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Review: F8tes – Fantasy of Eight System Primary Rulebook

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Adam D’Amato-Neff

Writers Club Press 2002

 

I had a gift card!

I had to use the money somehow!

And this one was cheap!

Don’t look at me like that!

Also I bought this 5 years ago and I meant to post this review for just as long.

The Fantasy of Eight Roleplaying Game, or F8te if you want to confuse people who heard about Fate system before, is pretty much a pure fantasy heartbreaker. It mostly seems to serve as a ginormous ego trip for the author.

Frankly I doubt that it was supposed to be bought by anybody but the author and his players, but then a guy in Poland decided to spend the last bit of money on his gift card for something RPG-related. So now I can talk about it online.

According to the back cover

This is the F8S (FATES) role playing game designed by the author of the Pleides Series (Za’Varuk’s Stone), The Moonweaver Memoirs, and Pleidian Tales. It has all the information needed to begin play, including 20 character classes, a huge list of monsters and races, and example characters.

The book is thin (100pgs.), and over a fifth of it is pre-generated characters.

Which the author found necessary to include.

A further big part of the book is tables upon tables of monster stats. The approach to their stats is a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand Nymphs are split into a table with 3 entries of Nymphs of various powers. Elementals just have 3 entries as well, and aren’t even split up into different elemental classes. On the other hand there are the tables for ogres, where one can find a whopping 75 entries, diligently listing the stats for ogre axemen, priests, and necromancers up to level 25.

I kind of see what the author was going for, but I think he missed the mark somewhat.

The actual rules to play the game are surprisingly short. In fact they make up most of pages 1 to 32 of the book, and in between you find another few pages with characters from one of the author’s stories.

The rules are definitely inspired by D&D, and try to mostly improve on the model set by that game. It allows and encourages mixing and matching of classes to create just the hero one wants for a game. And it boasts 20 classes and 15 races for that. Of course in the limited amount of space it has, the difference between a Warrior, a Karateka, and a Barbarian is explained in a single paragraph, with maybe a sentence for each.

Alignment is still present, but instead of the classic model we now have Caliginous, Neutral, and Luminance. What either of these means is not explained and can only be inferred through some comments in the section on races.

Equipment is limited to a page of weapon descriptions, and a short paragraph on treasure. Interspersed between those two is the section on attacking enemies, and this is followed by the section on religion, which just tells us that the number of gods in the campaign world would be too big to list, so it lists a few of the bigger gods (including Thor, Demeter, and Orcus).

The section on attacking by the way does not contain any further explanations than the terse rules mechanics. Further explanations are provided, in two more sections a few pages further, one called “Basics for the game, Taken from the short story Nightmares Born of Bliss”, the other simply “Tomb Adventure”. Interestingly enough the second part decides to reiterate the rules on attack darts for clarity, despite the fact that these rules are at the bottom of the same page and were not mentioned beforehand.

“Tomb Adventure” also seems to be what goes for a sample scenario in this game. It is nearly 2 pages long, half of which is explanation how combat works, the rest of which is a description of a tomb in text form:

Stairs lead downt.

Landing has a hallway leading off.

Thief must make check to notice trap door in the floor.

And after “Tomb Adventure” we have the three paragraphs [!] on Attack Darts, creating Undead, and Character Death.

The book also contains one dedication, one epigraph quoting Shakespeare, a list of abbreviations, 2 pages of introduction, an afterword that promises a forth coming expansion to the tomb adventure presented in the book, a bio of the author with his msn.com email address, 4 pages of advertisement for at this point not-yet published fiction and non-fiction by the author.

Oh, and then a section headed “Bibliography” that reads

A thanks to the mythmakers of old, for without them this book would not be what it has become!

Uhm. I don’t think this word means what you think it means.

OK, this book is charming in its way. A wonderful example of DIY rpg stuff of the early 2000s. I bet the author and his players had lots of fun in their campaign. So that was good for them. I love to see this stuff sometimes.

I also love some of the design ideas here. The whole system is pared down and streamlined to allow for a quick and eventful game. E.g. it acknowledges that people will use spell components, but when playing the game this should just be ignored. It also is intended to allow a maximum of character customization… but forgets that D&D is not the only game there is and that other games might have better ways to do that. And you can still see the traces of D&D in there anyway.,

But the bad points are overwhelming: there’s no structure, no real sense of place (the author assumes you have read his novels, not all of which might have been published), and the game is barely understandable. There are barely any explanations as to how rules actually work, and lots of far-reaching assumptions on how things are supposed to go in a game.

TLDR: As a game it is basically unplayable, mired in barely understood D&Disms, structured like a Jackson Pollock painting, and completely full of itself. It’s a fantasy heartbreaker.

 

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Review: Venârivè: Northwestern Lýthia

venarive_cover_2By Jeremy Baker and N. Robin Crossby

Kelestia Productions 2007
PDF 35$ (250 pages, large scale map, etc)

Venârivè is the larger region Harn is situated in. Previously the setting description of HarnWorld focussed mostly on the island Harn itself, and a few areas in the general vicinity. This publication changes that and pushes the known world up to the borders of the cultural region Venârivè. Some of these places were already mentioned in the Lythia article in HarnWorld, a lot of others are mentioned here for the first time.
That includes the name of the publication. The copy of HarnWorld I own just mentions the continent of Lythia, and doesn’t have a specific name for the subcontinent.

But at least Venârivè sounds like a real name.

Venârivè is the region between and around the Ivinian and the Venarian seas, and defined more by cultural coherence than geographically*. This region has been settled for a few thousands of years, and there are traces of older, most likely alien civilizations (the Earthmasters).

The predominant race in this area of the world are humans (oh, really?), splintered in thousands of smaller tribes and nations. There are some other, older races (Elves and Dwarves) that have been in decline for a long time. They used to influence human civilization, but now only a few scattered realms in remote locations remain. There also are a few other non-human races, often scatted and marginalized. The largest group here are the Gargun of Harn (the Harnic orcs), which are an economical and ecological disaster just waiting to happen.
Most of Venârivè is wilderness, with few pockets of civilization huddled around larger villages and towns, and sometimes even actual cities. Many states only effectively control the immediate area around their towns, and maybe a few strategic highways (read: wilderness trails) to other civilized areas.
The religion of the region is diverse, but the region is locked in the protracted struggle between the cults of two different war gods: the protective Larani/Varani (a goddess of chivalry), and the aggressive Agrik (with a might-is-right philosophy). The conflict between these two philosophies informs a large part of the religious and political conflicts in the setting, although other religions have their own issues.
The technology of the setting is somewhere between 10th and 15th century (so basically standard fantasy fare), with some areas more developed than others. Most of civilized Venarive is very much in the feudal, manorial mode of living. So there is not too much change for seasoned Harniacs.

Nations and states, tribes and cultural regions are described in loving detail, even if most likely no-one ever will play in these parts. There are lists of rulers, historical personages, ports, and so on.

As always with Harn products this book describes this setting at one specific point in time (the year 720 of the Tuzyn calendar), so there is no metaplot to go against, besides what is described in the book itself.

The setting veers away from the usual RPG everything-but-the-kitchen-sink setting that has become the standard over time; the setting does not go out of its way to fit one genre or another into it; the authors clearly went for internal coherence rather than actual playability. I do not really see many people wanting to play a power struggle in Quarphor (Scythia?), or courtly intrigues in Dalkesh (quasi-medieval Egypt?). Some people, yes, but not many.

This book is both one of the best RPG supplements I have come across so far, as well as one of the most frustrating. I absolutely love looking at this book. I enjoy the worldbuilding, the additional detail, the insane amount of information I can get out of it, but the setting doesn’t make it easy to put it into a game.

But maybe I should just come to grips with the fact that I did not buy this book to use it. I bought it because I enjoy reading about a well-crafted world.

Summary:

  • Venarive is a highly detailed and coherent RPG setting intended for simulationist low-magic campaigns
  • It is an extension of the classic HarnWorld setting
  • The book is rules-agnostic (a few non-essential references link it to HarnMaster Gold)
  • it might be way over the top for anyone who prefers settings to be more readily accessible

——

* if Venarive was Europe it would include not only mainland Europe but also large parts of the middle East and the parts of North Africa directly influenced by it, as well as large swathes of Asia

D&D illegal in California

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Banned in California (image credit: Wikipedia)

Now here’s something interesting: California has banned RPGs. At least the ones that use polyhedrals other than d6s. Or rather, it seems to have banned the possession of respective RPG paraphernalia.

According to this site it is “Illegal to possess any dice with more than 6 faces” in the state of California.

I wonder if D&D games often get raided in that part of the world.

 

[the answer is no by the way; this was a joke]

 

[Shadowrun] Seattle is a prison

I have been working on a game set in 2050s Seattle lately. So I started to try and understand the setting a bit better to get the feel for it. Which is a bit funny, considering I played the game since the 90s. But this was supposed to be for new players that did not have so much exposure to the setting yet.

And here is something that hit me only after decades of playing: Seattle in Shadowrun is a city state surrounded by foreign lands, and cut off from the rest of the nation it belongs to by at least two international borders.
Seattle has a population of more than 6 million, 2 of which are SINless.
In the 6th world of Shadowrun a SIN is basically the thing that marks you as a citizen, and in a lot of cases as a person. Someone without a SIN does not exist according to most governmental institutions.
A person without a SIN cannot go to school, hold a proper job, pay taxes, open a bank account, get a credit, or even call the police.
They do not even count as casualities when killed, and the police will stop investigating crimes when they find out the person was SINless.
And here we come to the problem for these people: there is no way out of this. They are effectively imprisoned in the citystate of Seattle.
As a SIN is used as proof of citizenship, someone without a SIN is not elegible to cross an international border legally.
Did I mention that Seattle is surrounded by international borders?
Now truth be told, the border there is not the Berlin Wall, and there are lots of examples in Shadowrun fiction about people crossing it comparatively easy. But it still is an international border. A normal person trying to live their live as easy as possible will not think about sneaking through those. They will see the border fence as an insurmountable wall. Sure, runners will go over there twice a day and check back in the evning to see if they left the oven on. But a normal person doesn’t. A normal person without a SIN sees the border and sees a wall they can’t cross.

There are 6-7 million people in this city, and 2-3 million of those can never leave this place.

Just something to think about.

In later editions this gets even worse. In 4th and 5th edition (in the 2070s) everyone has to broadcast a valid SIN constantly, and not doing so is reason for arrest. So all of a sudden these 2 million people are not only limited to Seattle, but also unable to even enter (or work in) places like Downtown, Bellevue, or Tacoma.

Scenario ideas: 

  1. Police for Hire: the police won’t care for the problems of the SINless. In fact they might arrest the SINless instead as it is easier on the paperwork. If a SINless person is murdered and the police doesn’t care, maybe they hire runners for an investigation
  2. Manhunt: A hunting association has taken to the most dangerous game: they are now hunting SINless with impunity. Someone hires the runners to stop that (this in fact is the plot of one of Michael Stackpole’s Wolf and Raven stories)
  3. Sabotage: a landshark wants to gentrify a neighbourhood and force out all the SINless that have been living here for decades. The runners are hired to stop him, somehow. (this one might have shades of the A-team)

[Discworld] …And A Thousand Elephants!

Well, more or less at least.
Remember all the posts I had, oh, years ago, regarding modding some variant of D&D for a Discworld game? Huh, looking over them there were A LOT. I even statted out Death.

The reason being, I have had GURPS Discworld since the 90s and never felt any inclination to play a game with it. Somehow it always felt like, you know, the writers of that book had kind of missed the point. Not that I knew the point better. My idea for a Discworld RPG was one which emulated the sword and sorcery high fantasy parody of the early books, maybe with some stuff from the later ones. For some reason the world that was described in Mort, and Guards Guards seemed to be so big and interesting as a fantasy setting. Much more interesting than the Forgotten Realms for sure. And so I was on and off working on a D&D variant set on the Discworld.

Well, I just finished that one yesterday. Or at least I finished a very first draft. It’s about 60 pages long, and should technically work. No, I haven’t tried it out yet. But at one point, maybe even this coming weekend, my players might experience the joy of eating Dibbler’s products, well, second hand.In fact, now that I am finally finished with the draft I will have to think about some scenario to throw at them. Hmm.But anyway, here a short description:I used my Harnic game system as the base, the one I was talking about lately. Which means it is Labyrinth Lord at it’s core, with an extended LotFP skill system. I replaced the old Saving Throws with the D20 categories (Fortitude, Reflex, and Will). I changed negative AC into positive.I used spells taken from Gorgonmilk’s Vancian Magic Supplement (because at least in early books magic seems to be very Vancian on the Discworld), supplemented with a few spells from the books, the GURPS Discworld book, and the Discworld MUD. Not all of the latter ones really work, but some of the names are great.I created a troll and a zombie class (which I might publish here soon), the latter mostly because my players asked for it and really, there are a lot of zombie protagonists in the books. I use the LotFP Specialist, but remade him into a Guildsman. I nerfed the cleric but decided to give some additional powers to get over the lack of flavor this class normally has.I am using a Death and Dismemberment table. Mostly as a Wound table actually, where some of the wounds are instantly fatal (except for zombies). I already noticed that my players will have to get used to it, especially because there won’t be much healing magic (the cleric being nerfed somewhat). Oh, and there are ideas like the Shields Shall Be Splintered! rule that actually will help a bit there.Ok, lets see how this will actually play.

Review: Sharyn McCrumb – Bimbos of the Death Sun

Bimbos of the Death Sun (Jay Omega, #1)Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know any other mystery novel that uses a D&D game as a parlor scene.
This one does.
Unfortunately the parlor scene sucks. It actually does manage to capture the atmosphere of a badly run exhibition game quite nicely. At the the end of the game players and audience are frustrated, and the bored reader is glad that this waste of time is over. It’s just as well the exposed murderer commits suicide, because this mess would haver never held up in court.
In fact the whole mystery part of the book seems like an afterthought, a mere excuse to be able to sell it as some, any genre at least. After all it’s a book about SF fandom, but it hardly is science fiction in itself. So after half the book the asshole victim is killed, nobody really is bothered so much by that, and the only reason the main character finds who killed him is because he is marginally more computer savvy than the police.
But that’s not the reason why this book is readable. It is readable because it’s set on a small science fiction con in the late 80s, written by someone who knew what she was writing about.
There’s trekkies trying to organize a Star Trek wedding, roleplayers having meltdowns over their characters, postal gamers using the con for political scheming in a made up world, cosplayers (before cosplay was called cosplay), etc.
The guest stars are Appin Dungannon, an ass of an author who hates his main character and his fans (guess who ends up dead?), and the main character, a local engineering professor called Jay Omega. Jay is, to his chagrin, the author of a hard science fiction novel that somehow contracted the title “Bimbos of the Death Sun” and a near-pornographic cover during editing. Jay and his fellow professor and girlfriend Marion spend most of the novel being bemused by what is happening. Jay is new to fandom, Marion is an old SF fan who’s seen it all.
The fascinating thing about this book is how it manages to capture SF fandom so well, without resorting to the usual trite clichés. Sure, there are some spots that seem mean-spirited, but even these read like someone wrote from experience.
Altogether: readable, but don’t expect an actual mystery.

View all my reviews

Ancient Star Trek/D&D crossover

Have I mentioned that I love the Wilderlands of High Fantasy? Especially when they are odd and weird and full of errors? From Tegel Manor:

Room M7: Voluptous maiden is wereworf...

 

Does the fact that the module came out in 1977 preclude a literal interpretation of this entry?

Also, what the hell is that maiden doing with that huge forked tongue? Where did that even come from? How big is it that a were…being needs aid slicing it?

Glorious Free Stuff

 

The last few days I somehow ended up delving into the free and pay what you want sections on rpgnow and drivethrurpg (what exactly is the difference between those two actually?). And there were some treasures to be found.

newsies-and-bootblacks-roleplaying-gameNewsies and Bootblacks

In which players play children having adventures in a world not unlike ours at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century.

230 pages, rather simple mechanics, and free. Link

 

 

 

 

 

quillQuill: a letter-writing roleplaying game for a single player

This one takes the whole play-by-mail idea to the top. You aren’t even supposed to have another player, you are just supposed to write letters and see how well you do with them.

Created by Trollish Delver, 16 pages, multiple supplements, can be had for free (well, Pay What You Want) on drivethrurpg

 

 

 

190792Romance of the Perilous Land

And another one from Trollish Delver. This one is basically a stripped down OSR system, with the Britain as the setting of choice. Magic is rare, as are monsters. If you were looking for a low-fantasy/chivalric RPG…

52 pages, for free on drivethrurpg

 

 

 

 

 

crusader-statesCrusader States – Hex Grid Map

Exactly what it says on the tin. A map of the crusader states circa 1135AD. And some additional color plates with the coats of arms of the states in question.

4 pages, but detailed map. Pay What You Want on drivethrurpg.

 

 

 

 

 

convictsConvicts & Cthulhu

Roleplaying cthulhoid horror in the Australian penal colonies of the 18th century. As if dealing with cthulhoid monstrosities is not bad enough, you gotta deal with Australian wildlife as well…

98 gorgeous pages by Cthulhu Reborn, either as Pay What You Want, or as a softcover book, drivethrurpg.

Bonus: a fillable pdf character sheet for the setting, for CoC 7th ed.

[Circûmflex] HP dynamics

Sometimes it is quite interesting what comes out when I just change something small, and then think it through again.

I added one version of the Death and Dismemberment table to the game as an alternative to the original rules. Neither “Death at 0hp” nor “At Death’s Door” really seemed to work for me.

My players naturally gravitate to At Death’s Door. Most of them have played Baldur’s Gate before. They would feel cheated if I told them they died at 0hp. But I think it is cumbersome.

Of course then I replaced it with a whole table and a roll instead of a simple bleeding out rule. Go me.

But adding this table gives an interesting dynamic to the game.

So lets have a look at it. With the rules as I currently have them:

  • hp indicate how much fight a character has in him/her; a character is fine as long as he has positive hp, damage at this point does not cause wounds.
  • if a character falls to 0 hp or below a roll on the Death and Dismemberment table is in order. The character then suffers the consequences according to the table. This can be instant death. Or a very serious injury/lost limb. [I still need to rewrite the table for my own game]
  • A character can use his/her shield to soak up all damage from one combat turn at the cost of the shield (the Shields shall be splintered! rule)
  • A character can use his/her helmet or sturdy hat to turn a fatal blow into an injury instead, at the cost of the headgear and being taken out of the fight by unconsciousness (the Helmets shall be shattered! rule)

There was another idea I found, in that one could use the damage dealt under 0 as a modifier for the roll on the table. Meaning that a good roll from an opponent might make a fatality much more likely.

Here’s the thing though: this idea basically turns hp into stamina; and it provides some interesting player agency (sure you can soak that hit with your shield, but the next one might be worse…). Death on the other hand, only comes when either a roll says so, or when abilities are so degraded that life becomes impossible.

Still working on this one.

[Circûmflex] Gods, and what happened to Alignments in my homebrew system

I always found Alignments in RPGs to be a stupid idea. At one point I went through my houserules and deleted all mentions of evil or good out of them. At least the lawful-neutral-chaotic axis was a bit nicer to handle. But I never really liked them. On the other hand it always seemed such a big part of specifically D&D that you couldn’t just let it go to waste. Or at least I told myself that.

Circûmflex of course is supposed to hew closely to old school rules, but I also want to use it as a chance to create a system that I personally would want to play with. It helps that the setting is too complex to be easily mapped onto the classic alignment system.

Funnily enough, this is because the whole setting has its roots in what most likely was an early D&D campaign. In 2003 N. Robin Crossby republished Lost Gods: The Libram of the Nushenic Pantheon. This is a fascinating little book, with an introduction by the author about its contents. It turns out that the pantheon described in there was the one used in the author’s private role-playing campaign. The original libram was published in 1978 as a handout for the players of this campaign. The lessons of this campaign were later used to construct Harn, and one of the things that were transferred were the characters of some, but not all of the gods described in this booklet. Originally there were 18 of these gods, 6 each in good, neutral, and evil pantheons. When Harn was created these were changed. Some of the gods were simply dropped (the ninja god Shii), others had their aspects melded with each other (Harnic Halea is a mixture of Halea, the goddess of self-interest, and Hedoni, the goddess of pleasure). Some elements were used in other ways: people familiar with Harn might recognize the name of Tave-K’vier, the God of Cruelty and Depravity, as curiously similar to the name of an important cleric of Ilvir [1].

When everything was said and done the original HarnWorld featured material on a eminently gameable pantheon of 10 gods, with curiously divergent areas of influence.

Technically the goddess Peoni is the goddess with the largest mainstream appeal. She is the goddess of fertility, homes, healing, and most other civilized stuff that is important but not really immediately relevant to player characters. And so it appears that even in places where some of the “evil” religions hold sway, most don’t actually want to mess with the Peonians too much. After all, one might need some food for troops, or bodies to raise.

Both Larani and Agrik are just different philosophies on how to deal with Peoni and her followers. Larani wants to protect the meek, Agrik wants to rule them. Both religions get on like a house on fire with each other, meaning lots of dead and ruins.

One of the interesting things here is that there is yet another war god in the pantheon, Sarajin. Srajin was the war god of the neutral pantheon in the Nushenic Libram, and was basically transferred like that to Harn. His philosophical position is that fighting is glorious. Unsurprising then that he is the main god of the Northmen.

(Oh, did I say another? There also is the largely undefined Kelenos/Kelana who is revered in some parts of the south. So far he was not really fleshed out, and it might be that he is just Sarajin with another name, but who knows? I might have to stat some invocations for him though)

Many of the other gods are specific to certain classes: Halea is the goddess of merchants and hedonists.

Siem is the god of dreams and the elder people (the god of the elves AND dwarves).

Save-K’Nor (how are you supposed to pronounce that?!) is the god of wisdom and riddles. (basically the god of wizards)

Ilvir is the god of wild, sorcerous beasts. (a bit of a wild card, but basically the god druids would go for on Harn)

Morgath is the god of death and undeath (god of bad guys and undead)

Naveh is the god of murder (the god for assassins and thieves)

Now, this pantheon is of course kind of weird. It only resembles a proper pantheon with a lot of squinting, and by taking into account extra material about minor gods and demons published in various places, but it certainly gives an interesting dynamic to the world. For one,  it is not even a pantheon so much, as it is ten interlocking pantheons with their own hierarchies and churches.

Over time more has been written about this particular oddly misshapen bunch of gods, enough actually to see it as a functional unit even. The original Gods of Harn supplement already did a lot of work for that, giving a broad overview of both the mythologies and the churches of the gods. But the best way to understand it was the Summa Venariva supplement, a history textbook for a fictional world, in which the development of the religions involved are traced in a way to make the whole thing understandable.

But what does all of this have to do with alignments?

Well, in the broadest sense the religions of Harn are moral compasses that tell their adherents the why and how of their morals. Being godless is possible (Gargun in general are godless for example), but others pay at least lip-service to what their gods tell them. Now this does not mean that players have to follow these ideas, but they should let their decisions be informed by them.

When an adherent of Peoni kills a person he/she should know that this is wrong. When an Agrikan does it he/she should know that his deity likes that. When a Navehan does it he/she should know that the deity demands it.

Players can go against this of course, but they will have to resolve with their own ideas why they don’t fit into their own idea of “normal”.

This gets around the usual problem with Evil alignments in RPGs: nearly no real person will ever see themselves as evil. But they will do stupid shit if they believe their deity demands it. And some will try to do good, even if their deity demands really stupid stuff.

 

[1] Crossby in his notes does not seem to be aware where the name of this entity was used again