Sunday, December 14, 2014

Wild Talents in Timeship

According to page 12 of the Timeship rule book, “One of the more pleasing aspects of Time Travel is that Voyagers gradually become more expert as their experience increases.”  Although the Voyagers, of course, are the players themselves, author Herbie Brennan is referring to game mechanics, not player skill.  Successful completion (i.e., survival) of a Time Capsule entitles a Voyager to points of PERMANENT ENERGY.  Whenever a player determines PERSONAL ENERGY before beginning a Time Capsule, any PERMANENT ENERGY previously gained is added to the total.

“[T]he more dangerous the capsule,” we are told, “the greater the quantum of PERMANENT ENERGY which accrues to surviving Voyagers.”  A Voyager who successfully completes the 'Murder at the End of Time' Capsule receives one point of Permanent Energy.  However, a Voyager killed in the Capsule “must deduct FIVE points of Permanent Energy.”  So, it's possible for a Voyager to have negative Permanent Energy and thereby deduct points when determining Personal Energy.  'The Destruction of Gomorrah' Capsule offers 3 points of Permanent Energy; however, this seems applicable only if the Voyagers deactivate a certain device and find an EXIT to the Capsule.  No provision is made if the Voyagers don't find the device; which seems strange since it's an Adventure Capsule and not a Task Capsule.  Dying in Gomorrah causes a loss of three points of Permanent Energy.  A Voyager successful with the 'Assassinate the Fuhrer!' Capsule gains four points of Permanent Energy but a Voyager who dies in the Capsule loses two points of Permanent Energy.

Other than PERMANENT ENERGY, Voyagers can obtain Wild Talents.  According to the rules, “Wild Talents are extremely rare, but it is well to recognize the possibility of their appearance, especially as their use does not invariably involve ENERGY expenditure.”  The rule book does not provide much information about Wild Talents.  However, Voyagers have an opportunity to gain a Wild Talent in 'The Destruction of Gomorrah' Capsule, specifically “FIRE RESISTANCE.”  There is a 21% chance that a Voyager in that Capsule will gain that Wild Talent “when entering a fire.” So I guess they really are rare.  FIRE RESISTANCE is also conveyed to whatever possessions the Voyager is carrying.

The 'Timelord Screen' supplies a “sampling” of Wild Talents as well as the following information:  “In some cases the Timelord may...determine the Wild Talent to only be useable with the expenditure of Personal Power in addition to the passage of a dice check.”
  • TELEPATHY – “This ability may range from picking up an occasional strong thought to the ability to completely read another's thoughts.  A negative aspect of this ability is the receiving thoughts from many people at one time, causing great confusion.  This ability is limited to reading only the thoughts of humans.”
  • PSYCHOKINESIS – “This ability may range from the ability to control extremely small objects for short distances to objects weighing up to ten pounds for several dozen yards.  A negative aspect of this ability is the uncontrolled and undesired movement of articles at inopportune times.”
  • PYROKINESIS – “This ability only works on flammable items. The negative aspect of this ability is the occasional, uncontrolled use of the ability when the possessor is either disturbed or frightened.”
  • PRECOGNITION – “This ability is rarely ever controlled and occurs most frequently while the person possessing the talent is dreaming.  Often the person experiencing it will not be able to tell if the event seen pertains to him or herself, or to another known, or unknown, person.”
  • EMPATHY – This Wild Talent should more properly be named psychometry.  “The negative aspect of this ability is that the person empathizing will actually experience the feeling obtained from the touched object..  For example, depending upon the mood of the subject, the player may feel extremely depressed, rejected, untrusting, drunk; even homicidal of (sic) suicidal.”

Interestingly, all Voyagers are capable shape shifting.  The rule book and the Timelord Screen contradict one another regarding the Personal Energy costs involved with shape shifting.  According to the rule book, “A full sex change...requires only” three Personal Energy points whereas changing “skin colour, hair colour, general racial characteristics or height (within normal limits)” has a cost of two Personal Energy points per change.  According to the Timelord Screen, “slight changes in appearance such as changing the color of the eyes, hair, or slight alterations to skin tone”...each cost one to three points of Personal Energy.  Note the spelling of 'colour' in the rule book but 'color' on the Timelord Screen.  We must assume the contents of the rule book represent the opinions of Herbie Brennan while statements on the Timelord Screen are likely from Stephen Peek.  According to the Timelord Screen, the “drastic alteration of skin tone, physical changes to the facial structure, and changes in height and weight” cost between five and fifteen Personal Energy points each.

The rule book suggests that “major shape shifting should be discouraged” but, when implemented, should cost 75 - 150 Personal Energy points (or more).  In any event, “such shifts do no more than create an appearance.”  This means...“Intelligence, speech, speed, strike capacity and general abilities are not affected unless the new shape renders them physically impossible.”  For instance, forms without hands cannot operate telephones, but “a human shape shifted into a mouse retains human strength.”  Yet...
Some advantages may be gained provided these are inherent in the new shape.  A human shifted into an owl would, for example, have the power of flight, since the ability to fly is inherent in the structure of a bird.  But a human shifted into a cobra would not have a venomous bite since poison is a characteristic of the reptile, not something inherent in the shape of a snake.
Shape shifting is one of the most intriguing aspects of TIMESHIP – and one that in certain circumstances, can be vital to a Voyager's survival.  But it needs to be kept under careful control, otherwise the entire game will degenerate into cloud cuckoo land. 
Remember, there is only a short distance between time travelling shape shifters and cloud cuckoo land.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Product Review: Proteus Sinking

Thanks to the beneficence of Oakes Spalding (and a meager application of talent on the part of your humble host), I am in possession of Proteus Sinking, the eighth in Geoffrey McKinney's 'Psychedelic Fantasies' line of adventure modules.  The author is Björn Wärmedal; McKinney being the publisher.  This post is my review of the module.

McKinney's stated idiom for the Psychedelic Fantasies products is thus:
Each stand-alone adventure module in the Psychedelic Fantasies line revels in unconstrained imagination. Every monster, every magic power, and every magic spell is a unique and never-before-seen creation of the author. No orcs, fireballs, or +1 swords will be found within. Leave the familiar behind to explore hitherto undreamed of wonders...
This is an admirable objective.  Additionally, McKinney has opted for a 'no frills' presentation.  No artwork is included in the product; the only non-text items are location diagrams.  McKinney may have implemented this policy for cost control reasons or perhaps he does not want to constrain the reader's imagination with defined iconography.  Proteus Sinking consists of ten pages of text (two columns) and one page of diagrams.  Currently, the Psychedelic Fantasies modules are available for $2.95 each (discounted from $3.50), so price should not be an obstacle.  (Actually, Proteus Sinking is offered as “pay what you want” with a 'suggested price' of $2.95.)

I do not think that any spoilers I may divulge are particularly ruinous given the ad copy of the product:
This adventure is set on a crashed starship of gelatinous beings. You do not have to wait until the PCs are high-level to get them into crazy sci-fi weirdness, for this module is for character levels 1-3. Start them off right away with the crazy. Don't let the Globo-Zen, Globo-Disco, and hallucinogenic mushrooms fool you into letting your guard down. This dungeon will kill you.
This indicates – to me at least – a poor man's Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  I still hold this opinion after studying the product; not that there's anything wrong with being a poor man's Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  Additionally, the following terms portend a 'gonzo' sensibility and an attempt at humor:  “crazy sci-fi weirdness,” “Globo-Zen,” and “Globo-Disco.”  I don't have a problem with either gonzo or humor, but they are not appropriate for every campaign.  More importantly (for purposes of this review), I don't think that gonzo and humor necessarily equate to 'psychedelic'.

According to my Second College Edition of Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (© 1978), 'psychedelic' means “of or causing extreme changes to the conscious mind, as hallucinations, delusions, intensification of awareness and sensory perception, etc.”  Examples of my conception of 'psychedelic' include Agent Cooper's dream sequences in Twin Peaks and Dave Bowman's journey 'Beyond the Infinite' in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  For something called a Psychedelic Fantasy, Proteus Sinking doesn't bring much 'psychedelic' to the table.  Had this adventure been branded as Quirky Quests or Wacky Escapades instead of Psychedelic Fantasies, I would have approached the product with a different mindset.  As it is, I find myself disappointed.  It's not that I don't like the adventure; if I genuinely disliked it, then the title of this post would have been 'Proteus S(t)inking'.

Let me try to explain my disappointment.  The premise of the adventure is “a crashed starship of gelatinous beings.”  So far, so good; the psychedelic potential is apparent.  We have alien gelatinous beings...except there's no communication barrier.  The crashed starship is positioned at a 30° angle relative to the ground; fortunately, however, artificial gravity is still working in the ship.  Doubly fortunately, the ship's gravity is equivalent to that which the player characters normally experience; so no inconvenience is posed.  Gelatinous beings (or “Globonauts” as they are called) ought to be able to tolerate gravity of various strengths and they shouldn't necessarily require artificial gravity at all.  The floor plans of the three decks consist of straight corridors and angular rooms; they could easily abut any given dungeon geomorph.  Globonauts wouldn't need straight corridors or angular rooms or levels.  I would imagine the interior of a starship used by gelatinous beings to consist of tubes and cavities; the concept of 'floor' would be relative.  According to the module, “The inside of the ship is almost completely metal – steel or harder.”  That's a human notion of what the inside of a starship should be like.  Why should Globonauts be limited to this paradigm?  Why should the ship even be solid?  What about a gelatinous ship for gelatinous beings?  Why not an organic, 'living' ship?  I'm not feeling the “unconstrained imagination.”

Proteus Sinking is not without some clever ideas.  Spalding considers the adventure to be “charming” and “whimsical.”  Read his take on it should you like a counterpoint to my peevish analysis.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Killing Hitler


Time Warp #1; 2013, DC Comics; Art by Ian Culbard

If anyone deserves an abbreviated lifespan, it's the “Greatest Fascist Dictator.”  Widely reviled as one of the most evil people in history, Hitler is often the subject of time travel hypotheses.  Remove him and prevent the horrendous volume of murder and misery he caused – so logic would suggest.  Of course, killing him after he perpetrated his evil would defeat the purpose.  Killing him beforehand isn't exactly fair and brings into question free will and predetermination.  Also, there's a paradox to worry about.  If Hitler is removed, then there's no motivation to go back in time to remove Hitler; therefore, Hitler isn't removed.

Anyway, with Hitler out of the way, we can't be certain how history would have changed.  Would there still be atrocities?  Would they be as extensive?  One argument against killing Hitler is that the alternative would be Something Worse; that we live in the best of all possible worlds.  Having endured his evil, perhaps we – as a civilization – have learned to be more tolerant.  Perhaps if Hitler didn't exist, we would be forced to invent him.

The third 'adventure' for Timeship is the most detailed of the three 'Time Capsules' included with the game.  “This is one of the most complex and difficult Capsules,” author Herbie Brennan writes.  It is a TASK Capsule and according to the Capsule, “It is the task of the Group to reach Hitler in those fearful, final days of April 1945 and ensure his death by assassination.”  Unless and until they kill Hitler, the Voyagers cannot return to their present.  By this time, Hitler has perpetrated his evil, so there seems little sense in disposing of him.  However, Brennan suggests that...
...the Fuhrer made good his escape, travelling secretly through Spain before sailing to South America, there to lay the foundations of a Fourth Reich destined to grow in secret for several generations before making its bid for world domination.
The back of the box posits a slightly different scenario:
On June 7th, 1956, World War Three began when the Nazi government of Argentina, led by Adolph [sic] Hitler, invaded Brazil.  Hitler had escaped capture at the end of World War II and begun the Fourth Reich in South America.  It is now April 30th, 1945 and you are stalking Hitler through the bunkers beneath a city in flames.  Your mission:  find him, then make it look like suicide.
Not only is the threat more immediate, but the party must make Hitler's death “look like suicide,” probably to maintain history as we know it.

Normally, Voyagers enter a Time Capsule through a Gateway that shows the destination.  However,
...times of war produce great stresses on the timestream.  Thus the Gateway is unstable.  Inform your Group there can be no absolute guarantee of their arrival.
Brennan uses the 'unstable' Gateway gimmick to subject the Voyagers to a montage of historical scenes:  the '36 Olympics, Neville Chamberlain's “peace in our time” speech, and the Nuremberg Rally.  This sequence takes up nearly a page.  Afterwards, the Voyagers do not appear at Hitler's bunker, instead they find themselves “materialized in Zone Red” (or Red Zone as it is referred to also).  The Red Zone is a ring area 3.7 km to 7.7 km from the bunker.  (These distances are an estimation since the provided sketch map has no scale.)  Exactly where in the Red Zone is at the discretion of the Timelord.  Within the Red Zone, there is the Orange Zone, then the Yellow Zone, and finally the Green Zone, the center of which is the bunker.  The Red Zone represents the area with most the most intense “Allied shelling and bombing” with interior zones subject to lesser and lesser activity.

In essence, the Voyagers must find the bunker, enter it, kill Hitler, and then find the EXIT.  If the back of the box is to be believed, the death must seem to be a suicide.  The Voyagers are left to their own devices to accomplish these goals.  Attempting to reach Hitler through violent means is not likely to be successful; subterfuge is necessary.  Even if the Voyagers manage to get close to Hitler and kill him, they must escape retribution long enough to get to the EXIT, the presence of which won't be known until after Hitler dies.  Making his death seem to be a suicide is a practical impossibility.  The 'Publisher's Note' concludes “that this Capsule will, if carefully handled, provide a Voyager group with an experience of exceptional interest and challenge.”  Realistically, there would be a time limit imposed in this Capsule; however, nothing of the sort of is mentioned.

Brennan includes an impressive amount of information with the Capsule, such as a description of documents German nationals were required to carry at the time.  Several personages are described including Martin Bormann, Hans Krebs, and Hanna Reitch.  However, with regard to game terms, Brennan provides only THN for the appropriate weapon, SPEED FACTOR, and damage capacity.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Was Empire of the Petal Throne one of the main inspirations for the magic system in Arrows of Indra?

This is a direct, uncomplicated question.  It is possible to answer it with a simple “yes” or “no.”  When the response to such a question includes personal attacks, unsupported allegations, defensive rambling, bizarre premises, and irrelevant arguments, it is only natural to become suspicious of the respondent.

But let's start at the beginning.

Arrows of Indra is a role-playing game authored by a person who chooses to identify himself as RPGPundit – the guy in charge of theRPGsite.  On that site there is a forum thread about “Magic in Arrows of Indra.”  In this thread, a person who chooses to identify himself as Prince of Nothing asks the question which serves as the title of this post.  (Full disclosure:  Prince of Nothing is an habitué of YDIS and is thus 'peripherally affiliated' with your humble host.)  As a reply, RPGPundit says many things, most of which are irrelevant to the simple question put forth to him.  Part of me wants to address all of his asinine remarks – the part that cries out for justice amid an ocean of obfuscation; yet I shall stay true to my course.

The portion of RPGPundit's response that actually relates to the question is:  “There's some similarities in the magic system.”  I'm no linguist, but this might be Uruguayan slang for “well, I changed the names at least.”  The Prince has been banned from RPGPundit's site, so he has taken up his discourse at YDIS.  The Prince shows that, instead of “some similarities,” the likeness is more akin to 'substantially equivalent'.  The two magic systems are not identical, but they are so alike that RPGPundit made a conscious decision to mimic Empire of the Petal Throne.  I don't have a problem with that.  I do have a problem with RPGPundit's steadfast avoidance of admitting the truth.

I would like to use graphics to demonstrate the Prince's points.  Material from Arrows of Indra appears courtesy of the Open Gaming License and is used for purposes of education and critique.  Although I previously discussed the EPT magic system, I will briefly cover some of the same ground here.

In both EPT and AoI, each class has a set of skills.  In EPT, skills later in a list are more 'powerful' than skills earlier in a list and, generally speaking, as a character gains experience levels, he or she acquires new skills in list order.  In AoI, there are basic skills and advanced skills and, generally speaking, as a character gains experience levels, he or she acquires basic skills before advanced skills.  In EPT, many of the 'skills' for priests and magic-users are actually spells.  In AoI, many of the 'skills' for Priests and magic-users Siddhis are actually spells.  Let's take a look; the thick red lines connect an EPT skill (left) to the substantially equivalent AoI skill (right).

First, we have priests/Priests:

And now, magic-users/Siddhis:

In EPT, priests and magic-users have access to a common group of other spells called “bonus spells”.  In AoI, Priests and Siddhis have access to a common group of other spells called “enlightenment powers.”  In EPT, the 'other spells' are divided into three 'groups' according to power level.  In AoI, the 'other spells' are divided into three 'groups' 'ranks' according to power level.  As characters in either game gain experience levels, they have percentile chances of gaining spells/powers from different groups/ranks.  Admittedly, the method RPGPundit 'created' for AoI is more user friendly:

Here are comparisons of “bonus spells/enlightenment powers” for each “group/rank.”  Please note that the order of the EPT spells as presented here is different from the order presented in the book (not that it matters).


This post is not a condemnation of the OSR.  It is certainly not a condemnation of Barker's work.  It's not even a condemnation of Arrows of Indra.  (However, I would recommend Against the Dark Yogi rather than Arrows of Indra.)  This post is a condemnation of RPGPundit's misrepresentations.

In replying to the question, RPGPundit ought to have said something like, “I adapted the magic system from Empire of the Petal Throne because Professor Barker handled it very well.”  Evidently, such a statement is too onerous for his tender ego to bear.

RPGPundit stood upon the shoulders of giants; sadly, he chose to wipe his feet on them.