Machineguns & Magic

Lizard takes a fond look at a game he found in the bargain bin fifteen or so years ago… ever wanted to be a typical modern American soldier in a world filled with orcs and goblins? Well, here you go.

I’ve mentioned this one a lot, since it’s one of the more obscure games in my collection — and that’s saying something. I found it in a box of remaindered games at an art supply store — yes, an art supply store — at a mall in North Carolina sometime around 1992-1993, and it was published in 1991 — though anyone looking at it would assume it was made sometime in the late 1970s. It has all the signs of a “70s game” — monospace font, art drawn by someone’s cousin who was taking art classes at the Learning Annex and once did this cool airbrush thing on this one dude’s van (who later trashed it that time he was drunk out on Route 12, you remember that weekend? That was so wild!), and so on. What it does lack, though, is the pompous sincerity and heartfelt innocence of those games — this game is written with a smirk all through it, and that means a lot to me. But is it even remotely good? Let’s find out!

First, the theme: This is a game about modern-day Marines catapulted into a Generic Fantasy World, where they get to shoot ogres and wizards. I’m not sure at this point if you can play any other character type. The cover shows a marine, a wizard, a female knight, a dwarf, some pink skinned thing, and a few odd little animals. It cost me $18.99 — in 1993 dollars! — at “Hungates Crafts and Hobbies”. Though the book is (c) 1991, the cover art is (c) 1987, and this doesn’t seem to be a second edition — this was in preproduction a long, long, time.

Hmm. Page 1 and we’re already in trouble — this game, according to William McCord (that name is familiar… must google later) handles the usual folderol of role playing “different(ly) from any other game you have ever tried”. Oh, boy… we may be in for a bumpy ride.

Well, we have setting information, a page on the World of Dontarra. Blah blah “Henge of Peace”, some city state, Great Spectre Marsh, Loathly Tower, a town called “Deaf Rainbow” (???), Skyhigh Falls, Dragonsteeth Mountains — does every world in the universe have Dragonsteeth Mountains? — etc, etc, guilds, whatever. We’re talking straight out of Central Casting Worlds here, folks, but that isn’t essentially bad. You get one “hook” per game — and throwing modern day marines into a fantasy world which was actually original or interesting would confuse the issue. Keeping the setting so generic that Forgotten Realms looks like Jorune actually makes a kind of sense here.

Anyway, time to make a character. Without going any further, I decide I want to make a sort of shifty con-artist soldier, not evil, but always looking for an angle. Let’s call him Max Kelly. This seems like a perfectly valid character concept, and I can see him getting into lots of fun hijinx when dumped into Generic Fantasy Land. (“But, Sarge, how did I know it was really a magic ring!”) Can we build Max?

I have three Primary and two Secondary stats, a nice low number. I roll d100 three times for the primary stats, then modify them by the Primary Statistic Modifier table. Gods, people, Hero System came out in 1981! Why did it take so long for point-based builds to become commonplace?

Well, anyway, here are Max’s raw rolls and the modified results:
Muscle: 18, adjusted= 54
Agility: 61, adjusted=71
Alertness: 49,adjusted=69

The secondary stats are, of course, calculated differently. What a shock.

Oh, each stat tells you things! Let’s see what I get from those numbers:
I can lift 108 pounds, and carry 27 pounds.
I do +5 melee damage.
My muscle also effects my “Hurt Points”, but I don’t find out how until later.

Agility — My “Melee Hit Score” is 61, I do +6 in ranged damage, I can make a six foot broad jump and a 12 foot running jump, and can climb if I roll under my agility.

Alertness: I have a+6 alertness modifier, which is used solely — it says so right here — for my Surprise Roll.

Now for my secondary stats:
My Magic Resistance is equal to the sum of my primary attributes, divided by 4, so, 48.
My Luck is 50. It says so. Luck apparently is spent as a pool of points and then recharges each day.

Now for “Wounds and Thumps”. Wounds are serious injuries, Thumps are not. Like Body and Stun in Hero, or Wounds and Vitality in the original D20 Star Wars game. Not an original concept, but not a bad one. My “Hurt Points” are equal to Muscle+20, or 74. This means I can withstand a total of 74 Wounds AND Thumps before falling unconscious. Now follows a long discussion on what it means when your Wounds or Thumps go below various thresholds, including a nice Death Spiral if your Hurt Points (remember, both Wounds and Thumps subtract from Hurt) go below half.

OK, now that we’ve had the combat rules in the middle of the character generation section, including healing rules, we move on to the Personality rules. Each character has several personality facits. Yes, facits. This isn’t a typo, it’s spelled that way throughout the rules. Each facit is rated from 1 to 3, with 2 being “normal”. There’s 10 total facits, you must adjust 4 of them, and for each one you raise up to 3, another must drop to 1. Personality mechanics were actually pretty rare at the time, so props for trying. Even if they can’t spell.

Anyway, we have Greed, Duty, Word, Honesty, Love, Lust, Humor, Revenge, Friends, and Others. So, going with our character concept, we will set Greed and Humor to 3, and Honesty and Revenge to 1.

There’s some rules for resolving conflicts in personality — for example, will a character give in to Greed or do his Duty? — and then we get into the “filling in the blanks” bit, how to choose a name, yadda yadda, and you roll for age at 16+2d10. Max is 20.He’s also 5’10” tall and weighs 172 pounds, and he’s right handed.

Then there’s 20 odd pages of combat rules, and finally, skills!

Skills are bought with Prior Experience Points, or PEP. You have 3d10+30 of them, and Max has 53! Each level in a skill costs 1 PEP… except when they don’t.

Unfortunately, the skill list is very sparse and doesn’t cover a lot of the things we want Max to do, a bit of a disappointment. Ah well, let’s give him:
Recon 10
Knife Fighting — flat cost of 10.
Firearms Skills… oh, damn, special rules here. Firearms skill goes from 1-5 and each costs 2 points. Each level raises damage, not accuracy. So let’s give him level 2, costing 4 points… total points spent now, 24. Wow. A lot to go!
He’s Good With Languages, at Rank 10. (34 points spent)
Horsemanship sounds good, make that 8.
Deactivate Traps, 5
And round it out with First Aid 6.

Oh wait, I did Firearms wrong. I need to pick a weapons class. I don’t want to spend more points, so let’s have 1 rank in Modern Handgun and one rank in Modern Rifle. There you go.

The rules note that once the PCs are in Dontarra, they may learn new skills such as using a sword or a shield, but there is no list of these skills and no hard-and-fast rules on learning them.

And so, there’s Max.

Overall, there’s a few hints of ideas here, but they’re underdeveloped at best. You have the very typical design pattern of many 70s/early 80s games of highly complex and “realistic” combat rules, but everything else handwaved away. There’s no rules for rolling up natives of Dontarra, and while PCs can learn magic, it is a long, difficult, process and actively discouraged. It’s hard to see why someone trying to play this setting wouldn’t just play GURPS or Hero Fourth Edition, both of which were available at the time. The writer has a sense of humor, which is the saving grace of the book, but the rules are basically “straight”. The personality mechanics and the rules for resolving the Conflicts In A Man’s Soul are a very nice touch, even if they’re a bit underdeveloped. The lack of any real rules for skills learned on Dontarra is a pretty damning oversight, however.

Tune in next… whenever… when I truly astound, confuse, and amaze you as I delve into one of the most insanely complex games of all time… Space Opera!

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2 Responses to Machineguns & Magic

  1. Pingback: Road Rebels | Lizard's Gaming and Geekery Site

  2. You could probably do something similar with D&D, and the article in Dragon magazine giving stats for various German WW2 weapons.

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