Author Archives: Lizard

Starchildren

Starchildren : Velvet Generation

In The Grim Darkness Of The Third Millennium There Is Only Rock!

And/Or Roll!

And Judging From A Random Illustration, Jobs At McDonalds. Grim, Tyrannical, Oppressive, McDonalds.

So, Nothing New, Then?
I Dunno. Maybe The Burgers Are Made From Orphans, Or Something.
Groovy!

Groovy!

We’re (that’s me and my helper cats, who, at the moment, are actually helping by virtue of not being here) taking a break from RPGs produced in the 1970s to look at a game produced in the early 2000s that uses the cultural tropes of the 1970s for a game set in the 2070s. Got it? Good. Now, does the chalice from the palace have the pellet with the poison? No, that’s the flagon with the dragon.

The commentary in the Acknowledgments page informs us that although the game contains references to sex, drugs, and rock&roll, “XIG Games does not officially endorse any such activities except under guidance of a competent professional”. Oh, and the game contains a subliminal message when played backwards. So you start with characters getting wiped in a TPK and end by rolling them up?

I’m going to take the tongue-in-cheekness of the Acknowledgments into account when reading.

It Was Thirty Years Ago Today About 70 Years From When This Was Published

The introduction informs us that the world was changed when the first Starchildren came to Earth in 2071, and that we will join the action in 2073. Not bad — there’s enough time for the setting to establish itself, but not a huge amount of history to learn or hard-coded backstory for the part of the timeline the PCs are a part of. The Ministry of Music has begun “a terrifying crackdown on illegal and subversive rock music”. Damn, Voldemort must be back in charge. We are also introduced to the “Blue Army”, a violent splinter faction of Starchildren, and “the Osterberg Institute”, the “paranoid and xenophobic” scientists whose paranoia and xenophobia is based on nothing more than the fact aliens have landed, disguised themselves as humans, and started a mass movement to undermine the government. What a flimsy pretext! What are you gonna do? Haters gonna’ hate.

Working For The Man

Actually, The Man does all the work. That’s this game’s version of the GM. By the 2000s, the 90s trend of coming up with funky names for common parts of RPGs was dying like disco (see, this is a game about music, so, I made a music reference), but, much like the old man in Monty Python And The Holy Grail, it wasn’t dead yet. NPCs are “The Man’s character”, or “MC”. At least PCs are still PCs.

And I Want To Be A Paperback Writer…

“Chapters Two through Four of this book help bring the setting to life, and are written from the points of view of people who lived through it.”

In other words, I’ve got to slog through three chapters of fiction before I get to start creating a character. #FML.

Do you people appreciate what I do for you? The sacrifices I make? I could be losing another game of Civ VI, but noooooo, I’m reading this. Feh.

Part I

Our game published in real 2003 about a fictional 2073  that is inspired by the culture of real 2073 begins with excerpts from a book written in fictional 2091 about fictional 2073. There will be a quiz later. I’m going to try to summarize so we can get to the core of creating a character while still having some context as to what I’m creating.

In the 2040s, psychologists and sociologists decided that rock & roll was dangerous and subversive. I guess Tipper Gore won in the long run. The 2040s were an era of depression following a long war, class conflict, and economic despair, where the masses were desperate for simple solutions and the promise of a coming utopia following the removal of negative influences and dangerous ideas. Hm. Sounds familiar.

In 2047, violence erupted at a Times Square protest, and music was blamed. Within two years, music became a “controlled substance” in most of the world. The motto of the time was “Don’t insulate, isolate!”, meaning, instead of just tuning out or walking away if you heard something you didn’t like, all “negative influence” needed to be purged. Hmm. So, Tipper Gore and today’s campus activists won. Damn. This is one hell of a dystopia, I tell you what.

Various international bodies eventually merged into the global International Culture Correction and Control, or ICCC. The Ministry of Music (MoM) became known to the rebels as “Mad Mother”.  All unapproved items (i.e., anything anyone would want) became illegal contraband. If Grampa didn’t remember to toss out his old Justin Bieber CDs, it was curtains for him.

The music industry was reduced to peddling “New music”: Muzak on steroids, or maybe on sleeping pills — utterly bland, featureless, drivel. Radio was even worse… aw… that’s cute. In 2003, people believe radio would still exist in 2073. Thus, an era began of bootleg music, exploiting the vast demand for which there was no longer any legal supply. Capitalism, people. Ka-ching!

(Oh, the most popular legal entertainment is pinball… without any of the fancier modern features. Also, badminton and bowling. Kill me now.)

The “Rock Resistance” began in 2070 in New York City, at first a disorganized rabble that was regularly beaten up by the cops. They inspired copycats, and the movement started to spread. “Luckily, the Rock Resistance soon became Velvet, thanks to the dazzling inspiration and leadership of the Starchildren.”

Part II

The next chapter is in the form of a recording made by an undercover member of the ministry of music, with only the target’s side of the conversation recorded. This creates the illusion they are describing the world’s setting to you, the reader. Again, I’m mostly going to try to summarize enough to put what follows in context.

A reminder: I write these things linearly and extemporaneously, page by page. So when I finally get to chargen, I may end up backtracking.

A sidebar notes that in 2073, using a BBS(!) or the “increasingly risky internet” is a bad way to share music. Tangible media includes a 2″ disk which can store several days worth of high quality data, a data chip “about the size of a quarter”, or good ol’ vinyl. The term “tape” is used to refer to any musical media whatsoever, although no one uses actual tape.

“Dives” are where illegal musicians perform; “Record managers” are basically pimps (so, nothing’s changed), bribing cops and arranging gigs. Many have other illegal interests on the side.

Lots of various drugs, color coded for your convenience: Whitepills, Graypills, Blackpills, Redpills, etc.

We then get about two pages of details about how Velvet is organized and maintained, using a kind of ad-hoc networks assembled via portable servers and routers, along with a lot of what old folks like me call “sneakernet”.

We are also introduced to the concept of “Blackholes”: Starchildren, or something like them, working for the Ministry. And, as noted earlier, the Blue Army, the violent splinter faction of Velvet.

Part III

In which we finally get some background on the Starchildren. Yay. This takes the form of an interview with “Stainless Pakistan”, set in 2078. Trying to distill out the key points.

  • They (Starchildren) don’t “really distinguish between the sexes”.
  • Sex and food, as humans understand them, are “really alien”. Good lord, don’t get them mixed up.
  • Sex is for fun, but not how they reproduce.
  • They can’t get humans pregnant, they use clouds of spores that look like floating glitter.
  • They learned about Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc., on their way to Earth.
  • They’d get away with their alien appearance by saying they were from France… I mean, “from somewhere else”.
  • They know little about their own homeworld; they were coming to Earth because it would be a better place.
  • They were really pissed when they arrived expecting the free-love 1970s and got the totalitarian 2070s. Like most immigrants, the reality of the promised land turned out to be far worse than the fantasy, but it was too late to pack up and go home.
  • No word on if the government of the time planned to build a wall and make the Starchildren pay for it.
  • They only live to about 40, and are impressed by humans’ long lifespans of 70+. This is a nice twist from the immortal aliens lamenting that humans come and go so quickly you can’t get to know them. It also reinforces the youth/rebellion nature of the setting.
  • Their “landing pods” decayed very rapidly in Earth’s atmosphere, rusting to junk in a few weeks.
  • Also, humans are physically stronger and have higher endurance. Again, a welcome change from the “better than you at everything” aliens that dominate the genre, and it’s good to see mechanics and backstory that reinforce the bishounen archetype that defines the particular musical genre that inspired the game. (Well, I’m assuming there will be mechanics. I will be… irked… if the rules do not match the setting. “Does what it says on the tin” is one of my cardinal rules of game design. If X is supposed to be good at Y, the game mechanics better make that happen.
  • There have been several references to “The Humanity Campaign”, which seems to be some sort of xenophobic genocide, but I haven’t seen it well defined yet… or I missed it on my first read. I’ll check back later.
  • The “Blackholes” were a clique aboard the ship; their parents had some disagreement with the parents of the Starchildren before Stainless Pakistan was born.

OK, the text gets more text-y at this point, and so will I.It all started in 1972, when radio and TV signals from Earth reached a world “billions of light years away” — they acknowledge the impossibility of this, but there’s no in-world explanation for the phenomenon. The transmissions lasted only five years… again, no explanation why… but transformed the alien world.

Enraptured by Earth music, they built a generation ship and set out for a fifty year journey. Those born on the ship would become the Starchildren, naturally.

They originally planned to arrive in a public display, but after seeing what Earth had become, made multiple clandestine landings in various wildnerness areas, then set out to the big cities, instruments in tow.

Their bodies are mostly human-seeming, but these are not their native species’ form… that is unknown, even to them. They have an unearthly mien to them, being pale, slightly blue, and unusually thin. They can also perform minor alterations to their form, to look more human, or to create cosmetic changes to skin tone, hair length and color, or fingernails. The very skilled can use this ability to heal wounds.There are no Starchild country musicians.

And so we get to Chapter 5… page 37 out of 124… before the chargen starts. I think we’ll do that in Part II.

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 1 Part 4

All The World’s Monsters, Volume I

Part IV

That’s The Funny One With The Whales, Right?

No, This Is The One With The Killer Pinecone In It

Yes, Really

Welcome back, after a long absence, to what ought to be the last part of the first part of the walkthrough of All The World’s Monsters, Volume I. The penultimate part is here, and the antepenultimate part is here, and this useless spell checker doesn’t know that “antepenultimate” is a word. It totally is. It means “the sister of one of penultimate’s parents”. Duh.

Having just covered hybrid crabs/WW1 helmets, we move on to…

Random Horror: Insert 2016 Presidential election joke here.

An evolutionary step between the wandering monster table and the wandering damage table.

An evolutionary step between the wandering monster table and the wandering damage table.

Razortongue: A gorilla-sized koala bear with steel-hard fur. Yes, really.

Just like it says on the tin.

Just like it says on the tin.

The razortongue is one of the many creations of the prolific Clint Bigglestone, who was evidently part of the gaming circle of a certain George R. R. “Are You Finishing The Damn Series” Martin, as a character by the hardly-common name of “Clint Bigglestone” appears in one of Martin’s early stories.

Shaggy: A huge (man size, I guess, though it’s not specified precisely) tribble. Which secretes adhesive glue. And when it attaches itself to you, it sucks out life levels. Not to be confused with a monster-hunting stoner.

Shaggy Beast: A snake-headed bull with green fur. Said fur is full of stingers that will kill you in two turns if you fail a save. It can also breathe fire. Why not?

Shrew, Giant: Insert “mother in law” joke here.

Skull, Flying: The “poor man’s liche”, sometimes called the “Obamalich”, even though the program actually started under Bush. It looks “just like you would expect, a skull with wings”. I generally don’t expect winged skulls, but anyway. It can use spells, but there is a “spell level/8” chance it will be destroyed when it does. I’m going to interpret that as an “X in 8 chance”, that is, if it’s a 4th level spell, roll a D8, and if it’s 4 or less, the skull dies. Re-dies. Double secret dies.

Starling: Not a cute little bird. This starling is a giant mutant starfish, where each tentacle has a unique, deadly, power. Kind of like a beholder, except with tentacles instead of eye beams. It has seven tentacles, and their powers include constriction, petrification, cold damage, poison, and “squirting ink”. The “constricting” tentacle can extend for up to 100 feet, and this is getting way too hentai for me. Next!

Stormquill: Another of Mr. Bigglestone’s visionary creations, this is a “gorilla sized ankliosaurus(sic)”. It has 12 quills on the clublike end of the tail, which, when flung, transform into lightning bolts that attack as a heavy crossbow fired by a Champion. (You can tell the really old school stuff, from the first few years of D&D, by use of the “attacks as a (level name here)” trope.

Stun Cone: A giant killer pinecone. Look, I told you it was in here. Why did you not believe me? Why? Now look what you’ve done in your foolish ignorance and defiance!

See? Killer Pinecone. Not A Metaphor. Not An Exaggeration. Not A Dream, Hoax, Or Imaginary Story.

See? Killer Pinecone. Not A Metaphor. Not An Exaggeration. Not A Dream, Hoax, Or Imaginary Story.

Thundertread: Found in the deepest levels of dungeons, it is “hideous and virtually indescribable”. And… that’s its description.

DM: You encounter a thundertread! It’s hideous and indescribable!
Player: What does it look like?
DM: I just told you, it’s indescribable.
Player: But what do our characters see?
DM: Something they can’t describe.
Player: (Sighs) Does it have hit points?
DM: Yes.
Player: Then screw the flavor text, we can kill it.

Tiger, Blink Saber-Tooth: When a blink dog and a saber tooth tiger love each other very much…

Next time someone who wasn’t even born until after AD&D 2e came out whines that they hate D&D 3.x or Pathfinder because “all the stupid templates let them make up these weird hybrid monsters instead of sticking to the glorious, sacred purity of genuine creatures from myth and legend like in the Good Old Days”, show them the blink dog/sabre-tooth tiger crossover, then laugh at them. A lot. They need to be laughed at.

Tumble Tangle: A tumbleweed-like plant that often travels among them, until it finds food. It then attacks and attempts to entangle and devour the victim. Given that I created the very similar “tumblebleed” for Earth Delta, I’ve got no moral high ground here.

Unalhit: A six legged hairy octopus demon. Heh. “Hairy octopus”. Know what I mean, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more?

Voltree: Comes in five colors; when danger threatens, all the voltrees spend time getting their asses.. erm… trunks handed to them for ten minutes before finally remembering that can combine to form an all-powerful robot tree that… no, wait. This is a weeping willow with silver leaves that can electrocute passers-by. Based on a story by Eric Frank Russel.

Vuun: A fifty-foot giant bat, with psychic powers. “Very rare”, with only one colony remaining in a network of caves in the walls of a volcanic crater. I’m not even going to ask how a creature with a 50 foot wingspan navigates inside the tunnels.

War Wheel: It’s a living creature shaped like a giant wheel that will… oh, just read it.

Man, If You Could Figure Out How To Put A Saddle On One Of These...

Man, If You Could Figure Out How To Put A Saddle On One Of These…

I can kind of imagine the in-world arguments over what to call it, akin to the debate over “soda” or “pop”. (Soda, you morons) or “Sub”, “Hero”, “Grinder”, etc. (Sub or Hero. Grinder? Please.)

Water Sucker: Someone who pays 3.99 for a bottle of “Pure Glacier Mountain Spring Organic GMO Free Water” that’s bottled in Spokane from the local pipes. Also, a kind of armadillo thing that drains water like a stirge drains blood.

Weasel, Giant: Insert 2016 Presidential election joke here, too.

Were-Hellhound: There is a 25% chance it can use magic in human form and one-third of the magic-using were-hellhounds will be Priests of Roofdrak. No, I do not know what a Priest of Roofdrak is. I mean, yeah, I can guess, it’s a priest, that worships Roofdrak. That’s helpful. Not. Also, it will only work with were-coldcats if it has a good reason to. No, “were-coldcat” is not in this book. Nor could I find “Cat, cold” or “Coldcat”. Old School!

Were, Anti: At first, I read this as “were, ant”, which makes as much sense as anything else, but, no… an “anti-were” is like a were wolf, bear, etc., except that it’s immune to silver and magic weapons but is harmed by normal iron ones. This is a fairly typical trope for the era. Back when “player skill, not feats and stats” mattered, “player skill” consisted of memorizing every rulebook one could find, and ignoring things like “but your character has never met a werewolf, how does it know what’s effective?” And so, there was an eternal arms race, and “trick monsters”, which looked like typical members of a species but had altered or reversed weaknesses, were one of the primary weapons in the arsenal.

Witch Tree: Which tree? That tree! That one, right there. The one that’s trying to kill you. Forests in a typical D&D world are not exactly safe havens. I suppose the number of giant, poisonous magical scorpion-tailed creatures that roam the woodlands makes sense if you consider that “the woodlands” are themselves highly predatory.

Worm, White: A hundred-foot long worm that dwells in polar climates. It will devour anything that is not fuzzy, because, and I swear I am not making this up, it is very ticklish on the inside.

X-Ray Beast

The Next Time Someone Tells You The Flumph Was The Most Ridiculous Monster Ever, You Just Show Them This

The Next Time Someone Tells You The Flumph Was The Most Ridiculous Monster Ever, You Just Show Them This

Yes, it’s a one-eyed hippo which shoots an x-ray beam that does 3d6 radiation damage and would give a +2 on Heal checks to detect cancer, if there had been skills back then. For some random reason, it’s immune to fire.

Zanth: Six legged wolf-komodo-lizard. That is the entirety of the descriptive text. A fittingly old-school ending for this entry in the series.

A Plethora Of Perilous Potions

A Plethora Of Perilous Potions

Well, with onezero days to go in RPG Bloggers October theme of “potions”, I decided to create some. This isn’t as polished as I’d like, even by my low standards, but I want to get it live… or undead, as it were… before the deadline.

Potions, at least in Pathfinder, tend to come in three varieties: Healing, Buffing, and I Forgot I Had This What Am I Carrying It Around For? There’s a game design reason for this, or, rather, there’s a “game design caused an unexpected emergent property” reason for this. Potions in 3.x/PF are a spell delivery mechanism. They allow a magic-using character to store the effect of a spell and give it to someone without the appropriate ability. (Contrast wands and scrolls, which, rogues with high UMD skill aside, serve to enhance the casters themselves.) Outside of healing and buffing, though (and I consider various resist/protect spells in the “buff” category), the majority of the low level spells which can be put into potions are highly situational (so that you’re not likely to carry around a potion of sunder breaker just in case you run into some NPC that the GM, for malicious reasons, built as a sundering machine. (Yeah, I looked for a particularly situational spell for that one. Cherry picking for the win!)

For these, I wanted to go beyond potions as spell-delivery mechanism, to unique-ish concepts that, to my mind, work well conceptually as single use, ingestible, magics. I also wanted to be sure the effects were sufficiently “magical” that they wouldn’t work better as “mere” alchemy. (In my own personal “physics of magic”, alchemy works by drawing out the innate magical properties of some materials, enhancing, concentrating, or amplifying existing natural aspects to create effects beyond what simple chemistry could achieve. Potions, on the other hand, use the innate qualities of particular substances to serve as a matrix into which the power of a spell can be bound and contained. The process can also distort the nature of the magic slightly, allowing potions which do not precisely mimic a spell to exist. This is also how most magic items are made. Look at the requirements for mirrored armor. Spell turning does not make things shiny and reflective, but aspects of the spell’s effect are incorporated into the armor to give it its particular powers.

Distillation Of Memory

An unusual concoction that contains the full memories of a particular event in a being’s life. When consumed, the experience is transferred instantly; the drinker remembers as if it had happened to them. This can be a confusing and disorienting experience, as the rush of sensation is overwhelming; a DC 15 Will save is needed or the drinker is dazed for one round. Creating the distillation requires the living being from whom the memory is to be drawn, and they must either be willing or helpless. These potions can be used to transfer knowledge, such as a password, or to communicate events without setting them in writing, or to share an important experience.

In some cultures, distilled memories are a black market item, enjoyed by decadent elites who can vicariously experience others lives.

Requirements: Share Memory. Cost: 300 gp minimum per minute, can go up considerably based on what the memory is of. A single dose of the distillation can contain up to 10 minutes of experience.

Jellybones Potion

This potion comes in an assortment of colors: Black, green, ochre, and grey being the most common. When the potion is imbibed, the drinker’s body becomes soft and malleable, though they retain full cohesion overall. This has the following effects:

  • They gain the ability to move through areas half their size with no penalty, and 1/4 their size with the usual squeezing penalty.
  • They have a +5 enhancement bonus to escape artist checks.
  • They gain DR 2/slashing or piercing.
  • They ignore the first 10′ of falling damage.

The effects of the potion last from 1-10 minutes, determined randomly when it is used. If the potion wear off when the character is in a space too small for them to squeeze through normally, they take 4d6 crushing damage. (And may be stuck there until rescued, if there’s no safe space to move to.)
Requirements: Beast Shape, Cat’s Grace. Cost: 750 gp

Preemptive Panacea

A particularly useful draught, this potion provides resistance to effects that haven’t happened yet! Upon drinking, the magic remains in quiescent state, until it is triggered by need. Then, it takes effect as any of the following: lesser restoration, neutralize poison, remove disease, or remove sickness. The potion is effective for a full day, or until triggered.
Requirements: lesser restoration, neutralize poison, remove disease, and remove sickness Cost: 1400 gp.

A Brief Digression Into Media

A brief digression? On this blog? Shocking!

Not the digression part; the brief part.

Just so we’re clear.

Still milking the multiple header gag, I see. Sigh.

Still metacommenting on yourself, I see. You can go blind doing that.
Saw Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. I enjoyed it, but (no spoilers), it showed me how spoiled I’ve become by long-form arc-style TV series. In order to fit every plot point into a two hour movie, it, like many other genre films, had to do this:
“Hi, audience! Here’s a nice case of guns. We’re going to put one on this mantelpiece, one on this mantelpiece, and one on this mantelpiece. Don’t worry, they’ll all be fired. Oh, but there are some surprises. Here, here’s a nice red herring. We’ll be sure to label it “red herring” for you, not that you need it labelled, since there’s really only room for one and it’s not like we can devote a lot of time to it.”
 
Long form TV allows for more subtle planting, slower exhibition, time to build up plot threads that genuinely don’t look like false leads because they’re given the same nurturing as others. The writers can assume the audience (well, those who really care) will binge, freeze-frame, and discuss details endlessly, and this allows them the freedom to put in things someone might miss or overlook, then see on a second viewing or be made aware of by a recap or discussion. On the other hand, a major plot point that’s too subtle in a movie leads to angry viewers who feel ripped off or confused, and people generally don’t watch a movie multiple times, they can’t freeze it or back it up.
 
Technology changes storytelling. The medium isn’t the message, but the medium alters what message you might wish to send.
 
(Babylon 5 is sort of the Archaeopteryx in the coalmine, to mix metaphors like a horse in a barrel. It will likely be looked on as the first great hybrid of episodic and arc storytelling on television.)

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 1 Part 3

All The World’s Monsters, Volume I

Part III

In 3-D!

Note: Not Actually In 3-D

Here we are again, continuing our expedition through the marvels, mysteries, and mayonnaise [[Note:Come up with something else that begins with ‘m’ before this is posted]] of “All The World’s Monsters”. Parts I and II can be found here and here. Part IV can be found here.

Hairy Howler: Not “Howler, Hairy”? Yeah, yeah, we beat that joke to death already. But that which is dead can never die! Anyway, as stated last week, this is a nine foot tall man-baboon hybrid… a maboon?… inspired by Hiero’s Journey by Sterling Lanier, which you should have read if you ever played Gamma World. It sometimes uses a meat cleaver as a weapon, with a +4 to hit and +5 to damage. Whoa.

Heffalump: An elephant-sized centipede “immune to lightning, fire, and spoken spells”. Known to prey on bears and young pigs. Sometimes accompanied by woozles. (Are there woozles in this book? (flip flip flip) No. No, there are not. For shame.)

The above video is clearly an inaccurate presentation.

Horned Bellower: A man sized, one horned, flying purple people… no, I mean, triceratops. Well, if it has one horn, it’s a monoceratops, isn’t it? Oh, it regenerates like a troll. And the horn is vorpal. And it detects treasure. With the horn. I’d say “You can’t make this shit up”, but, there’s the proof, in black and white. Someone surely did make it up.

Hound (Death, Hades, Night, Phase, Rock): I’ve discussed the tendency to create dragons, golems, and giants of every possible adjective… but hounds are kind of new. There’s generally only one or two new variants on “puppy” in most monster books, and they usually have some kind of sonic attack, because dog. Wolf. Howl. Trust me on this. When you’re charged with making up 12-14 monsters a day to meet a deadline, you’re not going to dig too deep in the idea mine. As soon as you get a concept you can hang a bunch of hit points and attack bonuses on, you run with it. But in this case… erm… these cases… the sonic stuff is skipped. The Hades Hound is a three-headed hell hound that breathes acid and chlorine in addition to flame. The Phase Hound is what happens when a hell hound and a phase spider love each other very much.

Icegrunt: A furry white boulder that breathes cold. Yeah. That’s what I said.

Jubal Cain:

A Flying Tablecloth With A 60 Inch Tongue. This Is The Next Big Internet Meme.

A Flying Tablecloth With A 60 Inch Tongue. This Is The Next Big Internet Meme.

Not Sure I Like The Dark Knight's New Costume

Not Sure I Like The Dark Knight’s New Costume

Killwing: It uses “microwave sound” to attack. What’s that? A really annoying “ding” that goes off every ten seconds no matter how much you scream from across the room “Shut up, you damn machine, I know the food is cooked!”?

Kobold: What’s this, you ask? Kobolds? No adjectives? Why are they even in a book of weird and wonderful creatures? They’re just core monsters!

Ah, but this is the edited Gilespie-Blacow-Slimax kobold.

The what?

Yeah. It sounds like something from the edges of physics, doesn’t it? “Well, you see, if you imagine the universe as a twelve-dimensional matrix of Gilespie-Blacow-Slimax conjugations, you can see that…”

But here it is. You make sense of it.

I Believe There's Three Of Them Guarding An Einstein Rosen Bridge Across The Uncanny Valley

I Believe There’s Three Of Them Guarding An Einstein-Rosen Bridge Across The Uncanny Valley

Lemming, Giant: If it bites you, you are infected with a “Death Wish” poison that will make you hunt down and kill those punks that tortured, raped, and killed your wife and daughter.

Libear: A “lion-bear-centaur”. It has the same chance of hugging as a werebear; nothing specifies the chances of kissing, fondling, or oral sex.

Longlicker: Giggity. Well, maybe not. It’s a giant sized anteater with a thirty foot tongue that “can impale its victims”, doing double damage. Naturally, no mechanic or percentage chance is provided for this. I am curious as to how this might play out in the afterlife.

“Oh, I died fighting Orcus to save the soul of the One True King of the Dwarves.”
“I perished holding a bridge against an army of trolls, allowing the villagers to flee to safety.”
“I was impaled on a thirty foot tongue.”
“Dude! Isn’t that how we’d all like to go? High-five!”

Minogon: A gorgon/minotaur crossbreed. Wasn’t this in one of the Arduin books? That wouldn’t be odd, per se, there’s a lot of crossover of contributors and no one claimed exclusivity to the critters in ATWM — nor could they, given how many are “based on” copyrighted works.  Well, if it was, I didn’t comment on it, having just wasted 10 minutes googling my own site for “medusa” and “gorgon”.

Morse: A mutated cross between a moose and a horse, with low-level telepathy which it can use to communicate simple messages using dots and dashes. (OK, that part’s not true. But the telepathy is.) Once more, Hiero’s Journey. Trust me, you’ll want a telepathic moose for your PC after you read it.

Nerve Flayer: It is “totally indescribable” but gorilla-sized. Anyone meeting its gaze will lose 1-3 life levels (and back then, level loss was nasty). Its claws also do lightning damage if both hit. If it kills someone with the lightning, it will dimension door back home and eat the corpse.

Nightstalker: An intrepid reporter who hunted down supernatural entities about 20 years before public tastes changed enough to make this sort of thing popular. Also, a “black velvet baboon” that will follow the party and attack at an opportune moment, e.g., just after combat.

Orgoyle: A creature whose diamond-patterned fur is greatly sought after by tailors and weavers, it has been hunted nearly to extinction and… no, wait. That’s the argyle. The orgoyle is an ogre/gargoyle crossbreed. That’s kind of cool, actually. Not necessarily as a full species, but as a unique individual in tribe of ogres or the result of yet another mad wizard’s experiment. Or, possibly, the nurtured, cared-for, and emotionally happy result of a love that was forbidden but could not be contained!

Panther: The hereditary enemy of dragons, it possesses a breath weapon which… dragons are immune to. Charles Darwin weeps. That’s kind of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer gaining superhuman speed, agility, and endurance, except when she’s fighting vampires. Please note this isn’t the “Panther, Anti-Draconic” or “Panther, Drakebane”, or anything… it’s just a panther. With a breath weapon. Here, read it:

Like Dragons, Panthers Are Color-Coded For Your Convenience

Like Dragons, Panthers Are Color-Coded For Your Convenience

Pegasone: Sorry for two scans in a row, but this is easier read than described.

Phase Wing: A killwing (see above) with phase spider powers. Because, why not? Why not a phase spider with three heads, and each head has a different breath weapon, and it’s got ten legs instead of eight, and when it bites you, you turn to stone? Hey, that’s kind of cool. Going to write that up.

Plink Plant: “Like many other plants, it detects body warmth within 60 feet.” Man, my science class’ section on botany left out all the cool stuff!

Quelt: What do you get when cross a crab with a World War I helmet? I dunno, but it’s killing me!

This May Be More Embarrassing Than Getting Killed By A Longlicker

This May Be More Embarrassing Than Getting Killed By A Longlicker

And that seems like a good place to stop for today. At this rate, the next part should be the last of Volume I. Please be sure to spread links to here around, like a virulent plague infesting the Internet.

 

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 1 Part 2

All The World’s Monsters, Volume I

Part II

Subsection III, Paragraph VII

Whereas the party of the first part….

Welcome back to another installment of the walkthrough of All The World’s Monsters, Volume I, called by some “The Red Book Of The Land Of Oaks”. OK, no one calls it that. I just made that up. Because it’s red. And published in Oakland.

The backstory of this series can be found here. Let’s just get to the monsters. I’m going to get dragged off to do Family Things later and I want to get as much done in the time I have remaining. (Damn, that makes it sound like I’m dying of some horrible disease instead of going out to see a movie and do some shopping.)

Daughter Of Kali: One of a seemingly infinite number of creatures in 70s era games which existed to seduce men, steal their vital bodily fluids, and then kill or abandon them. Uhm, issues, anyone? Loosely based on Indian mythology, as if the name wasn’t a dead giveaway.

Death Angel: Surprisingly, not yet another heavy metal inspired “winged dude with flaming sword and major ‘tude”, this is a giant electric jellyfish. Because of course it is. Because Old School is totally freakin’ awesome like that. Giant electric jellyfish FTW! Credited to Keith Laumer, who is brilliant, and if you haven’t read his “Retief” series, do so.

Demon, Class I, Ice through Demon, Class III, Ice: An assortment of ice demons of various power levels, neatly categorized, classified, stamped, filed, briefed, debriefed, and numbered. A few people… stupid people… like to whine that this trope, highly prevalent in older games and still around in some today, removes “magic” and “wonder”, making everything systemic and ordered. I think this adds tremendous verisimilitude to games. If people live in a world with demons and dragons and daughters of Kali1, such beings will be sorted, ordered, named, and labeled. That’s what humans (and, I presume, elves and dwarves and halflings and sahuagin) do. Sapient beings create conceptual frameworks and reduce things to labels within those frameworks which can be manipulated mentally. (If you have ever read actual books of medieval demonology, you will find they are, in fact, full of this sort of thing, with everything sorted into orders, bands, hierarchies, choruses, and what-not, with very exact numbers (usually of mystical or philosophical significance) of each.)

Dorohime: A jellyfish with a ring of eyes and squid tentacles which is a “petty” devil (although it’s classed as a demon, go figure), that is sometimes employed as a treasure guard by assorted abyssal creatures. When killed, it explodes in a fireball. Things that explode when killed were pretty common.

Dragon, Chrome: Well, of course there have to be new dragons! For every adjective, there must be a dragon! That is the law. This one… well, read it.

Turns Into Any Mechanized Item. Take That, Six-Shot!

I am particularly enamored of the references to high level spells that are not otherwise listed, defined, or explained. (And to keep beating the deceased equine, let us note no mechanics are provided for the “irritation” or “sleepiness” caused by the breath weapon.)

Earth Mole: A “minor sort of earth demon”, filed under “E” for “Earth” instead of “D” for “Demon”, it is an albino mole with pincers and a paralysis gaze.

Ebon Doom: A “demon of the outer darkness”, also filed under “E” for “Ebon” instead of “D” for “Demon, Outer Darkness, Doom, Ebon” the way it should be. (This is what happens when a game predicated on whimsy and wonder is played primarily by the kind of people who, in 1979, were programming computers to store their monsters. People like me, in other words.) Where was I? Oh yes. The Doom, Eb… I mean, Ebon Doom, looks like a “mindless energy field”. As opposed to looking like an intelligent energy field? Huh?

DM: You see a flat black energy field.
Player: Does it look mindless?
DM: It… it’s an energy field. It looks… energy fieldish.
Player: But does it look mindless?
DM: It looks like you’ve spent so much time staring at it trying to figure out if it looks mindless that it attacks with surprise.

Elemental, Cold:

Well, Of Course She's Cold, Dressed Like That

Well, Of Course She’s Cold, Dressed Like That

Evil Shark: Not “Shark, Evil”? Son, I am disappoint. The ghost of a low level evil cleric, it is found at depths of 80 feet, in thin seaweed. Not at 75 feet in thick seaweed! That is the domain of the Evil Crab (aka Crab, Evil, and no, I’m probably not going to stop beating this joke until it too dies and becomes some form of undead sealife), the ghost of a mid level druid! We won’t even discuss what you might find at 90 feet in no seaweed! Your mortal minds cannot grasp the horror!

Ezwal: 2000 lb furry blue carnivores, with six legs. Hates machines, likes other ezwal. Based on a story by A. E. Van Vogt. Has “frost giant strength”. Should have been filed under “Ezwal, Blue”.

Falcon, Fire: See! Someone got it right! It’s a falcon. On fire. Only called out as notable because it fits what’s evolved into a running gag for this installment. Remember my motto: “Mrlizard.com: Free and worth it!”

Fiink: An intelligent.. quoppina? What the smeg is a quoppina? (Back from google.) Ah, it’s a kind of bug things from one of the Retief books. I should have remembered that. However, as a description in a general monster book intended for a wide audience, it’s a bit… lacking. Imagine if a monster was described as “a giant green Puppeteer” and readers didn’t know anything about Niven’s Known Space books. The default mental image would be… interesting.

Flapfrog: This is a giant (“elephant sized”) frog with wings that allow it to glide, but not actually fly. So, wait… if it glides on them, it doesn’t flap them, does it? You don’t flap to glide. This is clearly a glidefrog, and should be under “G”. Or perhaps under “Frog, giant, gliding”. Either works.

Flat: A chameleon-like blanket on the ground, which will disguise itself as whatever it’s lying on and then smother anyone who walks over it. Old School, where everything tried to kill you. Based on a story by Manly Wade Wellman.

Trapper, lurker above, stunjelly…

Comic from badgods.com by the excellent Lore Sjoberg. Go read more.

Gargoyle, Stone: Erm… as opposed to all those gargoyles made of vanilla pudding?

Gelatinous Blue Horror: When a gelatinous cube and a blue pool horror love… er… hate each other very much and try to eat each other, you get this: A blue gelatinous cube. Should be “Gelatinous Horror, Blue”.(Oh, a Blue Pool Horror is a “genetic experiment gone wrong” that looks like… a blue pool of water. )

Geteit Chemosit: Gesundheit! This is an eight foot tall black automaton with three yellow eyes, wielding a “force axe”. If it kills you, it will remove and destroy your brain, “making resurrection impossible”, never mind that an intact brain was not required for such spells. The original raise dead (white box) and raise dead fully (Greyhawk) only discuss time limits, not corpse quality. Later editions added various other limits, but never specifically an intact brain, to my recollection (and I’m feeling too lazy to go haul out my AD&D 1e, 2e, 3e, etc. books to research this for the sake of the 3 or 4 people who might be reading). Also based on an SF story, this is from “Pastel City” (otherwise known as “Virconium”) by M. John Harrison. Unlike most of the various “based on” monsters so far, this is both a story and an author with which I am wholly unfamiliar, but apparently he’s quite well established.

Goblin, Glass: A silicon goblin… siloblin? Something. Anyway, a surprising amount of space is dedicated to its reproductive rituals:

Frankly, Glass Goblin Porn Is Really Kind Of Dull

Frankly, Glass Goblin Porn Is Really Kind Of Dull

Golem (Diamond, Dust, Glass, Gold, Green Slime, Ice, Quicksilver, Radium(!), Tar, Wood): Yeah. Lots-o-golems. Some were referenced or described in the Arduin books; some weren’t. I will pick only one as a sample…

I Googled "Critical Mass Of Radium". Now I'm On A Watch List.

I Googled “Critical Mass Of Radium”. Now I’m On A Watch List.

As it turns out, radium doesn’t have a critical mass, but I think any GM worth his salt would severely punish a magic user who piled up 600 lbs of radium and didn’t think about proper containment… oh, and seriously punish a magic user who did take such precautions, on the grounds it was the use of out-of-character knowledge. That’s how we kicked it, old school! (The player might, in turn, argue that a “Manual of Radium Golem Creation” will include all the necessary safety measures. That argument’s strength is in direct proportion to the quality and quantity of General Tso’s Chicken provided to the GM.)

Gondor: Has no king. Needs no king. Easy walking distance from Mordor, despite the travel advisories. Also, a gondor is “a winged man with thievish capabilities”, which has telepathy that only works on fighters, giving it an AC of 2 when fighting them, but 9 otherwise. How this works when dealing with multi-class or dual-class is not specified, of course. (I’m trying to back-parse the name; if we figure ‘condor’ was part of it, it sort of makes sense, except I can’t link ‘thief with suspiciously specific psychic powers’ to any word starting with ‘g’.)

Gremlin, Gnarled: What has three arms, four legs, cannot see (but has sonar), and attacks elder gods and demons? Uhm, if you have to be told it’s a “gremlin, gnarled”, when it’s kind of there in bold face text, maybe RPGs aren’t the hobby for you. I hear collecting barbed wire is coming back as the next hipster craze. Try that. Oh, it has a pearl which, if placed into a staff, creates a staff of wizardry with 50 charges. (Y’know, a barbed wire golem is a pretty nifty idea, especially if you’re doing a modern era or “Weird West” type game… )

That brings us to the end of the “G”s. Tune in next time, where we will start off with the hairy howler. (If you know what I mean, and I think you do… wink wink, nudge nudge… you know, the nine foot man/baboon crossbreed from “Hiero’s Journey” by Sterling Lanier. Why? What were you thinking of?)

As always, if you like this site, please share it/link to it in appropriate places.


1There is also a “Daughter Of Kali, Elder”. Case closed.

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 1

All The World’s Monsters, Volume I

Edition 2, Printing 3, Act I, Scene 5

Interior, Pit Of Vile Doom. Enter, Two Kobolds

Well, that got off track quickly.

Front Cover For All The World's Monsters

Front Cover For All The World’s Monsters

ATWM (pronounced “At-whem”, which by no small coincidence is also the name of the Dread Underservant of the Elder Lords of Far Gallarik, Realm Of Dreams Twisted And Hopes Devoured) is a collection of monsters originally published in 1979 by Chaosium, based primarily on user submissions and “for use in fantasy role playing campaigns”, as long as they rhymed with “bludgeons and flagons”. I am writing this walkthrough based on the third printing, which is also of the second edition. (I believe it’s the third printing of the book in total, not the third printing of the second edition. Normally, this would be irrelevant fluff, or, in other words, exactly what this website is known for, but when discussing the earliest generations of supplements, things tended to change between printings — see the art changes in Arduin, for example.) I could buy a PDF scan of the original edition on Chaosium’s site and then compare it, but that would involve both money and effort, two things I am loathe to expend under any circumstance.

ATWM (Praise At-whem! Hail At-whem!) is laid out rather oddly. (Granted, it was unusual for gamers at the time to be laid out at all, if you get my drift.) Published in 8 1/2 x 11 format, it’s intended to be read sideways, presumably to accommodate the fact the book was basically printed out on a computer, and, at the time, printers didn’t do “portrait” mode.

Computer? Yes, children. They had computers, and printers, in 1979. They were, admittedly, in the form of giant mechanical monstrosities that filled multiple floors in large, secure, buildings, no more than one to a city, where they were tended to by the Priests Of Babbage, children taken from their parents and raised from birth to feed punch cards to the giant metallic Baals and then read the sacred offerings that spewed forth in cryptic code from1… oh, OK, not that bad. But close. The books represent one of the earliest applications of computers to gaming in the sense of using them as tools to manage and manipulate game information.

Not To Be Confused With The Dessert Ape, Which Is Made Of Chocolate

Not To Be Confused With The Dessert Ape, Which Is Made Of Chocolate

You may notice a familiar name among the credits. Many of Dave’s contributions here are not found in the Arduin volumes, making this a defacto supplement for Arduin. By the way, you have to love the sparseness of Old School text. A few stats and the barest hint of description. “The third eye is hypnotic”. Which means… what? Acts as a charm person? A suggestion? Simply makes the victim stand in place, fascinated, until… they’re damaged? They save? Is there a range? How many people can it affect? But, hey, the lack of any mechanics isn’t a problem, I am told, because “reasonable people” can “just agree” on what it means! Yeah, “reasonable people” always “just agree” on what things mean. It’s clear that the professional diplomats and negotiators who tussle over issues around the world don’t have the social skills, rationality, and willingness to make fair compromises that socially maladjusted 14 year olds do. But I digress. Anyway, three-eyed hypnotic apes are totally awesome.

(Another quick note: The giant ant’s AC is 3 + 1/3rd its hit dice, and “+” means “-“, as you well know. Believe it or not, the shift from descending to ascending AC in D&D 3.0 actually got a lot of people upset.)

Aaaannd another note: A lot of the critters here have a hit die range, making them effective threats at many levels. Oddly, this wasn’t widely adapted by “real” D&D until, yes, third edition. (“D&D 3e — We Finally Notice What’s Been Happening In Game Design Over The Past Twenty Years”).

The editors/archivists are Steve Perrin, a man well known to gamers and still quite active today, and Jeff Pimper, who… isn’t. At least, I don’t know who he is, and, like most people, I believe anything I don’t know can’t possibly be important. Perhaps in some distant future time we’ll have a Star Trek like computer system where I can just enter someone’s name and find out things about them, but that’s not going to happen soon.

For no good reason, here’s the back cover:

Worst. Bear Drawing. Ever.

Worst. Bear Drawing. Ever.

So, my plan here is not to do the kind of insane, line-by-line, “close reading” I did of Arduin, because, well, there’s only one Arduin. I’m going to do what I did w/Booty And The Beasts and Necromican… kind of skim it and highlight a few favorite bits. That might take several articles, or not; it depends on how much strikes me as worth noting, depending on my mood at the exact moment I hit a given page. Mrlizard.com: Where you pay nothing and get your money’s worth!

(If I ever get off my lazy ass and set up a Patreon, I’ll need to change my slogan.)

Ant Man: An unexpected commercial and artistic success that blended humor with “heist movie” tropes, this… no, wait. This is an 8 foot tall, four armed (two have stingers, two have hands) insectoid which is immune to mental spells and “is the dominant life form on it’s (sic) home planet”.

Ape Snake: Sadly, this is not an ape-lamia or the like; it’s an ape with octopus tentacles, included in Arduin as an octorilla. I find the use of “Ape Snake” to be false advertising.  I am going to stat out a proper ape snake, just see if I don’t! Harrumph!

Bagda And Fallowman: While this sounds like a one-season detective show on USA Network, what it actually is are two “Einheriar of the Herlathing”, whose fathers are Toll and Melimbor, respectively. I like knowing who people’s fathers are, don’t you? They seem to be drawn from this book… a lot of things in ATWM (and in early gaming in general) were lifted directly and without acknowledgment from all kind and manner of pulp, books, movies, and comics. We’ll be seeing a lot of that in this article.

Basic: Dragon-like aliens found with mutated humanoid guards. Arch-enemies of the Structured Programming Empire and its fearsome Pass-kaal and Ceeplusplus legions.

Behinder: It sneaks up behind you and… no, not that, you pervert! It paralyzes you and drags you off. It always target the “last in line” by using the mental command “fall behind”.

Bloodbouncer: A combination of stirge, tribble, and superball. Seriously. That’s what it says. When was the last time you encountered a stirge, anyway? They used to be really commonplace, but no one uses them anymore. Go figure.

Carniverous (sic) Typo: Damn, I hope the spelling of the name is intentional. That would be meta.

A Classic "Screw The MU" Critter

A Classic “Screw The MU” Critter

I have to hope the formula for spell failure is, itself, a typo. As written, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but change it to “*” instead of “/” and it does.

Cloud, Silver: A weird mix of power levels in one creature. It has 6 HD but attacks as a 30th level Lord (fighter). It does 1d4 attacks for 2d8+6 each, and when it’s defeated, it simply goes away and leaves behind 1d4 ounces of Dust Of Disappearance.

Corrabus: What has the head of a cobra, the body of a horse, the lower legs of an eagle, and the wings of a dragon? I don’t know, but it’s attacking. Roll for initiative. It can also mate with humans to produce were-corrabi.

Culverin: An animated stovepipe. It spits rocks at you. There is a 25% chance the rock will hit your head and knock you unconscious. No, you don’t get a saving throw. No, it doesn’t matter how many hit points you have. Dude, trust me… if you’re in the kind of game where you are going to be attacked by an animated stovepipe, you are so much better off being unconscious it’s not funny. I had assumed this was something from actual folklore, because no gamer ever came up with anything as weird as the stuff you find in genuine folk tales and legends, but if it is, google is failing to find anything close to it. (Edit: Maybe it’s something from the Silver John stories? Damn, those are awesome. It bugs me because it seems oddly familiar. Of course, that might be because I’ve had this book since 1984 or so, and I might have forgotten I read about it here originally.)

Well, that gets us through “C”. I will either continue this, or take a break and look at “Starchildren”, the game of alien rock stars in the dystopian future of 2073. No, I’m not “making it up”! I have a copy that I probably bought close to when it first came out, around 2002 or so.


1 Hmm, I’ve got a setting idea now… “Steampunk 1999”, where we see the world 150 years after the Analytical Engine revolution…

 

 

Road Rebels Part II

Road Rebels Part II

Revenge Of The Moltov(sic) Cocktail

Well, here we are again. For Part I of this, please look here. I am not responsible for any loss of sanity that may result. Just remember this: You only have to read what I wrote, and only once. I had to read much more of it, many times over.

I need to name my character, I suppose. With a total lack of originality, I’m going with Angry Al.

So when last we left Angry Al, he (or me) was trying to figure out how to buy skills. After a lot of time pondering the rules… I still don’t know, 100%. I even gently removed the taped-in errata, surveys, and notes from the inside back cover in the hopes it would be there. Nope. (In the survey, though, the author asks “How do you think [Road Rebels] should be improved (Besides art, correct grammar, riffles (sic), and correct tab settings)?” There’s a level of self awareness there, at least.

I think you primarily get your starting skills via spending generation points (of which I have but 50) on “acquired knowledge”, each of which is… uhm… well, they’re kind of different. Some are cheap and simply grant a generically described ability, such as Street Wise (sic), which provides “good knowledge of gangs, people, where they live, where people go”, etc., for 2 points. On the other hand, there’s “Hand Weapons”, which gives +75 to four hand weapon classes, as well as +75 to all three (left, right and two-handed) parry skills, for 50 points.

The skill system is d100 based, so a +75 is pretty damn impressive, though I haven’t studied combat yet. There may be an “opposed roll” mechanic there, as the “parry” skill implies.

With only 50 generation points to my name, there’s not a lot of options. The best choice, for my character concept, is “Hand Combat”, which costs 42 points and provides +50 to Street Fighting, +75 to punching (R/L), +75 to kicking (R/L), +75 dodge, +50 to Jump, and +50 to catch (R and 2H… not sure what you need to improve left-handed catching.)

That leaves me 8 points. Two go to Street Wise.

I’m kind of tempted to put 3 into Musical Instrument, which will make me, and I quote, “totally awesome at an instrument of the character’s choice”. Sure, why not? Instrument of choice has to be electric guitar, never mind the general lack of outlets.

So, 3 left. Well, might as well go for Hot Wiring, which lets me steal a car in 2d10 rounds, unless it has an alarm. In which case, evidently, I just can’t even try. It strikes me as odd, given the detail of many other areas, that Hot Wiring is simply a “spend the time and you’re done” skill; you’d expect a lot of modifiers for kind of car, quality of tools, and so forth.

But that’s my 50!

As near as I can tell, that’s it for the attributes/skills portion of chargen. Now I guess I buy equipment? There’s no real “step by step guide”. Anyway, I have 1d10 dollars.

I roll a D10: 1.

Well, frak.

The only thing I can buy is a candle. A can of beer is 2 dollars. A cigarette lighter, 5. I’m going to hold on to my money. I mean, not really sure what I could do with a candle.

Conditioning

You may remember I was curious about Condition Levels 4 and 5. They do exist; there’s a notation in one of the paragraphs that, as I speculated, they go into effect as a result of multiple concurrent factors, such as being both heavily encumbered (CL 3) and badly wounded. A perfectly reasonable system. High crunch, but I don’t mind that, and the target audience for the game is self-evidently people who like crunch. The character sheet only shows the modifiers for 1-3, which isn’t too bad, because you can do very little at 4 and nothing at 5 but look around (use perceptive skills).

The Road Goes Ever On…

That’s pretty much it for character generation. If I wanted to fill out the full sheet and plug in all the numbers, I could, but we’re past most of the interesting bits. Someone with a higher social status than I rolled would have a lot more Generation Points to play with, and more money to spend.

All of this takes us up to about page 27 or so. (I say “about” because the chargen rules and other rules are kind of muddled together.) The book is nearly 200 pages long. So what’s in the rest of it?

Combat, mostly. And vehicles. And combat with, on, around, and under vehicles.

Rules for “Maltov Cocktails”, of course. Not to mention kerosine (sic) and diesil(sic) fuels. Four different kinds of paint gun ammo (paint, smoke, explosive, stink). Two different super soaker guns (with acid available for ammo, natch).

And vehicles. Hoo, boy. The author freely admits the vehicle sheets are complicated, because he “can’t design a simple game”. I feel your pain there, buddy. But “complicated” is less of an issue than “cluttered”. These sheets need a lot more space — probably spreading the same data over 2 or 3 pages would be better. The use of proportional fonts means a lot of the tables don’t line up very clearly. Well, see for yourself…

I Regularly Used GURPS 3e VDS, Striker, and Mekton Z. This Is Beyond Any Of Those.

I Regularly Used GURPS 3e VDS, Striker, and Mekton Z. This Is Beyond Any Of Those.

Want more? Armored turrets, oil slicks, smoke screens, nitros (sic) systems, “shitty paint job” (100 dollars), “awesome paint job” (500 dollars), and way, way, more. Rules detail ten levels of road quality and the various factors that allow you to determine them. There are rules for how much damage a vehicle takes when jumping (hitting a bump or ramp, flying through the air, then landing), with the ability to design a vehicle specifically to absorb some of the damage (i.e., a stunt car), and charts that consider both the height of the jump and the type of road surface you land on. There are rules here for all sorts of things I never considered, most of which interact with the design and modification systems. (That’s a compliment, by the way.)

Within the scope of the design space, Road Rebels really tries to include damn near everything. How well do the systems work in play? I have no idea, and no time to start learning them all well enough to test even a basic combat, but there’s little doubt that Mr. Gordon was passionate about his interests and was determined to cover as many setting-appropriate situations as possible.

And all of it is buried under so many basic structural errors that it’s virtually impossible to drag the game framework out of the mire, clean it off, and make it run.

Wait, What?

So I’m looking at the creatures section and I notice that the hit location charts include “Four Legged Creatures with 2 heads”. This table is used only for “Zargonites”, which is “a wolf like creature except it has two heads and is much larger”.

Also included is the Kriton, which are large humans with upward pointing noses, and are “hired assassin’s bounty hunters or businessmen”(sic). It seems to me that a hired assassin employing a bounty hunter is taking outsourcing too far. I mean, if I hire an assassin, I expect them to do their own hunting, not get a kriton to do it! Sheesh.

Then there’s the Labotimizers (sic) who kidnap people, pour acid in their ears to destroy their brains, then send them out to repeat the process.

End Of The Road

That about sums it up. Overall, I’d say Road Rebels is a perfect example of a creator’s reach exceeding their grasp. Given a decent editor and a decent (for the era) desktop publishing/layout program, it might have found some niche success. As is, it vanished without nary a trace… at least, I can find few, if any, references to it. When I google “Road Rebels RPG”, the first part of this article is the third hit, and the second… something I wrote back in 2002(!) on RPG,net. And I even used the same line: “Well, uhm, no one can deny that this game has ‘personality’.” Wow. I totally forgot I wrote that… it was 14 years ago… but given identical inputs (the text of the game) I seem to produce nearly identical outputs. Go figure. Perhaps I have failed the Turing Test.

Next time… who knows? Maybe I’ll go to my pile of weird-ass “indie” games and see what strikes my fancy… (Yeah, I keep threatening). Or I might do “All The World’s Monsters” or this game I’ve got around here somewhere about luchadors.

Road Rebels

Road Rebels

Things The Marines Teach You: Courage, Duty, Honor, Service, Loyalty, And, I Presume, How To Kill A Man 26 Different Ways Using Only A Paperclip

Things The Marines Do Not Teach You: How To Spell “Rifle”

 

This May Be The Only Page In The Entire Book With No Spelling Or Grammatical Errors

This May Be The Only Page In The Entire Book With No Spelling Or Grammatical Errors

Let me begin with a digression. Wait, is that possible? Can you digress from a path not yet traveled? Am I digressing from the digression I wanted to begin with? Anyway, in the early 1990s, I lived in North Carolina, which had a Hungate’s Hobbies. This was primarily a crafting type hobby store, but unlike most such, it also had a fairly vibrant RPG section. And in that RPG section there was a bargain bin. And in that bargain bin, there were treasures. Such treasures! One of them was Machineguns and Magic, already covered here. (Good lord? 2008? I’ve been writing these unread articles for over eight years? Well, they say that true art is not done for an audience, but for oneself. If so, I am the truest artist of all time!)

Another was Road Rebels.

And so if our digression actually leads directly to our topic, is it a digression?

(Mrlizard.com! Where else can you get feeble attempts at humor mixed with pointless jabs at philosophy? “Oh, 99% of the Internet!” “Shut up! It was a rhetorical question!”)

So. Road Rebels.

So.

It Took Until 1989 For The First Game For Serious Roleplayers To Be Published

It Took Until 1989 For The First Game For Serious Roleplayers To Be Published

The introduction, with its oddly centered text, almost seems like heavy metal lyrics. Hell, the entire game tries to evoke that kind of hard-driving, hard-rocking, attitude. The overlap between metal music and culture, and 70s/80s RPGs, deserves study by someone far more competent than myself. Road Rebels isn’t Metallica; it’s more “garage band that’s totally going to get some gigs once we get a drummer who won’t always flake on us, Karl, and when Joey, he’s our bassist, gets back from military school”. At this stage of my read-through (remember, these are mostly extemporaneous, written as I turn the pages, though this little bit you’re reading now was written on my “editing” pass just before I posted this first bit), I can say there’s some interesting mechanical aspects — high crunch, but I don’t mind that — that hint at possibilities, but these glimmerings are buried under some of the worst grammar, spelling, punctuation, and organization I’ve seen in a published game product. (There’s another one, a very minor league supers game called… uh… I’ll have to find it… I thought it was “Guardians”, but the cover image is wrong (and not the new, “old-school” game by that name released circa 2015,this was from the mid-80s or so)..,. that might give it a run for its money. But I digress.)

My ability to forgive grammatical mistakes in older RPG systems is a function of “How old is it?” and “Are the ideas expressed so awesome they transcend crudeness of form?”

By 1989, a certain level of professionalism was expected. The book itself is not something run off on someone’s home mimeograph machine. It is well bound. It is professionally typeset. Anyone who had the budget to produce a book at this level in the late 80s could have afforded an editor, or at least asked a more-literate friend to look at it.

The ideas within… well, let’s just move on, shall we?

In Which I Wear Out My “(Sic)”

I have to include a few samples of the introductory text. Transcribing this is like copying passages from the Necronomicon, only without the hope that perhaps an Elder God will be summoned and devour me, to end my torment.

“It was the year 2010 when the fires stopped burning. They ceased to burn only when there was nothing left to burn. Nothing but a shattered rain forest and an expanding city.”

“All of The (sic) fuel resources in the gulf had been used up. When their (sic. Also, huh?) fuel ran out so did the worlds (sic) supply lines.”

“All power plants stopped, fuel stations ran out (sic) fuel, and factories were shut down.”

“No country could defend their self.” (sic)

Three hundred years later, “Of the few factories still existing there are only a few people in control of them. Unemployment has reached an all time high.”

This I have learned: Post-apocalyptic wastelands where day-to-day life is a struggle to extract the most meager resources needed for basic survival have unemployment rates.

“With no country and no home, there is only the road.”

Because 300 years after ecological disaster and social collapse, someone is still paving the god damn roads, right?

“After all the toxic waist (sic) dumping, oil tanker spills such as the Exzon (sic) Raldez (sic), and the depleted uranium many of the Earth’s animals have mutated. “

“Many of these creatures consider human’s (sic) inferior. This is possibly due to our white skin where their skin is green or some other color, or that they are just smarter.”

And remember, these are a few sample sentences from a full page of text. You owe me, non-existent audience. You owe me.

My assumption that the author was a high school kid with rich parents who indulged him was undermined on the next pages, where he notes he was a Marine and worked over five years on this.

Look, let me be serious for a moment. I respect anyone who is willing to go out and get shot at so I can continue to sit on my fat Big Mac stuffed ass and write snarky comments about other people’s work. I am, without sarcasm or cynicism, genuinely grateful to all of those “rough men (and women) who stand ready to do violence on [my] behalf”, as Orwell is wrongly credited with saying.

But, you know… you don’t get to be a Marine by people giving you a pass on your actual performance because you tried really hard. So I’ve got to follow the same principle. You get judged on what you do.

“Many roll(sic) playing games are created by a bunch of dead head geeks who care more about making money[1] than a decent game. They have about as much personality as a dried up horse turd. In this game you’ll find a lot of personality. It may be crude or strange but it’s better than dried up horse turds.”

No argument there. This game has personality.

Under some GM advice, he notes “If a person like is allowed to run ramped (sic), it takes much fun out of the game for the other players and they can lose interest in your game an (sic) alarming rate.”

“Fruitcakes Stay Away” reads another header.

“If you’re a weird one and think you might take Road Rebels to the streets please buy (sic) all means don’t play this game.”

Perhaps the weird ones need COMPETENT PSYCHIATRIC HELP.

Trying to actually move on without quoting every other sentence, but I keep getting sidetracked. For instance, low technology towns are described as “… generally ancient ruins that are still inhabited. They are usually dangerous since most of the people are sparsely populated.”

Forcing myself to keep going through all the, uh, personality

The Roads Must Roll… Up Characters

Seven characteristics, roll 4d6 and keep the three highest. Put them where you like. To the author’s credit, the rest of the mechanics are not a generic D&D clone. And I’m not going to ding someone for going with a system and value range that works instead of being different solely to be different. Too much of that coming down the pike a few years after this was published.

The seven characteristics are Happy, Sleepy, Snee… no, sorry. But, damn, wouldn’t that be an interesting idea for… something. Some wacko indie system where your personality or abilities or something are defined by your ranking of the Seven Dwarfs. Healing? Roll your Doc. Resist mind control? Roll Grumpy. Social interaction? Roll over your Bashful. Seriously, there’s something here. And I’m getting distracted again.

Strength, Dexterity, Looks, Constitution, Size, Charisma, Speed.

And it’s rolling time!

Every year, at GenCon, I get a scoop-o-dice at Chessex. Let’s see how they roll….

9,7,15, 11,6,13,12

So, about typical for me. Sheesh.

A six and a seven? Seriously? On best 3 out of 4d6?

(In the Pathfinder game I run, a player rolled two crits on their iterative attack, dealing 112 points of damage to a 105 hit point boss monster. Later, in another encounter, when I was attacking with a powerful 2d6+10 trample, I rolled a ‘2’ for the damage. Twice. Dice hate me.)

Anyway, I need to roll for social class. The rules note that a given RM (Road Master, of course!) may have differing social classes in their game, and that social class can change over time.

21. Peasant. (Other options were Thief, Townsman, Barbarian, Assassin, Road Rebel, Choice, and Choose Two. I’m not sure what that last one means. Do you add together the benefits and penalties for two classes? Pick the best features of each? I don’t see an explanation in the general vicinity of the chart, but there might be one later.

As a Peasant, I have a +10 to picking pockets, despite the text noting that “Peasants are generally not good thieves since they appear very ragged.” I have a +3 to my Constitution, and gear such as inexpensive, ill-fitting clothes and a shopping cart. My weapons may include a mop handle or a screwdriver. My wealth is 1d10 dollars, and I have 50 “generation points”.

Now we get a lot of detail about certain physical skills and how they’re affected by your “condition level”, which is a blend of fatigue and encumbrance… the more tired or burdened you are, the worse your skills are going to be. Nothing wrong with that.

It’s looking like I’ll need to assign my crappy rolls before going much further. Hm.

9,7,15, 11,6,13,12

Strength: 15
Dexterity: 13
Looks: 6
Constitution: 12+3=15
Size: 11
Charisma: 7
Speed: 9

Basically, a brawler with nothing else going for him. Probably badly scarred from all of his fights.

But back to condition level. “To determine a character’s mass per condition level he must first determine his mass. He will then go to the chart on page 25 to determine his mass.” Yeah, I’ll let that sink in for a bit. Then, it will sink in, for a bit, while I let it.

Size 11 means my mass is 75. With a Strength of 15 and a Con of 15, I can carry 2/3rds of my mass at Condition Level 2. (Condition Level 1 is fixed at <10kg.) 2/3rds of 75 is 50.

(The necessary charts and tables are on page 25, while the explanation I’m trying to follow is on page 13.)

Also, the text says there are five condition levels, but then only talks about 1, 2, and 3. There may be more rules for 4 and 5 later on, maybe wounded or something? We’ll see. The three-tier system seems reasonable… CL 1 is “Effectively unencumbered”, carrying <10kg. CL 2 is the assumed norm, carrying more than 10 KG and less than the calculated value, and CL 3 is carrying more than your allowed capacity. What I haven’t found, yet, is how to calculate some of those base numbers… such as “Rounds at Maximum”.

I’ll skip the optional pain factors. This is taking too long as it is.

The weapons sheet is also presented here. It’s pretty darn complex. This doesn’t bug me, per se, if the rules are generally well explained. I know all the cool kids like everything to fit onto a fortune cookie, but I like systems where there’s a lot of differentiation between weapons and other gear, especially if they feed into systems that make it make sense to pick specific weapons for specific tasks. (GURPS rules for reach and space, for example, give an advantage to a guy with a short weapon when he’s “all up in your grill” — it’s hard to get a 6′ sword to swing properly against a target who is in direct physical contact with you. At the same time, trying to close with the guy who has a 6′ sword (and the skill to use it) when all you’ve got is a dagger… well, I digress.) Point is, I’m not going to dis the game a priori for a weapons sheet that’s more detailed than many games’ entire character sheet. We’ll see how it’s actually used, first.

Skills: Recognizing The Unhidden

Skills are grouped into classes; some have different scores for Left, Right, or Two Handed use. Some are impacted by condition level. The rules talk about rolling to increase skills, a mechanic familiar to players of Chaosium’s systems, among others.

Then there’s the skill descriptions. Most are pretty bog-standard so far. And it may be the fact I’m writing this late in day when I’m tired (usually, I set aside time on weekends for this blog, but today, some whim struck me to work on it now), but I’m starting to find the author’s personal style to be almost charming. I mean, I praised Hargrave for it, and the Princeton folks, so why not? (Well, for one, 1989 is not 1977 and standards change.)

For example, under Climb, Mr. Gordon writes “This system will be improved as I learn more about climbing. Please excuse my lack of knowledge.” And, earlier in the paragraph, “Forget those cheesy climbing spikes in other games.” Consider them forgotten.

BTW, the use of “riffle” for “rifle” is endemic; it can’t be blamed on a typo. If there was one word (well, one word not included in Carlin’s famous monologue) I’d expect a Marine to be able to spell, it would be “rifle”. Sigh.

Following a longstanding RPG tradition of “highly variable detail”, while many of the skills include detailed rules and modifiers, “Pick Pockets” is almost mechanics-free, noting only that “This skill should not be blown out of proportion”, and that other skills, such as Hide in Cover or Move Silently may have to be used “in conjunction”. The skills, overall, have the mix of ultra-detailed mechanics and generic “just be reasonable” advice that pretty much defined early gaming.

(Speaking of detail… “Sound Detection” is distinct from “Sound Recognition”, and “Recognize Hidden Object” is distinct from “Recognize Camouflage(sic) Object” and “Recognize Unhidden Object”. Yes, that’s a skill. It’s used to recognize something someone tried, but failed, to hide. Yeah. I had the same reaction. Moving on.

Oh, hey, I opened the book to start working on this again, and found the “rounds at maximum” chart… with my Strength and Con I can go 18 rounds at “maximum effort”, if you know what I mean, and I think you do, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more. If I rest for 12 rounds, I will regain my full “Max Rounds”, but if I rest for 2 rounds, I can regain 3 rounds. The mechanical concept here is actually pretty interesting. It lets you take a brief rest in combat (including, per a note, fighting defensively) to regain 3 rounds of maximum effort, which presents a useful tactical option and a way to model someone who, in the course of an ongoing fight, chooses to take a little time to recover, pulling back for a few rounds before resuming the full-on battle. Most games, in my experience, have either no fatigue/exhaustion type systems, or have a pool which can only be refreshed outside of combat.

Well, I was going to try to figure out my skills, but the exact rules for assigning a starting character’s skills are not clear. I think I’ve found all the relevant bits and bobs, but I’m not sure how to put them together in the right order just yet, so, this article just became a two parter.

[1]Boy, did they choose the wrong profession! Where did people get the idea RPGs are a great way to earn a living? RPG writers are paid less per word than pulp writers of the 1930s… unadjusted for inflation. Let that sink in.

A Villain Team?

A Terrifying Trio

So this crawled into my head as a villain team for some supers game I’ll never run.

Caught in an undersea volcanic explosion, a scuba diver was mutated into a hideous lava covered monstrosity with giant pincers in place of hands, and extracts revenge on the world as the ROCK LOBSTER!

A martial artist was banned from competition when their mutant power to become two-dimensional manifested unexpectedly… with their career destroyed, they turned to crime as the PAPER TIGER!

An explosion embedded shards of lethal metal in the skin of an ordinary dockworker, while granting them superhuman speed, and the world fears the razor-sharp, lightning-fast crimes of RUNS WITH SCISSORS!

This is the kind of thing that always gets me nasty notes from my editors…