Sunday, December 4, 2016

Role Playing Adventure in Ancient Egypt

Two-and-a-half years ago, your humble host briefly addressed Palladium Books' The Valley of the Pharaohs.  Now it is time for a more detailed analysis.  Published in 1983, the rulebook – accompanying several maps and a template character sheet in a boxed set – consists of 48 pages (numbered 3 - 50).

Player Characters in The Valley of the Pharaohs (hereinafter TVotP) have five attributes.  Although the glossary mentions “Will, Intelligence, and Dexterity,” the actual attributes are Strength (“physical power and endurance”), Speed (“fleetness...coordination and nimbleness”), Intellect (“intelligence and mental capacity”), Power (“will and mental strength”), and Persona (“personality, appearance, and charisma”).  Values are determined, in the old school tradition, by rolling 3d6 per attribute.  I never understood why game designers would use a 'normal distribution' paradigm for determining player character attributes.  Just as there are no stories about Conan the Mediocre, I do not indulge in escapism to assume the role of an average person.  I think I would have players add together the attribute values of a character and subtract the total from 100.  This would result in a number of points (perhaps called ka points) which could be allocated for various purposes; for instance, increasing attributes (perhaps 3 points for +1 value, up to a value of 10, and 6 points for +1 thereafter, up to a value of 18).

Each character has a number of hit points equal to Strength × 2.  Should the hit points of character be reduced to zero, “that character collapses and goes into shock; if he/she does not receive care within ten minutes he/she dies.”  When “a character is reduced to negative hit points...he/she dies.”

Anyway, before dice are rolled for attributes, a character's caste is determined by rolling percentile dice.  The are four castes, each of which provides a +1 bonus to a particular attribute:  Nobility (Persona), Clergy (Power), Bureaucracy (Intellect), and Commons (Strength).  In my alternate character generation method, Commons would be a character's default caste, a different caste could be purchased with ka points.  Rather than providing an attribute bonus, a caste's attribute could be purchased up to a value of 19.

TVotP is a skill based system. Each character receives a number of 'caste' skills from a list of ten:  Agriculture, Archery, Combat, Cooking, Gaming, Hunting, Reading, Swimming, Throwing, and Writing.  'Reading' is a mandatory skill for every caste except Commons.  Nobility receive 4 - 6 skills with Archery mandatory, Clergy receive 3 - 6 skills with Writing mandatory, characters of the Bureaucracy caste also receive 3 - 6 skills, and Commons receive 2 - 6 skills with Agriculture mandatory.

There are five possible classes (called occupations in TVotP ).  Choice of occupation is limited by caste.  Nobility can be either Soldiers or Priests, Clergy can be either Priests or Scholars, the Bureaucracy caste is limited to Merchants, Scholars, and Thieves, and characters of the Commons caste have a choice among Soldiers, Merchants, and Thieves.  The only difference among occupations is that each has a list of ten skills distinct from the 'caste' skills. However, some 'occupation' skills apply to more than one occupation.  For instance, Merchants and Thieves both have access to Barter and Evaluation; Priests and Scholars both have access to History, Magick, Music, and Oration.  Each character receives four 'occupation' skills.

The initial score for any skill is based on attribute values.  For example, the initial score for Scouting is Intellect + ½ Speed; the initial score for Chariot Use is Strength + ([Intellect + Speed] / 3).  Perhaps ka points could be used to purchase additional skills and/or increase initial scores.

Character improvement comes in the form of increasing skill scores and acquiring new skills.  If, during a scenario, a character uses a skill (successfully or not), the character can attempt to improve that skill after the scenario concludes.  Percentile dice are rolled and if the skill's current score is exceeded, then the score is increased by 1d6.  Characters can also be trained “by a teacher who has at least a 60 in the skill taught.”  After two game weeks, “one...increase check is allowed.”

In combat, a d20 is rolled to see if an attack is successful.  If the result exceeds the Resistance Factor of the target, then damage is applied.  Armor provides a Resistance Factor.  Scale armor has a Resistance Factor of 14; an unarmored character has a Resistance Factor of 5.  A roll of less than 5 misses the target.  A roll equal to or less than a target's Resistance Factor (but still at least 5) damage is applied to the target's armor.  Combat rolls may be modified depending upon the Speed attribute as well as the scores of “Martial Skills.”  For example, with a Combat skill score of 21, a character has two attacks per round; at 31, +1 to hit; at 41, +1 to parry, etc.  Characters can use 'attacks' to dodge or parry.

Twenty Magick Spells are described and each is assigned a level.  The least powerful spell is Illumination (level 10) and the most powerful is Speak with Gods (level 90).  A character can only learn a spell if his (or her) Magick skill score equals or exceeds the spell's level.  A spell may be learned from a teacher, a tablet, or a scroll.  Regardless, “it takes 1 - 4 weeks of study to commit a spell to memory.”  To successfully cast  a spell, a character must roll (on percentile dice) less than or equal to his (or her) Magick score or the spell's Difficulty, whichever is less.  A spell's Difficulty is roughly inverse to its level; the Difficulty for Illumination is 85 (easy to cast) and for Speak with Gods is 25 (hard to cast).  Spell-casting characters have a number of Magick Points equal to the initial score for the Magick skill (i.e., Power + Intellect).  Each spell has a cost between 1 (e.g., Speak with Animals) and 6 (e.g., Ressurection [sic] ).  An unsuccessful casting still costs 1 Magick Point.

The rulebook spends about a page describing magical amulets.  We are told, “Gamemasters should limit the total number of charms and amulets which may be worn or divided (sic) each each individual charm's power by the total number worn...”  Here are a selection of amulets detailed in TVotP :
Menat:  “If worn or held it will restore 1d6 of hit points lost due to disease or poison and will eliminate all pain.”
Scarab:  “If this amulet is worn, the character receives +5% on any skill proficiency as well as an additional 1d6 of hit points.”
Shen:  “This amulet represents the sun's orbit and eternity...If worn it will give the character an additional five years of life.”  (I assume this refers to natural lifespan, it's not as though a character can be disemboweled and expect to live another five years.)
Tet:  “The wearer of this amulet will receive a 10% bonus against all magic cast on or within a three meter radius of him.”
Utchat:  “This amulet, which was by far the most numerous, represents the eye of Horus...If worn, this amulet has a 20% chance of neutralizing any poison and can restore 1d6 of hit points once per day.”

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