Sunday, February 16, 2020

Let's Generate A Legionnaire Character!

Art by Roger Loveless
“Creating a character is a matter of several simple steps,” page 8 of the Legionnaire rulebook states, “It is important that these steps be followed in their listed order.”  The first step is determining primary attributes.  By rolling 2d10 for each value, we obtain the following results:

AG: 14     CH: 7     CN: 14     DX: 16     IQ: 6     LK: 14     SP: 9     ST: 17

As a reflection of his low intellect, we will call this character Stultus.  An intelligence value of only 6 presents an obstacle for generating a well-rounded character because each career path requires a minimum IQ of at least 8.  Although he cannot engage upon a career, Stultus can still acquire 9 points of skills (i.e., IQ value + 3).  Stultus will be 21 years old (i.e., [skill points / 2] + 17).

Each skill has a prerequisite intelligence value, so the number of skills available to Stultus is necessarily limited.  With nine points we can purchase nine skills at one level each.  From the IQ 2 skills we choose Archery, Blade, Brawling, Knife, and Laser Firearms.  From the IQ 3 skills we choose Projectile Firearms, Swimming, and Wrestling.  Finally, we choose a “Career Skill” from the IQ 6 skills.  Career Skills “cover any sort of job that can be performed by a semi-intelligent creature” (but not jobs covered by other skills).  We may as well specify 'RPG Designer' as Stultus' Career Skill.  Anyway...

Let's Generate Another Legionnaire Character!

Another round of dice rolling provides us with the following values:

AG: 11     CH: 18     CN: 13     DX: 10     IQ: 12     LK: 12     SP: 11     ST: 11

We'll call this character Septimus Aquilae.  In Legionnaire, there are two types of career paths, military and intelligence.  For Septimus, we shall select Insurgency / Counter-Insurgency Agent, one of the intelligence paths.
      The Insurgency / Counter-Insurgency agent is effectively a blend between a well trained soldier and a deep cover agent.  In the insurgency role this agent is capable of raising, training and leading a resistance group on an enemy occupied planet.  As a counter-insurgency expert this character is capable of meeting a guerilla group on their own terms and defeating them.
This career requires a minimum IQ of 12 and a minimum DX of 10.  The skill point cost is 12 and it adds six years to Septimus' age.  He acquires the following skills:  Ambush, Communications (P-Comm), Demolitions, Drop Pod Operations, Environmental Survival (choose two), Leadership, Martial Arts (choose one), Negotiation, Projectile Firearms, Scavenger / Tinker, Security Tech, Stealth, Support Weapons, Tracking, and Training.  P-Comm refers to “Phase-Polarization Communications System,” a method of faster-than-light communication.  For the Environmental Survival options, we'll choose Urban and Temperate.  (“Urban Survival covers the savvy and streetwise skills to survive in the rougher urban areas of a world.”)  For Martial Arts, we'll select Karate.  With Septimus' remaining three skill points, he gets one level each in Tactics (Ground), Medtech, and – given his high Charisma – Swindling.

Although 'rank' is not recorded on the character sheet, one must determine rank as part of a character's career duration.  For intelligence careers, we roll 2d10 and consult Rank Table 6.  A result of 16 means ten 'points' of rank; equivalent to a rank of lieutenant in the Commonwealth armed forces.  Septimus must 'earn' ten rank points by rolling on the Previous Experience tables.  Each pass through the tables adds a year to the character's age.  Each result has instructions to follow and a line or two of flavor text “descriptive of a uniformed soldier's life.”  Before each pass, a player must choose two skills (first and second choice) and two Primary Attributes (first and second choice) that may be improved.

For Septimus' first pass we'll choose Dexterity (1st) and Agility (2nd) for attributes and Projectile Firearms (1st) and Security Tech (2nd) for skills.  (Previous Experience charts cannot improve an attribute values beyond 18, so we may not choose Charisma.)  The first roll is 8 (“You put the year to good use, working hard at your training.”):  both skills improve but no rank points are received.

For the second pass, we'll keep the same attributes but choose Leadership (1st) and Negotiation (2nd) for skills.  The roll is 18 (“Pressed into service in a position you do not normally occupy, you perform admirably.”):  the second choice skill increases by 2 and one other skill increases by 1.  “Other” skills are determined randomly.  Since Septimus has 19 skills, there are 17 possibilities.  We roll 1d20 and ignore results over 17.

For the third pass, we choose Ambush (1st) and Stealth (2nd) for skills.  The roll is 9 (“You've had a more exiting time watching clouds form than you did in this year of service.”):  1st choice skill increases by 1.

For the fourth pass, we choose Leadership (1st) and Medtech (2nd) for skills.  The roll is 4 (“You ran into unexpected trouble in a supposedly safe zone.”):  the second choice skill increases by 2 and one other skill increases by 1.  Also, 2 rank points are earned.

For the fifth pass, we choose Leadership (1st) and Swindling (2nd) for skills.  The roll is 4 again.

For the sixth pass, we choose Leadership (1st) and Tactics (Ground) (2nd) for skills.  The roll is 9 again.

For the seventh pass, we choose Scavenger / Tinker (1st) and Stealth (2nd) for skills.  The roll is 9 for the third time.  Bored yet?

For the eighth pass, we choose Training (1st) and Stealth (2nd) for skills.  The roll is 12 (“If boredom was an ore, you hit the Mother Lode this year.”):  the second choice skill increases by 1.  Is the game becoming self-aware?

For the ninth pass, we choose Training (1st) and Security Tech (2nd) for skills.  The roll is 6, which directs us to another chart, specifically 2B.  For this new chart, the roll is 12 (“Fighting to keep your rations down is the most battling you do this tour.”):  second choice skill and second choice attribute both increase by 1.  Also, 3 rank points are earned.

For the tenth pass, we keep the same attributes but choose Karate (1st) and Projectile Firearms (2nd) for skills.  The roll is 9 for the fourth time.

For the eleventh pass, we keep the same attributes but choose Training (1st) and Tactics (Ground) (2nd) for skills.  The roll is 15 (“An action in which you figured prominently made the media broadcasts.  You're a star!  More importantly, so were your superior officers!”):  Both skill choices increase by 1.  Five rank points are earned, meaning Septimus has reached his quota.  Also, the character earns a Prestige point.

Prestige is a “special attribute . . . developed by David L. Arneson, and is used with his permission.”  It “reflects a character's reputation among others in the Renegade Legion universe.”  Normally, Prestige is accumulated during play, but some points may be gained during generation through a character's family, military unit, or previous experience charts.

Another “special attribute is called the Edge and is a reflection of the intangible difference between true heroes and normal individuals.”  We learn that, “Each point of the Edge can 'buy' a new die roll during a game.”  A character begins with a number of Edge points equal to 2d10 – 13.  Septimus begins with –2 Edge.  He can acquire a positive Edge via experience.

This leaves us with:

Septimus Aquilae

AG: 12     CH: 18     CN: 13     DX: 10     IQ: 12     LK: 12     SP: 11     ST: 11

Ambush 2, Communications (P-Comm) 1, Demolitions 2, Drop Pod Operations 1, Environment Survival (Temperate) 1, Environment Survival (Urban) 2, Leadership 2, Martial Arts (Karate) 2, Medtech 4, Negotiation 3, Projectile Firearms 2, Scavenger / Tinker 2, Security Tech 2, Stealth 2, Support Weapons 1, Swindling 3, Tactics (Ground) 2, Tracking 1, Training 2

Age:  35

Prestige:  1

The Edge:  –2

Sunday, February 2, 2020

In the battle between good and evil, this one counts!

Art by Jim Holloway

In the '80s, FASA produced several games based on licensed properties and did so with reasonable success (other than that one).  FASA hoped to obtain the license to produce games based on the Star Wars property; however, the license went to West End Games.  This left FASA with the basis of a space battle combat system but unable to publish that system for the intended setting.  As such, FASA came up with an original setting.  The 'Renegade Legion' background is essentially the Roman Empire in space.  While Star Wars features a rebel alliance against an evil galactic empire, Renegade Legion has an alliance of humans and aliens (the Commonwealth) against an evil galactic empire (the Terran Overlord Government).  As a result of these opposing forces, we get the rather lackluster tagline, “In the battle between good and evil, this one counts!”

The first Renegade Legion product was 1987's Interceptor, a space ship war game.  FASA produced other war games for the franchise.  In 1990, FASA published Legionnaire, a role-playing game based in the Renegade Legion setting and compatible with the prior games.  Is 1990 too recent to be considered 'old school'?  It's thirty years old, but it's just recent enough for it not to be cataloged in Lawrence Schick's Heroic Worlds.  Cherished readers with a strong opinion one way or the other are invited to comment.  Regardless, Legionnaire certainly has some 'old school' connections.

Legionnaire was designed by Tunnels & Trolls stalwarts Michael A. Stackpole and James “Bear” Peters.  It is therefore not surprising there are similarities between the two games.  Legionnaire characters have eight Primary Attributes:  Agility, Charisma, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Luck, Speed, and Strength.  There are few differences from the Prime Attributes of the contemporaneous T&T rules.  Legionnaire separates T&T Dexterity into Dexterity (aptitude with “fine motor skills”) and Agility (aptitude with “gross motor skills”).  Legionnaire also has Speed, an attribute which T&T would adopt in later editions.

The “basic value” for each Primary Attribute is determined by adding the results of 2d10.  Alternately, a player may allocate 88 points among the eight Primary Attributes.  Using the allocation method, “No attribute can have a value below 5 or above 17.”

After Primary Attribute values are determined, players select skills for their characters.  The Legionnaire skill system approximates that which Stackpole developed for T&T.  Each character has a number of skill points equal to his or her Intelligence value plus three.  Each skill requires a minimum Intelligence value; as examples, Gambling requires at least 4 Intelligence, Cryptography requires at least 15.  Some skills also require minimum values with other attributes.  For instance, Escape Artist requires a minimum value of 13 in each of Intelligence, Agility, and Dexterity.
It costs 1 skill point to purchase a skill at level 1.  Extra skill levels can be purchased at a cost, in skill points, equal to the sum of the levels up to and including that level.  i.e., level 2 costs 2 more points, for a total of 3 points.  Level 3 costs 6 points (1 + 2 + 3), 3 points more than level 2.  Level 8 costs 8 points more than level 7, or a total of 36 points.
The basic mechanic for Legionnaire is to roll a number of dice and compare the total result to a specified number.  Exceeding said number indicates failure.  The specified number is either a character's attribute (for saving rolls) or an appropriate skill level added to an appropriate attribute (for skill checks).  Difficulty is expressed by the number of dice to be rolled.  Minimum difficulty is 1d10; extreme difficulty is “6D10 or more.”

Every two skill points represents a year of time which is added to a character's base age of 17.  However, we learn that, “A good background story for a character can be rewarded by granting the character a skill or two for free.”  Such a reward “should be limited to two skill points worth of skills.”

Legionnaire offers 'career packages' from which characters can obtain a number of reasonably related skills at a discount.  For instance, the career package for a marine officer provides twelve skills for only nine points.  Only four years are added to the character's age (as opposed to six).  However, career packages require minimum attribute values.  The marine officer package requires a value of ten in each of Intelligence, Dexterity, and Agility.  The career packages in Legionnaire are limited to military or intelligence.  However, characters are not required to take a career package.  Also, rules are provided for creating original career packages.

In the next post, we will continue our exploration of the Legionnaire character generation system.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Book Review: War-Gamers' World (spoilers)

Map by Helmut W. Pesch

In 1978, DAW Books published War-Gamers' World having the subtitles of “Magira I” and “From the chronicles of the world's longest existing fantasyland.”  According to the back cover copy:
The Fellowship of the Lords of the Lands of Wonder!  That is the name of the select group who control the struggles and marvels of the world known as Magira – a fantasyland planet created years before war-games were known in America.  It was the members of FOLLOW who built up Magira, city by city, island by island, crown by crown, created its continents and oceans, and continue to this day to bring ever greater sword-and-sorcery reality to its misty shores.
Foregoing the contradiction of “sword-and-sorcery reality,” we are introduced to the notion of an early “fantasyland” curated somewhere other than the United States.  The “Lands of Wonder” portion of FOLLOW refers to a German fanzine of fantasy literature.  One might wonder why Germans would use English words to name their fanzine (as well as their organization).  Jon Peterson, in his Playing at the World, explains:
There existed no native German tradition of sword-and-sorcery fiction, nor much by way of translations of the major American works, and thus Lands of Wonder is littered with English and Anglicisms, as any reader familiar with the genre surely commanded a reasonable grasp of the language in which it was written.
Authorship of War-Gamers' World is attributed to Hugh Walker, pen name of Hubert Strassl, the Austrian who started Lands of Wonder.  Strassl wrote the story in German and it was first published in that language in 1975.  The original title was Reiter der Finsternis which translates as “Rider of Darkness.”  In fact, the first page excerpt is provided under the words “Rider of Darkness.”  Given the back cover copy and the change in title, it seems an effort was made to market to the war-gamer demographic.  At the time, the distinction between war-games and role-playing games was something of a gray area.  Anyway, “Magira I” implies further volumes.  Only two more books were translated into English and both of these retained their “. . . of Darkness” titles.  By the time War-Gamers' World was published, Magira served as a setting for an actual role-playing game, but for the first decade or so, Magira was more of a shared narrative universe which served as a backdrop for a continuous wargame campaign.

As Walker/Strassl indicates in the preface to War-Gamers' World :
Now, after eleven years of continuous playing (the players getting together once or twice a year), many of the original dreams have been realized.  Many of the battles that took place have become stories.  Empires have grown up and fallen.  Legends, myths, heroic figures, kings, warriors and sorcerers have sprung up.  What pleasure there has been in dreaming a little and, as it were, “stage-managing” the dream.  The reality of such a barbaric and warlike world would surely be less than desirable, but I find it highly amusing occasionally to leave reality behind and to play some entertaining game or to read some entertaining book.
Peterson describes the 'board' that was used:  “Strassl and his collaborators favored a board shaped like a circle rather than a rectangle; for a game of four to seven players, they preferred a massive board, roughly two meters in diameter, with hexagons of 1.8 centimeters to a side for a total of around 3,500 hexes on the board.”  Hexagon imagery is prevalent in the story.  As befits a tessellation of hexagons, Magira has six cardinal direction instead of four.  These are indicated in the compass of the map presented above and are also presented below.
The plot involves a 'real world' player named Franz Laudmann who finds himself in the 'game world' which he had previously assumed was a product of his imagination.  Usually in such a story, the player is the protagonist and becomes a hero.  War-Gamer's World subverts this trope in that Laudmann is thrown into a dungeon for committing heresy and is later scheduled for sacrifice.  In the prelude, Laudmann is the point-of-view character but other characters assume that role for most of the remainder of the story.

About half-way through the story, the player – who chooses to be called Frankari in the game world – encounters the otherworldly “creators.”  The creators are opposed to the Mythanen, the bad guys responsible for summoning Frankari into the world of Magira.  The Mythanen – Adepts of Chaos – come from the “ancient sorcery kingdom!”  The creators inform Frankari, “The rider of darkness is on his way” and “He will find you and show you the road you must take.”

However, Frankari meets an Adept who tells him that the Rider of Darkness is in the service of the Adepts.  The Adept has taken Frankari's place in the real world.  We learn that the (almost) titular Rider of Darkness is the Magira avatar of death (also called “The taker of souls”).  Eventually, Frankari dies and the Rider of Darkness appears from a void in the sky, taking the “lifeless body” away.

So, at the conclusion of the 160 page book, the player – the ostensible reader identification character – is dead and a small group of native Magirans have banded together (much like an adventuring party) to find their destiny.  So, in the subsequent books, there are two storylines:  one where the Adepts attempt to replace real world players and one with the continuing adventures of the natives.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

TIMESTORM (Part III) (spoilers)

Prior to the Battle of Antietam, Union forces obtained Confederate plans.  For purposes of Timestorm, this occurred because Union Private Leroy Elkins frightened a Confederate courier into dropping said plans.  Unfortunately for Time Corps continuity, the Time Storm has deposited Elkins into the cartoon world of Wabbit Wampage before he has a chance to make history.  (Elkins has a significance rating of 300; Robert E. Lee has a rating of only 250.)  The Player Characters are supposed to encounter Elkins after they bring back Thugs Bunny and kin from ancient Rome.  Of course, the next logical step is to return Elkins to where he belongs.  However, Demorean agents have infiltrated the Wabbit parallel.  Their purpose is to “have a source of indestructible warriors – which they could in turn unleash upon all freedom-loving creatures of the Continuum, especially Time Corps agents.”

When the Time Storm removed Elkins from Maryland on September 11, 1862, it deposited “a wizard named Thutamon and three of his warrior bodyguards.”  For reasons unexplained, Thutamon and company “began rampaging toward Washington D.C., destroying whatever they found in their path.”  One of their heinous acts was to murder an entire family in cold blood.  Union forces assume this is the work of Confederate raiders and, as a result, they prepare to retreat to the nation's capital.

Meanwhile, the player characters are suspected of being Confederate spies and are brought to a house serving as the headquarters for General McClellan.  This is where the adventure gets kind of weird.  An aspect of the Time Storm – in the form of a tornado – takes the house and everyone within it to Munchkin Land.  (Oz exists as Parallel M-491.)  The player characters arrive “just before Dorothy is due” and wind up killing the Wicked Witch of the East.  The Munchkins express their appreciation by attempting to enslave the player characters and force them to work in their “armament factories.”  You see, the vagaries of the Time Storm have caused the Munchkins to become Nazis.  Don't believe me?
The only way out of Oz is to use the witch's slippers.  Mark Acres adopts a convention of the cinematic Oz in that the slippers are ruby.  (In the book, the slippers are silver.)

Assuming the player characters manage to return to Maryland, they are obliged to stop Thutamon and his warriors and return them to their point of origin:  “Aug. 27, 10198 B.C. Earth, Parallel R-259.”  It is on this Parallel that the Demoreans initiated their master plan to create the Time Storm.  To wit, they caused Thutamon to create a dimensional hole.  Arriving on R-259, the player characters and the others find themselves in said dimensional hole and are subject to attacks by Demoreans.  One of the characters is transformed “into a man-sized toad.”  This fate cannot be avoided, it is part of the plot.  After two rounds, “The PCs find themselves falling toward a grassy plain.”  On this plain, the players encounter Merlin.  Astute readers will recall that Merlin is one of the pre-generated characters players are encouraged to play.  The pre-generated Merlin is from Parallel M-212, the non-player character Merlin is from Parallel T-1 and is referred to as Merlin T-1.  We learn, “In any critical situation, such as combat, Merlin T-1 does exactly what Merlin (the PC) does . . . [but] Merlin T-1 does these things a half second later.”  Wacky hijinx ensue.  We also learn that Merlin T-1 is part of the T-1 Time Corps and “he hopped ahead of the wave effects to 5000 A.D. and read a history book.”  As a result, he knows “that a well-organized rebellion should overthrow a wizard-king named Almarius this year.”  It turns out that Thutamon is the leader of this revolt, but the Time Storm induced amnesia in him and his bodyguards.

So, the player characters are required to assist Thutamon – a cold blooded murderer – with his rebellion.  The first step is to travel to the city of Kish where Duke Tremayne – an ally of Almarius – has imprisoned the King and his daughter.  Tremayne has jokingly stated that he “will yield control of Kish to the King [if] the King shoots an apple from his daughter's head.”  The adventure tells us, “The most likely course of action is to disguise one PC as the King and have him or her shoot the apple from the Princess' head.”  The adventure assumes the player characters accomplish this.  At this time, the Princess kisses the player character who was transformed into a toad, but to no avail.  The player characters should also be able to obtain Tremayne's flying lizards – called iglanos.
A typical iglano measures 20 feet in length, stands about 10 feet at the shoulder, and weighs about 2 tons.  The beasts are normally docile, although they are carnivorous and their bite can inflict a serious wound.  They are speedy, once airborne, able to fly and glide at up to 225 feet per round (30 miles per hour).
Using the iglanos, Thutamon and the player characters can travel to Thutamon's army, which is besieging Almarius' Desert Castle.  (This is where the dimensional hole is.)  Meanwhile, Thutamon regains his memory, I guess.  The conclusion of adventure indicates:
If Thutamon's army captures the Desert Castle, the PCs have restored history on this Parallel.  They may eliminate the fact that one of them was turned into a giant toad by using the anomaly field generator or looper to warn themselves not to hop to the dimensional hole.
As part of a back-up plan, the Demoreans have established another dimensional hole on a separate Parallel.  However, clues to the next adventure can found after the battle.

The Demoreans need xantium, “a rare mineral [that] powers the type of drive required to transport magical dimensional holes.”  They obtain their xantium from “the year 101 million B.C.” on Parallel R-555.  Here, the player characters can negotiate with cavemen and/or intelligent dinosaurs.  Upon capturing the Demorean facility, the PCs find out:
The xantium is being sent to the Cassandra II system on Parallel T-6 from June 2 through June 30, 3612 A.D. [sic]  A massive time travel drive is being constructed on a space station positioned outside the atmosphere of the planet Cassandra II.  The drive, which is augmented by a dimensional hole, will be powered by the energy released when Cassandra II's sun becomes a supernova on July 2, 3162 A.D. at 10 p.m.  Destroying the space station pastward of this moment will prevent the Time Storm from occurring.
I think 3162 is supposed to be the correct year.  Anyway, the final adventure consists of a single encounter; it takes up just over two pages of the book.  The player characters use their TCA-4A chronoscooters to attack the Demorean space station.  Since the Demoreans have “Advanced Space Age Fighters,” the adventure is essentially “a board-game style battle.”  The text helpfully informs us, “This combat is to the death.”  Interestingly, at the beginning of the encounter, each player rolls 3d10 to determine his or her chronoscooter's “time on target.”  Once a chronoscooter's “time on target” is exhausted, there is a ten percent chance per round that the vehicle will run out of fuel.  Fortunately, rules are provided for rescuing pilots.

I guess at some point, Merlin T-1 drops out of the picture.