Sunday, December 10, 2017

Saga of the Starnomads (Part I)

Art by Dave Billman

In Lords of Creation, Tom Moldvay offers seven settings.  One of these, Imperial Terra, is a space opera venue.  “Because of a series of man-made catastrophes,” states the description, “details of entire centuries of history have been lost, so it is impossible to date the Empire using 20th century time references.”  (Corvus Andromeda comes from Imperial Terra.)  The Rule Book has one-and-a-half pages dedicated to the details of Imperial Terra.  About one-quarter of a page is devoted to describing the Starnomads.  According to The Book of Foes, “A Starnomad is a member of a wandering futuristic culture that practices genetic selection of the fittest.”

Evidently, Moldvay put a great deal of thought into the Starnomads.  I think they're elitist jerks, but I'm just a mudhugger. To the premier issue of Heroes, Avalon Hill's magazine, Tom Moldvay contributed a Lords of Creation adventure, “Survival Run of the Starnomads.”  (However, the adventure refers to itself as “The STARNOMAD SURVIVAL MAZE.”)  In the 'Designer's Note' for the adventure, Moldvay explains, “In the summer of 1979, I designed a game system entitled 'Starnomads' for the amusement of my friends and myself.”  He further explains that the game system “was the grandfather of LORDS OF CREATION®.”

Along with the adventure, Moldvay provides an 'Historical Background' for the Starnomads, some of which is duplicative of the material in the Imperial Terra setting description.  The first part of this background follows.















































































Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Horn of Roland (spoilers)

Art by Dave Billman

As mentioned in a previous post, Tom Moldvay intended that The Horn of Roland be included in the Lords of Creation boxed set as an introductory adventure.  For whatever reason, The Horn of Roland was published as a separate item.  I examined Roland to see if it addressed perceived gaps in the Lords of Creation rules; alas, it did not.  Regardless, Roland offers a glimpse of how Moldvay intended Lords of Creation to be played.

In most role-playing games, player characters are part of the setting from the start.  In Lords of Creation, Moldvay stated that player characters “begin as 'ordinary' people; strange things start to happen to them; they undergo unusual adventures.”  They are introduced to parallel worlds, alternate dimensions, and pocket universes; they gain extraordinary abilities.  In short, the player characters transition from the mundane world to the “region of super-natural wonder” (to use Joseph Campbell's phrase).

The Horn of Roland is actually a sequence of six related scenarios – a short term campaign, in effect.  The first scenario is intended as a starting point for “newly-created” Lords of Creation characters.  It is a murder mystery.  Of course, there's nothing wrong with a murder mystery in the right context.  However, the cover of Lords of Creation depicts a man and a woman emerging from a portal connecting a fantasy realm to a science fiction realm.  The man has shuriken attached to his boots and the woman is zapping a dragon.  Maybe this seems like an interesting play experience or maybe it doesn't.  In any event, it sets expectations and these expectations do not include a murder mystery.  The mystery is described as “fairly complex” and the GM is encouraged “to force [the characters] to investigate all possibilities...”  (There are seven separate and detailed red herrings.)  A GM can effectively run the mystery thanks to the manner in which Roland presents it; however, the players (who may well have expected to fight robots and dragons) must cope with a convoluted mystery.  I mean, they didn't sign up to play Agatha Christie's Biddies & Belgians.  (That's a thing, right?)

The player characters are attending a gaming convention “in the fictitious town of New Bristol...”  The convention is hosted by the New Bristol Arms, owned by Tom Morgan (evidently an author avatar).  A businessman residing in the penthouse of the New Bristol Arms is murdered, but the police consider the death to be a suicide.  Morgan hires the player characters to investigate (with the consent of the police chief).  I think that Moldvay may have originally intended the mystery to take place in the thirties.  There's an NPC detective whose appearance is based on Humphrey Bogart.  There's an NPC gangster whose appearance is based on James Cagney.  There are German and Japanese agents vying for stolen technology.  Most tellingly, there is an elevator operator.  Moldvay even offers a special trivia quiz that “isn't part of the adventure and in no way affects the experience earned by the characters.”  (Question[s] #1:  Who wrote The Mousetrap?  What novelette is the play based on?  Name two other mystery plays by the same person.)


The players are given some hand-outs, such as the above map.  Unfortunately, there are complications.  On the map, #47, #74, and #95 each appear twice.  Locations #48, #75, #84, and #90 are absent.  (The duplicates of #47 and #74 might account for the missing #48 and #75, respectively.)  Finally, the key lists 101 locations, but the map includes location #102.  I think Moldvay wanted New Bristol to serve as a continuing base of operations for the player characters and a place to acquire equipment.  A venue less expansive than a town may have been more suitable for starting characters; a university, perhaps.

Anyway, during the course of the investigation, the player characters are plagued by a Phantom.  The players are not informed about the reasons for the antagonism of the Phantom until the last scenario.

The murder was committed by a local heiress possessed by the spirit of a witch.  (The victim was descended from the judge who sentenced the witch to death three hundred years ago.)  The mysterious “Cult of the Serpent” was responsible for summoning the witch's spirit and supplying a living vessel for it.  While investigating the seven red herrings, the player characters interact with a long list of townspeople, none of whom are associated with the cult.  If some of the NPCs were cult members, it would have provided players another means to get at the truth.

A non-player character tells the player characters where to go for the climax of the scenario and they get the privilege of watching said NPC conduct the denouement.  Not only must the player characters plod through a complex mystery, but they also get sidelined by an NPC at the end.  Well, the player characters see their Phantom board a “Ghostly Galleon.”  The aforementioned NPC offers them $100,000 to pursue the Phantom (even though he has no reason to do so – nothing suggests he was even aware of the Phantom prior to the end of the adventure).  The heiress, freed from possession, offers her 70-foot yacht.  This leads into the second scenario.  What if the player characters aren't interested in pursuing the Phantom?
     If the characters don't chase the Ghostly Galleon, there is no further adventure...Do your best to let the characters give chase voluntarily.  But if all else fails, the characters are surrounded by a bright yellow light...Each character will have a vision of his enivitable [sic] death at the hand of allies of the Phantom.  Every character who fails to make a Luck Roll feels an uncomfortable urge to chase the Ghostly Galleon.
Please have your tickets ready for the conductor.  Choo-choo!  (Also, how are player characters supposed to know who “allies of the Phantom” are in their visions?  Does the Phantom stand around gleefully rubbing his hands?  Does he give his ally a high five?)

As they pursue the Ghostly Galleon, the player characters have various encounters.  Eventually, in the Bermuda Triangle, “they sail through a swirling tunnel of light” into another dimension.  Then things start to get a little weird.  At night, the yacht is pursued by the Wild Hunt.  The players have no idea why.  Furthermore:
     The characters have to realize, as soon as possible, that they can't harm the hunter.  He is simply too powerful considering the characters' current level of experience.  The characters stand no chance in battle.  Their only hope is to flee as fast as possible.  If they don't flee quickly, the hunter has time to attack, and possibly kill, one or two characters chosen at random before the sun rises and he returns to the clouds.
Fortunately, the player characters meet up with the Flying Dutchman.  He gives them a statuette that keeps the Wild Hunt away, but it is only effective for a week.  The only permanent protection from the Wild Hunt is the eponymous Horn of Roland.  The Dutchman has recently seen it in a bone tower, on a nearby island.  The bone tower is the subject of the third scenario.

Moldvay contributed to The Isle of Dread and the island in The Horn of Roland is what would result if The Isle of Dread met Land of the Lost and they dropped acid.  Yes, there are dinosaurs.  Also on the island are relics of The First Ones, “a strange, unknown race that once inhabited the island.”

The player characters go to the bone tower and fight a wide variety of foes.  They also come across a couple of prisoners, one of whom is Cyrano de Bergerac.  Moldvay must have been a fan of the French duelist; not only was Cyrano featured in Moldvay's The Future King, he warrants a one-page appendix in The Horn of Roland.  Moldvay also modified a ballad from the play Cyrano de Bergerac for Cyrano to recite while he – not the player characters – defeats one of the bone tower guardians.

Even after obtaining the Horn of Roland that acts as permanent Wild Hunt repellent, the player characters have other adventures on the island.  Cyrano, on the other hand, leaves for the moon.  “The same method of travel won't work for the characters,” Moldvay informs us, “unless you want to create a short side trip adventure to the moon, returning the characters to the island after the side trip is over.”  Seriously, going to the moon with Cyrano de Bergerac should BE the adventure.  Aside from Cyrano's own work, inspiration for what might happen on the moon could be gleaned from:  Burroughs' The Moon Maid, Wells' The First Men in the Moon, Baron Munchausen, Kepler's Somnium, Lucian's True History, and The Great Moon Hoax of 1835.  There's even a trip to the moon in Orlando furioso.  (Perhaps the object of the quest should have been Astolfo's horn rather than Roland's.)

On the island, robots have “enslaved” humans.  This is automatically assumed to be a bad thing.  A revolt against the robots is the subject of the fifth scenario.  In order to successfully revolt, the humans need to be armed.  In the fourth scenario, the player characters gather the necessary weapons from the “Caves of Doom.”  Although they don't realize it, the player characters are required to obtain a magic sword – Lightbringer – from a “Bloodstone Cube” in the Caves of Doom.
     If the characters don't voluntarily travel to area D20, then touch the Bloodstone Cube, they feel an unexplained, irrestible [sic] urge to do so.  Give the players every chance to take their characters to D20 and touch the cube.  But if the characters try to leave the Caves of Doom without acquiring Lightbringer, they find it impossible to leave.  No matter which way they go, the path seems to wind around back to the entrance to D20.
The final scenario begins when – after the revolt – Phantoms attempt to steal the horn.  (Remember the Phantom from the first scenario?)  “In the struggle,” the scenario reads, “one of the Phantoms accidently loses a map that gives directions to the stronghold of the Phantoms.”  One might think that the Phantoms intentionally dropped the map to lead the player characters into a trap.  I mean, the Phantoms don't need a map; they can teleport and – even if they couldn't – they still manage to get back to the stronghold without the map.  Yet the map was lost accidentally and thus accurately indicates how to get to bad guy headquarters.

At the Shadow Stronghold, the player characters finally learn why they have been drawn into these scenarios.  The basis of The Horn of Roland is the animosity between the mythological Erebus and Prometheus.  Erebus has Prometheus chained in the Shadow Stronghold.  “Erebus, Lord of Shadows,” we read, “for reasons known only to himself, has decided that the characters are his enemies.”  Actually, although the players never learn this, Erebus wants to destroy every person who has the potential to become Lords of Creation (such as the player characters).  So, Erebus sent the Phantom(s) and (I guess) the Wild Hunt against the party.  Prometheus “has been helping the characters secretly throughout the adventure.”  The Lightbringer sword is the only thing that can break Prometheus' chains.  Once the player characters free Prometheus, Erebus appears and the two fight.  The player characters get to watch.  The scenario reads, “Prometheus asks the characters to keep out of the battle...”  Erebus necessarily loses.  I would have designed the adventure so that the party fights a group of Erebus' followers while Prometheus and Erebus fight on a different dimensional plane.  Also, what happens in the conflict of mortals would affect what happens in the conflict of immortals.  Then again, I'm used to dealing with players who actually like to have their characters engage in meaningful activity.

The Horn of Roland has aspects of a railroad and forces player characters into inactivity during what should be the most exciting parts of the adventure.  It also has a 'big picture' of which the players remain ignorant until the very end.  Players don't need to see the 'big picture' from the start of the adventure, but enough of it should be presented so that the players have an idea about what is going on and they can interact with the adventure appropriately.  For instance, if the players knew there was an extremely helpful magic sword in the Caves of Doom, then the characters would likely not need to be compelled to find it.  Moldvay has no problem with a mentor NPC giving directions to the player characters (e.g., the Flying Dutchman).  He also has no problem with player characters receiving “visions.”  Why not clue the PCs into the fact they are acting for the benefit of Prometheus (or an unnamed powerful being) who will help help them against their (mutual) enemies? 

* * *     * * *     * * *

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Combat in Lords of Creation

Art by Dave Billman

The combat section of the 64-page Lords of Creation Rule Book occupies approximately nine pages.  This includes about a page of weapon charts. 

The first event to transpire in a Lords of Creation combat turn is determination of initiative.  All participants determine individual initiative if “each side has only a few combatants.”  In situations where “there are many combatants, the individual with the best initiative bonus should roll for his entire side.”  Initiative is determined by rolling 1d10 and adding the character's initiative bonus.  Ties are re-rolled until the tie is broken.  With optional rules in effect (not to be confused with the additional combat rules), many weapons provide an additional initiative bonus.  For instance, polearms and whips give +4; slings and shotguns grant +1.

As mentioned in the last post, Lords of Creation characters have a 'Physical Score' which is the average of the Muscle, Speed, and Stamina ability scores.  An attack (either close combat or ranged combat) is successful if the attacker rolls his or her Physical Score or less on 1d20.  A character's skill level for the weapon used is added to the Score while the target's Armor Rating is subtracted from it (assuming the armor protects against the weapon used).  Leather armor or a bronze cuirass acts as Armor Rating 2; plastic plate armor or an energy shield acts as Armor Rating 7.  'Regular' armor protects against close combat weapons, 'ballistic' armor protects against close combat weapons as well as damage caused by firearms, and 'energy' armor acts as 'ballistic' armor as well as protects against energy weapons.  However, there are some weapons (such as x-ray lasers and neutron beamers) against which no normal armor protects.  Only magic armor protects against magical weapons.  Some weapons, such as tanglers and photon scramblers, allow a target to attempt a Luck roll.

According to the Close Combat Weapon Chart, an unarmed attack has no damage value.  This means that damage inflicted by an unarmed attack equals the attacker's Damage Bonus added to the attacker's Unarmed Combat skill.  (Skill level is always added to damage inflicted.)  The maximum number of skill levels a character can have with a given weapon is listed on the applicable weapon chart.  The number ranges from one to four.  The only exceptions are Rapier (5 levels maximum) and Unarmed Combat (6 levels maximum).

All attacks are declared before any are resolved.  This means when initiative is determined per side rather than per individual, “it's possible to waste attacks on a target that someone else has already defeated.”

“The Attack Concept” is defined by Moldvay:
     A single attack isn't one shot or one strike.  Instead, a single attack is the number of shots or strikes that could reasonably be made with the weapon in 6 seconds.  If the GM or players think of an attack as one shot or strike instead of an abstract attack, they may become confused when calculating reloading, ammunition expenditure, etc.
     All attacks have been precalculated to take into account the number of attacks that could reasonably be made with the weapon in 6 seconds, how serious the wounds from that weapon would be, play balance, and other similar factors.  Therefore, a pistol does more damage than a revolver, because a combatant can fire more shots in 6 seconds with a semi-automatic pistol than with a double-action revolver.  Even though the weapon might be firing several shots or hitting more than once, it is easier to regard the entire process as a single attack.
This concept of combat as an abstraction is reasonable; however, it fails to take into account that multiple attacks are possible in a six second game turn.  When a character's Physical Score exceeds twenty, the character gains additional attacks per turn.  With a Physical Score of 21-23, a character has two attacks with a base chance to hit of 11; with 39-41, two attacks at 17; etc.  A character can have, at most, thirteen attacks per turn (at a base chance of 20).  To achieve this, a character must have a Physical Score in excess of 900.  (For the purpose of illustration, Zeus has nine attacks with a base roll of 27.  Sinbad has two attacks at a base roll of 17.)  Whereas single-attack combatants can “waste attacks” as described above, combatants with multiple attacks “can switch extra attacks to other enemies within 10 feet of the original target.”

A character reduced to zero Life Points “will pass out.”  Characters reduced below zero Life Points will bleed to death without medical attention.  Characters can survive a number of negative Life Points equal to five of the character's Personal Force score.

In a single attack, an attacker may opt to divide damage “equally among additional targets within 10 feet of the main target.”  This decision must be made before attempting a single attack roll.  Depending upon varying armor ratings among the targets, some may be hit and some not.  If some targets are missed, damage that would have been applied to those targets is forfeit.  For example, if an attack is attempted against three targets and two are missed, the remaining target still only takes one-third damage.

An attack roll of 20 is an automatic miss.  An attack roll of 1 is an automatic hit.  Furthermore, the target is disarmed (“knocks the weapon out of the opponent's hands”).  “If the opponent is not of a type that could be disarmed,“ we are told, “the opponent takes double damage instead.”  In order to recover his or her weapon, a disarmed character must win initiative and “must spend an entire turn to pick up the weapon.”  Seemingly, when recovering his or her weapon, the disarmed character is subject to at least one attack of opportunity.

If optional rules are used, armor can adversely affect initiative and movement rate.  Also, a character can receive a bonus to his or her attack score by sacrificing a like amount of inflicted damage (up to five points).  Similarly, a character can increase his or her defense by reducing the amount of damage he or she can inflict that turn (again, up to five points).  A successful attack inflicts a minimum of one point of damage.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Characters in Lords of Creation

Art by Dave Billman

The first step in creating a Lords of Creation character is to record the player's name on the Character Record Sheet.  There is also space for the character's name.  Fortunately, it is explained, “If you don't yet have a name for your character, leave the character space blank.”

There are five basic abilities:
     MUSCLE is a measure of overall muscular ability and general physical strength...
     SPEED measures basic muscular coordination and manual dexterity...
     STAMINA is a measure of general health and physical well-being...
     MENTAL is a measure of the character's mental abilities including such things as intuition, logic, and will-power...
     LUCK is a measure of the character's chance of surviving accidents and other unusual circumstances.
The score for each basic ability is determined by rolling 2d10.  Each basic ability is associated with a “modifier” equal to the basic ability divided by ten (rounded up).  The modifier derived from Strength is Close Combat Damage Bonus; Speed, Initiative Bonus; and Stamina, Healing.  “Power Modification” – used in Mental Combat – is derived from Mental.  The Luck modifier added to five equals the character's Luck Roll – “a chance to let fortune come into play in the game.”

A character's Personal Force equals the total of his or her basic ability scores divided by ten.  Among other things, Personal Force “determines a character's experience level.”  Actual Experience Points are used to increase basic abilities; a certain amount of Experience Points increases a given ability by 1d6.  As basic ability scores increase, so does Personal Force.  Every ten points of Personal Force means a new “title” for the character.  (“Title” is the Lords of Creation equivalent of “level.”)  There are eleven titles, ranging from Neophyte to Lord of Creation.  The amount of experience needed to increase an ability by 1d6 increases as title improves.  For a Neophyte, the amount is ten points and for a Lord of Creation, two thousand points are required.  Each title confers a title ability.  We are informed, “Title abilities work only at the discretion of the GM.”  (original italics)

Player characters start as Neophytes having the title ability of Dimensional Sight, which is described as...
...the ability to see other-dimensional creatures that would otherwise be invisible.  Such creatures as ghosts, beings from elemental planes, sprites, etc., would only be visible to to characters having Dimensional Sight.  The ability is used as a vehicle for the GM to introduce creatures into a normal setting to create an atmosphere of eerie mystery.
Title abilities should not be confused with powers like Wizard and Telepath.  “At the start of the game no characters have special powers.”

All (human) Lords of Creation player characters begin with a movement rate of sixty feet per game turn.  (1 turn = 6 seconds)  The average of Muscle, Speed, and Stamina equals a character's Physical score, which is used in combat.  The equivalent of hit points in Lords of Creation are Life Points.  A character has a base number of Life Points equal to his or her Stamina score.  For every title attained (including Neophyte), 1d10 Life Points are added.  To put this in perspective, a knife inflicts 1-6 damage, a two-handed sword does 2-12, and a shotgun does 3-18.

A character starts with a number of skill levels equal to his or her Personal Force.  As alluded to previously, there are fifty-three combat skills and twenty non-combat skills, each with five levels of talent.  According to The Book of Foes, Davy Crockett has the following skills:  Knife – 3, Flintlock Rifle – 3, and Wilderness – 4.  (The first four levels of Wilderness are Survival, Trapping, Hunting, and Tracking.)

A starting character has an amount of money equal to $10 multiplied by d100.  Equipment may be purchased with these funds.  Player characters are assumed to start in the modern world and can therefore obtain items from the aptly named Modern Equipment List.  Lords of Creation also provides an Antique Equipment List and a Futuristic Equipment List.  Prices on the Futuristic List are given in credits (cr.), the future equivalent of “U.S. dollars of the 1980's.”  Prices on the Antique List are given in silver centums (SC).  Equal to a dollar, a silver centum coin is equivalent to 1/100th of a pound of silver.  Yet it is also explained:
     Currency values fluctuate throughout time and space.  Currencies are also called different names in different countries.  If the GM wants, he can devise tables to cover currency fluctuation, but it is seldom worth the effort.  The GM can also add more flavor to an adventure by using currency names special to the adventure (franc, deutchemark, peso, florin, drachma, bezant, etc.).  Such names add to the background of an adventure, but do not essentially change it.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Ultimate Role-Playing Game . . .

Art by Dave Billman
a game of science, fantasy, science fiction and high adventure that explores the farthest reaches of your imagination!  Splendid adventures take place throughout time, space and other dimensions.
So reads the first portion of copy from the back of the Lords of Creation boxed set.  The first sentence of the Introduction further states, “LORDS OF CREATION is a role-playing game of science fantasy, fantasy, science fiction and high adventure...”  The difference is the mention of 'science fantasy'.  Lawrence Schick, in his 1991 Heroic Worlds, categorizes Lords of Creation as a Science Fantasy game – along with such games as Gamma World and Space: 1889.  The back-of-the-box copy continues:
LORDS OF CREATION allows unlimited voyages via your imagination through time and beyond worldly dimensions.  Journey into magical realms ruled by swords and sorcery . . . battle bizarre aliens and killer robots on mysterious planets in distant galaxies . . . venture into the worlds of mystery, horror and wonder hidden beneath the surface of the present everyday world.  Experience thrilling adventures as you become a valiant and courageous hero!
Lords of Creation, published by Avalon Hill in 1983, was written by Tom Moldvay.  Since this is Moldvay's birthday, it is appropriate to begin our exploration of the game.  Moldvay contributed an essay to Heroic Worlds explaining Lords of Creation.  Not surprisingly, Moldvay and his friends were enthralled by “Original D&D.”  According to Moldvay:
...we had played every twist and variation D&D could offer.  We wanted more.  We experimented with extra rules; we tried to expand to other genres.  After a while it became obvious you can only stretch the D&D rules so far before they snapped.  So I made up a set of rules to suit our needs.
Much like a universal system, Moldvay's rules had to accommodate the possibilities inherent in essentially every role-playing game genre.  Yet Moldvay did not offer Lords of Creation as a universal system; instead, he intended a genre-mixed campaign arc with a definite end game. 
          The idea was to have characters start in a familiar setting – that of our own time and place.  They would begin as “ordinary” people; strange things start to happen to them; they undergo unusual adventures.  Gradually, the characters find that there are realities other than their own.  The characters discover they have innate powers they could once only dream of.  As they gain experience their adventures become more bizarre.  They travel throughout time and to far-flung planets.  They burst the bounds of normal time and space and journey to otherworldly dimensions and universes with unique physical laws.
          The Lords of Creation who give the game its name are extremely powerful individuals who can build whole new worlds and design dimensions with differing physical laws.  Yet all of them were once “normal” people, like the player characters.  If a character survives long enough, he or she becomes one of the Lords of Creation and learns how to build new worlds.
Page 43 of the Rule Book states, “New GMs should first run the adventure included in this game, THE HORN OF ROLAND.”  Unfortunately, The Horn of Roland was sold as an “expansion module” and not included in the Lords of Creation boxed set.  While the Rule Book provides ample advice on creating adventures, Lords of Creation suffers from not providing an introductory adventure to enlighten the Game Master (and players) as to Moldvay's vision and how the characters fit into the super-setting.

The contents of the boxed set included a Rule Book and a Book of Foes – both 64-pages and both with paper covers.  Also included were 1d6, 1d10, and 1d20.  Contemporaneously with selling Lords of Creation, Avalon Hill was also selling James Bond 007.  The soft cover, 160-page James Bond Basic Rules sold at $9.95; the boxed set, which also included character sheets and dice, sold at $12.95.  Although The Horn of Roland has 52 pages and includes play aids in its boxed set, a different introductory adventure could have – and should have – been included with Lords of Creation.  In fact, the Rule Book could have been 48 pages and the campaign material otherwise in the Rule Book included in a 48 page Campaign Book with an introductory adventure.  A 48-page Rule Book, a 48-page Campaign Book, and a 64-page Book of Foes together equal the total page count of the James Bond Basic Rules; Lords of Creation could have been packaged similarly to James Bond 007.

Moldvay also stated in his Heroic Worlds essay, “Sources of inspiration can often reveal more about a game than a long explanation.”  In this regard, Modvay listed the main inspirations for the game:
(1) mythology, legends, and folklore in general;
(2) an unpublished novel [Moldvay] wrote entitled Tom of Bedlam;
(3) the science-fantasy works of Philip José Farmer (the “World of Tiers” and “Riverworld” series) and Roger Zelazny (the “Amber” series, Jack of Shadows, Lord of Light, etc.);
(4) Dr. Who, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and The Avengers;
(5) science-fiction stories and novels in general, especially the “classic” SF of 1946 to 1959; and
(6) supernatural horror stories, particularly the kind written for the famous Weird Tales magazine.
Sadly, this 'Appendix N' for Lords of Creation was not included with the game.  By the way, why list as inspiration an unpublished novel you wrote?  If you're trying to inform people, listing something that cannot be referenced is pointless.  Was there any external inspiration for the novel that did not also inspire the game?

Also on the back of the box are the following claims:
  • A combat system including 53 different types of weapons ranging from swords and spears to proton beamers and blasters.
  • More than 450 foes to challenge the most daring of role-players.
  • 100 different non-combat skills and 53 combat skills that characters can learn as they gain experience.
  • 60 different powers that characters can gradually gain.
These claims are essentially true.  There are 53 weapon types, each associated with a combat skill.  The Book of Foes details more than 450 foes if we break down the concept of 'foes' so that orc (average), orc (soldier), and orc (leader) count as three foes.  Also among the foes are famous individuals (such as Marco Polo) and deities (such as Freyja).  I am uncertain as to whether Marco Polo can reasonably be categorized as a foe.  Technically, there are twenty non-combat skills, but each skill has five levels and each level confers a different talent.  For instance, the five levels of 'bureaucracy' are:  Record Keeping, Record Tracking, Bribery, Infiltration, and Futuristic/Magical.  (Most skills have a Futuristic/Magical level.)  Finally, there are twelve power categories. Each category has five powers and these powers must be acquired in ascending order.  For instance, the five Sorcerer powers are (from least to most powerful):  True Sight, Fascination, Illusion, Enchanted Sleep, and Animation.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Exploits of the San Francisco Knights (spoilers)

Art by Diane Hamil

The back cover of San Francisco Knights, the first CYBORG COMMANDO™ game accessory, reads in part:
This module contains three separate adventures, all leading to the common goal of establishing a new CC base near Big Sur, California.  In Adventure #1, you ride shotgun up the Pacific Coast Highway, escorting a shipment of critical supplies to the new location.  Adventure #2 takes you to San Francisco to recover a lost comrade from amidst the ruins, the survivors, and the enemy.  Finally, in Adventure #3, you must obtain a supply of rare earth minerals needed to create a CYBORG COMMANDO™ character from a remote location in the Mojave Desert.  But the mine and processing plant are now threatened by an unexpected infestation of alien Xenoborgs!
When we last left our intrepid heroes, they had endured severe exposition and spent almost a week walking across one-and-a-half continents.  At the Primary base in Mazatlan, Mexico, they are greeted by the acting base commander, Captain Sanchez.  San Francisco Knights employs the convention of using boxed text to indicate sections that should be read aloud by the Game Master.  One such section is Sanchez' instructions to the player characters.  However, prior to this, we are treated to a description of Sanchez' office:  “a small room decorated with sequined sombreros...”  The only characterization afforded to a Mexican NPC is that his office has “sequined sombreros.”  Really?  Why not begin his soliloquy with, “¡ Hola, mis amigos! ”?  Why not have him whistle “La Cucaracha”?  This is from 1987, so I'm not calling it out for cultural insensitivity.  Instead, I'm calling it out for being astoundingly stupid.  If you want to assign a cultural identifier to Sanchez (and this does not seem to have been the original intent), put a Frida Kahlo print in his office or something.  ¡Dios mío!

Anyway, the action for the first adventure begins at the Malibu “home of movie star Cliff Hamlin.”  There are three supply trucks that the players must accompany and “run interference for.”  Before the convoy begins, a young man – disguised as an old drunk – steals one of the trucks.  Meanwhile, his six compatriots (or maybe only five compatriots – the text is inconsistent) fire rifles at any pursuers.  Are they stealing a truck because a bunch of orphans and wounded people are in desperate need of supplies?  Nope.  They just want a ride to Santa Maria and think that the best way to accomplish this is by attacking cyborgs.

In the second adventure, the player characters go into what's left of San Francisco to salvage equipment from the (now partially submerged) Cyborg Commando base.  More to the point, the player characters are supposed to retrieve an older-model Cyborg Commando with whom contact was lost at the time of the invasion.  Since every Cyborg Commando “is an expensive piece of equipment,” it makes sense that a tracking mechanism would be installed.  Of course, there is no tracking mechanism; such a thing would invalidate the purpose of the adventure.

The adventure is set-up as an urban, post-apocalyptic sandbox.  Various San Francisco locales are described in detail; so are several groups of survivors.  According to page 16:
Each survivor leader can direct the characters to two to four others, who may or may not have the information desired.  This gives the characters several options from which to choose, rather than forcing them along a particular path.  A diagram of the information network is given below.

Ultimately, the player characters find that the lost Cyborg Commando is following the orders of the last commander of San Francisco's Cyborg Commando base.  However, said commander has become unbalanced and has assumed the identity of the second Emperor Norton.  Artist Diane Hamil's depiction of Norton II takes up an entire page of the San Francisco Knights book.  No matter what, a battle must occur against Xenoborgs and a group of humans who have turned traitor.  In this battle, the found Cyborg Commando
loses his hands in an explosion.  These events are inviolable.  So, the adventure does not force the players “along a particular path,” but it does require a specific ending.

The third adventure transpires a month or so after the invasion.  A “mine and processing plant” for rare earth minerals remained functioning after the invasion.  Now, however, shipments have stopped and xenoborg activity is suspected.  Contrary to the back cover text, the xenoborgs are hardly “unexpected.”  So, the player characters must defeat the xenoborgs plaguing the facility.  The plot is straightforward and there are no instances of nonsense.  A significant amount of detail is spent on the conditions of towns and roadways between Big Sur and the facility.  Also, unnecessary detail is provided about extracting rare earth minerals from raw ore.  For instance, “During this process, soluble trivalent cerium is converted to insoluble tetravalent CeO₂.”  This information serves no purpose in the adventure.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Adventure #1: San Francisco Knights (spoilers)

Art by Bob Eggleton

Many campaigns begin with the expediency of murderhoboes meeting at a tavern.  Some campaigns – like the default Year of the Phoenix setting – require that an intricate backstory be presented before player characters actually have any agency.  The campaign presented in the first published adventure for CYBORG COMMANDO™ is among the latter type.

San Francisco Knights, released the same year as the CYBORG COMMANDO™ boxed set, is credited to Penny Petticord.  Known for being administrator for the RPGA network as well as editor for POLYHEDRON, Petticord has no other non-periodical credits in gaming.  The adventure was edited by Pamela O'Neill, co-author of the CYBORG COMMANDO™ tie-in novels.

The text begins with:  “This adventure is a work of fiction.”  Whew, what a relief!  I was concerned that details about cyborgs fighting extra-terrestrials in the year 2035 might somehow reflect reality.  Actually, there's some boxed text that dutifully lists the “names and locations [that] are real.”  (Just so you know, the Golden Gate Bridge is totally real.)

The GM's Adventure Notes from the boxed set suggests that starting adventures should feature the home town of the players.  “For impact and realism,” it reads, “bring the early action from the starting base into your home town.”  Also, “To practice the details of the game, run a few simple fights with aliens in your home town.”  San Francisco Knights, however, takes a different approach.

The adventure assumes that up to three of the player characters are assigned to the San Francisco CCF base.  The Campaign Book specifies that precisely three Cyborg Commandos are assigned to the base, so I guess it wouldn't be realistic to have a couple of additional player characters present.  (There is also a non-player, older model cyborg at the base.)  Six pre-generated characters are provided with the adventure, three of which represent the titular Knights. 

The GM is directed to read aloud the Players' Introduction – an entire page consisting of three columns of text.  This introduction begins:
          It all started three days ago, on January 11, 2035.  The sun rose over the famous San Francisco skyline as usual, bathing the still sleeping city in various shades of gold.
When your exposition explains that the “sun rose...as usual,” you may want to consider editing for brevity.  Anyway, the text accompanying the pre-gens states that January 11, 2035, was “two days ago” – not three.  Regardless, the player characters are briefed for a Priority One mission.  Specifically, the PCs are directed to go to Antarctica to investigate “a massive nuclear explosion,” possibly caused by a meteor.  (Antarctica is not listed among the “real” locations, so I suppose this must be a fictional Antarctica.)  We are told:
          The destruction of this Antarctica station has precipitated devastating weather patterns all over the globe as millions of tons of water vaporized by the explosion move with the air currents.  We expect the seas to rise, and tidal waves to hit all coastlines...
Inclement weather causes the player characters' jet to crash land somewhere in South America.  “By the next morning,” the players learn, “your underwater propulsion legs...brought you to the icy waters of the Antarctic.”  It is at this point where the San Francisco cyborgs team up with other player characters (if any).  The cyborgs recover videotapes from a Trans-American Union station that show “not a meteor, but rather a device of unfamiliar manufacture, hurtling though the atmosphere...”  The player characters then defeat “a huge, misshapen version of an insect,” bristling with weapons.  The cyborgs make their way toward the U.S., discovering that CCF bases on the way have been destroyed.  Eventually, they find an operational base “at Mazatlan, Mexico on the morning of January 17.”  Wait.  Wasn't January 11 just three (or two) days ago?  CYBORG COMMANDO™ doesn't seem to track the passage of time very well.

All of the preceding, from January 11 to January 17 (I guess), was backstory.  The players had no opportunity to engage with these events; they couldn't ask questions during the mission briefing, they couldn't fight the monster – nothing.  Why?  What's the point of this elaborate info dump?

Well, kids, it's like this.  The whole alien invasion scenario is the sine qua non of CYBORG COMMANDO™.  The player characters can't affect that.  However, instead of sending the PCs on an excursion to Antarctica without an iota of agency, I would have handled things differently.  Let's say the player characters are involved in excavating a CCF security bunker in the side of a mountain.  The Xenoborg attack causes a cave-in.  As the PCs extricate themselves, they find they are in a cat-and-mouse game of survival against the aliens in an underground network of tunnels.  In this way, the player characters are out of the big picture, but at least they get to do something of their own volition – namely, “a few simple fights with aliens” as recommended by the GM's Adventure Notes.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Inspiration: Strikeforce Morituri

Art by Brent Anderson

The premise of CYB✪RG C✪MMAND✪™ – heroic individuals undergoing a dangerous, experimental process in order to fight invading aliens – is good enough.  Unfortunately, the game does not implement this premise in an especially engaging way.  A better implementation of this premise can be found in the Strikeforce Morituri series published by Marvel Comics.

Created by Peter B. Gillis and Brent Anderson, Strikeforce Morituri began publication in 1986, the year prior to the release of CYBORG COMMANDO.  The story begins in 2072, four years after an extraterrestrial race, the “Horde,” began their depredations upon the Earth.  Human technology is no match for Horde technology.  Thus the Horde launch pillaging raids from their orbital base and several land bases without fear of reprisal.  The Horde have no interest in exterminating humanity or conquering the world, they just loot whatever civilizations they encounter.  Still, they have more personality than CYBORG COMMANDO's Xenoborgs.  The Horde use psychology against humans and Gillis does a good job of demonstrating their cruelty.

The Morituri represent the only hope humanity has against the Horde.  Only a select few are accepted to take the Morituri Process, which has two phases.  Phase one enhances the subject's physiology and grants increased strength so as to withstand the stress of the next phase.  Phase two imparts a super-power to a subject, the exact nature of which is impossible to predict.  Eventually, every Morituri subject will reject the enhancements with fatal results.  Hence the name “Morituri,” which comes from the Latin phrase nos morituri te salutamus (“we who are about to die salute you”); a phrase attributed to gladiators.  Whether or not any gladiator actually made that remark is immaterial to its relevance to our protagonists.  Ideal Morituri candidates are expected to live up to a year before the process kills them.  The “up to a year” lifespan is taken for granted, even though this assumption is made before any Morituri subject has survived for nearly that long.  It seems to be wishful thinking or perhaps we as readers are supposed to suspend disbelief in this regard.

The Morituri enjoy a celebrity status, which is as important (if not more so) than their actual military accomplishments.  In testament to this, the commander of the Morituri squad is not a Morituri herself, but had experience in the entertainment industry prior to the invasion.  This is the type of dramatic element of which CYBORG COMMANDO does not take advantage.

A game based on Strikeforce Morituri would seem to offer a richer experience than CYBORG COMMANDO's “setting.”  This is especially true in that there is little to distinguish CYBORG COMMANDO characters for one another while each Morituri subject has a different power.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Creating a Cyborg Commando (Part II)


In our previous post, we generated a CYBORG COMMANDO character via the 'basic' character creation rules.  In this post, we will examine the 'advanced' character creation rules.  Specifically, we will convert our basic character, Cappellan Jennings, to the advanced format.

Conversion begins with a character's skills.  In the basic procedure, skills are purchased at a 'field' level; however, in the advanced rules, skills become more granular.  Each field consists of a number of 'areas'.  For example, the Communications field includes the following four areas:  'Strategies', 'Tactics', 'Simple (non-electrical) Communications Devices', and 'Electrical Communications'.  In converting a basic character's skill field to areas:
Multiply the score in that field by 3.  Divide that number of points among the Areas in that Field.  You must place at least one point in each Area, for a resulting minimum score of 2 in each, counting the one you get free.
So, Jennings' score of 3 in Computer Sciences becomes 9 points to divide among the three areas of the field:  'Ancient Computers', 'Modern Operation and Software', and 'Modern Hardware'.  Allocated evenly (and given the 'free point' for each area) Jennings has a total score of 4 for each area.  Like the Computer Sciences field, Personal Arts has three areas ('Mental Arts', 'Physical Arts', and 'Error Avoidance') so the calculations are the same.

The Personal Movement field has six areas.  Nine, of course, does not go evenly into six.  After each area gets one point (as required), three points remain.  Three areas receive the minimal allocation ('Land-Based Special', 'Aerial (non-powered)', 'Extraterrestrial') and three areas each receive one of the extra points ('Land-Based Normal', 'Aquatic Unequiped', 'Aquatic Equipped').

The Personal Weapons field has seven areas.  In this case, five areas receive the minimal allocation ('Ancient Bladed Melee Weapons', 'Ancient Blunt Melee Weapons', 'Ancient Missile Weapons', 'Heavy and Special Weapons', 'Artillery') and two areas each receive one of the extra points ('Common Devices as Weapons', 'Modern Small Arms').

Psychogenics is actually two fields, one in the dynamic division and one in the static division.  For the basic character, I failed to make the distinction.  Now, let us decide upon Static Psychogenics, which has five areas.  As such, all areas receive two points except 'Sending (One-Way Telepathy)', which receives only one.

The advanced character creation rules do not reference the MadMac skills (either for original characters or basic conversions).  Presumably, the same procedure applies.  Since those fields have 10 'basic' points, 30 'advanced' points are to be distributed among the areas.  As indicated above, Communications has four areas.  Dividing the points as evenly as possible, two areas receive eight points ('Strategies', 'Tactics') and the other two, seven ('Simple', 'Electrical').

The two Energy Sciences areas ('Air, Light, & Sound' and 'Energy Sources') each receive 15 points.  The same goes for the two Law Enforcement areas ('Investigations' and 'Suspect & Prisoner Handling') as well as the two Unarmed Combat areas ('Occidental Style' and 'Oriental Style').  The Strategy & Tactics field has three areas ('Personal Tactics', 'Personal Strategy', and 'Military S&T'), each of which receive 10 points.

Once skills are converted, stats are adjusted.  On the Character Record sheet, for each stat, there are rows for Capacity, Integrity, and Recovery.  In general, 'basic' stat values are multiplied by three and the result allocated among the Capacity, Integrity, and Recovery for that stat.

Because Jennings has 24 (non-MadMac) skill areas (even though he would rather do without some of them), he must have a Mental Capacity score of 24.  This leaves 21 points to divide between Mental Integrity and Mental Recovery.  Let's say 11 points to Mental Integrity and 10 points to Mental Recovery.  For the Neural and Physical stats, Capacity, Integrity, and Recovery each receives 15 points.

Stat-derived calculations are next performed.  Psychlons equal Neural Capacity.  The table on page 14 of the CCF Manual incorrectly states “Skills = ⅓ Mental Capacity,” when it should read, “skill areas not to exceed Mental Capacity.”  'Train' equals 100 minus Mental Integrity in hours.  'Actions' and 'Speed' are both derived from Neural Capacity and fractional Speed values are permitted in the advanced rules.  'EP' means Endurance Points, “which measure the character's stamina, or 'staying power.'”  It is derived from Neural Integrity.  I would think that a disembodied brain need not be troubled by fatigue poisons, but apparently I would be wrong.  Rather than the “number of days the character can function before sleep is absolutely required,” the Rest score – derived from Neural Recovery – represents the amount of “EP per Travel Turn (2.4 hours) . . . recovered by sleeping.”  In the advanced character creation rules, “Heal” is not referenced.

The calculation of Integrity Points “= Physical Integrity × 3,” presumes the the Hit Location optional rule is in effect.
          Divide your total IPs by ten, and round down.  Write that result in each space except the one labeled “Body.”  Add all those figures, subtract the total from the original total IPs and write the remainder next to Body. . .

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Creating a Cyborg Commando (Part I)



My previously owned boxed set of CYB✪RG C✪MMAND✪™ contains a dozen or so copies of the character record sheet – waiting for an adventure that will never be.  Let us make use of one of these records in generating a character.

Step 1 is appropriately named “Start.”  This step is about describing “your character – the human, that is, not the combined human-machine (cyborg) he or she will become.”  We are informed that “the most important aspects of a character” are “Stats” and “Skills.”  However, Stats and Skills are not described until later steps.
          Other details will be left to your choice.  These include your character's physical appearance (height, weight, etc.), historical background (home, education, etc.), and basic psychological traits (outlook on life, likes & dislikes, and so forth).
In recording such “other details,” the character record directs us to “use other side.”

Step 2 is “Select Stats,” but a better description would be “Assign Stat Scores.”  There are three Stats:  Mental, Neural, and Physical.

Mental regards “intelligence in the abstract, and the amount of information that can be retained,” as well as “the speed at which information can be acquired (learned) and used (recalled), and the accuracy of such information . . . willpower . . . general mental stability, and the speed at which the mind can recover from psychological damage.”

Neural is defined as “physical agility and speed of action . . . accuracy in attacking . . . stamina (endurance), the ability to maintain control over one's body, and the speed at which physical control can be recovered after it is lost (when the character has been stunned, knocked out, or drugged).”

Physical means “brute strength . . . the amount of physical damage the body can withstand before becoming useless or destroyed, and the speed at which physical damage will heal itself or respond to medical treatment.”

A player allocates “Points” among Stats and Skills.  Said points are abbreviated as “SP” (“the S stands for both Stats and Skills”).  Each character has 60 SP; at least 20, but no more than 50, must be allocated to Stats.  An average adult has a value of 10 in each Stat, except men have a Physical Stat of 15 and women have a Neural Stat of 15.  Let's just allocate fifteen points to each Stat.

Step 3 is “Psychogenics,” the science of “the phenomena currently called ESP.”  The psychogenic score of a character is “measured in Psychons of power” and “is equal to the Neural Stat score.”

Step 4 is “Calculations,” and deals with some of the Stat-Based Data to be recorded on the character record sheet.  “Skills” refers to the “maximum number of Fields of skill” a character may have; it is equal to one-third of the Mental Stat.  “Train” refers to the number of “hours needed for education in any skill” per point; it is equal to “100 minus Mental score.”  Actions, Speed, and Rest each equal 1 for characters with a Neural score of less than twenty.  “Actions” has to do with combat activity.  “Speed” is the “maximum distance the character can move, measured in map hexes per time unit.”  What is the length of a hex or time unit?  The rules relate, “Don't worry about it now . . .”  “Rest” is the “number of days the character can function before sleep is absolutely required.”

Step 5 is “Select Skills.”  There are two Divisions of Skills:  Dynamic (which includes the categories of “Movement” and “Combat”) and Static (which includes the categories of “Arts & Language,” “Sciences,” and “Law”).  Among the five Categories there are twenty Fields.  A Skill's score is measured as Skill Rating (SR).  “Thanks to the intensive training before entering the CYBORG COMMANDO Force,” the rules state, a character “has a starting SR of 1 in every Field of knowledge, indicating a level of skill just above total ignorance.”  SP not spent on Stats are allocated among Skill Fields; each SR costs 1 SP.  Our character has 15 SP left and a maximum of five Fields, so we can assign 3 SP to each of five Fields:  Computer sciences, Personal arts, Personal movement, Personal weapons, and Psychogenics.

Step 6 involves “Other Details,” the nature of which were summarized in Step 1.  If “Other Details” are decided in Step 6, there's really no reason to have the Step 1 that is described.  Step 4 includes the statement, “Skills are determined in Step 4.”  It would seem that, at one point, Step 1 was “Select Stats,” therefore “Select Skills” would have been Step 4.  The “Start” Step 1 was probably added as an afterthought.

Step 7 is “The CC Body,” in which Physical Stat-Based Data is figured.  “The Physical Stat of the CC body equals [the character's] natural Physical score plus 100.”  “Integrity Points” (IP) are effectively hit points; a character has a number of IP equal to twice the Physical Stat score. “Damage” is the amount of damage the character can inflict without weapons; it equals Physical / 10.  “Heal” also equals Physical / 10; it represents the amount of damage a character can recover daily without medical aid.  However, “this applies to organic parts only . . . The CC body does not repair damage unaided.”  (I don't know why this data should be calculated from  the CC Physical value.)  “Heft” is the “amount of weight . . . that your character can Throw, Carry, or Lift.”  If the Metric system is employed, weight is represented in kilograms.  “Throw” equals the Physical Stat score, “Carry” is 10 × Physical, and “Lift” is 20 × Physical.

Step 8, the last step, is named “Meet MadMac.”  MadMac is an acronym for “Miniaturized Analog / Digital Macro-Algorithmic Computer.”  It is “a revolutionary type of computer that works with the organic brain, assisting it with the task of running the CC body.”  For purposes of character generation, the MadMac provides a SR of 10 to five Skill Fields:  “Strategy & Tactics,” “Unarmed Combat,” “Communications,” “Energy Sciences,” and “Law Enforcement.”

That's it for basic character creation; next time we'll tackle advanced character creation.

Both the Campaign Book and CCF Manual have the following statement on their respective title pages:  “Special Thanks to Jennings Cappellan of the Rare Earth Information Center.”  Jennings Cappellan is such an awesome name, I've decided to use a variation of it for the character.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Combat in Cyborg Commando



When making attack rolls or skill checks, CYBORG COMMANDO players roll two ten-sided dice.  However, instead of adding the results together or interpreting one result as 'tens' and the other 'units', the results are multiplied together.  This method is called the d10x system.  The CCF Manual lists various reasons why CYBORG COMMANDO employs the d10x system:
  • “Most people can multiply two single-digit numbers easily, and often with less trouble than adding two-digit numbers.
  • “The system produces results that still span the convenient 1-100 range...but with unusual frequencies of results.”
  • Regarding combat, “a single d10x roll determines the chance to hit and, in many cases, damage as well.”
  • Regarding improvement of skill scores, “minimal gains in low scores produce great leaps in the percentage chances of success, but improvements in high scores produce only small increases.”
For skill checks and stat checks, success is determined by rolling a certain number or less.  However, for combat, the opposite is true:  “An attack is a 'clean miss' if the result of the d10x roll is a given number or less.”


Page 9 informs us:
The average result of a normal d10x roll is 30¼.  The median result is 24; that is, you are equally likely to roll either 24 or more or 24 or less.  Exactly one fourth of all the possible results are odd numbers; three fourths are even numbers.
As previously noted, a Combat Turn (CT) represents 8.6 seconds and is divided into ten phases of 0.86 seconds each.  The ten phases are split into two cycles:  phases 1 - 5 in the first cycle and phases 6 - 10 in the second cycle.  A character can perform a number of actions in a cycle equal to the “first digit of the Neural Capacity score (or 1 if NC is 9 or less).”  At the beginning of every Combat Turn, players must announce what actions (such as attacks) they intend their characters to commit for both cycles.  This establishes when in the Combat Turn any given character will act because each phase is reserved for a particular type of action (most of which are attack options):
     Phases 1 & 6:  Zap Weapons
     Phases 2 & 7:  Fast Projectiles
     Phases 3 & 8:  Slow Projectiles
     Phases 4 & 9:  Lobbed Objects & Projected Substances
     Phases 5 & 10:  Physical & Sonic Attacks, plus all Miscellaneous
Miscellaneous actions include any activity other than an attack or movement.  Phases are resolved in order.  A character always has the option to forgo an announced action.  If an action announced for the first cycle is forgone, “you may revise your intentions for the second cycle.”

Movement need not be announced at the beginning of the Combat Turn and does not count against the number of actions permitted to a character.  If a character is not otherwise committing an action in a given phase, he (or she) may move two meters (or yards).  The maximum number of yards (or meters) a character may move (under his or her own power) during a Combat Turn is ten times the character's Speed value.  (Speed equals Neural Capacity divided by ten.)  This movement allowance is reduced by terrain modifiers as well as what attacks the character attempts in the Combat Turn.  For instance, “Each laser shot has a -1 movement penalty, and each grenade, a -2.”  If a character forgoes an attack in a Combat Turn, the movement penalty imposed by that attack no longer applies.

Starting characters have a Combat Rating (CR) of 10.  If an attack roll is equal to or less than the attacker's Combat Rating, the attack misses, “not hitting anything.”  Assuming the attack is not a clean miss, any modifiers are applied to the result.  “If that total equals or exceeds the Defense Value (DV) of the target,” the rules state, “you have successfully hit it.”  Every 'target' has five Defense Values, “one for each of the five basic attack forms.”  These attack forms are represented by the acronym LITES:  Laser, Impact, Thermal, Electro-magnetic, and Sonic.

Prediction Aiming Digitizer (PAD) programs allow Cyborg Commandos to improve their attack roll results by expending additional Power Units (PU).  “The amount of the...bonus is always equal to the amount of PU expended for it.”

“The amount of physical damage the character's body can sustain” is measured in Integrity Points (IP).  The damage inflicted by an attack “is either fixed or standard.”  Hand-held weapons inflict fixed damage (1 - 20 IPs depending upon the weapon).  Standard damage is equal to the original attack roll (with a possible modifier).  Lasers – for example – inflict standard damage.

The advanced combat rules include special effects (SFX).  Special Effects come into play if the attack roll was doubles (“that is, the same number on both dice”) and otherwise successful.  For Special Effects, 1d10 is rolled and a table is consulted.  The specific effect depends upon the target:  Normal Human, Cyborg Commando, or Alien.  Possible effects include:  “Flees in fear,” “Weapon destroyed,” and “Damage doubled.”

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Xenobiology


Eighteen years from now, in the world of the CYB✪RG C✪MMAND✪™ science fiction role-playing game, aliens will invade the Earth.
          The entire invasion is controlled, directly or indirectly, by one “master race,” the existence of which is not initially known to Man.  Members of this race call themselves a term meaning “controllers of reality” in their own language, but to the commanders of the invasion force, they are simply “the Masters.”
          A Master is a wormlike creature with trilateral symmetry.  An adult's smooth tapering body is 61 cm (2') long, 15 cm (6") wide at its thickest (uppermost) point, and topped by a bulbous head about 31 cm (1') in diameter.  Three sucker-like mouths and three eyes are evenly spaced around the head, and eighteen small tentacles protrude from the body, again evenly spaced and symmetrically located.  The creature's body masses about 41 kg (90 pounds), and has a total volume of 27,000 cc (1,650 cubic inches).
However, the entities that player characters encounter are called Xenoborgs.  “The Xenoborgs as a race are pawns of the Masters,” the Campaign Book states, “though they are not aware of this.”  Xenoborgs have no organs; instead they consist entirely of “X-cells” – which are capable of independent movement.  Immature X-cells are lozenge-shaped and mature X-cells have five sides.  By configuring their X-cells in various ways, Xenoborgs have a “shape-alteration ability.”

The graphic at the beginning of this post is page 42 of the Cyborg Commando Campaign Book.  Figure five shows a tessellation of four-cell tetrads; such tessellations “form most of the Xenoborg's body.”  Figure six shows cell groups that “are created to perform specialized functions, including those carried out by the organs of terran life forms.”  So, an entire page (out of a book of 64 pages) is taken up by two figures that exist only convey the concept that X-cells can fit together in different ways.  How does this better the game?  Is this supposed to facilitate immersion?  Perhaps they should have included diagrams of common Xenoborg forms and weapons – things that player characters would actually observe in the game.  At least the book defines various types of organelles like vacuoles and ribosomes – you know, important information every campaign needs.

The Campaign Book states that Xenoborgs resemble “giant-sized version[s] of the microscopic dust mite commonly found in households.”  For purposes of invading Earth...
          Their forms had been selected, with careful consideration of Man's psychology, to resemble something feared by the entire race.  Some of the policy makers had favored the reptilian form, but that idea was discarded – primarily because the myths of Man indicated repeatedly that humans always defeated the dragons, and dinosaurs were laughable.  A demonic form was almost used, but finally voted down because of its utterly imaginary origins, and also due to the popularity of a role-playing game in which such beings were routinely encountered and destroyed.  No, a perversion of reality was considered best; a deadly extrapolation of a normal creature, known to peoples of all social, economic, and political climates.  The attacking troops were made to resemble insects – but larger, more horrible, and far more dangerous.
The smallest Xenoborgs are 4.5 meters (or yards) long and 3.1 yards (or meters) high and wide.  Xenoborgs increase in size as they increase in rank; 'colonel' Xenoborgs are 7.1 yards (or meters) long and 4.6 meters (or yards) wide and high.  The Xenoborg Emperor has a size of “about that of a large building, roughly 450,000 cubic feet.”  We are told that, “All X-cells not dedicated to specific functions take part in communications exchanges and interactions – thoughts which, though slower than human thoughts by an order of magnitude, are nevertheless just as effective and intelligent.”  Thus, larger Xenoborgs are more intelligent.

From page 36 of the Campaign Book we learn:
          Though the aliens do craft and use devices of various sorts, they do not rely primarily on inanimate objects as tools.  Instead, the create genetically engineered beings to perform various tasks, because life forms provide maximum diversity and adaptability.
Xenoborgs have power sources which are “part plant, part animal” and are “known by a name which translates best as 'Powwers.'”  Seriously?  “Translates best as” 'powers' with an extra 'w'?  In the words of the late General H. Norman Schwartzkopf, I call bovine scatology.  Are we supposed to stress the second syllable in order to distinguish it from the usual 'powers'?  I would accept something along the lines of 'Ergmod,' but 'Powwers' is just dumb.  “Similar in principle (though not in practice) to Earth's electric eel, a Powwer stores energy and releases it...[when] carefully stroked and prodded in a certain way...”  (ahem)

Teleborgs are another product of Xenoborg genetic engineering.   They...
          ...are multi-purpose creatures with many abilities.  Generally, they are the mounts on (and occasionally in) which Xenoborgs travel, not only on land, but also through water, air – and even space.  Teleborgs can thus be divided into four basic categories according to their use...
          Reproduction is accomplished by budding.  Weight at birth is about 50 kg (110 lb) within a volume of 57 liters (2 cubic feet), but the creature quickly grows to full size is sufficient nutrients are available.  That density, about 877 grams per liter (55 pounds per cubic foot), is maintained by all the specie of this race, whatever their eventual sizes and shapes...
Some Teleborgs can function as supply bases.

Lastly, there are Bugborgs (or 'buglies').  However, less than a paragraph is devoted to Bugborgs.  “They comprise the aliens' major response to the rise off the CC Force,” page 47 of the Campaign Book indicates, “arriving about 8-12 months after the invasion.”

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The State of the World in 2035

Trans-American Union CC Bases Map (South)

The Introduction to the CYB✪RG C✪MMAND✪™ Campaign Book explains, “This rules set demands your creativity.”  (It's a shame it didn't demand the creativity of the designers.)  Yet, “Fantasy is discouraged...”  For instance, “the speed of light is an absolute limit.”  (Except it isn't, as explained below.)
The emphasis throughout this game is on hard science.  The details of the future setting have been realistically extrapolated by logical means from the current (1980s) world.  With respect to the setting and the characters described in this game, every detail may someday become reality.  (original emphasis)
(Yes, the writers felt compelled to indicate the “current” decade.)  Of course, “hard science” extends to 'brain-in-a-jar' technology and “psychogenic” abilities like telepathy and psychokinesis.  Extraterrestrials and galactic travel, however, are “assumptions.”  Nonetheless, “such things are at least possible, even if not likely.”

Four pages of of the Campaign Book are devoted to “Q-Space Travel,” the method by which the extraterrestrial invaders reach Earth.  In the original Traveller – a game where player characters actually engage in interstellar voyages – the particulars of the jump drive are described within a single paragraph.  This is because such details are unnecessary to play the game.  The four-page “Q-Space” section includes a half-page appendix with “Formulae relevant to the discovery, description, and use of Quantum Space.”  Said appendix begins...
Warning:  The actual derivations of the formulae are not given here; after all, Man has not yet discovered them.  This section does, however, gives the tools that will be used in the forthcoming discovery.  Feel free to attempt the derivations if you are both mathematically creative and also quite familiar with tensor calculus.
Seriously, why even bother?

Back in the Introduction, we learn that, “The technological wonders of the Century Revolution eased but did not conquer cultural diseases.”  I am not at all certain what is meant by “cultural diseases,” but “the Century Revolution” sounds like it could be genuinely interesting.  Sadly, this sentence is the only reference to it I could find in the rules.

The Introduction in the CCF Manual lists three “discoveries” that have had an effect on civilization similar in magnitude to transistors and personal computers:
Superconductivity:  Finally made practical, this basic principle changes the nature and use of electricity itself, and thereby all electrical devices on Earth.
SINC [Sub-cranial Interface & Neural Converter]:  This device is a direct interface through which brains and computers can be directly connected.
Psychogenics:  This new science results from a hard, critical look at ESP and the occult.  The real and provable has been separated from the fantastic and imaginary.
Thirty pages of the 64 page Campaign Book regard global politics in 2035.  Seven of the thirty pages are full-page maps of various regions (such as the image above).  Sixteen of the thirty pages are nation-by-nation lists of Cyborg Commando facilities along with the specific territory, metro area, population (of the metro area), latitude, longitude, and any notes.  For example:

TA 04 C.5    Virginia    Richmond    494,375   37.34°N    77.27°W   Intl. HQ, U.S.A. 3 & Bermuda

There are also helpful footnotes, such as:  “Fifty percent or more of the Mazatlán metro area consists of specialized high-tech facilities with minimal resident personnel.”  Although population is diligently recorded for hundreds of cities, Game Masters are evidently supposed to “accurately calculate the population of any area...”  To this end, there is a two-page “Population” section.  This section includes five tables that provide data about, for instance, average annual growth rates.  Curiously, the “Population” section is immediately preceded by an exhortation for players to use the Metric system – “...you'll love how simple it make things.”  This is strange in that simplicity does not seem to have been a design goal for this game.

Figuring population is not a final step.  The game begins after extraterrestrial invaders have decimated humanity.  As such, near the end of the Campaign Book, there is a two-page Depopulation Table.  In conjunction with some dice rolls, a Game Master can determine the post-invasion population of a given area.  This is important because population “has a direct effect on the available resources of food, water, and technology.”  Perhaps the authors were saving the formulae for these 'direct effects' for inclusion in the anticipated (but never published) second set of rules.

According to the Players' Adventure Notes:
The political geography of the world is quite as important as the physical in shaping the history of Man.  The boundaries and governments are thus major factors in the campaign game, and must be dealt with in due course – perhaps not in your early games, but certainly in the long run.
(Then why include all of this information in the initial set?)  In 2035, some nations have combined, yet several islands have become independent countries.  For instance, “many islands of the Mediterranean (including Corsica, Sardinia, and the Balearics, but not Sicily) joined to form Tyrrhenia.”  In any event, the world's nations are divided among “five large territorial blocs,” often referred to as “the Five.”  The five blocs are supposed to “regulate international dealings only.”  However,
The Five had commissioned the creation of a new international language called Terran, to be used for all international affairs (including world government).  A global standard in 2035, the language is a blend of English, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, French, and a smattering of other tongues.
Bloc governments “pay all the costs of basic education” (whatever 'basic education' is supposed to entail) as long as “The teaching and regular use of both the national language and the Terran (international) language was required, and a top priority.”  It's nice that the reader is reminded that Terran is the international language five entire sentences after first being told.  Unfortunately, no additional information is provided about this language.  What about the written form of Terran?  Is there any accommodation for Cyrillic script?  What system is used for conversion of Chinese:  Wade-Giles, pinyin, or – dare I hope – IPA?  How am I supposed to take this game seriously when it missed an opportunity to disgorge even more pedantic, useless details?