Monthly Archives: March 2011

Faith In A Fantasy World

So there’s a thread over on RPG.net about religious subcultures in a fantasy world, and if you could get real schisms and religious wars if the gods themselves show up to declare their power, and if you could doubt a god’s existence when his clerics summon lightning bolts or raise the dead.

Why should humans who live in a magical world be any more prone to accept the evidence of their senses over the power of blind faith than humans who live in our world? If humans today can ignore the evidence of evolution, a 4-5 billion year old Earth, and that HIV causes AIDS, why should should humans in a magical world not be equally able, eager, and willing to ignore similarly objective and verifiable phenomenon?

So, a cleric says — or even sincerely believes — that their power comes from “the gods”, and this proves they exist? Or proves they follow the god they claim to?

An angel says, “Lo! I am the servant of the Almighty Flying Spaghetti Monster! Behold my power!”

And then someone says, “Yeah, pretty cool, but you’re not any more scary than that dragon, or that elder elemental! They don’t go around claiming they’re ‘servants of the gods’ just because they’re powerful, why are you?”

A cleric says “It is by the power of Pelor that I heal!”

And then someone says, “Hey, that druid heals, and all he claims is that he’s ‘drawing on the force of life that pervades all things!” And someone else chimes in “Hey, in that raid last month, that orc shaman kept healing those ogres, was that Pelor too? Hah!” And someone else says “Shaman, druid, nothin… I was sure I was a goner, ’till that warlord fella gave a speech about honor and patriotism and then I was back in the fight, and he don’t use no magic, no how!” “And what about Fred the ranger? He healed me up with just some herbs!” “And don’t forget our hedge witch, she can fix you up right proper if she has to, she does good work, but she doesn’t worship no gods, she says!”

And then a paladin says “Ah, but my great powers clearly come from the divine, for if I forsake my oath, I lose them!”

And then someone else says “Tish tosh and nonsense, m’boy! It’s all a matter of your own faith in yourself — you lose your powers when you lose that, nothing more. There’s a psionic in the next village who can heal with a touch or shoot lightning from his hands, and he says it’s all about mental discipline. Some folks, he says, just need crutches… like gods, or spell books!”

“Bah!” screams the wizard in response. “That so-called ‘psionic’, like these deluded religious fools, is just manipulating arcane power without realizing it! It all comes from the interaction of the positive, negative, elemental, and material planes, it’s all very scientific!”

“Blasphemer!” screams the cleric. “Your magic is a gift from a dark and malign god! You have been deceived into believing it is but a natural force!”

And then they all roll for initiative…

A Case Of The Crabs

As proof of my promise that Earth Delta was not dead, just slowing down, I present another racial option — Crabmen . (Click to download the PDF)

No, Hell No, And Never Darken My Door Again

I just wanted to add a quick link to/support of this article over on Gnome Stew, where the virtues of, and reasons for, saying no are nicely spelled out. Damn skippy! For too long, the Viking Hat has lingered in the closet, and, as this thread on RPG.net shows, there are way too many players out there who think that anything they can come up with ought to be allowed, as the GM (and other players) only exist to serve their needs.

I use the Viking Hat icon in Earth Delta for a reason. The more freedom a game allows, the more options it presents, the less able rules are to cover all edge cases. Wizards Of The Coast has a clear economic reason to push “say yes” — it sells more books if the players think they can use anything in them in their campaign. I also understand why they didn’t want to publish a huge host of detailed modifiers to every rule and power when one of their goals was to get away from over-crunchiness. Ironically, one reason sometimes given for this was that “too many rules remove the DM from the equation” (I disagree; within the limits of playability, detailed rules give the DM the best framework for making judgment calls on those cases the rules don’t cover), but, even if that was their goal, they then made sure the DM didn’t re-enter the equation when they advocated a policy of “The rules always work”. By this I mean, they explicitly stated the DM shouldn’t try to overrule a situation where a power/feat/magic item/whatever didn’t seem as if it could function; it should function and the DM should find some way to rationalize it. Knocking gelatinous cubes prone is one classic example; another is the fighter power Come And Get It, which allows a fighter to Pull nearby targets to him and then whack them. It’s a great power, in terms of effectiveness, but it often makes no sense. It doesn’t attack Will or have the Charm keyword, so it isn’t any kind of psychological assault; it works, as does all forced movement, even on Immobilized creatures — so a monster that can’t move when it wants to can somehow move up to 10 feet closer to the fighter to get whacked on. However, a policy of DM judgment calls on commonly-used powers would make some powers far more prone to “No, that doesn’t work” than others, and so the official rules stance has to be “It just works, dammit! Now don’t bother us, we’re rolling on the Quarterly Market Strategy Change table!”

Rango As Post Apocalyptic Setting

So, the spousal unit and I just returned from Rango, a film where I greatly suspect a huge chunk of the script consisted of “Let Johnny Depp do something for 45 seconds, then go to next line.” While, obviously, I have great sympathy for any film in which the hero is reptilian and prone to fits of storytelling, I was generally very impressed overall by the humor, the animation, the amazing level of detail and texturing in the world, the voice acting, and the constant little nods to classic westerns and other films. As I watched it, though, it occurred to me that with very few changes, it could be a Gamma World or similar style post-apocalypse movie.

Warning!

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!!!!

This article will discuss the film in significant detail and reveal many Cool Bits you might not want to see revealed. Be warned!

Heck, let’s just insert us a lil’ ol’ “Read More” kind of line, OK?

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Battlelords Of The Twenty-Third Century, Part 2

When last we left our intrepid would-be employee of some future Blackwater, he had just chosen his species — the Eridani, a race of Voldermort-looking dudes (again, in the interest of fairness, I want to stress that Battelords well predates Harry Potter and I’m just using the term because everyone knows what Lord Voldemort looks like… much in the same way that people tend to compare games to WoW even if the tropes WoW uses originated in Everquest or DikuMUD) who are basically Ronin….Innnnn….Spaaaaaaace, total stick-up-their-ass stoic warrior dudes who are loads of fun to play, especially if the party has some less straight laced types in it.

There’s three methods of rolling characters. Roll percentiles in order, then roll three more and replace any three with the new rolls; Roll ten times, discard the lowest 2, then assign them in the order you wish; and roll eight percentile dice five times and then choose which set you like, placing them in the stats in order. Number 2 is the “most popular”, and it’s also the easiest, so that’s what I’m going for.

Ten rolls:9,12,44,86,25,45,55,87,54,23.

As usual, my rolls suck. Obviously, we drop the 9 and the 12.

The eight attributes are:

Strength, Manual Dexterity, IQ, Agility, Constitution, Intuition, and Charisma

No, wait, that’s seven attributes.

OK, there’s an “Agression” score. Every other attribute has a table; Aggression doesn’t. It’s very easy to overlook. So, OK, 8.

It’s recommended that you roll on the “I Was Just Growing Up” and “Fickle Finger Of Fate” charts before assigning attributes, so let’s do that, shall we?

Past Is Prologue

“Life charts” or “Fate Charts” or “Backgrounds” or whatever were really, really, big in 1990s era games. They hardly originated there… I remember the first edition of Mekton had a “Lifepath” system that could get you spinning endlessly as you diced for the hair color of your sixteen siblings and whether or not you liked any of them, but the nineties were the golden age of finding out you were born on a farm and your older brother tried to kill you and you were kidnapped by gypsies and encountered a mentor who taught you how to ride a motorcycle and then your girlfriend was assassinated by space nazis and you worked on an ice planet in their broccoli mines and then, when you were twelve… so let’s see what we get here.

There’s two tables, Table 1 and Table 2. If you want to roll on Table 2, the “good” table, you must roll on Table 1. If you roll three times on Table 1, you can roll twice on Table 2. If you are married filing jointly, subtract the total of line 45 from…

I’ll just roll once on each.

Table 1: 40. I have hydrophobia. According to the table, “Your mother dropped you in water and you sunk”.

Table 2: 32. I was a famous cyball player (+2 charisma). Since we’re on a 1-100 scale, that’s not a whole hell of a lot.

I can also roll once or twice on the Fickle Finger of Fate table, plus an additional once on the Warrior Fortune table.

Fickle Finger Of Fate: 78. I was mugged while walking my pet, -200 credits. Boy, this is going to really look crappy on my performance review.

Warrior Table: 04. Hey, cool! Obtained training in swordsmanship at the famed Swintash school. +10 to hit with edged weapons! That actually fits my character. Go, me!

Time to assign stats. As an Eridani, I get a bunch of bonuses and only a few penalties, so let’s just work this out. I want to be a kick-ass sword wielder, so I figure we’ll start with the physical and go from there. My base numbers, again, are: 44,86,25,45,55,87,54,23

Strength: 87+10=97

Manual Dexterity: 45+5=50

IQ: 44+10=54

Agility: 55+20=75

Constitution: 86+5=91

Aggression: 54+15=69

Intuition: 25-5=20

Charisma: 23+2-10=15

So what’s all this mean? Well, there’s a lot of very AD&D 1st edition tables with “Minimum for an Orion” and “Maximum for a Ram Python” here, so I’ll check to make sure I’m not breaking any bounds. There’s also plenty of attribute-dependent things like encumbrance, etc. My strength of 97 gives me a +2 to damage, an “SB”… that’s skill bonus, for strength based skill checks, or +12, and I can dead lift 660… lbs, I assume. My 75 agility gives me a -2 Defensive Modifier (that’s added to my opponents roll, so it’s subtracted, which is a good thing, except, again, we’re on a percentile scale, so that -2 is going to be more an annoyance than a real benefit. “The enemy rolls a 98, plus his attack bonus of 47, so he hits you.” “Did you remember to take away 2?” “Yes.” “Oh, OK, then.”) I also have a +4 to my attack rolls with archaic hand held weapons, so I’m already at a +14 to hit. Sweet!

I just want to note the Constitution table has “System Shock” and “Resurrection Percentage” values.

Lastly, my Intuition of 20 makes me “Absolutely Clueless” and gives me a -20 to sight, hearing, and smell checks, and my Charisma of 15 means I am “Ugly as !%$&*”. No, really, that’s what it says — literally transcribed. Oh, and there’s a Henchman Loyalty Base. By the way, if Charisma is pure appearance, as would seem to be the case by the comments, why did being a professional Cyball player improve my Charisma, however slightly? Did we get free plastic surgery or something?

Secondary Statistics

This covers random other stuff. The first is Terrestrial Knowledge, which is the chance you’ll know anything about a particular planet. To determine it, you roll %ile dice and divide by 3. 17, divided by 3 is  5.6, and we round up to 6. I have a 6% chance to know anything, but since there’s 20 galaxies in this setting, I think that’s pretty good.

Military Leaderships: I add Intelligence, Aggression, and Intuitions, divide by 4, and round up: I end up with a 36.

Persuasion is Intelligence+Charisma, divided by 3. 23

Bargaining is Persuasion-15, or 8.

Given that there’s a bunch of skills later on, I have no clue why the “Secondary Statistics” are not just, you know, skills, or why Persuasion and Bargaining are broken out as they are. Anyway, there’s the numbers. I do get to add some racial bonuses, though, so my final Secondary Scores are:

Terrestrial Knowledge: 21

Military Leadership: 56

Persuasion: 18

Bargaining: 8

Frankly, I think any race of beings known throughout the galaxy twenty galaxies for being warrior-lunatics would have a huge bonus to “Persuasion”, but, then again, I got mugged while walking my pet. I don’t even know what kind of pet it was. Fooey.

Hey, there’s a Racial Preference chart!

Yeah. Getting a bit of déjà vu here….

ADDRacialPrefs
BattleLordsRacialPrefs

One of these things is not just like the other….

I now need to figure out my size class, which is based on my height and weight, so I have to go back to my racial description to see what dice I roll. I am 82 inches tall and weigh 280 lbs. This makes me size class 6. I have 10 Body Points, and can make 3 punches per turn.  My Social Status is content, which gives me a 25% bonus to starting money, which is determined by my race, which gives me 100 * 6d6, and I rolled a total of 25, so, 2500*1.25=3,125 galactic… whatever, minus 200 since I got mugged walking my pet. Yes, I’m still bitter about that. That leaves me 2925.

 

Skills to Pay The Bills

Everyone begins with 50 Proficiency Points, except I’m not Everyone, I’m an Eridani, so I begin with 40. I will be complaining to the Galactic Equal Opportunity Board forthwith. I get a few bonuses due to my race, as well — I get three levels in Archaic Hand Weapon, and Archaic Hand Weapon skills cost 1 point less. I can start with only three levels in any skill above and beyond my racial levels, so let’s see max out “Whack People With Sword”. Lessee, here’s the skill table and… my eyes! Sweet cold and merciless gods of space, my eyes!

I’m obviously spoiled by modern layouts. Wow. This is just one giant wall of numbers and symbols. Sure, it all makes sense eventually, but this is the kind of thing that tends to send folks running in terror.

BattleLordsSkillChart

There’s two full pages of this. Yeow! (Really, though, this is cleaner and more straightforward than many similar games of the era, and it’s probably better to have all the vital information in a chart, however abbreviated, than to have to flip across multiple pages to compare skills, but it’s still an overwhelming mass of numbers and symbols, hard to take in all at once.)

The most important number is “SC”, which is “Skill Cost”, which is “How much it costs to get a level in this skill”. Archaic Hand Weapon only costs 2 points per level, or one point ’cause I’m an Eridani and I rule, baby, but there’s a little squiggly symbol next to it which means “Does not give standard +10$ modifier”, see skill description to see how it is used.

I need to specify type of weapon… that’s easy, “Big Ass Sword”. Then I look at the Hand to Hand Combat Chart. If I add 3 levels (for a total cost of only 3 points), to my pre-existing 3, I will be at level 6, which gives me a +24 hit bonus and +2 damage and +1 to “number of attacks”. Add in my +10 from my race and my +4 from my Agility and I’m at +38, which seems pretty good without any knowledge of what the combat system is actually like. I also have a +2 damage from my Strength and a +2 from my skill level, so +4, which if most people have Body Points in the low double digit range, as seems to be the case, means I’m doing serious whackity with each hit. (A two-handed sword, which requires minimum strength of 70 to wield, does 2-12 points of damage and has a base 85% chance to hit, so my chance to hit is, I’m guessing, 85+38 minus some defensive whatever. 2-12+4 is pretty sweet damage, though. Maybe. Actually, I have no idea.

And I think I will stop here for the nonce… picking skills is the best part of games like this, so it deserves its own take. Then we ought to be done!

Random WIP: Hyperspace

Honestly, this is sort of being posted because I don’t like long stretches of “No posting”, not because I genuinely think it’s likely to be of interest to anyone. (Oh, BTW, the next stage of the Battlelords walkthrough is almost ready; I need to decide if I want to split it into three parts or charge ahead and finish it now.)

Anyway, work on Stellar Battles proceeds in fits and starts; I’m still having trouble finding the right tone for it, in terms of rules. On the one hand, I’ve really been wanting to do the Ultimate Kick Ass Space Opera Laser Sword Five Mile Long Starship Pew Pew Pew Lasers Barfights And Smugglers And Ancient Mystic Powers And Forgotten Alien Artifacts science fiction game for a long time.  A very long time. As in, honestly, it was the very first thing I tried to design back when I was 14 and one way or another it’s been in the back of my mind for a while. I know I want race/class/level, because while I love freeform systems for a lot of reasons, I honestly find that I prefer RCL designs because they let me better define the core archetypes for a game while still (if using more modern variants, i.e, OGL-based) allowing for the kind of fine-tuned character control I like. I’m definitely not interested in doing a new game w/the 4e engine, not because I don’t like the system, but because I’d rather focus all my 4e efforts on Earth Delta.

This leaves me pulled in two directions.

One, go very much mid/late 1970s, esp. pulling from the “unofficial” stuff and the things Gary Gygax (sometimes with good reason, sometimes without) hated, and that’s Classes Galore… lots and lots of classes, most with some kind of simple “At this level, the blah can blah 1/day” powers to liven them up — see, well, classic Arduin, and no real skills/feats/goodies/ whatever, just boolean proficiencies or class specific powers laid out in varying levels of detail (ranging from simple notes bound to cause arguments to pages of niggling detail bound to cause arguments).

Two, give in to my passions and use a more “modern” system, either an OGL/Pathfinder variant or FantasyCraft, the latter being a system I really like for its plethora of crunchy bits and how it weds the kind of meta-gaming systems you normally find only in wussy free form commie hippie “story telling” games with the kind of hard tactical crunch I find endlessly appealing.

Three, screw it all, make up my own core rules that will draw from many strains of inspiration but not be particularly “plug and play” compatible with anything else. This is another thing I keep waffling over. I have argued, many many times, that the world doesn’t need one more way to kill an orc. And I stand by that. At the same time, I like creating systems for their own sake, knowing that they’re unnecessary and redundant. There’s a few mechanics I really like (non-Boolean success systems, for one) that aren’t a common part of the core D20 family. (By “non-Boolean”, I mean “multiple successes”, where how well you do matters. Hitting someone by 10 points does more damage than hitting him by 1 point. Tasks such as picking a lock require accumulating successes over time. The best known systems that use this mechanic, though, are dice pool systems which tend to fail in terms of granularity.)

Putting it more plainly, since I get no money, and very little in the way of fame or even feedback, for these kinds of projects, the only thing that drives me is passion, and if I don’t have passion for a particular style, it doesn’t get done. While I’m willing to play almost any game, except that which must not be named, when it comes to either running games or designing games, I like high granularity and high levels of mechanical character differentiation. That last one is important and it’s what tends to keep me out of the “Old School Renaissance” except as a source of ideas I can rip off inspiration. (It also kept me very annoyed at 4e until the first wave of “Power” splatbooks and Dragon articles.) I don’t care if one 4th level Fighter is run as an axe-wielding illiterate barbarian and another 4th level Fighter is run as a gallant Knight — if, when the dice hit the table, they are mechanically identical, then, for me, the system doesn’t work. The more generic the mechanics, the less interest the game holds for me.

However, the title of this topic was “Hyperspace”, was it not? It was! I’ve been dancing around the system issue by focusing on the setting, which is going to be, like most of the settings I prefer, something mostly drawn in big, bold, colorful strokes with unending room for GM improvisation and expansion. However, it does need some “rules of physics”, both literally and figuratively, and if you’re doing a grand space opera setting, you need to set out how faster than light travel works, as this is going to shape the game universe more than any other decision. It will influence politics, economics, and character backgrounds in all sorts of ways. There is no disconnect between “swashbuckling action” and “world building” — if the universe in which you’re buckling your swash has no sense of verisimilitude to it, you are not Errol Flynn innnn spaaaaaaaace… you are a four year old running around a living room, waving a plastic sword and going “I’m a piwate!”.

Thus, the first draft of the hyperspace rules.

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