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.

Race

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?)

Class

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 lizard@mrlizard.com. 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.

Except…

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.

Phew.

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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Zombees

Zombees

Or Does It Work Better As Zom-Bees?

Not Sure.

OK, let me get this out of the way early: I am 99.99% sure that I am not the first person to stumble on this particular horrid pun and make a monster out of it. I am likewise certain that the interpretation of the pun leads to a fairly narrow band of mechanics, and most such other creations will be similar to mine. I have never claimed an excess of originality. All I can offer is that I have not, recently, directly researched, looked up, or copied any existing creatures by this name; if I encountered them in the past and it’s been festering in my subconscious for years or decades, I don’t know. Almost by definition, if I go and look through my ridiculously large collection of RPG materials (seriously, I’ve got over 3000 books cataloged, and that doesn’t include magazines like Dragon and Space Gamer) to see if I’ve read this before, I’ll corrupt my chance to create the critter based on my current inspiration. So what you get is “original” in the sense I am not consciously copying, imitating, or reimagining a specific implementation of the idea. The idea is surely not original (I may have hit on it on my own, but as I said, surely others have, or, I may have read it a long time ago and it just re-bubbled to the surface of my mind), and the odds are good I will not have a particularly unique spin on the idea.

So my introduction is ~250 words telling you, the reader, you’re about to encounter unoriginal and derivative material. I really need to work on my marketing skills.

Anyway… zombees. Or zom-bees. Still can’t decide.


Zombees (CR3, XP 800)

The buzzing sound is discordant, setting your teeth on edge. Then the swarm becomes visible, a grey cloud of tiny, rotting, bodies.
NE Diminutive Undead (Swarm)
Init +0; Senses darkvision 60 ft, scent; Perception +1

Defense
AC 14 (+4 size), touch 14, flat-footed 14
hp 34 (4d12+8)
Fort +6, Ref +6, Will +1
Defensive Abilities swarm traits, immune (weapon damage)

Offense
Speed 10 ft., fly 40 ft (average)
Melee swarm (1d6 + distraction)
Special Attack consume, create spawn, defoliate

Base Statistics
Str 2, Dex 14, Con –, Int –, Wis 12, Cha 14
Base Atk +4; CMB –; CMD
Feats ability focus (distraction)

Consume (Ex) : Against helpless or nauseated targets, the zombees do 2d6 damage.
Create Spawn (Su): Any creature killed by zombees rises as a beehive zombie (see below) in 1d4 days. Such spawn are not controlled by the original swarm in any way.
Defoliate (Su): The zombees do double damage to plants — including normal, inanimate, crops and flowers. A zombee swarm can transform a fertile field into mounds of rotting vegetation in but a few hours. As such, the sighting of a swarm will inspire many farming communities to collect what little coin they may have in order to lure a few adventurers into the fray.

Ecology
Environment any non-arctic, non-aquatic, non-desert
Organization
solitary, pair, comb (3–6 swarms), colony (7–12 swarms)
Treasure
none

Negative energy tends to seep into the world. The plants and flowers around haunted or accursed places, such as profaned graveyards and the sites of particularly heinous battles involving undead or necromancy, can absorb traces of this energy… which can then pass into the creatures that feed on them. One particular manifestation is the undead bee swarm, sometimes referred to be the more grim-humored of sages as “zombees”. (Despite the name, they are not actually zombies for game purposes and any abilities specifically targeting zombies are not effective. Likewise, they are considered to be undead, not vermin.)

Design Notes

I used the Backer’s Preview of the Talented Bestiary from Rogue Genius Games to stat out the zombees. As such, it may differ in small ways from one built with the core PF rules.

Beehive Zombie

The shambling thing is clearly undead… but the cloud of buzzing insects surrounding the rotting flesh are not flies, and from the gaping wounds in its body drips a pallid yellowish muck.

Beehive Zombie    CR 1
XP 400
Beehive zombie
NE Medium undead
Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +1
Aura stinging aura (DC 12)


Defense


AC 13, touch 11, flat-footed 12 (+1 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 16 (3d8+3)
Fort +2, Ref +2, Will +4
Immune undead traits


Offense


Speed 30 ft.
Melee unarmed strike +5 (1d3+3 nonlethal) or
slam +5 (1d6+4)


Statistics


Str 16, Dex 12, Con —, Int —, Wis 12, Cha 12
Base Atk +2; CMB +5; CMD 16
SQ sticky innards


Special Abilities


Sticky Innards (DC 12) (Su) The body of a beehive zombie is filled with a foul mockery of honey. Any creature scoring a successful melee attack must make a DC 12 Reflex save or be entangled by a spray of gloppy zombie-syrup. The DC to escape from the entangle is 12. This save is CHA-based.
Stinging Aura (DC 12) (Su) Any creature adjacent to the beehive zombie at the start of their turn must make a Fortitude save (DC 12) or be sickened for one round. This save is CHA-based.
Undead Traits Undead have many immunities.


Ecology


Environment any non-arctic, non-aquatic, non-desert
Organization
solitary, pair, plague (3-5), hive (6-10)
Treasure
incidental

Beehive zombies are created when a humanoid is killed by zombee swarm. They look much like other zombies, except that they have tumor-like growths on their bodies which are small beehives (filled with undead bees, of course), and they continually bleed a yellowish “honey” that is indescribably foul-smelling. (Anyone stupid enough to consume it will take 1d6 damage and be nauseated for 1d6 rounds. It loses potency 4 rounds after being removed from the creature, crystallizing into dust. Depraved necromancers and certain perverse chefs might pay up to 5 gold pieces for a pouch of this dust.)

Within a week after spawning, a beehive zombie will collapse and then explode, creating a new zombee swarm.

Design Notes

This one I did w/Hero Lab.

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All The World’s Monsters, Volume 2 Part 5

All The World’s Monsters, Volume II, Part V

Scrubbing Bubbles

Yes, From The Commercial

What Do You Mean, “What Commercial”?

Get Off My Interwebz, You Damn Punk Kids!

Will you follow me into fire? Into storm? Into darkness? Into death? Into many-tailed giant armadillos? Into killer potatoes? Into telepathic blue panthers? Into, in other words, the further depths of All The World’s Monsters, Volume 2? 

S

Scourgetail: A gorilla-sized armadillo with six tails that, for some reason, breathes lightning (as an attack), disdains magic, and might be armed with technological items.

Scrubbing Bubble: OK, so let’s get this out of the way. This commercial was played incessantly in the time period when All The World’s Monsters was being compiled and created.

And so…

Seriously. They Were Smoking Some Primo Stuff Back in the 70s.

They mostly stay in hiding, except when the object they are charged with maintaining has become dirty. Then they swarm out to clean the item, and attack anything dirty or filthy in the vicinity… you know, like PCs.

Scrubble: A giant, insane scrubbing bubble. Do you need to know more? No, I didn’t think so.

Sheem Battle Spider: I know these were mentioned in the writeup of something else, but I am far too lazy to go and look right now. Anyway, giant mechanical spiders with assorted weapons. They come in six “Marks”, that is, Mark I Sheem Battle Spider, Mark II Sheem Battle Spider, and so on, with appropriately varying hit dice, weapon damage, and attacks/round. The casual blending of sci-fi and fantasy tropes is one of the hallmarks of old school, so it’s always funny to hear gamers 20 years younger than me whine the lack of genre purity in “new” games. Dude/Dudette… haul out your copy of “Blackmoor” and check out the treasure lists for “Temple Of The Frog”. Oh, wait. You don’t have “Blackmoor”. Because you’re a damn punk kid that doesn’t know shit about old school gaming except what you read on the Internet. Now, let me just adjust my belt onion, and I’ll go yell at some clouds.

Smoke Creature: A creature of pure, living smoke that is commonly found on not-so-deserted islands where it acts mysterious and inexplicable until the last season, where it’s revealed to be… uh… did we ever get and real closure on that? God damn it, Nolan, if you pull that same shit on Westworld, by my pretty pink bonnet, I will end you. Huh? What? Yes, there really is a “smoke creature” in the book. It strangles you. With smoke. Next!

Sparkflail: A rhino-sized warthog with a tentacle instead of a nose. Said tentacle can either drain 1-4 levels(!) or do 8d6 lightning damage. I’m sure, by now, you can guess who created it. Here’s a hint: Rhymes with “Shmint Shmigglestone”.

Stardust Potato: If I just transcribed it, you wouldn’t believe it.

I’ll Bet They Make Excellent Fries

Swamp Thing: As per the comic book, from the Len Wein/Berni Wrightson days. So, no psychedelic fruit as treasure, no profound ecological messages, just a… swamp thing. A muck encrusted mockery of a man. Interestingly, the shambling mound of AD&D strongly resembles the Man-Thing from Marvel, which was created roughly concurrently with DC’s Swamp Thing.

T

Timewasp: A giant wasp which can cast “Timestop” three times a day. It paralyzes dragons and lays its eggs in them. I’m not entirely sure how much the “timestop” really adds to the concept, except for making it a bit more deadly, but I guess they felt “giant wasp” was already done, so, this is a giant wasp that stops time. Works for me!

Trimouth: A horse-sized three-headed dog with mithril fur and Vulcan logic and you already know who came up with it, right?

U

Ugly: Every chaotic evil magic user’s hunchbacked assistant. Seriously. It comes in three sizes (3’2, 5’1, and 7’9), is always hunchbacked, and has a 50% chance of getting any order wrong. (“Abby… someone.”) It will act as a sixth level thief/fifth level assassin. It’s not clear if this is actually a race, or just a way to represent a common archetype in the absence of gaming systems that would allow them to be “built” as a human with a certain set of skills and abilities.

V

Vader: Given that this is the late 1970s, the creators are all big geeks, and the book is full of things borrowed from the sci-fi and fantasy of the era, I hardly have to tell you that a Vader is a blue-furred telepathic panther with two antennae that can transmute its body into any element it has had contact with, right? Didn’t think so. Kind of obvious from the name, really.

W

Wafflebanger: There are no words. But there is a screenshot.

Clearly Conceived After One Too Many Wallbangers

Wall Of Darkness: I’m not really sure what to say about this. It’s a wall of darkness which fills the corridor, is 1′ to 30′ thick “depending on age” (though no rules for age are given), and it kills/destroys everything it touches. It’s immune to all damage. It can, barely, be the subject of charm monster, though there’s so many caveats and drawbacks it’s hardly worth it. It has an armor class of -26(!) and 8,575 hit points, at a time when greater gods capped out at 300 or so… not that AC and HP mean anything when the creature is effectively beyond harm. It’s hard to figure out the real purpose of this… a puzzle for players to overcome? There aren’t many obvious solutions beyond “teleport around it”, and that’s so obvious it’s not much of a puzzle…  either you have access to teleport, or you don’t. In effect, it’s not really a monster, it’s a plot device, stripped from whatever plot is was originally part of.

Wandering Minstrel Eye: A completely harmless (no attacks at all, no special effects, no reactions to being attacked) giant eyeball which announces its presence by singing “A wandering minstrel eye”. Yes, really.

Wandering Monster Eye: Identical to the wandering minstrel eye, except that it can do a whopping 1d8 damage with its whip-like tail (optic nerve, I guess). Clearly, it’s intended to confuse players so they don’t know which they’re encountering. Unfortunately, since there’s no downside to attacking the harmless one (thought it is considered “bad form” and “chaotic” to do so, all that means in practice is that the Paladin can’t strike the first blow), and the “dangerous” one isn’t particularly deadly or interesting, the players will simply slaughter any singing eyeballs they encounter, with no consequences for this behavior. (Compare to the gas spore/beholder problem, where attacking a gas spore recklessly is dangerous, and, likewise, treating a beholder as if it were a much-less-deadly gas spore is also dangerous. For “trick” monsters to work, there have to be risks to an incorrect identification of either. (Hitting a gas spore with the kind of alpha strike you’d use on a beholder is a huge waste of resources, but wasting a melee round to “size up” a beholder in case it’s a gas spore effectively gives it an extra round of life, during which it can do all manner of things.)

Whoosh: Onomatopoeia monster for the win! (How many articles did you read this week that used “onomatopoeia”? Not many, I warrant! It’s a 60 lb crab that whooshes from the surf onto the shore, attacks, and then whooshes back again. A surprisingly sane creation from the prolific Mr. Bigglestone, as it’s not a crab/dachshund hybrid with a manticore’s tail that shoots spikes made of frozen starlight, or something. (My spell checker suggests “romantic’s” for “manticore’s”. Make of that what you will.)

Worm, Blind: Wait, are there non-blind worms? Anyway, blind worms are the mortal enemies of colony ghouls.

Y

Yellow Door Creature: Far less perverse than its cousin, the green door creature, this is yet another “monster” whose main purpose is to deprive PCs of magical resources, and which would be better represented as a trap/dungeon feature than as a “monster”. The mechanics of it are rather complex; here you go:

“The Following Things Are Immune, Unless They’re Not”

The Conclusion

An observation: While the books are full of things borrowed (with or without attribution) from the SF media of the day, it is overwhelmingly from books, with a smaller portion from comics, and few, if any, from movies and TV. This says a lot about the makeup of gamers of the time. This may surprise modern folks, but back in the 70s, TV and film sci-fi was not held in high regard by “real” SF fans, and comic books were poor cousins, at best. As RPGs grew their own culture, splitting off from historical wargaming, the social pool it drew from was SF fandom, a strongly literature-oriented group. “Star Trek” caused a massive surge in media SF fandom, and ultimately changed the overall makeup of the culture. While in the late 1970s, the tidal surge was already sweeping fandom as a whole, these books, and gaming fandom in general, was made up of people who were more hard-core and who started in fandom several years earlier, thus being somewhat behind that curve.

You can learn a lot about a culture by studying its tentacled warthogs.

So, that’s it for Volume 2. I may or may not proceed directly to Volume 3, whether or not I pass “Go” or collect $200.00. I’ve got a multitude of other projects burbling, some online, some not. We’ll see.

 

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All The World’s Monsters, Volume 2 Part 4

All The World’s Monsters, Volume II, Part IV

What’s A Naz Gul Like You Doing In A Place Like This?

(I Stole That Horrible Pun From A Webcomic Whose Name I Cannot Recall — It Was Popular With Linux Types In The Late 90s/Early 00’s)

(Might Still Be Going For All I Know)

Roll up, roll up, for the mystery tour! Beyond these walls… erm… words… lies the fourth part of an exploration of the second volume of All The World’s Monsters, a classic of the Burgess Shale era of gaming, full of wonder, majesty, awe, genius, and madness, in non-equal portions! The prior part is here, and the start of the whole mess is here, and I’m pretty sure they’re all tagged “All The World’s Monsters” for easy finding. Then again, given my generally lazy and slapdash approach to things, they might not be all tagged. Anyway, on to the show!

Hm. I was going to start with ‘N’, but then I reviewed the last part and realized I didn’t get to ‘M’ there. So, ‘M’ it is.

M

Magebane: Yet one more monster that exists, primarily, to deprive players of resources. The magebane is a silvery blob that eats spell points when it’s attacked with magic — you roll percentage dice and that’s the percentage of the caster’s total spell points that are absorbed, with the creature gaining hit points on a 1-to-1 basis. Despite the obvious audience of the book being D&D/AD&D players, who didn’t use the spell point system preferred by the west coast gamers who produced ATWM, no conversion is given. Old School! As the magebane is not particularly deadly or threatening in itself, after a single encounter with one, the casters will hang back and let the meatshields deal with it. But, hmm… what if a magebane and a rust monster were merged, due to the experiments of a mad wizard? (In D&D-land, Charles Darwin’s contribution to human knowledge was “On The Origin Of Species By The Means Of Unnatural Magics”.)

Magic Absorber, First Class: Yet one more monster that exists, primarily, to deprive… players of… hey, are you getting a feeling of deja vu? There’s no “Magic Absorber, Second Class”, listed here, by the way. This one is a colored globe of light with its own unique mechanics to determine how it screws over the players. It likewise gets bigger and nastier as it eats magic, until it finally explodes.

Melter: An elephant sized merger of crab and hog that breathes acid and can use “Mass Charm” three times a day. To the surprise of no one reading this series, we can thank Clint Bigglestone, surely one of gaming’s unsung mad geniuses, for this. I honestly must wonder if Mr. Bigglestone’s brilliantly insane creations were fully formed in his imagination, or if he had the most amazing set of random tables ever known to humankind, and he simply “let the dice fall where they may” and submitted them. (Kind of like building an entire comic-book universe by using the Marvel Super Heroes “Ultimate Power Book” tables.)

Mobile Dis Swarm: This creature is a swarm of “quarter inch long stomachs with half inch fangs”. It simply engulfs and eats everything in its path. While that’s pretty par for the course in ATWM (which tells you a lot about the course, I wager), I noticed that it’s only injured by cold, heat, or “a special chemical called ‘Mobile Dis Salt'”. The frak? There has to be a story/pun/reference/something there I’m not getting. Something specific to the creator’s campaign, or something that was a common cultural touchpoint among some subset of late 70s gamers?

N

Off They Go, To Harvest Elves For Their Flesh. Mmmm… Elf Honey.

Naral: A “carniverous” (sic) 10 foot long bee, favored by “the people of the City of Chaos” because it makes a “stable riding platform”. Wouldn’t the people of the City of Chaos favor an unstable riding platform? In a perfect example of what some call “Gygaxian Naturalism”, it favors elf flesh. And now it occurs to me that, if it’s a meat-eating bee that lives in a huge honeycomb… and it is, and it does… then the “honey” must be made from flesh, not pollen or nectar. That’s, uh… an interesting concept. Wait, the “honeycomb” of bees is made from wax produced from the sugars they eat. Now, I think you can render animal fat into wax, or something, so I guess that works… but, wow, there’s a definitely horrific image of what a naral’s lair must look and smell like…

Nazgul: As promised. These Nazgul can be turned by Patriarchs, which is what they used to call “clerics of 7th level or higher” in Original D&D. (There was a thankfully brief trend in the 70’s to refer to NPCs by their “level name”, not by their class and level, so you’d encounter “two heroes and a theurgist” or the like. Nazgul drain 1d6 life levels per attack, or 1d3 if you save. That could destroy a party in 1 or 2 melee rounds, easily.

Nightseeker: A five-headed hydra which attacked with a dissolving poison. If you save vs. the poison three times… you don’t get to save any more. Please read carefully. Not “you don’t have to save anymore”, meaning, you have become immune to the poison, but “you don’t get to save anymore”, meaning, “Screw you and your so-called ‘lucky 20 sider’, You’re turning into protplasmic goop next round!”

The nightseeker is found in ruins as opposed to inhabited cities. The inclusion of this sentence implies it was considered common or normal for creatures of this ilk to be found in inhabited cities. Well, OK, then.

O

Ondoculus: This falls into the “I can’t write it, you have to read it” category.

“Quick, Ask Him About The Is-Ought Problem!”

Back in the “G”s, there is the “golcodulus”, a pet of the ondoculi. (That is the plural, yes.) 1d6 of them accompany each ondoculus. Thought you’d like to know this.

P

Poison Ivy Hedge: A mobile (why not?) hedge made of poison ivy. Because if the ceiling (lurker above), the floor (trapper), the walls (stunjelly) and the furniture (mimics, among others) are going to kill you, why not the freakin’ topiary? The poison it excretes causes severe itching, resulting in a -2 to attack rolls for two hours, and there is no saving throw. The treasure is “contained within itself”, so I expect this turned a minor encounter with a walking garden decoration into an hour long session of arguing with the DM over how you were going to get the treasure without exposing yourself to the poison, and the DM telling you how your plan wasn’t going to work, because we had “rulings, not rules” back then, and everyone was totally reasonable all the time and agreed on what “common sense” meant.

R

Raw’Yas: An ant-sized robot that follows other creatures around for when they (the other creatures) attack “anti-technos”, i.e., wizards. They “attack” by activating any technological devices in the area and directing them against the victims. They really don’t have any other stats to speak of. They appear in swarms of several hundred and have 1 hit point each, so (given the absence of generic ‘swarm’ rules in the era), you pretty much had to fireball the swarm to get them to stop… erm… using their “electric charm” on the other machines, which of course were always there to be charmed. This creature seems like it was created as part of a specific setting or adventure and then added to the book because, hey, it says “all” the world’s monsters, not “most of” the world’s monsters.

Rustlance: A rust monster that’s a snake. Yeah, that’s about it. It attacks with a horn for “4d8 plus rusting”. Since no rules are given, “use the rust monster rules” is heavily implied. Why not just use a rust monster? Because once players have encountered one, they’ll keep the meat shields away… see my comments on the magebane and the magic absorber, above. “Player skill, not character skill” meant “remember whatever killed your last character and have your new character react appropriately to it, despite having never encountered it before”.

Next Time: Scrubbing Bubbles

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