Friday, September 30, 2011

Cimmerian hordes

A while ago I suggested that the Hellenistic Era would be a good historical campaign setting for a Conan-style FRPG. But of course Conan was a Cimmerian, and there really were barbarians by that name, but they lived centuries earlier.

Western Asia, 7th century BCE. 

It was a time of empires in decline, when Egypt was in turmoil, the mighty Assyrian empire maintained a precarious dominance, and the Phoenicians ruled the Mediterranean waves.  It was then that, as Herodotus tells us, "...the Cimmerians, driven from their homes by the nomads of Scythia, entered Asia and captured Sardis, all but the citadel." For decades the barbarian hordes ravaged Anatolia, often seeking only loot. "For the Cimmerian attack upon Ionia...was not a conquest of the cities, but only an inroad for plundering." Before they were vanquished as an effective fighting force by king Alyattes II of Lydia towards the close of the century they had clashed with imperial Assyrian armies, brought Phrygia to its knees, and ravaged the kingdom of Lydia. Who knows what other exploits they had, what solitary adventurers set out form among their ranks and what dangers they faced?

Of course Howard's stories were not historical, and his Cimmerians were not the ones of history. But I think the history of this period is just as exiting and exotic as the imaginary world of Hyboria. It was a time of brave Greek mercenaries, wise Egyptian sorcerers, wily Phoenician merchants, Etruscan pirates, fierce priestesses of Ishtar, and of course rugged Cimmerian barbarians.

However, there are a few historical details that may challenge the average role-player. For example, coinage had not yet been invented. At that time people mainly used weighted bits of metal as currency. It was the Lydians who would mint the first electrum coins, but it would be centuries before the system was widespread. And at the same time the Lydians were also just inventing the inn. I think that facing a world with no inns or coins might reduce the average gamer to a twitching wreck. You could fudge things, and add those conveniences to make things comfortable for the players. Since there's going to be magic and monsters in the game there's no need to be a stickler for historical detail. On the other hand, sometimes it's fun to watch the players twitch. It's your call. In any case, your chariot awaits...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Arduin, Bloody Ardiun

Different Worlds was Chaosium's house magazine back in the day. Although never as popular as The Dragon or The Space Gamer it was a pretty good zine. One notable feature was the "My Life & Role-Playing" series. As editor Tadashi Ehara explains,

"To provide content for the first issue, I invited all the prominent game designers and role-playing personalities at the time to submit a "My Life & Role-Playing" article. The response exceeded expectations and many heart-felt articles were submitted. The premiere issue of Different Worlds debuted in early 1979 with articles from 13 of these members of the role-playing world. Many others followed in subsequent issues. To my chagrin, Greg Stafford himself has never contributed to the "My Life & Role-Playing" series."

Dave Arneson, Ken St. Andre, Steve Jackson, Marc W. Miller, Paul Jaquays, and others talked about their experience with gaming. They provide a great glimpse into the early days of the hobby. One of the others to contribute was David A. Hargrave, author of the unforgettable Arduin Trilogy. The second issue of the magazine featured an article by him titled "Arduin, Bloody Ardiun" in which he wrote about his eclectic (eccentric?) campaign setting and which included this cool early map of Arduin.

Whether that article was written before or after his infamous spat with Greg Stafford I can't say, but he didn't seem to have a problem with promoting Arduin in the pages of Chaosium's zine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chariot of the Gods

RuneQuest is a game that will always be associated with the fictional world of Glorantha. This is despite the fact that the game's authors have always encouraged players to use it for other settings. In the introduction to the 2nd edition of 1979 they emphasize the novelty at that time of situating a game in a particular world, but also recommend that it be used in other venues.

However, this game is not limited to Glorantha. The experience system, the combat system, most of the magic system, and the training/guild system, and everything but the specific references to the world of Glorantha can be adjusted to fit any time and space with a minimum of hassle. We think you will find this system more realistic, and at the same time more playable, than any system you have seen before.

They even published Questworld, a non-Glorantha setting for the game. It never caught on. When the third edition was released by Avalon Hill some years later they went a step further. The default setting of the game was changed to a fantasy version of Europe, with Glorantha provided as an optional setting. They even included a nice map in the rules.

This is a great map. It has the feel of a pre-modern map. It's a little crude, a little sketchy, but has enough details to be useful for the players. I like this much better than the overly realistic maps in some games. (As much as I admire the world building that went into HârnWorld, the presentation in the form of a modern atlas always struck me as somewhat anachronistic for a pseudo-medieval fantasy setting.) One curious thing about the map is that mountain in east of "Libya" labeled "Chariot of Gods." Just what is that? For me it brings to mind all those stories of ancient astronauts, aliens from other worlds mistaken for gods by earthlings. It's easy to envision a group of PCs mounting a major expedition to explore it, with plenty of adventures on the way and an encounter with strange creatures from the void at the end. Despite intriguing features like this, and further supplements like Eldarad, these non-Glorantha settings never caught on. For most gamers RuneQuest remained synonymous with Glorantha. And so the Chariot of the Gods remains a mystery waiting to be explored.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

D&D magic using BRP

Back when I was using BRP to run FRPGs I was always figuring out ways to adapt material form other games to the Chaosium system. Since it dominates the hobby it was inevitable that this would involve D&D. BRP was similar enough to TSR's juggernaut that it was a fairly straightforward process. Monsters could be thrown right into a game after giving them an Attack % and with just a slight tweaking of the damage they did. Magic swords fit right in by the simple expedient of treating each +1 as a +5%. But when it came to magic things got a little trickier. BRP is a skill based game, and it uses Magic Points to fuel spells. That's a far cry from D&D's Level-based, cast-and-forget system. How do you fit that into a game?

All your base are belong to us.

I hit on this simple expedient. The minimum INT required to learn a spell was the spell's level+11; e.g., a 4th level spell requires an INT 15 to learn. Each spell was treated as a separate skill. The spell-caster's "level" for determining the power of the spell was the skill divided by 5. The Magic Point cost for each spell was equal to the spell level, plus additional Magic Points for extra range, duration, etc. For example, a Wizard with an INT of 13 (or more) knows the second level spell Detect Invisible at 45%. He could cast it as the equivalent of a 9th level D&D wizard with a range of 90', but it would cost him 10 Magic Points (2MP base+8 for extra "levels" of effect). However, a magic user can opt to cast a spell at a lower "level" by pumping fewer Magic Points into it. So our wizard could opt to put only 3MP into the spell for 20' range, etc. A Critical Success means the spell only burns the minimum number of Magic Points but takes effect at maximum level (or less at caster's choice). For example, our wizard knows Fireball at 45% and gets a Critical Success. The spell only consumes 3 Magic Points but does a full 9d6 damage. A Fumble means the spell is a dud. It uses up all the MP put into it but has no effect.

You don't say.

That's all there was to it. Nothing too earthshaking, I admit. It worked OK, although I didn't playtest it extensively. It was only used in a few encounters with NPC's on alternative worlds. Other people have thought of their own versions of this long before I did. I saw and old Pegasus magazine article where someone had come up with a very similar system, although he also added (IIRC) a pool of points called Mana that limited the amount of magic that could be cast in a certain time period. And I can think of plenty of variations. You could have a character pick a class and that class would have a % ranking, starting at 5% ("first level"). This would function as the Level your character has in their "class". So a Druid 30% would be the equivalent of a 6th Level D&D character. Etc. So don't just limit yourself to plundering dungeons. Plunder those other games for rules, monsters and magic, too.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Baron Xaq von Sytok

I've had that freeware Traveller Character Generator on my desktop for a while and every now and then I'll roll up a character to see what I get. Since Traveller chargen is an almost entirely random procedure, what I end up with is pretty hit or miss. Surprisingly few of the characters have died while being rolled up, but it does happen. More common are characters with some ridiculously low attribute, like the Army vet who had a successful career, acquired several skills and reached the rank of major -- all with an Intelligence of 3! Then there was the Navy man who ended up with an Endurance of 1. I'm all for playing challenging characters, but and invalid is a bit much.  Anyway, here's my best result so far.

 Baron Xaq von Sytok, Capt. Imperial Navy (ret.) Male Human, Age 34 


Skills: Blade (Sword)-1, Computer-1, Engineering-2, Gunnery-1, Jack of All Trades-1, Navigation-1, Pilot-1, Vacc Suit-2

Gear: 25,000 credits and one sword.

With a determination to reach the stars and the top of society,  young Xaq entered the Navy and embarked on a stellar career. Although never gaining a command of his own, he became an accomplished ship's engineer, willing to go the extra parsec and suit up to crawl into a hot reaction tube for some emergency repairs. His outstanding service and social graces saw him created an Imperial Baron. He now seeks adventure on the Imperial frontier, where his formidable skills and urbane demeanor are always welcome aboard ship.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hercules vs. Bat Demon

I think we've all had encounters like this. I wonder if Hercules will have to get a rabies shot now?