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
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.
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 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….
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.
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.
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.