Sunday, May 21, 2017

Inspiration: Loslon (Part II)

Art by Michael Creager

Avalon Hill marketed Dark Emperor as “its game of fantastic warfare.”  As described in the previous post, the setting of the game is the world of Loslon.  True to the notion of “fantastic warfare,” most of the counters represent military units.  Other counters represent individuals called Leaders; they have 'Hero Ratings' that can affect battles.  Many Leaders also have a Magic Strength, permitting them to cast spells.  On Loslon, magic is derived from Runes and each magic-using leader is associated with one.

There are five pairs of 'opposed' Runes:  Death / Life, Terror / Serenity, Earth / Air, Fire / Water, and Metal / Wood.  Each Rune permits the casting of one or two spells as well as the ability to counter the spells of its opposite.  Any given spell “is either a movement, combat, or diplomacy spell.”  Aside from countering Wood spells, a “Metal Rune leader” can cast “Forge Sword.”  This creates either a Hero's Sword (which seems to increase a leader's Hero Rating during heroic combat) or a Living Sword (which can permanently destroy greater vampires).

When casting a spell, a player must roll the leader's Magic Strength or less on 1d6.  Given that most spell casting leaders have a Magic Strength of 3, such a leader has only a 50% chance of successfully casting his (or her) first spell in a game-turn.  “Magical Devices” can increase Magic Strength, as can areas on the board indicated by Rune symbols.  (Some leaders start the game with a Magical Device.)

Also on the board are seven pentacle symbols upon which “magic hex units” are randomly placed, face down.  Leaders can visit such a hex and reveal the counter.  Among the possibilities are three monsters and four Magical Devices.  Leaders may attempt to recruit monsters or fight them.  Killing a monster means that “the leader's hero rating is permanently increased by ONE.”  The Magical Devices include:
Famir – A sword “created to destroy Ssstoth, king of the Sea-monsters.”  Ssstoth can appear in the game and the leader with Famir is compelled to fight Ssstoth.
He-Sups-On-Prana – A sword which can drain an enemy's soul “and destroys him.”
The Dawn Lantern – This device reduces “the combat strengths of all vampire units...”
The Silk Negator – “It is a cloth with the ability to negate any magic.”

Also part of the game are mercenaries who can be recruited by either side:
Lord Montoy – Lord Montoy ruled the lands between the cities of Montoy and the Gates.  When defeated by Stavror ten years ago, “he retreated to the interior with the survivors and began a guerilla war.”  He has become a mercenary with the hope he can earn “enough gold to hire a force to retake his kingdom.”
SaarSaar is an intelligent Great Eagle from the mountains of Ahautsieron.  Unlike most of his race, his primary interest in humans is as food.  To his delight, he has discovered that humans will pay him to fight other humans; the result being a battlefield covered with fresh corpses for the delectation of Saar and his followers...
Fernan Conniver – “He was banished from [Kelaron Oiret] when it was discovered that he bribed his way into the Ahaubot,” the governing body of the land.  “He has become a mercenary leader of considerable ability since his disgrace” and “is only employed by those who have a desperate need for his services.”
The HoundsThe Hounds are a race of sapient canines who live in the far north.  Mor Faloi, a human, was abandoned in their land as a child.  They adopted him and raised him to the pack.  As a man, Mor has raised a unit of hound fighters and become a mercenary...
Cos dol CosCos dol Cos is a member of the Cult of Unity, a religious cult who believe that magic has brought man nothing but misery.  They seek to eliminate magic from Loslon and return to the ancient ways, practiced before the First Age of Magic.  Cos dol Cos isn't a true mercenary, he fights when and where he feels the cause is served.  His Sons of the Morning are so named because they believe that the elimination of magic will bring a golden dawn to mankind...Cos dol Cos and the Sons of the Morning are immune to all forms of magic.
Silwer Flagriel – Silwer is a cult leader associated with the Fire Rune, but – unlike the other mercenaries – he is not associated with any military units.  The Cult of Burning Inspiration believes that evil is rampant and “must be burned out wherever it is found.”  He is more likely to side with the Great Necromancer since the kingdoms of Loslon “are a little tired of Silwer's habit of burning cities to the ground to purge the evil within them.”

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Inspiration: Loslon (Part I)

Art by Michael Creager
In the third age of magic Padrech dar Choim, the Great Necromancer, was banished to the Realm of the Dead by the High Emperor Padrom III after a long and bloody war. There, on the cold and silent Fields of Decay, he brooded as centuries passed. Slowly, with the passage of time, he gathered his forces for his next assault on civilization. While marshalling his power he found allies to his cause in Tol Morn, Lord of Vampires, and Mezal, Avatar of the goddess Szanbu (Misstress of Fear and Terror). Now, his time has come again...
Thus begins the Introduction to Dark Emperor, an Avalon Hill bookcase game published in 1985.  For this game, the designer, Greg Costikyan, tried “to create a believable fantasy world.”  According to the designer's notes:
Many fantasy worlds are built with unimaginative, and sometimes impossible, geographies. This may seem to be a minor point but, as a geologist, it is a sore point with me. I hit upon the idea of placing the game in a world of impact-crater geography where the plate tectonics that has produced the geography of our own world does not operate... I proceeded, therefore, to produce a set of tables to generate random locations and sizes for impact craters and generated geography on a hex grid map with a compass.  The result is the world of Loslon.
I have attempted to create a passable rendition of this world (without hexes).  I have used grayscale for purposes of visibility and have used different symbols to represent Loslonian runes.



(I could find no instance of the 'Air' rune on the Dark Emperor board.)

Several battlefields are indicated on the map.  The Necromancer opponent can recruit undead armies from these places.  The battlefields are:  (1) Battle of Fornost, (2) The Hecatomb, (3) The Fallen Standard, (4) Battle of Kelar Isle, (5) Battle of the Gates, (6) The Emperor's Lament, (7) The Graves of the Marind Warriors, and (8) Battle of Geysers.  Units of distance are “imperial zotz” and no conversion formulae are presented.  Why the the 'Battle of Fornost' transpired over a thousand zotz away from Fornost is also not explained.

Costikyan also developed “the elements of a believable language, in order to produce consistent names.”  Also from the designer's notes:
Another peeve I have with much fantasy and science fiction is inconsistent naming.  Writers seem to delight in inventing outlandish names with no thought to the fact that a culture produces those names and certain rules apply to them.

Here are some brief notes regarding the kingdoms of Loslon.

Zolahaureslor:  In the wake of “the Necromantic War the ended the third age of magic,” the fringes of the empire were subject to “a series of revolts and barbarian incursions.”  Zolahaureslor is what remains of the empire.  “Its court life is a labyrinthine web of deadly intrigue.”

Ahautserion:  This former area of the empire was conquered by a tribe called the Marind Warriors.  “Its economy is dependent on mining and metal-working.”

Ferlarie:  “When the south was overrun by the Stavek barbarians, and it became clear that the empire could not help them, Ferlarie declared its independence and built a sizable fleet to protect its far-flung dominions.”

Kelaron Oiret:  “The Kelaron peninsula, like Ahautserion, was overrun by the Marind Warriors...In this land the tribal customs of the Marind evolved into republicanism.”

The Marechs:  “The two Marech kingdoms, Lammarech (Eastern Marech) and Loymarech (Western Marech), were conquered by the Mari, a civilized people driven south by a series of crop blights during the empire's decline.”

Starkeep:  “Starkeep is of great religious importance to the lands around it.”  It is the realm of the Star Believers – “a cult of sky worshippers associated with the Serenity rune.”

The Scythe:  The people of the Scythe train rocs “to fight and carry riders.”

Stavror:  The Stavek barbarians “tended to mount a sizable invasion of the empire every century or so.”  With the decline of the empire, the Stavek occupied the southern regions and have “become one of the most powerful, and prosperous, nations in Loslon.”

Tal Pletor:  Twelve years ago in this nation, a mercenary general “usurped the throne, married the ex-king's wife and killed the remainder of the royal family.”

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hazards of Space and Subspace

Image from 2001: A Space Odyssey © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Ken St. Andre lists three 'game scenarios' for his Starfaring role-playing game:  'standard exploration', 'the planet search contest', and 'alien (or enemy) attack'.  For aliens or enemies, St. Andre suggests either “Human homeworlds...at war and...fighting it out in space,” the Robots, or the Slish.
The Slish are arch-typically B.E.M. in concept, methane breathers, tentacled, the works. They are non-telepathic and unreasonably hostile to all other lifeforms. They have a faster-than-light star drive, but it does not utilize Star Crystals; nor can the Slish enter Subspace. They do not utilize their FTL drive inside solar systems. They seem to be especially interested in gas giant planets, and are most often encountered near one. They do use energy weapons similar in effect to the Shiva beam weapons of humanity, but their shields do not seem to be as powerful as Human shields. Aside from these generalizations, Slish ships vary in quality...
Additionally, the Slish are “octopoid” and they “seem completely immune to the psionic powers of human telepaths.”  We also learn, “No one captured by the Slish has ever returned to tell the tale.”  Apparently, no Slish have ever been captured.  With regard to encountering the Slish in combat...
Attacking Slish ships approach on a constantly corrected straight line towards their target ship, firing at a rate of 5 times per combat turn. This means that while the human ship is making Saving Rolls to determine if it is hit by the Slish who have evolved the technique of firing randomly in the general direction of their randomly evading target, the Slish ship is on a mathematically predictable course; and though they fire 5 times for every once you fire, you will hit the Slish ship every time as long as your Gunnery computer is working.
The 'Space Hazards' chapter begins, “For each turn that a ship is in space, either Subspace or regular space, the G.M. will roll 2 dice.”  How long is a turn?  St. Andre neglects to inform us.  At any rate, a roll of twelve (i.e., 2.77%) indicates “some form of trouble.”  St. Andre supplies two tables – one for 'normal space' and and another for 'subspace' – but invites prospective Galaxy Masters “to add your own inventions to these lists of space hazards.”

The listings for the normal space table are:  Slish (~33%), Galactic Core Radiation (25%), Meteor Strike (~17%), Power Crystal Malfunction (~14%), and Supernova (~11%).  When Galactic Core Radiation is encountered, 1d6 is rolled.  The result is subtracted from Mentality, Physique, and Health; however, the result is added to “Psionic powers.”  Health can be recovered, but “Other characteristics are permanently changed.”  The 'supernova' result is only applicable to “Unstable stars of spectral classes 0, B, and A with masses greater than Sol.”  Supernovae generate a wave of radiation that reduces “the Health of all crew members” by 3d6 and “half that number from the Mentality of all survivors.”  Starships that do not promptly retreat into Subspace “will be vaporized by the expanding shell of superheated gases.”

The entries for the Subspace table are:  “Kthulhus” (~66.7%), “Derbis” (~27.7%), and “Berserkers” (~5.6%).
Kthulhus are the dominant life-form in Subspace. They exist and grow by devouring the slight energy leakage from normal space into Subspace. They are disturbed by the warping of Subspace caused by Starship warpengines, and when they detect it, they will approach and attack the source.
Kthulhus cause crew members to hallucinate; this eventually causes a reduction of Mentality.  “Kthulhus may be driven off or slain,” page 43 tells us, “by psychic blasts of hatred or aversion from a crew member concentrating on the idea of a Kthulhu, and who has a higher psi rating than the Kthulhus rating.”  Derbis is a “Subspace life-form most nearly resembling a rock with eyes.”  It's like dyslexic debris!  A Derbis “thinks, after a fashion,” and desires “to reduce itself to free hydrogen.”  To accomplish this, “they smash into [starships] with glee, [since] the energy shield will disintegrate them.”  The effect on the ship “is similar to Meteor damage in normal space.”  Berserkers are, of course, a reference to Fred Saberhagen's creation.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Combat in Starfaring

Art by George Wilson

In our most recent post, we found that handguns are available for purchase in the setting of Starfaring.  Specifically, a handgun costs one megacredit and has an “output” of one standard of energy.  Ken St. Andre never defines how much 'energy' is in a standard.  Still, we don't need an exact amount as long as the rules address the effect; however, the rules do not do this.  Since St. Andre included handguns in the “Store for Starfarers,” he must have anticipated that handguns would be used in Starfaring scenarios.  Unfortunately, St. Andre does not incorporate rules for person-to-person combat in the game.

The 'Weapons and Conflict' section of Starfaring pertains exclusively to ship-to-ship combat.  Given the speeds and distances involved in starship conflict, St. Andre opines...
Even utilizing beam energy weapons which travel at the speed of light, one cannot fire at a ship in a known position, because in combat it will be constantly moving in evasive action, and it will not be there when the ray arrives.  Ergo, ships in combat must fire at the point in space where they estimate the other ship will be at a given time.  The Shiva Crystals aboard Human ships modulate Brahma Crystal energy into a disruptive beam of force, invisible in itself but accompanied by a pulse of red light to allow for accurate tracking...
With regard to the difficulty of this task, St. Andre states...
One would almost need to be psychic (as well as lucky) to hit another ship in this game. Fortunately, the Human brains linked to the ship's gunnery computer are psychic, and, depending on the degree of psychic power they have, they can actually foretell the future--in this case, aided by the mathematical interpolations of the computer, they would know where to aim in space.
In terms of game mechanics...
...the result would really be determined by a Saving Roll made by the attacked ship.  This Saving Roll would be determined by the mental and psychic attributes of the ship's brain, but would also be affected by distance between the combative ships.
St. Andre further postulates on page 29,
[W]e are going to come up with a formula for Saving Rolls based on ship's brain psi and mentality ratings, ship's distance, and ship's speed. (Note: if more than one person is bionically linked to the computer, their psi totals are added, but the mentality total is not cumulative and is that of the brightest person in the linkup.) S.R. equals 1000/(Men. plus Psi times 10000/Range in miles all divided by the fraction without the decimal of the speed of light at which the ship is moving. The formula simplifies to 10,000,000/(M -Psi) X R X Sc) where M stands for high Mentality in linkup, Psi is Psi total in linkup, R is approximate range in miles, and Sc is the decimal fraction of the speed of light expressed as a whole number.
(Evidently, the result is the target number which must be met or exceeded on 2d6. Just as with Tunnels & Trolls, a roll of doubles allows another roll to be added to the total.  So, the lower the target number, the easier it is to obtain a successful result.)

There are some inconsistencies in St. Andre's calculations.  The ‘simplified’ formula is missing an opening parenthesis while the ‘unsimplified’ formula is missing a closing parenthesis.  The total of the Mentality and Psi ratings is part of the denominator (although the ‘simplified’ formula shows a minus sign instead of a plus sign).  A larger denominator means a smaller result which, in turn, means an easier target number.  This makes sense; greater Mentality and Psi ratings should mean a better chance of success.  The ‘unsimplified’ formula shows the inverse of range in the denominator.  Since this reduces the denominator, it reduces the chances of success.  However, in the ‘simplified’ formula, range is not expressed as an inverse value.  This suggests that a greater range means an easier Saving Roll.  (Remember, the Saving Roll is to be made by the target vessel to avoid being hit.)  Then we have “Sc is the decimal fraction of the speed of light expressed as a whole number.”  Wouldn’t that just be 10c?  Regardless, a greater speed increases the denominator, meaning an easier Saving Roll for the target.

Interestingly, the attacker's only effect upon the Saving Roll is the distance to the target.  The “mental and psychic attributes” of the attacker are not considered.

However one chooses to interpret St. Andre's number crunching, there is a numerator of ten million.  On page 29, St. Andre comments, “You can see how handy your own pocket calculator is for calculations of this nature.”  In terms of randomization, a calculator is “the expensive, fun way” while a deck of playing cards is “the simple, cheap way.”  With regard to calculators, St. Andre advises, “Radio Shack sells an excellent one for $30.”  In addition,
More expensive calculators, which provide many more functions, may be used to generate random numbers by, for example, taking the sine of the input number, dividing it by pi, and then taking the square root, reading your result behind the decimal point. I guarantee you will not be able to anticipate the final result, which means the number is random as far as you are concerned.
Assuming a ship is hit, “its Vishnu field will flare up to shunt off as much of the energy impact as it can.”  Energy that the Vishnu field cannot 'shunt off' damages the ship; puncturing the shell and impairing one of the ship's systems.  (“No more than one system will be damaged on one shot.”)  'Systems' include:  (1) Brahma Crystal, (2) Shiva Crystal, (3) Vishnu Crystal, (4) Warpengine, (5) Crew, and (6) Computers.  The amount of damage is determined by rolling 1d6 for “every 500 standards of energy or fraction thereof” that gets past the Vishnu field.  On a 'crew' result, the result of the damage die or dice “is how many crew members are killed outright.”  Each member of the crew makes a Saving Roll; space armor grants +5 and combat armor offers +10.  There is no target number – “Those with the lowest scores are the first to die, until 1 crew member is gone for each hit suffered.”