Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blade Raiders

Your humble host came across this Kickstarter project and thought that some of his more discerning readers might be interested.  Thoul's Paradise would not dedicate a post to some hum-drum OGL re-hash (except for purposes of ridicule); there are enough of those floating around.  Blade Raiders has aspects that set it apart from many games.

First, Grant Gould, the artist/creator, seems to be a nice guy.  That might not count for much in the eyes of others, but it means something to me.

Anyway, since Blade Raiders is his project, it is only fitting that I quote Gould regarding those concepts I find worthwhile about the game.

The setting: 
This first book focuses primarily on the human realm ruled by Stonemir, a massive fortess-city built upon a mountain that holds primeval mysteries and vast power... 

In this RPG, magic comes from runestones, which are buried beneath the earth, hidden in mountains (especially near Stonemir), and guarded like precious artifacts. Some men and women are born with the ability to tap into these forces, and some devote their lives to articulating these skills and developing incredible powers.

I didn't want to use the standard races like orcs, goblins, etc. So you'll see some completely original beasties in this game.
The rules:
You begin your adventure with a clean slate. You don't start with a ton of skills and abilities. In fact, you don't even select a character class -- You select a TALENT...Part of the Blade Raiders RPG experience is finding out who your character is as the story unfolds. No one is simply a "fighter" or a "mage." Characters are more complex, and yet at the same time, simpler in terms of creation and management.

...Blade Raiders has an entirely new dynamic when it comes to spell-casting and special abilities.

You don't begin the game by choosing what you're good at. You begin the game with a basic understanding of where your talents lie, and then grow and strengthen in the areas that you choose to focus on. 

Below is a mock-up of a character sheet.  Since the rules are not finalized, this may not be the end-product, but it is a good example of Gould's ability at presentation.

The project is funded; Blade Raiders will happen.  The question now is:  Will you benefit?  As of this posting, there are still two weeks left in the funding campaign.  I really want to see the map of the game world that will be included in the stretch goal offering, so my motivation in writing this post is not altogether altruistic.  Blade Raiders may not be to your taste, but I encourage you to see what Gould has to offer.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Major Disciplines in Psi World

Psi World presents two methods for determining a character's psionic disciplines. Under the 'design' method, “The player may select either one Major or two Minor disciplines of his/her choice.” This is method is ideal when attempting to create a psionically balanced party; however, the 'random roll' method allows “hopes of gaining additional abilities.” With the 'random roll' method, the player chooses to roll once on the Major discipline table or roll two or three times (1d2+1) on the Minor discipline table.

The rule book describes seven Major disciplines: Precog, Telepath, Teleport, Telekinetic, Self-Aware, Healer, and Empath. The Major discipline table gives a 13% chance for each discipline. There is also a 7% chance of obtaining a “Roll 1 Major and 1 Minor” result and a 2% chance of obtaining a “Roll 2 Majors” result.

Extra-Sensory Perception would have been a better name than “Precog” since that discipline includes such talents as clairvoyance, detect life, and 360° vision. The “Precog” augury ability is interesting; it “allows the precog to ask any question to which a one word answer may be given...[that] will be accurate and truthful.”  No equivocation, no chance for error. Contrast the 'cosmic awareness' power from Villains & Vigilantes or the 'augury' spell in D&D; in these instances a player cannot be absolutely certain of accuracy – there is some wiggle room for the game master.  In Psi World, the referee may need to think quickly in order to provide a viable answer and not spoil the adventure.  Wimpy referees may need to apply some sort of limiting house rule to make their lives easier.

The Teleport discipline is largely self-explanatory.  “No two objects may occupy or attempt to occupy the same space.”  However, one of the Teleport abilities is 'out of phase,' which allows a psi “to shift the physical substance of his/her body...into a non-material state” and move through obstacles.  Stealth is difficult in conjunction with teleportation because the displacement of air causes “a loud popping sound.”

Telekinesis is misspelled 'Telekenisis' on page 17.  I listed some of the abilities of the discipline in the last paragraph of this earlier post.

Self-Awareness is a 'mind over matter' discipline that includes abilities such as feign death, resist pain, heal self, etc.  One quirky ability is 'alter mass,' allowing a psi to raise or lower his or her mass, but not weight.  The description of the ability says its power cost is “one point per each inch the character becomes taller/shorter.”  However, the Self-Awareness table on page 18 says the cost is one point per five pounds.

Healer is another self-explanatory discipline; however, within the discipline, the healing abilities have reverse versions, such as 'cure disease' and 'cause disease' as well as 'restore' (i.e., regeneration) and 'wither.'  A Healer can “restore a slain character to life” at a cost of forty power points (plus ten points for every day since death).  Characters resurrected more than a day after their demise lose all post-starting power points they had accumulated, lose a point of Endurance, and each skill has a chance of reduced effectiveness “due to memory loss.”  'Return Life' doesn't work on characters who have been dead for more than five days.
The Telepath discipline includes abilities one might expect:  locate mind, communication, and mind probe.  Also included are mental attack, mind shield, illusion, and mind transfer.  Most of these abilities allow a target to resist with a successful WIL AST (Will Attribute Saving Throw).  The 'nightmare' ability is interesting and formidable – the target's subconscious is unlocked, “bringing to the surface all the hidden fears, aggressions, and secrets.”  With a failed saving throw, the target is “in shock and unable to act for 1d10 minutes.”  With a second failed saving throw, the target becomes insane; either permanently or until after a long-term application of psychiatric treatment.  For the edification of my cherished readers, I reproduce the insanity table from page 17.

Actually, many gamers I have encountered could be categorized among this range of behaviors. 

Abilities in the Empath discipline involve detecting, establishing, and intensifying emotions.  An Empath can heal others by assuming their injuries; the Empath can also transfer his or her own injuries to others.  Additionally, an Empath can instill a catatonic state in a target via 'emotional overload.'

The Hammer Shall Strike adventure/supplement provides details about an eighth Major discipline:  Animalism.  With this discipline, a psi can detect animals as well as heal them, communicate telepathically with them, and 'suggest' behavior.  There is no provision for including Animalism in the 'random roll' method of determining abilities.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Psionics in D&D Next

or 'A Tale of Two Oozes'

Your humble host feels the need to assert his geekhood.

Because many bloggers are commenting on the D&D Next playtest materials, I thought that I might insert myself into the mob. I won't gripe about downloading issues because (1) I'm not that much of a geek and (2) I didn't encounter any issues.

Since I'm currently in the process of analyzing the Psi World game, is it not appropriate that I address the topic of psionics in D&D Next?

First, let me say that I'm attempting to absorb the playtest rules from a fresh perspective – bereft of biases imposed by other editions, extrapolating exclusively from the information that the materials provide. Attempting, but not necessarily successful in doing so.

Second, apparently unlike many others, I fully appreciate that these are playtest rules and not the final output – many changes can (and likely will) take place. Still, it is interesting to see what the Wizards have included and what they have not.

So, in this frame of mind, I was perusing the bestiary and came across the entry for gray ooze. Let me phrase this appropriately – my impression upon reading the description was – sages know that gray ooze has latent psionic ability. Specifically, it has the ability to 'crush minds' (that is, according to my impression of the meaning of the words). Nothing else in the playtest materials expands upon or even acknowledges this ability; from what my impressions supply, there are no rules for implementing this ability in play.

Gray ooze was psionic in 1E, but it wasn't psionic in either Basic or the SRD.  An editorial gaffe?  Perhaps, but 'playtest' gray ooze has a Wisdom score that exceeds human average (or so my impressions relate) as opposed to the SRD version where its Wisdom is minimal.  Also, I gain the impression that gelatinous cubes are expressly immune to psychic damage but my impressions detect no such immunity for gray ooze.  Hmmm.

Other quick observations impressions:
– Rules for being intoxicated, but no alcoholic beverages on the equipment list.

– The marginalization of humanity: Two dwarf pre-gens but only one human.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gen Con – What am I missing?

Your humble host has attended various gaming conventions, but this will be his first year at Gen Con.  Registration began the other day and – not surprisingly – many events have “sold out.”  I don’t have a problem with this; first come, first serve and all that.  What seems strange is the conspicuous absence of certain games – even among the sold out events.  No Traveller?  No RuneQuest?  No Encounter Critical?  For serious, yo, what’s up with that?

No game left behind?  Yeah, right.
Perhaps most egregious is the lack of any Atlantasia session.  One would think that with a quarter of a million fans there would be at least some presence at the con.  Probably a lot of red tape is holding up the creation of the World Atlantasia Fantasy Trust…or maybe something more sinister is working to suppress John Holland’s masterpiece.  To be honest, I’m kind of disappointed with John; the Atlantasia website is but a shadow of its former self, no new products have been offered and no contests have been announced.  What am I supposed to do with all my Atlantasia fanfic?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Basics of Psionics

According to page 14 of the Psi World rule book, “The decision to be psionic or normal is left totally up to the player.” Absent some necessity of a particular campaign, why would anyone choose not to be psionic in a game that focuses primarily on psionics? That's like going to a nice seafood restaurant and ordering a cheeseburger.

Psionic powers are divided into major disciplines and minor disciplines. The Hammer Shall Strike adventure/supplement introduces the concept of marginal talents, otherwise known as 'Spot-on-the-Wall' psi. The main rule book says:

The vast majority of NPC Psionics in most compaigns [sic] have extremely limited or marginal psionic abilities, such as causing water to boil (one cupful at a time) or creating a ball of colored light. Player characters are considered to be part of the upper 10% of the psionic community as far as powers are concerned.

Hammer supplies more details regarding marginal talents; providing more examples and actual rules. Page 6 of Hammer says, “Nearly ninety percent of the people technically classed as 'Psionic' are of the [Spot-on-the-Wall] type.” This is a slight but unimportant difference from the figure suggested in the rule book.  Hammer further states that psionic individuals with marginal talents rarely use their abilities (or don't use them at all) due to their lack of usefulness.  Essentially, they live their lives as 'Norms,' not subject to the governmental restrictions placed upon more capable Psis.  Close associates may not even know such a person is psionic; however, the government knows and “their identity cards do carry the notation 'Class III Psionic'.”  Presumably, 'Class I' refers to Psis with major disciplines and 'Class II' refers to Psis with minor disciplines.

Most powers require an expenditure of 'power points.'  The amount of power points that a character starts with is equal to twice her PSI attribute score; this is really the only purpose of the PSI attribute (except for increasing the chance of gaining additional power points).  So, a beginning psionic character can have as little as four or as many as forty power points; the average amount being twenty-two power points.  Power points are recovered only via sleep.  A full eight hours of sleep is required to regain 100% of a character's expended amount of power points.  Lesser amounts of sleep provide fewer power points; for instance, “7 hours 45 minutes” of sleep grants only 75% recovery.  Napping won't help; a character needs at least three hours of sleep to recover 25% of used power points.

Abuses of power are checked by the finite amount of power points any given character has at his disposal.  As an example, 'personal teleport' costs 20 points per use; the average beginning Psi will be able to accomplish this once per day.

Characters are able to acquire additional power points.  A character may attempt to gain more power points whenever she “has used 250 power points in game situations.”  So, if the average beginning character has about twenty power points, an attempt to gain more power points can be made after approximately two 'game situation' weeks – assuming the character uses most of her power points daily and she consistently gets eight hours of sleep.

Attempting to increase power points works similarly to improving a skill.  The PSI attribute score is added to 100 and the current amount of power points is subtracted.  The result is the % chance of an increase.  If successful, the character can gain as little as one point and as many as ten with five being the saddle point on the probability distribution.

Each major discipline represents a suite of abilities.  For instance, some of the abilities included with 'telekinesis' are:  Move Object, Levitate, Heat, Cold, and TK Light.  A character with a major discipline has access to all the abilities in the discipline to the extent he can afford their cost in power point expenditure.  The rules allow characters to develop new variations of abilities within their major discipline (and within the bounds of game balance).  For instance, a character with telekinesis might want to develop a 'walk on water' ability.  Experimenting and learning to control the ability requires 30+3d10 days of practice, minus the average of the character's PSI and INT attributes.  Such practice precludes any adventuring on the character's part.  After the requisite period of practice, the character has a % chance equal to the average of PSI and INT to 'master' the new ability and use it during play.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Was Osama bin Laden Lawful Good?

According to the System Reference Document (SRD), “A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act.”  Please note the words expected and required; a lawful good character conforms to certain expectations or requirements.  What are they?  What authority establishes these expectations or requirements?  Absent answers to these questions, we are left with a jejune tautology: a good person acts like a good person.  What authority is appropriate to define good behavior?  Is the verbatim word of God sufficient?  How many ways of interpreting the word of God are there?

The SRD epithet for Lawful Good is “crusader.” While bin Laden would vehemently object to that term based upon its historical context, the Muslim corollary – mujahed – has been applied to him.  Of course, the mere fact that bin Laden is a hero to some does not mean he was a moral paragon.  There are disturbed persons that believe Hitler was heroic, if not “good.”

The definition of a lawful good character continues:

She combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. She tells the truth, keeps her word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished.

Bin Laden was committed to oppose what he considered to be evil and he fought relentlessly.  He took steps to punish those he perceived as guilty (i.e., “the huge criminality practised by Israel and the United States”).  With regard to 'helping those in need,' bin Laden employed his formidable assets “to fund a number of infrastructure projects” in Sudan.

Lawful characters specifically, “...respect authority, honor tradition, and judge those who fall short of their duties.”  The SRD also states:

“Law” implies honor, trustworthiness, obedience to authority, and reliability. On the downside, lawfulness can include close-mindedness, reactionary adherence to tradition, judgmentalness [sic], and a lack of adaptability.

It is easy to attribute these 'downside' lawful qualities to bin Laden.  Note the “respect” for and “obedience” to authority.  Again, 'authority' (or at least its interpretation) is subjective.

With regard to “good,” the SRD declares:

Good characters and creatures protect innocent life...“Good” implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others.

From an objective standpoint, protecting innocent life was not a priority for bin Laden.  Subjectively, however, bin Laden proclaimed that there were no innocents (among his enemies at least) and that the violence he propagated was necessary for “the purpose of abolishing tyranny and corruption.”  Bin Laden proclaimed the Islamic World was being victimized and that he was defending innocent Muslims.  At what point – if ever – is violence against non-combatants acceptable from a “good” paradigm?  What atrocities can be rationalized?  Destroying a nest of dragon hatchlings?  Razing a hobgoblin village?
Within the context of a simplistic game world, the alignment system of “the world's most popular role-playing game” is an assessment of morality, but when extrapolated to a realistic setting, it is easily strained through a filter of ideology.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Combat in Psi World

The 'Combat' chapter in Psi World consists of seven pages; about two-and-a-half of which are dedicated to tables and details regarding weapons and accessories (including, inexplicably, ranges for communications equipment).  Of the remaining four-and-a-half pages, one page is consumed by mostly repetitive outlines for unarmed combat procedures.  The idea of presenting attack resolution rules in the form of an outline is a good one; however, several repetitions of that outline with minor variations is boring and unnecessary.  The rules explain how to conduct a combat throw.  After a successful throw, the attacker may attempt to pin or choke the target.  The 'unarmed attacks' section concludes with how to conduct a normal strike.  Readers would have been better served with an explanation of normal strikes first and foremost, followed by throws, pins, and chokes as special cases.  If desired, complete outlines for each attack 'form' could have been printed on the GM screen (included with the base set) or the blank back cover of the rule book.

Psi World uses a skill-based system and it makes allowances for untrained attacks.  I find the rules for untrained attacks more irksome than the rules for determination of hit points.  Untrained 'skill levels' are determined by doubling the average of two attributes.  'Doubling the average' is pointless!  Just use the sum of the two attributes.  Dang.

Characters have a total number of hit points.  Each of seven hit locations of the body (i.e., head, chest, abdomen, two arms, two legs) has a set number of hit points as well as a percentage of the character's total hit points.  For instance, a leg has 4 hit points plus 10% of total hit points and the abdomen has 6 hit points plus 25% of total hit points.  Damage from a wound is subtracted from both the hit location hit points and the total hit points.

A character who loses all of his or her 'total' hit points is unconscious and can only be revived through “professional medical attention.”  If the 'total' number of hit points is negative, the character will die unless medical attention is received within a number of rounds equal to his or her Endurance score.  (1 round = 10 seconds)  When all of the hit points for a given hit location are depleted, that hit location is disabled; the effects vary based upon the specific hit location (e.g., a disabled leg halves the character's movement rate).  Disabling effects are described on page 4 (in the character generation section) as well as on page 26 (in the combat section).  In both places, a character loses consciousness when all hit points in the head hit location are lost; however, the duration of unconsciousness differs.  On page 4, unconsciousness lasts for one hour plus an additional hour for each hit point taken over the hit location total.  On page 26, unconsciousness lasts for 3d20 turns.  (1 turn = 1 minute)  Page 26 also explains that whenever a hit location is disabled, the character must succeed with a 'shock resistance' roll or suffer unconsciousness for 3d20 turns.  The durations are cumulative, so – according to page 26 – a character with a disabling head injury and who fails a shock resistance roll will be unconscious for 6d20 turns.  I would recommend the page 4 rules, forgoing shock resistance rolls for disabling head injuries.

A target's defense score is applied to an attacker's chance to hit.  Therefore, it is beneficial to have a negative defense score.  (Characters with an extraordinarily low Intelligence or Agility could wind up with a positive defense score.)  Armor is presented as a negative number that supplements defense score.  (Armor does not affect 'throw' attacks.)  In addition, armor provides a percentage chance that damage will be halved, assuming the armor covers the applicable hit location.  For instance, a motorcycle helmet provides “-5 on defense.”  So the chance of success of an attack against a person wearing a motorcycle helmet is reduced by five (assuming the attacker is not specifically aiming at a hit location other than the head).  If the attack is nonetheless successful and the head is determined to be the afflicted hit location, there is a 20% chance that damage from the attack will be halved.

Encumbrance is not an issue in Psi World and, as far as I can tell, there are no rules for falling or drowning.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Unseen (and Seldom Seen) Monsters of Atlantasia

John Holland has said that, in his The Realms of Atlantasia, there are forty-four monsters that “nobody has ever seen before.” I haven’t counted them, but I’ll take him at his word. Certainly, there are a couple of monsters that no one will ever see and it is unlikely that one or two others will be seen.

The description of Chill Winds begins on page 75. Chill Winds are…wind; “You cannot hit them, you cannot see them…” Characters can “generally” hear a Chill Wind approaching, meaning they have two semi-segments to react. The description states, “…the only way to kill a chill wind is by the spell Heat Wave…” Apparently, Control Weather spells won’t do the trick. I suppose characters could use magic to get out of the way. Otherwise, unless characters have some sort of resistance to cold or weather, Chill Winds inflict 4d20 points of damage as they blow past the characters. Fortunately, Chill Winds are not as common as one might think; there is no chance of encountering Chill Winds on the tundra or in the mountains. In fact, Chill Winds seem to occur only in swamps, where they comprise 8% of all encounters – as opposed to Swamp Hags (6%), alligators (6%), or crocodiles (7%).

Dream Stalkers, according to page 73, are extra-dimensional entities that prey upon people who are asleep. They don’t inflict any damage; in fact, they don’t leave any impression at all. The victim of a Dream Stalker is not aware of the Dream Stalker at any time. However, when the victim wakes, he or she will be “in a completely different place (usually 1 – 2 countries away),” deprived of all possessions save for what he or she was wearing. How the Dream Stalker benefits from this prank is unknown. How anybody knows anything about Dream Stalkers and what they perpetrate is unknown. I suppose this could be a convenient way of dealing with a character whose player doesn’t show up for a session. I guess that Dream Stalkers don’t like water because there is no chance of encountering them at sea.

Speaking of water, page 77 describes Water Blobs which “are almost impossible to see as they will blend in with the water around them…”  They can change size from as little as one foot across to as much as twelve feet across.  They have a 100% chance of hitting an opponent at close range.  An opponent is enveloped and will drown in five semi-segments unless said opponent can activate an ability that allows him or her to breathe under water.  A character with such an ability activated can attack the Water Blob from inside, causing it to disperse.  Killing a Water Blob is out of the question unless an attacker can evaporate the water within it.   The ‘shell’ must then be hacked “until there is nothing left.”

No one will ever see a Shadowperson because “…if you run across one of these beings you will never know it…”  Page 94 tells us that Shadowpeople came from another dimension and that they “have no true form.”  By creating illusions they appear as whatever form they want.  Shadowpeople have no need or desire for material goods and rarely leave Shadowland.  “[A] very good natured shadowperson” named Miraje can show up as a random encounter.  Although Miraje is a 100th level spy, “players will sense someone watching them” when an encounter is indicated.  I guess Miraje is so good at being a spy, it convincingly acts as if it is not a spy.*  More realism at its finest.

Dimensional Stalkers are distantly related to Dream Stalkers and similarly, they come and go “without anyone truly knowing about it.”   They go about collecting the souls of recently deceased persons.  Once a Dimensional Stalker “absorbs” a soul (page 97 tells us), it will “go off in search of another being still alive to drop this soul into (usually being the opposite in alignment as the one who died).”  This raises a host of questions.  What's the effect?  Is the living being's original soul displaced?  Do the two souls engage in battle for control of the body?  What does the Dimension Stalker get out of it?  What happens if an elven soul is dropped into a human body?  Does it kill itself?  What happens if a Light Dragon’s soul is dropped into a gnome body?  Does it become pure compassion?  Is spirit the same thing as soul?  The alert reader may recall that the spirit of Sycaezz-aar-ryss-ail, daughter of “THE dragon God Draphet,” was installed in a medallion.  What happens if a Dimensional Stalker drops somebody’s soul into Sycaezz-aar-ryss-ail’s body?  Will the new soul be able to pronounce Sycaezz-aar-ryss-ail's name?

*  Holland never applies a gender pronoun to Miraje.  It makes sense that formless Shadowpeople would not have different genders; however, Holland does assign gender pronouns to other Shadowpeople.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Character Generation and Improvement in Psi World

A rare example of reverse-polarity Kirby dots.

Characters in Psi World are largely defined by six attributes: Strength, Agility, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, and Will. Characters with psionics also have Psionic Power as an attribute. The starting values for each attribute range from two to twenty. The rules provide two methods for determining attributes: random and design. With the random method, players roll 2d10 six (or seven) times in order. With the 'design' method, players roll 2d10 six (or seven) times and assign the six (or seven) resulting numbers to the attributes as desired. So, in effect, the methods are 'random' and 'slightly less random.' Would a point allocation option be too onerous, if only for a player character whose attribute profile as rolled indicates a sub-average individual? In the second scenario in the adventure book, player characters as supposed to be “members of the Psionic Protection Agency (PPA).” When creating these characters, “[d]ue to the academics entrance requirements,” attribute values are determined by rolling 1d12+8. (Why not 2d6+8?)

Psi World uses percentile dice to resolve the success of various actions. Percentile 'attribute saving throws' are determined by multiplying the appropriate attribute value by four. There is no attribute saving throw for psionic power.  If a character rolls an attribute saving throw (other than Intelligence) and the unmodified result is less than or equal to half of the value of the attribute at issue, there is a chance to improve said attribute by one point.  The % 'chance of improvement' equals twenty-five minus the current attribute value.  Characters also receive a 'chance of improvement' by training a number of game weeks equal to the attribute's current value.  This method cannot be used to improve Intelligence or Psionic Power.  Attributes cannot be improved past a value of twenty-five and, according to an optional rule, characters with attributes over twenty must spend time practicing those attributes else their value will decline.

Characters receive modifiers based on their attribute values. For instance, 'initiative factor' is the average of Agility and Will. (In a given round, each character adds 1d6 to 'initiative factor' to determine the order of action.) Two modifiers, 'defense bonus' and 'bonus to hit,' mirror one another. Agility and Intelligence contribute to both. The bonus (or penalty) given by Agility is larger than that given by a comparable rating of Intelligence. The average of Dexterity and Intelligence is used to determine the damage bonus for projectile weapons while the average of Strength and Agility is used to determine the damage bonus for 'hand-held' weapons. The average of Will and Endurance is used to establish both 'shock resistance' and 'heal rate.'

What I find especially irksome is the method for determining hit points. The average of Strength and Will is added to Endurance. Half of this sum is the number of d3 rolled to determine base hit points. Base hit points are modified by low or high values of Strength, Will, or Endurance (attributes already present in the initial formula). The end result may not be favorable; according to page 4...

Note that any character with zero or less hit points after modification is considered to have died at birth. Roll a new character, and better luck next time.

How sad is that? Not even in Traveller can your character die at birth. Given that more than one d3 is rolled, the average of the combined total will be two. Why not just have Endurance plus the average of Strength and Will equal base hit points? For variation you could add a d6 or a d10 or something. Say goodbye to pesky stillbirths!

There are five 'tables' of skills: General, Technical, Military, Spacer, and Academic/Advanced. Characters can 'buy' skills from the General table and one other table determined by an 'educational background' roll. (Characters with a 'spacer' background have a “25% chance of one advanced education skill.”) The 'educational background' roll is modified by intelligence; non-psis receive an additional bonus. The skills in a given table are distinct from skills in other tables; however, there are approximations. For instance, First Aid is a General skill, Emergency Medical Technician is a Technical skill, and Nurse and Physician are Academic/ Advanced skills. Computer Programming must be purchased separately for each computer language. The computer languages in Psi World are: UBL (Universal Business Language), PRIMARY (simple beginning language), SILANG (Scientific Language), MILCODE (Military Code Language), and MECHLANG (Machine code, a 'family' of five groups; each group counts as a separate skill). Computer Repair must also be purchased separately for each group. The five Psi World computer groups are: (1) mini-computer and hand computer, (2) Mark I to Mark II, (3) Mark III to Mark IV, (4) Mark V to Mark VI, and (5) “special systems.” The rules do not specify what the different 'Marks' mean.

Player characters receive 4d10 points to acquire skills.  (For every five of these points, the character's starting age increases by one year.)  Skills are either 'non-level' or 'level.'  Non-level skills cost one point each – it is a matter of “either you have it or you don't” (example: Swimming).  For level skills, one point spent equates to a value of ten (example: by spending five points on Streetwise, the character gains 'Streetwise 50').

Through training, a character can learn new skills or improve the value of current skills.  Learning a new skill requires attending classes; the number of necessary classes is based on the skill's 'Level of Difficulty' (measured as 1, 2, or 3).  A LoD 1 skill can be learned in as few as twelve classes while a LoD 3 skill could take as many as eighty classes.  Improving a skill via training requires a number of classes based on the current skill value; the higher the value, the more classes are necessary.  Improvement, however, is not automatic.  After the required number of classes, there is a % chance equal to one hundred plus half of Intelligence minus current skill value.  If successful, a character increases the skill's value by 1, 3, 5, 7, or 10 by rolling 2d6 and consulting a table.  If a skill is successfully used in the course of an adventure, there is a % of improvement equivalent to that gained by training but with a bonus equal to the number of successful uses.

Skills can be 'mastered.'  Every time during an adventure when a character succeeds in a roll associated with a non-level skill, there is a 5% cumulative chance of mastering that skill.  For level skills, when a character achieves a value of 90, he or she can train others in that skill; a skill value of at least 100 allows a chance of “creative research or tackeling [sic] really tough problems.”

Friday, May 4, 2012

Atlantasian Miscellany

Seeing as that John Holland's The Realms of Atlantasia weighs in at 545 pages, the number of topics that it does not satisfactorily explain is surprisingly large. Some of these topics are broad enough to accommodate one or more blog posts; however, the present post is a collection of those odd little items that cannot sustain an entire post on their own.

In his acknowledgments, Holland misspells the word “project.”

Page 52 introduces us to the term “Wrey-nger” (which, I hope to St. Cuthbert, is pronounced “ranger”); introduces, but does not explain. From what your humble host can deduce, a wrey-nger is a mage who forsakes his (or her) original school to learn new types of magic. It seems that wrey-ngers are not very popular; Holland suggests that wrey-ngers hide the fact that they cast spells. Per page 172, “You must learn to hide your casting, if possible, and blend in with a crowd.”

Barbarians regenerate one Life Point every two rounds, according to page 259. Atlantasia is all about realism.

Mindweavers are similar to mages; however, their magic is more along the lines of psychic abilities. There are three families of mindweavers: Brashear, Mantheran, and Wallershin (for reasons unexplained, Wallershin is sometimes spelled Widdershin). Everyone violently hates mindweavers. According to page 473, one of the 'cons' of being a mindweaver is that “everyone is trying to kill you!!!!!!!!!” That's a lot of exclamation points, so it must be important; however, I think that Holland is exaggerating somewhat. It seems that mindweavers don't hate one another (the different families intermarry). Also, mindweavers are allowed into Baba-Luna; “but they are kept a very close eye on,” according to page 573. People can't try to kill mindweavers in Baba-Luna, else they would be confronted with the unsurpassed efficiency of the war magi.* Anyway, why would a mindweaver admit to being such upon entry to Baba-Luna? Why are mindweavers hated so severely? Because of their mind powers? If their mind powers were so effective, wouldn't they have used those powers to make people not hate them? Really, when you think about it, the hatred towards them is evidence that they shouldn't be hated.

Page 67 says that 35% of all traveling merchant encounters are actually with mindweavers. As opposed to mere merchants, traveling merchants are (ironically) only encountered in cities. During the day, 10% of all random encounters within a city will be with 'normal' merchants as opposed to 11% with traveling merchants.

In cities, during the day, 20% of all dwarf encounters will be with evil dwarves (40% at night).  In the mountains (day or night), 30% of all dwarf encounters will be with evil dwarves.  I don't know what this says about dwarf sociology.  Gnomes (regardless of moral disposition) are absent from the random encounter charts except as a subset of pick-pockets.

It is (remotely) possible to encounter a 'dimensional army' on Atlantasia.  On page 65, Holland tells us to “roll for dimension,” but provides no means to interpret the result of such a roll.

*  Baba-Luna is the 'City of Diplomacy,' so naturally, the police force consists of war magi.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Beyond This Point Be Dragons

Various ‘old school’ projects have recently been touted on Kickstarter (and similar fund-raising sites).  Rather than question the merit of certain of these projects, your humble host chooses to endorse enthusiastically Champions of ZED.

This game is not so much an emulation as a carefully researched exposition of the nascent form of “the world's most popular role-playing game.”  With Dragons at Dawn, D. H. Boggs displayed his comprehension of – and his reverence for – the origins of the hobby.  Champions of ZED promises to be a game loyal to its roots as well as a work of fulsome scholarship.

Boggs is doing important work and I am grateful for his efforts.  I am both proud and glad to be a backer of this project.  With all earnestness, I encourage my cherished readers to consider pledging funds to the extent they are able.  This is the good stuff; let's make it happen.