Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Complete Science Fiction Role Playing Game

Art by Bob Charrette

In 1980, Fantasy Games Unlimited published Space Opera.  According to the first paragraph of the rules, “The very title of this game suggests the type of adventures that should await the players – rip-roaring, excitement filled journeys across the void in the great of tradition of Doc Smith's Lensman series and the many other 'space opera' stories of SF.”  So, Space Opera was intended to compete against Traveller.  Interestingly, according to Lawrence Schick in his Heroic Worlds, Space Opera was “successful largely due to similarity to TRAVELLER.”  Certainly there are similarities, but in promoting its difference from Traveller, the game claimed to be “complete.”  By “complete”, the publisher intended “a game that would not need the usually innumerable supplements...”  Everything needed to play was included in the two volumes of rules (the first being 92 pages and the second, 90 pages).  Of course, this didn't preclude FGU from publishing supplements for Space Opera.  In any event, this completeness resulted “complex and detailed” rules according to Schick.  The Introduction admits, “Space Opera is not an easy game” and that “the sheer number of systems can be staggering.”  In an attempt to avoid discouraging potential players, the Introduction also states that “the individual systems are actually fairly simple and quite logical” and further claims that, “For the average campaign [some of] these systems can be ignored at no detriment to the game as a whole.”  Thus, the more complex rules “are supposedly included for the 'hard core' role player who demands such detail and accuracy...”

The cover depicted above is the last of three versions.  (All versions can be seen here.)  This third version (by Bob Charrette) is based upon the second version (by Gene Day).  With the third version we lost cleavage and a goofy-looking alien, but at least we gained a kitty person, a lizard person, and a robot.  Both versions feature something which is NOT a Wookiee posed against the backdrop of a small moon.  Wait...that's no moon.  To be fair, the game's Introduction claims it was partially inspired by “Star Wars from George Lucas.”  There's even a field of psionics called the Force, having both a light side and a dark side.

Space Opera was designed by Ed Simbalist of Chivalry & Sorcery fame, with contributions from Phil McGregor and Mark Ratner.  The setting of Space Opera was derived from Ratner's Space Marines miniatures game.  While there is a default setting – what the game calls a 'future history' – it is meant “as a model for the type of background that can be painted for a role-playing or Empire-level campaign.”  The Space Opera term for Game Master is StarMaster.  It is the StarMaster who designs the galaxy in which the characters have adventures.  StarMasters are assured that the default 'future history' is not the only way Space Opera can be played.  In fact, “Any version of 'future history' is equally acceptable.”

With regard to rolling dice, Space Opera offers some useful advice:
The goal is to keep the action moving.  Dice rolls which serve only to take the StarMaster or the players 'off the hook' by replacing good role-play with a mechanical toss of the 'idiot dice' will tend to slow down the tempo.  For suspense, roll the dice and build up the tension by a lot of talk while doing so.  When the very fate of a player is at stake, dice rolls are again useful to give a 'fair' probability that the character will survive or be successful.  (In the latter case, an arbitrary ruling or even a perfectly correct ruling of the StarMaster which brings a character to disaster, can often breed bad feelings.)  The dice can act as an insulator and keeps things a bit impersonal.
The game also explains the responsibilities of the StarMaster.  Notably...
He must be fair, interpreting the spirit rather than just the letter of the rules.  He must avoid personal involvement himself – a sometimes difficult thing to do because his role as the neutral opposition to the characters can occasionally bring out his own competitive spirit.  But he must suppress this because, as referee, he holds all of the cards and can subconsciously 'rig' events to suit himself if he is not careful.  Such neutrality is essential, for one of the tasks of the StarMaster is to act as a neutral go-between when characters secretly or individually act behind the backs of their comrades or set themselves up in opposition to the very Authorities in power – NPCs whom the StarMaster controls.
The character record sheet included with Space Opera is arguably the blandest character sheet ever published.

It doesn't even display the title of the game.  Conspicuously absent is a disclaimer granting permission to make copies for personal use only.  Given how unlikely it would be that anyone would pay money for this thing, such a disclaimer was apparently deemed unnecessary.  A bland character sheet is not necessarily a bad character sheet, but the organization of the Space Opera character record sheet leaves much to be desired.  There are fourteen Personal Characteristics, including three Aptitudes:  General Technical, Mechanical, and Electronics.  On the character sheet, these Personal Characteristics are interspersed with 'Secondary' Characteristics without rhyme or reason.  Furthermore, Space Opera is a skill-based game.  Some skill-based games have character sheets that list all (or most) of the game's skills.  This is fine and well if there are less than a hundred skills and they are presented in some sort of order.  Space Opera has over a hundred skills and they are listed on the character record sheet.  These skills are sorted into five types, but there is no alphabetization within a type.  Really, you're better off with a sheet of notebook paper.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Not Quite Gamma World

Art by Martin King

In 1987, TSR published the board game GAMMARAUDERS, “a wahoo brawl of world conquest and spiffy weapons with fins!”  Inspired in part by the Gamma World franchise, GAMMARAUDERS takes place in the post-apocalyptic Gamma Age.  As the above quote suggests, the premise was not entirely serious.  In the game, players control giant, cybernetic animals called bioborgs.  The bioborgs fight one another as well as more conventional military forces (known as 'popcorn').  Cryptic Alliances are also part of the game; functioning as factions.  However, the GAMMARAUDERS Cryptic Alliances are not the same as those in Gamma World.  Included with the game was a twenty page booklet “of bioborg background, Cryptic Alliance news, and world history.”  It was an interesting decision to include twenty pages of unnecessary background details for a board game.  It's almost as if the publishers had additional plans for the setting.

Given the reasonable assumption that a significant amount of overlap exists between comic book readers and RPG enthusiasts, DC Comics published a few official Dungeons & Dragons titles in the late 80s.  Also published was a GAMMARAUDERS comic book, initially written by Peter Gillis.  How many comic books have been based on board games?  Anyway, the early issues included rules for The GAMMARAUDERS (Extremely Tiny) Roleplaying System authored by Zeb Cook (or, as he introduced himself, Major Zeb of the Gammarauders Science Patrol).  So, we have a role-playing system published in a comic book based on a board game partially inspired by a role-playing game.

Included in the first issue was an essay by Jim Ward explaining role-playing games.  The essay began:  “We at TSR freely admit we do not have all the answers on what role playing is or isn't.”  He also offered:  “Role Playing at its simplest is putting yourself in someone else's shoes.”  Naturally, Ward took the opportunity to plug various TSR games.  Cook also made an effort to “explain what roleplaying games are all about.”  In his words:  “It's simple – roleplaying games are make-believe.”  He continued, “The rules are supposed to tell you who shot whom and settle arguments and the like.”

The GAMMARAUDERS (Extremely Tiny) Roleplaying System (hereinafter GETRS) version of a Game Master is called the Boss in the first installment, but the Keeper thereafter.

Each Player Character is a bioborg handler with five abilities.
Abilities are the things that tell you what your Character is like.  Each ability is rated 1 to 6.  A 1 means you're just not very good in that area.  A 6 makes you about the best there is with that ability.
Science – “your understanding of things – well, scientific.”
Style – “your ability to make an impression on others, the way you want it to be made.”
Rumble – “your skill in a fight.”
Bod – “your muscles and size”
Control – “your ability to keep your cool commanding your bioborg in the heat of action.”

Roll 1d6 (ignoring rolls of 6) for each of five ability scores, assigning those scores as desired.

Each player chooses a Complex for his or her Character:
It can be anything you want.  Perhaps he can't abide the color red.  Maybe she is touchy about her height.  He can even loathe his own bioborg, forever envious of the fine creatures other handlers have.  Choose something you can have fun with.
Roll 1d6 to determine the severity of the Complex.  Finally, “Decide all the other stuff, like appearance, dress, accent, and anything else that seems interesting.”  (A handler's name and gender are decided upon before any other step.)

Player Characters “are assigned bioborgs according to the whim of the Keeper...”  Similar to abilities, bioborgs have “numerical stats.”

Bod – “measure of size and fighting ability.”  (Roll 1d6 and multiply by 10)
Brains – “general smarts of the bioborg...(roll 1 die and divide the result by 2, rounding fractions up).”
Control – “the bioborg's willpower to ignore the orders of its handler and even make him do things he doesn't want.”  (Roll 1d6)
Armament – the number of weapons the bioborg can have at one time.  (Bod / 10)
Power – “the number of pods the bioborg can eat without becoming seriously ill.  Pods are the all-important fuel source for the bioborg's weapons (and 'most everything else).”  (Roll 2d6)

Bioborgs also have Complexes.  “These are secretly decided by the Keeper.”

The Gamma Age is populated by “factoids” that look like CRT terminals with robotic feet.
They answer every question – completely and literally.  Never, never ask a factoid what's new.  It will follow you for the rest of your existence, displaying every new thing on its screen.  Attempts to find out where they come from have proven equally futile.  It is quite possible that factoids know everything in the universe.  The problem is finding the right questions to ask.
In game terms, “A factoid will be able to answer any question on a die roll of 1 - 5.”

GERTS uses “the scientific principle known as Fistsfulls of Dice.”  When a character “tries to do something difficult,” roll a number of dice equal to the appropriate ability.  If the result of at least one of the dice equals the ability score, the character succeeds.  Easier tasks increase the number of dice to be rolled; harder tasks reduce the number of dice.

With regard to fighting, “You can do just about anything reasonable (and some things unreasonable).”  However, “You can only do one basic thing (shoot, run, shoot and run, etc.) in a turn.”  Initiative is determined by rolling against Control.
The person who makes the most successful rolls (i.e. rolls his Control score) goes first and so on until everyone has a chance to act.  If no one rolls his score, the person who rolled the most dice goes first and so on.  If it is a tie, those characters do everything all at once.
A weapon inflicts damage according to the results of a number of dice indicated in the weapon's description.  For instance, a “Handy-Dandy Blaster Pistol” inflicts two dice of damage.
When punching, kicking, or otherwise using your body, you do 1 point of Bod damage for each successful die roll you make.  If your Bod is greater than your Rumble, you add one to this result.
When a character's Bod is reduced to zero, that character is “out of play (until the next Big Scene Change).”  (Cook neglected to discuss the topic of scene changes.)

To determine a handler's running speed (in yards) for any given span of thirty seconds, roll a number of dice equal to the handler's Bod score and multiply by ten.  “Bioborgs use the same method to determine how far they move, but multiply the result by 50.”

Handlers enter into Contracts.  Small Contracts have a value of 1 to 6, “good Contracts are 7 to 12, big Contracts are 13 to 18, and Whoppers are 19 or more.”  The value of a Contract is representative of “its difficulty or length of service.”  A handler must fulfill a contract before he or she can enter into a new Contract.  “The Keeper will have fun negotiating contracts with the players.”

If a handler purchases an item, his or her current Contract value is reduced by the item's cost.  When the value of a handler's Contract is reduced to zero, “he's broke (a common situation).”  (The aforementioned “Handy-Dandy Blaster Pistol” has a cost of 1 while “Laso-Binoculars” cost 2.) 

In GERTS, there are two types of equipment; handlers have Personal Equipment while bioborgs have Fittings.  “Both types of equipment are governed by one basic rule:  You have to make things up.”  Each bioborg Fitting is either a Weapon or Defense.

In creating a Fitting:
Give the item a great name by combining meaningless phrases to make something that sounds really powerful.  Choose one term from each of columns A and B, and combine these with the appropriate Weapon or Defense name.

Weapons are assigned “a number of dice of damage (from to 2 to 12)” and a range “from 0 (hand-to-hand) to 1000 yards.”  A defense “confers complete immunity to one type of weapon” and “reduces the damage done by other attacks by a set number of dice, from 1 to 6.”  Every Fitting has a Pod Use Number ranging from one to three.  Whenever a Fitting is used, roll dice equal to the Pod Use Number.  If the result of any of those dice equals the Pod Use Number, “one pod carried by bioborg has been drained of power.”  The cost of a Fitting “is equal to the number of dice of damage or protection plus one die roll.”

Art by Martin King

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Fencing Styles in Dungeons & Dragons

Art by Virgil Finlay

In the early 90s, TSR published a series of “Historical Reference” sourcebooks for use with second edition D&D.  The fourth such sourcebook, A Mighty Fortress, presents a setting “drawn from European history comprising the 101 years from 1550 to 1650.”  Although the setting is self-contained, we are assured that “France, Spain, England, and the Holy Roman Empire could easily be transplanted into any setting, including Faerun and Oerth.”

Fortress describes two schools of fencing:  Spanish and Italian.

The Spanish style “can be learned as a weapon proficiency.”  It costs one slot but either rapier or saber proficiency must be purchased as a prerequisite.  “The Spanish school grants an AC benefit of +1...[and every] additional slot devoted to this proficiency increases the AC bonus by one.”  However, slots after the first can only be acquired once every three levels.  The AC bonus only applies when a character is using a rapier, saber, dagger, or is unarmed.  Like the Dexterity AC bonus, “If the character cannot move or see the attack coming, he does not get this benefit.”

The Italian style costs two weapon proficiency slots, and rapier proficiency is a prerequisite.  We learn... Italian style swordsman cannot be attacked with a small- or medium-sized melee weapon if he has the initiative.  His opponent, regardless of his school, must win initiative in order to attack.
The Italian school also allows a character to parry attacks in a manner different from that detailed in the Player's Handbook.  After a character is hit, he may choose to parry by making an attack roll against his opponent; if successful, “the attack is parried and it has no effect.”  Every round, the character is entitled to one free parry.  Normal attacks can be “converted” to parries but such additional parries “must be declared before initiative is rolled.”
In order to parry, the character must have a dagger in his left hand or have some other sort of protection for the hand.  A leather glove, a cloak, or a floppy hat are the most common; a silk handkerchief is sufficient.
In 1986, Mayfair Games published a 'Role Aids' adventure called Beneath Two Suns.  This product is an “authorized and approved module” based on the Dray Prescot series of sword & planet novels.  By sheer coincidence, the Age of Dusk blog today posted a review of this adventure.  The superficial details I discuss here are largely distinct from the cogent Age of Dusk review, so your kind perusal of that review will not be a waste of your time (assuming you do not consider reading a review of a 32 year old RPG product to be a waste of time.  Then again, you wouldn't be here, would you?).

Beneath Two Suns takes place on the Antarean planet Kregen, specifically the city Zenicce (similar to Renaissance Venice).  In Zenicce, “bands of thugs and hoodlums” use Florentine fighting; hence, such rules are necessary.  Also, two of the provided pre-generated characters are trained in Florentine fighting.

Florentine fighting costs two weapon proficiency slots with rapier and dagger proficiencies as prerequisites.  Florentine fighting can only be used when armed with either (i.) a rapier and a dagger or (ii.) two daggers.  A character “using Florentine fighting is allowed twice as many attacks per round.”  However, unless a character using Florentine fighting has a Dexterity of at least 16, the character suffers “a -1 modifier on his to hit roll.”  Additionally, a character “engaged in Florentine fighting has his Armor Class increased by 1 (-1) against all close-in melee attacks,” but this modifier does not apply against attacks from the rear.

It is assumed that player characters participating in the adventure are not native to Kregen.  The adventure is intended for four to six characters of levels 6 - 8.  The “majority should be fighters” (but paladins are not allowed); however, we are advised to include “at least one magic-user of not higher than skill 6 and one cleric of skill 6 - 8 in the party.”  (“Skill” is Mayfair non-trademark-infringing-code for experience level.)  The Player Introduction implies that “smashing orcs” is “normal business” for the player characters prior to seeing the star Antares sparkle and being “mysteriously transported from Earth to [the] strange, wild planet called Kregen.”  This suggests there are orcs on Earth or – on a fantasy campaign world called Earth – the constellation Scorpio is visible.

The eight pre-generated characters are all from different time periods on Earth.  Some of these characters are Dray Prescot himself, a “Centurian” (sic), and a Victorian cutpurse named Careful Dodger.  Other characters have magical abilities; for instance, Lo Khan – a Mongol ranger – has the “Speak with Animals” spell available.  Evidently Greek, Tyresias Homer is a “Skill 8 Cleric” and is described as a “Healer.”  Additionally, Ramseus is a “Skill 6 Mage” who is a “Wise Man” of an unspecified time period and culture.

The Player Introduction also explains that – on Kergen – the player characters “are in slaves' chains and are dimly aware that [their] bodies have been functioning for several weeks without the benefit of [their] full consciousness...[and they] retain a dim memory of the past weeks and have learned something of [their] strange circumstances...”  This explains how the player characters have picked up something of “the universal language of Kregen.”  It does not explain how they can read a message in a bottle they find.  Perhaps the 'Read Languages' ability of the Victorian cutpurse (40%) comes into play here.

The player characters arrive on Kregen with “no items other than the clothes on their backs and the shoes on their feet.”  For the duration of the adventure, the belongings of the characters “are kept in 'limbo.'”  Given that first edition rules are in effect, the absence of material components and his spellbook would be especially problematic for Ramseus.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Omegakron (spoilers)

A post-apocalyptic Mod Squad

Art by Dave Billman

Have you ever wanted to use the history of your home town as the basis of a rollicking RPG adventure?  Neither have I.  Yet Tom Moldvay, not being me or you, took the idea and ran with it until he couldn't run any further.  Had Moldvay come from Chicago or San Antonio, this probably would not merit mention; however, he hailed from the Buckeye State... specifically Akron.  Lacking the élan of Cincinnati or the gravitas of Cleveland or even the je ne sais quoi of Toledo, Akron might not be the most marketable of Ohio's cities.  Maybe it was home town pride, maybe it came about because of a dare; regardless, the third (and last) of the Lords of Creation adventures features the (former) Rubber Capital of the World.  Toss in a dead abolitionist and – in Moldvay's estimation – you have suitable components for a commercially successful role-playing romp.

“Omegakron” refers to the greater Akron area two centuries after a world war using nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.  The result is a combination of science and savagery populated by intelligent animals, street gangs, mutants, cyborgs, and androids.  The player characters can arrive at this future setting via the dimensional gate from the conclusion of The Yeti Sanction, but “the Game Master can choose any means he wishes...”  On page 3 we read, “The simplest method is to have the characters mysteriously appear in the city.”  The setting of Omegakron was “an obscure probability branch diverted from the main time-flow.”  Instead of leading to the Imperial Terra setting, the main-time flow 'now' leads to Omegakron due to a temporal shift.  “The characters entrance into Omegakron was a way of nature seeking to restore the proper time-flow.”  Of course, the player characters don't realize this at the start of the adventure; they just “mysteriously appear.”  However, before arriving, the player characters “see a vision of Prometheus” and receive a 31-line poetic message.  “Even if the characters have never before seen Prometheus, they will recognize him as friendly.”  Naturally, the “cryptic message...holds the key to the success of the adventure.”  The adventure consists of several missions.  “Each time the characters succeed at one of their ten missions, the old town bell will mysteriously ring.”

Omegakron is dedicated to three TSR alumni:  Mark Acres, Jim Ward, and Steve Sullivan.  Given the time travel aspects of Omegakron, Acres makes sense due to his association with TIMEMASTER.  Given the gonzo post-apocalyptic nature of Omegakron, Ward makes sense due to his association with Gamma World.

Various factions exist in the Omegakron area, some of which are races of intelligent, mutated animals.  There are anthropomorphic raccoons who ride semi-intelligent buffalo, anthropomorphic woodchucks who ride semi-intelligent wolves, and anthropomorphic squirrels who ride mutant rhinoceri.  Although not anthropomorphic, there are also intelligent tigers and bears.

Player's Aid #1 is “A Short History of Akron,” a pamphlet with eight pulse-pounding pages of canal building and rubber litigation.  This pamphlet “contains clues woven into the manuscript which will help the characters solve most of the mysteries in the vision of Prometheus.”  The player characters are meant to find this pamphlet early in the adventure; however, the location of the pamphlet is considered sacred to the intelligent animals.  When the intelligent animals catch the player characters violating their shrine, they give the characters three options.  The first option is to fight against a hundred animal warriors and undoubtedly die.  The second option is to submit to a trial in which “one character chosen at random will be killed.”  The third option is to endure an ordeal that will allow the characters to become tribal members, thereby absolving them of their trespass.

The ordeal consists of running along a path to the Cuyahoga River while avoiding booby-traps and fending off animal warriors.  In game terms, the ordeal “has been designed abstractly.”  This means the characters will have 41 - 60 chances for encounters in the course of the ordeal.  For each chance, 1d10 is rolled; a result of '1' indicates an encounter and a table is then consulted.  So, 1d10 is rolled up to sixty times.  The adventure even acknowledges that “it can become boring for the players to watch the GM roll dice.”  Why not just have 4 - 6 encounters?

One of the factions in Omegakron is Novos Akros.  It has a high level of technology, including longevity treatments and “a small intergalactic spaceport.”  Novos Akros has a small 'Manager' class that exerts Orwellian control over the 'Worker' class.
A 12-hour work day is still common in Novos Akros.  Education stops at age 12, when the youths join the labor pool. Workers are kept hopelessly in debt. Any rebellious attitude is immediately crushed.  Offenders are kept in a state of drugged obedience.
To maintain the sophisticated technology of Novos Akros, there are “about 1500 technicians on loan from Old Akron,” a democratically ruled faction established at the University of Akron.  Old Akron has a level of technology roughly equal to the late twentieth century.  For reasons not explained, Old Akron helps a tyrannical regime maintain a technology superior to that which Old Akron enjoys.

The Akros Rangers are the police force for Novos Akros.  Rangers are recruited from personnel not native to Novos Akros.  The player characters are enticed into Novos Akros so they can be drafted into the Rangers.
While drafting the characters might appear to be an underhanded trick at the time, it is actually a way of helping them succeed in their ultimate mission.  As Akros Rangers, they can go anywhere in Omegakron with reasonable safety.  Even the street gangs and intelligent animals hesitate to attack Akros Rangers...
Noted radical John Brown was once a resident of Akron.  This association is all Moldvay needs to bring John Brown's ghost into the adventure.  We learn from Moldvay's pamphlet that “John Brown was one of the world's foremost experts in appraising wool.”  However, he was financially ruined when people refused to buy his overpriced wool.  (If people don't pay the price you set, can you really be considered an expert at appraisal?)

Anyway, the player characters encounter the ghost of John Brown who wants to liberate the “wage slaves” of Novos Akros.  (“For the adventure to work best, it is suggested that the GM make sure the characters join the Akros Rangers before meeting John Brown.”)  The player characters can successfully foment a worker revolt in Novos Akros only if they steal a copy of the Bill of Rights from Old Akron.

By completing all of their missions, the player characters “opened the way” for the Time Adjustors, “a mysterious group of individuals who strive to maximize the time flow.”  (Maximizing the time flow entails the preservation of the branches of time “which lead to the most successful of all possible futures.”)  The Time Adjustors explain to the player characters about such concepts as time flow, temporal shift, and probability branches.  The Temporal Adjustors can recruit the player characters to seek out the reason for the temporal shift that redirected the main time flow toward Omegakron.  This would have lead to the fourth, unpublished Lords of Creation adventure, The Towers of Ilium.  Moldvay claims “the GM should be free to use his impression of the Time Adjustors” and thus provides little detail about them.

Art by Dave Billman

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Book of Foes

Art by Dave Billman

Included in the Lords of Creation boxed set was The Book of Foes with 64 pages (including covers).  According to the book, 'foe' is a term of convenience for “any being who is not a character.”  This broad term includes animals, gods, extraterrestrial species, folklore races, legendary beings, historical persons, mythological monsters, and figments of Tom Moldvay's imagination.  Beings tied at having the least experience value are baboons, cobras, (average) goblins, (average) mandragoras, and wolves.  An entity named Romerac Elerion has the largest experience value.
Romerac Elerion (rom'-er-ac el-er'-e-on) seldom appears twice looking the same.  His favorite guises are a pot-bellied, balding man with a beard; a 7 foot tall gray-eyed blond man with a jagged lightning scar criss-crossing his body; a brown-haired, blue-eyed minstrel; a tawny-colored Feline; a dwarvish jester dressed in multi-colored rags; a small gray cat; and a 200 foot long Dragon.  Romerac is whimsical, but once his fancy is caught he follows the whimsey to the end with rock-hard purpose.  He has all skills and powers.
Experience value being “the maximum number of experience points the characters could receive for surviving a determined attack by that particular foe.”  Los has the next to greatest experience value while the number three position is occupied by Wayland who...
...looks like an ordinary human man but he is actually one of the most powerful Lords of Creation.  Wayland is the master technician.  He can build almost anything.  He specializes in fantastic creations and has built many of the powerful objects in the world.  He also takes contracts for constructing special “pocket universes”.  Wayland has all powers and skills.  He sometimes goes by the name of Welland or Wayland Smith.
One of the settings described in the Lords of Creation rule book is the Elder Lands, featuring fantasy versions of various cultures of the Bronze Age (more or less).  This allows Moldvay to include in The Book of Foes game stats for gods who didn't make the cut for Deities & Demigods.  Among these are the gods of the Scythian pantheon.
Moldvay's interpretation of mythology is not necessarily traditional.  Outside of the Elder Lands, for instance, Moldvay describes the Einherjar as “the most valiant Viking warriors raised from the dead (as biomechanical constructs)...”

Art by Dave Billman
The first two entries in The Book of Foes – Abiku and Acephali – often work in tandem with Kinnara for reasons not expressly stated.  Abiku are described as “three foot tall humanoids with gray mottled skin, long claws, and fangs.”
Acephali (ak-e-fal'-e) are six foot tall creatures with brown, barrel-shaped bodies.  They have three legs arranged like a tripod and two long tentacles instead of arms.  They have three eyes spaced out around their bodies for all-around vision.  Acephali can teleport through space, time, and other dimensions.  Wrapped in their tentacles, Acephali can carry six small individuals, three human-sized individuals, or one large individual.
Kinnara are described as “thin, 5 foot tall humanoids with oversized heads.”  They are telekinetic.

Art by Dave Billman
Psyschokillers (cue Talking Heads) are...
...clones of psychotic killers with a genetic disposition toward murder.  They are raised in an environment designed to foster paranoia then surgically altered to be more efficient killers.  Ownership of a Psychokiller is highly illegal.  A Psychokiller is an arch-assassin, never stopping until its victim is dead.  Psychokillers have the powers of Plasteel Body, Exoskeleton, Backup Metabolism, Physical Control and Energy Control.
It's “highly illegal” to own Psychokillers?  When you outlaw Psychokillers, only outlaws will have Psychokillers.  Is it only slightly illegal to make them?  How do Psychokillers feel about being owned?

Art by Dave Billman
Scavenger Wheels are animals that have a 4 foot wide, spherical body covered with tentacles between two 6 foot tall, wheel-like appendages.  They hunt by rolling over the ground (usually wind blown, though they can move laboriously to a hill top, using their tentacles, then rol down when they sight prey).  As they roll over prey, they scoop it into their mouths using their tentacles.
Art by Dave Billman
According to page 61, “Vorian Death Maggots are winged serpent-like creatures 10 feet long.”  The never-published fifth Lords of Creation adventure was to be titled Voria.  Doubtless, these venomous foes would have played some part.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Yeti Sanction, part III (spoilers)

Art by Dave Billman

At the conclusion our previous installment, the player characters had just received unexpected assistance from allies of which they were unaware.  As such, the characters were free to pursue Kahai the Yuga and Anton Markov “to a large room with circular walls about 100 feet in diameter” and “which is filled with strange alien machinery.”  Although the characters do not realize it, they have followed Kahai and Markov onto “the bridge of the Yugan space ship.”  (“Most of the Yuga ship is underground in a huge silo.”)

How formidable are the characters' two opponents?  Kahai has the powers of Mind Block, ESP, Electrosensing, Electrosleep, Hypnosis, and Persuasion.  In addition, he has an energy shield and is armed with a proton beamer (”A rifle-like weapon that shoots a beam of charged proton particles” inflicting 5d6 damage) and a varilance (“A 6 foot long tube that projects a beam of controlled energy that can vary in length from 3 feet to 9 feet” and causes 1d6 + 1d10 damage).  Markov also has a proton beamer along with an energy vest.  Incidentally, Markov possesses the powers of sensual chaos, invisibility, and fear.  You might wonder how an insane, former KGB spymaster gained such powers.  Don't you think it's a little late in the game to start asking questions like that?

Anyway, Kahai “initiates the liftoff sequence that will take the ship off the planet Earth.”  Once “the battle ends, the characters will be pressed to the floor by the high acceleration of the take off.”  The ship's hyperdrive automatically engages after about five minutes whereupon the characters “experience brief disorientation and mild hallucinations for a few seconds.”  Due to damage caused during the battle, the hyperdrive control catches fire when activated and becomes nothing but slag by the time the characters put the fire out.  The characters are now “lost in hyperspace.”  Do Kahai and Markov survive?  Perhaps; they are not referenced at any further point in the adventure (even though Beeveesome, “the ruler of all Yeti,” promised the player characters he would reward them if they bring the villains to him).

After aimlessly travelling through hyperspace for several – evidently uneventful – days, a tractor beam seizes the ship and pulls it toward an asteroid which is “part natural and part artificial.”  A message transmitted from the asteroid is announced via the ship's radio.  I suppose the ship's computer conveniently translates the message into English or maybe all languages are universal in hyperspace.
By the Archon's order . . . no course deviation will be permitted . . . this ship is confiscated . . . all life forms aboard will prepare for termination . . . resistance is futile . . . prepare for docking inside Arcanus 16.
Does preparation for docking take precedence over preparation for termination?  Is docking preparation intended only for entities that aren't life forms?  Answers to these pertinent queries are not provided.  Via the ship's viewing screens, the characters can see the docking bay which is apparently their destination.  At “irregular intervals” the tractor beam partially malfunctions and the ship “nearly breaks free of the beam.”  Somehow the characters realize that they may be able to take advantage of the beam's partial malfunction “to deviate slightly from the present course, so that the ship crashes down upon the the death squad sent by the Archon” even though they have no knowledge of said death squad.  Incidentally, the death squad consists of ten Giant Mantises; this number is reduced to five if the “crash landing” stunt succeeds.  “Since this encounter is potentially deadly to all the characters, it is suggested that the GM use discretion.”

Assuming the player characters prevail, television cameras inform them that twenty more Giant Mantises are approaching the docking bay via the left tunnel.  “There is little choice but to run from the Archon's death squad,” so the player characters presumably flee down the right hand tunnel which “opens into a passageway leading downwards toward the asteroid's interior.”  Eventually, the player characters encounter three air elementals guarding “the entrance to the Cave of the Winds.”  The characters can either defeat the elementals or enter into a magical contract with them allowing “unhindered passage across the Cave of Winds in return for aid in an attempt by a Baroness of Air to take to control from a Duchess of Air.”

If the characters opt for the contract, they and Cerulea (the Baroness) fight Pneuma (the Duchess).  If Cerulea wins, she tells the characters how to escape from the asteroid.  If Pneuma wins, “The only chance for the characters to to accept a magical contract with her.”  Pneuma then gives the characters the same information about escaping from the asteroid since – given the contract – it is “in her best interest to see that the characters survive.”

Beyond the Cave of the Winds, there is “a huge plateau about 20 miles wide” in the center of which “is a giant pyramid of obsidian.”  The pyramid is huge – “several thousand feet high.”  A black sun illuminates the plateau with “dark and hazy” light having “a purplish-blue tint.”  (“One particular aspect of the 'sunlight' is that nothing on the plateau casts a shadow.”)  The characters are informed that “their best hope of escape lies in the gate atop the Obsidian Pyramid, and that they will need the control box owned by the creature that lives in the Black Sun, plus the crystal prism and master tape cartridge owned by various creatures inside the pyramid.”

Art by Dave Billman

The creature of the Black Sun is an Urlar.  What's an Urlar?  According to The Book of Foes, “Urlar are space for faring [sic] amoebas about 30 feet in diameter...[that] can change shape at will (it takes 10 turns to form a new shape).”  Aside from having all powers from the Cyborg, Projector, Telepath, and Invoker sets, the Black Sun Urlar has a gamma raygun* implanted in it.

Attached to one side of the pyramid is “a castle built from rainbow-like quartz.”  Apparently, the only way into the pyramid is through the rainbow castle.  Inhabiting the castle is the Bestiary Grand Council, an organization of animal rulers.  According to The Book of Foes
Every type of animal has both a ruler and guardians who personify and protect that type of animal.  It is possible for the characters to make pacts with animal rulers and guardians so that the ruler or guardian may be summoned by the characters.  All rulers and guardians have the ability to Travel Between Dimensions to answer a summons.  The pact upon which the summons is based must be mutually rewarding.  Usually, the characters must either bargain for a service after meeting the ruler or guardian face-to-face, or was rewarded the pact for some action that was extremely beneficial for the type of animal associated with the ruler or guardian.
(While humanoid in aspect, animal rulers should not be confused with humanoid races having animal characteristics or the leaders of those races.  For example, sharkmen are a humanoid race with shark-like properties.  Bloodhook is the lord of the sharkmen.  The animal ruler for all sharks is named Skulo.)

The council will permit the characters “to pass through the rainbow castle into the interior of the pyramid only if the characters can prove themselves worthy.”  To accomplish this, each player character must engage in single combat with an animal guardian.  “The characters will be judged worthy to enter the obsidian pyramid if at least half of the characters are victorious in their individual combats.”  A character who loses to an animal guardian will be under magical contract to that guardian.  On the other hand, if the animal guardian loses, the guardian will be under magical contract to the character.

Should the player characters be permitted to access the pyramid, the council will provide them with a magical compass that will lead them through the pyramid's “maze of tunnels.”  (If the characters managed to avoid Cerulea and Pneuma, the council will tell them about the three devices they need to escape the asteroid.)  In the pyramid, the characters confront trolls, Fomorians, and a  Wendigo to obtain the needed devices and reach the top of the pyramid.  Actually, the pyramid is truncated.  “The top of the pyramid is a square plateau about 1000 feet to a side.”  Seventy-seven statues ring a pond of mercury at regular intervals.  “Fifty-six of the statues depict giant humanoids sitting on thrones,” the remaining statues are empty thrones.  In the middle of the pond “is an obsidian platform about 20 feet square.”  On the platform is an obelisk “covered with dials, meters and switches.”  The characters can use the devices to operate the obelisk, “which locates and locks on to an interdimensional gate.”  However, when the gate opens, one of the statue humanoids becomes animated.  Said humanoids are actually Archons.

What's an Archon?  According to The Book of Foes, “Archons...look like large muscular humans, though they can Shape Shift at will three times a day.”  Unfortunately, The Book of Foes doesn't explain what Archons are; we must garner clues from The Yeti Sanction.  We learn that, “The race that built the asteroid and created the Archons has long since ceased to control the asteroid.”  Also, “the Archon remains true to its original purpose:  to kill all unauthorized intruders.”  Since the creator race no longer controls the asteroid, no authorization is possible.  So, Archons are synthetic and would not seem to be capable of independent thought that would overcome their programming.

Of course, the Archon attacks the player characters.  Chiron appears from the gate.  “He will join the characters, telling them: 'Prometheus thought you can use some help.'”  In The Horn of Roland, Prometheus provided assistance to player characters (and vice versa).  The Yeti Sanction claims that any character who participated in Roland “will know that Chiron speaks the truth, since the friends of Prometheus can always recognize each other telepathically, even went they have never met before.”  Somehow the characters know this.  Of course, it's possible that the Yeti player characters did not partake in Roland.  How and why Chiron would assist the characters in this instance is not explained.

Presumably, the player characters and their new centaur friend defeat the Archon, allowing the characters to access the interdimensional gate.  “The GM can use the escape through the gate as a prelude to the character's [sic] next adventure.”  Specifically, “The escape was designed to be used as a background to the adventure module: Omegakron.”  However, “The GM does not have to let the gate lead to Omegakron.”  In any event, Chiron does not accompany the player characters; he returns from whence he came (presumably under the auspices of Prometheus).

Art by Dave Billman
* “A submachinegun-like weapon that fires a ray of gamma radiation.  There is no known natural defense against a gamma raygun, and it is illegal to own one.”  It inflicts 6d6 points of damage.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Yeti Sanction, part II (spoilers)

When we last left our intrepid player characters in The Yeti Sanction adventure module, they had just uncovered a Russian mole in the CIA.  This is because a middle-management bad guy had a dossier – written in English – that identifies the mole and explains his mission.  The player characters only become aware of this dossier when the bad guy tries to burn it in their presence.  Uncovering the mole isn't even necessary for the continuity of the adventure; that's how sad this is.  If it was a set up for a dramatic confrontation with the mole, it wouldn't be so bad.  If the mole turned out to be a Yeti-hybrid, I could even cut it some slack.

Anyway, the player characters start out on their journey to Kathmandu.  The plane set to take them on the first leg of the trip is hijacked by nine terrorists.  I would write 'skyjacked', but the terrorists don't wait until the plane is airborne.  “If the characters are able to defeat the hijackers,” the adventure reads, “they will be given the grateful thanks of the airline officials and flown (free of charge) to London.”  Even in the pre-911 era, I think a terrorist attack would have caused the flight to be canceled.  “If the characters are not able to defeat the hijackers, then the plane will be taken to Cuba” where the characters spend two days before they can leave.

Various random encounters are possible as the player characters travel from Kathmandu to the village of Dingpouche.  The listings on the random encounter charts include False Yeti and different types of True Yeti.  The 'New Foes' section of the adventure describes four True Yeti types:
  • Ragshi Bonpo (Tehelma) – “They look like intelligent monkeys” and they “have the powers of Animal Control, Clairvoyance, Invisibility, and Sound Control.”
  • Dremo (Migyu) – These Yeti “are covered with blueish fur with blond or brown highlights.”  They are “extremely aggressive” and “have the powers of True Sight, Fascination, and Sensual Chaos.”
  • Nyalmo (Szu-Teh) – These Yeti stand “8 to 10 feet tall” and “have brown or black fur with blond, red, or gray highlights.”  They “have the power of Fear, and the ability to control the direction of the wind.”  The Yeti described in The Book of Foes is identical to the Nyalmo, except – instead of having the power of Fear – the Foes Yeti can “cause a 10 feet × 10 feet area to Freeze doing 4-24 points of damage (range = 150 feet) once per day.”
  • Rimi (Mih-Teh) – “They have powerful muscular bodies with reddish-blond fur highlighted with white” and they are “12 to 20 feet tall.”  Rimi are “extremely intelligent” and “have the powers of Physical Control and Dermal Armor.”  Additionally, they have the Freeze ability ascribed to the Foes Yeti and the power of “Elemental Shaping (ice or snow only).”
Also listed among the 'New Foes' is Beeveesome, “the ruler of all Yeti.”  He “is an immortal spirit that roams the Himalayas” and “looks like a giant Rimi (32 feet tall).”  Two types of creatures from the elemental plane of air can also be encountered – Welkins (“giant eagles of air that can pick up, then drop victims”) and Ethereans (“seven foot tall, cloud-white humans”).

The non-player character guides state that YETI headquarters “is rumored to be in the small village of Lhotsepurna just below Mt. Everest.”  In the area, YETI is known as a cult and the cultists raid and take over villages.  The guides have planned three possible paths from Dingpouche to Lhotsepurna.  The paths are shown on the map from the back cover of the adventure book (displayed above).  No scale is indicated for this map, but this is not problematic.  Each path takes the same amount time to traverse – “about three days worth of climbing.”  For practical purposes, the only differences among the paths are the terrain types they cross.
The brown areas are morraine [sic].  Morraine consists of loose rock and dirt.  There is a fair chance of a landslide.  The gray areas are skree.  Skree is loosely-packed snow were [sic] avalanches can occur.  The white areas are ice walls.  Ice Walls sometimes cover deep crevasses with a thin layer of ice.  Individuals could fall into the crevasses.  The black areas are bare rock and are reasonably safe.
The different terrain perils have different game effects and different ways they can be mitigated.  Unfortunately, for moraine and ice walls, there is no indication as to how often their respective perils should be checked.

I suppose this is as good a place as any to explain what's really going on.  “YETI actually stands for the Yama Elite Triumphant Immortals,” although the players do not necessarily learn this during the course of the adventure.  The cultists serve what they think is “the Hindu god of death.”  A ship of aliens called the Yuga landed in the Himalayas “because the mountains resembled their home planet.”  Local inhabitants assumed they were messengers of Yama given “their spectacular arrival from space, and the fact that their fur and eyes are Yama's colors (pale green fur and copper colored eyes).”  Anton Markov, “former head of the Asian section of the KGB,” escaped from a psychiatric institute and sought “refuge in the Himalayan mountains where he was joined by some of his special agents.”  Naturally, “a race of megalomaniacs who firmly believe that anyone not dominated by them are their foes” will get along swimmingly with an insane KGB spymaster.  Given “his knowledge of human psychology, [Markov] reinforced the belief of the Yama worshippers that they had encountered the true messengers of the god Yama.”

Where does Markov's plan to foment a nuclear war fit in with all of this?
He managed to convince the Yuga that other humans would kill the aliens if their presence became known.  The only chance for the aliens would be a nuclear war (which would devastate the lowlands, but leave the mountains reasonably untouched).  After the radiation levels lowered, the aliens and Dr. Markov's men would inherit the earth.
As such, YETI might as well stand for Yuga Extra-Terrestrial Integration.  I understand that Markov is insane, the Yuga aren't concerned about a nuclear war, and the cultists can be manipulated into doing anything.  It seems odd, however, that none of Markov's agents resist his plans for nuclear annihilation.  Some Yuga, including Kahai, the leader, have the powers of Hypnosis and Persuasion which they could possibly use against the agents.  Regardless, those powers cannot affect victims for very long.

The aliens have an Anabolic Metamorphosis Machine.  Via this machine, the Yuga transform and mentally program humans into False Yeti.  The Yuga also used the machine to create a twenty foot tall false Yama.  This “false Yama really believes he is the Hindu god of the dead...that he is immortal and that the Yuga are his servants.”

At the climax of the fourth scenario, the player characters are confronted by Markov, Kahai, and ten false Yeti.  We read that...
...the situation looks grim.  Fortunately, help arrives before the battle takes place.  Several metal plates from the right-hand wall come crashing inward.  Through the gap pour 8 Rimi (true Yeti) led by Beeveesome...  When they see the true Yeti, Anton Markov and Kahai the Yuga flee through the far door.  The characters hear (telepathically) a message from Beeveesome, the leader of their allies:  “Leave these abominations to us.  They will not last long against true Yeti.  Bring me the masters of these wretched creatures, and I will reward you greatly.”
Nothing in the adventure prior to this occasion informed the player characters that Beeveesome is an ally or even that such an entity exists.  At this point, less than seven pages of the adventure remain in the thirty-two page book.  Yet the final two scenarios are where the adventure delivers the Lords of Creation goods.

Art by Dave Billman

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Yeti Sanction, part I (spoilers)

Art by Dave Billman

Enjoyment of fiction sometimes requires suspension of disbelief.  Such suspension is also needed when participating in a role-playing game.  However, different genres can tolerate suspension to a greater or lesser extent.  The genres of mystery and espionage, dependent upon logic and plausibility, are not well suited for suspension of disbelief.  The first Lords of Creation adventure, The Horn of Roland, includes a mystery scenario.  Although I questioned the appropriateness of the scenario as an introductory adventure, the mystery was competently crafted.  The second Lords of Creation adventure, The Yeti Sanction, begins with an espionage scenario.  Unfortunately, this scenario is so implausible, it makes any given Saturday morning cartoon plot look sophisticated in comparison.  Lords of Creation can accommodate mystery and espionage, but the potential of the game is so vast it seems a shame to present an unsatisfactory espionage scenario instead of any of numerous possible opportunities.

The Yeti Sanction “was designed for characters who have just finished” The Horn of Roland, but the completion of Roland is not a prerequisite for Yeti.  In fact, the continuity between the two adventures is practically non-existent.  Yeti, however, requires characters of a higher power profile than RolandThe Yeti Sanction (1984) was designed by Ian Guistino and Tom Moldvay.  Since Moldvay is listed second, it would seem that Guistino did more of the work.  Other than some magazine contributions in the 21st century, Yeti is Guistino's only published RPG effort.

Like Roland, Yeti encompasses six scenarios.  The first scenario begins with the player characters being contacted by an Air Force colonel; however, when “he is sure that no one else can hear, he will reveal to the characters that he is actually a member of the CIA...”  The colonel “has been sent to escort the characters to Washington.”  I think we can all appreciate how annoying it is when someone from the CIA wants to escort us to Washington.  The colonel establishes his bona fides by presenting an ID card.  Also, “Any characters with the Espionage skill will know that CIA agents have a recognition code which is changed each week.”  It is also somehow known that, “This week the code is wearing a piece of silver jewelry shaped like a lion, with imitation ruby eyes.”  The colonel “is wearing such a tie pin.”  This is important later when...oh, wait, it isn't important.  If the characters call the CIA to confirm the colonel's credentials, the GM should “give them a 10 XP bonus for intelligent play.”  Ten experience points is more XP than a character can earn by beating up a grizzly bear or an orc leader.

It is assumed that the player characters will accompany the colonel to Washington.  Instead of taking them to Langley, the colonel brings them to a facility underneath the Pentagon.  A CIA official named Commander Williams addresses the player characters via television screen.   Williams explains that the Secretary of State has been kidnapped and, as a result, the commander is “empowered” to recruit the player characters “to help during the crisis.”  Williams claims, “Every one of you has been recommended to me.”  The adventure background claims the characters are asked “on the basis of the job they did in New Bristol” (assuming they completed The Horn of Roland adventure).  Williams gives the characters the opportunity to back out; however, “The GM should encourage the the characters [sic] to accept since there is no adventure otherwise).”  Assuming the characters accept the offer, they become “Force J” and are briefed by Williams:
     ...Up until three years ago, Dr. Markov was Chief of the Asian Division for the Russian KGB.  Then one day he suddenly disappeared.  Unconfirmed rumors placed him somewhere in Siberia at a secret base.  We believe that he received special training in terrorist tactics while at the base.  About a year go Markov surfaced in Tibet.  He is currently leader of an international terrorist organi-zation named YETI.  As far as we can determine, YETI stands for Young Everest Terrorist International.  They have an isolated base somewhere in the Himalayan Mountains.
     In the past year, YETI has established an international reputation for kidnappings and assassinations on a grand scale.  While not as well known yet as some other international terrorist groups, their actions over the last year make YETI one possible suspect in the kidnapping of Secretary Jackson.  Other agents are checking out different leads.  Your mission is to find out whether or not YETI was involved in the secretary of state.  If so, rescue Secretary Jackson and capture or kill Anton Markov.
Additionally, Williams explains that the characters' “contact in the field is Sally Anderson at the United Travel Agency.”  Anderson “has already done some preliminary work on the case and...will handle all preparations for your trip to the Himalayas.”  Williams directs his secretary, Helen Robbins, to take the characters to the “Armaments section” so that they may be issued their equipment.  Williams concludes the briefing by alerting the characters, “There may be a leak in the agency” and only five people know about Force J:  the colonel, Williams, Anderson, Robbins, and George Fox, “the head of the Armaments section.”

I would have handled the recruitment of the player characters in a different manner.  Rather than have the Secretary of State kidnapped from his home, I would have him kidnapped from a conference held at a hotel.  They player characters would also be at the hotel and they would fall victim to the incapacitating gas used by YETI.  The characters recover from the gas with the aid of the CIA.  After checking the characters' backgrounds, the agency offers the 'Force J' opportunity.  In this way, the player characters would have a sense of obligation to the CIA and a motive for going after YETI.

Just over six pages near the beginning have listings for spy equipment, rules for car chases, and forty-eight car descriptions.  The only foreign vehicle that isn't a luxury model is a Volkswagen Rabbit.  Anyway, “The Game Master has two methods of giving the characters their special equipment.”  The GM can either provide the characters with the suggested equipment or let them outfit themselves with a budget (“$50,000 for two cars, and $15,000 for other equipment”).  If you bog down the adventure by letting the players go on a shopping spree, you're doing it wrong.  Just give them the suggested equipment and entertain any reasonable requests.  Honestly, time is too precious – both in real life and in the game.

Once the characters get their equipment, they go to United Travel Agency to see Sally Anderson.  There are two indicators that something isn't right:  'Sally' doesn't respond with the proper recognition phrase and there is “a muffled yell from behind the back door.”  The real Sally Anderson is being kidnapped.  Specifically, she is being forced into a station wagon in the back alley.  The station wagon has the name 'Yak Exports Unlimited' displayed on the sides.  A car chase ensues...probably.

Included in The Yeti Sanction box are some player aids:  equipment lists, car descriptions, charts pertaining to the car chase rules, and a map of Washington, DC.  The Lords of Creation car chase rules are not as abstract as those for other games.  The chase follows a specific route through Washington and there is a table that indicates what happens on each game turn (including what 'driving check' rolls are required).  The adventure acknowledges that – instead of pursuing the station wagon – the characters can just find the address of Yak Exports Unlimited by looking in the phone book.

At the Yak Exports Unlimited warehouse, the player characters find out about the YETI plan:  “Dr. Anton Markov hopes to start a nuclear war by setting off [atomic] bombs in Washington and Moscow after first kidnapping important officials from each country.”  A disassembled atomic bomb is present at the warehouse and “Included with the bomb is a copy of Markov's orders.”  If your plan is to start a nuclear war, destroying Moscow and Washington ought to do the trick; kidnapping officials would seem to be an unnecessary effort (unless that's the easiest way for a GM to involve the player characters).  The player characters have captured the Washington bomb, but the Moscow bomb plays no part in the adventure.

Also at the warehouse, the player characters come across a bad guy burning some papers.  An unburned fragment relates information about a Russian mole in the CIA, including the mole's date of birth.  The reasons why this document would even exist, why it would it be written in English, and why the bad guy would have this document on his person are not elaborated upon.  (Spymaster pro tip:  If you really must write down your mole infiltration plans, don't mention the mole's identity.)  Additionally, “On a pad next to the telephone is a message which reads:  'Tell Katrina about Force J; also call Marie at house'.”

The characters are awarded 50 XP if they can determine who the mole is.  Only five people know about Force J.  Of the five, only two did not know Sally Anderson's recognition phrase – George Fox and the colonel.  Fox is too old given the mole's date of birth; hence, the colonel is the traitor.  Of course, this logic assumes that the mole would have supplied YETI with the recognition phrase if he or she knew it.  Absent is the possibility that the actual mole would implicate someone else in order to avoid detection.  “Of course,” the adventure states, “deducing who the mole is, and proving it, are two different things.”  Also, “The GM should remind the characters [sic] that they do not have any actual proof.”  Via the phone company, the player characters can determine “that a number of calls have been made from Yak Exports Unlimited to a number which originates from an apartment on 20th Street...”  At said apartment, the player characters find “the complete dossier on the mole...[including] pictures, fingerprints and a list of...subversive activities.”  So, there's the proof.  Fortunately, Markov kept a bunch of identifying information about his infiltration agent so that his enemies could acquire it when needed.  Actually, the mole subplot doesn't affect the rest of the adventure, it didn't even need to be included.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Role-Playing the William Blake Way

William Blake          Jerusalem, Plate 25 (detail)          1804-20

Part 8 of Lords of Creation features the Lands of Wonder – “six unusual settings where adventures may take place.”  One of these settings, The Land of Ulro, “is a science fantasy world inspired by the mystical poetry of William Blake...”  This is an interesting choice, but not inexplicable given that Philip José Farmer's “World of Tiers” series was specifically cited by Moldvay as an inspiration for Lords of Creation and Blake was an inspiration for Farmer's series.

“Science fantasy” is one of the seven setting types Moldvay describes in Part 7 of the Rule Book.  “Anything and everything goes in a science fantasy setting,” Moldvay informs us.  Additionally, “science fantasy settings are the easiest to work with since anything mentioned in the rules can be used.”  Science fantasy foes include (but are not limited to):  GIANT ANIMALS, Le Comte de Saint-Germain, Kuan Yin, FELINES, SILKIES, and Väinämöinen.

The physical form of Ulro is that of a huge hollow sphere.  The inhabited area of Ulro is on the inside shell of the sphere.  The sphere is filled with Udan Adan, that is, with outer space complete with stars and a sun which makes a daily journey through Udan Adan.  Paradoxically, Udan Adan really is outer space.  By travelling into it one can travel to the outside of the sphere into normal space.  Similarly, one can be travelling in normal space and find oneself in Udan Adan in Ulro without even noticing the transition.

Among the points of interest in Ulro:
Tree of Mystery – “A huge tree that bears every known fruit in addition to some strange, unknown fruits that appear nowhere else.”
Drantham Road – “A road made of silver that runs from the Tree of Mystery to Golgonooza...”
Stone of Night – “A giant black, square stone which weeps tears of blood when major battles are in progress anywhere on Ulro.”
City States of Enitharmon – “Seven cities located in the middle of fertile cropland.  The cities are all ruled by matriarchies.”

Golgonooza is a city of superscience and supermagic.

Moldvay tells us that “Golgonooza exists in four dimensions instead of three” and that “One implication [of this] is that the city travels in time.”  Also, “the city exists simultaneously in four spots at the same time.”

With regard to the Lands of Wonder settings, Moldvay states, “There is no reason why the GM cannot exercise imagination to fill in the details...”  One could argue that such an exercise is not optional.  This is especially true of Ulro, since we are not aware of what sort of adventures Moldvay intended for this setting.  “Though sometimes difficult reading,” he explains, “for inspiration the GM may want to study the poetry of William Blake...”  Absent this study, “anything can happen.”
There are many individuals mentioned in the mystical poetry of William Blake.  For reasons of limited space, only six were described in THE BOOK OF FOES under THE FAMILY OF LOS (Los, Enitharmon, Orc, Rintrah, Palamabron, and Vala).  Other sons of Los and Enitharmon include:  Theotormon, Bromion, Antamon, Sotha, Manathra-Vorcyon, Ozoth, Ohana, Har, Gon, Mydon, Ellayol, Ochim, Natho, and Harhath.  The daughters of Los and Enitharmon include:  Ocalythron, Elynittria, Oothon, Leutha, Elythiria, Enanto, Hevah, Thiralatha, and Ethinthus.
According to the description of the Family of Los in The Book of Foes, they “do not call themselves 'gods and goddesses'...Their power has passed beyond such pettiness.”  Each member of the Family of Los has every power of each class.  (This necessarily includes 'cyborg'.)  The least powerful member of the family detailed in The Book of Foes, Palamabron, “is the founder of abstract law and often appears in priestly robes, wearing a horned head piece.”  Compared to Palamabron, Zeus and Odin are a couple of lightweights.  Granted, Zeus and Odin both have every power class (including 'cyborg'), but Zeus is only worth 6,600 experience points and Odin, 4,350.  Palamabron is worth a hefty 8,500 experience points.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Fencing in Lords of Creation

Art by Dave Sutherland

The third issue of Avalon Hill's Heroes magazine proclaims on the cover:
Special 12-page Pull Out Game:
& Crimson Pirates
The word “game” implies that it is a complete game.  However, the first page of the twelve page section has the subtitle, “Dueling Rules For Lords Of Creation™.”  So, the “game” is a merely a supplement to the Lords of Creation combat rules.

For purposes of dueling, a Lords of Creation GAME TURN consists of six segments.  In each segment, each duelist performs a maneuver.  Before each GAME TURN, duelists purchase the maneuvers they intend to use.  (The maneuvers selected for a given turn comprise the duelist's maneuver pool.)  Each manuever costs a number of 'segment points'.  (I have no idea why they weren’t called maneuver points.)

Each GAME TURN, a duelist has a number of segment points equal to the sum of his or her INITIATIVE ROLL and the product of his or her number of attacks and the appropriate skill level.  To put it another way:

(1d10 + Initiative Bonus) + (skill × # of attacks) = segment points

If the duelist is using two weapons (such as a dagger and rapier), the average of the two skills is used.  Anyway, six maneuvers are selected, purchased, and written down in secret.  Maneuvers can be performed in any order.  Any given maneuver in the maneuver pool can be performed once (unless the duelist purchased the maneuver more than once).  A duelist with two attacks per turn need only select five maneuvers in advance; a sixth maneuver can be purchased and performed on any segment.  Similarly, a duelist with three attacks per turn need only select four maneuvers in advance.

For a given segment, one duelist announces which attack maneuver he or she performs and the other duelist (if able) responds with an appropriate maneuver.  The duelist with the higher initiative on the first turn has advantage and the option of being the attacker on the first segment.  Depending on which maneuvers the duelists perform in a given segment, advantage can be transferred back-and-forth between the duelists.  On the second and later turns, the duelist who has advantage on the first segment is determined by the maneuvers performed on the last segment of the previous turn.  Initiative is rolled, but only to determine respective amounts of segment points.

There are dozens of maneuvers and each is categorized as either an attack, a defense, a 'gaining the advantage', or a counter attack.  Combat rolls are not made during a duel.  An attack is automatically successful unless the defending duelist can perform a maneuver that works against that specific attack.  A defense maneuver cancels an attack but does not transfer advantage.  A 'gaining the advantage' maneuver cancels an attack and (appropriately) transfers advantage.  A counter attack maneuver cancels an attack, transfers advantage, and launches an attack which the other duelist must attempt to cancel with his or her next maneuver.

Each attack maneuver has an associated defense maneuver, a 'gaining the advantage' maneuver, and a counter attack maneuver.  For example, against a 'thrust' attack, the defense maneuver is 'parry', the 'gaining the advantage' maneuver is 'circular parry', and the counter attack maneuver is 'riposte'.  Also, a 'dodge' maneuver can be used as a defense against most attacks and an 'inquartata' maneuver can be used as 'gaining the advantage' against most attacks.  A duelist targeted by a thrust is hit and suffers damage unless he or she performs a parry, circular parry, riposte, dodge, or inquartata.

Not only are there dozens of maneuvers, but when any maneuver (except, presumably, dodge or inquartata) is purchased, a target (body) area must be selected for that maneuver.  The nine target areas are:  head, chest, abdomen, left arm, right arm, left leg, right leg, left foot, and right foot.  So, against a 'thrust (left leg)' attack, possible response maneuvers are parry (left leg), circular parry (left leg), riposte (left leg), dodge, or inquartata.

The maneuvers a duelist can perform are limited by the 'position' the duelist and his (or her) opponent occupy.  'Position' refers to the distance between characters in a duel.  There are four positions.  Position A is the closest two duelists can be (and still be in a duel).  It is too close for swordplay; the only permitted attacks are punch, kick, and dagger thrust.  Position D is the furthest two duelists can be.  In this position, “The only kind of attack possible is a running attack which automatically carries the duelist closer to his opponent, or a thrown dagger.”  Position B seems to be the default position and offers the most maneuvers.

After purchasing six (or five or four) maneuvers for a given turn, any remaining segment points are 'reserve points'.  Duelists who only needed to acquire four or five maneuvers in advance can use reserve points to purchase their additional maneuvers.  One reserve point can be used to advance or retreat by one position.  One reserve point can be used to alter a maneuver's target area to an “adjacent” area.  (The illustration above shows 'transition areas' that can be used in changing target areas.  For instance, changing from left arm to left leg costs two points.)  Lastly, reserve points can be used to 'delay' a response maneuver so that it can be used against attacks from positions C and D.

Once per combat, a character can perform a Foul Trick, an attack against which there is no normal defense.  The target of a foul trick can spend two reserve points to attempt a Luck roll; if successful, the target takes no damage.  A duelist with a sufficiently high skill has a Secret Attack, which is like an 'honorable' foul trick except the Luck roll attempt costs three reserve points.  Foul tricks and secret attacks can only be used three times (each) by any given character.  Moldvay explains:
In a swashbuckling campaign, any duelist who uses either a foul trick or secret attack a total of three times (each) loses the ability to use that special attack.  In the one case, the duelist gets the reputation as a knave or a blackguard and everyone is thereafter on guard against foul tricks.  In the other case, the secret attack is no longer secret and is, hence, useless.
With the introduction of 'hit locations' to Lords of Creation combat, different effects manifest with different target areas.  Luck rolls can ameliorate these effects.  For instance, hits to the chest cause double damage; with a successful Luck roll, damage is not doubled.  Damage to an arm is halved; unless a Luck roll is successful, an attack to a weapon arm causes the weapon to be dropped.

If a duelist faces more than one opponent at a time, “the single duelist splits his segment points any way he wishes and fights each combat as simultaneous single combats.”

Moldvay offers the following comments:
          I tried to keep the dueling rules from becoming cumbersome.  Emphasis was placed on rapier combat.  The Game Master can alter the dueling rules for other circumstances if he wants.  He could interpose dueling with regular combat.  Thus, opposing musketeers might fire their muskets at duelists; or a pirate might fire a brace of pistols before a duel began.  The GM might add other weapons to the duel.  Pikes (long spears) and a variety of pole arms were common in the Swashbuckling Era.  A Pike would mainly be a thrusting weapon while a pole arm could both thrust and slash.  The Swashbuckling Era also saw strange variations of “weapons” such as rapier and cloak, rapier and bar stool, or rapier and lantern.  If the GM wanted to duplicate ship boarding actions, he could throw in the use of crude black powder grenades or even cannon fire.