Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Inspiration: Narth

Art by Charles Vess

Narth was once known as the “continent of man,” but man's place has been usurped by demons.  Narth is the setting of Demonlord, a 1981 hex-and-counter game from the Heritage USA Dwarfstar line.  According to the flavor text, “Although Demons are a tiny minority, through their great power, magic, and capacity for evil they act as captains, administrators, and governors of many lesser races such as half-men, demi-men, goblins, orcs, and other manish races of darkness.”  The action of the game occurs in the province of Nisshar.  One player controls the forces of the eponymous Demonlord; the other player controls the “Alliance of Hosar, a sun-god cult.” So we have a standard, Manichaean conflict, sun-worshipping “humans and their semi-human allies” fighting against the tyranny of the Demonlord.

The designer of Demonlord is Arnold Hendrick.  (Another of his games, Knights and Magick, is available at Lulu.)  Demonlord itself is available as a free, authorized download.  Shown below is the game's board; a colorful map rendered by David Helber.  On the map, each hex “represents one league (3 to 4 miles).”  Also included are 154 counters representing military units of “about 500 troops” each (including such forces as Pegasus Troopers and Dragon Riders), characters and entourages (including such personalities as the Lord of Erush and the Baron of Barthek), and spells (like 'Forcemarch' and 'Darkness').

Variety in the conflict scenario is provided through several means.  Players have some choice regarding the initial placement of units and spell assignment is random.  In the game there are several 'neutrals' that players can attempt to recruit as allies:

Duchy of Altu'han:  Mountain realm of the cragsmen
Ancients:  Remnants of the lizard-people
Principality of Lyung:  Including the nearly impregnable fortress of the Sorcerer Cloud Prince
Great Woods Barbarians:  Warrior tribes of the forest
The Kingdom of Ula:  The inhabitants of the Mines of Ula are not determined until the are first encountered in any given game.  There's an equal chance of finding either the “Balron” (see below), Trolls, and slave miners, or the Dwarf King, Dwarves, and slave miners.  Either way, you get slave miners – so it's all good.


Either side can also “attempt in invoke certain special demi-gods and spirits.”  The demon side can invoke the pit fiend of Yorgash, a “shaman,” and – at the Temple of Ninnghiz – a random assortment of units including rock men, gargoyles, and a worm lord.  The Hosar side can invoke the “Light Spirit” and the West Wizard.  The side allied with the Ancients can invoke “the Old One character.”  The side allied with the Great Woods Warriors can invoke either the Beast God or the Forest Spirit (equal chance of either).

Additionally, by sacrificing potential victory points, either side can request reinforcements.  The actual reinforcements are selected randomly.  Demon reinforcements come from the Inner Kingdom and include axe goblins and a great dragon.  Hosar reinforcements are mercenary forces and include such mundane units as lancers and crossbowmen.

In the context of a role-playing game, player characters could be Hosar operatives; perhaps on a diplomatic mission to secure an alliance, perhaps urgently acquiring the necessary paraphernalia for an invocation, perhaps rescuing prisoners of war.  The adventure possibilities are myriad.



Sunday, May 24, 2015

Wizards' World

Art by Tracy Cameron Mansfield

Wizards' World is one of those games that boil down to D&D with some house rules thrown in.  Nowadays, you can't swing a displacer beast without hitting one of those; however, Wizards' World was released in 1983, when the notion was not altogether tired.  In a previous post, I explained that Lawrence Schick confused this game with Wizards' Realm.  There's only one syllable of difference between the titles; perhaps I expect too much from Schick.

Anyway, Wizards' World is no longer an obscure, out-of-print game from thirty years ago; it is now an obscure, print-on-demand game from thirty years ago.  It has been acquired by Daniel Proctor and is available wherever Goblinoid Games are sold.  The current printing has been reformatted somewhat and incorporates errata.  Yet, the book is not entirely without error; the attacker critical blow table on page 13 displays a spreadsheet goof of “Jan-50” instead of “1-50.”  “Populous” instead of “populace” (p. 59) remains uncorrected from the original version.  Also, it would have been nice to have a spell index and an alphabetized monster listing.

One interesting difference of the current version from the original is the lack of any mention of co-author Douglas S. Krull.  Originally, Krull's name appeared with that of David Silvera on the cover, the title page, and beneath the preface.  The preface itself is unchanged with phrases like “We especially wish” and “We also wish.”  It makes it seem that Silvera is employing the editorial 'we'.  Krull's  status as an unperson is confirmed when Proctor, in his foreword, uses the phrase “of the author” (singular).  Perhaps Krull wanted to divorce himself from any association with the game.

All of the artwork (including the cover shown above) is the product of Tracy Mansfield, who evidently did not pursue a career in art or adorn any other game books.  His efforts are rendered in a style I can only describe as a step up from high school notebook realism.  I'm not complaining; it offers something of an 'old school' authenticity.

The first step in creating a character is to select a race.  Playable races include the familiar assortment of humans, halflings, dwarves, elves, half-elves, and gnomes. Additionally, there are 'evil' versions dwarves, elves, and halflings.  I guess humans are already evil; they are “the most warlike race” and are considered “inferior and barbaric.”  Gnomes enjoy practical jokes most of all and “the gnomish sense of humor has been known run roughshod over meek, and sometimes not so meek, beings of all types.”  So, I guess gnomes are already evil too.

The 'bad' dwarves are called metamorphic dwarves and they are servants of the Earth King.  “They have golden skin and sparkling eyes” and they “can also cause their skin to appear to move and change hue.”  The 'bad' halflings are called demon halflings; they received powers from Lucifer and Mephistopheles.  Demon halfling powers include some percentage of magic resistance, the ability to transform “to humanoid form,” and they take half damage from fire.  Dark elves in Wizards' World are standard issue except they automatically have some spellcasting ability.

Although there are 'bad' character races, Wizards' World has no rules for alignment.  However, characters of the white knight profession get an experience bonus “for being kind, generous and generally heroic” and an experience penalty for behaving evilly; vice versa for black knights.

There are seven primary attributes:  strength, willpower, intelligence, endurance, appearance, dexterity, and agility.  Dexterity influences “manipulative capability (i.e. picking locks)” and “ability to hit with a weapon.”  Agility measures “reflexes and dodging ability.”  Each primary attribute has a value from three to thirty; the average “for normal, non-adventuring individuals is 10.”  Primary attributes are determined based on a character's race; humans have 3d6+2 for each.

There are four secondary attributes, each of which is the average of a set of three primary attributes:  Life Points (END, STR, and WIL), Alertness (WIL, INT, and AGL), Stealth (INT, AGL, and DEX), and Movement Value (WIL, AGL, and END).

Wizards' World offers an interesting assortment of character professions beyond the expected warrior, wizard, and thief; however, there are no cleric analogs.  Among the other 'professions' there are:  attackers, defenders, scouts, spies, assassins, white knights, black knights, jesters (yes, there are jesters), destroyers (the Wizards' World equivalent of the AD&D monk), and vampires.  Incidentally, “Vampires...are the only monster that can be played as a character.” (I guess demon halflings, metamorphic dwarves, and jesters are not considered to be monsters.)

Entry into a profession is based on attribute minimums and race.  In Wizards' World, race is not as restrictive as AD&D with regard to profession/class choice.  Among the restrictions, dwarves and halflings cannot be wizards; however, their 'bad boy' race equivalents can.  Also, the 'bad' races can't be white knights, neither can gnomes.  (I told you they're evil.)

Curiously, neither flavor of halfling can be a scout.  At first glance, this might be explained by the fact that the minimum strength needed for a scout is 13 and halflings only roll 3d4 to determine strength.  However, demon halflings roll 2d4+1d6 for strength and thus can have 13 strength.  Also, halflings are permitted to join the attacker profession even though the minimum strength requirement of 14.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Force, Fire, and Omega

Art by Chris Marrinan

Organizations with flashy acronyms are a staple of superhero comics and spy movies; acronyms like Subversive Hierarchy for Autocratic Dominance Over the World or, as another example, Secret Echelon for the Rapid Propagation of Ecumenical Nihilism and Terrorism.  They are such a fixture of the superhero genre that they appear even in generic settings.  The 'setting' of Superworld is no exception.

The Free Investigatory Research Enterprise (FIRE) was created by morally rudderless scientists and it controls “cover corporations and professional associations, all of which have many members who have no idea of FIRE's basic motivations.”  According to page 9 of the Gamemasters Book, “They have existed for many years in total secrecy, with no outside awareness of their megalomaniacal plots for world domination in the name of science.”  You know, because science is evil.  In contrast to their well-hidden existence, their private security force wears “a combat uniform of yellow with red trim and a red flame insignia on [the] breast.”  The FIRE motto is, “For every ember dying, two flames will grow – no one extinguishes FIRE.”  This is reminiscent of the oath for Marvel's Hydra, “...cut off a limb, and two more shall take its place...”

The description of the Federal Organization for the Registration and Certification of Exotics (FORCE) includes a political history that was current when the second edition of Superworld was published in 1983, but which now – three decades later – seems quaint.  FORCE began in the Carter administration.  Due to lobbying efforts and Reagan-era budget cuts, FORCE's scope is substantially reduced.  Law-abiding superpeople can register with FORCE and gain access to FBI and police records as well as “a computer message board on which they can receive messages and contact other heroes and agencies.”  Registered people can receive training “on proper police procedure and constitutional rights of citizens.”  Reliable heroes can become Special Deputies with “full federal police powers” and yet can still maintain their secret identities.  Finally, “FORCE...maintains a special team of heroes ready for transportation anywhere in the country as an instant response group” called 'The Flying Squad'.

The Omega Institute “was established by a major philanthropical foundation to scientifically study mutants and accidental mutations...”  The institute 'hires' superheroes and reformed villains; however...
...the institute's security has been compromised several times, and...some scientists engaged in institute research may be spies for other nations or supervillain groups.  Because of this, secret hero identities and special weaknesses may become known to underworld contacts when the institute uncovers such information.


Art by Lisa Free

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Superworld



After Magic World and Future*World, the last 'rulesbook' for Worlds of Wonder was Superworld, intended for superhero role-playing.  In 1983, the year after the publication of Worlds of Wonder, a Superworld boxed set was released with a larger page count than all of Worlds of Wonder.  It enjoyed a modicum of success, even rating fifth on Lawrence Schick's Heroic Worlds' “Top Five Comic-Book Superhero Systems” (winning out over such games as Villains & Vigilantes and Heroes Unlimited).  Chaosium published a A Companion to Superworld supplement and a couple of adventures but, after 1984, no Superworld material was produced.  Nowadays, “Super World” is a mere setting in Basic RolePlaying; occupying thirty pages – including super power descriptions – in the rule book.  However, the 1983 Superworld (i.e., second edition) and its attendant publications are available electronically at RPGNow or Chaosium.com.

Evidently, designer Steve Perrin felt Superworld was too similar to Champions.  Of course, any superhero role-playing game using point allocation to going to be similar to Champions, but how much is too similar?  Well, both Chaosium-produced adventures were compatible with Champions and the Superworld Companion featured rules suitable for both games as well as a conversion process between the two.  Not only were the systems similar in execution, but Superworld supplements were also marketed as Champions supplements.  Ultimately, Superworld was an attempt by Perrin to adapt a fantasy role-playing game system to a superhero system but Champions was designed as a superhero system first and foremost.  While Superworld was a good game, it trod the trail blazed by Champions.  Are you going to play with the cool kid or the cool kid's little brother?  One wonders what Perrin would have designed if he had not been familiar with Champions

In Champions, a player builds a character based on a concept.  Although Superworld encouraged “superhero design from concept rather than haphazard allocation of hero points,” the described method of character generation relied upon randomly determined characteristic scores.  In Worlds of Wonder, players rolled 3d6 for each Superworld characteristic (adding 3 when the result was less than 11).  In 'regular' Superworld, players rolled 2d6+6 for each characteristic (optionally rerolling the lowest characteristic until the combined characteristic scores equal at least 91).  In either Superworld, each character was allowed a number of 'hero points' equal to the total of that character's rolled characteristics.  So, a character with high characteristics obtained a larger number of hero points than a character with relatively low characteristics; poor rolling hurt two ways.  Hero points could be used to purchase super powers, increase skills, and improve characteristic scores.  With the fourth edition of Basic RolePlaying, characters can be generated exclusively with point allocation, but now they are called 'character points' and not 'hero points'.

The 'costs' of characteristics have changed through the various iterations of Superworld (as detailed in the graphic below).  Intelligence and Power have always cost three hero/character points per point of characteristic; likewise, Constitution has been consistently available on a one-to-one basis.  In (2E) Superworld, one hero/character point could be used to add 3 to Strength or Size.  Appearance (originally Charisma) declined in value over the years, once as expensive as Power and now purchased at a mere one-to-one rate.  Contrariwise, Dexterity increased in value.  Also, in (2E) Superworld, there were “purchase restrictions” imposed on the amount by which characteristics could be increased.  For instance, Intelligence could not be increased by more than one-third of the original, rolled score.


While Champions has the characteristics of Physical Defence and Energy Defence, the Worlds of Wonder version of Superworld offered three forms of 'Armor':  Kinetic (“Blows, falls, sonic attacks, heat, and cold attacks”), Electromagnetic (“All magnetism and electrical attacks, such as lightning”), and Radiation (“Light, hard radiation, and gravity attacks”).  In the second edition of Superworld, 'Electromagnetic' became 'Electric' (“...the interaction of electrons and describes lightning bolts and bio-electric energy”) and the definitions changed for 'Kinetic' (“...anything from the impact of a fist to the vibrations of a sonic blast.” ) and 'Radiation' (“...the atomic-level disruption caused by electromagnetic waves, Radiant heat, X-rays, and lasers...”).  In fourth edition Basic RolePlaying, separate 'Armor' is required for each of eleven types of energy:  Cold, Darkness, Electric, Gravity, Heat, Kinetic, Light, Magnetic, Radiation, Sound, and Wind.

Aside from super powers, BRP-4E describes four other 'classes' of powers:  Magic, Mutations, Psychic Abilities, and Sorcery.  Some former 'super powers' are now considered to be 'psychic abilities' and are acquired in a different fashion.  As a result, there are only thirty-three 'super powers' in Basic RolePlaying (which is slightly more than the number of powers in Worlds of Wonder Superworld).