Author Archives: Lizard

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…

Droids

Look Sir! Droids!

Another Ancient Game You Probably Saw Advertised In The Dragon

But Which I Somehow Acquired. No Idea When Or How.

With This Exciting Action Scene On The Cover, How Could Customers Resist?

With This Exciting Action Scene On The Cover, How Could Customers Resist?

It is a little-known fact that FASA’s famous “BattleTech” game was originally released as “Battledroids“, until they got a letter from a certain director reading, in part, “Yousa be a violatin mesa’s trademark on droidsa! Yousa be changin thats quick or bombad lawyers gonna sue you maxibig!” The company assumed the odd phrasing was legalese and did not realize they were privy to a glimpse into the dark future of what was currently a beloved movie franchise, so “Battledroids” became “BattleTech”, and the rest is history.

The game I am discussing, called simply “Droids”, was published two years earlier (in 1982) and never attracted Mr. Lucas’ wrath, as far as I know. Really, the entire preceding paragraph is mostly irrelevant, I just wanted to a)verify that I did, indeed, remember seeing a game called “Battledroids” at the Compleat Strategist in NYC way back when, and, b)Get in some decades-late digs at Jar Jar. (But does Rogue One look awesome, or what? Anyway…)

“What Mission? What Are You Babbling About?”

The basic premise of Droids is that the PCs are droids, a naming convention to be adopted by White Wolf a decade or so later. There are no humans, animals, or other life forms to interact with. It’s droids all the way down.

“I’m Only A Droid, I’m Not Much Good At Telling Stories”

Droids May Be The First Sci-Fi Work To Predict The "Selfie"

Droids May Be The First Sci-Fi Work To Predict The “Selfie”

In the very earliest days of RPGs, the first 2-3 years of their existence, there was a point where the line between “skirmish wargame” and “RPG” was much blurrier than it is now. We, as humans, like to fit things in boxes, to categorize, define, name, and limit, enabling us to mentally manipulate complex clouds of concepts as if they had a single handle we could grab onto. “En Garde” by Game Designer’s Workshop (I think they went on to do some kind of space game) was one example. TSR’s “Warriors Of Mars” was another.

Droids, nearly a decade after D&D’s release, and marketed as an RPG, has some aspects of this. Despite it requiring a Referee and including a “Sample of Play” in typical style, the book consists almost entirely of rules for combat and for creating droids to engage in combat. There’s about a page of material suggesting there might be organized Droid societies, but it’s very sparse. The game provides content for the very core of RPGs: Go somewhere, kill things, take their stuff, but is sparse on the “kill things”. There’s three generic sample NPC droids, and two more in the scenario provided (“raid the abandoned army base”). The “stuff” includes a small list of items not available at character creation, from vacuum cleaner attachments to movie projectors, but it is diverse enough to offer some inspiration for additional goodies.

A post-human world inhabited entirely by abandoned artificial intelligences is a fine setting for adventure, but all the work in bringing this to life, including any mechanics for anything other than combat, would be to the referee.

So What’s In The Book?

A lot of charts, tables, and descriptions of various weapons, power plants, mobility mechanisms, and armor, along with rules for using all of these things, a short scenario, and an appendix with summarized charts.

Look, it’s 1982! This is pretty much what you got!

Also contained: A layout completely reminiscent of Traveller. I’d say they borrowed the same Adobe templates, but this is 1982, and “Adobe templates” back then meant “plans for building homes in the southwest”.

Let’s Get On With It

There’s not any kind of list of archetypes or “typical” droids, or a real sense of what you’re going to do besides “explore ruins, scavenge parts”. The advice on building a droid actually steers you away from archetypes, encouraging you to build well-balanced units. Not bad advice, at all, but RPGs tend to work best when there’s a team of characters with mixed strengths and weaknesses. More relevant for this article, I need an idea, stat.

Somewhere in flipping through it, I saw there were options for gasbags. The idea of a blimpdroid appeals to me greatly. Perhaps it was created originally as a silent spy, able to drift into enemy territory with a minimal signature. It should have some self-defense capacity to take out attackers, and ideally a backup ground-based movement system. In the campaign setting, it would work as a scout/spy, locating places to forage, relying on better armed- and armored- allies to do most of the killing once it brought back the intelligence, but not helpless in a fight.

Can I build it? Let’s see.

I have 20 CP to start with. CP are “Construction Points”, of course. Seriously, you need to be told that? Wow, my imaginary readers are dim.

“PC” is the measure of whether I continue to internalize my oppression by using the human supremacist term “droid”, or if I refer to myself as a post-organic ferro-American. Or, it’s “Power Consumption”, the measure of how much power each of my components eats. Well, why can’t it be both, huh? Don’t force me into your binary categories!

“BP”, or “Bulk Points”, sort of combine hit points and volume on a unit-by-unit basis.

Based on the character sheet provided, I’m going to need a spreadsheet to keep track of things. Damn, it’s been a while since I fired up Excel for RPG purposes. Getting a bit giddy, here.

Transport

The first thing I’m asked to spend CP on is transport. There’s a lot of choices, but keeping with my character concept, I’m starting with “Propelled Balloon”. The rules are fairly detailed, including time to inflate or deflate and how far you can fall while it fills. (800 meters, so, it’s pretty much useless if you fall from anything smaller than the Empire State Building.) I’m also taking wheels for my ground transport.

Note that each transport unit can support 100 BP, and different types of transport units can’t be combined. So, if I go over 100 BP, I will need more wheels and balloons.

Manipulation

Not the ability to bribe, blackmail, or intimidate, but rather, arms. There’s only three: Repair, Maintenance, and Lifting. Not sure what the future looks like in terms of BP, PC, CP, etcP, so for now, I’m going for a single Maintenance arm, which can do a little repair and a little lifting.

(You may notice the system does not assume a humanoid default. The droids produced by this game will resemble real-world robots much more than space opera ones. You can probably build a humanoid, but it’s not a baseline and there’s no indication non-humanoid droids suffer any notable disadvantage in terms of interacting with the world.)

I… Have… The… POWER!

OK, right era, wrong genre.

Power units have a negative PC… in essence, they reduce your total power consumption by a certain amount. Power plants are the best (most expensive) and can be overloaded at a risk of explosion. Solar cells are tempting, but I plan to operate at night. (I could combine them with a rechargeable battery, I suppose…) Nah. Going with standard power cells.

Power can be allocated to units on as-needed basis. Assuming I may need to move and pick things up at the same time, I will need 4 units of power, minimum. So that’s 4 cells, which will cost me 4 points. Hmm. Let’s kick that up to 7, to allow for what I suspect weapons and sensors will cost. Or, for 5, I could get a power plant. Hm. Power cells are 4 BP each, while a plant is 9, total. This means, in theory, I can lose a few cells and still have some operating power, but a plant is putting all my eggs in one fusion-powered basket. Hm. Let’s go for plant. If I have CP left over, I might get a cell or a battery for backup.

Coin Detected In Pocket

Or, sensors. For vision, I am going with the most expensive, the tri-camera, which also gives me ranger-like tracking capability. It fits my character concept.

CP are starting to get low. I will skimp on the other sensors, going for the most basic sound and communications gear.

Module DR-1: Kill All Humans

Modules are basically programs. You buy an interface, which, I think, determines how many module you can load at once? Or something? The combat modules are insanely expensive — 10 CP for the lowest-level one. The others ain’t much better. I’ll just pick up an M1 Interface for now, in the hopes of finding a data module later on.

Phased Plasma Rifle In The 40 Watt Range

It Costs How Much?

How About A Pointed Stick?

Seriously, the cheapest weapon is 4 CP. I’ve got like 2.1 left. Time to make some adjustments.

Let’s drop the wheels and go for legs. That frees up just enough CP for an energy cannon and a single 10-shot power pack. Hey, that’s 10 times more attacks than a first level magic user gets!

Other Accessories Sold Seperately

I can’t afford armor, ECM gear, or a spotlight. Sigh.

The Naming Of Names

Well, what should I call it? The game explicitly offers an eclectic naming scheme, noting a droid could be named anything from a string of letters and numbers to a computer or industrial themed name. While it’s a year or two late, relative to the publication date, I will go with LASERBEAK for my character.

LASERBEAK’s greatest weakness, mechanically, is its lack of armor. The guidelines caution against this, but something’s got to give. Hopefully, it can stay out of danger until it can scavenge some. It also has only enough power for 10 shots; an additional power supply is needed.

Here’s the final character summary. It seems appropriate I mostly just needed to copy over part of my Excel sheet…

LASERBEAK. It Seems Appropriate This Game's Character Sheet Is An Excel Screenshot

LASERBEAK. It Seems Appropriate This Game’s Character Sheet Is An Excel Screenshot

Other Thoughts

  • I can’t find any limits on attaching new units. There’s rules on how long it will take, based on bulk, but apparently you can stick anything on you that you wish, limited by bulk relative to your movement capacity.
  • There’s rules for robots, which are non-self-aware machines. They are otherwise like droids.
  • There are also some rules for “experimental” devices which have assorted amusing defects.
  • I would have included rules for droids themselves to have various flaws (especially lingering psychological quirks from their programming), in order to gain bonus CP. The 20 points at chargen is very limiting. Of course, I started off with an expensive concept. Downgrading my camera would have given me enough CP for armor.
  • You’ll note there are no attributes, per se. “Strength” is determined by how much your manipulators can lift, in BP. Beyond that, there’s nothing. All droids are equally agile, intelligent, or charismatic. Constitution? You either have power enough to move, or, you don’t.
  • Indicating the era, the communication options are limited to, in essence, voice. There’s radio and light (blinking lights, which, in the rules, goes v…e…r…y s…l…o…w…l…y), but these just transmit your “voice”. No wifi. While it makes sense a post-apocalyptic setting doesn’t have a lot of internet, you can imagine that some intact buildings would still have an intranet, and any droid civilization would be strongly interconnected.
  • Likewise, no viruses or malware to infect you.
  • While the lack of more cyberpunky tropes is not surprising — Neuromancer is two years in the future! — what does surprise me is the lack of melee weapons! It’s a post apocalyptic wasteland where the droids must survive as best they can… no chainsaws? No tasers, even? Perhaps they were planned for the promised, but never materialized (as far as I know) supplements.
  • As is typical of the era and the design, the low-illustration, high-density text conceals many rules and asides that would, in later years, be more clearly called out. Several paragraphs of this bemoaning the lack of thus-and-such rule, with must sarcasm, had to be culled as I stumbled over a good-enough mention of the “missing” information buried in the tenth sentence of a 20 sentence block of text.
  • Overall, the writing is clean, functional, and clear. It’s not plagued by typos, spelling, and grammatical errors.

That last item sort of sums up my thoughts on the game, and perhaps why it did not ignite any kind of spark that I know of. “Functional” is the watchword of Droids. It offers some tools for a unique (at the time) setting, a post-human post-apocalypse, but does very little to inspire. The text describing the various options is perfectly adequate, and that’s it. The art is decent, but it’s all static images of various droids with no background or action going on. The sample of play consists of Player One and Player Two talking to Referee and… looking at things. Shining lights. Examining a hole in a fence. Yay.

So, that’s Droids. Tune in next time, when I look at… I have no idea. I’ll poke around the bookcases until something catches my eye.

For More Reading…

If you like the idea of AIs in a post-apocalyptic (but not post-human) world, you might enjoy this….

Sharknado: Pre-Release Playtest Comments

A generic "west coast" city. The final game may include a second city map.

A generic “west coast” city. The final game may include a second “East Coast” city map.

EDIT: Kickstarter is now live!

One of the things I’ve found to be a lot of fun at GenCon is hot anime cosplayers spending all my money playtesting games! “Double Exposure” (which, IIRC, began long ago and far away as a group running LARPs in Piers Anthony’s “Phaze” setting) runs a regular hall-o-playtests, where a dozen or more games run on a two hour cycle: You get a ticket, you are given a number, when the guy whose microphone doesn’t work quite right says something that sounds like your number, you go up, and see which games have open slots for that session.

I show up, not knowing what to expect, and see there’s a Sharknado game.

IT MUST BE MINE!

Fortunately, I got in. And I had enough fun I found when they were running demos outside the playtest hall and signed up for one of those, too. So I have played two full games of the pre-Kickstarter version. The rules and design are in “late flux” stage; they’re refining, but the core seems pretty solid. Playtest components are placeholders (a single generic shark photo for the shark cards, instead of unique illustrations for each, etc.) but it’s pretty well along.

First, I asked if they had the license. You’d be surprised (if you know nothing about humanity) at how many people are very far along in the development of a game tied to an IP and who have no idea you need the IP holder’s permission. I’ve even met a few who think the IP holder is going to pay THEM for designing this awesome game to promote their property. (Perhaps I will design a game called “Too Stupid To Live”, something like CAH…)

Yes, they did. Good.

The game is a cooperative race against time. A sharknado is threatening the city, and the players (running various characters with different abilities and strengths) must stop it. There’s at least three scenarios (I played in two), and probably more. There’s difficulty scaling for each scenario, as well.

Sharknado - Mia

I found a laser chainsaw. Your argument is irrelevant.

The sharknado runs according to specific rules, governing its direction, how many sharks it spits out, and so on. During the playtest, one of the designers “ran” the sharknado, like a GM, but that’s not needed. It’s purely mechanical.

Players manage action tokens, reroll tokens, permanent and “single use” equipment, and wounds. If your current character dies (which happens often), you just pick a new one from the stack. Pity about all the cool gear you scavenged.

I found great armor and weapons... then I took a sharknado to the face. And legs. And arms.

I found great armor and weapons (after this picture was taken)… then I took a sharknado to the knee. And torso. And head. And arms.

There are some very nice balancing elements. Players in the same hex can cooperate, share gear, use special abilities (like healing) on each other… but if the sharknado enters that hex, all players in it die. Instantly. There are usually multiple goals to achieve to win a scenario… any one goal is easier if everyone works together, but this could mean there’s no time to reach other goal points on the map. So there’s motive to stick close, and motive to split up.

By design, Sharknado is highly random — the designer referred to it as “Ameritrash”, by contrast with the European style of low- or non- random games. In the two games I played, victories were won by complex application of resource management and careful timing of each player’s turn and actions (each player spends action points, but can do so in an interwoven fashion, with one player spending some points to move into a hex, another player handing him an item, and then spending more points to do something else), but each was won at the last possible turn, and a single die roll could have foiled it all.

It feels like one of the movies. It’s random, violent, bloody, ridiculous, and fun. I will be backing the Kickstarter when it goes live.

PS: Yes, I asked before taking the pictures. I also asked if posting the pictures in public fora would be OK.

Of Gods And Men

Of Gods And Men

Because It’s Been On My Shelf For Years, And I Want To Know What’s In It

That’s Why

Warning! You May Need COMPETENT PSYCHIATRIC HELP After Reading This!

(An amusing note: I started this in June, 2012. Then I did other stuff. Now I’m finishing it… if I can find my copy of OGAM again… ah, found it. Good.)

(Amusing note 2: It is now 2016. The last edit on this post was 2014. There’s no great special reason for this, no “This is the WORST GAME EVAR” horror. I just get distracted easily.)

Greetings, faithful reader, and welcome to another installment of “Lizard tries to pretend he provides content”. In today’s episode, we look at “Of Gods And Men”, an RPG you’ve never heard of. No, you haven’t. Don’t lie.

“Of Gods And Men” was published in 1991, and it ended up in my collection… uh… I dunno. I think I scarfed it from Gamescape in San Francisco when it drifted from the “Half Off” shelf to the “Got Wobbly Furniture? Look Here For Help!” shelf. Anyway, I happened to glance over at one of my bookcases earlier today, spotted it, and decided “What the hell? Why not?”

I mean, it’s got a picture of a guy playing “Alas, Poor Yorick!” with a fireball on the cover. What could go wrong?

We’ll find out…

Continue reading

Shark, Three Headed

Shark, 3-Headed, 3-Versions

Inspired by cinema…

Pathfinder Version

Three Headed Shark

The sight of a great white’s fin breaking the water is fearsome enough, but then the creature’s three heads appear briefly above the surface, turning this way and that in ceaseless rage…

Three Headed Shark CR 13
N Huge magical beast (aquatic)
Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft., keen scent, low-light vision; Perception +14


Defense


AC 27, touch 9, flat-footed 26 (+1 Dex, +18 natural, -2 size)
hp 189 (18d10+90)
Fort +17, Ref +12, Will +10
DR 5/magic; Immune fear


Offense

Speed 10 ft., swim 40 ft.
Melee 3 bites +25 (1d12+8/19-20/x3)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 15 ft.
Special Attacks rend (2 jaws, 2d8+12)


Statistics


Str 26, Dex 12, Con 18, Int 2, Wis 14, Cha 10
Base Atk +18; CMB +28; CMD 39 (can’t be tripped)
Feats Bleeding Critical, Combat Reflexes, Critical Focus, Great Fortitude, Improved Critical (bite), Iron Will, Power Attack, Toughness, Weapon Focus (bite)
Skills Acrobatics +5 (-3 to jump), Intimidate +6, Perception +14, Swim +21
SQ devouring bite, ferocity, hero points, land survival, leaping bite, regenerate head


Special Abilities


Devouring Bite (Ex) The three-headed shark ignores half the hardness of any material it attempts to bite through. It can easily tear through the wooden hull of a warship, the stone walls of a seaside fortress, or even the iron plates of a gnomish submersible.
Ferocity (Ex) Fights without penalty even while disabled or dying.
Keen Scent (Ex) The creature can notice other creatures by scent in a 180-foot radius underwater and can detect blood in the water at ranges of up to a mile.
Land Survival (Ex) The three-headed shark can survive for up to 10 minutes outside of water before it begins to take damage.
Leaping Bite (Ex) If it starts its turn in the water, the three-headed shark can leap up to 40 feet horizontally and 20 vertically as a full-round action, and can make a single bite attack at the end of the leap.
Regenerate Head (Ex) A sunder attack with a slashing weapon that does damage equal to 1 1/2 times the three-headed shark’s hit dice will remove one of its heads, depriving it of a bite attack… momentarily. In 1d4 rounds, three new, smaller, heads will appear in place of the missing head. These heads have a reach of 5′ and attack as secondary natural weapons (-5 to the normal head attack bonus), doing 1d8+4 damage.


Ecology


Environment any ocean
Organization solitary or pair
Treasure standard (in stomach)

Three-headed sharks are spawned in regions with large amounts of magical pollution — the bay of a city with a large alchemist’s guild, the site of a sea battle with many spellcasters involved, or near planar rifts. They are vicious creatures which attack without provocation or even hunger… they will tear prey to pieces and then leave the remains behind. A common tactic is to come up beneath a boat and tear the hull to shreds, then feast on the sailors trapped in the rapidly-sinking remains.

Terrifyingly, some sahuagin have found ways to tame and ride these monstrosities. Only their most elite, particularly rangers and druids, can master these nightmare creatures. When seen, it is usually at the forefront of a massive army.

Most three-headed sharks are mutations of great whites, but other species, primarily hammerheads and makos, have been spotted. Rumors of a mythic three-headed shark the size of a megalodon remain, thankfully, only rumors.


Design Notes

Done with the help of Hero Labs, so blame them for math errors. The damage is high for its CR, but it’s supposed to be. As with a lot of mid-level and up creatures in Pathfinder, you run a real risk of the encounter being nerfed by a failed Will save (less risk with Reflex or Fortitude, though it’s always there.) GMs might want to add “+4 vs. mind-affecting effects”. I left that out of the “official” version because my “Gygaxian naturalism” opposed it, but if you use this thing, it’s your campaign, run it your way!

Please note: The bites have a x3 critical multiplier.

Please also note: I created the charcharodoom about 12 years ago, long before this movie, or the prequel (Two Headed Shark Attack, of course!) came out.

There's two kinds of people who see things like this in their heads: Game designers and serial killers. I'm the kind that pays less. Hint: It's the first one.

There’s two kinds of people who see things like this in their heads: Game designers and serial killers. I’m the kind that pays less. Hint: It’s the first one.

Arduinish Version

SHARK, THREE-HEADED This thing makes Jaws look like a goldfish! HD 10+2 to 15+2, AC 2+2 to 2+4. Number 1-3. Speed 18 water, 2 ground. %liar too stupid to. ATTACKS 3 bites 3d8+8 each, teeth act like sword of sharpness. Looks: 30′ long great White Shark with three heads! Sense of smell can detect any living thing in 184 feet or twice that if bleeding, doesn’t need light to attack. If a head is cut off, three smaller heads appear in 1d4 rounds, each attacks as if 4 HD less and does 1/2 damage. Can leap out of water for up to 40 feet (20 feet up) and then bite. Survives out of water for up to 10 mins. before starting to “drown”. 100% immune to fear, charm, etc., they live only to EAT and EAT and EAT. Sometimes tamed by EVIL mermen as riding beasts. Oh, and they have the “steel bite” that chews through anything less hard than adamantine (up to 6″ thick per round).

(Does anyone know enough CSS to tell me how to tighten the space for the monospaced font?)

Design Notes

Design? Please, this is old school! Even the stat block format changed from monster to monster.. the order, format, and inclusion of any attribute was random. So I just went with what felt right. I tried to make sure I got all the most important things: AC, hit dice, and damage/attack.

AD&D Version

FREQUENCY: Very Rare
NO. APPEARING: 1
ARMOR CLASS: -1
MOVE: 2″//24″
HIT DICE: 14-16
% IN LAIR: 25%
TREASURE TYPE: Q (in stomach)
NO. OF ATTACKS: 3
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 3-12
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Rending and see below
SPECIAL DEFENSES: See below
MAGIC RESISTANCE: Standard
INTELLIGENCE: Animal
ALIGNMENT: Neutral
SIZE: L
PSlONlC ABILITY: nil
Attack/Defense Modes: nil

Three-headed sharks are thankfully rare mutations that sometimes appear in areas with magical pollution, such as runoff from an alchemist’s lab. They can attack up to three targets per round, but if they hit one target with two or more bites, they will rend it (like an ape) for an additional 2-16 points of damage.

If they are in water, they can leap out of it up to 4″ and make a single bite attack when they land. They can survive up to 10 minutes in air before suffering any ill effects, are immune to fear, and can chew through non-magical material at 1″/round.

If a “20” is rolled when attacking with a two-handed bladed weapon, a head will be severed. In 1d4 rounds, three tiny heads will regenerate. Each attacks as a creature with 4 fewer hit dice and does 1d6 points of damage. These heads do not regenerate.

They normally look like great white sharks of the largest size, with three heads. Representatives of other species, such as makos or hammerheads, have been reported. Fearful sailors have claimed that in the deepest ocean, a three-headed megalodon exists, but this is surely nonsense.

Design Notes

AD&D hints at a strict formality of design, with a clean and consistent layout… but it’s mostly an illusion. Hit dice, damage, special abilities, etc., were all assigned in a “whatever seems to work” fashion, and many creatures had “one off” mechanics… only apes have the “rending” power, for instance. I used sharks and bulettes as my main guideposts for setting the numbers, but I mostly just winged it.

KS Hype: Journey To The Center Of The Earth

Just a shout out to a Kickstarter I backed, and think is well worth supporting: Michael Satran’s Journey To The Center Of The Earth.

Romans, dinosaurs, lizard men, wizards, cyborg mole people(!), and probably a lot more! Perfect for any kind of pulpy or superheroic adventure from the 19th century to the 21st. It’s written to support Hero System, Savage Worlds, and Mutants & Masterminds. Check it out.

Disclaimer: There ain’t none. I’m not part of the project, don’t get paid for posting this, and am not getting anything beyond what I paid for in the KickStarter. I have worked with many of the principles before and hope to again, but given how small the tabletop industry is, the odds are good that if there’s an RPG kickstarter worth backing, I’ve probably had some interaction with the folks behind it.