Sunday, November 23, 2014

Murder at the End of Time


Diana: Warrior Princess is a role-playing game by Marcus Rowland that posits how a future era might treat our time period considering how we treat ancient history.  To put it another way, “Imagine [our era] converted into a TV series by a production company with the loving attention to historical accuracy we have come to expect from such series.”  (e.g., Xena: Warrior Princess)  'Murder at the End of Time' – first of three adventures Time Capsules included with Timeship – was crafted with a similar, light-hearted perspective.

Before discussing 'Murder at the End of Time', I should disclose some information about Time Capsules.  Voyagers enter a Time Capsule via a Gateway; the processes involved were covered in previous posts.  Voyagers are unable to use the Gateway to return to their point of origin.  “Entrance Gateways are strictly one-way,” Brennan informs us.  (Presented above is the illustration of the 'Murder at the End of Time' Gateway; however, according to the text, “nothing may be seen” beyond the pillars.)

Voyagers depart from Time Capsules via EXITS.  Brennan states, “So far, experience has shown that every Time Capsule has a built-in EXIT.”  Well, if there were Time Capsules without exits EXITS, we wouldn't know about them because no one could have returned from one.  Anyway...
EXITS will usually manifest as shimmering Doorways, or, sometimes, as rather ominous Black Holes in the fabric of reality.  As such, they are generally easy to recognize, but not always easy to find.
There are two types of Time Capsules, Adventure and Task.

In Adventure Capsules, Voyagers “are bound to no specific purpose other they may determine for themselves.”  Adventure Capsules have at least one EXIT, “each permanently located in a specific place.”  However, Brennan tells us, “random factors in the timestream will cause an additional EXIT to appear at least temporarily in the Voyagers' vicinity.”

In Task Capsules, Voyagers are obliged to achieve a particular goal before an EXIT manifests.  “This naturally adds greatly to the dangers of a Task Capsule,” Brennan warns.  'Murder at the End of Time' is a Task Capsule.  Specifically,
The first murder in 300,000,000 years has been committed at the End of Time.  The Task of the Group is to solve the mystery.
There is an option for this Capsule requiring that the solution to the mystery be written down and submitted to a suggestion box.  Only the correct solution “will cause the activation of the EXIT.”  Submission of “an incorrect solution will cause the box to emit a silent burst of lethal radiation which will kill instantly the Voyager...”  There is no provision for activating the EXIT if the above option is not implemented.  The Time Capsule plays as a light-hearted romp, so the activation of the EXIT shouldn't be a concern – When the mystery is solved, the EXIT activates.  However, things aren't that simple; there's more than one mystery.

So, in the future, beings which are the results of “ultimate human evolution” have “discovered how to tap the basic power of the universe, hence anything is possible for them.”  Brennan explains, “Their greatest enemy is boredom” and “One of the few novelties remaining is archaeology.”  One of the terms used for these beings is “Superiors,” which is how your humble host shall refer to them.  The Superiors “decided it would be amusing to create a murder mystery for 20th Century detectives to solve.”  Based on their imperfect knowledge, “they set out to create as authentic a setting as possible...”  Brennan gives us an interesting bit of information:  “They then made application to the Time Traveller's Guild to have their work incorporated in a Time Capsule.”  Essentially they created a tourist attraction; that is, an attraction for temporal tourists.

The “setting” exists on “a rectangle of land 270' × 380'” which “is surrounded by an invisible Forcefield” that “will...ignore inorganic matter.”  Within the setting, the Voyagers encounter a variety of entities such as Little Red Riding Orphan Annie Oakley and “the Large Evil Wolf, a massive animal which walks erect on hind legs and dresses somewhat like Uncle Sam.”  The murder victim, by the way, is Count Dracula who is quite animate and “is intensely curious about the identity of his murderer.”

The Superiors have inserted themselves incognito into the setting and most of the other entities are either clockwork automatons or products of biological engineering.  However, the Superiors have kidnapped two humans from the timestream to make the setting seem more authentic.  If they can kidnap people, why bother making an application to the Time Traveller's Guild?  If the whole point is to design a setting that would seem authentic to “20th Century detectives,” abducting people to include in the setting hardly seems fair.

For Voyagers who may need assistance in solving the mystery (such as it is), a computer in Dracula's Castle can answer questions “truthfully, but only in terms of YES and NO (or INFORMATION UNAVAILABLE.)”  However, the computer requires “an input of of 15 ENERGY points per question.”

Far be it from your humble host to post the actual solution to the 'Murder at the End of Time'; however, after the fashion of the Information Matrices that appear in the Time Capsules, here is an Information Matrix of statements that may or may not be clues:

1. There is a butler named Jeeves.
2. Don't believe the parrot.
3. The “rocky outcrop” is edible.
4. Little Red Riding Orphan Annie Oakley is packing heat.
5. Mr Trenchcoat can pass through the Forcefield.
6. Underneath the sand, at a depth of three feet, there is a flat, metallic base.
7. Do you really want to kiss someone who sleeps on a golf course?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Welsh Legends in The Future King

Art by John Totleben

Among other interests, Tom Moldvay evidently had a fondness for Welsh history and legends.  We see this in Priddo, a Lords of Creation setting – a parallel world where Cymric culture flourished.  “Priddo,” Moldvay tells us, “is Welsh for earth or terra.”  Google Translate does not contradict this, but suggests that 'Daearoedd' may be more appropriate (and more difficult to pronounce).

In The Future King, Moldvay makes extensive use of Welsh legends, especially as they intersect with Arthurian legend.  The premise of the adventure, of course, is to rouse King Arthur from his profound slumber.  The first character the party encounters is Taliessin, who acts as a sort of expository vehicle for the Game Master.  If The Future King is a railroad, then Taliessin is the conductor.

Among the possible random encounters in The Future King, there are:
Gwyllion – “The Gwyllion is a hideous old hag with incredible strength.  She will try to drag a victim down into her dark, other-worldly dwelling...After the Gwyllion succeeds in grabbing a victim, the heroes have only one turn to defeat her before she disappears.”
Twrch Trwyth – This is a giant, intelligent boar.  (“It has the power of speech.”)  There is a 58% chance it will attack the party; otherwise it will flee.  It has an impressive 220 Survival points, an attack success chance of approximately 92%, and a damage bonus greater than that of Corvus Andromeda's blaster.  It also has poison bristles, meaning that the victim of the attack must succeed with a Luck roll or die.
Cyhyraeth – “The Cyhyraeth is an invisible bodiless voice.  It is basically an omen for good or bad luck.”  There is an equal chance of either good or bad luck.  Bad luck means the characters have a -1 Luck modifier while good luck means the characters have a +1 Luck modifier.  Either condition lasts only until the end of the next combat.
Llamhigyn Y Dwr – Otherwise known as a 'water leaper', this giant toad automatically attacks the party.  It has 160 Survival points, an attack success chance of approximately 78%, and a damage bonus greater than a shot from a pistol but less than a two-handed axe.  It possesses 'magical armor' and its 'bloody saliva' induces hallucinations in any victim that fails his Luck roll.  This means the victim will be easier to hit in combat.
Ellylldan – This is a Will o' the Wisp.  In game terms, if a character fails his Luck roll twice, “the hero follows the Ellylldan to his death.”

Standard encounters (i.e., non-random) include a fight with the Addanc, “a monster that looks like a giant cross between a crocodile and a beaver.”  Every turn it has a bite attack and two claw attacks.  It has 140 Survival points and moderate 'armor'.  At one point in the adventure, the characters are subject to the pranks of the Coranieid Folk, “a sort of Welsh variation of dwarves with special magical powers.”  If the characters ignore the pranks, nothing happens.  If the characters somehow “join in on the spirit of the pranks,” each character is rewarded with a stone that grants magical protection (but is not cumulative with other protection).  If violence erupts between the Coranieid and the characters, a total of eight Coranieid will confront the party.  They will use their 'apportation' power to cause small rocks to fall on the characters, causing an automatic 2-12 points of damage.  After one turn of combat, the Coranieid will 'teleport' away.  The Coranieid also possess 'telepathy' and magic stones of protection.  The Coranieid have only thirty Survival points each and – in the unlikely event they enter mêlée – they wield hammers with an approximate attack success chance of 56%.

During the course of the adventure, the party encounters a variety of personalities.  Their first opponent is the giant Ysbaddaden who perhaps has the best soliloquy in The Future King.  It begins with “You cursed savage manlings...”  Iddawg (“The Embroiler of Britain”) helps the characters cross a river.  Bran the Blessed treats them to a feast.  Merlin makes a cameo appearance after the heroes defeat Vivian, thus canceling her spell.  The party finds Bedivere and retrieves Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake.  “The heroes will find they cannot actually use Excalibur in combat,” Moldvay indicates, “only Arthur can wield the sword...”  Regardless, anyone carrying Excalibur gains positive modifiers to Luck, attack, and damage.

If the players are unable to solve enough of the riddles posed to them, they may fight Morgan le Fay, who has considerable magical protection and more Survival points than a giant boar.  Not only can she cast illusions, she can use 'fascination' to cause one or more characters to fight on her behalf.  The party's final opponent is Mordred.  With only one hundred Survival points and less protection than Morgan le Fay, such an opponent may seem anticlimactic.  However, Mordred is armed with two poisoned javelins that cause death unless a Luck roll is successful.  After using the javelins, Mordred resorts to using a magic spear (75% attack success) that causes double damage.  When using the spear, Mordred cannot be disarmed.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Meet the Heroes

Players of The Future King adopt the roles of six characters provided with the game.  Not merely pre-gens, these characters – described below – are historical personages that Tom Moldvay rendered in game terms.  Some also appear in Lords of Creation, which suggests a certain fondness on Moldvay's part.  Dave Billman provided the art shown here and he often contributed to Moldvay's non-TSR projects.  Billman is/was quite talented; unfortunately, I cannot find much information about him.


I place Nostradamus first because, compared to the others, he is likely closest to an average person in terms of physical ability.  He has 59 Survival points, no Initiative bonus, and a 'base attack' (knife) with a success rate of approximately 56% (once per turn).

Nostradamus can “heal each hero once...for a maximum of 36 points.”  He can also restore all of a person's Survival points, but only “two people total” in the course of the adventure.  He can perform 'psychometry' three times, engage in 'clairvoyance' three times, use 'mind block' to “defend himself against any kind of mental attack” three times, and employ 'true sight' to “see the reality behind any illusion” three times.  Also, by virtue of his 'premonition', the Game Master must warn the player when Nostradamus “senses possible danger ahead.”

Bruce Lee

Bruce is an interesting addition to the game in that there is no indication of licensing from his estate even though his name and likeness appear on the cover.  Anyway, he has 113 Survival points and +3 Initiative.  He can attempt three unarmed strikes per turn with a success rate of approximately 89% each.  The amount of damage he inflicts is equivalent to what a 16th century French physician would inflict with a knife; however, he gets a damage bonus for each attack where he rolls less than 34%.  If so, he inflicts more damage than he does with nunchucks, a weapon with which he can attack twice per turn at a success rate of 72%.

In addition to his martial arts damage bonus, when doubles are rolled for Bruce's attack, “he has hit a vital area of his opponant [sic] and does twice as much damage as normal.”  On the other hand, when an 'opponent' rolls double when attacking Bruce, the attack fails because “Bruce...has actually dodged the attack.”

Cyrano de Bergerac

Evidently, for his depiction of Cyrano, Billman relied upon a publicity still of José Ferrer from Cyrano de Bergerac.

Cyrano has 92 Survival points and +3 Initiative.  He can attack twice per turn with a knife at a success rate of approximately 64%.  He also has a one-shot musket (58% success rate) which takes six turns to reload.

Of course, Cyrano is at his best with a rapier, which apparently inflicts the same amount of damage as nunchucks.  With the rapier, he can attack twice per turn with a success rate of approximately 89%.  If he rolls less than 34%, he gets a damage modifier greater than that of a two-handed axe (see below) or, if he rolls less than 17%, he “has the choice of disarming his opponant [sic] instead of doing physical damage.”

Harald Hardraada

As someone who tried to conquer England, he is an unlikely choice to be a champion of King Arthur.  Yet, standing seven feet tall, who's going to argue with him?

Harald has 119 Survival points (which is more than any other hero) and +2 Initiative.  He is one of only two characters that wear armor.  He wields a two-handed axe with which he can attack once per turn at a success rate of approximately 78%.  He also has a sword that permits two attacks per turn at 69%.  However, he does more damage with the axe and does double damage when doubles are rolled.  He can otherwise attack with a knife twice per turn at 58%.

Harald also has a 'pilot' ability that gives him “an uncanny sense of direction” and allows him to “navigate by using subtle clues meaningless to most people.”

Doc Holliday

With a score of 57, Doc has fewer Survival points than Nostradamus, doubtless attributable to tuberculosis.  Sill, he has an Initiative of +3.

Doc can attack twice per turn with either a knife (at 72%) or a rifle (at 75%).  Doc's expertise, however, is with his revolvers.  With them he can attack three times per turn with a success rate of approximately 81%.  When using his revolvers, his Initiative bonus is +5.  If doubles are rolled when attacking with either revolvers or rifle, he inflicts greater damage or can choose to disarm his 'opponent'.

Doc also has 'sleight of hand' that he can use to “make any small object seemingly appear and disappear by magic.”

Owen Glendower

Owen was the last Welshman to claim the title “Prince of Wales.”  Billman apparently found it fitting to base Owen's appearance on that of noted Welsh actor Richard Burton.

Owen has 71 Survival points, +1 Initiative, and armor that offers impressive damage reduction.  He can attack twice per turn with a knife (at 42%) or a sword (at 64%).  He also has a longbow that takes a turn to “reload” and has a success rate of approximately 58%.  All of these weapons inflict the same range of damage.

Three times during the adventure, “Owen Glendower can lay a curse on a foe.”  The 'curse' will reduce the foe's Luck, attack success, and damage modifier for one combat.  In accordance with Henry IV, Owen can “summon spirits from the vasty deep.”  In game terms, this means that twice during the adventure he can use illusions to cause foes to “flee in panic.”  In addition, Owen can use 'necromancy' twice to “call up the shade of a dead person an talk to the dead individual.”  Finally, once during the adventure can summon a 'storm' that will cause his foes (but not his friends) 1d6×10 points of damage.

Le Comte de Saint-Germain

Although not a player character, Saint-Germain can appear as a random encounter and there is a chance (27.77%) he will attack the party.  Saint-Germain cannot die, but he can sustain 100 Survival points before he decides to leave.  He has an Initiative of +3 and can use a sword to attack twice per turn with a success rate of approximately 56%.  Saint-Germain has the powers of 'invisibility' and 'hypnosis'.

Corvus Andromeda

Discussed previously, Corvus can appear as a random encounter.  He might attack the party (16.66% chance) but is more likely (41.66% chance) to “help the heroes in their next combat.”  He has 90 Survival points and +3 Initiative.  Corvus' force field gives him less protection than what Owen Glendower's armor offers; however, unlike most armor in The Future King, the force field works against missile attacks.

At a success rate of approximately 78% Corvus can attack twice per turn with a vibrodagger.  It inflicts damage equivalent to nunchucks but bypasses non-magical armor.  Corvus has a baster with four shots.  Each shot delivers an impressive amount of damage that also ignores non-magical armor.  Corvus has a 69% success rate with his blaster.

Sinbad the Sailor

It is also possible for Sinbad to appear as a random encounter.  Unfortunately, no game statistics are provided for him.  I suppose this is because he will neither attack the party nor fight alongside them.  However, there is a 41.66% chance that Sinbad will like the party enough to give them a magic dagger that “ignores most armor.”  All of the player characters (except Bruce Lee) have a listed combat ability with a knife so I assume skill with knives also applies to magic daggers.  Thus, any character (except Bruce Lee) could make use of Sinbad's dagger.  Bruce Lee also happens to be the only player character who isn't white – just an observation.  How hard would it have been to give him a knife attack?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

General Rules for The Future King

In honor of Tom Moldvay's birthday, here are the 'general rules' for The Future King.  These rules appear on an inset marked “Players have permission to photocopy this page,” so I feel no shame in providing them here.  (Well, no more shame than usual.)  Elsewhere in the book, Moldvay defines 'role-playing game' and provides advice on how to be a Game Master, but the section shown below comprises the complete mechanics of the system.