Thursday, May 30, 2013

Jack Vance, R.I.P.

A reader is not supposed to be aware that someone's written the story.
He's supposed to be completely immersed, submerged in the environment.
                                                                                  -- Jack Vance

Map of Lyonesse obtained from somewhere on the Internet.
Probably protected by copyright.
Last Sunday, Jack Vance passed away.  In terms of gaming, he is perhaps best known as the person who inspired the concept of “Vancian Magic,” upon which the D&D magic system is based.  However, Vance's notions of magic went well beyond the limited paradigm that bears his name.  For instance, sandestin magic (which I touched upon previously) is far more intriguing.  Even if we remove the magic system from consideration, Vance's influence on D&D was still considerable.  Gygax was quite a fan and Vance even named a (minor) character after him in one of his books – Trullion: Alastor 2262 if I recall correctly.

Vance's fantasy works are well represented in role-playing games.  Other than D&D, there is The Dying Earth RPG and in 1999, a French role-playing game was published based on Vance's Lyonesse Trilogy.  Also, Talislanta was inspired by Vance's works (so much so that The Chronicles of Talislanta was dedicated to Vance).

Strangely, Vance's science fiction isn't represented in role-playing games.  His science fiction settings are just as colorful as his fantasy settings.  Any of his worlds offer abundant inspiration.  Vance was a man of many interests and he was able to call upon them all to describe vivid and entertaining worlds for his readers.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Valley of the Pharaohs

In response to Catacomb Librarian's call for posts about obscure role-playing games, mikemonaco recently discussed Matthew Balent's The Valley of the Pharaohs.  I still retain my copy of the game and it occupies a place in the stack of games I intend to address eventually.  Meanwhile, I provide a scan of the (legal-sized) character sheet.

Also, here are descriptions of two “fantastic monsters” – disappointingly named “Type I” and “Type II.”  At first glance, they seem to be simple composite monsters; however, they possess subtle but interesting features.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Campaign of Super-Powered Crimefighters in the Year 2044

cover illustration for Superhero 2044 (by Mike Cagle)

Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a game is only as good as its weakest subsystem.  In last week's interview, Donald Saxman acknowledged that character creation was one of “the weakest parts of Superhero 2044.”  I have to concur; however, there are some good concepts in Superhero 2044 character creation.  This makes the ultimate failing of the character creation system all the more unfortunate.

One 'good concept' is the attitude Superhero 2044 has toward creating character – the process is called “character design” (as opposed to “character generation”).  Characters are not ciphers; they are not the results of rolling a few dice and perusing an equipment list.  Players must formulate a character's background and collaborate with the referee to define the character in game terms.  (In reference to defining a character in game terms, Saxman uses the word 'quantize'.)  As befits this 'thoughtful' process, there are no random aspects in creating a character.

There are seven 'prime requisites' among which players allocate 140 points:
  • VIGOR – Health, resilience to disease.  Severe incapacitation (up to and including death) results  if Vigor is reduced to zero.
  • STAMINA – Hand-to-hand fighting ability; also, “ability to run fast, hold one's breath, etc.”
  • ENDURANCE – Resilience to pain, poison, deprivation.  Unconsciousness results if Endurance is reduced to zero.
  • MENTALITY – Ability to learn, memorize; also, “ability to recognize unfamiliar devices or situations.”
  • CHARISMA – Reflects “appearance, personality, leadership ability, etc.”
  • EGO – Resilience to mental attacks, offensive capacity for mental attacks.
  • DEXTERITY – Balance, speed, stealthiness, reaction time; also, “ability to perform simultaneous actions.”  Affects chances of success in ranged combat.
This is an interesting choice of 'characteristics'.

I suspect that, for Mentality, “ability to adapt to...” is the intended meaning rather than “to recognize...”

I accept the notion that 'life points' should be distinct from 'consciousness points'; however, they should be derived, in part, from a common source.  For instance, 'life points' could be the average of Vigor and Endurance while 'consciousness points' could be the average of Ego and Endurance.  Otherwise, it would be possible to have extremely divergent, nonsensical values.

It seems strange to me that 'holding one's breath' and 'running fast' are combined with fighting ability, especially when it is more intuitive to associate these activities with other prime requisites.  Also, Vigor, Stamina, and Endurance are synonyms for one another; they shouldn't be used to 'quantize' three different things.  For that matter, the descriptions of 'Vigor' and 'Endurance' seem too similar to warrant status as two separate prime requisites.

Curiously, there is no prime requisite that represents physical strength.  Such a measurement may not be important in some settings, but this is a superhero role-playing game – physical strength is an important (if not fundamental) aspect.

One problem with the prime requisites is that Saxman supplies no benchmarks.  What is the average value?  What is the maximum value for a 'normal' person?  The rules “strongly” advise having a value of at least ten in each prime requisite.  Should this be interpreted as the 'low end' of normal?  When Vigor is reduced to less than eleven, there are incapacitating effects – characters are “unable to operate under ordinary conditions.”  When Endurance is reduced to less than twenty, there are incapacitating effects – characters “may only move or attack once per turn.”  If we divide 140 allocation points by seven prime requisites, the result is twenty.  Are we to assume twenty is average?

The 'Synthetic Scenario Machine' lists four “sizes” of criminals:  Leaders, Bagmen, Soldiers, and Lookouts.  Leaders have a score of thirty in each prime requisite.  Additionally, they have a bonus of thirty to one prime requisite and a bonus of twenty to another.  'Soldiers' have scores of thirty in Vigor, Endurance, Stamina, and Dexterity.  They also get a twenty point bonus to to Vigor, Endurance, or Stamina.  Bagmen have a score of twenty for each prime requisite and Lookouts remain a mystery.

The appendix rules (not written by Saxman) provide prime requisite scores for criminal types inconsistent with those described in the Synthetic Scenario Machine.  “Leaders” and “Bosses” have a twenty in every prime requisite.  The highest scores are twenty-five – Endurance and Stamina values for the “Bruiser.”  A “Gunman” has a Mentality of fifteen while a “Thug” has a Mentality of ten.  “Thugs” and “Bruisers” have a Charisma of five.  What does it all mean?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Rules Enhancements for Superhero 2044

(2013 © Donald Saxman)
One of the major shortcomings of Superhero 2044 was the lack of detailed character generation guidelines.  The original intent was to devote an entire volume to this topic, but here is a summary of the original approach, with only minor updating.  Each of the three character classes is divided into seven sub-classes as follows.  Note that in most cases, there is still a great deal of customization and give and take with the referee.

Superhuman Durability and Strength – Divide 50 extra points between Vigor, Stamina, and Endurance.
Superhuman Power Projection - This is the ability to project or expel energy or physical objects (laser beams, spouts of acid, frigid cold, etc.).  Divide 50 points between four factors:  (1) effect of the projected energy or object; (2) number of times per round; (3) number of projects before exhaustion and recharging is necessary; and (4) range.
Superhuman Mental Abilities – This may be a straight 50 point addition to the Mentality score, in which case it represents a general increase in memory, learning, research ability, and learning speed.   It may also be divided between general Mentality increase and excellence in one or two specific skillsets.  In this case, the knowledge in these areas should be far beyond normal.
Superhuman Transformation Abilities – Transformation abilities include the ability to transform the superhero (shape-shifting of some sort) or the ability to transform the environment or the ability to transform a nearby object.  One option is to grant the superhero the ability to affect a relatively weak transformation at will.  The other is to divide 50 points between the four factors described in “Superhuman Power Projection.”
Superhuman Movement – This includes the ability to move quickly, fly, move through walls, move over water, etc.  In general, these types of abilities are granted at will.
Superhuman Senses – This includes the very greatly enhanced five senses as well as superhuman senses such as the ability to see in the dark, x-ray vision, the ability to see radio waves or heat, etc.  In general, these types of abilities are granted at will.
Only One of Its Kind Abilities – This sub-class is reserved for unique abilities that do not fit into the other six categories.
Mixing Unique sub-classes is permitted and encouraged.  Expend five points for every sub-class mixed and divide the remaining points between weaker abilities in the combined classes.  For instance, if you wanted a superhero who could fly around using enhanced vision to look for trouble, you’d combine superhuman movement and senses (-10) and give -20 of the remaining points for telescopic vision and -20 points for the ability to fly (relatively slowly).  On the other hand, a similar result could be obtained by picking superhuman transformation and assigning all 50 points into the ability to turn into an intelligent hawk at will.

For all types of Toolmaster sub-classes, divide the 50 points between the following:  (1) power or effect of the device; (2) whether the device is Generation 1, 2, or 3; and (3) the superhero's mastery of each device.  In general, Generation 1 costs 10 points, Generation 2 costs 20 points, and Generation 3 costs 30 points.  Complete mastery costs 20 points, competency costs 10 points, and basic ability costs 5 points.
Mastery of Strange Science – Strange science is a catch-all category for tech that is a logical extension of existing devices.  Examples might be lasers or jet belts or sonic disruptors or elaborate weapons.  Strange science also includes technological replication of animal abilities (web projection, sonar ears, etc.)
Mastery of Magic Tools –- Depending on the referee’s preferences, magic tools could represent actual objects from some place of magic, or could be the technological replication of such tools using advanced science.
Mastery of Alien Tools – Alien tools should clearly be of extraterrestrial origin and will typically have abilities beyond (or at least different from) strange science or magic tools.
Mastery of Genetics – Genetics includes mastery of artificial organisms as technology related to animals and medicine.  This sub-class is perhaps best reserved for supervillains or the imaginative player who would like to fight crime with a genetically modified animal companion.
Mastery of Robotics – This is another category best reserved for supervillains.  Superhero options include cases where the hero is actually a robot or has a robot companion.  In either case, if the resulting robot has superhuman abilities this could best be treated as a Unique, not a Toolmaster.
Mastery of Nanotechnology – This category was originally a catch-all classification for chemistry, geology, and other physical sciences (there was no nanotechnology in 1974, or even 1977).  Generation 3 nanotechnology can duplicate many of the Unique’s superpowers and can be a force of both destruction and creation.
Mastery of Computers – Mastery of computers includes the ability to create, manipulate, and repair all sorts of computers, computing systems, and microprocessor-containing devices, or could represent exceptional ability to access or manipulate information systems (there was no Internet in 1977).
Mixing Toolmaster sub-classes is permitted but expensive.  Expend ten points for every sub-class mixed. This will typically leave few points left for access to and mastery of powerful tools.

Pity the poor Ubermensch who must compete in a world of superpowers and super science.  Ubers can be the most challenging and enjoyable to play.  They can be made more competitive through the lavish award of “Exploit Points” which will be described soon.
Superb Combat Skills – 30 points to stamina, plus 20 points to be divided between one or more specific unarmed combat skills (for weapon based skills, see "Superb Toolset" below).
Superb Strength and Agility – 25 points to Vigor and 25 points to Dexterity.
Superb Intelligence – This may be a straight 50 point addition to the Mentality score, in which case it represents a general increase in memory, learning, research ability, and learning speed.  It may also be divided between general Mentality increase and excellence in up to five different skillsets.  In this case, the knowledge in these areas is exceptional, but not superhuman.
Superb Skillset – This represents a 50 point award to one or – at most – two particular knowledge or training-based skills or abilities, with the result being an individual who is exceptional, better than world class, but not “Uniquely powered.”   Examples of skillsets might be detective, or archeologist, or psychologist, or forensic investigator.
Superb Toolset – This represents a 50 point award to one or – at most – two particular weapon or device skills or abilities, with the result being an individual who is exceptional, better than world class, but not “Uniquely powered.”  Examples include superb archer, superb pistol marksman, superb jet belt pilot, etc.
Superb Charisma – This could be a 50 point award to the ability to get people to do what the Superhero wants, or it could define Charisma in a particular situation such as “small unit command” or “criminal negotiations” or even “appeal to the opposite sex.”
Superb Animal Companion – Conceptually, this would be a 50 point award to Charisma that was applicable only to animals in general, a particular type of animal, or a particular species.  While not a Unique ability, a very close bond and the ability to communicate commands, requests, or emotions is possible.  The more specific to a particular specifies, the more powerful the 50 points of Charisma should be.  Note that although this sub-class does not directly affect humans, there can be an indirect effect.  (“That hero’s horse really seems to love him.  He must be a good guy.” or alternatively, “It’s so kewl she has a dire wolf with her.  I wonder if she’s hiring henchmen?”)
Mixing Uber sub-classes is encouraged and suffers no penalty.

During playtesting, one of the “problems” was the potentially tremendous difference in overall capabilities between Ubers and Uniques.  A good Toolmaster might approach the sheer effectiveness of a Unique, but it would take an especially weak or poorly played Unique to lose to an Uber in a fair contest.  At the time, I made a judgment call to maintain this inequity.  Note that for decades, Batman has held his own alongside Superman – the same for Green Lantern and Green Arrow.  Thirty years of reflection has changed my mind.  We had considered – and rejected – the idea of an “Exploit Bonus” and I’m presenting the concept here as an optional rule.  An “exploit” is a signature action or short sequence of actions that is memorable, reproducible, and comes to be associated with the hero or villain.  Shooting the gun out of your opponent’s hand without injuring them is an exploit.  Using your super breath to suck in oxygen, compress it into your lungs, and exhale a cloud of icy cold breath that freezes the pavement is an exploit.  Jumping your motorcycle into a second floor window is an exploit.  You see exploits in comic books all the time and most heroes and villains come to be associated with several.  An exploit is not the routine use of powers, equipment, skills, or prime attributes.  Driving a motorcycle isn’t.  Bursting through a brick wall isn’t.  Being generally accurate with a gun isn’t.  An exploit is something that has been practiced so often that it nearly always succeeds.  Batman never misses that ledge with his Batarang.  Lex Luthor never slips when he dives for his hidden escape hatch.  In game terms, an exploit hardly ever fails.  When a player announces that they are going to perform an exploit, they should succeed.  Of course, the referee must agree to the specifics of each exploit and must decide if they are being used appropriately.  For instance, a simple exploit could be “any shot within close range will automatically shoot the gun out of an opponent’s hand without injuring them.”  Therefore, if this exploit is used at extreme range, it will probably fail.  If the opponent has a gun built into a power gauntlet, the exploit will definitely fail.  Exploits are tracked two ways.  Each hero or villain has a pool of exploits, and each exploit in this pool can be used one per battle or similar event.  For instance, each exploit can only be used once per handicapping scenario.  During role playing, exploits can usually be used once per 24 hour period.  Exploits can’t be saved or stockpiled to increase the size of the hero or villain’s pool.  They can’t be loaned or traded (although a unique villain might have the power to duplicate an ally or opponent’s exploit.  If the hero or villain’s pool has several exploits, a particular exploit can be repeated until the pool is deleted.  The size of each individual’s exploit pool is established during initial character creation and is only (very) rarely increased or decreased.  Each type of hero or villain starts with a different number of exploits (and this is where the balance between Ubers and Uniques comes in).  Each Uber starts with four exploits.  Each Toolmaster starts with one exploit that involves an individual action or ability and one exploit for one of their machines or tools.  Each Unique starts with a single exploit.  Additional exploits can be purchased using the initial 50 points, but they are expensive:  20 points per exploit.  One new exploit can be awarded by the referee at the end of an exceptionally successful battle or campaign.  This should be a reward and not an entitlement.   An exploit shouldn’t normally be lost unless the hero or villain is severely injured or irreplaceable equipment or powers are lost.  For instance, if the hero’s hand is severed, the “shoot gun out of opponent’s hands” exploit is lost until the hero’s hand is re-grown.

Unique Creation Example – Rex the intelligent tyrannosaurus is a unique with 40 of his 50 points devoted to Durability and Strength.  The remaining 10 gives him the power to speak.  In general, he looks like a scary but miniature rapacious predator.  He can select an exploit and he picks the ability to fluff out the vestigial feathers on his neck.  This creates a shocking contrast to his normal appearance and (dare we say it) he actually looks cute.  This exploit increases his Charisma prime requisite to 18 for several minutes and the effect lingers based on the target’s Ego.  Rex has a pool of one exploit and this exploit can be used once per battle or day.
Toolmaster Creation Example – Heartwood is a Toolmaster.  He’s a passable archer but possesses a magical hunting bow (‘Mastery of Magic Tools’)  The highly enchanted bow is considered Generation 2 (20 points) and has a moderate amount of power (20 more points) and he is competent with the bow (10 points).  The bow’s powers are typical for a medium-powered Gen-2 device.  It has unlimited ammo and can shoot three kinds of arrows:  steel-tipped, flaming, and mercy.  It does not have exceptional rate of fire or range and Heartwood’s accuracy is just so-so.  He picks his exploits with this in mind.  His “personal” exploit is to fire a steel tipped arrow directly down the barrel (or reticule or launch tube or equivalent) of anyone aiming the weapon at him.  This will disable most single barreled weapons (but not, for instance, an archaic double barreled shotgun) until the arrow is cleared and any damage repaired.  His remaining “equipment” exploit is to make the flaming arrow a magical armor piercing arrow that will drill through walls, vehicles, armor, etc.  Heartwood has a pool of two exploits and can use either one once per battle or day or use the same exploit twice per battle or day.
Uber Creation Example – Vic Wilson is a human Uber who is fighting crime to establish street cred and generate income while she searches for her kidnapped daughter.  Since she can mix sub-classes freely, she splits her 50 points with 25 for detective skills (‘Superb Skillset’), 15 points for Dexterity (‘Superb Agility’), and 10 points for exceptional intelligence with a specialty in computer security (‘Superb Intelligence’ with a 20 Mentality in this specific area).  She will have a pool of four exploits and picks:  (1) the ability to bug and/or hack into a portable communication device using her personal computer; (2) the ability to tell her story to a mother or father and get an immediate and permanent 5 point Charisma increase for that individual); (3) the ability to tell if an English-speaking person is telling her a lie; and (4) the ability to use acrobatic skills to withdraw from any hand to hand combat without penalty and move away from her opponent for one round before they can react.  Vic has a pool of four exploits.

Although not explicitly described, all equipment, tools, and portions of the environment all can have prime requisites.  These attributes define how heroes and villains interact with their environment.  In addition to the seven prime requisites used for creating heroes and villains, there are two additional attributes:  “Generation” and “Price.”  Here’s a short description of how these prime requisites could apply.  Keep in mind that in this context, an “object” could be a wall, or a vehicle, or a firearm, or a tree.
Object Vigor – Whether the object is in good repair, decayed, diseased, depleted, etc.
Object Stamina – Generally not relevant but could potentially be applied to how dangerous traps are, how fast an object moved, or to what extent an object can be used as an emergency or “found” weapon.
Object Endurance – Ability to withstand physical attack, degradation, fire, acid, etc.
Object Mentality – This is reserved mainly for computers or objects with artificial intelligence.
Object Charisma – How attractive or valuable the object appears to be.
Object Ego – Like Mentality, this attribute is reserved mainly for computers or objects with artificial intelligence and refers to their ability to resist hacking or security workarounds.
Object Dexterity – This attribute mainly applies to vehicles or moving machinery.
Object Generation – Machinery is classified as Generation 1 (generally late 20th century), Generation 2 (contemporaneous, or as described in Superhero 2044 rules), and Generation 3 (at least twenty years more advanced from state of the art).
Object Price – Price lists for basic equipment are already provided in the rules and these prices are for Gen-2 versions.  As a general rule of thumb, Gen-1 costs half as much as Gen-2 and Gen-3 costs ten times as much as Gen-2.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Interview with Donald Saxman

Recently, I have been in correspondence with Don Saxman, whose claim to fame – at least for purposes of this blog – is the creation of Superhero 2044, the first commercially available superhero role-playing game.  Given the 1977 copyright date, it is undeniably old school.  For anyone claiming enthusiasm for “old school” RPGs, Saxman's experiences should prove insightful.  As such, I asked Saxman for an interview and he kindly consented.

If you have your own questions for Mr. Saxman, please ask them in the comments section and he may reply.

Thoul's Paradise:  Not only was Superhero 2044 an early role-playing game, it was – as you say on – “the very first comic book superhero RPG.”  In the 21st century, we have certain concepts as to what a “tabletop” RPG should entail; in the mid-70s, when you created Superhero 2044, those concepts had not yet crystallized.  At the time, RPGs were very much associated with wargames.  In fact, I don't think you use the phrase “role-playing” anywhere in Superhero 2044, instead you reference “wargames” (as well as “improvisational theater”) in the introduction.  When you wrote Superhero 2044, did you make a distinction between RPGs and wargames?  In your opinion, were RPGs merely a 'special case' of wargames?  What were your perceptions and what were the differences?

Donald Saxman:  I wrote and playtested Superhero 2044 between early 1975 and 1977.  Actually, there were two editions with significant differences.  The first (Superhero 44) was printed by myself at the Indiana University media center in early 1977 and the more common color edition (Superhero 2044) was printed by Lou Zocchi's Gamescience about a year later.
       At the time, I don't think the term “role playing game” was in common usage, especially in the context of a table top game.  Those were “touchy feely” days and “role playing” was typically used more in the context of psychology and interpersonal dispute resolution.
       I think the first time I heard the term “role playing game” was in high school, maybe 1970 to describe the Model Congress and Model UN (collectively known as the “World Freedom Club.”)  These were live action, I guess, so they would qualify as LARPS now, but the goal was political awareness and not competition. I tended to “play” them to win, much to the chagrin of peace and consensus-loving fellow students and faculty advisors.  In one scenario I was the UN ambassador of the Malagasy Republic (Madagascar) during an attempt to wind down a growing war in the Middle East.  I looked at the scenario, my country's “goals” and my “assets” and quickly came to the conclusion that the best thing for Madagascar would be prolonged war and the interdiction (or ideally destruction) of the Suez Canal.  The result wasn't pretty, especially to anyone downwind of the eventual fallout, but I “won” and thereafter ships moving between the Atlantic and Pacific often stopped at the new Madagascar Free Trade Terminal.  Great role playing there.
       In 1972 when I went to Indiana University, I quickly joined the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Science Fiction Club.  In both cases, I was soon immersed in live action role playing. So by the time I joined the “Conflict Simulation Club” my idea of a role playing game was very different from todays.
       Basically when we played miniatures, or cardboard and map board games, and then eventually Chainmail and then D&D, we weren't thinking “RPGs.”  We were thinking “campaigns,” i.e. something that lasted more than just one session and we were thinking “fantasy wargame” i.e. something with explicit combat and something not rooted in reality.  So we made a distinction between D&D and, say, Tractics and Boot Hill and En Garde:  Those were all wargame campaigns but not “fantasy wargame campaigns.”  And we made the distinction between one day miniatures reenactments or Avalon Hill's Gettysburg:   Those weren't campaigns and arguably they weren't very realistic role playing either.
       To (finally) answer your first question, when I wrote Superhero 2044 I thought I was writing a “campaign” and I thought I was writing a “fantasy wargame.”  That was even my tagline:  “The Campaign of Superpowered Crimefighters in the Year 2044.”
       At the time, the term we used was “persona.”  You would adopt the persona of a wizard or Klingon or even a Malagasy ambassador.  Your persona would have different powers and abilities and equipment.  But they would also have different motivation and goals or victory conditions.  This is how a bunch of spindly college students could spend the evening pretending they were “breaking into a monster's home, killing them, and looting their bodies.”  Not a motivation or goal any of us had in “real life” but an easily enough achieved persona.
       This idea of “persona” loomed large when I was designing Superhero 2044.  One of the main motivations for my doing the game was the release of Tactical Studies Rules' Warriors of Mars game book.  I thought they had messed it up big time and that I could do better.  I wasn't just upset that they consistently misspelled “Martian” or that they had failed to get permission from the Burroughs estate (some of whom I knew).  It was that John Carter and other Barsoomians just were not heroic enough.
       So I set out to make a platform for the heroic persona.  There would still be combat – lots of it – so it would be a wargame, but the role playing would emphasize fighting evil.  And it would be science fiction-type fantasy.  And it would be a campaign. (BTW, the second edition rules for playing villains were written by one of Mr. Zocchi's staff writers, not by me.)

TP:  If Warriors of Mars was one of your “main motivations” for Superhero 2044, what were your other motivations?

DS:   A big part of it was the desire to create.  One of my best friends was Mike Ford, an increasingly popular science fiction writer who published as John M. Ford.  During playtesting he decided to begin wiring full time and he was a tremendous inspiration. In the mean time, he was a great D&D Dungeon Master who would occasionally toss in the stray displaced superhero into his fantasy campaigns.
       Although Mike's growing creative successes were a motivation, it wasn't D&D, or even Mike's superhero/D&D house rules that greatly influenced Superhero 2044.  Rather it was an entirely different RPG:  En Garde by Game Designers' Workshop.  En Garde was one of the first true role playing games that didn't rely heavily on miniatures combat.  En Garde was a simulation of 17th Century nobles, gentleman, and soldiers.  Amazingly, the game remains popular with very few changes to the core rules.
       Of course, another inspiration and motivation was the comic book.  For the record, I was (and still am) an avid comic book reader – specifically DC (or National back then).  The comic book series that most influenced Superhero 2044 was Legion of Superheroes.  The idea of a team of variously powered heroes working together in a future setting was especially appealing.   I went so far as to incorporate LSH staple “the Science Police” in the rules (I even won a science fiction convention costume party in a Science Police costume).  So the whole concept of the “unique” super-powered superhero was based on the Legion of Superheroes (especially the Jim Shooter and Win Mortimer and then Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum eras).
       BTW, in subsequent treatments of 2044 I replaced the Science Police with a (not owned by DC) organization called CURBIT (Confederacy of Urban Regions, Bureau of Illegal Technology) or “Tech Cops.”

TP:  With regard to the three character types:  Ubermensch have a net Prime Requisite modifier of +60, Uniques have a net modifier of +20, and Toolmasters have a net modifier of -10.  Other than modification of Prime Requisites, what are the differences among the character types in terms of game mechanics?  Why would I want to play anything other than an Ubermensch?

DS:  One of the weakest parts of Superhero 2044 is the character creation system. My original plan was to do three more or less equally sized game books:  the existing one, one entirely devoted to character creation (including a couple dozen pre-gen characters), and one with more background and some sample scenarios.  When I sold the right to Gamescience, I also pitched this and included some material that would have gone in the second and third book.  Lou Zocchi went ahead and added some of the pregens in the first (and ultimately only) book and the other ones never got completed.  However, a couple years ago I resurrected and expanded on some additional character generation material and it went into the “halfway to 2044” edition that Mr. Zocchi sold at game conventions.   I have been in the process of expanding even more for a new game, Strange World.
       As for your question, the basic prime requisites describe the physical and mental situation for each player, but are largely silent on their “powers and abilities” and “extraordinary tools.”  So you're right, an Uber looks powerful compared to an Unique or Toolmaster if you just go by prime reqs.  This is sort of like saying “Hawkeye or Black Widow could easily take out Tony Stark or Bruce Banner... But they would have a much harder time against Iron Man or Hulk (let's face it... they wouldn't last a minute).”
       Personally, I always liked playing Ubers, with a few relatively weak Uniques and Toolmasters and a lot of powerful NPC Uniques as background.  Conceptually this is a lot like playing a “fighter class” in a world of magical “wizards” and “clerics.”
       Of course, the whole division into three classes is pretty unrealistic, even in a world of superpowers. In comics, Batman (an Uber?) has access to very powerful cars, a utility belt, and the whole should he really be a Toolmaster? And how to handle heroes like Green Lantern?  Unique or Toolmaster?  There are lots of hybrid superheroes in the comics...Spider-Man, Thor, etc.  At the time, I was certainly influenced by the three character classes in D&D.

TP: Perhaps the most interesting thing about Superhero 2044 is the setting. You carefully designed circumstances which made the existence of super-powered crime-fighters plausible (or at least more plausible than otherwise).  Is there any fiction based on this setting?  Do you maintain rights to the setting?  For that matter, do you maintain rights to the game itself?

DS:  When I first wrote Superhero 2044 the setting was original and as unique as I could make it.  I wanted a situation where there was very advanced technology, so I picked a setting in the future.  I wanted a setting where there human mutations had resulted in super powers.  Unlike many comic book writers, I understood how mutation worked...exposure to radiation might result in profound changes...but not to the individual exposed.  Rather it would be the offspring of the irradiated.   This narrowed down the specific date.  It had to be about two or three generations after a nuclear war that took place in 1990.  Why 1990?  I was also writing a post-nuclear war RPG called “Ruinwar 90.”  So if we'd have adult super-powered humans I figured it would be about 50 years after the end of the 1990 war, i.e. 1994 plus 50 years.
       Next I picked some key technologies that would allow advanced weapons, vehicles, and other gear.   I assumed the key invention would be a “super battery.”
       Finally I wanted a self-contained environment so I created an isolated island where civilization had largely survived the war.   I wanted the environment to be in transition so I created the Freedom League...and then destroyed them so that there was an immediate and pressing need for brand new heroes. This is where the players come in.
       Then I began to populate the environment with non player characters, organizations, and supervillains.  As I previously discussed my plan (never realized) was to provide a lot more background in a follow-up game supplement.
       The main reason this never happened was that after a relatively small run of “Superhero 44” I sold the rights to the franchise to Lou Zocchi and Gamescience.  This was the right decision for me at the time, and the right thing for the game, which got much, much more exposure than it would have if I'd continued to self publish.  But for better or worse the game turned out to be a one shot.
       A lot of this background sat around twenty years.  It then got recycled into my “Strange World” online game and ultimately into the five-part “Strange World” series of short novels.  These are currently available for the Amazon Kindle (just search for Donald Saxman on Amazon and ignore all the boring-looking non-fiction).  You can also get them from my website
       The scope and setting of the online game and the novels is not the same as Superhero 2044.  Like I said, I sold the franchise.  But much of the flavor and a few of the characters remain.  For instance, the year 2044 remains, the post-war superhero setting remains and even a version of the “Inguria” setting remains in the form of New Miami.
       On the other hand, the superhero portion of the setting is just a small part of the overall environment. Anyway, feel free to decide for yourself.  Pay particular attention to the super-powered teenager “Cobra.”
       So my future plans?  I'm about a third of the way through a massive 400 page RPG based on the Strange World multi-dimensional setting.  I tried the Kickstarter route and failed miserably to create the necessary buzz, but the game will eventually be completed.
       Or will it?  It's been suggested I should refocus the Strange World RPG and turn it into a new version of Superhero 2044.   That's a possibility.  I'd have to reacquire the right to the franchise from Mr. Zocchi.  He's never particularly been enthusiastic about this but who knows?

TP:  The aliens from Formalhaut (which I assumed to be Fomalhaut) are an important part of the background and (in my opinion) deserve more detail.  How did you 'design' this species and has anyone made a depiction of one?

DS:  There's actually a story behind that.  When I arrived at Indiana University in 1972, I went to the student union for “orientation” and met a couple of upper classmen who were starting a science fiction club.  One was Leif Andersen, and he was a graduate student in planetary geology.   Mind you, humankind knew very little about this science at the time.   We'd landed on the moon, and had what we thought was a reasonable understanding of what was happening on Mars and Venus.  The Jupiter and Saturn moons were still a mystery.  The whole idea of extra-solar planets was, well, science fiction.  Leif knew if it became known he was a big SF fan it would impact his career, so I think he wanted to found the club so he could benefit from it while keeping a low profile.  Alas, he passed away before the Saturn and Jupiter flybys, which was a tragedy on so many levels.
       Anyway, I wanted an alien race for Superhero 2044 and I wanted it to be someplace new, and I initially picked Fomalhaut.  I had a pretty complex back story for them.  Back then, there was no Wikipedia and no easy way to research this kind of thing.   Anyway, well into playtesting Leif noticed what I was doing and let me know that Fomalhaut was a singularly unlikely place for life of any kind to inhabit.  For one thing, it was a triple star.  Who knew?  So the Triple star system of Fomalhaut became the imaginary Formalhaut.  The Fomals became the Formians.   Funny thing though.  The Hubble telescope found one of the first extra-solar planets orbiting one of the Fomalhaut suns.  And there are now planetary evolution models that allow for a life zone in such a system.  It's still a singularly unlikely place for intelligent life to evolve, but not an impossible place.   I wish Leif was around to discuss.  I spent a lot more time designing the culture than I did the Formians themselves.  Most of this didn't end up in the game.  I did provide more detail in the previously-discussed Strange World novels and they will be featured prominently in the eventual Strange World game.
      Here's a backgrounder from the novels:  The Formians are a relatively low tech level race native to Formalhaut 2.  In 2032, human radio astronomers detected a plea for help from this dying race.  Formia was a heavy (1.4 Earth normal gravity), hot world with a high oxygen content.  Industrialization increased global particulate levels and resulted in a planetary ice age (ironically designated “global cooling” by humans).  Worse than the cold, climate change turned much of the planet's free water to ice.  As population increased, and farmland decreased, more and more coal was burned to produce fertilizer and operate greenhouses.  Planetary ecology was on the brink of collapse.  The most advanced Formian technology was approximately that of AD 1900 Earth.   The age of steel was well established and electrification was beginning.  Nuclear power (and weapons) were being conceptualized.  Formians dreamed of space travel, but the best they could do was helium-powered blimps.
       Formians are quadrapods with two legs and two arms, each with five prehensile fingers.  They are about the same size as humans, with shorter legs and longer backs and arms.  Formians are mammals but lay eggs and are completely covered by grey hair that closely resembles penguin feathers.  Male Formians each resemble one another.  Female Formians are somewhat smaller and with somewhat more variation in body shape.  Formians live several hundred years.  They are approximately as strong and fast as humans and are very durable and difficult to injure.  They are very heat tolerant and not very cold tolerant.  Formians must use oxygen masks if they venture above about a mile over sea level.  Formian intelligence is variable.  Formians have photographic memory so “intelligence” often equates to experience and access to education.  Formians have the ability to mimic most sounds they hear, including human speech.  Formians are carnivorous but can't eat Terran food and generally rely on “artificial” food grown in tissue vats.  Formians must take allergy pills while on Earth.  These expensive allergy pills are illegal for humans to possess because they are addictive and hallucinogenic.
       The evacuated Formians prospered on Earth, either forming enclaves or integrating with human culture.  I have some sketches of Formians but hope to eventually have a professional tweak them into something more attractive.  In a case of independent evolution, the closest I've ever seen them come to realization in mainstream art is the intelligent platypus in much lamented My Cage comic.

TP:  Although you did not publish a supplement, Judges Guild published Hazard, an “official game aid approved for use with Superhero 2044.”  I assume it was “approved” by Gamescience.   Did you have any contact with the author, Robert Bingham? What are your thoughts about that supplement?

DS:  As you say, Judges Guild did Hazard and this was approved by Gamescience, but I was not involved.  Their depiction of the world outside of Inguria was fine, but not at all what I had envisioned.  It was very popular and no doubt served to make the game popular too, so who can complain?  I understand a lot of people used it in non-superhero role playing.  As an example of an interesting “parallel universe,” my version of “the world outside of Inguria” was actually the subject of an entire game.  I wrote it as “Ruin War 90” and sold it to Gamescience, and it was published in a very short run as “Nuclear Survivors.”  It was to be a prequel to SH 2044 set in 1990.  There was even a sequel game planned...a space opera set in the 2100s called “Hundred Suns.”  By the time Nuclear Survivors was published Gamma World was popular (as it is to this day) and I think that many would-be buyers thought NS was a rip-off of that game.  Actually, it was written before Gamma World, but even I admit GW was better.  It did however center on the 1990 nuclear war that sparked (literally) the mutations that eventually resulted in Uniques.  As you might imagine, I've recycled many of the concepts from this post-apocalypse game into the Strange World novels too.
       Hazard wasn't alone.  There were other supplements, including one in Different Worlds by Brian Wagner (Issue 5, Dec/Jan 1980, “Super Rules for Superhero 2044”).  Then the 1982 (issue 23) of Different Worlds has a supplement by me called “Part Time Superhero.”  I was planning on doing additional articles for Different Worlds but for one reason or another they never happened.  I also did a tabletop encounter that was demoed and sold out (all 50 copies) at the DeepSouth Con/River Con science fiction convention in the early 1980s.  It had rules for a group of five superheroes fighting five supervillains.  It's so rare even I don't have a copy anymore!  Lots of good stuff in all these if you can find them on eBay.

TP:  What really happened to Dr. Ruby?  Dr. Ruby is a geologist; your educational background includes geology.  How much character identification is going on?

DS:  Dr. Ruby was named after and somewhat based on Indiana University professor of Geomorphology Dr. Robert Ruhe (he passed away in 1993).  He was a real character and a pleasure to learn from and joke with.  At the time the Geology department offered a “Screwball Award” to a professor each Christmas.  This award was based on student voting and the main criteria was overall zany behavior.  Campaigning was always fierce.  I think he won it the year I was writing SH2044 largely because of his threat to flunk anyone who used the word “dirt” in his soils chemistry class.  “In this class, we don't use 'dirt.'  We don't even use 'dirty.'”  He continued, “We say soiled.”  This got into the school paper and even in the Indianapolis mainstream paper.
       Anyway, Mike Ford (who did the part for the “what really happened to Dr. Ruby” series based his drawings on life and pretty well nailed him I think.
       What happened to him?  I have two versions.  During the 1990s when I was running the first Strange World online game, Ruby managed to get into the tunnels that led to different parallel universes and found there was a universe where each of the illustrated outcomes had occurred – except the “really dead” option.  He learned that if he ever returned to his home universe he probably wouldn't survive.  He ended up a kind of traveling supervillain.
       However, that outcome came later.
       It was my original intent that the “lava suit” outcome was the real one.  In fact, I started a “choose your own adventure” type game that explored this.  I never finished it and the original (handwritten) manuscript is either lost or at the bottom of some 40 year old box in Public Storage.
       It's doubtful it will ever be revived but just in case I should put the obligatory spoiler warning about now.
       The adventure starts when a hideously burned man in a space suit is discovered dead in Battery Park.  The authorities decide it was one of the asteroid miners testing out an experimental spacesuit designed to survive re-entry.  (This is somewhat based on an old “Superman” TV show where a drowned man in a deep sea diver suit is discovered in an alley in Metropolis.)  The player/superhero thinks otherwise and eventually tracks down Ruby to his subterranean lair (protected by lava moats).  If they survive they just might manage to prevent Ruby from destroying the island's geothermal power station.
       The adventure also reveals a good deal of background about Dr. Ruby.  In his younger says he had experimented with protection against lava but his partner died in an accident.  Ruby blamed the Science Police for the accident (with a certain degree of justification as it turns out).  He went on to perfect the lava suits and realized that they would also protect against high intensity radiation.  He eventually ended up in London, where he hoped to loot the radioactive, half melted remains of the British Museum.  While doing this, he discovered the notes and journals of Professor Moriarty including “Dynamics of an Asteroid.”  This started him on his path of revenge.
       Using instructions from “Dynamics” he deflected the orbit of a large asteroid to impact on earth.  The Science Police formed a rare and tenuous alliance with the asteroid miners to place a nuclear device on the asteroid and break it apart and deflect its path.  Recall that one of the reasons the Science Police was created was to keep all forms of nuclear power and nuclear weapons off Earth.  Ruby then stole the bomb and returned the asteroid to its original orbit.
       He then devised a plan to nuke Science Police headquarters (and a good deal of the surrounding city).  Instead, the superheroic Freedom League attacked and were nearly all killed when the bomb detonated in an uninhabited area.  Ruby was widely thought to have died too, but he had escaped to his lair to sulk and plan.
       And who was the original man in the space suit?  A kidnapped biologist forced to clone a frozen Tyrannosaurus Rex (Ruby had also looted a map for the monster's Arctic resting place from London).  How much identification is going on?  Well, if I was a supervillain, I wouldn't have left the heroes in the dinosaur cage where they might conceivably escape. I'd have just dumped them into the lava moat.

TP:  That doesn't seem very sporting.  Regardless, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Low Magic and Geriatrics

To summon the demons of darkness there is a price
and each time I call upon them, it consumes part of me.
 – Koura, the Black Prince

As a geeky blogger, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the passing last week of Ray Harryhausen, a man who brought fantasy to life.  Recently I watched a selection of his films, including the The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.

In this film, Tom Baker – prior to his stint as Doctor Who – portrays the villainous Koura.  He engages in all sorts of nefarious deeds when he's not uttering Middle-Eastern flavored adages such as “He who searches for pearls should not sleep” and “A thief is a king until he is caught.”  Most of these deeds involve black magic and whenever he 'casts a spell' (like forming a homunculus, causing a portcullis to fall, or animating a statue), the magic takes its toll.  Specifically, Koura is afflicted with unnatural aging.


...and After

So I thought about how this effect could be represented in a role-playing game.  The effect cannot merely be cosmetic.  The price must have some teeth for it to be meaningful and – like the quote above says – the price must be paid “each time.”  Each spell consumes a fixed or random number of years?  Maybe, but what game mechanic would apply?  The aging rules from the DMG?  No, there are no effects unless and until a character moves from one age “bracket” to the next.  Still, a reduction of primary characteristics seems appropriate.

Dungeon Crawl Classics uses the concept of “spellburn” wherein a character can 'sacrifice' ability points to aid in spellcasting.  In the rules as written, spellburn is not required for 'normal' casting, the player chooses which abilities are reduced (as well as the amount of reduction), and the reduction is temporary.  I envision a riskier price – a price that is (1) not controlled by the player and (2) permanent.  (Of course, Khoura eventually finds the Fountain of Destiny and regains his youth.)

In Greg Stafford's Pendragon, characters 35 years in age and older must check for aging effects.  Each year, up to four rolls must be made on the 'Statistics Lost Table.'  There's a 44% chance that no rolls on the table are required and only a 5% probability that four rolls are necessary.  The 'Statistics Lost Table' indicates which statistic is reduced by one.  (When any statistic is reduced to zero, the character dies.)  In a given year, it's possible for the same statistic to be affected more than once.  For instance, if a player must roll twice on the table, both rolls might indicate the same statistic.  In Pendragon, there are only five 'prime' statistics:  Size, Dexterity, Strength, Constitution, and Appearance.  However, a d6 is used for the table; a result of six indicating that no statistic is affected after all.

In the film, the effects on Khoura are rather severe, but we can chalk this up to dramatic license.  If I wanted to closely model the effects shown in the film, for each 'spell', I would randomly determine a (D&D) characteristic and it would be reduced by a number of points equal to the lower result of 2d6.

In a less stringent setting (especially one with player character spellcasters), I would be more inclined to use something very much like the Pendragon aging rules.  Each call upon the “demons of darkness” might be handled as if aging a year in Pendragon.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Some Final Notes on Daredevils

In many games, at the beginning of a combat round, players are required to declare what their characters will do during that round – a “statement of intent.”  Such is the case with Daredevils; however, it's called “selecting an Option.”  Daredevils handles this process in an interesting way.

In Daredevils, combat occurs in a “scale of play known as Detailed Action Time.”  Turns (actually, “Detailed Turns”) represent periods of time that are six seconds long.  Each “turn is broken down into four Phases:  Declaration Phase, two Action Phases, and Bookkeeping Phase.”  During the 'Declaration Phase,' each player selects an Option for his or her character that indicates the character's scope of activity for the two Action Phases of the turn.

There are only six Options; however, each Option is associated with four to eight “types” of Action.  Some Actions are associated with more than one Option.  A character can perform the same Action on both Action Phases of a turn or can perform different Actions, as long as those Actions are associated with the chosen Option.  For instance, the “Fire Weapon” Option allows the following Actions:  Shoot, Ready Weapon, Adopt Stance, Alter Position, and Short Move.

During the Declaration Phase, players indicate their choice of Option simultaneously.  This is done by “writing it down” or – here is what I think is the interesting part – “placing a six-sided die with the number of the Option on the top face.”  All Actions are assumed to be executed simultaneously.  However, “To lessen confusion, the Gamemaster may wish to have the character's [sic] Actions resolved in order of highest Deftness.”

The six Daredevils 'Options' are:  Movement, Observe/Command, Engage in Combat, Fire Weapon, Perform Function, and Operate Vehicle.  Specific 'Actions' don't need to be declared, but players are committing characters to general courses of action.  A character can attack, but the target need not be declared until it's time to resolve actions.  All Options have Actions that allow characters to move (other than Operate Vehicle – which implies movement anyway).  So, in case of emergencies, there's always the option to bail.

I think this method offers a nice middle-ground between rigid and detailed statements of intent (which can be difficult to record and keep track of) and free-wheeling action (which can provide undue advantage by allowing players to 'react' to circumstances that should not yet be known to characters).  Speaking of undue advantage, the Declaration Phase seems to apply only to the players; the Gamemaster does not reveal 'Options' upon which non-player characters will engage.  To be 'fair,' a Gamemaster can arrange dice for NPCs to be revealed when the players reveal their Options.  This might be bothersome with multiple NPCs adopting different Options, but a GM could identify NPCs on a piece of paper and assign dice behind a screen.

If I were to adapt this system to a fantasy-genre game, I would have as Options:  (1) Cast Spell, (2) Movement, (3) Engage in Combat, (4) Fire Weapon, (5) Handle Mount/Operate Vehicle, and (6) Anything Else.  Of course, one could accommodate more 'Options' – or define specific actions instead – by employing a d8 or a d10.  (I think that more than ten choices would tend to be unwieldy.)

Anyway, before we bid adieu to Daredevils, I provide below the table of “Random Locations For Action” as presented on page 56 of the rulebook.  It's obviously geared toward a pulp-era urban environment, but what more could you ask for?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Creating a Daredevils Character (part II)

Last week, we left Danny Sweet when he was considering a new career in 1925.  However, before proceeding, I should calculate Danny's Cash, Income and Material Benefits from prior careers.

He was an 'Athlete/Sportsman' for eight years.  So, for Cash, I roll 1d100 and add 8.  On the 'Reaction Table,' I obtain a value of -2.  This means Danny is in debt for $20.  For Income, the same process is applied (1d100 + years; check Reaction Table).  Again, I obtain a negative value; Danny does not receive a continuing Income from his years as a boxer and barnstormer.  As for 'Material Benefits,' there is a fixed 18% chance than Danny will receive 2d3 Attribute points.  This does not come to pass.  The military offers no continuing Income or Material Benefits, but Danny gets $60.

What to do now?  Well, I'm getting a Tales of the Gold Monkey vibe (I mean more so than usual).  Whether due to mounting debts, a failed romance, or simple wanderlust, I have Danny set out for the South Pacific.  The 'Explorer' career seems to be the best fit for what I have in mind.  There are no Requirements.  I roll an 8 in determining the length of this career term, so Danny is an Explorer for the rest of his pre-adventure career.  For Automatic Skills, Danny gets one Foreign Language and one Culture Skill.  So, Danny learns French after all.  As for Culture, I choose Polynesian.  For the seven remaining years of the career, I select from the Available Skills:  Navigation (this is Danny's second Navigation), Survival (twice), Rifle, and a score in Foreign Language – Tahitian.  Lastly, I choose 2d3 more points for Attributes.  For Cash, I roll 1d100 and consult the Reaction Table.  With a -4 result, Danny is $1,000 in debt (really only $960 considering the Cash from his other careers.  For Income, however, the rules states to roll 1d6, add the number of years, and multiply by $50.  With a roll of two, that's an Income of $500.  This is supposed to “represent dividends, royalties, business profits or whatever the player and Gamemaster agree on.”  With regard to Material Benefits, Danny has a 10% chance of obtaining a pistol; he doesn't get it.

Danny has accumulated 5d3 additional points to allocate among his Attributes.  Unfortunately, the scores for his Skills are calculated before his Attributes are improved.  (This is bogus, but the rules are clear on this point.)  The score for a Skill is determined by adding together a specific combination of Attributes and Talents.  In the Advanced Character Set-Up rules, whenever a Skill is 'taken' more than once, the “Governing Attribute” is added to the score.  (The “Governing Attribute” is the first Attribute listed in the Skill's calculation formula.)

Danny's Skills are as follows:
American Culture – an automatic Skill (Wit + Esthetic + Communicative) = 15
American History (Wit + Natural + Scientific) (×2 due to background) = 30
English (Wit + Communicative + Esthetic) (×2 due to background) = 30
Brawling (Strength + Deftness + Combative) (+ Strength) = 55
Pilot (Deftness + Wit + Mechanical) (+ Deftness ×3) = 71
Navigation (Wit + Natural + Scientific) (+ Wit) = 25
Pistol (Deftness + Wit + Combative) = 35
Mechanic (Deftness + Wit + Mechanical) = 26
Foreign Language – French (Wit + Communicative + Esthetic) = 15
Polynesian Culture (Wit + Esthetic + Communicative) = 15
Survival (Health + Wit + Natural) (+ Health) = 44
Rifle (Deftness + Wit + Combative) = 35
Foreign Language – Tahitian (Wit + Communicative + Esthetic) = 15
I roll 5d3 for Danny's additional Attribute points and obtain 10 points.  I put five into Will, three into Wit, and two into Speed. The final ratings are:
Wit = 13 (AST = 6; CST = 4)
Will = 15 (AST = 7; CST = 5)
Strength = 15 (AST = 7; CST = 5)
Deftness = 15 (AST = 7; CST = 5)
Speed = 12 (AST = 6; CST = 4)
Health = 15 (AST = 7; CST = 5)
AST means 'Attribute Saving Throw' and CST means 'Critical Saving Throw.'  For a Saving Throw to be successful, the indicated number or less must be rolled on a d20.

Danny's Combat Dodge Ability (CDA) is 2.5.  CDA equals half of the sum of a character's Deftness Group Number (3) and his Speed Group Number (2).

Danny's Damage Resistance Total (DRT) is 29.  DRT equals a character's Health plus half of Strength and half of Will.

Lastly, Danny's Encumbrance Capacity (ENC CAP) is 12 kg.  ENC CAP equals 7 plus a character's Strength AST.  The rules say that 'Lifting Capacity' is ENC CAP × 4.  This is certainly an error because 'Fully Encumbered' is also ENC CAP × 4, but the penalties are less severe.  My guess is that 'Lifting Capacity' should be ENC CAP × 8.

Other than “Acquire any gear or equipment that is desired and available,” only three steps remain in 'Advanced Character Set-Up.'  First:
Integrate this information into a plausable [sic] extrapolation of the character's current situation, financial status, standing in the community, etc.  Work out his basic personality if you have not already done so.
The last two steps are “Inform the Gamemaster that you are ready to play” and “Role play your character.”  How many games have been delayed or forsaken because the Gamemaster didn't realize a character was ready to play?  Is this really necessary?  On the other hand, the instruction to “Role play your character” would be useful to certain players if only taken to heart.

Curiously, the 'Advanced Character Set-Up' has one less step than regular 'Character Set-Up.'