Sunday, January 27, 2013

More Magic with Zorin Greystar

copyright 1984 by V Autumn, S Scherf, and K Autumn

Scherf and Autumn 'supplement' the 1e AD&D rules in their The Complete Works of Zorin Greystar - Book One.  Their efforts extend to the handling of saving throws, although in the Greystar system they are called 'saving rolls' and they are categorized differently.  The 'Saving Roll Table' on page 69 lists nine categories of saving rolls which, one presumes, are meant to replace the five types of saving throws.  These nine categories are:  Magic/Spell, Poison, Breath, Gaze, Magic Item, Small Missile, Large Missile, Cleric Spell, and Illusion.  Indexed against these categories are rows of numbers for each of the eleven classes/sub-classes from the Players Handbook (and a twelfth row for 'Normal').  Saving rolls improve by one for every three levels of experience.  Also, saving rolls are penalized by one for every three levels of the spell being saved against.  Finally, the difference in levels between the spellcaster and the saving character influences the roll.

If a mage uses all (or more) mana that he or she currently has available, the 'Overmana Chart' on pages 37 - 38 is to be consulted.  Going down to '0 mana' causes “Extreme lassitude, mage must rest no less than 10 hours and regains lost mana at 1/2 normal speed.”  Starting at negative seven mana, the mage enters a coma for a variable amount of time and there is a possibility of losing a percentage of mana permanently.  Using even more mana can result in permanent loss of spell casting ability, insanity, Constitution loss, and Intelligence loss.  Going to -31 mana is not recommended, death ensues with no apparent saving throw roll.

By reading it from a spellbook, a mage can attempt to cast a spell that he or she has not learned.  If the attempt fails, a roll is made on the 'Overlevel Attempt Chart.'  If a mage is interrupted during casting, the 'Spellcaster's Fumble Chart' is used.  The fumble can be avoided if the mage succeeds in a Dexterity roll (for physical interruptions) or a save vs magic (for mental interruptions).  The Overlevel Chart and the Fumble Chart are consolidated on pages 34 - 35 because they share many of the same effects, but with different chances.  For instance, on the Fumble Chart there is a 40% chance of the spell simply failing and the mana consumed; the same can happen on the Overlevel Chart, but the chance is only 20%.  Not all effects are necessarily bad.  It's possible that, although the spell fails, the mage's mana is replenished.  Results from the Overlevel Chart can be more severe than what can happen with the Fumble Chart; results such as insanity, level loss, Intelligence loss, or death are possible.  My favorite result (4% chance on either chart) is “chance of a disturbance of the planes, resulting in an ethereal encounter.”

In Chapter V, Zorin states that he has “composed thirty-nine new spells” for mages (some of which can be used by clerics).  The back cover of the book says, “This supplement contains 39 spells” (without referring to said spells as 'new').  The back cover claim is more accurate; while many of the spells are new, some are merely 'alternative.'  For instance, Zorin describes “Magical Missile Type I” and “Magical Missile Type II.”  Sound familiar?  (I would have gone with Prestidigitator's Projectile, but that's just me.)  Type I is just like our old friend Magic Missile, except the range is limited to 5" and only one missile is generated.  Type II (a 2nd level spell) increases the range and number of missiles to the usual Magic Missile extent.  So, dividing Magic Missile into two 'new' spells – one of which is second level – is an 'improvement' by Zorin.  Thanks Zorin...NOT.  We will examine some of Zorin's other spells in next week's exciting column!

copyright 1984 by V Autumn, S Scherf, and K Autumn

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Important Notice

This advertisement appeared in issue #109 of Dragon (May 1986).  Somebody footed the bill for a full-page ad, so consider the message carefully.

What noble intent!  What profound sentiment!  Alas, despite their enthusiasm, the PARAGON SOCIETY FOR WARGAMERS was not “credited for making the most revolutionary impact on the industry” or any impact for that matter.  In fact, other than this advertisement, there is very little – if anything – that we can attribute to the society.

Obviously, the society (the only non profit gaming association of its kind) presented itself as an established entity – something that had been around (albeit covertly) for years.  They even claim to have registered trademarks on the PARAGON SYSTEM and – what I assume is a setting – the Amaranthine Universe (although the spelling is inconsistent*).  Perhaps the society should have designed a logo to better convince readers they were a going concern.

Readers might infer that the society has thousands of members; however, the notice doesn't actually claim that.  It merely states, “over 5000 gamers, working together,” can create quality products.  Maybe the society hoped that the ad would bring in five thousand memberships.  Regardless, thousands of gamers “working together” doesn't sound very practical, not in the information age and certainly not in the quaint era of 1986.

I'm curious as to how the system works; it is built on entirely new concepts after all.  Supposedly, it had a “Complete combat and magic system,” but – according to the last paragraph – the society was still playtesting.  Of course, had the system been perfected (and released to the public) it “would surely challenge the very foundation of the fantasy roleplaying populaion” – the very foundation!  “Each spell has over 100 combinations” – sounds kind of crunchy, but I would like to see what they managed to put together.

Unless it was entirely a scam, there must exist some PARAGON SYSTEM literature out there.  Has anyone seen any of it or heard any gossip?  Catacomb Librarian?  Anybody?

*  Looks like they misspelled 'receive' as well.  I trust the reader will forgive my indulgence in a “kindergarten obsession.”

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Greystar's Take on Experience and Combat

copyright 1984 by V Autumn, S Scherf, and K Autumn

Chapters III and IV of Scherf and Autumn's The Complete Works of Zorin Greystar - Book One regard 'Experience' and 'Combat.'  Although 'Experience' is the third chapter and appears before the fourth chapter, 'Combat,' page 40 reads “CHAPTER IV - Experience” and page 52 reads “CHAPTER III - Combat.”  Both chapters are 'narrated' by Lord Toran of the Dragonsback Mountains; however, Zorin chimes in occasionally via means of a 'Time Stop' spell (much to Toran's chagrin).

In the Greystar system, player characters start at “zero-th” level.  They have the same hit points as a first level character, but their capabilities are diminished:  they attack and save as 0 level fighters.  “Thief and assassin character types subtract 10% from all ability percentages.”  There is a 50% chance for successful spellcasting; this chance increases by 1% for each experience point gained, up to a maximum of 95%.

Regarding experience, each character class has a 'constant.'  Thieves have the lowest constant at 90 while mages have the highest at 150; this represents the amount of experience a character needs to rise to first level.  This constant is also used in calculating experience necessary to reach higher levels.  A mage needs 450 experience to attain level two, 900 experience to reach level three, 1,500 for level four, etc.

It may not seem that much experience is needed to gain levels, but experience is awarded differently using the Greystar way.  Characters receive one point per level/hit die of a defeated opponent, with up to double that amount depending on the effectiveness of the opponent's “abilities.”  Experience gained via combat is not divided among a party; each participating character receives the full amount.  'Participating' means “endangered by or interacting with the enemy.”  If a defeated opponent has “exceptional abilities” and has level/hit dice exceeds a participating character's level by at least ten, that character receives additional experience.  The amount of additional experience is based, in part, on which “abilities” the opponent possessed.  Experience is also awarded when a character uses class abilities (e.g., spellcasting, thief skills) either “in combat or in a non-repetitive fashion.”  Characters do not receive experience for obtaining treasure.

Speaking of combat, Toran explains that two 20-sided dice should be used when attempting to strike an opponent.  One die is used in the usual way to determine hit or miss; this is called the 'hit die.'  (This could lead to confusion, I would have called it the 'strike die.')  The second die is called the 'luck die.'  If the result of the luck die is '20' and a successful hit is indicated on the hit die, an 'exceptional hit' occurs.  If the result of the luck die is '01' and the hit die indicates a miss, a 'fumble' may occur.  There is a percentage chance equal to the character's level “of turning a fumble into an ordinary miss.”

In the event of a fumble, a d% roll is made on 'Fumble Chart A'; the result indicates the type of fumble and which of seven other fumble charts to consult.  For instance, a result of 56 – 70 states, “Weapon entangled, roll on Chart E.”  Chart E requires fumblers to make a dexterity roll; failure produces results like “knock shield from grasp” or “trip self.”

With a critical an exceptional hit,body placement is determined; the hit could land on the arms, head, legs, or torso.  (There are modifiers for targeting a particular area, but only an exceptional hit grants exceptional effects.)  Each area has its own table which is further divided into sub-areas.  For instance, with 'Arms' the sub-areas are:  arm (general), elbow, forearm, hand, and upper arm.  Most sub-areas have their own table; regardless, the effects are à la Hargrave.  (Yes, “buttock removed” is a possibility:  3-18 damage, unconscious for 1-3 turns, movement slowed to 30% normal rate.)

There are also rules on weapon breakage, which can occur as a fumble result “or if a weapon is struck against a hard object (of armor class 3 or better) with combat force (when an 18 or greater is rolled on the luck die).”  The chance of breaking is expressed as a percentage chance determined by a complex formula (or by consulting the Weapon Breakage Chart).  Whether using chart or formula, it is necessary to know the “weapon substance constant,” which can vary from 0 (stone) to 16 (adamantine steel).  Armor can also be damaged (due to falls, severe blows, etc.) and armor class thus worsened.

copyright 1984 by V Autumn, S Scherf, and K Autumn

Sunday, January 13, 2013

By the Power of Greystar!

copyright 1984 by V Autumn, S Scherf, and K Autumn
[If “Enchanting the mattock” isn't a euphemism, it really ought to be.]

          Did you ever wonder how mages...with their unbelievable intelligence managed to forget a spell right after they cast the cursed thing?
          Or why one could not memorize three more first-level spells instead of one third-level spell?
          And why do mages never screw up while casting spells?
– Daera, the One-Eyed Sorceress

In Scherf and Autumn's The Complete Works of Zorin Greystar - Book One, each chapter is presented as an informal lecture by one of Greystar's adventurer associates.  Talena, High Priestess of the Temple of Rhynon, discusses 'The Multiverse' in Chapter One and Daera, the One-Eyed Sorceress, explains 'Magic' in Chapter Two.

Talena defines manna as “the fuel of the spellcaster,” but it is left to Daera to discuss the concept in more detail.  Daera notes a difference between the Polynesian 'mana' and the biblical 'manna'.  It seems that – for mages – mana is “the impersonal supernatural force to which magical powers are attributed” and that – for 'holy spellcasters' – manna is “divinely supplied spiritual nourishment.”  Beyond this distinction, they both function in the same way for purposes of Greystar's “REVOLUTIONARY NEW SYSTEM!”  (Sometimes the characters get excited and lapse into all caps.)  Daera chooses to refer to them both as mana because it's the “more important.”  This means that 'holy' magic and 'wizard' magic function in the same way with the only differences being the spells available and the 'explanation' of manna/mana.  According to Talena, the “the fuel of the spellcaster” is drawn from a “vast reservoir of positive energy known as the Positive Force.”  Living beings have “life forces” that originate in the Positive Force and return to it upon death.  However, there is “an opposing, balancing force, the Negative Force,” from which the undead draw their power.

Daera assures us that “the reader will find that 7th grade math is all that is necessary to understand” Greystar's magic system; regardless, “All complex formulas are supplemented by tables.” Each spellcaster has an amount of mana based upon her level and “prime requisite.”  Once spent, a spellcaster recovers mana at a rate derived from her constitution; however, recovery only occurs during “mental rest.”  Each spell has a mana cost determined by a formula that incorporates that spell's level.  As an optional rule, a spellcaster can (temporarily) lose points of constitution when she uses up more than half of her mana.

In order to cast a spell, certain conditions must be met.  Unless reading a spell from a book (or a scroll, I suppose), a spellcaster must learn the spell before using it.  Learning a spell requires a number of days based on the spell's level and modified by the learner's prime requisite.  “The highest level spell a spellcaster can learn,” Daera tells us, ”is limited by his own level and prime requisite score.”  Evidently, there is no limit to the number of spells that may be learned.

Once learned, a spell can be memorized.  The time it takes to memorize a spell uses the same formula as for learning a spell, but the amount of time is in hours rather than days.  A memorized spell is in the spellcaster's “repertoire and [she] can cast it as many times as mana permits.”  A formula using the spellcaster's level determines the total number of spell levels that can be memorized at a time.  As an example, a 4th level spellcaster can memorize up to nine spell levels, but no spell can be higher than third level.  A spellcaster can forget a spell in order to 'make room' for another spell; however, the forgotten spell is still a learned spell and may be memorized again at a later time.

Ready to cast your spell now that it's memorized?  Sorry, you have to remember a memorized spell before you can cast it.  “The time it takes to remember spells is based on intelligence, spell level, and maximum spell level able to be learned,” Daera says.  (It's a matter of segments.)  At any one time, a spellcaster can have a number of spells 'remembered' equal to her level.  Spells remain 'remembered' for a number of turns based on the spellcaster's prime requisite.  Once any remembered spell is cast, the 'number of turns' is reset for all remembered spells.  Now you can cast!

In her chapter, Talena describes “the infinite planes of existence” by referring to a fourth dimension.  Planes are separated from one another by distribution along this fourth dimensional axis, but they overlap or 'co-exist' within three-dimensional space.  Talena employs the phrase “Prime Material” for “our own” plane.  There is also a plane for each of the four classical elements.  The Prime Material and elemental planes are contained within the Ethereal Plane.  Talena describes the Ethereal Plane as a place of “bluish mist” where there is no gravity.  However, this plane hosts an “ether-cyclone” as well as “abominations” of “extreme fierceness.”  The Ethereal Plane (including its 'contained' planes) exists as a sort-of sphere floating in the Astral Plane.  Our sphere is merely one of “Uncountable numbers of...spheres [that] slowly waft through the blackness of the Astral...”

copyright 1984 by V Autumn, S Scherf, and K Autumn

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Inspiration: Septentrionalium Terrarum

Septentrionalium Terrarum descriptio (A map of the North Pole); Gerardus Mercator, 1595

Submitted for your approval is the region of the North Pole as Mercator believed to be at the tail-end of the 16th century.  (The above map is available in a greater resolution at Wikimedia Commons.)  It is 'inaccurate' in many respects, but for purposes of gaming this is more of a virtue than a fault.  Opportunities for exploration and adventure abound.  Perhaps a party of player characters form an expedition for the Northwest Passage?

A mountain marks the position of the North Pole and a separate mountain placed at the magnetic pole.  Pygmies evidently inhabit the lower right-hand Arctic 'quadrant.'  The biblical Gog and Magog appear near Meractor's 'longitude' of 170 - 180°.  Special attention is paid to Frisland (350°) with an inset in the upper left-hand corner.

A more detailed depiction of the fanciful Frisland is shown below from a map in the possession of the National and University Library of Iceland.  It could be used as a remnant of Atlantis or a stronghold of anachronistic Vikings.

Frisland; Pietro de Nobili, 1590

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The World According to Zorin Greystar

copyright 1984 by V Autumn, S Scherf, and K Autumn

          I have heard lore of strange worlds where adventurers gain experience in finding gold and magic...Zorin Greystar has told me of these places, and of the Masters who control the fates of those who venture there.  He tells me of how he saw the Masters in their wrath.  They sat for hours around a darkened table with numbers covering their parchment...They used magic calculating boxes and many tables and lists while they grumbled.
–Toran, Lord of the Dragonsback Mountains

In 1984, a pair of young men published a 120+ page compilation of their AD&D house rules titled The Complete Works of Zorin Greystar - Book One, “a revolutionary new supplement for expert players and game masters.”  Of course, Dungeons & Dragons is never explicitly mentioned; vague reference is made only to the “Rules of Adventuring...that already govern most adventures” and with which readers must “be well versed.”  However, spell descriptions, thieving abilities, class names, and other terminology leave no doubt as to which rules are being 'supplemented.'  The inclusion of the words “Book One” as part of the title suggests the possibility of additional books given sufficient consumer interest.  Alas, 'Book One' is the only published volume and the reader is faced with a question:  Can this be the complete works of Zorin Greystar if 'Book One' is the only book available?

At the time of publication, the two authors, Steve Scherf and Kellar Autumn, were nineteen and attended UCSC where they taught a class about “fantasy gaming.” (Scherf receives precedence on the cover, but Autumn is listed first on the title page and on the spine.)  Much of the book's charm comes from the art supplied by Kellar's mother, Violeta.

Aside from an introduction, foreward, and a final note, Greystar has five chapters:  The Multiverse, Magic, Experience, Combat, and Spells.  Each part of the book is presented by a specific personality (with occasional interruptions by Zorin).  The premise of the entire body of the book is that Zorin Greystar – an archmage who inhabits a “Spherical Castle” in a plane other than the Prime Material – has enlisted various “fellow adventurers” to explain a “New System” to the reader.  Zorin and the others realize that – in the reader's reality – they exist only as characters “in a Fantasy Gamer's imagination.”  Zorin explains how he questioned “the Rules” and “pointed out their incongruities and mistakes” to “the mighty Game Masters.”  Zorin doesn't blame the Game Masters though, he blames “the Books” they use.  Hence, Zorin offers his “New System [that] will let Adventurers and Masters alike have an enjoyable, thrilling, and true adventure.”

copyright 1984 by V Autumn, S Scherf, and K Autumn

At the head of the table, facing the viewer, is the Archmage Greystar. In clockwise order, the other sitters are:  Toran, Talena (High Priestess of the Temple of Rhynon), Obec the Tradesman, 'Lord Moondog,' and Daera (a.k.a. The One-Eyed Sorceress).

Lord Moondog is an adventurer of equivocal morality.  He and the other adventurers are nonchalant about their status as fictional beings.  In the one-page foreward, Lord Moondog offers some insights about his existence as a character:
          I know that [my player] and other players do not take their gaming too seriously and would never let it affect their actions in real life situations.  My player knows that controlling me is a way to vent his inner aggressions and fantasies.  Using me, he uses his intellect and exercises his creative thought.  Although the knowledge sickens me, I accept the fact that he plays characters of a goodly nature when in different moods.  Sometimes I even think he wishes that I might come to an untimely end.
          He wishes in vain however...

copyright 1984 by V Autumn, S Scherf, and K Autumn

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Raven Speaks!

It is with unabashed exuberance that your humble host presents the first guest post on Thoul's Paradise.  What follows comes from the keyboard of Raven c.s. McCracken – complete and unedited – for you to peruse and treasure.

Hello everyone, I’m here to talk about the newest version of the World of Synnibarr.

Developed in the late 70s, Synnibarr was the first science fiction fantasy role playing game and my first product.

In this version, entitled Synnibarr: Invicta, we completely redesigned the game engine.

We simplified many of the rules and created a new series of mechanics that dispense with the old fashioned static level adjustments and ability scores, for a dynamic system based on merit that allows for continuous expansion, customization and character individuality.

The streamlined mechanics are constructed to form a foundation that models a wide range of situations. The detailed guidelines fluid enough to be accommodating, yet precise enough to define the variables that allow one to play everything from trench warfare with spells and firearms, to starship combat.

In this system, in many aspects, there are no limitations save those of the player’s imaginations.

Some of the changes: virtually every dice roll a player must make may be changed for the better through the use of Constitution.

We have added “Flashback” guidelines that replace roll-playing with role-playing. The storytelling aspect removes the dice-roll and eliminates the random factor with a role-player’s characterization of the situation. When the dice fail, we can flashback.

Fate has been empowered in this version, unlike previous editions, and is no longer subject to being “called.”

The convoluted algorithms, while still very much a part of the game, have been streamlined and simplified wherever possible.

Now, with some of that out of the way, allow me to introduce some of the new game mechanics.

First off, it must be said that this version of the game is based solely on a single formula: Con x merit = cogency. I like that word…cogency, it means…wait for it…power!
This formula can also be used for technology: EGs x merit = cogency. Now if you think about this, what has been done is a unification of the mystic and the physic.

With constitution being the power source for metaphysics and EGs the power source for physics. Now we move on to merit.

Each tech item or spell/ability has a merit value/cost. A 10 merit ability powered by 1 constitution point is treated like this: 1 con x 10 merit = 10 cogency. Tough math: one number multiplied by another. This formula is applied to tech as well: 1 EG x 10 merit = ….wait for it…10. Lol..

Now…the value of cogency: 1 point of cogency inflicts 1 point of damage or blocks one point of damage or telekinetically lifts and or transforms 1 kilogram of mass. That’s it…

Now…think about this in gaming terms… transform/lift covers a wide range of possibilities… from metamorph to teleport, telekinesis to flight at light speed, from time travel to immortality… all at 1kg of mass per cogency point.

The damage or blocking with any ability /spell /energy weapon/ shield, is covered by this as well. The primary limiters are energy (EGs) and the merit of the item. Now we can have lasers, force fields, EMP’s, etc and all balance out against each other and the mystic.

And now to the meat…The constitution a character burns into any ability/spell is regulated by the character’s Con Gate: which starts out at 5. You may burn up to 5 con points in a single second of combat. The EG gate is technology’s control. Through merit one can adjust both the character’s con gate or the devices EG gate.

Merit: every item/spell aspect of the system can be gaged in merit. Merit is what is rewarded for experiences and accomplishing tasks. This rewarded merit may be allocated to an ability/spell. In the case of technology, merit is added to the device through money.

Now with the addition of merit the calculation is drastically altered!!

For example: Tamijin, the mage allocated 40 merit to a 10 merit spell, Now the spell is 50 merit and 1 con xs 50 = 50 points of damage/defense; or better yet, 5 con, the limit of the gate, x 50, for 250 cogency!

There is the foundation of the system. The base that allows us to extrapolate forever; with this matrix, one can eventually play out character’s as fantastic as our green skinned friend with, “breathtaking anger management issues” wearing powerarmor and throwing a few spells for good measure.

With this foundation, we have a handle on some of the more ambiguous factors such as time, light and gravity!

Now to the prime mechanic: keep in mind that all dice rolls may be altered with the use of constitution. 1 con point adds +5 to the roll on the percentile dice. Any dice roll above 100, reduces the opposing dice roll by the above 100. For instance, if you burn 5 con points for a +25 on the shot roll, the max the roll could be is 125 and in this instance you would reduce the opposing Fate roll by 25.

That’s it…roll above 100 and reduce the opposing roll by that amount.

This prime mechanic is applied to skills and combat. In the case of skills we use the terms AIM and DEED in combat we use SHOT and FATE. Aims reduce deeds and Shots reduce Fate… keep in mind that Fate rolls may be adjusted by Constitution as well.

Synnibarr employed this mechanic in a few instances in the older versions; however, now the system has been based on this simple mechanic.

Constitution: with a clear understanding that one can burn constitution for adjusting the dice rolls and that it must be used for any abilities/spells, one can see the value of the 5 con points allowed each second.

Now to Combat: Just as in the old versions of the game, combat is played out in three second turns. Players power-up with constitution up to 5 only, at the start of every second within the turn, draining the 5 from the 100 con point awarded to every character to start in most cases. When the 100 con points are gone the character is out of power for abilities and adjustments until they rest and so forth…

Basic combat: Players roll advantage, (d10) the highest roll starts combat AND the player gets TWO actions on this starting segment of combat 1st. Players then go in order of advantage. Once all players have taken their action(s) we move onto the next second and power up.

Actions: players almost always roll a shot, in an effort to reduce the defender’s Fate roll per the prime mechanic; some attacks, such as swinging a sword are considered normal attacks and some actions -such as using a firearm or spell -are called beam or blind attacks. Of course there are also wide beam attacks and area effects; which in general, are a bit more difficult to evade… (Dark chuckle)

Based on the action, the defender usually has five defense choices: Block, Disarm, Dodge, Grapple, Sacrifice. These are also divided into B.A. (beam or blind attack) Fates.

The defender rolls the fate for the situation and if successful we determine the outcome. For a simple Fate dodge the outcome is obvious… the character dodges.

So there you have it: combat is Advantage, Shot and Fate.

These three fundamental aspects, the prime mechanic, the calculation for cogency and the combat system, form the heart of the game engine. With these elements, we can play out virtually anything and if I have my way we will.

Synnibarr was made to push the limits; we have been working hard to create a solid framework in which the players are not only presented with a Worldship to explore, but a Centiverse of adventure in which godhood and beyond is a possibility. The new guidelines take advantage of these basic factors and through them define a game like no other.

Thank you all for your interest; may you always make your fate!

Raven c.s. McCracken.