Tag Archives: RPG

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 2 Part 4

All The World’s Monsters, Volume II, Part IV

What’s A Naz Gul Like You Doing In A Place Like This?

(I Stole That Horrible Pun From A Webcomic Whose Name I Cannot Recall — It Was Popular With Linux Types In The Late 90s/Early 00’s)

(Might Still Be Going For All I Know)

Roll up, roll up, for the mystery tour! Beyond these walls… erm… words… lies the fourth part of an exploration of the second volume of All The World’s Monsters, a classic of the Burgess Shale era of gaming, full of wonder, majesty, awe, genius, and madness, in non-equal portions! The prior part is here, and the start of the whole mess is here, and I’m pretty sure they’re all tagged “All The World’s Monsters” for easy finding. Then again, given my generally lazy and slapdash approach to things, they might not be all tagged. Anyway, on to the show!

Hm. I was going to start with ‘N’, but then I reviewed the last part and realized I didn’t get to ‘M’ there. So, ‘M’ it is.

M

Magebane: Yet one more monster that exists, primarily, to deprive players of resources. The magebane is a silvery blob that eats spell points when it’s attacked with magic — you roll percentage dice and that’s the percentage of the caster’s total spell points that are absorbed, with the creature gaining hit points on a 1-to-1 basis. Despite the obvious audience of the book being D&D/AD&D players, who didn’t use the spell point system preferred by the west coast gamers who produced ATWM, no conversion is given. Old School! As the magebane is not particularly deadly or threatening in itself, after a single encounter with one, the casters will hang back and let the meatshields deal with it. But, hmm… what if a magebane and a rust monster were merged, due to the experiments of a mad wizard? (In D&D-land, Charles Darwin’s contribution to human knowledge was “On The Origin Of Species By The Means Of Unnatural Magics”.)

Magic Absorber, First Class: Yet one more monster that exists, primarily, to deprive… players of… hey, are you getting a feeling of deja vu? There’s no “Magic Absorber, Second Class”, listed here, by the way. This one is a colored globe of light with its own unique mechanics to determine how it screws over the players. It likewise gets bigger and nastier as it eats magic, until it finally explodes.

Melter: An elephant sized merger of crab and hog that breathes acid and can use “Mass Charm” three times a day. To the surprise of no one reading this series, we can thank Clint Bigglestone, surely one of gaming’s unsung mad geniuses, for this. I honestly must wonder if Mr. Bigglestone’s brilliantly insane creations were fully formed in his imagination, or if he had the most amazing set of random tables ever known to humankind, and he simply “let the dice fall where they may” and submitted them. (Kind of like building an entire comic-book universe by using the Marvel Super Heroes “Ultimate Power Book” tables.)

Mobile Dis Swarm: This creature is a swarm of “quarter inch long stomachs with half inch fangs”. It simply engulfs and eats everything in its path. While that’s pretty par for the course in ATWM (which tells you a lot about the course, I wager), I noticed that it’s only injured by cold, heat, or “a special chemical called ‘Mobile Dis Salt'”. The frak? There has to be a story/pun/reference/something there I’m not getting. Something specific to the creator’s campaign, or something that was a common cultural touchpoint among some subset of late 70s gamers?

N

Off They Go, To Harvest Elves For Their Flesh. Mmmm… Elf Honey.

Naral: A “carniverous” (sic) 10 foot long bee, favored by “the people of the City of Chaos” because it makes a “stable riding platform”. Wouldn’t the people of the City of Chaos favor an unstable riding platform? In a perfect example of what some call “Gygaxian Naturalism”, it favors elf flesh. And now it occurs to me that, if it’s a meat-eating bee that lives in a huge honeycomb… and it is, and it does… then the “honey” must be made from flesh, not pollen or nectar. That’s, uh… an interesting concept. Wait, the “honeycomb” of bees is made from wax produced from the sugars they eat. Now, I think you can render animal fat into wax, or something, so I guess that works… but, wow, there’s a definitely horrific image of what a naral’s lair must look and smell like…

Nazgul: As promised. These Nazgul can be turned by Patriarchs, which is what they used to call “clerics of 7th level or higher” in Original D&D. (There was a thankfully brief trend in the 70’s to refer to NPCs by their “level name”, not by their class and level, so you’d encounter “two heroes and a theurgist” or the like. Nazgul drain 1d6 life levels per attack, or 1d3 if you save. That could destroy a party in 1 or 2 melee rounds, easily.

Nightseeker: A five-headed hydra which attacked with a dissolving poison. If you save vs. the poison three times… you don’t get to save any more. Please read carefully. Not “you don’t have to save anymore”, meaning, you have become immune to the poison, but “you don’t get to save anymore”, meaning, “Screw you and your so-called ‘lucky 20 sider’, You’re turning into protplasmic goop next round!”

The nightseeker is found in ruins as opposed to inhabited cities. The inclusion of this sentence implies it was considered common or normal for creatures of this ilk to be found in inhabited cities. Well, OK, then.

O

Ondoculus: This falls into the “I can’t write it, you have to read it” category.

“Quick, Ask Him About The Is-Ought Problem!”

Back in the “G”s, there is the “golcodulus”, a pet of the ondoculi. (That is the plural, yes.) 1d6 of them accompany each ondoculus. Thought you’d like to know this.

P

Poison Ivy Hedge: A mobile (why not?) hedge made of poison ivy. Because if the ceiling (lurker above), the floor (trapper), the walls (stunjelly) and the furniture (mimics, among others) are going to kill you, why not the freakin’ topiary? The poison it excretes causes severe itching, resulting in a -2 to attack rolls for two hours, and there is no saving throw. The treasure is “contained within itself”, so I expect this turned a minor encounter with a walking garden decoration into an hour long session of arguing with the DM over how you were going to get the treasure without exposing yourself to the poison, and the DM telling you how your plan wasn’t going to work, because we had “rulings, not rules” back then, and everyone was totally reasonable all the time and agreed on what “common sense” meant.

R

Raw’Yas: An ant-sized robot that follows other creatures around for when they (the other creatures) attack “anti-technos”, i.e., wizards. They “attack” by activating any technological devices in the area and directing them against the victims. They really don’t have any other stats to speak of. They appear in swarms of several hundred and have 1 hit point each, so (given the absence of generic ‘swarm’ rules in the era), you pretty much had to fireball the swarm to get them to stop… erm… using their “electric charm” on the other machines, which of course were always there to be charmed. This creature seems like it was created as part of a specific setting or adventure and then added to the book because, hey, it says “all” the world’s monsters, not “most of” the world’s monsters.

Rustlance: A rust monster that’s a snake. Yeah, that’s about it. It attacks with a horn for “4d8 plus rusting”. Since no rules are given, “use the rust monster rules” is heavily implied. Why not just use a rust monster? Because once players have encountered one, they’ll keep the meat shields away… see my comments on the magebane and the magic absorber, above. “Player skill, not character skill” meant “remember whatever killed your last character and have your new character react appropriately to it, despite having never encountered it before”.

Next Time: Scrubbing Bubbles

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 2 Part 3

All The World’s Monsters, Volume II, Part III

Featuring the Garlic Bread Golem

From The Rare “Bugbears And Bakeries” Supplement, I Guess

I Made That Up

The Supplement, I Mean. The Garlic Bread Golem? Totally Real.

This article is being written because a)My weekly Pathfinder game was cancelled as the GM failed his Fortitude save vs. Generic Winter Disease, and, b)I could get out of going to listen to my mother whine about things by saying I had writing to do, but not by saying I had to keep leveling my WoW character. So, writing.

The prior part of this particular walkthrough is here, and it has links to other parts, and someday I’ll stop being a lazy ass and spend 5-10 minutes organizing this series into a page. Someday. The day may come when I will stop procrastinating, but it is not this day!

Gangbat: Sadly, these do not come subdivided into Cripbats and Bloodbats, or even Jetbats and Sharkbats. It’s just a bat that always attacks in a horde. Sigh.

Ghostshark: Surely, the next big hit from Asylum pictures. Ghostsharks, from Clint Bigglestone, are actually sharks that “swim” on the ethereal plane but which will manifest on the material in order to take a bite out of crime, and by “crime”, I mean, the PCs. There is a small chance of more showing up each time one bites, which could cascade horribly (and by “horribly”, I mean “awesomely”) with a few good (or bad, depending on your perspective) rolls.

Golem, Garlic Bread: What, you thought I was kidding?

Look, I Just Comment On ‘Em, I Don’t Create ‘Em!

Some variants are burnt, granting +2 to AC, while still others are buttered, causing the area around them to act as a grease spell. Yeah, those two, I made up. But they’d be reasonable extrapolations, no? How about Bear, Gummi? Rabbit, Vorpal, Chocolate? Whale, Fudge?

Anyway, it is “mainly found in pizzerias”. Which are, I suppose, common in dungeons?

Griffopotamus: A hippo with wings. It will not attack unless provoked. Sadly, the writeup does not include rules for having it simply fall on you. Oh well.

Groaner: Small, extra-hairy, unwashed, hobbits. Their piteous whine causes beings of 4 HD or less to feel sorry for them and give them things. They are unfavorably compared to Denebian slime devils. This being a Dave Hargrave creation, I cannot help but imagine there’s some backstory here.

Grond: Another Hargrave creature, this is a bipedal badger-porcupine. It’s interesting how many mid-70s creatures seem like the result of someone going to a furry convention and seeing who hooks up with who, then imagining the resulting offspring. But since “furry fandom” didn’t exist back then, to my knowledge, this explanation is unlikely to be true.

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Harvestman: OK, folks, we got some serious nightmare fuel here. It is the result of the mating of a spider demon and his high priestess. It “dispises”(sic) all forms of life other than its own, and spell checkers. In combat, it prefers a “crush” attack which, naturally, has its own unique mechanics, as the idea of universal rules for things like this had not yet materialized. Welcome to the era of “microrules not rulings”!

Hellshrew: A 25lb shrew of “angry, evil, disposition”. As opposed to all those sweet-natured shrews we’re familiar with.

High Hunter: Dude, I am so stoned right now. Is that a deer? We should shoot it… wait… why is is sparkling? Whoa. I can hear it singing to me… OK, sorry. (Not sorry.) This is a “huge air dwelling creature” that is otherwise undescribed as to its looks. It hunts by dropping quills on potential targets. Said quills then inflate the victims with helium, so they float up to where the hunter kills it. Uhm… yeah. I think the hunter isn’t the only thing that was “high” at the time this was created, if you etgay my iftdray.

Ibem: A cubelike creature with one eye, one tongue, and two tentacles on each side. It will not bite until a victim is entangled in the tentacles, but there’s no real way to know what that means. I’m guessing, if both tentacles hit, the target is entangled, and then the ibem bites? Works for me!

Kalidah: A creature with a bear’s body and a lion’s head, from the Oz books, thus demonstrating L. Frank Baum was into kinky furry stuff long before it was mainstream. Well, mainstream-ish.

Kilmar: A psionic tennis ball covered with hair. Yes, really. Look!

“My Character Was Killed By A Psionic Tennis Ball” Is A Horrible Story To Tell At Cons.

Lert: If your party befriends one, the chances of being surprised drop considerably. You see, you’re keeping a lert. Think about it. Moving on…

Lotus, Gold/Yellow: This is actually two different plants. The golden lotus is very valuable and can be worth up to 1,000 gp per leaf, as well as being an ingredient for healing potions. The yellow lotus will just paralyze you if you touch it. Only trained botanists, which would never be a PC back in the days before any kind of knowledge skills, can tell the difference. It’s a good example of the kind of traps/gimmicks that abounded in those halcyon days. The solution to the problem is obvious: Send a 1HD NPC to go pick the flowers. If they’re not paralyzed, you keep the leaves and toss him a copper piece for his troubles. If he is, you’ll draw out the inevitable monster lurking around to take advantage of paralyzed PCs.

Lung Dragon: This is not one of the “Chinese dragons” featured in later volumes of the Monster Manual, but a dragon that is almost nothing but lungs. Its only attack is to inhale (make Bill Clinton joke here), which will cause targets to be sucked in based on a formula involving distance from the dragon. It feeds by inhaling metals; any jewels attached to the metal remain undigested.

 

 

 

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 2 Part 2

All The World’s Monsters, Volume II, Part II

Featuring “Demon Of Sleep Etc”

And The Foil Monster

God Damn, But I Love Unapologetic Old School Madness

Right! Let’s skip the all usual shilly-shallying, malingering, dilly-dallying, and loitering. If you want backstory, here’s part I of the Volume II walkthrough, and here’s Part I of the whole series. Now, on to the monsters!

“Carbuncle” Can Be A Pustule Or A Puppy. Go Figure.

Carbuncle: First, for the love all that’s holy or unholy, do not type ‘Carbuncle’ into Google Image Search unmodified. Trust me. In the classic AD&D Fiend Folio, a carbuncle was an armadillo with a gem in its forehead. This much earlier incarnation, presumably drawn from similar myth, is a winged puppy with a gem in its forehead. Since the gem is worth a fortune (per ATWM) and acts as a “double luckstone”, PCs will be gleefully massacring the adorable creature to the left. That might be why it was changed to a less-cuddly armadillo, because, let’s face it: If it’s walking around with loot in its forehead, it’s meant to be killed, so trying to make the players feel guilty for helping a creature fulfill its role in the ecosystem is hardly fair.

Cockroach That Ate Cincinnati: Based on the song. What do you mean, “What song?” Get off my lawn, you damn punk kids!

Coldtusk: A warthog with a tentacle for a nose (doing 8d10 damage(!)) and tusks that do 4d6 damage (+6d6 cold if a save vs. wand is failed). And it’s only a 5-7 HD monster!

Conehead: They are from France, and immune to any powers that effect emotion or thought. Come to think of it, I think a version of Coneheads also appeared in Arduin. Yeah, this entry is by Dave Hargrave, so they did.

Cyberscorp: Sounds like a 90s Marvel character, but it’s a cybernetic scorpion with a force-lash for a tail. When it fights sheem battle spiders, the tail “switches to positrons”. Thought you’d like to know that. Could come in handy someday.

Darkness Monster: It’s a reptile with hairy arms and… oh, just read it!

Reptiles Can’t Be Seen On Infrared. Who Knew?

Deadeye: A giant hog with a death gaze. Man, if you want bacon in old school games, you have to bloody well earn it!

Demon Of Sleep And Nightmare: This demon can put you to sleep with a single touch and then kill you in your dreams. It’s a mechanically complex critter, with a full paragraph of rules for its “death dream” power that can kill someone over the course of several rounds, and it also has a different armor class based on what type of attack is being used, effectively replacing the standard AC system entirely.

Demon Of Sleep Etc: I suppose someone didn’t want to type “Demon Of Sleep And Nightmare Type II”. This creature is like the Demon Of Sleep And Nightmare Type I (which was not listed as Type I, but never mind), except it can also put you to sleep with its gaze, and it carries a flail that inflicts a “Perrin Critical”, which means rolling twice on the “Perrin Critical Hit Table”, which is, hmm, probably in the “Perrin Conventions” at the beginning, no, maybe at the end? No. Hmm.

Old school!

(See also my coverage of the Princecon III rules for my comments on the long-lost “personalization” of mechanics and systems in the Burgess Shale era of gaming.)

Demon, Rainbow (Lesser): Resembles an octopus, but it can attack with only six tentacles, and each tentacle is “like a prismatic wall”,  but they “harden and strike like a storm giant”. Hm? I don’t see a Demon, Rainbow (Greater) here.

Dillemma (sic): It’s a goat headed ape. If it attacks, you may be stuck on its horns. Get it? Get It?

Dragon, Cinnamon/Sapphire: One of the rare and majestic “stripper name” dragons, this beastie breathes “polymorph”, and often inhales its own breath to change shape. Uhm, seriously. That’s what it says.

Dragon, Mahogany/Diamond: I already made the joke.

Dragon, Russet/Emerald: This one breathes “flesh to stone”. And doesn’t really sound like a stripper.

Dragon, Umber/Ruby: Because I felt they all needed to be listed.

I find the idea of “wood dragons” appealing as a collective type (maybe I’ll write them up…) , and I am huge fan of the original gem/crystal dragons (the psionic, neutral dragons) from AD&D. Unfortunately, this is a case where “less is not more”. Introducing a new set of dragons (they are referred to as the “Luce Neutral Dragons”) without any kind of context or framing, even two or three sentences, really leaves them as just some naked stat blocks, and dragons deserve better.

Today, We Steal From Video Games. Back Then, Album Covers. All Culture Is Appropriation.

Elephant Fly: Well, you’ve seen a horse fly, and a dragon fly, but you’ve never seen an elephant fly! (Was that from Dumbo? It must have been. It was in my brain, but I know I didn’t make it up.) But this creature isn’t from Disney. It’s from Roger Dean. See left.

Elephant, Flying: Also from a Roger Dean illustration, but, I guess, not the one I just found. So it goes.

Fighter In Mirror Armor: It’s a fighter. Wearing mirrored armor that reflects spells, based on alignment. For example, chaotic magic used against lawful armor “is reflected back 50%”. I do not know if that means “reflected back half the time” or “reflects for half-effect on the caster”.

Flailtail: It’s got a big butt and I cannot lie. I am not making this up! It “backs into combat” and “its armor class is due to its massive buttocks”.

Foil Monster: Normally made of tin, but can be gold or silver. There’s no description of what it looks like, just what it’s made of and what its corpse is worth, which is so Old School I could just plotz. Since it’s listed as one of the “clean up crew”, a category containing all those creatures that wandered dungeon corridors for no good reason, including assorted slimes, oozes, and cubes, I’m going to say it looks like a giant foil ball that rolls at you. And then bites you.

Foulmouth: Rather disappointingly, this is not some kind of goblinoid that curses at you with such vigor that you take damage. Rather, it is an upright leprous aardvark with severe bad breath. Should go to San Francisco. There’s a New Age guru there who specializes in dealing with such problems. Surely, you’ve heard of the super California mystic, expert: Halitosis?

But, seriously, it’s a bipedal leprous aardvark with “miasma” breath. Clint Bigglestone’s uniquely brilliant insanity, again. I wish I could have met him.

Fuzzy: It’s a fur covered beholder with only the central eye, and about 2 feet in diameter, or, if you will, a hairy floating beachball with an eye. And tentacles, which can sting you, constrict you, or wield a weapon. The normal beholder central eye attack of “anti-magic ray” isn’t listed, but “psionic blast” is; it’s not clear if you’re supposed to just know that the central eye creates an anti-magic ray, or if the psi-blast replaces it (I am strongly inclined to the latter).  And why am I spending so much time thinking about the specific mechanics of a fur-covered mini-beholder?

PS: It is described as a “less imposing” version of the beholder. Yeah. You could say that.

And In Conclusion…

About 1200 words, covering four letters of the alphabet. Seems like a good length. Tune in… eventually… maybe even next week… for part III!

 

 

 

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 2 Part 1

All The World’s Monsters, Volume II, Part I

This One Has Bionic Unicorns

Seriously, What More Do You Need? Bionic Unicorns, Dude!

The backstory on All The World’s Monsters, the series (not to be confused with the movie, the web comic, or the stained glass windows) is located here, in the first part of the walkthrough of the first book. Thus, we shall omit going over it again.

Conventions From A Convention

Volume 2 has significantly more explanatory/framing material than Volume I. From a “history of paleolithic gaming” perspective, the most important is a codification of the Peterson Conventions — the “common law” rules used by many West Coast gamers. (I’ve gone at great length on the cultural differences between the Midwestern/Gygax style of early gaming, which has been a primary influence on the “Old School Renaissance” to the degree that everything else about the era has been dropped down the memory hole, and the West Coast style that is exemplified by the Arduin books, Booty And The Beasts, and this series we’re discussing right now.) The rules show some things that have been widely adopted, such as the shorter melee round (10 seconds in this case) and heavy armor reducing Dexterity (now a reduction in the maximum bonus), and some things that have not been, such as complex rules for determining action times (how long it might take to coat yourself with magic oil). These rules debuted at DunDraCon in 1976; both DunDraCon and Steve Perrin are still around and are major parts of gaming culture, (The highly percentile-based system he built on top of D&D’s D20-ish mechanics were, obviously, the genesis of Runequest, and through it, of Call of Cthulhu, which, in turn, inspired much of Lovecraft’s modern invasion of pop culture. From little oaks do mighty cultural monoliths grow. But I digress. Big shock.)

Some samples:

“How Long Does It Take To Apply Oil Of Slipperiness?” Is A Big Issue If You’re Using the BOEF D20 Supplement. Google it.

Perrin’s SCA Roots Show When Discussing Things Like Reach And Initiative. (Don’t Look For A Joke Or Pun. That’s Just A Comment.)

So, as I have said before, and as I shall say again:

I got your “Rulings, Not Rules”, right here, pal!

The Actual Monsters

Agarret: A ten foot tall mutant “distantly related to the goblins”, it impregnates you with its tongue. I could make another BOEF joke here but, really, why bother? Kind of obvious, even for me.

Oh, and its wings have lashes which work as whips.

Goodnight, everybody!

A Rare Image Of An Unexploded Air Shark

Air Shark: From the Arduin series. It’s a flying shark filled with hydrogen. Why don’t flying creatures ever evolve to be filled with helium?

Alacorn: A unicorn-pegasus crossbreed, created by “Charlie Luce”, which is an odd name for a six year old girl. I kid, I kid… believe me, I’ve done worse. It “resists magic” as a “sixth level mage”, which is odd, because they don’t really resist magic. (“You know what happens to a sixth level mage that gets hit by a magic missile? Same thing that happens to everything else. Except that since a sixth level mage will have about 15 hit points, the odds of it getting killed if it’s taken any other damage are pretty high.”) Perhaps they meant “saves vs. magic as a sixth level mage”? Or perhaps, in Mr. Luce’s games, spellcasters had special magic resistance? The “we forgot these are our house rules” phenomenon (doot-doodoot-doot) is endemic to the Burgess Shale era supplements I love.

Amanda: Last name, Hugginkiss. It’s a telepathic horse that emits a “mental wave” that has “the same range and direction” as a mind flayer’s psychic attack, but which is not a psychic attack. What is it, then? Hey, what is life without some mystery?

Ape, Man Eating: A giant ape with “a taste for human flesh and human females”, and no matter how you parse that description, it’s disturbing. Speaking of parsing: It rolls 1d6 for Intelligence, and “if its intelligence is three or above, it can use weapons other than a club at +2 damage”. So, it can use a club for normal damage (listed as 1d10 in the creature’s stat block), or something not a club, but with a +2 damage bonus? Then why not +2 with a club?

Aquazombie: It wears rotting orange chainmail and is laughed at by the other zombies because it speaks to dead fish.  Sorry. It’s not actually a zombie at all, but a victim of the alien slime god. Also known as “The Walking Wet”. No, that’s not my joke. That’s in the actual text. I am not making this up.

Barluk: A typical example of “something that is basically a self-propelled save-or-die”. It’s a green lizard that can walk on ceilings, with a petrifying gaze, and, if it touches you, you must save vs. magic or die of a putrefying (not petrifying) disease within five minutes. You can hear the DM saying “Go ahead, use your little reflecting shields!” in a mocking tone even now.

It Took Me Longer That You’d Think To Google This.

Bionic Unicorn: Rainbow Sparkle. Astrocorn. A unicorn barely alive. We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic unicorn. Rainbow Sparkle will be that unicorn. Better than he was before. Better. Stronger. Sparklier. With a lightning horn. (Yes, really. It can shoot lightning (6d6 damage) from its horn 24 times a day. Not once an hour, mind you, but 24 times a day.)

“Based on a Roger Dean illustration”, along with the Bionic Paladin and the Bionic Bat.

Black Death: Another of the brilliantly mad creations of the late Clint Bigglestone, this creature is not, in fact, a giant yersinia pestis bacterium (which would hardly be out of place in the West Coast gaming culture of the 1970s, mind you), but is an elephant-sized cross between a spider, bear, and squid, which has true seeing, hunts with “find the path”, and is immune to cold and confusion. Not to be confused with Manbearpig. I’m totally serial.

Blue Moon: A hovering blue sphere, about six feet in diameter, which can paralyze like a gelatinous cube. (So, a gelatinous sphere?) It is found hovering over graves, for some reason, and can be used by vampires as “an early warning system”.

Bunny, Vorpal: You’ve seen the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie, how the hell did you end up reading this?

And So We End…

I did the introduction and two letters. That’s enough for one day. You might notice I’m commenting on more creatures, so far, than I did in the prior article (which had two from the ‘A’ and four from the ‘B’, and no, you can’t have two extra egg rolls instead of the hot and sour soup, it says so right there on the menu). That’s not part of any conscious plan (conscious planning never enters into these articles, trust me). Perhaps there are more interesting monsters in this book (so far), or my personal “this is worth commenting on” bar is momentarily lower, I don’t know. I just read the book and call out anything I think is amusing, intriguing, unique, or informative. Give me the same book on a different week, and I might pick different creatures. Or not.

Anyway, hoping to get the next part by next week.

 

 

 

Starchildren Part II

Starchildren, Part II

Sex, Drugs, And Rock & Rolling Dice

Except… I Think You Use Cards In This?

Wow, There Goes That Headline Right Down The Pipes

OK. As we saw in our previous episode, aliens who though the 1970s were actually cool came to Earth in the 2070s, only to find an oppressive police state, which they are now trying to take down via the power of rock! Having spent all of the prior article going over the background, it is now time to create a character.

Be Ye Human, Or Be Ye Bishounen Alien Rocker?

First, we must choose our species. Because the point of these articles is to explore game systems, I’m going to go with Starchild, as that will give me access to the k00l p0werz…. erm, I mean, let me experiment with the full mechanics. Yeah.

As a Starchild, I get three “Backgrounds” (Humans get four.) There’s no specific rule limiting backgrounds by race, but “Businessman” and “Cop”, for example, don’t seem very appropriate to an alien with two years experience on Earth.

In many similar systems, “Performer” would be a catch-all for any kind of creative type, but, fitting the genre, Starchildren gives us Drummer, Bassist, Keyboardist, and Frontman backgrounds, among others. I like “Drummer”, as they’re described as being surly and belligerent (no stereotyping here, no sir!). The Drummer’s skills include “Percussion”, “Bludgeon”, and “Intimidate”.

Q: What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians?
A: A Drummer

Fitting with that default personality, I pick “Badass” for my second background. It is recommended that Badasses also take “Scrapper” to provide the combat skills needed to back up the bluster, so I’ll go for that.

Each background has 5 skills, which are ranked with on at 9, two at 7, and two at 5. The mechanics that give meaning to these ranks are not yet specified. If you don’t want to take all five skills, you can trade them for “Edges”.

Lessee.

Badass: Endure, Guts, Impress, Intimidate, Negotiate
Drummer: Bludgeon, Endurance, Intimidate, Percussion, Repair (Instrument)
Scrapper: Bludgeon, Brawl, Dodge, Slash, Throw

“Endure” is evidently a synonym for “Endurance”, probably a holdover from an earlier rules edit.

You can burn off one of your skill picks to raise the rank of another skill. This can be done when there are duplicate skills, (Such as Bludgeon, for me), or if you just don’t particularly want a skill or your character concept requires a higher starting rank.

I am strongly tempted to leave “Percussion” as my lowest-ranked skill, as it creates a kind of interesting concept… the drummer who is, in fact, not really good at drumming, but who is kept around by the band because he is really good at hitting people… which, in the grim future of the 21st century, is pretty useful.

So let’s see…

Presenting Thrash Beatnik

I’ll start with Bludgeon from Drummer at 9, then drop Endurance 9 from Badass to raise it to 10 and then use the Bludgeon I get from Scrapper to raise it to 11, losing my 9 from there, as well. That’s the highest a starting skill can get. I’m going to track which skills come from which background. Hopefully, I get it all correct.

Bludgeon: Jack (11) (Scrapper 9, Drummer 9, Endurance (Badass) 9)
Intimidate: 7 (Badass)
Brawl: 7 (Scrapper)
Endurance: 7 (Drummer)
Guts: 7 (Badass)
Dodge: 7 (Scrapper)
Percussion: 7 (Drummer) (I ended up not being able to drop it to 5, but now I can’t remember why. But here it is.)
Slash: 5 (Scrapper)
Throw: 5 (Scrapper)
Impress: 5 (Badass)
Repair (Instrument): 5 (Drummer)

Unspent:
Intimidate 5 (Drummer)
Negotiate 5 (Badass)

I didn’t spend one of my possible “Intimidate” skills in the hope of getting an Edge. Likewise, I dropped off Negotiate. I figure my character… who I am starting to think of as “Thrash Beatnik”… uses “Intimidate” as “Negotiate”. This gives me two unspent ranks for “Edges”.

Q. What does a drummer use for birth control?
A: His personality

Attributes, or, I Got Jack

There are eight attributes, four mental and four physical. Each pair is keyed a suit from a set of playing cards.

  • Diamonds: Presence and Appearance
  • Hearts: Wit and Speed
  • Spades: Perception and Agility
  • Clubs: Will and Body

I can assign ranks from a pool of Jack, 10, 8, 7,7,7,6,5. These are ordered highest to lowest, so, in Starchildren, “I got Jack” is actually a good thing. Starchildren are +2 ranks to Presence and Appearance, but -2 to Body and Will. This runs contrary to my concept of Thrash as a brawler, but, everything is relative, I guess. For a starchild, he’s a fighter.

So, Body gets Jack (as it were), which is downgraded to 9.
I’ll put 10 in Agility.
8 goes to Presence, +2 for 10.
7 into Will, -2 for 5.
Another 7 into Speed.
My last 7 into Perception.
6 for Wit
5 for Appearance, +2 =7.

So I end up like:
Presence: 10
Wit: 6
Perception: 7
Will: 5
Appearance: 7
Speed: 7
Agility: 10
Body: 9

Secondary Attributes, Or, There’s No Kill Like Overkill!

Now, secondary attributes:
My Speed is 7, so, I have 3 Action Cards, and my Movement is 4 walking/8 running.
My Body is 9, so my Trauma Threshold is 15, my Injury Threshold is 19, my Blackout Threshold is 39, and my Overkill Threshold 53.

Any game which includes an “Overkill Threshold” gets bonus points from me.

Q. What’s the difference between a government bond and a drummer?
A. Government bonds eventually mature and earn money.

Edges: I simply skipped two skill to get Edges. I dropped 2 5-rank skills.

I can get Feared, which gives me 1 Advantage Card for tests of a skill selected from a short, logical list. I pick “Intimidate”. For my other 5-rank, I select “Street Contacts”.

I also pick the Disadvantage “Usual Suspects” for 7. I can put this 7 into a skill or buy an edge with it. I will use it to buy “Flex”, which is a “Mojo”, or alien talent. Flex governs abilities related to altering ones own body, which seems like a good thing for someone like Thrash to have, even if most Starchildren just use it to give themselves magenta hair and rainbow spiral eyes like they were Pottersues.

Rocking Out

That’s basically it for character generation. It is worth at least mentioning the mechanics, though. As noted, they rely on playing cards. Except that the Ace is the low card, and Kings and Queens are reversed. Jokers are the wild card, and get +2 to kill Batman.

Everyone starts with a Hand of 5 cards, except The Man, who gets 7.

And here’s where it kind of gets tricky. Skill and Attributes each have suits. So, let’s go back to Thrash. Thrash has Jack in Brawl (yeah, I’m never going to get tired of that joke). The character sheet shows that Brawl is a “Clubs” skill, but it’s governed by Agility, which is a “Spades” skill.

If the card played matches the Trump suit for an attribute or skill, the value is equal to the rank of that attribute or skill. If it doesn’t match, it’s a “null” suit, so the value is your rank -3.

Then, The Man draws a number of cards equal to the difficulty of the test. The Man decides how difficult the test is, running from 1-5. Hopefully, examples are given. The Man then plays one of the cards they drew against you. If your score beats the card they played, you succeed. The rules note that The Man is not obliged to play the highest card they drew; they might give you a break. This provides an element of “sanctioned” GM fudging into the game; how much this appeals to you depends on how you feel about the Player/GM relationship in general. (It occurs to me that the harder the test, the more leeway The Man has to cheat… for an easy test, they draw only one card and so must play it, good or bad.) Nonetheless, the default assumption underlying the mechanics is that most of the time, the dice… erm… cards will fall where they may.

There’s also special rules for “really easy” tests, where The Man draws only one card, and the value on that card is reduced.

The Man and the player reveal their cards concurrently. If the player fails their test, they can “burn” a card, which gives them the value of that card on its face, regardless of the suit.

I don’t know how well this works in actual play, but it sounds like a decent enough system.

Opposed tests require that The Man play a card from his hand, and in this case, the suit matters. The Man is basically playing a hand for an NPC… sorry, an MC. The Man can also burn a card, just as a PC can.

Then, there’s “Boosts” and “Crashes”, or what more mundane, less rockin’, systems might call “critical successes and failures”, based on the degree of difference between the player’s card and The Man’s.

And there’s Advantage Cards. Thrash’s “Feared” Edge gives him one Advantage card when Intimidating something. This is essentially an extra card drawn when using that particular skill. Likewise, “Difficulty” cards are Advantage Cards granted to an opponent, either The Man or a fellow PC.

Finally, there’s “The Twist”. Twists are a form of metagame mechanics, akin to “bennies”, “hero points”, “action dice”, etc., allowing the player to gain bonuses, draw a new card, and so on.

Glam-Rock Alien Elvis Has Left The Building

And, that’s it for chargen and something of the mechanics. While it’s definitely odd, it’s not bad… there are no blatantly broken mechanics[1], pages of grammar/spelling/punctuation errors, or eye-bleedingly self-indulgent page layouts, despite this being a setting that could justify them. Other than the initial three chapter slog through setting material, it doesn’t hit too many of my eye-roll triggers. The art is a bit crude, hearkening back to some of the classic work from This Guy I Know (I miss his stuff in modern games), but it’s an effort from a tiny independent company which was trying to put out a hardcover book about alien rock stars at the peak of the D20 boom. No budget for art is forgivable.

If I ever see this being run at GenCon, I’ll sign up for it.

[1]Caveat: I haven’t actually played the game, and the interactions of the various systems outline above do not lend themselves to intuitive analysis of the actual odds of success or failure in casual play.

Starchildren

Starchildren : Velvet Generation

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

And/Or Roll!

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

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

Groovy!

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

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

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

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

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

Working For The Man

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

And I Want To Be A Paperback Writer…

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

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

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

Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 1 Part 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.