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.

1 comment:

  1. Yes! Stoked you've turned your attention to LoC! I have a big soft spot for the game, and ran The Horn Of Roland for my group a few years back. Super fun, but super-railroady...