Sunday, August 16, 2020

How To Be A Better Monster


Art by Gustave Doré

The second edition of Monsters! Monsters! is now available.  Technically, the second edition was available forty-one years ago.  The subject of this post is the second, second edition which – in a more prosaic numbering scheme – would be the third edition.  According to the introduction, this version of Monsters! Monsters! (hereinafter M!M! ) stemmed from Ken St. Andre's desire “to get Toughest Dungeon in the World back into print...”  Since that adventure was intended for trolls, St. Andre believed it should be reprinted for M!M! rather than as a Tunnels & Trolls product.  Of course, the most recent version of M!M! was four decades old.  As such, the new Toughest Dungeon should include a set of M!M! mini-rules.  Instead, the development of those mini-rules blossomed into a full-fledged product.

Given that M!M! is compatible with Tunnels & Trolls (hereinafter T&T ), the rules are very similar.  The differences, however, are interesting.  In T&T, the default system for determining primary attribute values is to roll 3d6 for for each attribute in order.  In M!M!, players assign rolled values to attributes as they see fit.  Because attribute modifiers for monsters are more extreme than the usual T&T player character kindred, assigning attribute values can be especially effective.

Primary attributes are not described, but Charisma can cause “regular humanoid kindred” to react in different ways depending upon the symbol associated with a monster's Charisma on the “Monster Character Modifier Table” on pages 20 and 21.

= terror (Example monsters include Balrukh, Dragon, and Obsidian Spider)

= some fear (Example monsters include Yeti, Dire Wolf, and Mummy)

?  = indicates surprise or disgust (Example monsters include Living Skeleton, Harpy, and Giant-Slug)

đź–¤ = awe or liking (Example monsters include Griffin and Unicorn)

There are five kindred for use in a “Fast Start” game of M!M! :  Flesh Trolls, Dhesiri (Lizardmen), Uruks (Orcs), Hrogrs (Ogres), and Gremlins.  Attributes are modified by fixed amounts.  For instance, Lizardmen have +10 Strength (STR), +10 Constitution (CON), +4 Dexterity (DEX), +4 Luck (LK), –3 IQ, and –5 Charisma (CHR).  For M!M! games that aren't “Fast Start,” there are 49 monsters listed on the “Monster Character Modifier Table.”  Attribute modifiers on the table are expressed in multiples.  The modifiers for Lizardmen are STR × 1.75, CON × 1.75, DEX × 1, CHR × .75 , IQ × .75, LK × 1, and Wizardry (WIZ) × 1.  So, +4 DEX, +4 LK in “Fast Start,” translates as no modifier in the table.  Furthermore, the Lizardmen modifiers are different from those in the Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls (dT&T ) Peters-McAllister Chart.  According to that chart, Lizard People have LK × .75, WIZ × .75, and CHR × 1.25.  The rules do not explain these inconsistencies.  This is just one example.

Each kindred in M!M! as a special ability not necessarily reflected in dT&T .  Lizardmen have an amount of armored skin based on their level; Gremlins reduce by 25% the Luck of non-Gremlins within ten feet.

Monsters can enter “Beast Mode” at will.  Although this is described as “berserk,” Beast Mode is handled differently than Berserk Combat in dT&T.  In Beast Mode, player characters “no longer use their normal stats but instead use their converted MR and attack twice every combat round.”  MR is Mankind Rating (or Monster Rating) and, “A Humanoid's CON = Mankind Rating...”  This phrase suggests that non-humanoid MR is derived differently, but this is not addressed in the rules.  Beast Mode 'costs' four points of MR for the first round and the cost doubles every round thereafter.  Beast Mode lasts until MR is depleted (which causes unconsciousness) or no friend or enemy is present within twenty feet.

Once character generation and combat is explained, the remainder of the rules fall under a section called “How To Be A Better Monster,” including such things as saving rolls and adventure points.  An optional rule called Chaos Factor is also included.  Chaos Factor equals a monster's level and “represents the forces in... nature that spread misfortune, bad luck, and ill omens throughout the land.”  Once per turn, a monster can add or subtract its Chaos Factor to or from any one roll.  Monsters can learn spellcasting, but in so doing they lose their Chaos Factor.  Monsters who are not spellcasters really have no need of the Wizardry attribute.  Perhaps, instead of a monster's level, Chaos Factor could equal Wizardry.

Speaking of spells, M!M! offers five pages of spells.  Some monsters inherently know certain spells; most Sphinxes know the Divine Disapproval spell and Gorgons know the Medusa spell.  Unfortunately, these spells are not described in M!M!  It is unrealistic to expect M!M! to include all the dT&T spells, but it should at least include all of the spells it references.  After all, the introduction says dT&T “really isn't necessary for you to get into this RPG.”

The original M!M! described fifty-two monsters.  One could use a deck of cards to randomly select a monster.  As indicated above, the new version of M!M! describes forty-nine monsters.  Why not include three additional monster kindred and asign a card to each?  There are various possibilities.  The description for Stingaree begins with, “Often confused with the common manticore...“  However, manticores are not among the 49 described kindred.  Strangely, manticores are included on an encounter table for the adventure included with M!M!  Another encounter table has a Deathfrog:  “Large, the size of a rhinocerous [sic], green, warty, with a long prehensile tongue that strikes with the force of a whip, sharp teeth that can bite through iron, and powerful hind legs.”  Some monsters from dT&T that could easily have been part of M!M! include Redcaps, Keeraptora (winged humanoids), and Ghouls.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Comedy in Tabloid! (et al.)

A public domain photograph of the King which TSR could have used for Tabloid!

Tabloid! has a four-page chapter on death called 'The Final Byline,' beginning with the phrase, “Dying Is Easy...”  The following chapter, 'Anything for a Laugh,' begins with the conclusion of the aphorism, “Comedy is Hard.”  In this two-and-a half-page chapter, designer Zeb Cook attempts to explain how to instill comedy into playing Tabloid!

Cook writes:
This is not a game where the mighty, brave, or even the cynically mani-pulative profit.  In this universe, success goes to those who are willing to risk their characters on the stupidest, most lame-brained, and ill-thought-out plans possible.  It's kind of like real life in that way.
Thereafter, Cook supplies “a few rules of comedy.”

1. Get Physical.  This rule has two parts.  First, “Comedy is action – it's called slapstick.”  (Evidently, Cook did not want to address cerebral humor.)  For inspiration, Cook recommends that the prospective Editor “watch some cartoons... and some Three Stooges.”  (The TSR lawyers may have missed this.  Given that they censored B*g B**d, I would have expected them to give the same treatment to the T***e S*****s as well as R**d R****r and W**e E. C****e.)  The other part of this rule encourages the Editor to be active during the game.  (e.g. “Pretend you're the airplane spinning into a dive.”)

2. Maintain a Manic Pace.  Essentially, this means keep the action going and don't let up on the humor.  Cook says not to give the players a break.  “If they players have time to think,” he comments, “then they won't get themselves into stupid messes.”

3. Steal Shamelessly.  These first five rules actually come Mike Pondsmith's Teenagers from Outer Space.  We know this because Cook tells us he stole them from said game.  Cook also explains that he “stole” the rules with Pondsmith's permission.  Of course, having permission defies the notion of stealing, but I suppose Cook wanted to provide an example of incorporating – “stealing” – outside material.  Anyway, Editors should take jokes “and give them a whole new spin” to keep players from anticipating the punch line.

4. Use Running Gags.  According to Cook, “every adventure should have at least one or two set-ups that always seem to reoccur.”  However, “An important part of a running gag is that it can't always be the same.”  Again, this keeps the players on their toes.

5. Dare to be Stupid.  “Your players aren't going to be stupid if you aren't.”  I beg to differ.

6. The Innocent Must Suffer.  “It's undeserved stuff happening to any character,” Cook tells us.  “If they deserve it,” he continues, “it's a comeuppance” and therefore not funny.

7. More is Better.  “There's no such thing as too much,” Cook says.  He advises adding complications to any situation.  This echos Rule 4 from Cook's Bullwinkle and Rocky Role Playing Party Game ; namely, “The Good, The Bad, and The Funny” or “Bad is Good, the Worse the Better.”

8. Plot?  Cook tells us that plots “give the characters some motivation to do things,” but this should be secondary to fun.  “Just throw out the encounter that's not working,” Cook writes, “laugh, and get the characters toward the goal by whatever means.”  Cook uses the word “Improvise,” which ought to have been the name of this rule.  Contrary to what is said at the beginning of the chapter, Cook reveals the “real secret” is that “Comedy is simple.”

After these rules, Cook provides a concluding section to the chapter, part of which reads:
Because this is a silly game, you've got a freedom referees don't get in other games.  You don't even have to be consistent.  You don't even have to make much sense.  By their very nature, silly universes are illogical! That's part of their fun... Just don't worry.
Cook presents four words in large, bold font and in capital letters, presumably to emphasize their importance:
This should have been a coda to the last rule rather than a separate section called, “Some Other Extremely Useful Advice.”

I might be inclined to add another rule, Embrace Absurdity.  Regardless, humor is subjective and what might be funny to someone might be tasteless to someone else.  Back in the nineties, one could still get some comedy mileage from disturbed people going on shooting sprees.  Result #10 on the Work table for character generation begins, “Co-worker comes in and plays disgruntled postal worker.”  Yet even twenty-five years ago, there were some things that just weren't funny.  Result #16 on the Journalism School table for character generation reads in part:
Killing the neighbor sure livened up a slow news day.  With good behavior, character gets out after five years.