2, Investigation 2, Observation 1, Dodge 1, Melee Combat 1, Mysticism 1, Wilderness Survival 1, Wizardry 2

Passion Ability: Arcanotech 1

Wizardry Spells: Ætheric Echolocation (6), Ætheric Arrow (3), Healing (3)

Luggage: 9
Weight: 30
Health Points: 4
Magic Points: 8
Physical Resistance: 3
Mental Resistance: 16
Last Chance Pool: 3
Injury Threshold: 2
Speed: 5

Mechanically, 
Lore & Legacy uses the ‘3d’ engine, which uses three sizes of the dice and three types of dice. The three sizes are ten-sided or Ability dice, eight-sided or Damage dice, and six-sided or Attribute dice, and they are always used in specific situations. In general, when an Ability or Attribute is tested, or Damage is rolled, only one die, the Basic die is rolled, any modifier being added to the result to get a total. However, it can be as many as three. It cannot, though, be more than three. The extra dice can either be a Fortune die, an Adversity die, or even both! The result of the Fortune die is added to the result of the Basic die, whilst the result of the Adversity die is subtracted from the result of the Basic die. Adding both a Fortune die and an Adversity die to the dice to be rolled does not mean that they cancel each other out. Instead, their results are added and subtracted respectively.

When a Player Character undertakes an action, his player makes an Action Roll, consisting of the appropriate Basic die—whether a ten-sided die because the Player Character has an appropriate Ability or a six-sided die because he does not and must rely upon an Attribute instead—and applies any modifier. The Difficulty Rating for the Action Roll ranges from six for ‘simple’ to eighteen for ‘superhuman’. The success result can vary. A result equal to, or greater than the Difficulty Rating is a Standard Success and indicates that the Player Character has achieved his intended aim. A result one-and-a-half times or greater than the Difficulty Rating is a Major Success, and indicates that the Player Character has achieved his intended aim with positive benefits. A result less than the Difficulty Rating and less than half of the Difficulty Rating is a Partial Success, and indicates that the Player Character has achieved his intended aim, but with unforeseen complications. A result less than the Difficulty Rating and more than half of the Difficulty Rating is a Failure, and indicates that the Player Character has not achieved his intended aim.

In addition, a Player Character can also roll a Spectacular Success or Disastrous Failure. A Spectacular Success is achieved when a Fortune die is included in the Action Roll and a maximum result is rolled on the Fortune die, when the result of the Action Roll is a Standard or Major Success. Similarly, a Disastrous Failure is achieved when an Adversity die is included in the Action Roll and a maximum result is rolled on the Adversity die, when the result of the Action Roll is a Partial Success or Failure. Although a Disastrous Failure cannot result in the death of a Player Character, the Game Master is free to be as creative as she wants, whether the result is a Spectacular Success or a Disastrous Failure.
For example, Zuwenna has been assigned an escort mission, and whilst she is not interested in the job itself, the route does take it near some ruins that are rumoured to be Astartite. Before she attempts to persuade her colleagues that they might be interesting, she decides to spend some time in the archives conducting research. She has the Investigation skill, so her player will be rolling a ten-sided die and adding Zuwenna’s Investigation of 2. In addition, the Little Genius Trait grants her a Fortune die with any Ability which uses the Acumen Attribute. However, she does not have long, so there is a time penalty to find any useful information. The Game Master sets the Difficulty Rating at twelve. Zuwenna’s player rolls the two ten-sided dice and rolls a six on the basic die and a maximum of ten on the Fortune die! Not only is the result a total of eighteen, but the ten on the Fortune die means it is a spectacular success! This means that she definitely has some information related to the ruins and it could contain arcanotech. That should be enough to persuade her companions on the road.
Both combat and magic use the same mechanics. A combatant has a single gesture, move, and action each round, and if he attacks, his player’s Action Roll is against his opponent’s Physical Resistance as the Difficulty Rating or Magic Resistance if the weapon used involves arcanotech. A Fortune die can be added to an Action roll if the opponent is immobilised, paralysed, knocked down, unconscious, and so on, likewise an Adversity die can be added if the attacker is suffering from similar conditions. Damage is rolled on a single eight-sided die, plus the weapon’s damage bonus, and is halved if the outcome of the Action Roll is a Partial Success, but increased by a half if a Major Success. Damage inflicted equal or superior to an opponent’s Injury Threshold and an injury is inflicted.

Lore & Legacy includes several types of magic. Illusory magic deals with changing the perceptions of others about their environment, whilst Material magic being the scientific study of making real what was not, or transforming what is. Ritual magic consists of magic which takes several magicians to cast, whilst Spiritism deals with ‘nature spirits’, including possession and exorcism. Bar Spiritism, the other types of magic include lengthy lists of spells, which are all in their own way interesting and ones that a magic using character in the game would want to cast. As in combat, the outcome of a Partial or Superior Success on an Action Roll halves the effect of the spell, or increases it by half, respectively.
For example, Zuwenna has persuaded her colleagues to investigate the ruins in the hope of finding some Arcanotech or at least something interesting. She has already cast Ætheric Echolocation to determine the extent of the underground passages and rooms when the guards left behind to protect the caravan come looking for them. Not to check on their welfare though, but to steal what Zuwenna and her colleagues have found. However, their disappointment at the lack of discoveries leads them to threaten Zuwenna and her colleagues, and a fight breaks out. Zuweena is attacked by one of the guards, Hagor. Both Zuwenna and Hagor have a Speed of five, but he is wearing chainmail, which reduces it by one to four. However, surprised by the attack, Zuwenna decides to fully defend herself. This doubles her Physical Resistance from three to six, to which is added her Dodge skill of one and the bonus from her padded armour, for a total Physical Resistance of eight. The Game Master rolls a Basic die and adds Hagor’s Melee Combat skill of 3 to the total. She rolls a two and adds the three for a total of five. This is a Partial Success, which means that any damage inflicted by Hagor is halved. The Game Master rolls 1d6+1 for his shortsword, rolling a one, then adding one before halving the damage inflicted—one! Clearly Hagor was expecting to be more of a pushover, as he growls, “C’mere you little witch!”, but Zuwenna’s Health Points are reduced from four to three.

Now Zuweena can act. She has a dagger, but attempts a desperate blast of magic by unleashing an Ætheric Arrow at Hagor. Having already cast Ætheric Echolocation, Zuwenna has two Magic Points left, but Ætheric Arrow costs three to cast. This means that the power must come from somewhere and that is from her Health Points, which will be reduced by a further single point, leaving her with two. To cast the spell, Zuwenna’s player will be rolling a ten-sided die and adding Zuwenna’s Wizardry of 2. As before, the Little Genius Trait grants her a Fortune die with any Ability which uses the Acumen Attribute, which includes the Wizardry Ability. The Difficulty Rating is determined by Hagor’s Mental Resistance, which is fourteen. Zuwenna’s player rolls eight on both dice for a total of sixteen and adding her Wizardry gives a final result of eighteen. This is a Standard Success and inflicts 1d8+1 damage. Zuwenna’s player rolls a total of eight, enough to beat Hagor’s Injury Threshold of eight. This can trigger a Condition, which will vary depending upon where the Ætheric Arrow. Zuwenna’s player rolls ten on a ten-sided die, indicating the head. Hagor screams as his head is burned by Ætheric energy. Until healed, the Game Master must roll all of his actions with an Adversity die.
The advancement mechanics in 
Lore & Legacy are nicely woven into the setting itself. Being a member of the the Free-Lancers’ Guild provides a Player Character with motivation and missions to undertake, but having completed a mission, the Freelancers are paid in Asters which can be used to gain training, access Arcanotech archives and magical libraries, and even undergo experimental therapy to effectively buy off the negative effectives of Traits. For example, Bookworm provides extra points to spend on Abilities during character creation, but at the cost of an Adversity die being rolled every time a character undertakes an action related to his Vigour. So a player could spend the Asters to pay off this negative effect, all of which provides a nice range of options when it comes to Player Character advancement.

Although 
Lore & Legacy employs magic and wizardry, it is very much a Science Fiction game and this shows in the range of equipment available. So not just swords and shields, but firearms, technologically enhanced weapons such as gravitic bolas or phase kukri, and Arcanotech. The latter are lost devices from all of the peoples on Empyrea whose manufacture is no longer possible, and they need to be found and deciphered. They can be weapons such as Adamantine Claws and Disphasers which paralyses targets, and artefacts such as Anti-Grav Boots, Assessor collars which estimate the value of items, Khading Wings carried in a backpack and allow wearer’s to fly. Vehicles exist also, such as the Agamid aerial junks, gunboats that have survived wars, but are fielded during emergencies, such as dragon attacks. Full stats for dragons are provided in the bestiary along with a host of other threats and dangers.

Lore & Legacy includes a decent amount of background about the Free-Lancers’ Guild, what it does and what the Player Characters do. Patera, the Crater City, is also detailed as is the Greater Crater Region, along with various NPCs which can be found throughout the region. There is plenty here to support an ongoing campaign, and both the Game Master and her players are provided with a starting point. For the latter, it is set of six pre-generated characters, but for the former, it is not one, but three adventures. They begin with an investigative adventure in Patera itself following an attack on the Free-Lancers’ Guild headquarters, whilst the second is more traditional, being an expedition to investigate a meteor strike which at worst could be the arrival of another Dragon Seed. Lastly, the third scenario follows on from the second, to further investigate what was found at the site of the meteor strike. Together the three scenarios nicely showcase aspects of the setting—the Player Characters’ base of operations, what expeditions are like, and a little bit of some of the mysteries of the Empyrea. In addition, suggestions are given as to how to include the ‘Froglins in the Mist’ adventure from Lore & Legacy – Quick-Start Guide in between the three adventures in the core book. Each of the three should provide at least two sessions’ worth of play, if not more.

Physically, Lore & Legacy is well presented. Much of the artwork is excellent and much of it reminiscent of FASA’s Earthdawn roleplaying game—which should be no surprise given that artist Jeff Laubenstein worked on both. The writing is also good, and the translation is more than reasonable. It feels a little overwritten in places, the rules, though simple, often feel as if they have more terms than they really need. If the book lacks anything, it is an index. The table of contents is good, but an index would have helped.

Lore & Legacy: Fantastic Adventures in a World of Science and Magic could be described as Earthdawn meets SkyRealms of Jorune, but the former is primarily due to Jeff Laubenstein’s artwork. Nevertheless, it firmly falls into the ‘Sword & Planet’ genre, combined with post-apocalyptic elements, whilst adhering to Clarke’s Third Law which states that, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Its inspirations—the French science fantasy comics series, Valérian, the works of Moebius, Philippe Caza, and Philippe Druillet in Heavy Metal, C.L. Moore’s Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry, the computer game, Might & Magic, and even She-Ra and the Princess of Power—all combine to give Lore & Legacy a different feel, a stronger sense of the other and the alien than might be found in similar roleplaying games.

Lore & Legacy is an adroit combination of a simple rules system, intriguing setting, a set-up that provides the Player Characters with motivations and missions, and a sense of mystery and wonder in the secrets of the Astarites. Although it leaves both wanting to know more about the world of Empyrea and its mysteries, Lore & Legacy: Fantastic Adventures in a World of Science and Magic provides Game Master and players alike with an impressive introduction and start.

Friday, 24 September 2021

Furiously Purfect Felines!

There have been just a pawful of cat-themed roleplaying games, such as John Wick Presents’ Cat: A Little Game about Little Heroes and several Cthulhu-themed titles such as Sixtystone Press’ Cathulhu and Catthulhu’s Cats Of Catthulhu. The latest to join this klowder is Mew-Tants!. Published by Anima Press as part of ZineQuest #3, this is rules light roleplaying game in which the players not just take the role of cats, but as the title suggests, cats with sup-purr powers!

Mew-Tants! takes the seemingly supernatural abilities and attitudes of cats and turns them up a knotch or two in the scratching post to turn them into superpowers. So ‘Laser Eyes’—not so much blasters as pointers with which to distract other cats; ‘If I fits I sits’—the cat can expand or shrink to fit exactly into any container; ‘Spidercat’—being able to climb down(!) and up trees, and even upside down; and ‘Keyboard Cat’—being able to use computers and keyboards because everyone believes you can! There are just twelve superpowers, along with twelve breeds of cats, which are enough for a one-shot or a mini-campaign, whilst still leaving plenty of room for the Game Master or even the players to create their own.

A cat-racter in 
Mew-Tants! is defined by his Breed, from Moggy, Scottish Fold, and Bengal to Tortoiseshell, American Ringtail, and Norwegian Forest Cat, and his superpower. A cat has four stats, defined by his Breed. These are Claws, for fighting and all physical activities, Whiskers for mental abilities and awareness, and Fucks, for how many it gives and its ability to interact with other cats and animals (including dogs). It also has nine Lives, just as you would expect. To create a Mew-Tant, a player rolls or selects a Breed and Superpower, modifies one stat for something his cat is good at and one stat for something his cat is bad at, selects his cat’s fur colour, and decides on a relationship with another cat and the reason why he joined the team of super cats.

Sasha
Siamese
Superpower – Keyboard cat
Claws 4
Whiskers 8
Fucks 1
Lives 9

Mechanically, 
Mew-Tants! is simple enough. It uses dice pools of six-sided dice, equal to one of a cat’s stats. If a player rolls a six, then his cat succeeds at a task. If opposed, the winner is the cat—or even a dog or a rat—who rolls more successes than the other. In combat, successes indicate damage inflicted on an opponent. Further dice can be added to a pool if a cat can find a box or a bed—for a nap, Kibbles so the cat can care more, or a Scratching Post to sharpen a cat’s claws. These add to a cat’s Whiskers, Fucks, and Claws respectively. Lastly, Lives represent a cat’s Hit Points, but can also be expended to reroll any dice. Catnip—or ‘nip’ if obtained from a dealer on the streets—grants bonus Lives dice.

Play in 
Mew-Tants! is supported with advice on scenario or mini-campaign, design, a detailed scenario, and a dozen ready-to-play super cats. The advice is to keep it fairly short and focused on small neighbourhood, perhaps even a neighbourhood known to the players. A table of antagonists and goals provide some ideas, and whilst the advice is limited, it is sufficient for a roleplaying with the scope of Mew-Tants! In comparison, the scenario, ‘The Catnapping’, is relatively lengthy and detailed. It is a missing moogie mystery litter box played out over nine locations, with plenty of NPCs that the Game Master can develop and roleplay. It should provide a good session or two’s worth of play.

Physically, 
Mew-Tants! is decently done and written. The artwork ranges from the realistic to the cartoonish, but works either way. Published as an A5-size booklet, it is short and easy to read, such that a Game Master could pick this up and read it through and have it ready to play in ten minutes.

Cats will be familiar to almost every player, so the combination of the subject matter and the simple mechanics make 
Mew-Tants! both easy and engaging to play. The combination also means that Mew-Tants! is suitable for younger players or play by a family—or it would be. Its use of adult language to describe a cat’s charisma and the fact that is reproduced on the character sheet on the back cover simply means that it is anything but—when it really should have been. Now the Game Master can change both, renaming the stat and redesigning the character sheet—perhaps Catrisma?—but should that have been really necessary? Maybe the publisher could provide a family-friendly character sheet?

Overall, 
Mew-Tants! is both easy and engaging, with scope aplenty for the input and invention of the players as they imagine the adventures of their cats and how they see the world around them.

Monday, 20 September 2021

Miskatonic Monday #86: Lost Port Royal

 Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...


The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.


—oOo—
Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Andy Miller

Setting: 1690s Port Royal
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Sixty-six page, 37.78 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Ripples in Carcosa II?
Plot Hook: The madness that came to Port Royal
Plot Support: Detailed plot, bibliography, three good handouts, seven maps, ten NPCs, NPC portraits, and six pre-generated Investigators
Production Values: Solid.

Pros
# Lots of detailed research
# Excellent maps
# Enjoyable playtest notes
# Rarely visited period for Call of Cthulhu
# Multiple alternative setting suggestions listed
# Decent sextet of pre-generated Investigators
# Includes a list of period and setting Occupations
# Includes a period weapons guide
# Dedicated Investigator-NPC connections and motivations
# An investigation amidst a detailed descent into madness 
# Carcosa in the Caribbean or the Caribbean in Carcosa?
# Not staving off the inevitable, but staving off the worst outcome

Cons
# Involve the effects of slavery (but not actual slavery)
# All male pre-generated Investigators (at first sight)
# Potentially challenging Investigators to play
# Challenging investigation to understand or thwart the threat
# Too long to run as a convention one-shot
# Requires a mature gaming group
# Linear plot

Conclusion
# Carcosa in the Caribbean or the Caribbean in Carcosa?
# Challenging, but linear plot
# Rich in roleplaying opportunities as the infamous pirate port descends into madness

Sunday, 19 September 2021

1981: Stormbringer

 1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, released the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.

—oOo—

With the publication of the novella, The Dreaming City’ and the first appearance of Elric of Melniboné in 1961, Michael Moorcock upended the Swords & Sorcery genre. The appearance of the frail and anaemic last emperor of the Dreaming Isle freed the genre of its muscled, mighty thewed barbarians cutting swathes through their enemies and sent it in a different direction. Elric’s fate was to destroy his home, become a pawn in the conflict between Law and Chaos, and wield the horrid demon sword Stormbringer throughout his exile in the Young Kingdoms until he would be the one to blow the Horn of Fate and so bring about the end of reality. As more and more of Elric’s stories were written, Moorcock joined J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert Howard in being an author whose works would influence the fantasy of the first roleplaying games, and subsequently, even roleplaying games directly adapted from their fiction. Of course, Elric would make his first appearance in gaming, if only partially authorised, in Deities & Demigods, the 1980 supplement for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition, before receiving his own roleplaying game in 1981.

Designed by Steve Perrin and Ken St. Andre, and published by Chaosium, Inc., Stormbringer: A Fantasy Role-Playing in the Young Kingdoms introduces the players to roleplaying in the eponymous Young Kingdoms. The island and peoples of Melniboné have dominated and ruled these surrounding lands for millennia, but have been in decline for four centuries and in their stead haved arisen the Young Kingdoms. They include the Island of Pan Tang and its scheming sorcerer-priests who worship the Lords of Chaos, Tarkesh and its hardy sailors, the Lords of Law-worshipping, but poor Vilmir, Tanelorn which stands truly neutral between the forces of Law and Chaos, and the Island of Purple Towns made rich by its merchants and its worship of Goldar, Lord of Profit. The city of Imrryr and Melniboné have long been sacked as part of the revenge that took Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melniboné, upon his cousin, Yyrkoon, for his perfidy, and now he is doomed to wander the Young Kingdoms, wielding the dread demon-bound sword, Stormbringer until the end of time…

Stormbringer: A Fantasy Role-Playing Game enables players to take the roles of denizens of the Young Kingdoms. They may be some of the few surviving exiles from Melniboné, they may be from the many other lands of the Young Kingdoms. The Young Kingdoms are theirs to explore, and they can do this using Player Characters of their own, who may or may not encounter Elric of Melniboné and his companions. Alternatively, the players can take the role of Elric of Melniboné and his companions and play out their further adventures beyond those described in Moorcock’s novels. All this can take place in the decade between the sack of Melniboné and the End of Time, but alternatively the Game Master could set a campaign before the fall of the Dragon Isle or take off in a wholly new direction in lands beyond the Young Kingdoms. All of these options are suggested options given for the Game Master in Stormbringer.

The roleplaying game begins with introductions to roleplaying and roleplaying in the Young Kingdoms and Michael Moorcock and a synopsis of Elric’s saga, all before presenting an overview of the Young Kingdoms. This covers its size, customs, economics, and so on, done in fairly broad detail, whilst the background on each of the Young Kingdoms is much more detailed. Including some advice regarding dice and game characters, as well as miniatures, it sets the Game Master and players up for playing in the Young Kingdoms.

A character—whether Player Character or NPC—will look familiar to anyone who has played a Basic RolePlay roleplaying game, whether that is RuneQuest or RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha or Call of Cthulhu up until Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. A character has seven attributes—Strength, Constitution, Size, Intelligence, Power, Dexterity, and Charisma, and from these are derived bonuses to skills, Hit Points, and so on. They range, as in other Basic RolePlay roleplaying games, between three and eighteen, but can go much higher depending upon the origins of the character and then through play.

Character generation is random. A player rolls three six-sided dice for each of his character’s attributes, then percentile dice for both his character’s Nationality and Class. Nationality can involve various species, including of course, Melnibonéans, but also the winged men of Myrrhyn and the degenerate dwarfs that are the Org. Most however, will be Human, whether from Pan Pang or Vilmir or the Weeping Waste. Some Nationalities dictate what Class a character is. Thus for a Melnibonéan, he or she will be a Warrior and a Noble, those from Pan Tang are either Sorcerer-Priests or Warriors, whilst any from Nadsokor, the City of Beggars, always follow that ‘noble’ tradition. Otherwise, a character might be a merchant, sailor, hunter, farmer, thief, or craftsman. In addition to skills gained from a Class, a character also receives between three and eight other skills. Oddly, these extra skills are supposedly the character’s best skills rather than those of his Class and their values are determined randomly, such that sometimes, they can be better than the starting skills of the Class. Now it should be made clear that none of this is balanced. Attributes can vary wildly; a character can have more than one Class if his player rolls well enough. It is all down to the vicissitudes of fortune, if not Chaos.

Our sample character is Fenschon the Juggler, a Hunter of Filkhar with all of the famed dexterity, but little else. He is barely competent as a hunter and despite his unpleasant looks and personality, at times he makes a little money as a street entertainer, juggling everyday items.

Fenschon the Juggler, a Hunter of Filkhar

STR 11 CON 11 SIZ 09 INT 08 POW 07 DEX 20 CHA 07

Frame: Light, 5’2”, 85 lbs.

Age: 19
Hit Points: 11
Major Wound Level: 6
Armour: Leather (1d6-1)
Combat Bonuses: Attack +05%, Parry +06%, Damage –

Weapon
Dagger 30% Attack, 30% Parry, 1d4+2
Self Bow 35% Attack, Parry 11%, Damage 1d8+1

AGILITY SKILL (+06% bonus): Balance 16%, Dodge 52%, Climb 16%, Jump 29%, Swim 38%
MANIPULATION SKILL (+05% bonus): Juggle 50%, Set Trap 55%
PERCEPTION SKILL (-03% bonus): Scent 18%, Track 47%
STEALTH SKILL (+07% bonus): Ambush 57%, Hide 32%, Move Quietly 29% 
KNOWLEDGE SKILL (+00% bonus): Craft: Blacksmith 20%
COMMUNICATION SKILL (-05% bonus): 

Mechanically, Stormbringer: A Fantasy Role-Playing Game uses a variation upon the Basic RolePlay system, as designed by Steve Perrin, and used elsewhere in RuneQuestCall of Cthulhu, and others. In design and execution it is not a complex game, certainly not as complex as the then contemporary version of RuneQuest. The base roll is a percentile one against a skill, with the tenth of the value of the skill counting as a critical success. Thus, for Fenschon the Juggler, a roll of 5% or less would be a critical success. Critical fumbles are usually rolls of 100% exactly.

Combat is only slightly more complex. Order is based on Dexterity, damage is deducted directly from a character’s Hit Points rather than having hit locations as per RuneQuest, a character has both an Attack skill and a Parry skill in each weapon, and armour provides protection, but rather than a set number as per other roleplaying games, the amount of protection granted is rolled. So, Leather provides 1d6-1 points of protection, whilst plate provides 1d10-1. Lastly, if a character suffers damage equal to, or greater than his Major Wound level, in one blow, he is severely injured, and might suffer a scar, lose an eye, break a jaw, and worse.
For example, Fenschon the Juggler is out hunting boar when the Game Master asks his player to make a Scent check. He only rolls 19% and fails to note a sudden shift in the smell here deep in the woods that would indicate he is not only one hunting the boar. It means that he is surprised when a pair of the beaked and clawed Hunting Dogs of the Dharzi burst out of the bushes. It must mean that someone nearby has engaged the services of the Dharzi lords in temporarily obtaining the use of one of their packs of hunting dogs, and that perhaps this pair has got away from the pack. So he manages to only fire the one arrow before they attack rather than two. The creatures are fast, but not quite as fast as Fenschon, who manages to lose the one arrow he had nocked. His player rolls 10% and the arrow strikes the flank of the lead creature. This inflicts seven points of damage. Then the beasts attack, each having two claw attacks at 20% and a beak attack at 25%. The Game Master rolls 67%, 56%, and 98% for the two claw and beak attacks for the first Hunting Dog of the Dharzi, and then 77%, 73%, and 81% for the second.

In the next round, Fenschon realises that he has the wrong weapon for what is now a close engagement and so has to change his weapon. This costs him the equivalent of five points of Dexterity, so for this round it is reduced to the equivalent of 15. Since the Hunting Dogs have a Dexterity of 19, they attack first. Only the first Hunting Dog successfully attacks Fenschon, snapping at him with its beak with a roll of 21%. Fenschon cannot parry as he does not have his dagger out, but he can dodge, but with a roll of 57% fails. The Hunting Dog’s beak attack inflicts 1d6+1 damage, the Game Master rolling a five. Fenschon’s leather armour might protect him and his player rolls 1d6-1 for the effect. Unfortunately the result is a one, which is reduced to a zero, and the hunter suffers the whole five points! This is not enough to inflict a Major Wound, but that is half of his Hit Points. Finally, with his dagger in hand, Fenschon stabs at the first beast and rolls 02%—not just a successful strike, but a critical hit. The Game Master rolls 19% for the Hunting Dog and fails its parry roll, so Fenschon inflicts double damage for the critical hit. Fenschon rolls a five, which is doubled to ten. This reduces its Hit Points from fifteen to five. The situation looks dire for Fenschon. Perhaps a career as a hunter is not for him?
In comparison with other fantasy roleplaying games, Stormbringer: A Fantasy Role-Playing Game does not have wizards wandering around lobbing off spells at will. Magic is available, but is the opposite of Law, and in Elric’s time as the Balance between Law and Chaos tips in favour of Chaos, magic is available to study to anyone should they possess sufficient intelligence and force of will. What this means is that a character needs to have a combined Intelligence and Power of thirty-two or more to even summon and control Elementals. Typically, Melnibonéan, Pan Tangan, and Priests with such stats are trained in sorcery, whilst Nobles and Merchants may also have been trained. Instead of casting spells, Sorcerers and Sorcerer-Priests summon and bind Elementals and Demons. Once successfully summoned and bound, an Elemental or Demon can be directed to use its abilities and powers to benefit the summoner. Thus Demons can be summoned to fight for the summoner, be bound into weapons and armour, provide protection or wards, teach knowledge, and even provide the means to travel to other Planes of Existence. 

Successful summoning can increase a Sorcerer’s Power, whilst unsuccessful summoning may result in a loss. In general, summoning and binding involves lengthy rituals, but it can also be done on the fly with the Sorcerer’s skill being halved. A summoned Demon will typically have a total in attribute values equal to that of its summoner, minus a randomly determined Power stat. 

Our second sample character is Princess Kragulan, a Fourth Rank Sorcerer-Priestess of Arioch of Pan Tang. She is fourth in line to the throne of Pan Tang, but eschews the conniving and scheming of her brothers and sisters. Instead, her interest is in serving her cult and investigating the older ruins of Melniboné.

Princess Kragulan, a Sorcerer-Priestess of Arioch of Pan Tang

Cult: Arioch
Elan: 9

STR 10 CON 10 SIZ 12 INT 24 POW 22 DEX 10 CHA 13

Frame: Heavy, 5’5”, 232 lbs.

Age: 23
Hit Points: 10
Major Wound Level: 5
Armour: Leather (1d6-1)
Combat Bonuses: Attack +22%, Parry +10%, Damage –

Weapon
Dagger 52% Attack, 41% Parry, 1d4+2
Broadsword 62% Attack, 51% Parry, 1d8+1
Self Bow 42% Attack, Parry 16%, Damage 1d8+1

AGILITY SKILL (+10% bonus): Balance 20%, Climb 20%, Dodge 56%, Jump 20%, Swim 65%
MANIPULATION SKILL (+22% bonus): 
PERCEPTION SKILL (+22% bonus): Listen 32%
STEALTH SKILL (+12% bonus): Hide 22%
KNOWLEDGE SKILL (+24% bonus): Evaluate Treasure 29%, First Aid 24%, Make Map 47%, Memorise 56%, Navigate 25%, Plant Lore 54%, Read/Write Common Tongue 104%, Read/Write Low Melnibonéan 84%, Read/Write High Melnibonéan 64%
COMMUNICATION SKILL (+23% bonus): Credit 64%, Persuade 48%
SORCERY SKILL: Summon Air Elemental 80%, Summon Earth Elemental 91%, Summon Fire Elemental 59%, Summon Water Elemental 92%; Summon Combat Demon 73%, Summon Desire Demon 60%, Summon Knowledge Demon 95%, Summon Possession Demon 55%, Summon Protection Demon 76%, Summon Travel Demon 95%
For example, Princess Kragulan is researching ancient Melnibonéan history and wants to summon a Lesser Demon of Knowledge who might know more. She selects the demon, having researched its name, purchases both a finely wrought ring into which she plans to bind the demon, the necessary sacrifice, and prepares the necessary ritual circles. After the necessary purification processes, Princess Kragulan spends several hours chanting and so formulating the summoning, and upon excising the heart of the sacrifice, attempts the summoning. Princess Kragulan’s player rolls her Summon Knowledge Demon 95% and with a result of 23% brings forth the Lesser Demon, who appears in the circle and crises out, “Who disturbs the deep studies of Brerin the Knower?” Princess Kragulan states, “I am Princess Kragulan and in the name of the Lord of Chaos, Arioch, you will make your knowledge mine!” Having summoned the Demon, she attempts to Bind him. This is a Power versus Power using the Resistance Table. Princess Kragulan has a Power of 22 and it was previously determined that the Lesser Demon’s Power is 12. This gives her a 95% chance of successfully Binding Brerin. The Lesser Demon reluctantly agrees and is drawn into the ring that Princess Kragulan had prepared. Had her player failed, Brerin may have fled or even agreed to stay and lie about what he knows when asked a question…
The summoning and binding rules are actually the most complex part of Stormbringer. In comparison to the core mechanics, they are actually not that much more complex, but they do add a level or two of extra detail and record keeping to the game, especially if one or more players has a character capable of sorcery. Further, once a Player Character—or two—has access to sorcery, it adds to the power creep in Stormbringer and it adds to the imbalance between Player Characters. Again, this is in keeping with the source material. Nevertheless, the rules for summoning and binding both Elementals and Demons are nice and clear, and relatively easy to use. They are also supported with some entreatingly detailed examples which greatly aid their learning.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that at the time of Stormbringer’s publication—and its subsequent editions—that Dungeons & Dragons was subject to negative attention for alleged or perceived promotion for Satanism, witchcraft, and other practices. Subject to the then moral panic, Dungeons & Dragons was accused of encouraging sorcery and the veneration of demons. This was not the case, of course, and nor was it the case with Stormbringer, but then in Stormbringer it does have the players roleplaying sorcerers, summoning and venerating demons. Obviously, Stormbringer was never going to receive the attention that the world’s most popular roleplaying game was and of course, it was not drawing upon the Christian mythology that Dungeons & Dragons was. However, it should be noted that Stormbringer does not shy away from the subject, the examples given actually involving the sacrifice of human slaves!

In addition to learning sorcery, another avenue for progress in Stormbringer: A Fantasy Role-Playing Game and the Young Kingdoms is membership of a cult. There are three primary churches during the time of Elric—the Church of Law, the Church of Chaos, and the Church of the Elementals, but each consists of multiple different and even competing cults. Most members of a cult are lay members, but priests always belong to a cult and each cult has its Agents. An Agent has promised his soul to his chosen deity and acts to further the aims of that deity in the Young Kingdoms—and sometimes beyond. To become an Agent, a Player Character must sacrifice points of Power and that gives him a percentage chance of being accepted by a particular deity. All Agents-as can Priests—can call upon their deity for divine intervention, the chance equal to their Elan rating, which reflects their standing in the cult. Agents are also granted other advantages, such as a lesser elemental as a servant for an Agent of an Elemental, whilst Champions of Law and Champions of Chaos are granted great abilities and virtues, which places them above mere mortals. 

Mechanically, becoming an Agent is quite simple and actually, with a good roll, a Player Character could very quickly find himself an Agent. The bonuses gained do represent another step up in power for a Player Character, whether he is a sorcerer or not. Since an Agent is expected to serve his cult, this and other cults also become roleplaying tools for the Game Master to help drive stories and adventures and bring into the play the ongoing struggle between Law and Chaos. The discussion of Law and Chaos, their nature and the balance between them, is discussed throughout and in some ways is the most important section in the book since it underpins the nature and the future of the Young Kingdoms.

There is advice for the Game Master too, whether that is on running a campaign before the time of Elric or after, preparing a game, and more. This includes taking a campaign beyond the confines of the Young Kingdoms and onto other Planes of Existence—and other times, suggesting a crossover with the Norman Invasion or even with the Cthulhu Mythos! The appendices include full stats for the cast from the novels, which of course includes Elric and Stormbringer, as well as Arioch, Lord of the Seven Darks, Lord of Chaos, Jagreen Lern of Pan Tang, Moonglum, and more. Stormbringer is almost a character of its own! Sample summonings taken from the novels should provide the budding sorcerer with inspiration, and numerous tables reprinted from rules.

The sample scenario in Stormbringer  is ‘Tower of Yrkath Florn’ which the designers used as part of the roleplaying game. It details the ruins of an eight-sided tower standing on a remote stretch of the Argimilar coast said to date back to the Melnibonéan occupation of the region. The Player Characters are hired to explore the building by a merchant prince and so brave its dangers on his behalf. Running to just two floors and the roof, described over some seven pages, the scenario is short, focused, and nicely detailed. It serves as a reasonable, if limited introduction to Stormbringer, if not necessarily the Young Kingdoms, and should provide a session or two’s worth of play.

Physically, Stormbringer: A Fantasy Role-Playing Game has the look and feel of a Chaosium period piece. It is clean and tidy, and organised section by section, much like a slimmed down set of wargames rules. The organisation is perhaps a little odd, with price lists coming before the rules for character generation, skills explained after combat, and so on. Throughout, the rules are liberally supported with fully worked examples, and solidly illustrated by the fantastic artwork of Frank Brunner. There is an index, but it refers to the sections of the rules rather than to page numbers which makes it rather awkward to use.

—oO0—

Murray Writtle reviewed Stormbringer: A Fantasy Role-Playing Game in White Dwarf No. 29Stormbringer will give you them, but to get a continuing campaign underway will take a certain amount of rewriting and careful thought.”

In Different Worlds Issue 38 (January/February 1985), Keith Herber gave Stormbringer: A Fantasy Role-Playing Game four stars out of five, and said, “I don’t think that the authors of Stormbringer intended the game as a first-time experience for gamers and the brief treatment of role-playing in general would support this theory. Instead, the effort has been directed toward describing and quantifying a specific world unique to fantasy literature. The authors have taken the time to dig out all sorts of small facts that lend color to the Young Kingdoms and detail many aspects of a campaign-world glossed over in other games. I thought Stormbringer not only an excellent adaptation of the Elric series but also found it an extremely enjoyable game. If you have ever read an Elric book (or one of Moorcock’s related novels) and wished it could be a game, this is it. If you haven’t read one yet do so and then consider the game. You may not find the “doomed” atmosphere to your liking, but around this neighborhood there is a growing movement for a permanent Stormbringer campaign.”

Stormbringer: A Fantasy Role-Playing Game was placed at position number twenty-five in ‘Arcane Presents the Top 50 Roleplaying Games 1996’ in Arcane Issue Fourteen (Christmas 1996). Paul Pettengale described it as, “Stormbringer is, as all Moorcock fans should know, the name of Elric’s sword, a weapon that draws the very lifeforce from anyone it even scratches. It doesn’t take a genius, therefore, to work out that Stormbringer is the Elric/Young Kingdoms roleplaying game (which was in fact renamed as Elric! for its 1993 re-release, for clarity’s sake).” before that saying that it was actually like, “A simplified RuneQuest, only set in Elric’s world. It captures the spirit of the books, but to play it properly you really need to be familiar with the novels, and they are of the type of fantasy that you either love or loathe.”

—oO0—

By modern standards, Stormbringer: A Fantasy Role-Playing Game is far from a balanced roleplaying game, players often ending up with widely divergent characters in terms of capabilities and thus power levels, placing them on more varying paths towards becoming Agents of Law or Chaos, and on progression within one of the cults. (This can be seen in the differences between the two sample characters.) Yet that is in keeping with the source material, and similarly, exploring the final years of the Young Kingdoms is also in keeping with the source material. Some may see this as a limitation in terms of the scope of the roleplaying game, playing in a pre-apocalypse, yet arguably, the more recent Mörk Borg, did exactly the same—and is more explicit about it. In the short term, beyond the included scenario, Stormbringer will need development in terms of plot and scope by the Game Master, but there is the whole of the Young Kingdoms—and beyond—to explore and the novels to draw from.

Stormbringer: A Fantasy Role-Playing Game is old fashioned in its design and presentation, and of course, it is unbalanced. That lack of balance and that style means that Stormbringer may not really be suitable for anyone new to roleplaying, but yet… The setting of the Young Kingdoms is immensely playable and rich with roleplaying potential, the mechanics simple and elegant, and the imbalance of Stormbringer: A Fantasy Role-Playing Game should almost be embraced because it reflects the source material and as power levels grow. After all, this is Swords & Sorcery at its most doom laden, pulp infused grandeur, and there is something glorious in being able to participate in the great conflict between Law and Chaos until the End of Time. 

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Goodman Games Gen Con Annual IV

Since 2013, Goodman Games, the publisher of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic has released a book especially for Gen Con, the largest tabletop hobby gaming event in the world. That book is the Goodman Games Gen Con Program Book, a look back at the previous year, a preview of the year to come, staff biographies, and a whole lot more, including adventures and lots tidbits and silliness. The first was the Goodman Games Gen Con 2013 Program Book, but not being able to pick up a copy from Goodman Games when they first attended 
UK Games Expo in 2019, the first to be reviewed was the Goodman Games Gen Con 2014 Program Book. Fortunately, a little patience and a copy of the Goodman Games Gen Con 2013 Program Book was located and reviewed, so now in 2021, normal order is resumed with the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book.

The Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book is a double anniversary and warrants a double cover. In fact, it is a double fortieth anniversary. The Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book celebrates not just forty years since the publication of Metamorphosis Alpha, but also forty years since the founding of Judges Guild. To celebrate, it includes not just content dedicated to Metamorphosis Alpha and Judges Guild, but sports a handsome double cover—one for Metamorphosis Alpha and one for Judges Guild. In addition to the celebrations, the anthology includes support for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, the Appendix N, and more, along with the usual fripperies and fancies to be found in each volume of the Goodman Games Gen Con Program Book. Which means scenarios, articles, histories, quizzes, and more. After all, Goodman Games Gen Con Program Book is not just for Christmas, it is for Gen Con!

The Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book celebrates not just forty years since the publication of Metamorphosis Alpha, but also forty years since the founding of Judges Guild. To celebrate, it includes not just content dedicated to Metamorphosis Alpha and Judges Guild, but sports a handsome double—one for Metamorphosis Alpha and one for Judges Guild. In addition to the celebrations, the anthology includes support for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, the Appendix N, and more, along with the usual fripperies and fancies to be found in each volume of the Goodman Games Gen Con Program Book. Which means scenarios, articles, histories, quizzes, and more. After all, a Goodman Games Gen Con Program Book is not just for Christmas, it is for Gen Con!

The Metamorphosis Alpha support begins with ‘Forty Years of Metamorphosis Alpha: A Legacy of Innovation’ by Craig Brain. This charts the history of the roleplaying game across numerous and not always successful editions, and is a nice accompaniment to the anniversary edition of Metamorphosis Alpha. If there is a major omission to the article it that it should have included images of the covers of these editions. That would have given the article some context and tied it more into the individual editions. It is followed by ‘Metamorphosis Alpha: 4 Tables 40’, a quartet of tables by the roleplaying game’s designer, James M. Ward. The tables, each with forty entries, cover ‘GEL Nanobots’, ‘Surprisingly Good Things’, ‘Traps for the Unwary’, and ‘Unusual Things’, and all provide good inspiration. For all that Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book celebrates the fortieth anniversary of Metamorphosis Alpha, the actual gaming content for it is thin. A scenario or an area aboard the Starship Warden fully detailed, would perhaps have served as a better selling point for Metamorphosis Alpha.

The fantasy gaming content begins with more letters for The Dungeon Alphabet: An A-Z Reference for Classic Dungeon Design by Michael Curtis. These are ‘G is also for Guardians’ and ‘H is also for Hazard’ and just like the supplement they are inspired by and written for, they consist of tables devoted to their subjects. Both are generic fantasy, but easily adapted to the retroclone—or even not of the Game Master’s choice. This is as entertaining and as inspirational as the original book, and perhaps Goodman Games should think about returning to original supplement, if not in a reprint then in a full sequel with another twenty-six entries.

As expected for a volume in the Goodman Games Gen Con Program Book series, the majority of the gaming content is designed for use with the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. It begins with Michael Curtis’ ‘The Return of the Wild’, which gives a new Patron god for his Shudder Mountains setting from The Chained Coffin campaign. This is Nengal the Wild One, a primal force of raw nature, and comes complete with tables for Invoke Patron checks and Patron Taint. The Patron spells feel somewhat underwritten, but the unfettered and raw nature of the god and his faith should provide some fun roleplaying opportunities.

Dieter Zimmerman contributes the first scenario in the anthology, a wholly new, and weirder introduction to the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. The scenario is a Character Funnel, one of the signature features of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game in which initially, a player is expected to roll up three or four Level Zero characters and have them play through a generally nasty, deadly adventure, which surviving will prove a challenge. Those that do survive receive enough Experience Points to advance to First Level and gain all of the advantages of their Class. Typically, such Player Characters are peasants and the like from the average fantasy world, but here Zimmerman takes the idea of the ordinary person from Earth being transported to a fantasy world where he or she becomes a great hero the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game

So first, in ‘1970’s Earth Characters for DCC’, Zimmerman gives tables for Occupations, Personal Items, and Astrology so that the players can create some funky characters ready for their strange encounter in the accompanying scenario. This is ‘Not in Kansas Anymore’, co-authored with Matt Spengler, a reverse dungeon up through Ezaurack’s Volcano Fortress in which the would-be heroes not only have to save the day against a viscous dragon cult, but do so whilst avoiding rising lava! The scenario is as over the top as you would expect and best played as if the Player Characters—let alone the players—have no idea as to what is going on. Indeed, the scenario is intended as an introduction to the roleplaying game. It is as fun and as gonzo as you would expect, and all it needs is a dose of Doug McClure.

Another then new would-be licence comes under the spotlight with Michael Curtis, not once but twice. First with ‘Rat-Snake: A Lankhmar Wagering Game with Dice’ provides the full rules for a gambling game set in Fritz Leiber’s Nehwon and the tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Prefiguring the release of Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar the year  following the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book, this is an immersive addition to the setting and should find its way into the Player Characters’ adventures in the city of thieves. Second, with ‘The Hand of St. Heveskin’, which details an artefact sacred to the Rat God, but which anyone can use—though there is some danger in doing so. Although presented for Lankhmar, this would work in almost any fantasy setting and is a very well done and themed item. The adjacent list of publication dates for the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories is also welcome.

Gen Con is of course, a very big event, and Goodman Games supports it with a tournament adventure that both fans of the publisher and attendees in general can join in and play. Instead of the typical adventure, in 2015, Goodman games offered ‘The Way of the Dagon’, a spell duelling tourney. Instead of a party of adventurers delving into deep, dark hole, this has wizards and sorcerers throwing spells at each other for the pleasure of Father Dagon. Spelling duelling is part of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and this module gives the full rules for such arcane battling in the realm of Father Dagon. It works a little different to standard spell duelling, adjusting counterspell power and adding the Wrath of Dagon, plus a little bit of randomness to play. This would be fun to play at the table with a normal group as change, but really comes into its own as a big event. The notes on how the event’s origins and the report on some of the game play are entertaining also.

However, the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book includes a Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game Tournament Funnel too. Written by Jim Wampler, Stephen Newton, Daniel J. Bishop, Jeffrey Tadlock, Jon Marr, and Bob Brinkman, ‘Death by Nexus’, which as the title suggests, is another Character Funnel. However, instead of three or four Level Zero Player Characters per player, each only has one, and when a character dies, his player is out and replaced by another player and his character, and this goes on until the end of the scenario. In ‘Death by Nexus’ nine such characters, three each for the three Alignments—Law, Neutrality, and Chaos—are thrown into six different and increasingly challenging arenas for the entertainment of the Primal Ones. Each written by a different author, the arenas vary wildly, from a combination of ice, wind, and fire to a giant sandbox via the end times. Combat focused instead of the spelling-slinging focus of the earlier ‘The Way of the Dagon’, this Tournament Funnel is again fun and silly and over-the-top.

Harley Stroh expands on his ‘Glossography of Ythoth’ from the campaign, Perils on the Purple Planet (now sadly out of print), with ‘Appendix D: Ythothian Liche Kings’ with a guide to the corpse kings who prey on dimensional travellers and possess various psychic powers. This is a nasty monster which no player would his character to encounter, but the dimensional originals means that one of these could turn up anywhere.

Appendix N is an important facet of the Old School Renaissance since its original list of books in the back in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition showcased the inspiration for original roleplaying game. The Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book shows how the authors of various titles for Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game have delved into its equivalent of Appendix N in search of their own inspiration. It opens though with ‘The Way of Serpents’, a short story by Howard Andrew Jones which is also inspired by Appendix N fiction. This is nicely enjoyable piece in the Swords & Sorcery vein, which tells of a priestess and a veteran soldier forced to seek aid from a dragon to save a kingdom not his own. The short story is accompanied by some game content, in particular stats for the creatures encountered in the story.

In ‘Appendix N Inspiration’, sources are in turn discussed for Peril on the Puppet Planet, DCC #87 Against the Atomic Overlord, The Chained Coffin, The 998th Wizards’ Conclave, and Doom of the Savage Kings. All provide insights as to the creative process and suggest authors and their works that would be worth reading prior to running any one of them. Those for DCC #87 Against the Atomic Overlord and The Chained Coffin are longer, more detailed, and more interesting for it. In hindsight, the inspiration for The 998th Wizards’ Conclave is the most interesting because it prefigures the recent development of Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.

Perhaps the highlight of the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book is ‘An illustrated interview with Errol Otus’. This runs to almost forty pages and covers the classic fantasy gaming artist’s time at TSR, his time after, and his return to the hobby industry with both the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and then the Old School Renaissance. It is an entertaining read and is profusely illustrated with paintings and drawings from across his career, serving as a showcase for both. The only disappointment is that the covers that Otus did for Goodman Games have not been reproduced in colour. All it would have taken is another two pages of colour and it would have pleasingly rounded off his contributions up to 2016.

The other half of the fortieth anniversary celebrations in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book is dedicated to Judges Guild and this is celebrated by another pair of articles. It is an unfortunate truth that the reputation of the publisher has been greatly damaged in the years since the publication of these two articles, but this should not mean that the contributions to the hobby by Judges Guild should be ignored. ‘Forty Years Judges Guild: A Legacy of Awesome’ by Jeff Rients—author of Broodmother Skyfortress—presents a history of the publisher from founding to closure, along with a look at a few of the releases over that history... It is informative, but this is very much written from a personal rather than an objective point of view, accompanied with a discussion of the author’s favourite titles. There are of course, more objective histories of Judges Guild available, such as the Judges Guild Deluxe Oversized Collector’s Edition and Designers & Dragons: the ‘70s. Ultimately, what lets this article down is the lack of captions for its various photographs taken from Judges Guild history.

It is followed by ‘Unknown Gods: Revised and Expanded’, by Robert Bledsaw, Sr. and Robert Bledsaw, Jr. This presents an expansion to The Unknown Gods, the 1980 supplement supplement of grandiose gods and deities which would have been particular to the Wilderlands of High Fantasy setting. From Grunchak, Markab God of Technology to Margonne, God of Evil Plans, the Devious Ones, they are all quite detailed and quite different to the gods seen elsewhere in fantasy, as well as each possessing a certain weirdness. That weirdness applies to the statistics given for each god, which use a different system singular to the original supplement rather than any variant of Dungeons & Dragons. It would be fascinating to see the whole of the supplement updated with this content for a game system that was more accessible.

Rounding out the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book is the usual collection of fripperies and fancies. The silliness includes the advice column, ‘Dear Archmage Abby’, in which the eponymous agony aunt gives guidance on life, love, and the d20 mechanics in an entertaining fashion—this time what t do about rules lawyers, whilst the fripperies includes artwork for the ‘2015 to 2016 Mailing Labels’, which capture a bit more of Goodman Games in 2015. Elsewhere there is a quiz or two, interviews with several of the Judges who work as the Goodman Games Road crew, a photographic recap of Gen Con 2015, and more.

Physically, the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book is a thick softback book. It is decently laid out, easy to read, lavishly illustrated throughout, and a good-looking book both in black and white, and in colour.

On one level, the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book, as with other entries in the annual series, is an anthology of magazine articles, but in this day and age of course—as well as 2016—there is no such thing as the roleplaying magazine. So what you have instead is the equivalent of a comic book’s Christmas annual—but published in the summer rather than in the winter—for fans of Goodman Games’ roleplaying games. The Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book follows closely the format of the previous entries in the series, so there is bit of everything in its pages—gaming history, adventures, previews, catch-ups, and more. Its celebrations of the two fortieth anniversaries—Metamorphosis Alpha and Judges Guild—are underwhelming, but everything else in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book is either fun or entertaining, sometimes even both. As ever the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book is a must for devotees of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, but there is plenty in the annual supplement for fantasy gamers to enjoy or be inspired by.