Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Last Year of the Phoenix Post

Scenes of pre-gen Anthony Quill at a discotheque in 1997

As we reach the end of the year, so do we conclude our exploration of Martin Wixted's Year of the Phoenix role-playing game.  Before we move on, we shall examine a few remaining points of interest.

New Player Characters

Sometimes a player's character dies.  Sometimes a new player joins an existing campaign.  What to do?  Wixted provides some helpful information in a section named 'New Characters For Players' that begins on page 35 of the Adventure Guide.  Character creation in Phoenix is geared toward Project Phoenix participants and this section provides what little information there is about creating non-standard characters.

First, Wixted describes “3 obvious choices” for the origin of a new character:  Astronaut, Time Capsule Survivor, and Native Amerikan.  Astronauts are other survivors of the Phoenix incident that arrived separately from the original player characters.  As a means of introduction to the existing group, Wixted suggests rescuing the newcomers “from the Zoviets or perhaps some natural catastrophe.”  Time Capsule Survivors (thus capitalized) may be from “specially constructed bunkers set up where people were frozen just in case [of] a calamity” or they may have been subject to a convenient “natural occurence [sic] near some arctic region.”  Wixted suggests that this may prompt strained relations within the group “due to possible orders from the patron of the Time Capsule Survivors which conflict with the astronauts' goals.”  Wixted states that Native Amerikan replacement characters may be “the simplest to justify, but the most difficult to roleplay.”  Such characters “may or may not see the Zoviet rule as oppressive.  (If you've never been out of the forest, how can you conceive of an ocean?)”  For non-obvious character choices, Wixted mentions the examples of a religious cultist or a Zoviet defector or spy.

Wixted suggests that characters younger than eighteen receive fourteen dice to allocate among the Skill Spheres instead of eighteen.  He also suggest that older characters receive an additional Skill Sphere die for every ten years of age beyond thirty.  Sadly, Wixted doesn't explain how to calculate non-Skill Sphere attributes (e.g., Conditioning and Ergs) for characters who are not astronauts.

Wixted also talks about 'Academies,' by which he means an educational environment promoting “intense study in a limited area of knowledge.”  For instance:  “tutelage under an Amerikan Bard, or perhaps the child was raised in a private Mormon school, or was raised by use of machines and drugs to become a living computer.”  Unfortunately, Wixted doesn't provide thorough rules about Academies other than how some Skill Spheres can be emphasized at the expense of others.

The section closes by listing a few Native Amerikan skills, some of which are:  History (“This is a prime skill for Amerikan Bards.”), Chirurgery, Plant Lore, and Other Lores (“There are numerous other Lores, such as Depressants, Poison Antidotes, Hallucinogens, and Stimulants.”)

          These are 'Biomechanical Soldiers.'  Bios emerged almost fifty years ago from Zoviet factories buried deep in the Ural mountains.  These things were not bright, and often malfunctioned.  The later models are more reliable, and more intelligent.
          Their design has not been duplicated, although various resistance factions have managed to capture one or two.  Bios are essentially humans somehow bred in tanks.  They receive various pieces of equipment transplanted into their body, notably artificial strength, a specialized sense or two, and some kind of computer which ties into the central nervous system and controls it.
          They are sent on missions and guard duty deigned too hazardous (or too monotonous) for humans...
          When captured, most groups have realized that these Bios have some intelligence and are eager to learn.  Most offer citizenship to these creatures, which is sometimes accepted.  One notable exception to this is the religious group named the Hounds of God, who patrol Dixie in search of heathen [sic].  Bios are branded 'demon work' and burned.
Although Wixted doesn't mention it, a Bio would be a good role-playing challenge for a player.  The Zoviets treat Bios like machines; however, many of the rebel groups consider them human enough to warrant citizenship.  This is more heavy handedness from Wixted:  Communism is literally dehumanizing while it is the nature of American idealism to foster legal equality and personal freedom and growth.  Still, Wixted describes the Bios with words like “things,”“models,” and “creatures.”  They are “essentially human,” but are distinct in that they are assigned duties not for humans.

Are they living?  Wixted says, “The average Bio soldier cannot think for himself.  Instead, he must always wait for orders from a superior (living) officer.”  So it seems they are not 'living.'  At least Wixted uses “he” and not “it” as a pronoun.  “All Bios are male in appearance,” Wixted continues, “but they are not physically equivalent to male humans.”  I think this means they are not anatomically correct.  Do they eat?  Do they breathe?  Wixted doesn't say.  However, “Bios do not have Ergs; they run off a ten-hour Power Pax.”

Experience and Specials

A player character receives an Experience Mark for a Specific Skill under any of five conditions:  (1) one hour of training with a teacher, (2) two hours of practice or study with other scholars, (3) four hours of studying alone, (4) eight hours of work using the skill at a job, or (5) one “skill roll (successful or not) during a game session.”  In order to improve a skill, a character must have a number of Experience Marks equal to the current value of the skill plus one.  For instance, our sample character, David Long, has Vehicle Repair at 77%.  He would need to have seventy-eight Experience Marks in that skill to increase it to 78%.  Realistic perhaps, but tedious.  This process is used for learning new skills as well as improving the Conditioning attribute.  With regard to increasing an actual Skill Sphere, Wixted states on page 18 of the Training Manual:  “Conceptually, for every 10% gained in a Specific Skill, the controlling Skill Sphere increases by 01%.  Mechanically, each time a Specific Skill reaches a percentage ending in zero...+01% is added to the Sphere.”  What if, by increasing the Skill Sphere, an associated Specific Skill reaches a multiple-of-ten percentage?  Does the Skill Sphere get another point?  This could create a cascading effect that some players would exploit.

On page 40 of the Adventure Guide, Wixted discusses 'Specials,' an optional rule.  Specials “are 'brownie points' given to a character for good roleplaying and creativity on the part of the character's player.”  Specials (also called “Hero Points” and “Lady Luck”) can be used to reduce the effects of damage or to reroll any dice roll – “This includes dice rolled by the player, other players, and even the gamemaster.”

Wixted says, “Specials are merely a game construct to encourage and reward a player in a definite and controlled fashion.”  At any given time, a player can have two Specials at most, Wixted instructs, while most players would be fortunate to have any.  “This rule is optional,” explains Wixted, “because some players feel that using Specials is a way of cheating the game's reality, and some gamemasters feel uncomfortable about judging a player's actions so obviously.”

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