Thursday, February 26, 2015

The World Format

Since I have been discussing the 'open world' nature of Chaosium's Questworld, I thought I might also share some world building advice from World Action & Adventure.  As I previously explained, author Gregory L. Kinney intended WA&A to be a “realistic role playing game” in that it would be used to play out situations that are possible in the real world.  However, Kinney did allow for “non-historic scenarios” wherein players could “experience fictitious novel-like or movie-like characters and situations.”

Chapter 10 of the Official Guide addresses world design.  Kinney describes five “world plans.”
PLAN 1.  Earth, with its actual history.
PLAN 2.  Earth, with variations in history and structure.
PLAN 3.  A world, required to have many similarities with Earth.
PLAN 4.  A world like Earth, without specific environments.
PLAN 5.  A completely original world.
With plan 1, actors and Action Guides can just use maps of the real world since there are no differences.  For other plans, Kinney suggests using the world format (shown above) to depict the setting world.  Actually, plan 5 does not require use of the world format:
The world can be any size and can even be a fantasy world.  As an option, the Action Guide does not even have to require any physical laws.  The Action Guide can make up a very unusual world, and even have monsters in it.
Kinney lists the steps in using the world format.  Note that – as an option – the world can be named “Earth” or something else.  In this, Kinney's design philosophy is in agreement with my own.

In the three decades since World Action & Adventure was published, tools (such as donjon) have been developed to facilitate some of the first steps.  Yet human imagination is still required to make the world believable and interesting.  Here is a list of 'world features' that Kinney recommends be represented on the world format.

Step 8 requires the Action Guide to complete the “Country Chart” (shown below).  Here is where my design philosophy diverges from Kinney's.  In my estimation, a “Country Chart” should be a list of performers such as Taylor Swift and Garth Brooks.  What Kinney calls the “Country Chart,” I would name the “Nation Matrix.”  Nations are listed along with their type of government and the race and religion of their populace.  Between any two countries nations there is a “condition.”  The spectrum of conditions is thus:  Allied, Friendly, Neutral, Unfriendly, Enemy, and War.  Kinney helpfully informs us, “War ends when there is a peace treaty, agreement, capture, and/or surrender.”

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Gods of Questworld

Ishtar in Hades     Ernest Charles Wallcousins

In RuneQuest, in order for a character to cast Divine Magic he (or she) must be (at least) an initiate in a cult.  Other than magic, cults offer a social network for characters, opportunities for training in cult related skills, the potential for divine intervention, and special benefits.  In any RuneQuest setting where religion plays a part, cults are important.  Glorantha has many detailed cults; Questworld has three.

Included in the Questworld boxed set, there is an eight-page introductory pamphlet.  About one page of the pamphlet is devoted to an article by Steve Perrin, “How to Develop Gods for Questworld.”  Perrin suggests that a Gamemaster may “transship the Gloranthan gods wholesale,” but acknowledges that not all Gloranthan gods are appropriate for Questworld.  In my opinion, the Gloranthan gods belong to Glorantha; placing them in another setting just doesn't feel right.  Of course, with a change of name and some cosmetic alterations, a Gamemaster can deploy what Perrin calls “Gloranthan Look-alikes.”

Perrin also offers advice for those interested in developing original gods:
In establishing a pantheon, the beginning godmaker should to account for certain phenomena.  These include storms, the sun, growing things, emotions, death, secret knowledge, and the general perversity of the world and events.
Perrin points to “the mythos of Mother Earth” for examples of pantheons.  For creating original cults, Perrin refers the “godmaker” to examples in specific RuneQuest supplements “and various issues of Different Worlds.”  While Perrin does an adequate job discussing 'how to develop gods', he refrains from supply practical information on cults – how those gods relate to characters.

The three Questworld cults are detailed in the 'Candlefire' book written by Alan LaVergne.  The gods of these cults aren't an appropriate cornerstone of a Questworld pantheon.  Of course, it wasn't LaVergne's responsibility to create a pantheon.  Steve List, in his review of Questworld for the premiere issue of Fantasy Gamer (Aug/Sep 1983), decries LaVergne's “overuse of what he considers to be humor.”  List feels that the three cults “are almost parodies of 'real' cults.”

Without further ado, the Questworld cults:

...the Panash cult today is for all those who adventure primarily for the fun of hit, and who are concerned with cutting a proper figure.  Bravado and feats of derring-do are highly prized by the Panshees (as cult members are called).  Genuine courage and actual recklessness are respected, but not always emulated.  The looks of the thing, not the actuality, are what count.
Panash Rune Lords are called “Flynns.”  There is an NPC Flynn named Fayer Banx.

Nik-El has been worshipped wherever beings take chances, either for profit or for the sheer enjoyment of risk and adventure...A Nik-El temple is usually a casino, brothel, or pawnshop.
Nik-El is a goddess of luck; associated elementals are called 'Tumblers'.  (Think slot machines.)

(The history of Nik-El mentions she participated in “the Gods War” and “the Compromise,” events in Gloranthan mythology not applicable to Questworld.)

Vrang 2jhomang (sic):
Vrang 2jhomang is the cult for metal workers not smart or clever enough to belong to an armorer's guild.
Before ascending to godhood, Vrang was a blacksmith – albeit not a very competent one.  He gained the nick-name 'Two-Finger Jho' after smashing three fingers on his left hand.  He is known for inventing horseshoes (both the game and the equine accoutrement) and teaching men and dwarves how to use a hammer to fight.

Gwydion Conquers Pryderi     Ernest Charles Wallcousins

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Questworld Means Adventure!

Mark Roland © 1982

Notice anything interesting about this painting?  Of course not.  Oh, it's competently rendered, even frameworthy in a we-should-hang-something-in-the-hallway sort of way.  But there's nothing interesting about it.  For whatever reason, this image was used as the cover of a fantasy role-playing game product.  The usual tropes are not present; no scantily clad barbarians, no slavering monsters, no exotic scenery, no inclement weather...nothing even remotely suggesting action.

The product was Questworld, a boxed set published by Chaosium in 1982 and presented as “9 Gateway Adventures for RuneQuest.”  RuneQuest was Chaosium's premiere role-playing game, the setting of which was founder Greg Stafford's intricate Glorantha.  Third party development of RuneQuest material was impaired by Glorantha's idiosyncracies and its “closed” nature.  Questworld was Chaosium's attempt at alternative setting for RuneQuest.  According to the eight page introductory pamphlet:
Questworld is intended to be an open campaign world for RuneQuest and its variants, and for the constantly-expanding Basic Role-Playing family.  Chaosium will minimally direct the development of this planet, intending it to serve as an example of an open world in the same way that Glorantha has been our example of a closed world.
'Basic Role-Playing', first published in 1980, was Chaosium's attempt at creating a universal role-playing system based on the mechanics of RuneQuest.  Originally 16 pages, the current edition of Basic Role-Playing is approximately 400.  At the time QuestWorld was published, other BRP games were Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer and Worlds of Wonder, a boxed set with three 'genre' books:  Superworld, Future*World, and Magic World.

Although distinct from Glorantha, Questworld incorporated Glorathan creatures and deities.  Otherwise, Questworld was a blank slate – perhaps too blank.  Other than some geographical information and the adventures, there are no details.  No further Questworld products were published, either by Chaosium or third parties.  This suggests a lack of interest and/or a decision by Chaosium develop their licensed properties.  Contrary to the phrase on the side of the box (“Questworld means adventure!”), Questworld was a dead end.

Perhaps Questworld ought to have been packaged as a Magic World setting – completely divorced from – but compatible with – RuneQuest.  Instead of three adventure books, it could have included an enhanced Magic World rulebook, a setting book, and a book of introductory adventures.  With a fantasy setting more 'generic' than Glorantha, it may have been more appealing to players willing to entertain an alternative to D&D and thus be more successful.  Of course, a more exciting cover would have helped too.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Advanced Supervillain

Whiz Comics #20; 1941, Fawcett Comics; Art by C. C. Beck

In the advanced game of Supervillains, in addition to strength and dexterity, characters have an intelligence level.

An intelligence level of “A” means that “the character will possess an almost animal-like intelligence...[and] will probably be too stupid to plan anything on his own, and will be hard pressed to carry out any but the most elementary orders.”  Although there is a 10% chance for a character to receive an “A” intelligence level, the rules suggest ignoring such a result because “the player can easily become frustrated with this type of character.”

An intelligence level of “C” (5% chance) means “the character will be a super-genius, and will probably possess a mutant brain (or a highly advanced artificial intelligence, in the case of an android).”  In fact, androids have a 15% chance of “C” level intelligence and aliens have a 25% chance.  The remaining intelligence level is “B” – normal human.

The only practical effect of intelligence is the determination of the number of skills a character possesses.  Characters with “B” level intelligence have up to four skills while characters with “C” level intelligence have up to six.  The rules list one hundred skills (each associated with an occupation) which characters obtain through random determination.  An exhaustive list of vocational skills is a fine thing, but perhaps unnecessary.  Far be it from me to disparage the important work that home economists, speech therapists, and agricultural agents perform for the benefit of society, but they serve no purpose in a game about super-powered beings.

If the same skill is rolled twice, then the character possesses that skill at the next higher intelligence level.  For example, if a “B” level intelligence character gets “Hotel Manager” twice, then he or she has “Hotel Manager” at a “C” intelligence level; a super-genius hotel manager so to speak.  You can see how this could be useful.

There is no experience system in Supervillains, yet it is possible for characters to improve.  A character with the Weapons Expert ability can train other characters to gain expertise in combat, meaning they receive +2 combat strength.  Such training requires the trainee to engage in “a month of intense practice.”  After that month, there is a 1-in-3 chance the trainee will gain the combat strength bonus.  Otherwise, the trainee “cannot attempt another period of study from any weapons master.”

Typically, when a character with the Radioactivity ability touches a normal being, that being will perish from radiation poisoning in one to six days.  Superbeings have a 25% chance of avoiding such a fatal radiation exposure.  There is a 10% chance that anyone (normal being or superbeing) will not die from radiation.  Instead, said being “will become a mutant and will gain an ability after '1-6' days...”  Such a character cannot hope to become a 'mutant' a second time; further exposure to the Radioactivity ability will be fatal.  I assume the 25% chance 'saving roll' still applies – even a previously normal being will have become a superbeing by virtue of mutation.  (Incidentally, “Androids will also have the capability to 'mutate' due to a radioactivity attack...”)

Of course, DAGGER experimentation can cause a character's ability to double in terms of effectiveness, but that's the least likely result among a variety of otherwise unsavory alternatives.

Victims of a Strong Force attack – assuming they survive – might have one or more limbs crippled.  One should not consider this a handicap, but rather an opportunity.  A character with “C” level electrical engineering can install “a bionic replacement limb.”  The cost is $10,000 and there is a 60% chance of success.  “D” level electrical engineers charge double, but the chance of success is 80%.  Also, “D” level electrical engineers can build 'extra strength' into an artificial limb.  The cost is $10,000 per additional point of strength, but the chance of success drops by 10% per point.  For $100,000, a pair of legs can be attached that confer the 'Leap Great Distances' ability.

Electrical engineers are also useful for repairing androids.  Normally, androids are self-repairing, but when they are “down to zero hit points or below,” only an electrical engineer (of at least “C” level) can reactivate them.  The base chance of success for a “C” level electrical engineer is 50%; for “D” level, 90%.  The number of 'negative' hit points an android has reduces this base chance.  Specifically, for each point, ten is subtracted from one hundred, this number is then multiplied by the base chance.  For instance, “a character with a 'C' intelligence level in electrical engineering who is working on an android with '-6' hit points will have a 20% (40% × 50% = 20%) chance of successful repair...” Androids should be leery of non-player character electrical engineers (in addition to player character electrical engineers).  There is a 20% chance that an electrical engineer repairing an android will “betray” the android while it is vulnerable.  If he (or she) doesn't destroy the android outright, the engineer will “meddle with the android's 'mind'” allowing the engineer “to dictate the android's actions from that point on...”

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Being a Supervillain for Fun and Profit

So, you think you’re ready to be a supervillain?  Let’s go over the checklist:
□     Strange powers “beyond those of mortal men”
□     Evil disposition
□     Maniacal laugh
□     Appropriate moniker (such as Doctor Boom, the Mauve
              Marauder, Opossum-Man, or the Human Zamboni)
□     A costume that would put a Mexican wrestler to shame
OK, now what? Sure, you can rob a bank or two but that gets old fast (trust me). You need to think long term…assemble an organization…obtain some real estate…generate consistent revenue streams.

Regarding Supervillains, “The object of the Advanced game control as many of the 20 sections of New York City as possible... ”  It's not like world domination or controlling an international diamond syndicate, but at least it's interesting.  Each section represents one-fourth of a borough as indicated on the above map.  The geographic logic (if any) of these sections escapes me; for instance, I would have divided Manhattan into uptown, midtown, and downtown.

For a given section, a supervillain can control either the officials or the criminal element, but not both.  It's possible for one supervillain to control the criminal element of a section and another supervillain to control the officials of the same section.  For that matter, a single supervillain can control the officials in some sections while controlling the criminal element in others.

Controlling the officials of a section can be accomplished through bribery, extortion, blackmail, or a combination of these.  Rules are provided for bribery.  Non-player characters are assigned an 'integrity level' from one to six.  When attempting a bribe, a player rolls a number of dice based upon the amount of money spent and the integrity level of the character being bribed (as detailed in the chart below).

If the total of the 'bribery dice' is at least six, the bribe will be accepted and “the character the player is attempting to bribe will fulfill his end of the bargain.”  So, for any bribable target, one die may be sufficient for sucess.  If the total is exactly five, “the character the player is attempting to bribe desires more money.”  If the total is less than five, the bribe is unsuccessful.  An unsuccessful bribe might result in the character attacking the would-be briber or calling for help.  (I am uncertain as to what 'help' a stoolie could summon.)

Controlling the criminal element requires a supervillain “to force the resident punk gang into servitude.”  According to page 15:
A supervillain which [sic] attempts to take over a street gang's turf must either kill or beat to unconsciousness at least 30% of the total “51-150” members of the gang.  If this takes places, the punks will see the light and will swear their allegiance to the supervillain.  Once the punks have sworn allegiance to a supervillain, they will fight for him (allowing every member to be killed if necessary) to resist any attempt by another supervillain to gain control of that particular section of the city.
However, there is a 1% cumulative chance per day that half of the gang will rebel against the supervillain (with the other half remaining neutral).  Apparently, gangs don't care about money and bribing a gang leader is not feasible.  Given that a mutiny is almost guaranteed within three months time, controlling a gang doesn't seem worthwhile.

Other than its use as a 'victory point', the benefits of controlling a section of the city are not evident.  At the very least, gaining control of a section ought to make it easier to control additional sections.  I suppose it's unreasonable to expect fulsome rules for controlling a city when the entire game is presented in a twenty-four page booklet.  Yet the meager rules Supervillains does provide seem rather odd – control of “punks” through brute force, but no mention of organized crime.