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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

[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.

[Circumflex] Social Status as a new ability

I think I am overdoing this whole thing a bit. The whole project was supposed to be a clone of basic D&D with Harnic furnishings. And I am still working on it.

To be fair, right now I am mostly trying to figure out the details for spells and invocations. I converted the spells from the HarnMaster rules, even though in some cases I had to really put them through the wringer to make them fit. Some of them basically are completely different spells, aside from their names. And well, I mostly was converting them for the names anyway. Still, it is kind of a bitch figuring out all those small details like range or duration.

It doesn’t help that sometimes I get other ideas that I then put in. Last week I decided to use the whole idea of starting money as social status in the game. So I now have a new ability.

It makes more sense to me, because the whole society in the setting is stratified and sees things like that as important, but I now have to integrate this ability in the rest of the rules. And already I encountered a problem with one of my players. I tried to bounce the idea of him, and he was generally for it, but then expected SOC to be a variable quantity. Which also makes sense, but not if I treat it as a D&D-like ability. SOC in the case of my rules needs to be static and show the heritage of the character instead of his current social status.

In other words, SOC is the social class the character starts with, and it modifies how much money he/she receives at the beginning and… well, yes, then what?

There should be effects that are based on this quality. It might modify reaction rolls in certain situations. An Earl is more likely to be favorable to a character if that character is of noble birth. As will an innkeeper.

And even if a low born character raises through the social strata, he/she still might be stuck with the disadvantage of a low birth.

“Yeah sure Sir Ered is the champion of Olokand, but he was born a commoner! We don’t associate with commoners!”

But well, that is one effect.

Some other ideas:

  • Social Standing determines the caller/leader of the group (from Planet Algol)
  • social standing gives access to better weaponry (specifically knightly weapons can only be purchased by people of sufficient standing)
  • SOC might also allow for bonuses on other social interactions, it might give bonuses on training rolls (because people might want a noble client), and on carousing rolls.

Speaking of that… I might have to create my own Harnic carousing table. Oh, and speaking of tables, I have to create a “random extremity” table which I already referenced on my “Death and Dismemberment table”.

Sometimes it feels I started with a 30 piece puzzle, only to find at piece 100 that the puzzle has grown and not even halfway done.

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.

[Shadowrun] Run 1.1: Speakeasies, Devil Rats, and lots of Pizza

So, we had our first session of Shadowrun 5th edition today. It was a bit of a surprise for me. I had the rules beforehand (only as a pdf though, which was hard to read from), but I did not actually plan to do anything with it. Then my players actually asked if we could play some. It seems they didn’t play the pen and paper game yet, but they did play Shadowrun Returns.
It went ok, I guess.

We did not actually get far, despite the fact that I consciously had my players choose archetypes from the books instead of creating characters by the priority system. But then it turned out that one of us had to go on a spontaneous business trip in the morning, and another had to be home earlier. So, we managed to get the meeting with the fixer, the meeting with the Johnson, a single fight, and some legwork in.
On the other hand we want to meet next week again, which would be a record for our group.
The group consisted of a Chinese Ork gunslinger with triad ties (the archetype from 4th edition), a covert ops specialist (also from 4th), a black dwarfish decker with an online persona modeled on the Ms. Marple novel (the archetype from 5th ed.), and an occult investigator with an alcohol problem (also from 5th). I considered properly converting the archetypes from 4th edition to 5th, and then realized that the ones from 5th edition are wrong anyway, so I just did some basic conversion stuff to be able to get going and left it at that (well, I calculated the limits for the characters). If they get hooked on the game I might be able to create proper characters with them, so far those were mostly just so I could show them what was possible.
I also made pizza and salad, and one of my players brought tiramisu brownies, so that should have helped keeping the mood up.
I should have studied the combat rules more intently. I wanted to do some test fights against some opponents, but in the end I did not have the time for that. And that was after I had a week more to grok everything. Basically I only grokked most of the rules on Thursday. We were supposed to play last Saturday but had to reschedule, so that was not possible. So, after another week I now felt able to do it properly. It was a partial success. The Shadowrun 5 rulebook is slightly obtuse.
The characters met up (the decker only as an icon) in a dingy pizza place in Seattle Downtown, some dive that mostly was kept alive as a front for the owner’s fixer business. In a sort of emergent gameplay the characters all ordered a pizza and demanded to see the manager, which we established was the way to get an audience with the fixer. We soon came to the conclusion that that this also was the only reason why this place made any money to begin with.
The owner, a huge ogre called Mario, told them about a job. They were to meet their Johnson in The Speakeasy, a 1920s styled bar with some period-appropriate backrooms, and some less period-appropriate jukeboxes in the entrance hall. Hey, its all 20th century, ain’t it?
The Johnson was a mousy type who clearly was nervous. The job was simple: a datasteal from a small soda factory in Tacoma. The runners even managed to fret out the guys motivation, which either means I was playing the role really well, or just way too transparent.
After a few initial investigations the runners met at some dive bar in Redmond (The Crash) the occult investigator knew. She knew the bartender and asked if they could use the attic. Sure, the bartender said, if you don’t mind the rats. They did, but they agreed to take care of the rat problem, found out that the Ms. Marple-like icon they met at their fixer was actually a tough black dwarf, and then tried to take care of the rat problem.
And here I encountered the problem that I A) underestimated how tough devil rats are and B) did not completely figure out the combat system until 3 rounds in.
The combat took longer than expected, especially because I had to revise the rules constantly.
It took me nearly the first round before I noticed that yes, devil rats have a physical limit of 3, so they actually can’t have more than three successes in unarmed combat and defense rolls, even though I nearly burned a hole into the table with my successes.
The players on the other hand rolled mud. Most rolls they had did not even hit enough to start hurting the rats, and the ones that did glitched out at the same time. In the end it took 3 rounds until the decker finally managed to hit one of them by sheer luck. Two of the rats were finally killed by a spirit the occult investigator summoned, and that more because I couldn’t find the rules for spirits and did not want to bog down the game too much. Also I wanted to get on with things and at least I did roll successes for the spirit.
So then they had some planning and some legwork. After a short planning session one of them went out again to investigate further, he broke into an nearly abandoned property next to the factory and did some reconnaissance.
And then we had to stop.

Lets see what next week brings.

I remembered again what I liked about the game back when I played it more often, around 2000. The adventures are easy to do, the system is maybe not intuitive but easy to understand, and the background allows people to do a lot with their character. The world is just close enough for them to get into their roles properly, but far enough to have some really great worldbuilding in the game.

Drakar och Demoner

Drakar och Demoner... and yes, that is artwork from the Stormbringer RPG, I guess they got some deal

Drakar och Demoner… and yes, that is artwork lifted from the Stormbringer RPG, I guess they got some package deal with Chaosium

Drakar och Demoner (Dragons and Demons, confusingly abbreviated D&D) is the Swedish standard fantasy RPG. This is where the hobby started in that country back in the 80s and where most Swedish gamers come from. It is not actually very close to D&D at all, being instead based on Runequest.

Specifically in the beginning it was a translation of the Magic World supplement from the Worlds of Wonder RPG, which was based on the Basic Roleplaying System, which in turn was originally based on Runequest. That reminds me of the fact that the first game to be translated into German was Tunnels & Trolls. Now that was a squandered opportunity. Although DSA at least got the same rhyming spells in the beginning.

Where was I?

Oh yes, Drakar och Demoner. It just got a new edition (the 7th!) a while ago. Fancy book with nice layout and in a language that I only understand partially. German and Swedish are rather close linguistically, but that doesn’t mean much. Although like with scientific languages I can guess a lot of the meanings of words from the texts anyway. I nearly bought the book when we were in Stockholm last year*, just to have it standing on the shelf. It’s not like I would have played it with anyone.

I guess that new edition is the reason why it’s publishing house decided to publish the old books for the game online for free. So if you are interested in the history of RPGs in Sweden (and if you can read a bit of Swedish) this might be interesting.

 

* if anyone is stranded in Stockholm with a desperate need for RPG material or boardgames I would recommend visiting the excellent Science-Fiction Bokhandeln in Gamla Stan (the old town).

Day 1: I had to do it all by myself godamnit!

With the 40th birthday of D&D happening there have been a lot of blogposts about that lately. d20 Dark Ages called for a blog hop (whatever that is) celebrating the whole thing. And guess what? I finally caught one of these multi-blog-questionnaire thingies before the whole thing was half over already. Weird.

What started AD&D for me

What started AD&D for me

Day 1: First person who introduced you to D&D? Which edition? Your first Character?
Hmm… I got into RPGs over the German entry drug Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye). Which I had to find out about all by myself. DSA back then was basically available pretty much everywhere because it was published by one of the biggest game publishers in Germany, so that is where most German gamers got their beginning. This also means that some of the standard trappings of D&D never really made it to Germany until way later: miniatures for example were barely in use when I started, only 3rd edition brought this aspect of the game into focus. Most people playing with miniatures were into Warhammer, if interested at all, and GW miniatures were the only thing one could get for a long time.

Although… there was HeroQuest as well. I had that, as did many other guys my age. But even though I knew that the games were similar we had this understanding that DSA was HeroQuest for adults, and that it didn’t need miniatures to play it.

Anyway, D&D was something that was mentioned in a PC gaming magazine which ran a special on Fantasy and RPGs, but that was way after I already had the starter set for DSA. A while later I bought a German-language Starter Set for AD&D 2nd edition. I had introduced some people to RPGs before, but my regular players were rather enamoured with a system closer to the computer games they were playing (I think it was Diablo back then) so we switched to AD&D.

The first character I myself played (instead of just made and never used) was a Chaotic Good Fighter/Cleric.

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