Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Last Year of the Phoenix Post

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

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

New Player Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experience and Specials

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Inspiration: Arisilon, Brynthia, Durnin, & Zenon

Retrieve the Ancient Magic Scepter that has been stolen by a tyrant king.  The Scepter is the Power Staff of the Empire and a Kingdom has been offered for its return.  It now lays hidden in the Dark Tower guarded by the tyrant's fierce band of Brigands.  Three magic keys will open the tower to you...

In this very special holiday installment of Thoul's Paradise Inspiration, we harken back to a Christmas years agone; a time when “One push of a keyboard button transports you into a world with fire-spitting dragons, warrior hordes, exotic marketplaces and undreamt-of-treasure!”  I speak of Milton Bradley's memorable board game, Dark Tower – “A Fantasy Adventure Game With The Unique Electronic Tower.”  Although quaint by 21st century standards, the electronic interaction offered by the tower centerpiece was a big deal in 1981.  Priced in the $40-50 range, MB put a good deal of effort in making and marketing the game; they even had Orson Welles shilling it.

In the course of the game, each player attempts to lead a band of warriors against the forces within the eponymous tower.  However, in order to gain access to the tower the player must collect three magic keys:  the brass key (protected by the imps), the silver key (guarded by the gnomes), and the golden key (kept by the faerie-folk).  Mere possession of the keys is not enough; one must also solve the “Ancient Riddle of the Keys” (i.e., the order in which the keys must be used).  So as to obtain their respective sets of keys, each player – represented by a warrior pawn – must travel around the board encountering various events and managing the three 'resources' of warriors, food, and gold.

The tower keeps track of the players' inventories and where the players are in the game (but not their exact position on the board).  On their turns, players would indicate their intentions (e.g., purchase supplies at the bazaar, explore ruins, cross a frontier, retreat from combat, etc.) by pressing appropriate buttons on the tower's 'keyboard.'  The tower would indicate the results by showing pictures, providing numbers on a digital display, and issuing forth electronic sounds (such as a portion of the 1812 Overture when storming the tower and a snippet of Ride of the Valkyries upon winning the game).

Player interaction is limited to afflicting a curse (when one encounters the wizard) and blocking an opponent's movement by placing the dragon pawn (after encountering the dragon).  Otherwise, the players are merely racing to be the first to defeat the denizens of the tower.

It looks like another blog started to adapt Dark Tower to a conventional role-playing setting, but did not get very far.  In essence, Dark Tower is a campaign in a capsulized form, complete with an end goal and roles suitable for player characters:  the leader, a scout, a healer, a wizard, perhaps even a merchant to haggle at the bazaar.

Much of what makes the game especially fun even today is the detail and imagery.  The 'art' of the game, perhaps more than the plot, engenders wonder and inspiration.

First and foremost, the evocative art of Bob Pepper creates a distinct, exotic ambiance.  This site is dedicated to Dark Tower and displays all of Pepper's art for the game as well as his art for the card game Dragonmaster, published contemporaneously by Milton Bradley.  Here is Pepper's depiction of “brigands,” the foes of the players' warriors.

I do not know why MB chose to refer to these thoroughly inhuman opponents as “brigands” rather than hobgoblins or bugbears or some such.

MB provided little plastic buildings and flags for the kingdoms instead of going the easy route and just depict those things on the board.  Instead of using just one mold for the warrior pawns, differentiating them only by color, MB supplied a distinct figurine for each player/kingdom.

L to R:  Arisilonish, Brynthian, Durniner, Zenonite
Another remarkable component of the game is the two-piece board and the fantastic terrain it depicts.  Although the terrain has no effect on gameplay, it engages the player and enhances the experience of the game.  I have endeavored to craft a composite image of the board for the edification of the reader.  I present the humble result of my effort below.

As can be seen, the board primarily shows the kingdoms of Arisilon, Brynthia, Durnin, and Zenon, as well as the frontiers that separate them.  Each kingdom contains equivalent locations:  bazaar, citadel, ruin, tomb, and sanctuary.  The tower, of course, stands at the center, equally accessible from any kingdom.  Each kingdom possesses examples of noteworthy terrain that hint at exciting adventure.

Brynthia:  The enormous plant growth near the tower, the pinnacle next to the bazaar, the chasm above the ruin, and the immense desert near the Arisilonish frontier

Durnin:  the tableland upon which sits the bazaar, the mist enshrouded hills that host the tomb, the outcropping of green crystals near the tower, and the valley of mushrooms

Zenon:  the forest of lightning, the badlands, and the trees that dwarf even the gigantic Brynthian plants

Arisilon:  the huge craters near the tower, the shattered spires near Zenon, and the feature resembling Devils Tower near the sanctuary

In the instruction booklet the accompanies the game, the board is specifically referred to as “the gameboard empire” suggesting at least to me that the four kingdoms are the fractured remnants of an ancient empire.  The scepter gained by the victorious player, “the Power Staff of the Empire,” would seem to be useful in unifying the kingdoms once more.  “[A] Kingdom has been offered for its return.”  Why should the player, a successful leader of warriors, settle for a mere kingdom when he (or she) can take the reins of destiny and create a glorious new empire?

It's More Than a Game, It's an Experience

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Combat in Year of the Phoenix

The Year of the Phoenix boxed set comes with a 17" x 22" sheet Martin Wixted refers to as 'the Battlefield.'  Printed on this sheet is a “grid of alternating squares.”  (see below)  This arrangement is something I like to call 'a poor man's hexes.'  “Each square represents 1 meter.”  I'm assuming each side of a square is one meter in length.

On page 38 of the Training Guide, Wixted remarks:
          All forms of combat are mutually-agreed-upon rules for attempting to inflict injury upon one another.  If this were untrue, there would be no such thing as 'fighting dirty'.
Wait...Wouldn't 'fighting dirty' be a form of combat?

Anyway, for purposes of combat or other fast paced game events, game-time is measured in 'Sequences.'  How long is a Sequence?  In general terms, a Sequence has a duration of one second.  However, Wixted tells us on page 15 of the Training Guide that “Sequences can expand or fit the dynamics and pacing of the adventure...”  This deftly curtails player arguments about what can and cannot happen during the span of a second.

Actions a character can perform require one or more Sequences to be spent, but the number of Sequences spent can vary among characters.  For example, it would take David Long – the character we made over the last couple of weeks – two Sequences to fire a pistol.  Firing the same pistol in the same circumstances would take only one Sequence for pre-gen 'Keeps' Keeler, but would take three Sequences for pre-gen Julie Whitmore.  These differences occur due to the Phoenix concept of 'Skill Speed' which is inversely proportionate to skill percentage; the better a character knows a skill, the faster he or she can perform said skill.  This is where the system gets a bit clunky; characters have Skill Speeds for Skill Spheres as well as for Specific Skills.  The 'highest' Skill Speed value is five and the 'lowest' is one.  Outside of combat, for long term tasks, Skill Speed can represent minutes, hours, or days.

During a combat situation, the gamemaster literally counts out the Sequences.  In the combat chapter of the Training Guide, a section called 'The Combat Clock' explains the four 'steps' of performing actions.  The steps are:  (1) Announcing Intentions, (2) Counting Down to Action, (3) Acting, and (4) Recording Changes. The phrase 'Counting Down to Action' can be somewhat confusing because the progression of Sequences goes from lower to higher numbers.  Players are supposed to track the actions of their characters and – at the appropriate Sequence – inform the gamemaster that a given action has been performed and needs to be resolved.  Actions can always be cancelled, perhaps to perform a defensive action (all of which only require a single Sequence).  Alternatively, the multiple skill use rules can be used to perform two actions simultaneously (such as attacking and defending or defending against two separate attackers).

Within a given Sequence, the character with the fastest “raw Skill Speed” acts first.  In the case of ties, actions are simultaneous.

The 'Moves' value indicates the number of meters a character can move in one Sequence.  It is determined by subtracting the character's Kinetics Skill Speed from six.  Thus, our character David Long would nave a Moves value of two (i.e., a Kinetics Skill Speed of 4 subtracted from 6).  Different forms of movement are derived from this value; running distance per Sequence is twice Moves.

Characters can reduce the number of Sequences the performance of a given skill normally requires by 'Shaving Speed.'  Each Sequence 'Shaved' off of a skill attempt incurs a penalty of one Difficulty level and an additional Erg loss.  Although not expressly stated, one supposes that Skill Speed cannot be Shaved to less than one Sequence.  Wixted warns us on page 16 of the Training Guide:
          Players should refrain from using this technique often, because a character's self-preservation instincts have a tendency to override such foolishness.
On the other hand, characters can obviate a Difficulty level by taking an extra Sequence (and an additional Erg loss).  Curiously, this can only be done to counter Difficulty penalties; it cannot be used to gain a bonus by virtue of preparation.  With regard to aiming an attack, the combat rules on page 39 of the Training Guide offer two methods.  Both methods regard hitting a specific 'Hit Location.'  Method One allows a player to modify the Hit Location roll by one for each extra Sequence consumed (to a maximum number of six).  Method Two imposes a Difficulty penalty based on the size of a given Hit Location (e.g., 2 Difficulty for the chest, 5 Difficulty for the left hand, etc.).

Aiming isn't the only circumstance for which Phoenix addresses alternate rules.  With regard to “dealing with ammunition,” Wixted says on page 40 of the Adventure Guide,“Some gamemasters will ignore the question entirely, while others will want a detailed account of every single bullet expended...”  Wixted suggests that a rapid-fire gun run out of ammunition when the roll for using said gun results in doubles or a klutz.  This means on any given use (including the first), the gun has about a 1-in-8 chance of being out of ammunition.  Ultimately, Wixted writes, “...when it is dramatically necessary to run out of ammunition, the firearms should do so.”  Immediately following this statement Wixted scribes, “Naturally, common sense should prevail.”

We close this post with some good advice from Wixted:  “When designing the combat area decide if it would make a good setting for a movie.  If not, open it up.”

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The World Didn't End!

Say good-bye to the Mayan calendar and say hello to the bold new era of Synnibarr: Invicta.  Yes, Raven c.s. McCracken has a new Kickstarter project, somewhat more modest – and more likely to be successful – than the first one.  Your humble host told his readers that McCracken is not a quitter; Synnibarr: Invicta is inevitable.

Quoth the Raven:
          The important point is that NOTHING can stop me from doing this project. This time the resources are vast and the publication virtually effortless compared to hand “blue-lining” every page and cutting and pasting the text by hand page by page.
           I have published this by myself, eight times from 1980; I will do it once more.
The way is open for YOU to “be a part of the Ultimate Action Adventure as the Worldship saga continues...”

In the interests of padding out this post, let's take a brief look at one of the monsters of Synnibarr.
Nerieye cats weigh 10 to 30 pounds and stand 1 foot tall at the shoulder. These animals have wings and can enlarge themselves to the size of a lion once per day for 2 hours.
Their 'maximum flight speed' is 200 mph.  Nerieye cats are creations of the Ravashem.1 They can amplify the powers of their masters based upon their breed / fur color (e.g., 'red' amplifies mutations, 'Siamese' amplifies psionics, et al.). These creatures suffer an allergic reaction to forgotten steel.2

1 “The Ravashem are a mysterious race known as the Blood Mages...They live within the Garden of their capital city, Dorvendor, which lies on the west coast of the Dark Isle.”

2 “Forgotten steel is a very special metal derived from the ore shaniteum, or the forgotten ore. Its color is silver. This ore is found only on the Shandreall Plains of Mists.” It can focus life energy, mutations, and magic. It has a melting point of 2,795 °F.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ghost Towns & Pyramids

Photographer:  Francis Firth (1857; Public Domain)

Nearly a year ago your humble host stated that he would “more thoroughly” examine Gregory L. Kinney's World Action & Adventure role-playing game.  WA&A doesn't warrant the level of analysis that this blog has afforded more interesting games, yet there are a few aspects upon which your humble host shall deign to reflect.  The aspect reserved for today's post is what Kinney refers to as “Explorer's Findings,” discussed in Chapter Eight (titled 'Random Encounters') of the Official Guide.  On page 110, Kinney explains:
Findings of this sort often promote great action and adventure.  An explorer's finding is often hidden from civilization and difficult to find.  Once found, trespass, danger, and treasure are often the active ingredients.
Kinney then provides various tables, some of which your humble host renders for the edification of his cherished readers.  Some scans from the Official Guide are provided; however, some of the tables displayed in this post have been reformatted, altered for esthetic purposes and – when necessary – corrected.  The tables with alternating shaded rows are distinct from Kinney's copyrighted material.

The first table shows the type and frequency of nine types of 'findings' for six 'specific terrains.'

The next table shows “if an explorer's finding can exist in a particular region.  If the result from table 1 does not agree with table 2, then roll again on table 1.”

Basically, the purpose of this second table can be summed up with the following admonitions:  Coniferous and deciduous forests can't have pyramids. Tropical Forests, savannas, and deserts can't have dungeons. Tropical Forests also can't have ghost towns.  The third table shows the possibilities for various “features.”

'Creatures,' 'guards,' and 'treasure' are self-explanatory.  However, if a lost mine has guards, is it really lost?  What about ghost towns with guards?  Anyway, 'peril' refers to the structural integrity of the 'finding,' with six possibilities:  (1) weak floor, (2) weak walls, (3) weak supports/pillars, (4) cliffs or pits, (5) narrow/weak bridge, and (6) entire structure might collapse.

Kinney has this to say about 'riddles' on page 118 of the Official Guide:
Riddles bring about mysterious action.  When a riddle is encountered, the Action Guide makes up a riddle on the spot, unless he has already made some.  The riddle can be a rhyme, pun, play with words, or mixed up statements.  As long as the Action Guide can come up with a clue or hint for the actors' characters, that is all that is required.
Kinney's riddle determination tables:

Kinney's trap tables:

Details for three sizes of lost mines:

Details for three sizes of pyramids:

Details for three sizes of ghost towns:

With regard to 'Points of Interest,' Kinney lists eight varieties:  (1) bridge, (2) church, (3) gallows, (4) mill, (5) mine, (6) river, (7), tower, and (8) well.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Skills in Year of the Phoenix

In last week's installment, we started to generate a character for the Year of the Phoenix role-playing game; namely, David Long, a 26 year old Chinese-American.  Although voting was very close, we're going with “Support Services: Mechanic” for his position within the 'Project Phoenix Special Reaction Team' to which he will be assigned.  Knowing David's position, we can distribute dice among his Skill Spheres in an effort to make him more effective.

For every Phoenix character, eighteen ten-sided dice are divided among the six Skill Spheres (Knowledge, Talent, Observation, Communication, Manipulation, and Kinetics).  For each sphere, at least one die must be assigned but no more than five dice may be assigned.  An 'average' character would have three dice allocated to each sphere.  Since David is supposed to be a Mechanic, let's assign five dice to Knowledge and four dice to Manipulation.  To balance this out, we will assign only two dice each to Talent, Communication, and Observation; the Kinetics sphere will have three dice.  Dice results are added to a base value of 15 and the total is treated as a percentage.

If I were to create a 'hack' of the “Epic Rule System” Martin Wixted used for Phoenix (and co-developed with Scot Michael Fritz), I think I would turn 'Conditioning' into a Skill Sphere.  Also, I would get rid of the 'Talent' Skill Sphere which – by definition* – includes “unquantifiable aspects of a character.”  The skill list for the Talent sphere is a hodge-podge.  I think I see what Wixted was trying to do, but each of the listed skills could just as easily be included in others spheres (mostly Communication and Observation).  Alternately, I would reserve the Talent sphere to reflect a sort of magic attunement / spellcasting ability.

Anyway, David's Skill Spheres are as follows:  Knowledge (56%), Talent (29%), Observation (29%), Communication (26%), Manipulation (33%) and Kinetics (28%).  The Phoenix character sheet (see below) has a 'Skill Sphere Grid' meant to provide players “with a quick reference to check where [a] character is strong or weak.”  The number of 'Specific Skills' a character has is equal to his or her age in years; however, eleven of these skills must be the 'core skills' taught to all Project Phoenix personnel and some skills (in David's case, three) must be taken as part of the character's 'service branch' training.  This leaves David with twelve 'Personal Skills.'  (26 - [11 + 3] = 12)

For each specific skill, the result of 3d10 is added to the appropriate Skill Sphere value.  Instead of rolling dice, players can add 15 to the Skill Sphere value.  This is slightly less than what 3d10 would average, but you don't have to be concerned with bad dice mojo.  Players can also use a second skill 'slot' to add another 3d10 (or 15).

Among David's core skills, there is an 'interaction skill' – which we decide is Etiquette (COM) (36%) – and a 'personal management skill' – for which we choose Operate Vehicle: passenger car (MAN) (43%).  David's native language is English, which is represented by two skills:  literacy (KNO) (65%) and 'linguacy' (COM) (42%).  For his second language, Mandarin seems appropriate; literacy (KNO) (73%) and 'linguacy' (COM) (37%).  David's remaining core skills (and their values) are as follows:  Astronautics (KNO) (73%), Computation, which is essentially mathematics (KNO) (73%), Extravehicular Mobility Unit (a.k.a. 'EMU') (KIN) (50%), Shuttle Computer (KNO) (68%), and Self-loading Pistol (MAN) (45%).

David's 'service branch' skills (and their values) are as follows: NASA Vehicle Repair (KNO) (73%), Operate Lunar Vehicle (MAN) (52%), and Robot Repair (73%).

Before continuing with his 'Personal Skills,' let's address David's special ability.  He has two Ability Points.  Let's go for the obvious and select 'Machine Empathy.'  At two points, this allows David to diagnose “any problem with a vehicle or device” within ten meters in four minutes (his 'Talent' speed).  The 'mechanical' explanation for this ability is a “neural implant,” but we're going to define it as a 'mental' ability.  This means one of David's personal skills will be 'Machine Empathy' (TAL) (53%).

David should possess mechanical aptitude should not be limited to NASA vehicles, so we have him obtain (normal) Vehicle Repair (KNO) (77%).  We'll also have David learn some martial arts.  This should not be interpreted as an exacerbation of a racial stereotype, but merely an opportunity to show my cherished readers how martial arts are handled in Phoenix.  According to Wixted, “Martial artists attempt to improve themselves in all areas of life (such as...inner peace and control) but such extensive treatment is beyond the scope of [the skills] chapter.”  Otherwise, Wixted lists various 'moves' that can each be purchased as a specific skill “as long as it is compatible with the character's background.”  So, we'll have David get:  Punch (KIN) (46%), Throw (KIN) (34%), and Unarmed Parry (KIN) (45%).  For a Throw, a “successful Grapple is required first,” so we'll get Grapple (KIN) (51%).  We'll also have David get martial arts as a Knowledge skill representing the philosophy, tradition, and other knowledge about the martial art (KNO) (73%).  The value for 'Throw' is weak, so let's 'spend' another skill to add 3d10 – Throw (KIN) (47%).

David has five Personal Skills left.  Overlooking the pre-gens for ideas, I settle on:  Hide (KIN) (44%), Listen (OBS) (44%), Detect Lie (TAL) (53%), 'Simple Repair' (MAN) (43%), and Moonsight (OBS) (50%).  I considered a Talent skill that Wixted lists (but does not describe) – “Nerve (chutzpah)” – but I don't think it's right for David's background.

* Training Manual (p. 10)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Let's Make a Year of the Phoenix Character!

Meaning:  I make a Year of the Phoenix character and you get to read about it.

Among the six pre-generated characters Martin Wixted provides in his Year of the Phoenix role-playing game, various ethnicities and lifestyles are represented.  African-American?  Check.  Native American?  Check.  Hispanic?  Check.  Lesbian?  Check.  Neo-Pagan?  Check.  No Asians.  Well, we should address this dificiency.

The first part of making a Phoenix character is establishing 'societal information.'  Dao “David” Long is of Chinese heritage.  I roll 1d6 for Social Status; a result of '3' indicates middle class with an annual income of 30-59 K.

Next, we have 'physical information.'  We choose 'male' for gender.  Height (for males) is 6d10 + 145 cm; weight is (2d8 x 5) + 30 kg.  By rolling the appropriate dice I obtain 184 cm (6') and 70 kg (154 lbs) – kinda slim.  The age formula is 2d6 + 20; David is 26.  A result of 7 indicates that his dominant hand is his right.  His 'Conditioning' is 70% as a result of '1' on (1d6 + 6) x 10.  The '7' we obtained in calculating Conditioning is added to another d6 (a result of 2) to determine that David has '9' Ergs.

The next section is 'factored information.'  We multiply David's weight by his 'CON%' to find his 'Muscle' of 49 kg (108 lbs); which is the amount of weight he “can lift, carry, and push.”  This puts him in a 'Damage Class' of +1, which will improve – by one die side – the amount of damage he does with “[w]eapons requiring...physical ability to wield” (e.g., a d6 becomes a d7). 'Body Points' reflect “how much damage your character can withstand in each body part without having it disable him or her.”  The 'BOD' for each body part is calculated as a fraction of weight.  Here are the results for our character:

For the sake of comparison, glass has an average BOD of '1' while brick has an average BOD of '9'.

Since this is taking longer than I anticipated, we will forgo 'Characterization' and (most of) 'Finishing Touches' for now.  Rolling '7' on 2d6 gives David the rank of 1st Lieutenant.  With that rank, he can fill any of the nine positions ('Service Branches') of the Project Phoenix Special Reaction Team (other than Commander – which requires a rank of Captain).  Let's take a look at the positions as described on page 12 of the Training Guide.

Commander – “Crew safety and flight execution is the commander's responsibility.”  He or she delegates other responsibilities among the crew.
Pilot – Essentially, the pilot controls the Shuttle and “is the final judge about a go-ahead or mission scrub if problems arise.”
Communications and Payload Specialist Lt. Uhura and “coordinates payload operations.”  In addition, “customarily takes the role of interpreter when dealing with non-English speaking gamemastered characters.”
Medic – “[S]ince the characters will be as far from hospital care as humanly possible (when they're in space), the Medic's responsibility is to provide first aid and emergency care.”
Support Services: Combat Engineer – “Combat Engineers deal with the construction and destruction of buildings” (i.e., demolitions) as well as “other skills necessary to ensure the survival of American freedom.”
Support Services: Mechanic – “Mechanics routinely repair, maintain, and jury-rig vehicles and robotic devices...”
Support Services: Electronics – This position addresses the accurate functioning of electronic equipment.  This is the only 'Service Branch' that provides training in computer programming.
Infantry – “The 'grunts'...are often the first ones into a combat situation, and the last ones out.”
Infantry (Heavy Weapons) – “The heavy-duty bunch, Infantry (Heavy Weapons) are specially trained to capture and hold enemy strongpoints.”

I had hoped to completely generate a character in one post, but that's not going to happen.  Since I am stopping at this point, I will entertain suggestions from my cherished readers as to the 'Service Branch' from which David will receive his training.  I think it should be one of the 'Support Services' since none of these positions is represented among the pre-gens.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Inspiration: The Wilderness Sea

In 1987, DC Comics published a 48-page 'special' (with no internal ads) called Talos of the Wilderness Sea.  Prominent creator Gil Kane wrote and illustrated the book.  Writing credit was shared with Jan Strnad, but the premise was entirely Kane's.  Kane intended Talos to be an epic saga that would span twelve issues.  Sadly, the special is the only portion that was published; evidently, there was insufficient reader response to warrant additional issues.

Kane considered Talos distinct from the usual sword-and-sorcery material:
It's not another one of those...In those stories, the barbarian is seldom if ever part of any ongoing environment.  He's always the single heroic figure, but it doesn't matter what background he's placed against.  There, the background is not really important, the secondary supporting characters are not really important  The barbarian becomes just this phantom cowboy dragged in to face a set of difficulties which rarely have anything specific behind them.  There's little to suggest that it's a special kind of world.
The Wilderness Sea is part of “the disrupted environment of a post-holocaust world” – specifically, “a future America after a nuclear holocaust...The oceans in this time would be lower, there would be pockets of heavily radiated areas, mutated life, and so on.”

The story of Talos is “structured after the Book of Exodus in the Bible.”  In an irradiated forest, “beastpeople” dwell; the 'civilized' people of Totthmain raid their settlements and conscript them into slavery.  Due to their greater tolerance to radiation, beastpeople are put to work in the radioactive mines.  (Ore from the mines is “critical for the production of weapons and temples.”)

The ruler of Totthmain is Zar Totth and his queen is about to give birth; however, her past three pregnancies have resulted in stillbirths.  On each occasion, the Zar caused the midwife to be put to death.  The mate of the current midwife is the chief slave-taker and, on a raid, he comes across a beastwoman giving birth.  Strangely enough, the beastbaby appears to be human and the slaver takes it.  (You see where is is going?)

Anyway, the slaver brings the baby into the royal household via a secret passage and, sure enough, the queen delivers another stillbirth.  The slaver and the midwife are successful in making the switch.  (“Look my queen...the child lives!”)  The baby, 'Carn Whitemane,' is raised as the Zar's son.  Characters are introduced which – had Talos survived as a series – would doubtless play important roles; however, for purposes of this summary, we need not mention them further.

Eventually, Carn grows into a young man and must “face the will of the gods” (i.e., partake in a rite of passage).  The rite requires that he enter the irradiated forest – without bringing weapons or other supplies – and spend a month therein.  However, crafting weapons once in the forest is not prohibited.  During his stay, Carn encounters a large, white panther-like animal that saves him from a pack of wolves.  The two form some ill-defined metaphysical connection and Carn names the cat “Star.”  Carn encounters the “beastpeople” and his birth-mother informs him of his true heritage.  Carn accepts this claim without proof (although the slave-taker eventually verifies this) and the “beastpeople” accept him as the incarnation of Talos – the one foretold in prophecy who will take them to a better existence.

Talos (as he is now called) leads his people in combat against an expedition of Zar Totth's legionnaires.  Victorious, Talos ends the book (“The end of the beginning...”) with some observations about fulfilling his destiny.  Had Talos become a series, our hero would have brought his followers “down the continental shelf, down through the Wilderness Sea, in search of a 'promised land.'”

So, in conclusion, submitted for your approval is an Old Testament/Gamma World mash-up from twenty-five years ago.  Inspiration abounds – it's just a matter of keeping your eyes (and your mind) open.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

More Special Abilities in Year of the Phoenix

In last week's installment, your humble host discussed 'special abilities' in Martin Wixted's role playing game Year of the Phoenix.  This week, your humble host continues the discussion!

Each Phoenix character receives 2 to 3 'Ability Points' to spend on one or more special abilities.  If a character acquires more than one ability, they must be of the same type (i.e., mechanical, physiological, or mental).  Each point spent on an ability increases its effectiveness; your humble host referred to this last week as 'level' – a term which Wixted avoids.  Aside from type, a player must determine the “approach” of the ability – the way it functions and its limitations.  A 'Skilled' approach requires a skill roll to activate; failure prohibits another attempt for twelve hours and extreme failure may cause damage to the character.  An 'Erg Loss' approach – appropriately enough – causes the character to lose Ergs each time the ability is used.  (We discussed Ergs in this post.)  With an 'External Stimulus' approach, an ability requires some condition to activate “such as a drug or a hypnotic trance.”  A 'Limited Duration' approach means “While the hero can turn on the Ability at will, it functions for a limited (and often varying) time and then shuts down;” usually, a recharge period is imposed.  With a 'delayed Activation approach, the duration is usually “more predictable” but “it takes quite a while to activate.”  Lastly, the 'Side Effect' approach means that use of the ability is accompanied by a condition that “severely impairs the character.”

Although Wixted encourages players and gamemasters to create their own “unique powers,” he provides three pages of examples.  The ability descriptions that Wixted presents come from (within the context of the game) “the Top Secret military report:  The Project Phoenix File.”  Provided below is a listing of special abilities not mention in the earlier post.

Body Armor (As a 'physiological' ability, requires an herb-derived drug)
Enhanced Muscle
Machine Empathy (Allows a character to diagnose problems with a “vehicle or device”)
Heal Other (Can also be used on one's self)
Animal Communication
Control (Allows a character to take over a target's “gross motor activities.”  As a
          'physiological' ability, it is described as an “intense pheronome [sic] emanation”)
Interface (Can ”operate electronic equipment intuitively”)
Electrical Touch
Directional Sense
Thermal Touch
Death Simulation (As a 'mental' ability, it is accomplished by “cellular telepathy”)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The 'Ancient World' of Avalon Hill's RuneQuest

Apart from the 'Fantasy Europe' map in the boxed set, Avalon Hill's Deluxe Edition RuneQuest contained two maps of the ancient world, both attributed to the fictional Korybos of Tiana; the 'Ancient Map of the Western World' on page 11 and the 'Ancient Map of the Eastern World' on page 83.  They were obviously two parts of a single map and your humble host wanted to see the combined whole.  Other than defacing the book, the only option was to re-create the map.  Without further ado, you humble host presents the meager fruit of his amateur effort.

'Blue' signifies coastlines, 'Gray' signifies mountains

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Special Abilities in Year of the Phoenix

All player characters in Year of the Phoenix have special abilities – either mechanical (“The result of a mechanical device permanently attached to the hero's body”), physiological (“Abilities present as a result of quirks of the metabolism, genetic oddities, chemical imbalances, and the like”), or mental (“Abilities present because of special training, psychic properties, or simply unusual force of will...”).  Each ability usually has a drawback that tends to balance out the effectiveness of the ability.  Special abilities are what entitled the player characters to be recruited for Project Phoenix – not expert aptitude or an exemplary service record.  The special abilities chapter begins with a quote from Major Roger Nathan:
          You've all been called to this gymnasium so that we can test each of your Special Abilities.  Your Ability is what got you in here, so we're determined to see what it can do.  To your left you can see that metal enclosure.  It's a steel box with a door, really.  That is for testing things like weapons and heat- sensing, and heat-creating Abilities.
          Over here, to your right, are an odd assortment of vehicles and computers.  I see a couple of Corvettes, an army jeep, and three old, reliable MacIntosh computers.  Those are for testing machine empathy, as well as interfacing and electrical powers.
          The rest of this stuff, like the trampoline, is fairly self-explanatory.  Oh, and there's a medical team standing by.  I'm sure there'll be some casualties today.
Thanks for your confidence, Major!

To gain an appreciation of the variety of special abilities available, let's introduce ourselves to the pre-generated characters and see what abilities they have.

Carol Horn is the team pilot.  Her ability is “Heightened Sight.”  Her 'Line of Sight' is quadrupled that of what a normal person's would be and she can make out detail on an object eight meters distant as though it was only two meters away.  This ability has some drawbacks, she has poor night vision and is colorblind.  Unlike the other characters, the nature of her ability (mechanical, physiological, or mental) is not stated.  I guess it doesn't matter.

Bruce 'Keeps' Keeler is 'Communications & Payload Specialist' for our band of pre-gens.  He is ambidextrous, “has a swimmer's body, and sports a never-failing tan.”  However, these attributes do not represent his special ability.  Keeps has two levels of “Speed,” which is described as a “psychic ability to borrow future time.”  He can “increase normal reaction time and movement distances” for up to an hour's duration.  Immediately thereafter, for the same duration he “is proportionately 'slowed' as much as he...was 'hastened.' ”

Anthony Quill has been appointed 'Commander' of the team.  Quill has the “Weakness Analysis” ability as a result of a “specialized microcomputer hooked into sensory gear tied to the optic nerve.”  He can cause double damage but, before he can do so, the computer “takes over [his] eyes” for several seconds.  Quill is blind during this time.  At the level which Quill possesses this ability, he should be limited to a broad category of targets (e.g., animals, vehicles, structures), but this detail is not supplied.

Cynthia Shanders is 'Infantry.'  Had Martin Wixted written Phoenix today, he would describe her as “Native American” rather than “Indian.”  A “microprocessor” tied to her nervous system somehow allows her “to determine the surface thoughts of a gamemastered character,” but not a player character.  In order to do this, she must touch the subject and remain immobile.  It takes several seconds “to power up or shut down this Ability.”

David Toth is a 'Heavy Weapons' specialist.  Before he joined the service, David tried out for the Olympics but was not successful.  (His Basketball skill is at 70%.)  His special ability is listed as “Weapon/Mechanical.”  This means he has “Extendable claws...[that] reside in and/or around [his] hands,” or it could be his feet.  Instead of claws, they might be blades or metal plates.  Wixted does not specify.  Anyway, David does +4 Damage but it's possible he can injure himself with this weapon, even outside of combat.

Julie Whitmore is the 'Medic' of the group and – given her Chef skill – most likely the group's cook.  She is “almost too thin for high fashion modelling.”  Her special ability is “Self-Heal” to the extent that her recovery time is three times faster than normal.  This ability is 'mental' and, as such, requires a Talent Skill Sphere roll and a number of hours of (daily?) meditation commensurate to the level of trauma.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Inspiration: Kung Fu 2100

In a routine raid, the CloneMaster's secret police picked up a prisoner and brought him in for questioning by their master.  They didn't know their captive was a fully trained Terminator, captured only by sleep gas.  As the CloneMaster walks into the room, the prisoner suddenly shatters his handcuffs and explodes into action...
In a comment to a post earlier this month, Ed “Anonymous” Green suggested that I look at Kung Fu 2100 as a possible source of inspration for a role-playing game campaign.  I knew of the game and I found the premise interesting; however, I despaired of ever obtaining a copy.  Well, it turns out that the game originally appeared in The Space Gamer #30 and the Neutral Good people at Steve Jackson Games have made TSG periodicals available for download (for reasonable prices).  Huzzah!  A PDF is not the same as the actual game, but that doesn't matter for our purposes.

With regard to inspiration, it is interesting to note how Kung Fu 2100 came into being.  It seems that the magazine's publishers receive some unsolicited art pieces from Mitch O'Connell, who eventually became the world's best artist, apparently.  One of the drawings depicted a martial arts battle in a laboratory which The Space Gamer used to create a contest.  Participants were to submit original game ideas inspired by the picture.  The winning entry was submitted by B. Dennis Sustare.  This happened in 1980, after Sustare had co-created (along with Scott Robinson) Bunnies & Burrows, but before the publication of Swordbearer.  Aside from being printed in the magazine, Kung Fu 2100 was good enough for Jackson to publish as a stand-alone game.  Denis Loubet was responsible for the art (other than O'Connell's cover) in both magazine and box versions.  While he may not be the world's best artist, Loubet is never a disappointment (to me, at least).

So, in the world of Kung Fu 2100, “cloning” was perfected in 2006.  Such cloning included rapid maturation of the clone as well as the ability to 'program' clones with the memory and experience of pre-existing people.  Cloning was expensive, but the privileged few who could afford it became effectively immortal.  This “caused worldwide social disruption” and, as a result, “much of civilization collapsed.”  Eventually the CloneMasters (as they came to be known) restored order – of an oppressive nature.  The general population was prohibited from using machines and engines; ownership of metal was not allowed.
          By the year 2100, the world was fragmented into individual fiefdoms, each controlled by a CloneMaster from his personal fortress.  Within this citadel was all he needed to grow and program his clones – letting him live forever in luxury.  Attended by guards, servants, and his computer technicians, snug in his haven, a CloneMaster need to give little thought to the Dark Ages beyond his walls.  Any organized revolt would be quickly dealt with by the CloneMaster's own secret police or by the armed forces maintained co-operatively by groups of CloneMasters.
Among the unprivileged, “a secret cult” was formed – the Society of Thanatos – the purpose of which was to bring lasting death to the CloneMasters.  To this end, members were trained from childhood to attain “the human limit in strength, stamina, unarmed combat, and immunity to pain.”  They could do things like punch through metal doors and dodge bullets.  Members of the Society were known as Terminators.  (Kung Fu 2100 was released in 1980, a few years before James Cameron's film would appropriate that word.)  Not all students were completely successful in their training and some were not able to endure “strict Terminator discipline.”  While not as adept as actual Terminators, these drop-outs nonetheless possessed formidable abilities.  Often, they would become Janizaries – guards in the employ of the CloneMasters.  Janizaries were pejoratively known as “Jellies.”

The sub-title of the game is “The Assault on the CloneMaster.”  In the course of the game, Terminators access a CloneMaster fortress in an attempt to kill the resident CloneMaster.  However, the Terminators must also destroy the cloning equipment or else the CloneMaster will survive as a clone.

Terminators eschew the use of weapons, but Jellies frequently employ them.  Otherwise, there are various martial arts abilities that Terminators and Jellies may possess:  Iron Fist, Lightning Foot, Body of Mist, Mountain Heart, and Monkey Soul.  Yes, Monkey Soul.  How awesome is that?  The game handles martial arts combat in an interesting fashion.  For each fight involving Terminators and/or Jellies, opposing players secretly select which abilities their Terminators/Jellies will use in the form of “tactics counters.”  Players alternate playing counters and effects are resolved based on which abilities are played (e.g., Monkey Soul offers total protection against Lightning Foot).  By taking damage, Terminators/Jellies lose abilities; this limits their tactical options in future fights.

In terms of role-playing games, Kung Fu 2100 was adapted as a GURPS scenario, but I think it could serve as the basis of a campaign setting.  Although they engage in cooperative endeavors, in Kung Fu 2100 each CloneMaster has his own fortress.  I can appreciate the need to personally supervise how one's clones are handled, but wouldn't there be CloneMaster families instead of individuals in each fortress?  This would suggest an ever growing CloneMaster population or caste; however, resource limitations would preclude a population beyond a certain size.  (In his first novel, To Live Forever, Jack Vance postulated a similar situation.)  Let's say that the CloneMasters have cooperatively agreed to a maximum number of immortals; a Technicians' Guild ensures that this number is not exceeded.  If all of a CloneMaster's clones and 'memory banks' are destroyed by Terminators (or some other mishap), there is an opening for a new CloneMaster.  This allows for all sorts of Vancian (if not Machiavellian) politics.

Regardless, despite the fortress/fiefdom social structure, there has to be an industry to manufacture and maintain cloning technology as well as other technology mentioned in the game, such as helicopters and sleep gas.  There must also be an educational system to ensure a sufficient number and quality of technicians to operate all of this technology.  In short, there must be population centers to house and cultivate castes that fall between the CloneMasters and the medieval peasants.  Given these considerations, I doubt that it would be effective to rely upon a truly medieval caste of farmers.  Although not to the extent of 'the Dark Ages,' the lower rungs of a CloneMaster civilization could still be severely oppressed and technologically limited so as to justify the Society of Thanatos.  Of course, there would be people – let's call them tribes – who exist in the 'wilderness,' presumably beneath the notice of the CloneMasters.  All in all, Kung Fu 2100 provides bounteous material and speculation for role-playing opportunities.

Got Monkey Soul?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Physical Fitness in Year of the Phoenix

In last week's installment, we discussed Skill Spheres in Martin Wixted's Year of the Phoenix.  Aside from Skill Spheres, Phoenix characters are also defined by a measurement called Conditioning (abbreviated CON%).  Essentially, Conditioning represents physical fitness; in terms of another RPG, it is a combination of Strength and Constitution.  According to page 6 of the Training Manual:
Conditioning affects how well you resist disease, and recover from wounds.  A low CON% (20%) indicates a feeble or out-of-shape character, while a high CON% (80%) means a muscular, physically fit character.
Phoenix characters have a Conditioning score “between 70%-120%.”  Wixted explains that player characters have better-than-average Conditioning because they are “heroes” and have just undergone military training.  According to the Gamemaster Screen, the average Conditioning score is 50%.

A character's Muscle (MUS) represents the amount of weight he can lift “without trouble.”  This is equivalent to his own weight multiplied by his Conditioning percentage.  The amount of damage a character can inflict with “[w]eapons requiring a character's physical ability to wield” (including unarmed attacks) is influenced by Muscle.  Wixted provides a chart by which a character's Muscle value can be referenced to provide a number from -1 to +5; this score is the character's Damage Class (DAM).  Wixted explains:
Since Phoenix Special Forces undergo severe training, they average a higher DAM than normal civilian types, while officers who specialize in physical training...often have appallingly large DAM values.
A perusal of the non-player character listings shows that the same 'DAM Chart' is applied to all characters, not just 'Special Forces' personnel.  So when Wixted states that Phoenix player characters have a higher than average Damage Class, it is only as a result of their Conditioning scores.

In any event, the Damage Class score is not applied to the results of a damage roll; instead, Damage Class affects the die to be used for determining damage.  let us look at an example on page 42 of the Training Guide:
Betty...has a DAM of +5 and is using a hammer which is listed at 1D7.  [Actually, hammers are listed at 1D8.]  Her hammer does 1D10 + 1D3.  She is also using a Knife, listed 1D4+1.  [True]  Adding her DAM gives her 1D9+1.
Wixted writes on page 4 of the Adventure Guide, “Odd-sized dice are easy to extrapolate from the dice included in the game.”  (Two ten-sided and two-six sided dice are included.)  He explains how to use percentile dice and how to use control dice to – for instance – obtain a 1-20 result from a D6 and a D10.  Given the dice that are supplied with the game, we would presumably roll a D10 and ignore results of 8, 9, and 0 so as to replicate the results of a D7.  Wixted's interpretation of a 'virtual' D13 as 1D10 + 1D3 is peculiar; the range of results is 2-13 rather than 1-13 and the probability distribution is not flat.  Normally, a D20 is used for determining hit location; however, 1D13+7 is used for kick attacks.  This is mentioned on the same page as the example of Betty and her hammer.  A flat distribution from one to thirteen makes sense for the hit location of kicks; however, with the 1D10 + 1D3 method, right arms are five times more likely as left arms to be hit by kicks.  Ah, it seems I digress.

Another measurement associated with Conditioning is the concept of Ergs.  The same roll used to determine a character's 'base' number of Ergs also determines a character's level of Conditioning.  “Ergs are units of energy,” Wixted notes, “your hero's ability to perform strenuous and/or stressful activities for long periods of time – your character's wind.”  A character's score in Ergs establishes how many times – without resting – the character can perform a 'fatiguing action' before suffering detrimental effects.  On page 34 of the Training Guide, Wixted rhetorically asks what constitutes a fatiguing action.  He answers, “Mechanically, it's any action requiring a die roll.”  So, in terms of combat, each attack is a fatiguing action.  When a character performs a number of fatiguing actions so that his Erg score is exceeded, he incurs a Difficulty Die Penalty.  This penalty is cumulative for every multiple of the Erg score exceeded without a 'meaningful rest.'  The 'Erg Action Track' appears on the right edge of the character sheet; Wixted recommends that players use a D6 to mark their position on the track with the facing of the die indicating the Difficulty level.  The die is set at the maximum number of Ergs for the character (excess Erg boxes are crossed out) and 'counts down' as actions are performed.  Characters can also 'lose Ergs' due to damage they sustain.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Inspiration: Rusta

Two Great Ladies will catch your fall
for they are the ones who catch us all.
Their children kept them far apart;
the Lady Light, the Lady Dark.
Dark broken, light storm
dead spoken, dreams torn...
and we will bring you home.
Long ago, in a faraway time called 1995, there was a made-for-TV movie called White Dwarf.  It was written by Bruce Wagner and starred the late, lamented Paul Winfield.  The ninety minutes of airtime provided a host of interesting concepts ready to be exploited for a role-playing game setting.  The story takes place in the year 3040; humanity has been colonizing star systems for hundreds of years.  Rusta is a world in a remote white dwarf system, hence the title of the film.  Although a VHS version was available, White Dwarf has not been released on DVD.

Rusta continually presents the same face towards its sun so that one hemisphere endures constant daylight and the other hemisphere remains in perpetual darkness.  Normally, this would result in extreme temperatures not conducive to supporting Earth-type lifeforms.  However, floating in Rusta's atmosphere are numerous metallic globes called 'regulators' that maintain environmental conditions suitable for humans and other terrestrial organisms.

The regulators were put in place by a pre-human civilization ten thousand years ago.  (Throughout this article, I assume 'years' means 'Earth years' and when I write 'ago,' I mean prior to 3040.)  Inhabitants of Rusta believe that the regulators are “breaking down,” which lends an air of fatalism to the setting.  Vegetation manages to grow on the sunless half of Rusta and the people there do not seem to be concerned about vitamin D deficiency.  Perhaps the regulators are responsible or maybe it's genetic engineering (or suspension of disbelief).

The Wall
Five hundred years ago, the (human) inhabitants built a wall separating 'the light side' from 'the dark side.'  Only an orange-robed sect of eunuchs called “the Davids” are allowed to travel freely from one side to the other.  (A group of Davids can be seen in the lower right-hand corner of the 'Dark Side Castle' picture below.)  At the onset of the story, the two sides are at war but efforts toward peace are progressing.  Thus, Rusta is a divided world in more than one respect.  'The Two Ladies' are abstract religious figures representing Rustan duality; two parts of a whole.  There are indications that Rusta is a genius loci – one of the characters refers to it as “a sentient place.”

The technology in use on Rusta is not as advanced as one might suppose – horses are used for transportation.  Light side civilization resembles that of the American Old West, complete with badge-wearing marshalls sporting antique firearms.  There are, however, some noteworthy exceptions – electrical devices are in use to some degree.  The reigning light side authority holds the title of “governor,” but the method of appointment to that office is not described.  In contrast, the dark side has a hereditary monarchy; the culture and technology are both medieval.  For denizens of the dark side, the crossbow is the weapon of preference.

The Dark Side Castle
'The Keep' is a prison on Rusta where Lady X is incarcerated.  Although she maintains her innocence (Don't they all?), Lady X was convicted of “being responsible for the plague on Earth.”  As of 3040, she has served 500 years of her 5,000 year sentence.  So that she may serve the entirety of her sentence, she has been granted an undying existence.  This is possible by virtue of Osh, the alien warden of the Keep, who secretes an unusual enzyme that somehow “gives immunity to the aging process.”

The Keep
For executions, warden Osh uses 'Keep Hounds,' nearly feral humanoids with canine characteristics.  However, Keep Hounds are not always thus; early in their life-cycle they are quite intelligent and have a mastery of many talents and languages.

A couple of miscellaneous tidbits:  Among the exotic locales of Rusta, there are “the grottoes underneath the dreaming sands” and the red-colored Sea of Tears.  An example of Rustan fauna is the pumyx, a panther-like animal indigenous to the dark side.  It is mesmerised by the human voice.  When ill or injured, it travels to the light side in order to die.