Sunday, November 26, 2017

Combat in Lords of Creation

Art by Dave Billman

The combat section of the 64-page Lords of Creation Rule Book occupies approximately nine pages.  This includes about a page of weapon charts. 

The first event to transpire in a Lords of Creation combat turn is determination of initiative.  All participants determine individual initiative if “each side has only a few combatants.”  In situations where “there are many combatants, the individual with the best initiative bonus should roll for his entire side.”  Initiative is determined by rolling 1d10 and adding the character's initiative bonus.  Ties are re-rolled until the tie is broken.  With optional rules in effect (not to be confused with the additional combat rules), many weapons provide an additional initiative bonus.  For instance, polearms and whips give +4; slings and shotguns grant +1.

As mentioned in the last post, Lords of Creation characters have a 'Physical Score' which is the average of the Muscle, Speed, and Stamina ability scores.  An attack (either close combat or ranged combat) is successful if the attacker rolls his or her Physical Score or less on 1d20.  A character's skill level for the weapon used is added to the Score while the target's Armor Rating is subtracted from it (assuming the armor protects against the weapon used).  Leather armor or a bronze cuirass acts as Armor Rating 2; plastic plate armor or an energy shield acts as Armor Rating 7.  'Regular' armor protects against close combat weapons, 'ballistic' armor protects against close combat weapons as well as damage caused by firearms, and 'energy' armor acts as 'ballistic' armor as well as protects against energy weapons.  However, there are some weapons (such as x-ray lasers and neutron beamers) against which no normal armor protects.  Only magic armor protects against magical weapons.  Some weapons, such as tanglers and photon scramblers, allow a target to attempt a Luck roll.

According to the Close Combat Weapon Chart, an unarmed attack has no damage value.  This means that damage inflicted by an unarmed attack equals the attacker's Damage Bonus added to the attacker's Unarmed Combat skill.  (Skill level is always added to damage inflicted.)  The maximum number of skill levels a character can have with a given weapon is listed on the applicable weapon chart.  The number ranges from one to four.  The only exceptions are Rapier (5 levels maximum) and Unarmed Combat (6 levels maximum).

All attacks are declared before any are resolved.  This means when initiative is determined per side rather than per individual, “it's possible to waste attacks on a target that someone else has already defeated.”

“The Attack Concept” is defined by Moldvay:
     A single attack isn't one shot or one strike.  Instead, a single attack is the number of shots or strikes that could reasonably be made with the weapon in 6 seconds.  If the GM or players think of an attack as one shot or strike instead of an abstract attack, they may become confused when calculating reloading, ammunition expenditure, etc.
     All attacks have been precalculated to take into account the number of attacks that could reasonably be made with the weapon in 6 seconds, how serious the wounds from that weapon would be, play balance, and other similar factors.  Therefore, a pistol does more damage than a revolver, because a combatant can fire more shots in 6 seconds with a semi-automatic pistol than with a double-action revolver.  Even though the weapon might be firing several shots or hitting more than once, it is easier to regard the entire process as a single attack.
This concept of combat as an abstraction is reasonable; however, it fails to take into account that multiple attacks are possible in a six second game turn.  When a character's Physical Score exceeds twenty, the character gains additional attacks per turn.  With a Physical Score of 21-23, a character has two attacks with a base chance to hit of 11; with 39-41, two attacks at 17; etc.  A character can have, at most, thirteen attacks per turn (at a base chance of 20).  To achieve this, a character must have a Physical Score in excess of 900.  (For the purpose of illustration, Zeus has nine attacks with a base roll of 27.  Sinbad has two attacks at a base roll of 17.)  Whereas single-attack combatants can “waste attacks” as described above, combatants with multiple attacks “can switch extra attacks to other enemies within 10 feet of the original target.”

A character reduced to zero Life Points “will pass out.”  Characters reduced below zero Life Points will bleed to death without medical attention.  Characters can survive a number of negative Life Points equal to five of the character's Personal Force score.

In a single attack, an attacker may opt to divide damage “equally among additional targets within 10 feet of the main target.”  This decision must be made before attempting a single attack roll.  Depending upon varying armor ratings among the targets, some may be hit and some not.  If some targets are missed, damage that would have been applied to those targets is forfeit.  For example, if an attack is attempted against three targets and two are missed, the remaining target still only takes one-third damage.

An attack roll of 20 is an automatic miss.  An attack roll of 1 is an automatic hit.  Furthermore, the target is disarmed (“knocks the weapon out of the opponent's hands”).  “If the opponent is not of a type that could be disarmed,“ we are told, “the opponent takes double damage instead.”  In order to recover his or her weapon, a disarmed character must win initiative and “must spend an entire turn to pick up the weapon.”  Seemingly, when recovering his or her weapon, the disarmed character is subject to at least one attack of opportunity.

If optional rules are used, armor can adversely affect initiative and movement rate.  Also, a character can receive a bonus to his or her attack score by sacrificing a like amount of inflicted damage (up to five points).  Similarly, a character can increase his or her defense by reducing the amount of damage he or she can inflict that turn (again, up to five points).  A successful attack inflicts a minimum of one point of damage.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Characters in Lords of Creation

Art by Dave Billman

The first step in creating a Lords of Creation character is to record the player's name on the Character Record Sheet.  There is also space for the character's name.  Fortunately, it is explained, “If you don't yet have a name for your character, leave the character space blank.”

There are five basic abilities:
     MUSCLE is a measure of overall muscular ability and general physical strength...
     SPEED measures basic muscular coordination and manual dexterity...
     STAMINA is a measure of general health and physical well-being...
     MENTAL is a measure of the character's mental abilities including such things as intuition, logic, and will-power...
     LUCK is a measure of the character's chance of surviving accidents and other unusual circumstances.
The score for each basic ability is determined by rolling 2d10.  Each basic ability is associated with a “modifier” equal to the basic ability divided by ten (rounded up).  The modifier derived from Strength is Close Combat Damage Bonus; Speed, Initiative Bonus; and Stamina, Healing.  “Power Modification” – used in Mental Combat – is derived from Mental.  The Luck modifier added to five equals the character's Luck Roll – “a chance to let fortune come into play in the game.”

A character's Personal Force equals the total of his or her basic ability scores divided by ten.  Among other things, Personal Force “determines a character's experience level.”  Actual Experience Points are used to increase basic abilities; a certain amount of Experience Points increases a given ability by 1d6.  As basic ability scores increase, so does Personal Force.  Every ten points of Personal Force means a new “title” for the character.  (“Title” is the Lords of Creation equivalent of “level.”)  There are eleven titles, ranging from Neophyte to Lord of Creation.  The amount of experience needed to increase an ability by 1d6 increases as title improves.  For a Neophyte, the amount is ten points and for a Lord of Creation, two thousand points are required.  Each title confers a title ability.  We are informed, “Title abilities work only at the discretion of the GM.”  (original italics)

Player characters start as Neophytes having the title ability of Dimensional Sight, which is described as...
...the ability to see other-dimensional creatures that would otherwise be invisible.  Such creatures as ghosts, beings from elemental planes, sprites, etc., would only be visible to to characters having Dimensional Sight.  The ability is used as a vehicle for the GM to introduce creatures into a normal setting to create an atmosphere of eerie mystery.
Title abilities should not be confused with powers like Wizard and Telepath.  “At the start of the game no characters have special powers.”

All (human) Lords of Creation player characters begin with a movement rate of sixty feet per game turn.  (1 turn = 6 seconds)  The average of Muscle, Speed, and Stamina equals a character's Physical score, which is used in combat.  The equivalent of hit points in Lords of Creation are Life Points.  A character has a base number of Life Points equal to his or her Stamina score.  For every title attained (including Neophyte), 1d10 Life Points are added.  To put this in perspective, a knife inflicts 1-6 damage, a two-handed sword does 2-12, and a shotgun does 3-18.

A character starts with a number of skill levels equal to his or her Personal Force.  As alluded to previously, there are fifty-three combat skills and twenty non-combat skills, each with five levels of talent.  According to The Book of Foes, Davy Crockett has the following skills:  Knife – 3, Flintlock Rifle – 3, and Wilderness – 4.  (The first four levels of Wilderness are Survival, Trapping, Hunting, and Tracking.)

A starting character has an amount of money equal to $10 multiplied by d100.  Equipment may be purchased with these funds.  Player characters are assumed to start in the modern world and can therefore obtain items from the aptly named Modern Equipment List.  Lords of Creation also provides an Antique Equipment List and a Futuristic Equipment List.  Prices on the Futuristic List are given in credits (cr.), the future equivalent of “U.S. dollars of the 1980's.”  Prices on the Antique List are given in silver centums (SC).  Equal to a dollar, a silver centum coin is equivalent to 1/100th of a pound of silver.  Yet it is also explained:
     Currency values fluctuate throughout time and space.  Currencies are also called different names in different countries.  If the GM wants, he can devise tables to cover currency fluctuation, but it is seldom worth the effort.  The GM can also add more flavor to an adventure by using currency names special to the adventure (franc, deutchemark, peso, florin, drachma, bezant, etc.).  Such names add to the background of an adventure, but do not essentially change it.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Ultimate Role-Playing Game . . .

Art by Dave Billman
a game of science, fantasy, science fiction and high adventure that explores the farthest reaches of your imagination!  Splendid adventures take place throughout time, space and other dimensions.
So reads the first portion of copy from the back of the Lords of Creation boxed set.  The first sentence of the Introduction further states, “LORDS OF CREATION is a role-playing game of science fantasy, fantasy, science fiction and high adventure...”  The difference is the mention of 'science fantasy'.  Lawrence Schick, in his 1991 Heroic Worlds, categorizes Lords of Creation as a Science Fantasy game – along with such games as Gamma World and Space: 1889.  The back-of-the-box copy continues:
LORDS OF CREATION allows unlimited voyages via your imagination through time and beyond worldly dimensions.  Journey into magical realms ruled by swords and sorcery . . . battle bizarre aliens and killer robots on mysterious planets in distant galaxies . . . venture into the worlds of mystery, horror and wonder hidden beneath the surface of the present everyday world.  Experience thrilling adventures as you become a valiant and courageous hero!
Lords of Creation, published by Avalon Hill in 1983, was written by Tom Moldvay.  Since this is Moldvay's birthday, it is appropriate to begin our exploration of the game.  Moldvay contributed an essay to Heroic Worlds explaining Lords of Creation.  Not surprisingly, Moldvay and his friends were enthralled by “Original D&D.”  According to Moldvay:
...we had played every twist and variation D&D could offer.  We wanted more.  We experimented with extra rules; we tried to expand to other genres.  After a while it became obvious you can only stretch the D&D rules so far before they snapped.  So I made up a set of rules to suit our needs.
Much like a universal system, Moldvay's rules had to accommodate the possibilities inherent in essentially every role-playing game genre.  Yet Moldvay did not offer Lords of Creation as a universal system; instead, he intended a genre-mixed campaign arc with a definite end game. 
          The idea was to have characters start in a familiar setting – that of our own time and place.  They would begin as “ordinary” people; strange things start to happen to them; they undergo unusual adventures.  Gradually, the characters find that there are realities other than their own.  The characters discover they have innate powers they could once only dream of.  As they gain experience their adventures become more bizarre.  They travel throughout time and to far-flung planets.  They burst the bounds of normal time and space and journey to otherworldly dimensions and universes with unique physical laws.
          The Lords of Creation who give the game its name are extremely powerful individuals who can build whole new worlds and design dimensions with differing physical laws.  Yet all of them were once “normal” people, like the player characters.  If a character survives long enough, he or she becomes one of the Lords of Creation and learns how to build new worlds.
Page 43 of the Rule Book states, “New GMs should first run the adventure included in this game, THE HORN OF ROLAND.”  Unfortunately, The Horn of Roland was sold as an “expansion module” and not included in the Lords of Creation boxed set.  While the Rule Book provides ample advice on creating adventures, Lords of Creation suffers from not providing an introductory adventure to enlighten the Game Master (and players) as to Moldvay's vision and how the characters fit into the super-setting.

The contents of the boxed set included a Rule Book and a Book of Foes – both 64-pages and both with paper covers.  Also included were 1d6, 1d10, and 1d20.  Contemporaneously with selling Lords of Creation, Avalon Hill was also selling James Bond 007.  The soft cover, 160-page James Bond Basic Rules sold at $9.95; the boxed set, which also included character sheets and dice, sold at $12.95.  Although The Horn of Roland has 52 pages and includes play aids in its boxed set, a different introductory adventure could have – and should have – been included with Lords of Creation.  In fact, the Rule Book could have been 48 pages and the campaign material otherwise in the Rule Book included in a 48 page Campaign Book with an introductory adventure.  A 48-page Rule Book, a 48-page Campaign Book, and a 64-page Book of Foes together equal the total page count of the James Bond Basic Rules; Lords of Creation could have been packaged similarly to James Bond 007.

Moldvay also stated in his Heroic Worlds essay, “Sources of inspiration can often reveal more about a game than a long explanation.”  In this regard, Modvay listed the main inspirations for the game:
(1) mythology, legends, and folklore in general;
(2) an unpublished novel [Moldvay] wrote entitled Tom of Bedlam;
(3) the science-fantasy works of Philip José Farmer (the “World of Tiers” and “Riverworld” series) and Roger Zelazny (the “Amber” series, Jack of Shadows, Lord of Light, etc.);
(4) Dr. Who, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and The Avengers;
(5) science-fiction stories and novels in general, especially the “classic” SF of 1946 to 1959; and
(6) supernatural horror stories, particularly the kind written for the famous Weird Tales magazine.
Sadly, this 'Appendix N' for Lords of Creation was not included with the game.  By the way, why list as inspiration an unpublished novel you wrote?  If you're trying to inform people, listing something that cannot be referenced is pointless.  Was there any external inspiration for the novel that did not also inspire the game?

Also on the back of the box are the following claims:
  • A combat system including 53 different types of weapons ranging from swords and spears to proton beamers and blasters.
  • More than 450 foes to challenge the most daring of role-players.
  • 100 different non-combat skills and 53 combat skills that characters can learn as they gain experience.
  • 60 different powers that characters can gradually gain.
These claims are essentially true.  There are 53 weapon types, each associated with a combat skill.  The Book of Foes details more than 450 foes if we break down the concept of 'foes' so that orc (average), orc (soldier), and orc (leader) count as three foes.  Also among the foes are famous individuals (such as Marco Polo) and deities (such as Freyja).  I am uncertain as to whether Marco Polo can reasonably be categorized as a foe.  Technically, there are twenty non-combat skills, but each skill has five levels and each level confers a different talent.  For instance, the five levels of 'bureaucracy' are:  Record Keeping, Record Tracking, Bribery, Infiltration, and Futuristic/Magical.  (Most skills have a Futuristic/Magical level.)  Finally, there are twelve power categories. Each category has five powers and these powers must be acquired in ascending order.  For instance, the five Sorcerer powers are (from least to most powerful):  True Sight, Fascination, Illusion, Enchanted Sleep, and Animation.