Category Archives: Characters

Characters from the many RPGs I own. An exercise in working through the rules while making sarcastic comments.

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…

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…

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Hackmaster 5e, Part II

Hackmaster Part II: Khan Strikes The Chamber Of Secrets Back

When Last We Left Our Intrepid Hero Protagonist…

OK! Welcome to Part II of my Hackmaster 5e character creation walkthrough! Now with more exclamation points! For those of you who missed Part I, it’s here. So, click the underlined part back there. Unless you’ve got your browser set funky so you can’t see links, in which case, you’re on your own.

Anyway, I had just finished adjusting my stats, and I was going to spend those lovely BPs I’d been hoarding. I had 59 left.

Step 7: Priors And Particulars

Oh, this isn’t about spending BPs. It’s about how much you weigh, that sort of thing. There’s some excellent advice in this section about how to use your background and history to create a rich and full character for roleplaying. Nah, I’m just messin’ with ya. There’s some excellent advice in this section about how to use your background and history to pull some sort of life-saving bullshit out of your ass (hmmm… that’s a disturbing mental image) when you really have to.

Age: I’m a human mage, so, my starting age is 25+1d6p. I roll a 5, so, 30.

Height: 71 inches.

Weight: “Unlike inferior games that utilize an uncorrelated table to determine a character’s body weight…” I just had to copy that in. See, that’s attitude. That’s old school. (I just picked up Chivalry & Sorcery Sourcebook I, circa 1980, and it contained a long rant about “other game designers” (i.e., Gary Gygax) who abused mythology and lore when creating their substandard and inaccurate monsters, blahdy blahdy blah. That’s part of what the OSR is missing. There was none of this ‘if everyone’s having fun, it’s all good’ attitude back then. The gaming community was, if anything, even more fractious and self-righteous in the late 1970s/early 1980s than it is now. We didn’t need no Internet to be assholes back then. But I digress.) Anyway, first I roll for my BMI, which turns out to be 21. The I multiply this by my height in inches, so, 1491. Then I scold my cat for pawing all my dice off my desk and sticking his orange butt in front of my screen. He’s actually scooping dice out of the plastic container so he can roll them onto the floor, where I can step on them and do the Dance Of The Spastic Cat Owner. I love my children. I divide 1491 by 703.. no that, can’t be right. Oh, I multiply BMI by height squared. Stop it, Rocket. Daddy can’t see the screen when you do that. OK, there we go. I weigh 150 lbs.

Handedness: I assume two, but who knows? Yeah, that was pushing it. Right handed. Oddly, half-orcs have an 80 percent chance to be left handed, perhaps because they’re sinister.

Birth: I have a 1-in-10 chance of being illegitimate. I’m not. Both my parents are still alive. My father was indifferent to me (-2 BP) but my mother loved and nurtured me (+2 BP).

Siblings: I have 6 siblings, 4 sisters and 2 brothers, but three of them are dead. So, two surviving sisters and 1 surviving brother. None of them are twins of me. Of the four of us, I’m third-born. I’m also the second-born son, so, not an heir. I have, thus, an older sister and brother, and a younger sister. I now roll 2d12 (Why? Why not?) and add the Morale modifier (+1) from my Charisma, to see how much they like/dislike me.

  • Older Sister: Argumentative, can’t get along.
  • Older Brother: Very close.
  • Younger Sister: Ditto.

 I Can Spendz Bild Pointz Naow?

Yes! Can spendz!

Sorry. I was just reading the Fark Caturday thread. Now, where was I? Ah, yes. Build pointz… er.. points. As I recall, I had 59 BP left. I now go to Chapter 8, Quirks And Flaws, or “How To Be An Annoying Prat At The Game Table And Then Justify It With ‘But I’m Just Playing My Character!'”.

Quirks are mental/personality issues, while Flaws are physical detriments. That’s a nice distinction, and more flavorful than “Mental Disads” and “Physical Disads”, for example.

If I cherry-pick what’s wrong with me, I earn fewer BPs, but I have a lot more control over my character. Screw that. I’m going whoring for BPs. I can spend a BP to re-roll, as often as I like, until I run out. With 59 BPs to blow through, I shouldn’t be saddled with anything so crippling my character is unplayable as a mage.

Random rolls on the chart are D1000. Yes, 1000. Hey, this allows a really high level of granularity, which I love. It means there are, in theory, quirks/flaws that will be in less than 1% of the player base (unless the chart has no ranges less than 10, of course). I need to write down which die is read as what… OK, the dark brown one is the “ones”, the light ten one is the “tens”, and the speckled one is the “hundreds”.

You get full BPs for the first quirk/flaw rolled, then -5 for each additional one, cumulative. This means that you could theoretically end up losing BPs while still being saddled with the drawbacks. Greed is punished in Hackmaster.

A roll of 156 gives me “Clean Freak”. Basically, I am the Felix Unger, or perhaps Adrian Monk, of mages. I go into panic attacks if I am forced to enter sewers. While this is a little problematic for an adventurer, it sounds like it would be a lot of fun to play. Also, the “metagaming” section notes I must begin each game session with a pristine character sheet. Heh.

So, do I want to go again, at a -5 penalty to the BPs? Sure, why not?

582 gives me Spendthrift. I spend my money as soon as I get it. This nets me 20 BP, -5 for the second quirk, so, 15. I think I’ll stop there. That’s an additional 23 BPs, on top of my 59, for 82, total.

Now, I purchase Skills, Talents, and Proficiencies, or STPs, not to be confused with STDs. I hope.

Weapon Proficiencies

As a mage, I can purchase any weapon proficiency, but at double cost, except for staff and dagger. While it might make sense to invest in melee for emergencies, each point in this area is a point I’m not spending on things that could help me avoid melee in the first place, so I will go for a minimal proficiency in dagger, which costs me 2 BP. 80 left. I will also pick up crossbow, at double cost, for 4 BP, so, 76 left.

Other

As a mage, I get the Magical Transcription proficiency for free. And… huh. You know, this character doesn’t have a name, yet. He needs a name. Coracinus Nelumbo, I think, or “Corac” for short. There we go. He also gets a free purchase of Arcane Lore and two purchases of literacy in my native language.

Maintenance/Upkeep, for 5 BP. As a neat freak constantly polishing my staff (heh heh), this makes sense. 71 left.

Style Sense (home region): 2 BP. I know how what’s in this year, and what’s not. I look classy. 69 left.

Combat Casting: This allows me full defense when casting in melee, something that’s quite vital. It’s 30 BP, but that’s part of why I’ve hoarded them. 39 left.

Diminish Spell Fatigue, which lets me recover from casting more quickly, also looks good, but it’s another 20 BP. Let’s see what skills cost, first, then get back here.

Appraisal (Books, Maps, Scrolls): 2 BP gets me my Intelligence score (15)+my mastery die roll (d12p, for 7, +2 for my intelligence), or 23. I’ll spend another 2BP for another roll of the mastery die, a 3, +2 again, so, 28.4 BP spent, down to 35 BP.

Arcane Lore: I get the first purchase for free, and my mastery die roll is an 8, +2 for Intelligence, so, 25. A second purchase would be 10 more BP. Let’s get back to this, too.

Let’s see…

  • Astrology (2 BP) (Score ends up being 23)
  • Escape Artist (4 BP) (Score 21)
  • Hiding (6 BP) (Score 26)
  • Literacy (2 levels free, plus a third for 4 BP) (Score 47 — I rolled a 12 on the mastery die, which got me another roll.)
  • Monster Lore (5 BP) (Score 27)
  • Riddling (4 BP) (Score 23)

That leaves me with 10 BP left. I can save it, or get that other rank in Arcane Lore. Let’s go for it. Mastery die is 6, +2 for my high Intelligence, so 8, added to my existing score of 25, gives me 33.

That’s it for STPs.

Hit Points

Hit points are based on my Constitution (8), my size bonus (10), and my class Hit Die roll (D4 roll, I roll a 1. Yeah, that seems familiar.), for a total of 19 HP.

Other Numbers

My Base Attack is based on my Intelligence and Dexterity, which gives me a +4 (Go back to the first part of this article to see why!). My Base Initiative is +2, which is bad (the higher the number, the slower you act), and my Base Defense is also +2, which is better than nothing (high numbers are good for defense).

I have 45 sp to spend on stuff.

And So…

We’re done!

With 19 hp to my name, I can take a small amount of damage — a goblin with a crossbow does 2d6p, for example.

While I’ve got some mildly useful spells, the only one with even a marginal combat application is Phantom Irritation, which is a “debuff” — it gives the target a -2 to his Attack rolls. Not useless, but hardly a Nuclear Winter Fireball.

It should be noted that the combat rules, which are straightforward but not simplistic or abstract, are demonstrated through a comic-strip sequence featuring the Knight Of The Dinner Table stupidly goading BA into unleashing more monsters on them. It’s probably one of the best examples of combat I’ve seen, because it goes through every step, roll, and calculation in action, and does so in a way that’s fun and amusing to read. If I’m not mistaken, it actually continues the story from Hackmaster Basic, which used the same method.

As I said in the first part, this Hackmaster, while not as over-the-top gonzo as the prior edition, still retains a lot of humor. It’s just less in-your-face. You have to read the spell text, quirk and flaw descriptions, and so on, to find all the jokes and asides. (You can also tell, by reading some of the full text, what kinds of lame-ass exploits players attempted to get away with, and how they were smacked down by their GM.)

In conclusion? Unlike a lot of the more dubious games I perform this process on, there’s not a lot of head scratching, “what were they thinking?” moments, at least not for this particular character. Characters begin with mediocre skills and abilities, but that’s by explicit, called-out, design. There’s no disconnect between the promised game and what the mechanics deliver, and that’s a really good thing. I do admit I miss a lot of the “gonzo” of HM 4e, even if some of it was forced in by mandate; the wider range of races available, the more outre class choices, and so on, were a lot of fun. Mechanically, there’s not much that can stop you from adding such things in. Casters, in general, are very toned down in HM 5e. You have incredibly potent spells at high level, true, but you don’t get a lot of spells to cast at any one time, and the road to high level is going to be a very long slog, indeed.

Also, there’s no Game Master’s Guide yet for Hackmaster, and given that it took several years from Hackmaster Basic for the PHB to come out, I’m not betting on the GMG being at GenCon 2013. There’s a lot of material in the PHB that refers to the GMG, too. This brings back something truly old-school — it took three years for the three core AD&D books to come out. Yes, kids, three years. We made do. We cobbled together rules from OD&D and Holmes Basic and Dragon articles and Arduin. We also walked twenty miles to the game store, barefoot, and uphill, both ways. Through blizzards in summer and winter. So get offa my lawn!

Hackmaster 5e

Hackmaster 5e

This ain’t your father’s Hackmaster.

The original Hackmaster was based on AD&D 1e and 2e, put through a psychedelic blender and cranked up to 11. The only mechanics from that version that really remain in this one were the ones they added to the older game — percentiles for all stats and a working skill system. Gone are gummy bear golems, leperchauns (note spelling), and most (though by no means all) of the other stuff mandated by contract so no one would notice that, under the jokes, was a pretty workable evolution of older D&D, one which might have easily been AD&D 3e in another universe.

This Hackmaster has core mechanics rather unlike those of any edition of D&D, save that there’s a D20 involved and you still have basically 3-18 stats. 1 second combat turns, active defense rolls, and a spell point system are clear departures from the classic game. Mechanically, there’s almost nothing old-school about it. (Unless one defines “old school” as “anything that isn’t exactly like D&D 3.5 or 4e”.) The designers of Hackmaster 5e are aware that the last 35-odd years of game design have happened.

What Hackmaster retains of Old School, gloriously and wondrously so, is the attitude. My lack of God, this book drips with attitude. It knows what Old School really means: Kicking ass and taking names, so you can go back and kick the asses of people you didn’t get a chance to before. It also recognizes the rightful and proper relationship of players and Gamesmasters: The former kneel, grovel, and crawl before the almighty and unforgiving gaze of the latter.

Page 9. Paragraph 2: “In Hackmaster, any rule ambiguity related to character creation and PC powers is construed against the player character.”

Yeah! Viking Hat FTW! VIKING HAT FOREVER!

It is made clear over and over in the rules: This game isn’t about mollycoddling your PC to godhood because he’s so special and wonderful. You begin as a worthless shlump and you might survive to be someone, someday, but you probably won’t. Instead of “Everyone’s a winner!”, the attitude of Hackmaster is, as the Demotivational poster says…

For Every Winner, There Are Dozens Of Losers

For Every PC Who Lives, There Are Dozens Who Don’t.

No gamer worth his dicebag can resist a challenge like that. Hackmaster dares you to confront it.

But does it work? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out. At least, we’re here to roll up a character.

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Chi-Chian

Chi-Chian, Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Roll Up A Communist Cockroach

Or Maybe Not, I Don’t Know Yet What I’m Going To Roll. Or Even If I Roll.

I don’t want to just do older games or D&D heartbreakers; I want to do any game I own and which might catch my eye. Chi-Chian is one of the games that originally inspired me to do this, way back when, because I knew I’d never play it; it’s only fitting I get around to it eventually, and eventually is now!

The campaign setting, according to the back of the book, is a New York City inhabited by six foot cockroaches, but it’s also set in 3049, so I assume there are some fictional elements added in to the mix, as well as the aforementioned gritty realism. Yes, I’ll be returning to this particular well a lot, folks. I never go for the hard jokes if I can go for the easy ones.

The setting is based on an animated web series and some comic books, neither of which I’ve heard of, by “Voltaire”, who is a modern gothy type and not an ancient philosopher. Knowing nothing but what’s in the book, I’m a good test subject for how well it works as a game in itself.

The first page features a summary of events, which involves skyscraper jumping as a hobby, sentient BioLogic clothing, giant worms that serve as subway trains (and the worm-wranglers that debrain them), lost blind sexbots, homicidal cousins (and the tentacle robots who serve them), and brain merges…. and it still makes more sense, and is better written, and more internally consistent, than Synnibarr.

It goes on for several more pages, in white text on black/grey photographic background. Why white text on black/grey photographic background? Because fuck you, that’s why, as they say on Fark. This book is the product of an artiste, and artistes do not care for your decadent capitalistic running dog bourgeoisie concepts like “legibility”. Actually, it’s pretty much readable, more so than a lot of White Wolf stuff, but there’s a range between “looks like it was Xeroxed in 1974” and “looks like a MySpace page”, and it’s tilting a bit towards the latter.

Anyway… lessee… monks, dragon boats, wormtrains, caterpillar heads, giant samurai, Spirit World, Material World, neuronetic bra(?), waltzing with roaches, flip, flip, more stuff, flip, flip, a bit of fiction, flip, flip… we don’t get to the game until Page 19. I have a feeling I’m going to have to go back and read through the stuff I bleeped through eventually.

Writing for games is, or should be, the antithesis of writing fiction. Tell, don’t show. “Elves get +2 to Perception” is a lot better than three pages of a story about an elf listening for something. At the most, dress it up with “Elves are known for their keen senses, as they are master hunters. (+2 Perception)”.

Now, I get that Chi-Chian is a game set in a specific world, and, as such, introducing that world’s background and history is vital because, without it, you have no guidance as to how to apply the mechanics. Doing this is a delicate dance. You need to introduce the bare minimum of context on an as-needed basis, adding more when it becomes necessary, with dribbles and drabbles of flavor text and micro-fiction, ideally no more than 2-3 paragraphs in a sidebar, to set the mood. Page after page of background, especially background presented in a story fashion, instead of an encyclopedia fashion, is a huge barrier to anyone actually getting to the “play the game” part of things.

Sensei No More

The GM is called the Sensei. Sigh. Anyway, we still have PCs and NPCs, not “Heroic Protagonistic Archetypes” and “Secondary Metafictive Instruments” or some such twaddle. What is an RPG, blah blah, OK, some meat. We have Statistics, which mean what they do in every game, and Capabilities, which seem to incorporate powers, feats, skills, and so on. This isn’t bad; one word means “Shit everyone has some score in”, and one word means “Shit only some people have a score in/can do”. I can dig it.

Oh, cool! A white box, clearly set aside, that gives the framework for making a character. Pick a concept, spend Chi (character points), pick two Tragic Flaws, fill in all the roleplaying fluff (appearance, mannerisms). Good. We have a plan.

Concept. Uhm… uh… OK, this is the time where I go back and read the fluff again, isn’t it, so I can come up with a character who fits in the world… (Why don’t you just hum the Jeopardy theme to simulate the passage of time…)

You know what to do with little “More” type things now, don’t you? Good…

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The World Of Synnibarr

The World Of Synnibarr

World Of Synnibarr

First Edition Cover, Image From http://www.legrog.org/, because I’m too lazy to scan my own copy of the cover. Hope they don’t mind.

OK, first off, let me note I have a few weird psychological issues with the World of Synnibarr, because I bought my copy (the first edition of the game, with the lion man cover) at an SF con in the early 90s where I a)had a migraine, and b)had my girlfriend of the time decide to spend all her time traipsing around with other people. Yes, I still nurture my two-decade old psychological scars. I hold on to my trivial emotional traumas the way other people hold on to their grandmother’s good china. (If your china is made in New Jersey, why isn’t it new jersey? And how can you have eyeglasses made of plastic? Shouldn’t they be eyeplastics? And that airplane food…)

So. Synnibarr. I will attempt to put my personal issues behind me, and review this San-loss inducing book fairly. No, seriously. No matter what my weird cross-associations may be with things, this game is wonked. I’ve referred many times to things that teeter on the edge of awesome and awful… this doesn’t teeter. Hell, it didn’t even fall off. It never got out of the pit of Awful to begin with.

Or…. so it appears merely from flipping through it, then trying to reconcile what I’ve read with any notion of a sane and ordered universe, or at least, a universe which was not actively malign. I haven’t tried to make a character with it, yet. Let’s see how it goes. Who knows? It might be better than it seems. Odin knows, it couldn’t be worse.

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Cyborg Commando 2.0 MOAR CAPS

CYBORG COMMANDO

The Epic Saga Continues

CAPS STILL NOT OPTIONAL

Welcome back! I know, even for me, this was a long time between updates, but I’ve been:

Roll Activity
01-30 Ranting on the D&D Next boards
31-80 Ranting on the SWTOR boards
81-85 Actually playing SWTOR
86-90 Working on fiction for my writer’s club
91 Working on Stellar Warriors
92-95 Being distracted by funny cats on the Internet
96-00 Looking at porn Studying new coding techniques.

So, now that that’s been established… back to creating a CYBORG COMMANDO!

When we last left our intrepid CYBORG COMMANDO, he, or possibly she, was void and formless. I hoped to find some inspiration in the book for a character idea, but what I found was inspiration as to how not to write a core rulebook. The book is filled with endless details on how the cyborgs work, down to things like the precise angle of rotation of the neck and the alloy composition of various body parts and the fact your head is actually almost completely hollow and..

Oh, yeah. Your brain is in your chest. Your head… well…

The head of a CYBORG COMMANDO

You could smuggle drugs in there. Seriously.

Yeah. It’s kind of interesting that one of the leading forms of real-world nanotech now is “lab on a chip” technology, which puts all sorts of chemical analysis functionality onto a microchip, leading towards real-life tricorders. Back in the 1980s, of course, we thought you’d need to hollow out your head to do this sort of thing.

There’s a lot of really weird details in the rules, and it takes up a lot of the rules, except, it’s not really “rules”, is it? Most of this would be called “fluff”, and fluff can be good, but it’s not fluff that inspires you or gives you an idea what the world is like, it’s fluff that shows the writer probably got a degree in mechanical engineering and this is his first chance to use it. For example, we learn the Yield Strength of the frame of a CYBORG COMMANDO is 8,047 T/m2. I have no idea what that means. Is it useful in-game, in any way? No, because there’s no rules anywhere that turn “Yield Strength” into some kind of mechanic you can use to decide if your CYBORG COMMANDO is crushed by a truck or whatever. “Ten times stronger than steel!”, if technically imprecise, provides a reader with an idea, a mental image, a conception, of how tough a CYBORG COMMANDO is. “Yield strength”, for the bulk of readers, who presumably don’t know the “yield strength” of common items you find in your home and office, tells you nothing. Even in a freeform, GM-decides, make-shit-up kind of rules system (which CYBORG COMMANDO is and isn’t, and in all the worst ways), it’s a useless piece of information, because it doesn’t give the GM any assistance in making a ruling. The book is filled with stuff like this, page on page on page, and there aren’t many pages in total.

Sure, background is great, and having a little fluff to help define and ground the technology of the game is very useful — but you could cut the amount of text dedicated to this by, literally, 90%, and convey just as much useful, setting-defining, information. (Then there’s things that provide information not even used in the setting, like a page of math, detailed formulas, for hyperspace travel times, when there’s no space travel in the game. If there was a plan for future expansion with rules for space travel,  that’s where this should have gone.)

I still haven’t gone on to developing my character, have I? The above rant is a partial excuse for why it took so long to get to this point… trying to find something to hook into. Even games I’ve been unimpressed with, or which were mechanically very simple, gave me more ideas for “what kind of character can you be” than CYBORG COMMANDO does. I will be first in line to laugh at White Wolf’s purple prose, shallowly stereotyped splats, and labored emo first person narratives with light-gray text on slightly-less-light-gray backgrounds and moire pattern watermarks, but there’s no way that, by the time you’re ready to fill in the dots on your character sheet in a White Wolf game, you don’t have a lot of ideas for what kind of people exist in the game world, what you can be, what kind of k3wl p0w3rz… I mean, angst-filled personal dramas… you get based on what you pick, etc.  CYBORG COMMANDO gives you about as much inspiration as picking “Player A” or “Player B” in an 8-bit arcade game.

Even the skill list isn’t much of a help, as it’s written like a college course catalog… without any course descriptions.

Seriously.

The CYBORG COMMANDO skills list

"I'm going to major in Medieval English, and then join OWS."

However, this isn’t the worst thing. There are two worst things. Yes, two. Each is more worst than the other. That’s more worst than you’ll find at Octoberfest in Chicago. The two worst things about the skills are: First Worst, almost none of them are described. No, not even a single line of description — the rules helpfully explain there wasn’t room for such useless trivia as “What do the skills do”, we had to have space for the populations of dozens of cities (because it’s important to know that Caernarfon has 12,280 people, and that Cullera has 12,335), hyperspace travel formulas, and to tell you that the Xenoborgs lost 14 colonels in their invasion. You know, I gave Star Rovers a lot of good-natured ribbing over the fact there were no space travel rules, but even if I felt the rules they included instead were of secondary importance, they were at least rules. You could use them in a game. Should asteroid mining have been booted to make room for space travel? Sure, probably, but you wouldn’t stare at the asteroid mining rules in stark incomprehension and ask “Why is this even here at all? What purpose does it serve?” The other first-worst thing is that the skills are often referred to by number. How much information is gained by writing “attempts a skill check in the area of Physical Sciences (56o)”? The “560” doesn’t help you quickly find the non-existent skill description… it just wastes space.

(A few skills are described, mostly the “Psychogenic” and combat-related ones.)

Anyway, to acquire skills, I spend SP to purchase Fields, which are skills ending in multiples of 10, not Areas (which end in single digits) or Categories (ending in 00). This is the Basic game; you get more flexibility in the Advanced game, but I’m not going there unless someone pays me.

So, I have 30 Skill Points. That’s… uhm… not a lot. I mean, a whole lot of not a lot. How about 10 in 220, “Unarmed Combat”, which gives me 10 in “Occidental Combat” and “Oriental Combat”, the two Areas that are in that Field. (Somewhere, Steve Long is weeping.) That leaves me 20.

Well, 10 more in Personal Weapons. That makes me equally skilled with everything from 231 Ancient Bladed Melee Weapons (including agricultural tools) to 237 Artillery. (“Can you handle a howitzer?” “Why, sure, I used to cut down wheat with a sickle on my farm back home!”) (I should cut CYBORG COMMANDO some kind of break here, since this is “basic” character generation and many games have nothing but a “combat” stat, especially games of this era. But I’m just not in a forgiving mood right now.)

I’ll put 5 in Personal Arts 410, since that gives me access to 411 Error Avoidance, which covers “Karma & Fate” and “Serendipity”. And the last 5, I dump into 630 Criminal Activity, since almost everything under it seems vaguely useful… though with only 5 points, I’ll probably suck at it. Due to the lack of skill descriptions, it’s unclear if 634 Sex Related Crime covers “running a prostitution ring” or “committing sexual assault and getting away with it”. I guess that’s the sort of thing you need to argue with your GM about. OTOH, there’s no indication that CYBORG COMMANDOs are, ahem, “fully functional”, so it may be moot. A pity. Given the style of the the rest of the book, one might expect something like “The synthesteel duraplas pseudopenis of the CC unit is 19.8 cm in length and is covered with TextuWeave Quasiskin that transmits simulated neural responses at a rate of 10.94 megagigs per kilounit. It can be set to vibrate at 500 RPM.”

Yes, I went there. What, you expected class, decorum, or good taste? Did you read my Alma Mater review?

And so…. I’m done. My nameless CYBORG COMMANDO is ready to go kick some ass. Or get his ass kicked, since from what I can tell, I have a ten percent chance of hitting someone. No, wait…. after several minutes of studying the mind-numbingly confusing graphs, it seems I have a 27% chance of rolling 10 or less using the d10x system. Wow, that’s intuitive. (Also, raising my skill from 10 to 11 is meaningless, because you can’t roll an 11 on d10x. You have to raise it to 12 to see any gain.)

And in conclusion…  I’ve got to find something better for my next article. I have nearly 3000 game books in my collection. This can’t be hard. Synnibarr. Synnibarr should be fun. Unless someone wants to send me a copy of that game where you play flower penis vampires. That could also be fun.

Cyborg Commando

CYBORG COMMANDO

(All-Caps NOT OPTIONAL)

(Not Gary Gygax’s Finest Hour… Or  Week… Or Year…)

So, what happens to an iconic creator when, for various reasons, he can no longer work on the products that made him so iconic? Well, he can start a failed computer company, or a failed comic book company, or produce a failed roleplaying game. Given the nature of this site, I hope you don’t have to guess too hard what I’m about to cover. (Hint: Read the title. It’s in ALL CAPS!)

CYBORG COMMANDO (this is how it’s written throughout the rules, and that’s how I’m going to write it here) is about COMMANDOS that are CYBORGS. What does it profit a man to gain built in missile launchers if he loses his soul? How much of your humanity will you sacrifice, to save humanity? At what point are you more metal than man? Is humanity a thing of the flesh, or of the soul? Are you more inhuman than the monsters you were created to fight? These, and other questions, are totally not even remotely asked in this game. CYBORG COMMANDO is about kicking alien ass with your built in cyber powers, and there is nothing wrong with that premise… but, according to many reviews and writeups, there’s a hell of a lot wrong with the game as a game. Or… is there? (Probably.) I’m going to find out, and you’re going to join me for the trip. (Or you’ve already dismissed this page and are eagerly looking to see if there’s any updates on goatswithboats.com.)

Let’s move on…

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Alma Mater, Sophomore Year

Alma Mater, Sophomore Year

The Return of Biff Muntz

As you may recall, far longer ago than I’d like, I posted Part I of this review and walkthrough,  in which I began generating a character for the RPG “Alma Mater”, published in 1982 by Oracle Games, and best known for its Erol Otus art and serious political incorrectness. Today, we continue with the process of character generation. I had just named my character Biff Muntz, and we were about to see if he had any skills with which he could pay the bills… or, being a bully, get the money to pay the bills from someone else.

As a “Tough”, Biff begins with Dirty Fighting, Driving, Drinking or Drug Use, Intimidation, and any one other skill. Well, first, we’ll go with “Drinking”. Skills in Alma Mater come in levels, and if you have a skill, you start at Level 1 (all other skills begin at level 0). For each level in Drinking, Biff can add (or, optionally, subtract) 1 from his Con when drinking. This also gives me a chance to spike someone’s drink without them knowing about it (a bonus of +1 against their Intelligence, so, 1d10+1 against my target’s Int. Hopefully, Cheerleaders have a low Int.) The more drunk I get, the more my skill in drinking increases; this is one reason to use the skill to lower your effective Con… it makes you get drunk faster and thus get more SP to drink.

There’s a lot of good options for other skills, many of which fit with Biff’s personality: Brewing (to make your own hooch), Illegal Economics (buying and selling illegal items), Coolness (to not show fear), Crudeness (as exemplified by the late, great, John Belushi in Animal House, this is the ability to be so disgusting people are actually revulsed… you know, a College version of AM would be pretty easy to create, especially one which focused on the classic “boobs and beers” films of the late 1970s/early 1980s. Revenge Of The Nerds: The RPG!. But I digress.), Lying, Weapons Knowledge, Forgery… this is a great skill list! But I get to pick one, and only one… hmm…

It’s interesting. Since most of your skills are pre-selected, this choice really matters; it’s one of the most defining elements of your character. To drift even more off-topic for a moment, I believe that whatever aspects of your character really matter ought to have mechanical representation. There’s some who say this is the antithesis of role playing; I disagree completely. If your character is shy, or flirtatious, or drinks heavily, or likes to ride motorcycles, or whatever, there ought to be a codified representation of it in the rules set. So, with that in mind, and looking at the skills, I think Biff is going to pick Coolness for his free skill. Why? Because the higher your Coolness, the better you are at picking up girls. At Level 2 Coolness, for example, you don’t need to roll to ask someone for a date. Biff is starting at level 1, of course, so he’ll need to roll his Courage (CR) to ask a chick out. His CR is 9 and he’ll get a +1 from this skill.

Learning new skills is hard. First, you can only have a maximum of 8 skills. Second, you can’t just gain skills through play, though you can improve them. You only get to check for new skills each September, and you need to roll against your LD (Learning Drive), of which Biff has virtually none. So, barring exceptional luck, Biff will just get better at what he already knows, which is pretty realistic. Biff is likely to end his life as a meth addict living in a trailer park, trying to avoid paying child support and watching the nerds he beat up become internet millionaires. Sucks to be you, Biff.

Rules For School

Now, if someone were to make a game on this theme today, it would be some weird Forgey thing with two-inch wide margins on half-size paper, and all the rules would be things like “Contrast your Angst to the opponent’s Pathos and then write a poem that doesn’t rhyme to describe your feelings and everyone involved reaches a consensus evaluation based on how many Trauma points you wagered in the Drama.” Let’s just say… Alma Mater isn’t like that. It’s a true old school game, and, contrary to what the revisionists would like to claim, that means rules. Oodles of rules. And charts. And tables. And, let me just say this… they are wonderful.

Here, for example, is the table of modifiers for dating:

The chart of dating modifiers for Alma Mater

If I'd hard this in High School, it would have been very useful.

You see all those numbers? You get to cross-index everything and work out all the details. The letters on the top, by the way, mean “Dance”, “Flirt”, “Date Request”, “Date Success”, “Seduction”, and “Love”.  Of course, you need to track things like successful or unsuccessful Flirt attempts, and your chances of going steady (which means you don’t need to roll to request a date, but you do need to roll for date success), are based on tracking a large assortment of modifiers, including your successful dates.

Seduction can’t even be attempted unless you roll against CR-1 (Coolness helps here, heh heh), and s the chance is your (INT+APP)/2, minus the target’s WP if they’re “passively resisting”.  Attempting to seduce a character who is “actively resisting”, the rules helpfully remind us, is also known as “rape”. (If both characters are willing, no seduction roll is needed, but both must roll against CR-1.)

There’s oodles of other rules, too. Rules for throwing a party, rules for drugs… hell, for those interested, here’s what drugs were going for in 1982. (Because I was a total nerd in High School, and still am, I can’t vouch for the quality of research of these rules.).

The Cost Of Illegal Drugs In 1982

If you somehow got here while googling for useful information on the cost of illegal drugs in 1982, I feel sorry for you.

It’s a bit of a nostalgia trip, in a way… no meth, no crack, and PCP was still being used by some people. (That was the terror drug of our era, and, like most such things, the problem was pretty much self-correcting; any drug horrible enough that it might actually be as scary as the usual suspects claim will quickly eliminate its users from the gene pool, which also eliminates the pushers. Much like a virus, if it’s too deadly, it eliminates itself. The biggest risk is all the stupid kids who, knowing adults lie about marijuana, assume they are also lying about the things that really can fuck you up for life, or just end your life.)

The rules, charts, and tables just go on and on, and it would be impossible for me to point out every cool thing there is, from an extensive weapons list that provides modifiers for everything from erasers to meathooks to blowtorches(!?), to the random items you could find on people you beat up (divided by class, so you could roll on the Brain Equipment Chart to see what you took from the local nerd, and so on), to the many fine illustrations, such as this one, for combat:

Chick fight!

This Is What Illustrates "Combat" in Alma Mater. Elmore, Eat Your Heart Out.

Now, that’s an illustration! I’d post the one that accompanies the “Dating” rules, but there are kids reading this blog! (Well, not really. There’s no one reading this blog, but, among my imaginary readers are imaginary kids.)

And In Conclusion…

Well, that’s sort of it, really. The bulk of the game is post char-gen, as it really should be. There’s only a handful of real decision points, again typical of the 1970s and early 1980s. For the most part, your character tended to evolve solely after play, with games like Traveller or Chivalry&Sorcery being notable exceptions. Many games, such as Metamorphosis Alpha, had only one or two decision points to make; everything else was either mandated or random. I think that’s it’s indicative of the time that we’d say “I’m going to roll up a dwarf fighter”, even though we mostly couldn’t control what we got; basically, without rules to let us decide what to play, we either cheated outright or we just kept rolling up one character after another until we got what we wanted.

Sadly, there are no rules for playing RPGs within Alma Mater; the possibility of infinite recursion would have been wonderful.

Alma Mater

Alma Mater

A Review And Walkthrough

Alma Mater is one of the better known obscure role playing games of the early 1980s, and once you’re done parsing that, we can move on. Ready? Good. Published in 1982 by Oracle Games Ltd,  it focused on playing characters in High School. Not mutants, ninjas, aliens, or elves, just boring mundane high school kids… so it was like real life for most of the target audience, except with rules that were explicitly spelled out and clear. Hey, it works for me!

In an era where even a hint of political incorrectness in an RPG will get someone writing an outraged editorial and spark a 500+ page thread on RPG.net (49.9% of the posters will be shrill, self-righteous, holier-than-thou liberals desperately trying to show off their broad-minded commitment to tolerance and diversity by racing to see who can put more people they disagree with on ignore lists (or just get them banned), and 49.9% will be right-wing trolls or apologists who will insist that America is completely free of racism, classism, sexism, and every other -ism, except for violent hate crimes against Christians such as saying “Happy Holidays”, which is just how the Holocaust started, and 0.2% will be people trying to rationally begin with a basic ethical framework and then use that to judge the issue in question, good luck to them),  it’s hard to imagine the kind of era that permitted Alma Mater to even be published. It is filled with offensive stereotypes, art that is basically demeaning to everyone, and an utter lack of apologetic or “kids, don’t try this at home” introductions to any section that deals with anything anyone might find disturbing. To be fair, the authors call this out up-front, and,  perhaps anticipating the growing death of the sense of humor in America, state outright that the game is satirical in nature. (As opposed to the modern invention, the after-the-fact “I was just kidding” excuse so beloved of pundits and politicians today.)

Really, you pretty much just need to look at the cover to know exactly what you’re getting into — in the game, and in this review. If you go beyond this point, you have only yourself, or perhaps Google, to blame.

Cover of Alma Mater RPG

The Cover. You Know What You're Getting Now.

By the way, in 1982, Michael Jackson did not look anything like the guy buying the drugs.

So, having shown you the cover, let’s move on to the article proper, shall we?

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