Sunday, April 17, 2016

Playing the Heroes of Pulp Fiction

Art by Jeff Dee

Game design for The Adventures of Indiana Jones is credited to David “Zeb” Cook, who is perhaps best known as the lead designer for the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  Other RPGs for which Cook did design work include Bullwinkle and Rocky, Star Frontiers, Conan the Barbarian, and Amazing Engine.  According to the TSR Profiles of Dragon #104 (December, 1985)*, “Zeb is perhaps the most versatile game designer at TSR, having created role-playing games, modules, family board games, card games, rulebooks, and party mystery games.”  After more than fifteen years at TSR, he left for the more lucrative field of computer games.  However, according to RPGGeek, he seems to have kept a hand in writing for table-top RPGs.  When Cook applied for a game designer position at TSR, “He completed the designer test that the company then used.”  I would be interested in finding out what comprised that test.

Anyway, while still at TSR, Cook said, “Whenever there's a licensed game or project in trouble, they throw it on my desk.”  This would account for his association with The Adventures of Indiana Jones.  Regardless, Cook was an appropriate choice for Adventures because he had previously designed a pulp-era adventure RPG.  Crimefighters was included in Dragon #43 (March, 1981), published a few months prior to the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  In this post, we examine Crimefighters in anticipation of comparing it to The Adventures of Indiana Jones.

Excluding flavor text and the sample adventure, Crimefighters has sixteen pages of rules (including illustrations).  Much was excluded from the version provided in Dragon.  According to the Afterword, “Many sections were dropped from the original outline, including rules for airplanes, swimming, more weapons, security devices, special gadgets, exotic adventures, and more detailed contacts.”

Crimefighters characters have seven attributes:  Physical Power, Mental Aptitude, Willpower, Accuracy Left, Accuracy Right, Agility, and Presence.  Scores are determined by rolling percentile dice.  The die rolls for four of the attributes (Physical Power, Mental Aptitude, Accuracy Right, and Agility) are modified to prevent dismal results.

An attribute can be increased by one point for every five experience points spent.  Interestingly, “The use of Presence requires an exertion of the character's Willpower.”  Sleep allows recovery of Willpower expended in this way.

Crimefighters is a skill-based system.  Skills are 'purchased' via pools of points.  A character's Mental Aptitude score represents the number of points available for Mental Skills while Agility represents the number of points available for Agility Skills.  In increments of (at least) ten points, skills cost from ten to sixty points.  Examples of Mental Skills include:  Language (10 pts each), Lockpicking (20 pts), Stage Magic (30 pts), Engineer (40 pts), and Legal (60 pts).  Examples of Agility Skills include:  Juggling (10 pts), Stealth (20 pts), Tightrope (30 pts), and Judo (40 pts).

Starting Crimefighters characters have a 5% of having a randomly determined mysterious power.  With experience points, a character can 'study' to obtain a mysterious power (perhaps chosen by the player with the GM's approval).  For every ten experience points, a character has a 1% chance of acquiring a power.

A character with the mysterious power of 'foresight' gets a +1 modifier to initiative.  Additionally, the character may...
...ask 3 yes-or-no questions of the GM per adventure.  These questions must deal with some action that the character plans to take, or be based upon information that the character might realistically know or suspect...The questions have a 10% chance of being answered incorrectly; this is secretly determined by the GM.
For any given adventure, a character with the mysterious power of 'luck' has a 50% chance of having 'good' luck, a 40% of having 'normal' luck, and a 10% chance for having 'bad' luck.  (The GM rolls for this in secret.)  Good luck grants a +10 modifier in combat while bad luck causes a -10 modifier.  “Furthermore,” the rules state, “the character is allowed a die roll to see if he or she succeeds in doing anything that would be feasible or remotely possible, even in situations where such success would normally be considered nearly impossible.”

In combat, ranged attacks are resolved by a roll based on the appropriate Accuracy of the attacker; hand-to-hand attacks are resolved by a roll based on the average of the attacker's Physical Power and Agility.  The formula for determining Hit Points is:  1d8 + ( [Physical Power + Willpower] / 10).  There are two types of wounds in Crimefighters :  (1) missile/edged weapon and (2) hand-to-hand.  If a character suffers missile/edged weapon damage in excess of his or her Hit Points, death ensues.  Otherwise, “missile/edged weapon wounds in Crimefighters can become more serious if they are not tended to.”  Hit Points lost due to missile/edged weapons “are recovered at the rate of 1 hit point for every two days of rest.”  If a character suffers hand-to-hand damage in excess of his or her Hit Points, he or she falls unconscious. Hit Points lost because of hand-to-hand damage “may be recovered at the rate of 1 hit point per hour of rest.”

All Crimefighters characters have three contacts determined randomly.  For each contact, the GM secretly determines an Effectiveness Rating.  Crimefighters goes into detail about what sort of information each type of contact is able to provide.

Each Crimefighters character has an 'Experience Type'.  (In order to distinguish the concept from experience points, I would have called it 'Style' – or in a more pretentious mood – 'Paradigm'.)
  • The Defender “attempts to uphold and protect the society he or she belongs to.”  Defenders do not intentionally kill or torture.  They receive no experience points “for criminals he or she might kill, but is given double the amount of points for those whom he or she captures without assistance.”  Defenders have an extra police contact.
  • The Avenger “only believes in the system when it works to his or her best interests.”  They receive no experience if they have “notable assistance in bringing villains to justice” nor do they receive “experience for criminals captured unless that person confesses (to witnesses) his or her guilt of a serious crime.”  Avengers can have, at most, one police contact.
  • The Pragmatist “will normally attempt to abide by the laws of society and operate within this framework.”  They “receive normal experience for criminals captured and half normal experience for criminals who meet their demise.”  Pragmatists have an extra underworld contact.
There are also two optional Experience Type 'modifiers'.
  • Technological characters receive additional experience when they use “a device to create a significant result.”
  • Anti-technological characters “receive no experience for a result if [unusual technology] items are used to aid his or her efforts.”  However, if an anti-technological character “manages to destroy an opponent’s technological device, he or she will receive experience points as if a criminal of similar power had been overcome.”
A GM can assign 'negative' experience points when “the motives of the character...are generally evil or selfish.”  However, a player can have his or her character 'turn bad' permanently.  If so, negative experience is thereafter treated as positive and positive experience treated as negative.

* All quotes about Cook in this post come from this source.

1 comment:

  1. So happy to see this game get the Thouls Paradise treatment. An old fave, remarkable how much the did fit into its few pages. I ran the Case Of The Editor's Envelope sample adventure a couple times at least, back when I was a kid... Never took it past that however.Wish TSR had done a box set...