Space Quest II

Space Quest II

The Wrath Of VohaulQuest

See, When I Was Researching Space Quest Last Week, There Were A Gigaquad More Links To The Classic Sierra Game

So, I Figure, Let’s Stick A Reference In And See If It Gets Me Some More Hits This Week

Maybe Even The Double Digits! Whoo!

When last we left our intrepid protagonist, he, she, or it was a nameless collection of statistics from a 2G world, which gave the aforementioned indeterminate pronoun some significant advantages with (so far) no notable drawbacks.

Let’s make them a Him, and call him Dirk. Dirk Venture? No, everyone will think I’m referring to that Johnny Quest parody I’ve never seen but everyone else has, with the bee lady. I know there’s a bee lady because, since all my friends have seen it, bits of it have sunk into my consciousness via osmosis. Dirk Gently? Obviously not. Dirk Destiny! Has a nice, space opera ring to it. (Change it to “Dick Destiny”, and he’s a character in some Horatio Alger story. Or a gay porn star. Or both.)

Abreactions & Adjustments

Gravity Abreaction

The use of the term “abreaction” is omnipresent in Space Quest, which is interesting. Per Google and Wikipedia, the term is used only in the realm of psychology, but here, it’s used for “anything negative”.

Anyhoo, the Gravity Abreaction table is used when the character is exposed to gravity over three times his own, with excessively worse effects for higher multiples. A roll of ‘6’ on the 1d6 table equals ‘death’. Again, since the rules are based on multiples of native ‘G’, there’s a profound advantage for those from high-G worlds. Dirk, from a 2G world, will not suffer abreaction until 6G, and suffers no penalties at all until 4G. (Spacers and silicoids get a +4 to save vs. gravity, and have a -1 modifier on the table.)

Ability Adjustment

You can do something about your crappy stats, if you wish, using a table which determines the cost of trading ability points. Indicating the nascent understanding that some abilities are more equal than others (and following a template begun in OD&D), it’s not a 1-1 swap. For example, you must sacrifice three points of IQ to buy 1 point of Physical Power, or four points of Physical Power for 1 point of IQ. Nor are all swaps permitted; PSI can only be paid for with IQ or Vitality.

It’s a very typical mechanic for the era. (Early D&D had something like this, except without a convenient table; it was all laid out in text and buried in odd places in the first Little Brown Book.) I’m sure it embodied, in the authors’ minds, some sort of inherent “realism” or “balance”, but it looks like a bit of a mess to me. In keeping with my reference to this time period as the “Burgess Shale” era of gaming, I can see subsystems like this as the earliest prototype of later point-buy systems, where different abilities had different costs, based on the perceived utility in the game (Champions being the Platonic ideal of this.)

Castes & Classes

And Saving Throws, but that doesn’t begin with ‘C’.

Saving Throws (which are, naturally, referred to long before they’re defined)[1], are based on ability scores. Various hazards specify the ability used to save against. In the “Everything old is new again” department, this is exactly what the current (Fifth) edition of D&D does. The formula for the basic save is 20 – (Ability Score/3), rounding to the nearest whole number. You need to roll above this number to save, so, the higher the number, the worse your ST is.

Dirk Destiny’s abilities and saves are thus:

  • Physical Power: 9 (ST 17)
  • Coordination: 14 (ST 15)
  • Speed: 13 (ST 16)
  • IQ: 16 (ST 15)
  • Psi: 6 (ST 18)
  • Empathy: 13 (ST 16)
  • Vitality: 10 (ST 17)

It’s interesting that his lowest and highest saves are not far apart. With a 3-18 range, there’s only a 1-6 range in saves. Or, you could say they are far apart, as I have a 15% chance of making a Psi save and a 30% chance of making an IQ or Coordination save — twice as likely.

Your class and level can help: Technics, for example, reduce the required number by 1 for IQ saves for every two levels. (So a fourth level technic has a -2 to his IQ ST, which is good.)

Here follows a list of “commoner applications” for saves, along with who may get a bonus. The exact rule for the bonus is a little confusing, but I finally figured it: “-1 for 2 levels” is the default, unless otherwise noted. Adding to the confusion, the table has some entries which say the class or race adds a number to the die roll, instead of subtracting from the base ST, creating two mechanics: One reduces the ST required roll based on level. The other provides a bonus to the actual die roll that is static — not level based.

Saving Throws also cover using abilities for tasks where there’s not a specific rule. For example, “Feats of Strength” are listed as a “Physical Power” saving throw. This is discussed below the chart. It is noted that not all situations may permit a saving throw (both to avoid a negative consequence or to perform some positive action), and the GM is the final arbiter of both whether one is permitted and what the consequences of failure might be.

I wonder if, later on, they discuss the difficulty of a task as it relates to ST. Poisons can be weak or strong; a “feat of strength” might vary from pushing a crate uphill to knocking over a massive statue.

Caste System

The “20 Suns Combine”, the default setting, has three castes: Political, Commercial, and Administrative. PCs retain their birth status and some family connections, but are “assumed to have renounced their full heritage […] to go adventuring”.

So, D100 time!

40: Dirk’s family is “factor for a Cartel”, and he is of the Commercial caste. I have “system rank”, which lets me start with 1-10 x 500 credits. Rolled a 7, so, 3,500 credits.

My age, as a human, is 15 + 1d6. I rolled a 4, so, 19.

Classes Yet? No, Skills First

Space Quest has a class/level system, but before that’s introduced, we get skills. The blending of the two is not unusual, then or now. It is a little odd skills are discussed first in the rules when classes have been mentioned repeatedly but not yet detailed, but, there you go.

The number of skills you start with is based on your IQ and a d6 roll. I rolled a 5. Cross-indexing on the chart (Table 0500.1), I get 4 skills to pick from. You can learn new skills in play.

Skills have a %age score, with a roll-under rule. Generally, you can’t try a failed task again unless you raise the skill.

Classes can grant you bonuses to skills, typically doubling the base percentage.

As you can tell, and as is typical of the era, the list is not organized in any way — neither categorical nor alphabetical, historical, or quadrilateral.

So I get four. For what it’s worth, I’m going for the Technic class, which is interesting, as my high IQ and low PSI kind of war with each other here.

I’ll pick Agronomist (bonus from my Commercial Caste background), Sensor/Computer Maintenance (bonus from Technic), Lockpicking (also bonus from Technic), and Geologist (Commercial Caste bonus). As a Technic, I also get Ship’s Engineer for free.

The values for these are going to be:

Sensor/Computer: 32%
Lockpicking: 26%
Agronomist: 64%
Geologist: 64%
Ship Engineer: Uhm… there’s no formula. It says “initial study of the skill gives full ability”, but I must have “rigger operation” to use them. Maybe this will be explained later.


Finally, we get to the classes part!

Technics are not mere engineers. They are so connected to their machines that they can cause them “to be repaired or to malfunction… by touch alone”.

They are limited in their choice of weapons, because the Guild Charter states “Energetics shall never destroy in the hands of a Technical Brother”. But I can use non-lethal energy weapons like neural disruptors, and any other weapon. So slicing someone in half with an AK-47 is just jim-dandy.

My Technical Power Points start at my IQ, 16. If I over-expend, I suffer as mutates do, see Section 0633.

I roll to see how many class powers I have: My roll is 25 (percentile), so I get the first two class powers listed for Technics, which would be “Enhance Drive Output” and “Repair Light Damage”. Every time I gain a level, I gain the next power on the list.

As I gain levels, there is also a chance of gaining powers of “Force” 1, 2, or 3. So at second level, for example, I roll a D20, and add +1 because of my IQ of 16. On an 18, I get a Force 1 power, a 19 a Force II, and a 20+, a Force III. At higher levels, the odds of getting *something* increase, including a low chance of gaining two or more powers concurrently. Unlike the main class powers, you can pick any one you wish under the appropriate Force level.

Conclusion, With Voidsharks

That’s pretty much it for character creation, other than buying equipment. The rest of the book has the many power descriptions, extensive weapons lists,  spaceships, and space travel. And voidsharks.


Why, yes. The encounter tables have lots of space monsters.

An echinaster, by the way, is a “gigantic energy being, composed of unstable quark aggregates in a patterned orbit around a core of degenerate matter”. Degenerate matter is matter that has a huge collection of magazines with titles like “Busty Bimbos” under its bed.

The rest of the space critters are just as awesome as you’d expect. Stelloids are living suns. Stellons are miniature stelloids. Hyperzoas are space amoeba. (“Hyper” plus “Protozoa”, get it?) Swarmers are “space lemmings”, a kind of “living missile”. And so on. The bleak void between the stars is filled with things that want to kill you.

Space itself is filled with hazards, including “anti-quark clouds” and “ether quakes”. Did some of the authors go on to write “Star Trek: Voyager”?

Lots and lots of rules for kitting out your ship, for hiring crew, and for conducting boarding operations abstractly (for when there may be dozens of boarders and defenders) follow. Around page 87  (out of 110), we finally get to rules for man-to-man/alien/beast/robot combat. In order to show how the rules back then relied on pure imagination and simplicity, without a lot of tedious modifiers and mechanics to get in the way of the “theater of the mind”, here’s some of that:

Now, some folks might point out, correctly, that there are no rules for movement and positioning on a grid/hexmap… a flaw the authors called out in the first paragraph, see prior installment. However, the lack of such explicit rules doesn’t stop the combat modifiers from discussing cover, attacks from behind, and so on, not to mention the highly fiddly gravity rules which mean different modifiers for all combatants based on their home gravity.

The damage, by the way, is horrific. “Penetration” is the number of dice rolled to get through an energy screen, and each point that penetrates is multiplied by the damage factor. Dirk has 22 hit points. Typical energy fields provide 1 to 3 dice of protection. Assuming Dirk has 2 dice of protection, and is shot with a blaster… Dirk rolled a 6 for his force field. His attacker roll 12 for penetration. 6 points of blaster get through, doing sixty points of damage.

BTW, continuing the simplistic abstraction, there’s two kinds of defense — “screens”, or force fields, which defend against energy weapons, and armor, which defends against non-energy weapons (guns, swords).

Also BTW, notice the “Luxblade”? “Lux” is light, and “blade” is… blade. Like, say, a saber? That sort of pins the game to sometime in the latter half of 1977.

Further rules include star system generation, including the possible cultures and governments of inhabited worlds, and, tucked near the end, the rules for gaining XP, which seem harsh. You earn 1 XP per hour of time spend adventuring (game time, it is strongly implied, not real-world time), plus XP for various actions, including, but not limited to, 10 points for each round of personal combat (+200 points for winning), 10 points each time you make a saving throw, and for Mutates, Technics, and Biotechs, 2 points for each power point they spend.

You can also buy (via training) up to half the XP you need to advance a level.

So What Happened?

As judged by its era, there’s nothing particularly bad, wrong, or missing with Space Quest, though I think it could have done with more detail for interpersonal actions vs. space actions… to a limited extent, it feels like someone took a 75 page game of space combat and exploration where each player controlled a crew member and expanded it to a 100 page RPG. (These are not actual counts of pages dedicated to each topic, it’s a subjective, personal, and “gut” feeling of how the game divides its focus). Or it could simple represent the interests of the designers, or it could be that there were issues with how much material was produced and how much had to fit in the book. It is hard to say.

So, why did Traveller go on to spawn a system which remains active in multiple incarnations to this day, while Space Quest is more-or-less forgotten? (SQ did manage a “Second Edition” (really, a reprint w/some errata tacked on), so, it clearly had some measure of success.)

It’s important to remember that it’s most likely not the case that every game store in 1977 ordered equal copies of “Space Quest” and “Traveller”, and thus, buyers had an equal chance to pick one or the other. Game Designers Workshop (not to be confused with Games Workshop, the difference is the latter has more spiky bitz, and spells ‘bits’ with a ‘z’) was a well-established wargaming company with a wide distribution network, which made the transition from chit-and-hexmap games to RPGs far more successfully than SPI or AH, which, like mainframe companies at the dawn of the PC age, didn’t see the threat from the emerging competition until it was too late. Odds are, there was little direct comparison. For many early RPGers, Traveller was all there was, and it was more than good enough that people didn’t seek out competition.

“Traveller” also had higher production values. Unlike the fixed-space “typewriter” font, small print, and somewhat patchwork layout of Space Quest, Traveller oozed professionalism well above most of the other crop of 1977. It had a crisp, clean, design that has become justly iconic and is still used (with some minor changes) in modern editions. There was very little art (IIRC, in the very first printing, there was none outside of the map templates and forms), but what there was, was good. The rules were sparse, but covered the essentials even-handedly. They also didn’t require a then-nonexistent D30.

Paul Hume went on to FGU and designed many other games, such as Aftermath, which I played fanatically back in the day. (Later, he worked on a little thing called “Shadowrun”; you might have heard of it.) He may have had neither the time nor the inclination to promote and enhance Space Quest.

Thus, we say goodbye to Dirk Destiny, before he has a chance to die from a single blaster hit. (And that, too, could be a factor… when the time spent to create a character is long, and the likelihood of one-shot death is high, frustration is inevitable. I have noted in other articles that, as games evolved more detailed character creation, they also tended to make combat less lethal.)

Next time? Who knows?

As always, if you like these articles, share links with your friends and on appropriate forums. If you hate these articles, share them with your enemies.

[1]To be uncharacteristically fair, it’s almost impossible to write a rules system of any real depth which does not suffer a “circular reference” problem. Good mechanics should interact with each other. If you put all the mechanics before character creation, they seem to be floating in limbo, without a connection to the imagined world. If you put character creation first, players have to make choices without fully understanding their mechanical impact. Whether “+1 to hit with swords” is a good or bad bonus depends a lot on if you’re rolling D10, D20, D100, or playing Amber… or if you’ve got a ‘roll high’ or ‘roll low’ system.

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Space Quest

Space Quest

“And The Cold Stars Glittered On The Corpse Of A Dream”

The Stains, Wear, and Tear On This Show Whoever Owned It Before Me Probably Played It A Lot

BTW, does anyone know of an editor plugin for WordPress where you can just have a bunch of google fonts in the font dropdown, and other cool stuff that makes it more like a WYSIWYG system, so you’re less bound to your template and don’t have to learn CSS?

I’ve spent two weeks working on a wasp queen demon lord inspired by my mother in law, and totally not in the way you’d expect from that sentence, and it’s taking too long — designing high-CR critters in Pathfinder is a friggin’ bear (great, now I want to design a CR 20 bear… maybe a bear kaiju… no! Stop it, Lizard! Focus!) — so I thought I’d take a break. Since, for some reason, both of my copies of Space Quest (First and Second edition) were sitting in the pile of random clutter near my computer, that’s what I’m looking at this week.

Space Quest is a digest-sized space opera RPG released in 1977, so it can also be called “No, the other one.” It’s by Paul Hume, which is a name old schoolers like me know well, and George Nyhen, which isn’t. (A lot of what I cover seems to have that split… “Here’s the early work of someone who is still an active figure in gaming (or who is sorely missed), along with a bunch of folks you never heard from again.”) (I’m also reading a lot of 1920s and 1930s out-of-copyright pulps, and same thing: A mix of writers who later went on to define the genre for decades, and others, treated at the time as equals of those greats-to-be, who didn’t. And I’m digressing again. I do that.)

I will be looking at the first edition. The differences, from the outside, are minor. Second Edition has a slick cover; First Edition,  a rough one. Otherwise, the art and descriptive text are identical, as is the page count, though the final page and inside back cover of second edition are covered with errata, while they are blank in the first. (This extra text adds a paragraph or so on “Krang”, aka “Space Karate”. Just thought you’d like to know that.)

Traveller, likewise, was first published in 1977. I do not know which came out first; they would likely have differed by only a few months. It is a perfect example of simultaneous creation. To go off on a favorite tear of mine, the phenomenon of many variants on the same topic appearing concurrently is rarely due to conscious copying and anyone screeching “They stole my idea!” has a dubious knowledge of what an “idea” is worth. (Roughly fuck-all, though it might rise to diddly-squat under the right conditions.) Rather, people who are in the same subcultures, read the same books, watch the same movies, and have the same kind of neural wiring will produce similar outputs from these similar inputs. (Creative types, in general, tend to be rare in the general population and, unless they’re professionals, rare within their own peer groups. As a consequence, we (I am being vain) tend to overestimate our uniqueness. Thus, when we see some other creative type coming up with the same thing we did, instinctively assume they must have somehow stolen it, instead of recognizing that when you train two neural nets on the same data, they will end up very close to each other… not identical, but close.)[1]

“This Is A Large And Confusing Game”

Those are the first words on the first page of rules. In the contest of the time, when “Risk” and “Monopoly” were considered among the leading edge of game complexity, a 110-page digest sized rulebook (thus, 55 or so normal sized pages — less than a typical modern games’ supplement describing dwarven throwing hammers (one-handed; two-handed throwing hammers need their own book)) was probably astounding[2], and the authors wanted to let the readers know up-front what they were getting into.

Following the wargaming tradition out of which RPGs were still forming (remember, in the 1977, D&D was just three years old, and while the genre was rapidly congealing into independence, it was still not wholly split off from its parent), the rules are numbered in sections, so the first section is ‘0100’, with subsections ‘0110’, ‘0120’, and so on. (The game refers to itself as providing rules for “science fiction-fantasy wargaming”.

The text is small and dense, both in typography and information content.

Roll A D30

A good example of how the Burgess Shale era of gaming worked. Instead of forcing tables and rules to work with the available dice, you just assigned probability ranges and then added rules to generate these numbers on other dice. (D30s eventually did exist, of course, along with far more baroque concepts.) At the time this was written, all D20s used the numbers 0-9 twice, so you colored in half the numbers to indicate “high”, leading to lots of arguments over which color was “high”, depending on the needs of the moment. “Yes, blue is high! A 20!” “But you need to roll low for an attribute check, so you fa…” “Did I say blue? I meant red! Red is always high for me! You know that!”

Thus, the rules recommend rolling a D6 and a D20, with 1-2 meaning “1-10”, 3-4 meaning “11-20”, etc. It also recommends the following easy system of rolling a D17(!): Roll percentiles (it explains how to do this with the D20s of the era, too), then divide by 17 and round up. Except… wait a minute… that doesn’t remotely work. That gives you a number between about 1 and 6. Unless they meant to take the remainder? Or something?

Huh. Moving on.

We have a glossary of terms, with a mix of the typical mid-70s SF obsession with the metric system (because we’d all be going metric any day now) and game-specific terms such as “hypermeter”, which is how you measure distances in hyperspace. A typical ship under the “N-Drive” travels 1000 hypermeters (or, a hyperklick… because all the cool kids say ‘klick’ instead of ‘kilometer’) per hour. A hyperklick in n-space is a light year in realspace, and a ship normally travels 10 hk a day… which directly contradicts what it just said about 1 hk/hour, unless the ship can only travel 10 hours a day. (All times are given in GAL-, a prefix meaning “Galactic Standard”… one GAL-day, one GAL-year, and so forth.)

There’s a fair number of entries in the glossary referring to the “20 Suns Combine”, the default setting for the game, but it is important to note that the first paragraph or two makes it clear the target audience for the game is “the growing number of gamers who get off on the creative challenge of building their own campaign”. (And I just noticed that self-same early section notes there are no rules for “the personal scale”, which seems odd since, flipping ahead, I see  plenty of rules for normal person-to-person melee and ranged combat. Not sure what they meant there.)

Not Dying During Chargen

There’s a page of tiny type detailing the “History of the Galactic Empire”, and its fall at the hands… or tentacles… or claws… of the Sniz, invaders who appeared from nowhere and sabotaged the great galactic teleportation net, ending the Empire, reducing all to chaos, “And the cold stars glittered on the corpse of a dream.”

God damn, I love that line. Hang on, changing my heading text for this article. There. Done.

0400: Players And Characters

Before we get to character creation, we have to have a reaction chart. This was common back in Ye Olde Dayse. Thinking about it, it was a big part of the transition from the GM as a referee for a wargame to the GM as a storyteller and worldbuilder. It seemed more “fair”, I suspect, for the outcome of a meeting between the PCs and a group of NPCs to be random instead of the result of the GMs judgment as to the likely response. This quickly changed as a body of convention, tropes, and expectation rapidly evolved to set presumed defaults and provide a number of signifiers that could be used to communicate, in the game context, the likely demeanor of an encountered group. (In other words, when the GM describes a group using terms and phrases that indicate ‘a bunch of peaceful merchants’, a set of implied expectations are communicated, vs. terms that indicate ‘a group of bandits’.)

Following the table is advice that the GM should decide when and how this table is to be used; a character seeking information in a bar should not “be attacked for a simple question”, although a low roll “might start a brawl”. (This more-or-less mirrors the modern style of play, where the player role-plays a brief conversation, then makes an appropriate skill check and deals with the consequences.)

0410: Building A Character

Someone Was A Lt. Arex Fan…

There’s a number of steps to take. Step 1: Choose a species.

Those hoping for the usual gaggle of space opera races — cat men, bear men, dog men, rat men, snake men, men men — will be disappointed. There are only three races: Humans, Trilax (tri-symmetrical beings with three legs, three arms, and three eyestalks) and silicoids (rock men).

This surprises me. Perhaps it shouldn’t. Traveller had only humans to begin with. (In the earliest printings of Traveller, the Imperium was either not mentioned at all or was a vague reference to a generic background government.) It may be that the literary SF that underpinned the subset of SF fans who were also drawn to roleplaying was strongly humanocentric. At the time, “media” SF fans were considered an unwelcome and dubious intrusion into fandom, not “real” fans at all. (Remember: When THEY want to keep YOU from participating in THEIR subculture, it’s “gatekeeping” and it’s bad. When YOU want to keep THEM from participating in YOUR subculture, it’s “preventing cultural appropriation”, and it’s good. Got it? Great.)


Anyway, given the rather uninspiring non-human choices (no catgirl space pirates? Dafuq?), I’m going with human.

Abilities are determined by rolling a variable number of 6 sided dice. Humans roll 3d6 for everything. Trilax, by contrast, roll 4d6 for Coordination and 2d6 for Speed.

The abilities are:

  • Physical Power
  • Coordination
  • Speed
  • IQ
  • Psi
  • Empathy
  • Vitality

The highest score you can roll is also the Racial Maximum. This can normally not be exceeded by the use of drugs, psionics, or technology, though “the most potent drugs” may temporarily break this limit, and “expensive” Bionic modifications and rare Alien devices might permanently raise your abilities beyond this. Also, the Capitalizations for “Bionic” and “Alien” are As Written, as this Game, like many From this Era, had a Bad Case of Random Capitalization.

Let’s get rolling, shall we?

  • Physical Power: 7
  • Coordination: 9
  • Speed: 8
  • IQ: 11
  • Psi: 7
  • Empathy: 12
  • Vitality: 11

And, y’know what? Screw that. Let’s try again.

  • Physical Power: 9 (Not off to a good start)
  • Coordination: 14 (Better…)
  • Speed: 13
  • IQ: 16 (!)
  • Psi: 6 (And we’re back to normal.)
  • Empathy: 13
  • Vitality: 10

OK, that’s playable, at least.

(And this, kiddies, is why games rapidly evolved to “best 3 out of 4”, or point-based systems.)

Physical Power is my strength. It’s modified based on my homeworld’s gravity vs. the current gravity to produce Effective Power. My native gravity is rolled on a table on the next page. I rolled an 8 on a D10, which per the chart, puts me on a 2g world. My Effective Power is Physical Power x (native g/current g). On a 1 g world, it would be 18. I can lift 10kg per point of Effective Power, or 180 kg, maximum. At 50% of that, I suffer a -4 to Speed and Coordination, and at 75%, this increases to -6.

Coordination is dexterity.

Speed determine how many actions I can take, and if I’m of the Spacer class, it gives me bonuses to my use of a spaceship. If I’m a Warrior, it gives me some dodging abilities. And it gets more complex, because there is also the Effective Speed, ala Effective Power, with the same formula. On a 1g world, my Effective Speed is 26(!), and I can perform 4 actions per mt. “Mt” is “Melee Turn”, of course. However, if we’re in zero g, we use base speed, not effective speed, and we use the “0 g Result” column of Table 0443.1. No, I’m not kidding about that… it’s really Table 0443.1.

“Actions” are “simple actions” such as hitting someone, moving, shooting, and so on… a fairly common understanding now, but in need of explanation then. (Hell, we still get into arguments about exactly what can be done in a single melee round… ) The speed table does not apply for actions that would take longer than one mt, and the GM is tasked with deciding what that means.

I’m not sure I like the idea of gravity affecting speed when it comes to actions/round. Sure, I might run faster in low gravity, but could I really pull a trigger faster? I’d use Coordination (unadjusted by gravity) for action speed, and Speed for just… speed. Running. That kind of thing.

Oh, and Spacers get to add their speed to their “GO-rigger Bonus”, a term “which will be explained in detail later in the rules”. And, yes, Warriors get a defensive bonus due to their Effective Speed.

Thus far in the rules, those from high-g worlds have significant bonuses and no drawbacks.

IQ: IQ is not raw intelligence in Space Quest, but measures “affinity for technological devices and activities”. Due to eugenics and “advanced medical techniques”, no severely dain-bramaged people exist in the Combine, and “a character is only as smart as the player who controls him”.

For most purposes, IQ divides into three levels: 2-5 allows you to use “pushbutton” devices only, without the ability to repair anything or use unusual or alien technology. 6-11 lets you use all common devices and alien tech if you’re shown how, and make some simple repairs. 12+ lets you study alien devices to figure out how they work, and grants access to the “Technic” class. And, by the way, Technics with a high IQ gives a “POWER-rigger” bonus, if you’re a Technic who is also the ship’s engineer. At 16, I can add 2d6 ERG to the engines when the captain yells “Dammit, Scotty, I need more power!” “I’m rollin’ all the dice I can, Cap’n! I can’t roll a 13 on 2d6!”

PSI : Psionic power. This is key for “mutates”. Mutates (a class) have “active” psi, while the rest of the slobs have “latent” psi. With my Psi of 6, I don’t think “Mutate” is the class for me.

Empathy: This affects reaction rolls; see above. Curiously, it’s not affected by gravity or class.

Vitality: This measures “general resistance to physical hardships or damage”, and is instrumental in determining your hit points, which are Vitality * 2  + 1d6, which, for me, is 22.

Surprising no one who is familiar with mid-70s design patterns, you gain hit points as you go up in level based on your class. Warrior +2d6, Spacers and Technics +1d10, and Mutates and Biotechs +1d6.

Next we get into gravity, including Table 0448.2: GRAVITY ABREACTION TABLE, and I think that’s a good stopping point. I’d honestly expected to get the entire thing done in one go, but it was not to be.

PS: “Abreaction” is a perfectly cromulent word.

[1]I find myself often splitting the difference on the “great man” theory of history vs. the “historical inevitability” theory. Both are trueish. If you went back in time and assassinated Columbus, you’d delay the European arrival in the Americas by a few years to a few decades, at most. Too many factors were pushing the need to find an alternate route to the trading ports of Asia and India. Any scientist or inventor builds on preexisting knowledge that is widely known within their communities, as well as seeing the same problems to be solved or needs to be filled[1a]. At the same time, it doesn’t matter how many people might have found something, done something, created something… praise and honor is due to the first one to actually do it, to be the first to put the pieces together.

[1a]And this, in turn, is why any variant on the meme of “Some guy in East Bumfuck, North Dakota, invented a car engine that gets a thousand miles to the gallon but Big Oil shut him up.” is bullshit, along with any kind of scam for “cheap fusion” or other forms of “free energy” where the creator never releases his models and prototypes for testing under controlled conditions (meaning, he is not there to rig things), or files patents showing how their design works, because they fear “someone will steal my secrets!” If some miracle power source exists, and they found it, someone else, having access to all the same underlying knowledge, will do it, too. You can’t suppress the laws of physics. Anything that can be discovered once can be discovered again.

[2]And to invoke another boilerplate rant… certain advocates of Old School Revisionism point to the “short” rulebooks of the 70s and 80s (32 to 128 pages) and talk about how “simplicity” was a design goal of the era. No. No, it was not, with a tiny handful of exceptions (Tunnels & Trolls being one). At the time, these games were hideously complex. Terrifying. Intimidating to “mundanes”. And we, the players of the era, loved that. We (being nerds) enjoyed the challenge of mastering such complex systems when our non-nerd associates were overwhelmed by anything more advanced than Candyland. The length of the rulebooks was due to the economics of the age (printing was far more expensive, and the actual work of writing the rules was much more labor intensive, involving typewriters, literally pasting in artwork, retyping the rules if anything major needed to be changed, hand-assembling a table of contents by writing it after the layout was done and you knew what page things went on, ad infinitum), rather than an ideological commitment to “simple rules”. Subsystems to cover many actions weren’t omitted due to a belief “you don’t need rules for that”; they were omitted due to the fact there wasn’t room.


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Metascape, Part IV

Metascape, Part IV

The Final Chapter

I Hope

Yeah, it’s been a while. I have had birthdays, family issues, and a strange desire to learn the Unity game development environment. And I’ve had in my head that first, I would fill out the character sheet and then scan it and post it, instead of tediously transcribing all my steps. But, professional procrastinator that I am, I never got around to that, and I finally admitted I was using “Ah, but first, I must do this” as an excuse, and steeled myself. So here we are. (And I wrote 95% of this a week ago, but am just posting it now, because, reasons.)

Since I have effectively zero readers, the odds of someone discovering this post out of sequence are pretty low, but just in case: Part I (We open the box!), Part II (Dice mechanics. Nothing but dice mechanics.), and Part III (Swashbuckling catgirl ahoy!).

Oh, this link has nothing to do, directly, with this topic, but I just discovered it… I love the original pulp novels by Hamilton and I’ve enjoyed Steele’s “Coyote” novels… from the reviews, this isn’t a satire/deconstruction but a serious take on the character blending the original concepts and modern knowledge. (I have not read it; I am just summarizing others’ opinions.)

Let’s begin.

Race: Zin-Shee Female.
Sex: Female.
Age: 6L? What does… oh yeah, I look on the character sheet for the chart NOT labelled “L” (Light), roll a D6 and a D16, and cross index. A 1 and a 16… 16. Do I reroll and add for the 16 for this roll? I’m not sure. Let’s just say she’s 16 years old. Done.
Height: 6L+60… I end up w/62.
Weight: 6LV+100. I end up with a ‘1’, but V is x10, so, 10, so, 110.

I fill in the baseline attributes from the book. There’s a lot of them. 11 attributes, 5 weapon classes (base skills, each weapon needs to be learned… I think… EDIT: I was wrong, see below), “Enhancements” (general racial traits like “Enhanced Hearing” and “Light Sleeper”) Handicaps (No place to write them, I put it under “Enhancements” with a note), Natural Weapons, and more.

All PCs are presumed to be members of the House of Dha, an organization formed by the Guild for the purpose of employing the galaxy’s murderhobos… I mean, erm, “to investigate, engage, and eliminate all threats to the guild by whatever means necessary.” So, yeah, to employ the galaxy’s murderhobos.

There’s a list of benefits, but for purposes of character generation, the two that matter are that I get a “Bridge Officer” enhancement and optionally a ship specialization for half AP.

Chapter Approved

I now have to pick a class… er… chapter. Since the game was published in 1977, of course there are racial restrictions on which class I can pick, that’s just how things were back in the Cambrian era of gaming and… wait,  it was published in 1993? Oh, dear.

My choices (due to my race) are Cyber Warrior, Dragon, Marine, Mensi, Rogue, and Warrior. For those who care, other options are Bio Gunner, Bio Warrior, Destron, Mutak, and Warlock.

Humans (“Anthropos”) can be of any class, of course. And every race can be a Rogue, following a tradition going back to AD&D 1e.

My goal is to create a swashbuckler. The closest fit is, of course, Rogue… which, reading the description, isn’t so much as “thief” as “jack of all trades”, as you don’t get any special skills or abilities, but you can buy all “skills, enhancements, and specializations” for 10% off.

(I need to mention, at this point, that initiative is called “Nish”, leading to such statements as “Failure results in loss of Nish.” I felt that had to be stated somewhere in this series of articles. Why not here?)

Following are several pages describing attributes, skills, and enhancements in more detail. Most are pretty straightforward. The Bridge Officer enhancement I get for being a licensed murderhobo… I mean, a member of Guild House Dha… gives me a 6L (pretty low, but better than nothing) rating for the use of any ship functions. This rating can’t be improved or enhanced; you need to buy the actual skill for that. Makes sense to me. It helps ensure that you don’t have a situation where no PC can even attempt a vital ship function because the one guy who put points into “Pilot” or “Engineer” is dead or incapacitated, while still providing a good reason to actually take the individual skills and raise them to respectable levels.

(Oh, I just noticed this on rereading. Not all Enhancements are available to all races. Well, that makes sense. Which ones? Well, you see, it would be too “time consuming” to create a detailed table, so just ask your GM. He gets to decide which races can take which enhancements, to “fine tune” his campaign.

A good example is “Life Freeze”. You can enter suspended animation at will, appearing dead. (This was years before ‘feign death pulling’, BTW. And if you don’t know what ‘feign death pulling’ is, U R N00B.) That strikes me as something not every character would have the ability to learn, but, should it be restricted by “chapter”? By race? Both? A dozen GMs would have a dozen answers based on their own personal biases and internalized notions of what “makes sense” or is “realistic”. None would be particularly right or wrong, but, to beat one of my favorite dead horses (let’s face it, I have a Triple Crown’s worth of dead horses), the idea that rules don’t need to spell things about because “reasonable people” will always agree on the “right” answer is once again shown to be bullshit, because what’s “reasonable” when discussing plasma-sword wielding catgirls will, like the taste of Soylent Cola, vary from person to person.)

My “Flirtatious” Handicap (a racial trait) gives me +10 AP. I sure hope I find the rules on what to do with AP soon. I can also pick other Handicaps to individualize my character and get more points. Some are not applicable to some races. Which ones? See previous paragraph.

I flipped back to the start. I get 100 APs to play with, plus 10 from my Handicap, and a ton of skills, enhancements, and powers to pick from. This could be fun. It’s almost lunch time now, so, I will come back in a bit and finish this off.

What’s The (Advancement) Point Of It All?

110 APs.

To start with, I want to raise my Dexterity to 10M. That’s 20 points. 90 left.

My Melee to 10L. That’s 25 points. 65 left.

No, wait. As a Rogue, I get a 10% discount on everything. So, uhm, add in 4.5 back… let’s call it 70 left.

To get some decent abilities, I want to get the Parry and Disarm enhancements. There’s a confusing encoding for the cost (big shock), but I’ll spare you the details and say the only way I can afford them is to by them in their “single weapon only” version. That will cost me a total of 35…minus 3.5… or 32… points, and I choose to use them with Plasma Sword. 38 points left.

Might want some skills.

If I spend 30 AP (-3… 27) I can get the Thief Specialization, which gives me Theft for free and a bunch of other skills at half cost. But that would leave me with only 11 AP left. Hm. Time to look at more Handicaps.

Short Temper and Absent Minded seem appropriate for a catgirl. That gives me 18 more, giving me 29 after I buy Thief.

18 (20, -2 discount) go to get me some Acrobatics.

9 left. Stealth is half cost, so 7.5 (but I can’t also apply my 10% discount, it says so in the rules, foo). That leaves me 1.5. Or, I could fudge by 1 point and pick up Detect Lie and Fast Talk for 5 each, instead of Stealth. Yeah. Let’s do that.

Skills are based on Attributes, but actually start at a reduced value compared to their base… this is different from many game designs where an attribute can be used as the untrained default.

My skills, applying the base, are:

Acrobatics 8M
Detect Lie 10M
Fast Talk 10M
Theft 10M

A Plasma Sword attacks at Melee  – 2d, so 6L for me.

Man, first level… I mean, Rank 0… characters don’t have a lot of options, do they? Or, rather, they do (there’s an extensive list of skills, enhancements, and other goodies), but not a lot of points to spend when all is said and done. Of course, I chose “Rogue”, which doesn’t give a lot of freebies but provides flexibility.

It’s an oddity, to me, that you don’t learn “weapon” skills per se. You have the “Weapon Class” attribute for your skill with an entire set of weapons. There are multiple “enhancements” that will give you special actions with weapons or allow you to ignore some penalties, but you can’t really be extra-good with pistols or axes in general combat.

A Character Sheet

Here’s the filled out sheet, modulus some of the stuff I worked out above. My handwriting is abysmal, and not helped by the small spaces to write in.

There’s other stuff on the back, and even a second sheet for overflow of some items.

Some Conclusions

As is often the case, it’s hard to see how things play out in… erm… play.  I notice that for all the hundreds of words spent on die mechanics, ultimately, PCs have a very narrow range of attribute values… 3 die scores (6, 8, 10) times three categories (light, medium, heavy), boiling down to an effective range of 1-9. The extensive list of skills and enhancements provides opportunities for personalization, but they tend to be expensive, as we’ve seen. (On the plus side, there’s a lot of room for growth and development. I like games where you have choices to make after chargen.)

The time to create a character, once the learning curve of the dice codes is overcome, is low. Copy over your base stats and spend your points (of which you have few). Boom. Done. (There’s also buying equipment, but I didn’t go there.)

Clearly, Guild Space was never going to be the kind of insane success its creators envisioned, with organized play and internship programs and registering products owned to make it easier for people to buy new ones for you. But it made virtually no impact at all, despite a lot of advertising at the time. Why?

I would speculate:

  • It was a high-crunch, “simulationist” game at a time when the White Wolf wave was really gathering force.
  • And this little thing called “Magic: The Gathering” was about to hit, too.
  • People who wanted high-crunch SF at the time had many other options, with established universes and lots of ongoing support.
  • 40 dollars for a sealed box is a lot of buy-in for an unknown quantity. (That’s almost 70.00 in modern money. Yeah, that’s the buy-in for, say, Pathfinder Core and a supplement or two, but those are books you can flip through to see what you’re getting, and they’re well-supported online and off.)
  • It rips off is inspired by Star Wars (The ‘Sorce’. I mean, really? That’s the best you could do?), and there was an official Star Wars RPG that was at the peak of its creative output at the time. There’s no need for a pale imitation when you’ve got the real thing.

The creator obviously loved his work. There’s a trail of broken web sites and abandoned links scattered across the web, filled with new versions of the system (or promises of same; in many cases, the links were dead or rerouting to highly dubious digital locales). But this love could not, evidently, by easily spread.

If only they’d put the swashbuckling catgirls front and center!

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Metascape, Part III

Metascape, Part III

Wait, There’s Swashbuckling Cat Girls In Here?

Shut Up And Take My Money!

(Also, Kung-Fu Vulcans)

In the first part… we opened a box!

In the second part… we puzzled out dice notation!

But nothing you’ve seen so far could possibly prepare you for the awe… the horror… the majesty… that is.. character creation!

At least, I hope not. I write these things extemporaneously, after all. It might be perfectly straightforward with nothing worth commenting on, praising, or mocking.

(Looks at character sheet. Notes that “Allowance” is misspelled and that there’s a 1-800 number on the sheet to call for orders.)

But the odds are low that will be the case.

On With It, Then

The rules book describes the process of character creation, starting with the process of convincing players to participate in the process of character creation. (Step 1: Say “But it’ll be funnnn, guys, realllly!”. Step 2: Point out how much you already spent on Cheetos and Mountain Dew and they’d better just play the damn game. Step 3:…)

It also notes that the first adventure changes the details of the setting, so you need to describe the setting to them pre-adventure. Well, whatever the first adventure is, sounds like it won’t be “kill 10 space rats”.

Oh, they used “peek” for “pique”. That’ll cost them on final points.

Meet The Character Sheet

There Are Many Like It, But This One Is Yours

The GM is encouraged to teach the players the “major area” on the character sheet. The list of “major areas” is 20 items long. Well, I am being a little unfair, because this includes both sides of the character sheet, the powers sheet, and the skills sheet. And, sure, a Pathfinder character sheet can be many, many, pages long if you use Hero Lab and print out all the full descriptions of your spells, feats, class feature, traits, racial abilities, item powers, etc. So let’s move on.


At this point, we are to show the players the bitter herbs, and explain to them… no, wait. I left my haggadah from last week out on top of the rulebooks. We are to show the players the pictures and miniatures for each race.

You saw the miniatures in Part I. Here’s the picture.

I Have No Idea Now, But Do You Wanna Bet Spider Scorpion Dude Is From The Evil Race?

There’s actually some reasonably sane advice on teaching players to play and encouraging them to make their own choices. The authors seemed to believe, sincerely, this game would be played by groups new to roleplaying. However, there have really only been two games that were the “first RPG” for large numbers of people: D&D and Vampire 1e. While there are of course many individual exceptions, the thousands of other RPGs published have primarily been sold to those who have already been deflowered. (A small slice of the pie might go to licensed games like MSH, Star Wars, and Star Trek, but only a small slice.)

OK, “Generation Steps”. This provides an overview, ending with “Select a team name”, “Make a sketch” and “Start a journal”… yeah, it also says this is in the character book in more detail, so maybe it’s finally time to flip that one open.

Or not… the first section does indeed list all the races and a page of their default starting stats (yes, a page each), but there’s no fluff. That must be in the setting book. Let’s pan over to that…

Lessee, humans are known as Anthropos, they left their homeworld of Url 3000 years ago, something something corporate state, now all the PCs are members of the House of Dha, four “guardian races” (Anthropos, Draca, Zin-Shee, and Calemora… going to guess the Draca are the lizard people. The Calemora are, I think, the stubby wide ones. The Zin-Shee? Probably the cats.)

“Guild”, by the way, means “Galactic Union Of Intelligent Life-Forms and Devices”. (“Someone really wanted the acronym to spell out ‘SHIELD'”). However, it’s never capitalized as an acronym in the rules. Go figure.

More history. And some notes that the Guild will gain two new allies, the Kryll (spider people — so I was wrong, they are not the inevitable bad guy race. Critical success on Save vs. Cliche there! I am impressed!) and the Shanask (the dude with the lightsaber). But this occurs after the first adventure. Spoiler!

But there’s not too much need for me to read further. This game has cat people! I can play a catgirl! Whee! (And it’s very much a catgirl, as the cat people actually have two racial entries, one for males, one for females, which is pretty typical for lion-like races in SF games — see Traveller’s Aslan, or, hell, CJ Cherryh’s Chanurr series. Hey, if you have high sexual dimorphism in a species, flaunt it!)

The other races seem perfectly formed from Central Casting: Humans are adaptable, Calemora a Proud Warrior Race (sort of Kung Fu Vulcans… emotionally controlled, ascetic, and dedicated to physical perfection and martial arts), Draca are militaristic cyborg lizard-men, Zin-Shee are a feline race with all the usual cat-people traits… they sleep in bursts, they are easily bored, they’re agile and have keen senses, they dress like fops (some of the time)… wait, seriously?

Sink Me!

You can play a cat-girl swashbuckler with a scimitar and an energy pistol of some kind (at least, I think that’s what she’s holding on her hip)? And this isn’t plastered in large, friendly letters on the cover? “Contains Swashbuckling Cat Girls!”? Wow, talk about burying the lead! No wonder this game didn’t make it, if you had to read through umpteen pages of weird dice rules and setting nonsense and pretentious introductory crap before you got to the swashbuckling cat girls! Sheesh!

Well, I know what I’m playing!

OK, so we go back to the racial trait page in the character book and… hoo, boy. That’s a… lot of numbers to copy over. I do not mind complex games; I love complex games; but there’s a reason I spent $$$ on HeroLab supplements. I expect the computer to do the work. That’s what they’re for. To serve as the tireless digital slaves of mankind, until such time as they rise up and kill us all. But I digress.

Oh, the “handicaps” section for the Zin-Shee lists “flirtatious”. Giggity.

Every attribute has a base value (Dexterity 8M for cat girls… I mean, Zin-Shee Females), and an IC, which turns out to mean “Improvement Cost”, which you pay for, I think, in AP (Adventure Points), which you get 100 of which to start. I think. And I’m kind of glad I spent the time to figure out the die system, or I’d have no idea what it means when my weight is listed as “6LV+100 lbs”. And you understand, don’t you, because you read the prior article in this series, right?

Uhm, improving abilities costs as much as the Value of the dice code, plus the improvement cost. To raise my Dexterity thus would require 16 (the value of 8M) plus 20 (the IC cost for that ability for my race), or 36 points, which would bring to 10M. Presumably, though it’s not clear, I could raise it next level (you can only raise an ability 1 die at a time) to 6H by spending 40 more points. It’s even less clear if you can spend points to raise your abilities out of the “Personal” scale… it would sure be expensive.. or maybe not, the Shanask already have 10HP endurance… one more step and it’s 6LV. You knew that, right?)


Oh, There You Go, Bringing Class Into It Again

What, you say? Surely a game published in the 90s wouldn’t be using a primitive race/class system! (Remember, you’re talking to someone who literally has a three foot tall stack of Pathfinder books, so tread carefully, imaginary strawman!) Well, of course not! It has a race/Chapter Of Dah system!

There are various “Chapters” in the House of Dah, such as Bio Gunner (which Zin-Shee cannot become… because of course in addition to race/class chapter, there are also 1970s style limits), Destron, Mensi, Warlocks, and more. (Warlocks, by the way, are masters of the Sorce – yes, that’s how it’s spelled, formatted, and capitalized, and are illustrated by a guy in dark hooded robes holding up his hands while lightning crackles around him. I wonder how often that 1-800 number was called by Lucasfilms’ attorneys?)

I think I’ll go for cyber-warrior. Most of the “chapters” are some variant on “guy wot hits things”… I’d figure that a mostly point-based/skill based system would not need a different class for “guy wot wears power armor and hits things”, “guy wot has lots of cyborg bitz and hits things”, and “guy wot hits things with gun wot shoots out bore-worms wot eats yer face nom nom nom”, leaving that up to a player’s picks for skills/gear, but what do I know? I never founded a game company that included a scholarship program, after all.

Oh, did I mention there are level titles… I mean, rank names? OLD SCHOOL!!!

Tune In Next Time…

For the exciting conclusion. I’d say “Next Week”, but I get one day a week (Saturday) to really dedicate to writing these things, and next Saturday is our birthday, precioussss, and our PayPal is Just mentioning. So I’ll be off doing birthday things and might not (probably won’t) have time to work on the next installment. Also, I need to actually fill out the Excel-like character sheet, do the work, and scan the results. This isn’t something I can easily track otherwise.

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Metascape, Part II

Metascape, Part II

No Cure For Trademark Pox

I Wrote 2000 Words On Dice Mechanics

My Eyes Are Bleeding

OK, first off, whenever you see MetaScape(tm) or Guild Space(tm) imagine that there’s a little “(tm)” next to them, because I’m not going to type it every time. To fully grok the flavor of the rulebook, however, it is necessary to imagine that it’s got a bad case of Trademark Pox, the key symptom of which is the eruption of ™ pustules all over the place.

The first page of the rulebook (after the part which reminds us that we, the players, are the elite and powerful few who have the creativity and imagination to save the universe!), notes this game is true space opera (meaning, everything including the cosmically-powered kitchen sink), comments that designing the game system utilized astrophysicists, mathematicians, and the soul of a forsaken child (I may have made up one of those), and demonstrates their commitment to the future, with an 800 number to call for ordering, another number to call to ask for help, a request that comments be sent in to request future “expansion cards” (splatbooks?), and both an internship and scholarship(!!) program, along with “ranked play”.

The only thing more impressive than their vision for the future is the fact I wrote the entire preceding paragraph in one sentence! You go to hell, Ernest Hemingway! You go to hell and die! (Or, perhaps: You go. To hell. And die.)

It also promises unlimited scaling (so that everything from single PCs to mighty starfleets can work in the same rules), and an open ended resolution system so that extreme success and failure are possible. I like both of these concepts a lot, but games which actually pull them off are like a dog that speaks Norwegian. We’ll see how it goes.

8LV +c -d

That’s A Dice Notation, Not PERL Code

OK, I’ve spent about the last 45 minutes reading the multiple pages (literally) that describe the die rolling notation, and also talking to my mother. I now have a migraine. It’s not entirely certain which is the primary cause.

Now, having done a lot of work in game design trying to solve exactly the problem of how to handle vastly different scales interacting, I appreciate the difficulty of the goal, and that simple bell curves or linear rolls both fail in this area for different reasons. The MEGS system from Mayfair’s classic DC Heroes Game was probably one of the best ways to get Jimmy Olson and pre-Crisis Superman on the same chart, but it suffers from very low granularity (Jimmy Olson is Str 2, an Olympic weightlifter would be Str 4-5). So the designers of MetaScape Guild Space took on an unenviable task, and produced a system which… well it… erm… I dunno.

Oh, remember the “(c)” on the die, from last time? Yes, it is a copyright symbol, because the 16 sided die is allegedly copyrighted. (I frankly do not believe you can copyright geometry, but I am not a lawyer. I do know some lawyers, including Steven Long, of Hero Games. I ran a Champions game for him back when we both lived in NC, circa 1991-1992. That’s like having Gary Gygax in your AD&D game. But he was very cool about my rules flubs and poor GM calls. I’ve asked them for opinions on this issue. We’ll see if they respond before this installment is done.)

I’m blathering again. First, it’s due to some constant interruptions to my train of thought. Second, it’s because I have to try to digest and explain this system. Again, I am a fan of complex and detailed rules. I do not object to a little mental effort to master a system — indeed, for a decent subset of RPG players, the challenge of learning and mastering a complex system is part of the fun. (Why, yes, I am an INTP. Why do you ask?) I suspect, rather strongly, that there’s a relatively straightforward set of die mechanics hiding under a mass of descriptive text that makes things sound more complex than they are, combined with an overly baroque notation scheme. (I have ended up drifting into the same place myself in various abandoned designs aimed at similar goals… my ideal game system has Bilbo Baggins, Optimus Prime, and the X-Men flying the Enterprise to attack the Death Star in a way that’s playable, fun, and doesn’t wash out detail at any scale. I haven’t succeeded. Has MetaScape? Let’s see.)

First, the rules insist you keep the character sheet handy, as it has copies of the “doubling tables” that are essential to the whole process. The tables are labeled “L1”, “M2”, and “H4″… except they aren’t. Only “H4” has the label printed. The other two have a blank square where it should be.

(The 16-sided die is the “doubling die”, BTW. The (c) stands for “Copyright”, except it also stands for “Category”, and the “T” stands for “Type”. Got it?)

Category can be L,M, or V: Light, Medium, or Heavy.

Type can be B, P, V, S, W, C, G, or U. These stand for Bantam, Personal, Vehicle, Spaceship, World, Celestial, Galactic, and Universal.

There is also a number, 6, 8, or 10, which describes which die, in addition to the D16, is rolled.

So a die code like 6MV means “Roll a D6 on the Medium table with Vehicle type.”. (“Type” would be better termed “Scale” or “Size”, in my opinion.)

Personal is the default; if a Type is not specified in a code, it’s assumed to be Personal (P). However, I’m going to be inserting “P” into the code when I remember, because I think “There’s always a code, except when there isn’t” is a poor notation system. I hate it when programming languages use an “implied default variable” to save the poor programmers’ widdle fingers the effort of typing 1 or 2 more characters (PERL, I’m looking at you), and I don’t think it’s good for game design, either.

The different die types (6,8, 10) are supposed to be indicated by shaded boxes on the doubling tables… but they’re not. There are very faint lines demarcating the ranges.

All of this boils down to: “Roll a die of the appropriate size, and the doubling die, and cross-index them on the correct category table.”

A few seconds of glancing at the tables indicates that if you take L=1, M=2, and H=4, you multiply Type x Die Roll x Doubling Die roll. The table is useful in that it pre-calculates this. This means, by the way, that a code of “8M” produces a range from 2 to 256, skewed by the odd numbering of the doubling die (see previous article in this series). A “10L” roll could go from 1 to 160, and an “6H” roll from 4 to 384.

No matter what, you will always be rolling exactly two dice: A 6, 8, or 10 sided die, and the doubling die.


A roll of 16 on the doubling die is open-ended; you roll again and multiply the prior result by this new result. Another 16? Keep at it!

But I am getting ahead of myself. I forgot about level and value. The rules for calculating value from level… or is it level from value… or something… again refer to the non-existent shaded boxes. This is getting annoying.

So, “Level” is basically a way to count the various permutation of die size, category, and type. “6LP” is Level 1 — the lowest level. Except Bantam is lower than Personal. I’m sure that will be addressed. 8LP is level 2, 10LP is level 3, 6MP is level 4… after you hit 10HP (level 9) you “wrap around” or “scale up” or something to the Vehicle Type, so after 10HP comes 6LV. There’s 9 die codes in each Type.

Now, in addition to Level, there’s Value. The value of a code is the row in the doubling table corresponding to the ‘x1’ column next to the (nonexistent) shaded box representing the rating. Or, if you prefer “the largest value for the die, times the multiplies for the category (1,2, or 4 for L, M, or H, respectively). So the Value for 8H is 8 x 4 =32.

Converting a Level to a Rating (“Rating” is what I’ve been calling “Die Code”), just count back down the shaded squares, which don’t exist.

I’m not entirely sure what Values and Levels do yet. But that’s how you get them.

Honestly, this system isn’t too bad. If you can handle counting up Body and Stun in Hero System and applying them correctly to Resistant and Non-Resistant Defenses (and remembering that Normal Attack and Killing Attacks read the dice differently, and remembering when you apply Damage Reduction vs. Armor vs. PD/ED), you can handle this. It’s just explained very poorly and with, IMO, unnecessary terminology. I also think relying on the tables and then pointing out the fact you could just multiply the numbers and ignore the tables is bass-ackwards. Better, IMO, to give the formulas and print the tables in the back for a lookup.

(Oh, the rules note you should not confuse a ‘die type’ (6,8,10) with a ‘type (Personal, Vehicle, etc). You’d think the necessity of this comment would have told the designers that they needed a different word somewhere. Now, let’s talk about “level” in D&D….)

I would prefer, at this point, to have at least started character creation, but given how integral the die mechanics are and how impossible it would be for me to even pretend to make decent choices in chargen if I didn’t understand what a 6LP was, I feel I’m obliged to slog through all this, and take you, my dear imaginary audience, along for the ride. And I’m not done yet… I still haven’t gotten to what the ‘c’ or ‘t’ means.

“Type” is another multiplier. “Vehicle” means “multiply the number by 10”, Ship is by 100, etc. Presumably, most of the interactions in the game will be within in the P, V, and S bands. Oh, Bantam, which we keep ignoring, divides by 10, dropping all remainders. So a 32 result in Personal scale is a 3 in Bantam scale or a 320 in Vehicle scale.

(It is noted in the discussion of the open-ended 16 rolls that most of the truly huge numbers you might on rare occasion generate are pretty much going to be up to GM interpretation and, let’s face it, in practical terms, there’s not much difference in most cases. If it takes 20 points of damage to destroy a door and you end up rolling 13,456 points, well, sure, the door is extra-super-atomized, but so what?)

We will skip the half-page long explanation of the die system involving a triangular staircase in an eight story building. Yes, really. That’s the metaphor they chose.

Oh, hey, look, we finally get to the ‘c’ and ‘t’ results! Please note we’ve gone through five pages of smallish type with almost no illustrations just covering the dice mechanics, and we’re still not done.

But we’re at 1800 words, more or less, and I need to post something. So let’s be kind of quick.

A ‘t’ result on the doubling die shifts the ‘type’ of the attack one step closer to ‘Personal’, so a ‘Spaceship’ roll becomes a ‘Vehicle’ roll. A ‘Bantam’ roll is upgraded to ‘Personal’.

A ‘c’ result changes the ‘category’, moving it down one step — from Heavy to Medium, or Medium to Light.

But… this doesn’t give you a number on the doubling die, does it? So after shifting the type/category, you roll the doubling die again, and if you get another ‘c’ or ‘t’ result, you apply and continue. But if you roll a 16 on the doubling die after rolling a ‘c’ or ‘t’, you don’t roll again as per the prior rules for a 16. Also, the player on the dealer’s right gets three cards, unless it’s a Tuesday.


OK, pushing 2000 words of trying to explain a bunch of dice mechanics… that the author altered in subsequent, unpublished, revisions of the system, many times. (I scrounged around quite a few corners of the internet to find ancient and forgotten archives scoured from the corpses of dead websites.) Sorry if this is dry stuff. I was tempted to just say “smeg it” and jump on to character creation without boring you with all this, but if I put the effort into writing it, someone’s gonna have to read it. Neener.

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Metascape, Part I

Metascape, Part I

No Idea What I’m In For

But Damn, It’s A Big Box

So, this box has been sitting on my shelf since at least 2012, because it’s listed in the oldest copy of my game database I can find, which is from (obviously) 2012. It’s probably a lot older. I could go back to the photos I took of my game collection circa 2007 or so, and see if it’s there, but why bother?

Seriously, I’ve been carting this around a minimum of 5 years, quite probably 10, and I never cracked the lid. Now, it’s time! Hopefully, it does not contain a raccoon, assorted cheeses, or a pile of stolen diamonds hidden by a thief, under the impression something moldering in the “half off” box at a game store would remain undisturbed forever. (At least, I assume that’s where I found it originally. It might have been in a lost temple in a forbidden jungle, or a forbidden temple in a lost jungle, or a garage sale in Poughkeepsie, but I think it was a half-off box in a game store. Possibly, a game store in a lost jungle in Poughkeepsie. Who knows?)

Anyway, here’s what the box looks like, with a copy of an OD&D book for scale. I wanted to use a kitten, but he had other plans, as kittens do.

It’s A Big Box, Alright

The Contents. Sorry About The Glare. I’m A Writer, Not A Photographer. And An iPad Isn’t Exactly A Professional Grade Camera.

You might notice both dice and miniatures, still in their little plastic baggies. Yup, this is untrammeled snow, folks. Time to trammel it! Is ‘trammel’ a word? Like ‘whelmed’? Or ‘gruntled’?

Well, spell check says ‘trammel’ and ‘whelmed’ are words, and ‘gruntled’ is not. Go figure.

Great, Where Will I Find A Wax Crayon In This Day And Age?

The Figures. Note That Spider-Dude’s Head Needs To Be Glued On.

There are also cards to send in to… I am not kidding… get your name on a gift registry, so that people who order for you from Game Lords(the publisher) won’t risk getting you two copies of the same thing.

They had plans, surely. But as far as I know, the original boxed set is the only product they published. Hmm. Better verify, since I don’t have a press secretary to cover for me when I screw up my facts. Quickly, Carstairs! To the Googlematic Informo-tron!

Nope. I know nothing, like Jon Snow. Now, do I get a redheaded wildling girl who will eventually (spoiler) before she (spoiler) and then (spoiler)? Probably not. There were two modules and a GM screen produced. There’s also some confusion, as there is another RPG company called “Game Lords” that produced the long-running “Thieves’ Guild” quasi-supplements for D&D, but it seems these are different companies, as the game systems are quite distinct and nothing on the Metascape-related sites I dug up indicates any link to TG.

As of 2010 or so, there was still some activity on the aforementioned website. Unfortunately, links from the blog to new editions of the Metascape rules are deader than THAC0. Regardless, we’re talking today about the boxed “Metascape” set from 1993. (Actually, I am learning that “Metascape” is the games engine; “Guild Space” is the setting. There’s a fantasy version. All I could find was the character sheet. Enjoy.)

Hmm. Noticed this when I opened the page.

Everyone Gets On TSR’s Case, But They Were Hardly The Only Litigious Asshats In The 90s

I look forward to figuring out where “Mechanoid Invasion” is used in the actual game… if it is. Obviously, it was at one point, hence, the sticker. (Last minute renamings happen a lot.. I have a copy of “Trinity” by White Wolf… but you peel back the “Trinity” label and you can see it was originally called “Aeon”. They got tagged by MTV because of the latter’s “Aeon Flux” program. Then WW went on to sue the people who made “Underworld” because the latter had vampires and werewolves, which, as we know, are wholly original White Wolf creations. But I digress. Again. Let’s face it, these things are pretty much more digression than… uhm… gression? Digress, regress, egress… no ‘gress’?

I seem to have hit on a running gag. That happens when you’re extemporaneous.

Of Dice And Men

I Am The Something-Millionth Game Blogger/Writer To Fall Back On That Lame And Obvious Pun

Remember This Site’s Motto: “Free And Worth It!”

You damn punk kids (I use the plural in self-delusion; I doubt there’s enough people reading this to justify it) might not know this, in these soft and luxurious days, where dice are made from the iron that falls from the sky or from the bones of beasts long dead, but in the olden times, dice with pre-printed numbers were signs of wealth and luxury, coveted by many. Hence, the dice in this box are molded of pale tan plastic and have almost impossible to see numbers. A wax pencil is the instrument of choice for filling in said numbers, but damned if I’ve got one. I can use standard dice for the D10, D8, and D6, but two of these are D16s (the author notes, on his blog, he holds part of the patent for the D16. Evidently, you can patent geometry), and not even normal D16s… they have the numbers 1,2, 4, 8 and 16 on them, and a symbol… looks like a copyright. Seriously, a ‘C’ in a circle. What happens if you roll “Copyright”? Are you attacked by 1d4 IP lawyers? What? I guess I’ll find out. No, wait, there’s also a ‘T’. So… 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, ‘T’, and ‘C’. The one appears 6 times, the 2 4 times, the 4 twice, and the 8,16, ‘T’, and ‘C’ once each. I’m sure this will make sense eventually.

You Can’t E-Scape…

So, the first thing in the Character Book is “Go see the main rule book”.

And the first thing in the main rule book burned out my Pretension Meter, which is a shame, as I’d just recalibrated it using first edition White Wolf games.

“More than a game, the MetaScape(tm) System is an unparalleled experience, spanning time, space and the limits of your imagination.”

It’s kind of hard to convey the full tone of the following three columns of self-important puffery without quoting them in full, but I’ll try to summarize:

“Scaping” means “making shit up”. Sorry, it means “harness[ing] the most powerful force in the universe — the power of human thought and imagination!” It goes on to assure the reader that they are among the elite few of humanity who are the “creative and imaginative individuals” that can use this amazing power.

“Finally, there are the rare individuals who can project their entire mind, body, and existence into another Scape. This is the ultimate art of MetaScaping!”

We (Earth humans living in “the latter part of the 20th century”, dwell in the Scape called “Reality”. The Scape which is the setting for the game is “Trinium”. The Scape called “Your Parents’ Basement” is not well described so far.

The MetaScape Game System was created by Jodar to harness the dreams and imagination of humans in order to save Trinium.

Damn, but the early 90s were full of incredibly pretentious piles of steaming bantha poodoo, weren’t they? But I don’t care, if there’s a half-decent game system under here somewhere. There’s five books with over 300 pages of material in the box… there has to be something here.

And maybe we’ll find it next week. I’ve been shanghaied into doing dinner tonight. Sigh.

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Well, That Was A Waste

Spent about half an hour or so fiddling with a new theme and got everything just right… then activated it, it crashed, and I had to remember how to log in to FTP and rename the theme folder to force WP back to the default… couldn’t even get to my control panel because everything routes through the active theme. Sigh.

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A Brief Earth Delta Excerpt

Probably going to take a break from Earth Delta: Pathfinder Edition next weekend to post some Real Content (looking at Metascape, a massive boxed RPG I’ve had on the shelf for longer than I can remember, but never cracked open), as it will be a few months before there’s enough in ED:PF to post as an actual work in progress, but I felt like sharing this. This style of writing usually gets me dinged by editors who prefer a more, ahem, professional tone… but as anyone who has read my Arduin walkthrough knows, my greatest formative influence as a game writer was Dave Hargrave, and he was anything but formal.

Slow Learner (Defect, -1 MP): The mutant gains 1 fewer skill points/level (minimum 1). This defect may only be taken if the mutant would normally gain more than 1 skill point/level. If a player tries to get away with taking this defect when playing an Int 8 Fighter, smack them with the Core Rulebook. (Note: Do not do this if you keep your Core Rulebook as a PDF on your tablet.)

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Earth Delta Pathfinder

I haven’t posted an update for a while. It’s been a mix of the usual — family and other related tasks on weekends — and the unusual, namely, working on a long-form project instead of on an article series.

To wit:

A work very much in progress…

No promises, mind you. I’m an infamous procrastinator and starter of projects never finished. But I have 4300-odd words written (some of them very odd indeed…), and some of the design issues that kept me from starting, I’ve resolved.

Focusing, initially, on mutations, and how to best model the “winged grizzly bear with laser eyes” as a starting PC in a system where characters should be front-loaded and classes define most of the key mechanical abilities a character should have. I’m happy enough with the baseline system and balancing to be working on defining lots of mutations w/out fearing I’ll need to rewrite them all completely.

Also thinking about classes, in general. I don’t want magic to be core; if you want to add it, fine, and I might include “science and sorcery” as an option, but the central game is “science fantasy” in the older sense of the word, meaning “stuff that really doesn’t make a whole lot of logical sense but which draws on tropes and themes from science”.

So, we’ll see how it goes.

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Zombie Steampunk Cthulhu

Zombie Steampunk Cthulhu

  • Everything’s better with steampunk.
  • Everything’s better with zombies.
  • Everything’s better with Cthulhu.

Therefore, we need a setting where the use of Babbage’s Analytical Engine allowed cultists to correctly calculate when the Stars Would Be Right, allowing them to summon back the Great Old Ones, which in turn unleashed a plague of the walking dead upon the world!

Well, I’ve done the hard part.. coming up with the idea. Someone else can do the easy part of writing a 256 page full-color hardcover sourcebook with full art and playtested game mechanics and getting it published by GenCon, and give me half the money.

(You, erm, might detect some slight sarcasm in that last paragraph… )

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