Sunday, July 26, 2015

Civil Rights in Trollworld

In the recently released Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls, Section 7 (“The Hostile Opposition”) offers the following statement:
          In fantasy role-playing games, as in all storytelling of heroic derring-do, the good guys battle the bad guys. The forces of order verses (sic) the forces of chaos. If you want to invoke the shade of Joseph Campbell, it’s because solar heroes must slay the evils lurking in darkness to restore light to the world. It is the quintessential Us versus Them...
          For better or worse, 21st Century relativism complicates this simple equation. Monster rights have become civil rights in the Empire of Khazan, and Trollworld harbors many sentient beings who don’t consider themselves monsters...They may, in fact, consider the armies of the “good kindred” to be the monstrous ones when they come rampaging through their territory and looting their dungeon homes.
(See Eric Goldberg's essay, “A Hole in the Ground,” for a similarly 'teratocentric' viewpoint.)  The “good kindred” (also known as the humanoid kindred) consist of T&T 's standard array of player character races:  humans, elves, dwarves, fairies, leprechauns, and hobbs.  However, T&T has never been adverse to 'monsters as player characters'; there are even published adventures intended exclusively for 'monster' characters.  For the 'non-good' kindred, T&T uses the term illkin.  (I would have gone with fellkin.)  The entirety of Section 7 is only three pages;  Section 13 (“Other Playable Kindreds”) provides 23 pages of details about the other sentient races of Trollworld.

The “illkin” are divided into three categories:  familiar, less common (or “scarier”), and extraordinary (or “terrifying”).  For familiar illkin, “Charisma ratings emphasize personality first...,” while for extraordinary illkin, “Charisma ratings reflect implied threat of force...”  Regarding the in-between category, 'less common' illkin, “Charisma ratings immediately favor neither personality nor force, but fear or disgust can be triggered very easily.”  Among the ranks of the familiar illkin, there are centaurs, gnomes, selkies, vampires, et al.  The less common illkin include (but are not limited to) harpies, 'flesh' trolls, minotaurs, and policani (like a centaur, but think 'dog' instead of 'horse').  In the extraordinary illkin category, we find gargoyles, demons, ghouls, 'true' trolls, et al.

Section 13 includes at least one paragraph of information on each of the illkin.  Among various interesting tidbits, we learn that gnomes have a “rather bipolar mix of clever wackiness and entrenched bitterness.”  Also, their collaborations with dwarves “inflate gnomish perseptions (sic) of themselves as one of the unsung greats...”  Rapscallions – “disreputable hobbs...notable but for their scraggly hair and squinty dark eyes,” were known in prior editions as “Black Hobbits.”  Kobolds are “natural shapeshifters, but their choice of forms is limited to small animals like cats, dogs, foxes, and small children.”  Also, kobolds “can briefly project their consciousness into small fires...and both speak and listen.”

Finally, in Section 14, we are given a discourse on Trollworld languages.  We are told:
Many character types are mentioned here that do not appear in the playable list of non-human kindreds.  These sections were originally generated at completely different times.  Because both lists are optional elaborations, we did not try to reconcile the two lists for this book.
Well, the authors can't claim they were pressed for time.

Included in this section is a language chart designed for a d100.  Given that one of the game's  design goals was not to require 'non-standard' dice, this represents a complete betrayal of everything Tunnels & Trolls stands for.  In the fifth edition, Ken St. Andre wrote, “I've tried to keep only 6-sided dice in use in T&T, but multi-sided dice are becoming more available, and I feel their use in this table is somewhat justified.”  In the deluxe edition, no 'justification' is offered.  Just how hard would it have been to create an equivalent table for six-siders?  Not hard at all.  In fact, below is a 'd6-ified' version of the dT&T table.

The dT&T language table has some differences from earlier versions.  Instead of “Orcish,” we have the more politically correct “Uurrk” (also called Uurrkish).  Whereas balrogs (now known as “balrukhs”) and dragons once had distinct languages, they now both speak “flame-tongue.”  Similarly, goblins and gremlins had separate languages; now there is merely “Gobble.”  Leprechauns used to speak the same language as gremlins; apparently, they now speak an Elven dialect.

'The Low Tongues' previously had separate listings on the language chart; now they are grouped as 'animal languages'.  Cats and dogs had different languages; now they share “blood speech.”  Once they had separate languages, but now pigs and pachyderms share “herdspeak.”  “These are not really language names,” dT&T assures us, “but simply descriptions covering a wide variety of noises and body movements made by such animals when they are communicating.”

Although it does warrant a paragraph on page 204, “Wizard Speech” is not listed on the dT&T language table.  Fifth edition T&T – where Wizard Speech is listed on the language table – provides the following definition:
Wizard Speech, despite its name, is not known to all wizards.  As a natural linguistic ability it is so rare that less than 1% of the population of the world knows it.  There is a 13th level spell, however, which can unlock the ability to use Wizard Speech in any sentient being.
(In dT&T, the spell is 10th level.)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Ten Schools of Magic in Trollworld

From 1982 through 1997, Flying Buffalo produced a series of 'CityBooks' that detailed a variety of urban establishments – complete with maps, NPCs, and scenario ideas.  The covers displayed the phrase, “a game-master's aid for all role-playing systems.”  Today, we would just use the term 'system neutral'.  Given its generic nature, guidelines were necessary to adapt the CityBook to any given set of rules.  To this end, “a six-level coding system” of quality was implemented; each 'level' corresponding to a percentage range.

Given the diversity of magic systems in fantasy gaming, it is impossible to assign specific spells or powers to any magic-using NPC in CityBook.  However, spells or powers can be broken down into categories of magic, regardless of what game system you use. Mike Stackpole devised the “8C's System” in order to provide GMs with a better understanding of the magical capabilities of NPCs.  In this system, each “C” corresponds to a particular category of magic:  Combat (“used primarily in an offensive/defensive manner in combat”), Curative (“used to heal wounds, cure diseases, stop poison damage, etc.”), Clairvoyant (“used to detect things:  secret doors, magic, hidden or trapped items, etc.”), Conveyance (“Teleportation, levitation, flying, telekinesis spells, etc.”), Communication (“telepathy, translation, hypnosis, magic reading spells, etc.”), Construction (“uses matter or energy to 'build,' e. g. wall spells, protective fields, stone-shaping spells, etc.”), Concealment (“serves to hide or misdirect, e. g. invisibility, illusion, shape-shifting spells, etc.”), and Conjuration (“produces a condition or entity, e. g. light spells, weather control, demon-summoning spells, etc.”).

The recently completed Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls divides magic into ten schools (after the fashion of the Universarium of Learning in Knor).  According to page 100, “The ten schools of magic used in dT&T are directly derived from FBInc's Citybook publications.”  The schools are listed below.  The parenthetical names “are merely examples as are occasionally used in places like the Universarium (some openly, some mockingly behind the backs of the practitioners...).”
  • Clairvoyant (College of the Illuminated Mind)
  • Combat (Academy of Applied Force)
  • Communication (Academy of the Echoing Forum)
  • Concealment (The School You Don't Know About with the Classrooms You Can Never Find)
  • Conformation (School of Bodily Functions)
  • Conjurations (School of Creative Invitations and Reality Realizations)
  • Construction (The Technical College of Fabrincantations)
  • Conveyance (The Exalted Union of Hod and Cask Translocation)
  • Cosmic (Esoteric Lyceum of Splendiferous Wonderment)
  • Curative (The Caring Ones)
Obviously, the two additional schools are Conformation and Cosmic.  The Conformation school includes...
Spells that can alter shape, form, makeup, or attributes of living beings (although some undead magic also falls into this category).  Shapeshifting spells that actually alter the body fit here; illusions of same fall under Concealment.
Cosmic magic regards...
A broad alteration of reality, and (because every scheme of magic needs one) this is also the dump category for things that doesn't fit anywhere else.
In the 8C system, the Conjuration category served as the repository for misfit spells.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Tunnels & Trolls Revisited

Art by Liz Danforth

The most recent iteration of Tunnels & Trolls – the Kickstarter funded “Deluxe” edition (dT&T) – was made available to backers scant days ago.  Evidently, “several folks have pointed out a few corrections that need to be made” and last minute edits are being applied.  Your humble host noticed something that may or may not be addressed.

In T&T – as in several other games – attribute scores are determined by rolling 3d6 and finding the sum.  However, T&T adopts a “TARO” mechanic:  triples add and roll over.  If the 3d6 roll generates triples, the dice are rolled again and added to the triple result.  If the second roll is triples, the process repeats and can do so ad infinitum.  (I guess, technically, it should be “triples roll over and add” because there's nothing to add until the dice are rolled again.)

Anyway, a character with a triple-enhanced attribute is known as a “specialist,” discussed in Section 3.34 (page 18).  A sidebar discusses the probability of triples:
For the curious, there is a 1 in 36 chance of triples happening for any given attribute – less than 3%.  Although you get eight opportunities – once for each attribute – the overall odds remain 1 in 36 because each roll of the dice is independent of the previous rolls.
If the word “overall” is removed, the statement is indisputably true.  For any given attribute, the chance of rolling triples is 1-in-36 (i.e., 2.77% rounded).  Since each attribute roll of 3d6 is an independent event, the odds do not change; the chance remains 1-in-36.  However, the use of “overall” in connection with “eight opportunities,” implies that the chance of a character having a 'triple' result for any of eight attributes is 1-in-36.  This implication is not true.

Welcome to the thrilling world of conditional probability.  The graphic below attempts to show the probabilities associated with obtaining exactly one set of triples when rolling for eight attributes.  Of course, it's possible to roll more than one set of triples when generating a character, but for the sake of demonstration let's look at just one 'branch' of the probability tree.  The roll for the first attribute is either triples or it isn't.  Regardless, the chance of the roll for second attribute being triples is still 1-in-36.  Within the 97.23% probability of the roll for the first attribute not being triples, there is a 2.70% chance (i.e., 0.9723 ÷ 36) of the roll for second attribute being triples.  Thus, there is a 5.47% chance (i.e., 2.77 + 2.70) that exactly one of the first two attributes will have a 'triples' result.  By continuing this process, we discover there is a 79.83% chance that – for a course of eight attribute rolls – none of the rolls will be triples.  Looking at it another way, an average of one-in-five T&T characters will be a specialist.

Of course, just because triples are rolled for a given attribute doesn't mean that the final value will be exceptionally high (or even better than average).  A 'triple' roll could result in a final value as low as 7.

Section 12 of the dT&T rules is titled “Elaborations” and described as “Rule expansions, alternate ideas and additional suggestions...”  We are told that “basic specialists are more about 'flavor' of background and role-playing than about special abilities.”  In Section 12, however, specialists are presented as a distinct character type.  ('Type' is the T&T equivalent of class.)  If a character is to be a specialist type:
The player will...invent the character's special qualities related to the unusual attribute...Ideally this will be done with the cooperation and consent of...[the] Game Master to maintain overall balance with other players in the group.
An example type is presented for each primary attribute.  They typically call for doubling the dice total when making a saving throw with the specialized attribute in certain circumstances; however, players are encouraged to be inventive when establishing specialist abilities.  Although designed for T&T, there's no reason the concept can't be applied to other games with attributes determined by 3d6.  Here are some examples:
  • Strength – The sample strength specialist is called a strong one.  A strong one could be a character “whose spirit is strong in a way that translates into the ability to exert force in times of need.”
  • ConstitutionSensitives have “one or more of their physical senses developed to an unusual degree.”
  • Dexterity – Examples of dexterity specialists include rangers, acrobats, craftsmen, and athletes.  In T&T terms, rangers are characters that have “an uncanny skill with ranged weapons.”
  • Speed – Although a martial artist specialist can be based on other attributes, the rules discuss the possibilities of a speed specialist martial artist.  Some examples of speed-based martial art “styles” include “disabling moves and takedowns,” “Evading or redirecting an opponent's strikes,” or “catch[ing] missile weapons in flight, or bat[ting] them aside.”
  • Intelligence – A mastermind specialist “has a better memory, a nimble wit, a swift insight into the implications of minor details, and a greater ability to solve problems.”
  • Wizardry – “There are many different types of specialist magic-users possible:  healer, combat mage, cosmic controller, and others.”  Although specialist magic-users cannot understand magic beyond their specialty, they need not be taught the spells of their specialty.  “When their abilities reach the point where they can learn a spell..., it unfolds in their mind like a flower.”
  • Luck – The sample luck specialist is called a gambler.  When making a saving throw regarding a calculated risk, a gambler doubles the dice result.
  • CharismaLeaders “take charge of situations and groups...In game terms, charisma saving throws often determine a character's success leading others.”

Sunday, July 5, 2015

People (and Creatures) on EdenAgain

EdenAgain, the setting of DragonRaid, is populated with a variety of sentient beings; among them are celestial guardians (a.k.a. angels).  Discussed in a prior post, celestial guardians have no abilities or powers that are defined in terms of game mechanics; they are effectively plot devices.  (However, the DragonRaid website presents option rules that apply statistics to celestial guardians.)

There are 'normal' animals on EdenAgain and there are also 'talking' animals that “serve the OverLord and bear witness to his truth.”  LightRaiders are prohibited from killing any “known talking animal.”  Some LightRaiders can eventually gain a talking animal companion.  Both types of animals are defined in terms of Attack Ability, Physical Vitality, and Damage inflicted.  Some animals have special abilities; for instance, squirrels have 'climb skillfully' and beavers have 'water movement'.

Also, there are “Other Good Creatures.”  According to page 58 of the LightRaider Handbook :
It is thought that dwarves, elves, hobbits, fairies and brownies, as well as others, all inhabit the Dragon Lands.  While exerting a good influence on those around them, they are very shy and will not be seen unless the OverLord chooses.  This is because they are surrounded by evil powers and must hide to preserve their lives.  These creatures are rarely found in the Liberated Land, since it has been preserved as the dwelling of the TwiceBorn.
No statistics are provided for these beings, which supports the notion that they are to remain in the background.  Do they abide by the will of the OverLord?  Presumably, since they exert “a good influence,” they do so with the tacit approval of the OverLord.  Do they have souls?  Well, optional rules on the DragonRaid website intimate that they do; dwarf, elf, and gnome LightRaiders can be generated using these rules.

EdenAgain also has dark creatures; however, as mentioned previously, they are not native to the planet.  At the invitation of the dragons, other worlds sent “the worst of their kind.”  Upon being exiled to EdenAgain:
The Enemy and his dragons took these planetary bullies and tortured them so that, in their torment, they even became more wicked.  Thus, they became known known as dark creatures.
Similar to animals, dark creatures have Attack Ability, Physical Vitality, and a Damage rating.  Dark creatures can also use “sin enchantments” to harm LightRaiders – distracting them from the OverLord's will and damaging their “Character Strengths.”  According to the LightRaider Handbook, “Only as a last resort should LightRaiders attempt to kill dark creatures, except for orcs and goblins, whom the OverLord wants you to attack on sight.”  Dark creatures are subordinate to the dragons.  Each variety of dragon controls one of more species of dark creatures.  For instance, firedrakes control skeletons.

Dragons – referred to as “fallen angels” – have a variety of offensive capabilities.  One of the weapons that dragons possess is 'dragon fire' which “leaps from their mouths with frightening intensity.”  Appropriately, the 'fire weapon' for most dragon types is fire.  However, slime dragons “can spit either hot stones or hot lava” and sea serpents and rainbow dragons spew fire water, a liquid “that ignites when it hits an object.”  Aside from its fire weapon, “each individual dragon has a breath weapon that has no relationship to its dragon family.”  Additionally, dragons have 'smoke weapons' with various effects; for instance, the smoke of a dream dragon “reduces all armor...”  The most potent weapon the dragons have is “mind speech, through which they communicate false teachings...”

Of course, there are humans on Eden Again.  The OnceBorn are dragon slaves, “alienated from life, darkened in their understanding of the High One and His OverLord.”  The TwiceBorn “are called to be servants of the OverLord of Many Names.”  Player characters are LightRaiders, TwiceBorn “who go on missions into the Dragon Lands.”  TwiceBorn are imbued with nine Character Strengths:  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.  Since the OverLord is the source of all power, it is impossible to possess these Strengths “apart from the OverLord...”  Thus, the OnceBorn do not possess the nine Character Strengths.

Humans, whether OnceBorn or TwiceBorn, have Physical Vitality, Strength, and Agility.  Strength and Agility are determined by dice rolls.  Yet for the TwiceBorn, Physical Vitality equals the sum of all Character Strengths divided by two.  If only TwiceBorn have Character Strengths, how is Physical Vitality calculated for OnceBorn?  Good Question.  Once again, the DragonRaid website provides an answer:  “The basic Character Strengths of dragon slaves are Agility, Charisma, Endurance, Intelligence, Strength, and Wisdom.”  (Look familiar?)  For the OnceBorn, Physical Vitality is determined by adding together the OnceBorn Character Strengths (other than Charisma) and dividing by 1.5.  TwiceBorn have Strength and Agility the same as OnceBorn.  TwiceBorn also have Endurance and Wisdom as Character Abilities; instead of being determined by dice rolls (as is the case for OnceBorn), they are derived from (TwiceBorn) Character Strengths.  The formula for Endurance is:
(Peace + Joy + Faithfulness + [2 × Patience] + [2 × Self-Control] ) / 7
The formula for Wisdom is:
(Peace + Joy + Kindness + Goodness + Gentleness + [3 × Love] ) / 8
DragonRaid makes extensive use of formulas like these.  So, although they are not necessarily figured in the same way, OnceBorn and TwiceBorn both have Strength, Agility, Endurance, and Wisdom.  The TwiceBorn – the servants of the OverLord of Many Names – lack Charisma and Intelligence (although they have an ability called 'Knowledge').  I'm not making this up, folks.

Now, if the OnceBorn lack the TwiceBorn Character Strengths, are we to assume that they don't experience love or that they aren't capable of kindness?  Of course they can love and be kind and exhibit other TwiceBorn Character Strengths.  This isn't explained in the rules, but I have developed a rationale.  The OnceBorn experience these 'Strengths' only on a worldly level.  For the TwiceBorn, the Character Strengths are inter-connected with the OverLord.  As such, the Strengths have profound effects.  So, it's not that the OnceBorn lack patience and gentleness and the other qualities; they lack the conviction through which the OverLord empowers these 'qualities' to useful ends.  At least, that's how I figure it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

More Color from the Enchanted Islands

The Star Dance, Coral J. F. Mosbø © 2015; used with permission

The setting of Avalon Hill's 1982 game Wizards is especially robust; so much so that I would be remiss if I did not supplement my earlier 'inspiration' post.  Even with all of the information presented in the game, Thomas and Coral Mosbø claim in the designers' notes, “We have discovered much about their realm while working on this Game, much more than we have included here.”  In this quote, “their” refers to the Elflords and Wizards of the Enchanted Islands.  (Also, note the capitalization of 'game'.)

One of the three Magical Orders, the Sorcerers, originated with the Dragons:
These wise but evil creatures sought to lure men away from good magic by offering an alternative power.  Many Men who sought knowledge and power were drawn to the Dragons and became Sorcerers.  They thought that served none but themselves yet, in reality, they were caught in the cosmic struggle between Good and Evil.  In the end most of them found themselves consumed by their own desires and by the Dragons.
Fortunately for the cause of Good, the High Wizards were able to remediate three Master Sorcerers.  The most powerful, “Megmoran, the mysterious Sorcerer of Fire, possesses the Powers of the Inner Earth and the Enchantments of the Stars.”  Melekok is the Sorcerer of Water; “He is the Crafter and Master of all Jewels and Metals which reflect the fluid radiance of the Waters of the Universe.”  Finally, the Sorcerer of Air, Meligar “is Master of the winds and closely associated to the creatures of wing.”

Each of the eighteen territory tiles “have their own unique qualities and history.”  For instance, the first tile, Torwall is...
Home of the royal city of the rulers of Men.  Torwall was once held under a Spell of Darkness by the Evil Spirit, in an attempt to take over the realm.  This attempt failed, for the Men of Torwall built walls to lead them back to their city and thus overcame the curse.  Eventually, the Spell was broken, but the walls remain as a constant reminder of the strength of the royal city, even in the face of desperation.
Another tile, Green Grove, contains “the place of the origin of the Elves, the Star Crest, shrouded in the Mysteries of Time.”  The Star Crest is shown in the image above.  (Note the spaceship at five o'clock from Truvior's knee.)

By ending his or her movement on certain spaces, the player will have an encounter based on that space.  For other spaces there is the possibility of a random encounter.  In the event of an encounter, the player rolls two dice and the higher result is checked against the appropriate table to determine the encounter's effect.  If a table offers both beneficial and detrimental results, the worse results tend to be associated with lower numbers.  For example, on the 'Common Towns' table, a result of '1' means “Thieves steal any Magical Objects or Sacred Gems that the player possesses.”  A result of '5' means “The Common Folk speed the player on his way,” entitling the player to “Take an extra turn immediately.”  Since only the higher result is used, players are much more likely to obtain a beneficial result.  If my math is correct, there is only a 2.8% chance of getting a '1' result and a 75% chance of obtaining a result of '3' or greater.

Aside from encounters, players will occasionally draw 'event' cards; a few examples being:
The tune of the Canticle streams from the Source of the Wind and caresses your soul, giving you new understanding. Role ONE die and gain double the number of Knowledge points indicated.

Arra-La, Daughter of the Gardens of Belief, incites new hope and purpose in your being, increasing your Perception by the roll of ONE die doubled.

Hemex, Ancient Spirit of the Dead, bars your path with visions of Evil, causing you to flee aimlessly.

Boriel and Bellara, Maidens of the Timber Lane Elven Dwelling, bring you the Lamps of Love which enable you to retain all Magical Objects and Sacred Gems in the face of thieves, Demons, Dragons or the False Wizard.

Dignol, the Serpentheaded Sage, in jealousy of the favors shown you, casts you into a trap...
As is evident, a Wizards player needs to keep track of a great deal of information.  A 'Wizards Player Record Sheet Pad' is included in the game; below is an image of an individual sheet.  The rules refer only to players and not characters; however, (at least some of) the people who played my copy of the game (before I obtained it second-hand) adopted personas.  Among the 'character' names indicated on used sheets include:  Aaron, Balbaroy the Centaur (which seems to come from something called Shining Force), Rick, Morgan, Michael, two Tims (probably Monty Python inspired), and two Raistlins.

© 1982 The Avalon Hill Game Company