Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rules for the Common Man

I've recently been reading the AK47 Republic and Battles in the Age of War sets of miniatures wargames rules from the Rules for the Common Man range sold by Peter Pig miniatures. This won't be a full review given that I haven't yet managed to play with either set yet, but I have been able to at least give them a read through. AK47 Republic is the old version rather than the new AK47 Reloaded, but I am impressed enough to look at getting the new version.

There are a couple of common factors in the rules which is not surprising given that they are from the same company and I presume the same authors though no actual names are credited. Both use normal movement rather than the grid based system that some of their other sets use, for example Poor Bloody Infantry the WWII set.

There is an extensive pre-battle section that affects which player is the attacker and other things like the quality and availability of each player's troops and the terrain layout. These are dealt with differently in AK47 Republic and Battles in the Age of War as AK47 requires a player to commit 25 to 90 of the 500 points allowed to build their army to the pre-battle section with the higher scoring player becoming the attacker. One odd factor is that the attacker will have less points for their units on table, but there are possible results from the flow charts used for pre-game determination that may give them additional units or improve their unit quality to help balance out the game. Each stage on the flow chart gives a number of six sided dice that must be rolled and the total deducted from the pre-battle point allocation - so a player that has committed a large number of points will usualy be able to get further down the flowchart than one who has only put in a minimum.

Battles in the Age of War gives each player 60 Koku, six sided dice, to use in the pre-game section. The first thing that they dice off for is attacker status committing between 10-25 dice to this category. There are a further 8 categories that they can commit a further 1-9 dice to each of that affect their armies. The defender has a set of adjustments to their forces based on die rolls that make part of their forces absent or appearing late. As the two players will normally have equal points values for their forces this is useful in balancing out the game.

There will be a lot more to come about these in later posts.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

RPG settings I have known

Mainly reminiscences, but I'll start talking about the ones that I want to try in a separate post to avoid making this one too long.

Those I know

  • Wilderlands of High Fantasy (Judges Guild). The first setting I bought, the first I ran an OD&D game in and the first I ran a 3.5 D&D game in. I've used this and the City State of the Invincible Overlord since 1978. I was a pretty big fan of Judges Guild products in that period, even though I didn't buy that many of the detailed settings like Shield Maidens of Sea Rune until recently. I did buy Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor back then and even started doing a conversion of it to D&D3.5, but I'd now run it with Swords & Wizardry meaning a lot less work would be required.

  • Glorantha (Chaosium/Issaries). After the Wilderlands another great setting, which I have a lot of affection for. Glorantha has now had the Second Age setting information released by Mongoose Publishing with their version of Runequest. The things that I like are the breaking with standard fantasy tropes like the elves being plants, dwarves being machine like and dragons as pretty much mythical creatures of immense power that PCs are unlikely to encounter except as a manifestation of a dreaming dragon. The depth of the mythology and its interaction with the land in Glorantha helps create a feeling of verisimilitude. I'd still tend to play using second edition RuneQuest, though I am keen to try HeroQuest at some point.

  • Blackmoor. Dave Arneson's campaign setting that was originally published by Judges Guild and then had a more recent release for D&D3.5 from Zeitgeist Games. This is one of the classic old school settings for me with the mixture of humour and oddity from matching descriptions to physical models used to represent things and in jokes about other gamers that Arneson knew.

  • Al-Qadim (TSR). One of the few TSR settings I had much liking for, finding a lot of the other ones a bit bland with the same old same old rehashed medieval Europe style. There are reservations I have about Al-Qadim, mainly shoehorning in all the standard D&D races, but I've always liked the flavour of the setting all the same. I'd probably play in it using houseruled Swords and Wizardry these days.

  • Warhammer. Games Workshop's Warhammer world I like, but not uniformly as there have been better and worse takes on it over the different versions of the RPG and wargame. I like the Old World for its renaissance feel which is unlike the more mediaeval approach of most fantasy settings, the New World of Lustria contains my favourite Warhammer army the Lizardmen, but is a little cliched as impenetrable jungles. With the Lizardmen I like the Mayan/Aztec stylings adopted for their weapons and decoration. For roleplaying I think I'd stick to WFRP2 for rules at the moment, though with some houseruling as I'm reserving judgement on WFRP3.

I'll do a separate post about the ones that I'm interested in but don't have enough experience of to really comment.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Comparative Review - 'Old School' Fantasy Games Part 1

Part 1 - An introduction

The games being considered in this review are:
Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game (BFRPG)
Labyrinth Lord (LL)
Old School Reference and Index Compilation OSRIC
Swords & Wizardry Core (S&W)
Swords & Wizardry White Box

These games all resemble the earlier editions of Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game now published by Wizards of the Coast in some of the ways they seek to depict a world for fantasy roleplaying. Their differences come from the particular edition of D&D they seek to emulate. These are:
  • BFRPG - Moldvay/Cook B/X
  • LL B/X
  • OSRIC - 1e AD&D
  • S&W Core - OD&D plus selected elements from supplements
  • S&W White Box - OD&D core books only

I've used LL and S&W, both core and white box editions in play, while the other two games I've purely read through. Because of the mechanical similarities this comparative review will be far smaller than my epic comparison of Castles & Crusades, Runequest II and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2. When I reach the conclusions of this review I will probably compare C&C to these games as it does fit into the same genre of RPG. I am not intending to attempt to compare these games to the early editions of Dungeons & Dragons or to state which is a more accurate recreation of Basic/Expert, etc but I will try and say which are clearest in their writing and how well presented they are.

My credentials for doing this review are that I have been playing roleplaying games since 1977 when I started with White Box Dungeons and Dragons and I have played a large number of RPG with different groups over the years. The editions of D&D that I have played are:
  • White Box D&D or Original D&D - initially just with the three books but later adding the supplements and material from The Strategic Review, White Dwarf, Trollcrusher, The Dungeoneer and various other magazine.
  • Basic D&D - both the Holmes and Moldvay editions together with the Cook Expert rules
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - the first edition of the AD&D game
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition - the edition I came back to playing D&D with
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 - the version that I played the most of before starting to use old school games

The other RPG I have played include RuneQuest 2nd edition, Traveller, Bunnies & Burrows, Superhero44, Paranoia, Toon, Call of Cthulhu, Champions, Metamorphosis Alpha and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

An excellent resource to anyone who wants to understand my favoured games and playing style would be Matthew Finch's Old School Primer.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Role Playing: Fleshing out characters

Role Playing Games: Fleshing out the character.

Of the three games I considered in my comparative review only Castles & Crusades has a formal alignment system with the Law/Neutral/Chaos and Good/Neutral/Evil axes. In Warhammer FRP chaos does exist as an important force, but if a character is influenced or aligned with chaos it does not have the same mechanical effects as in C&C or D&D. In C&C and other games based on D&D there are alignment based spells such as detect law/chaos or protection from law/chaos.

RQ does not have alignments as such, but the runes linked to a cult do give an indication of its nature and again the world has forces of chaos that are usually opposed by player characters.

All three games talk about players fleshing out their characters, WFRP's 10 questions give the move comprehensive set of guidance with the categories being useful for GM to produce plot hooks and ideas from. The other games that I covered in the comparative review tend to have more general sections about how a character should be described with this being very brief in RQII as with most other games from that era.

WFRP's 10 questions are something that I quite like to use for any RPG to get players thinking about what their character is like as a person rather than just a set of numbers on a page.
  1. Where are you from?
  2. What is your family like?
  3. What is your social class?
  4. What did you do before you became an adventurer?
  5. Why did you become an adventurer?
  6. How religious are you?
  7. Who are your best friends and worst enemies?
  8. What are your prized possessions?
  9. Who are you loyal to?
  10. Who do you love/hate?

My emphasis to my players or GM though is that you don't have to put the same amount of effort into all of these or invent all of them. For example in WFRP I use the random tables to select partial answers to questions 1, 2 and 3 which often helps me pick up answers to the others.

For example a character with a peasant background might hate the authority figures like the local oppressive noble, particularly if that character is an outlaw or criminal. But the character could be loyal to their local noble if they actually act benevolently to the peasantry (yes, even if WFRP this can happen).

The great benefit of this information to the GM is the fact that it helps to provide plot hooks and reasons for the characters to act as a party. The main thing that I like to see though is that a character does not just have the clich├ęd "my characters family were slaughtered by orcs and now he doesn't have any close friends or relatives".

I'm going to revisit this theme with more thoughts and tips, but to avoid this being too long I'll leave it here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A nice freebie for Xmas

My favourite of the current range of printed miniatures wargaming magazines Battlegames has a free download compilation from its old issues available. Its very nice as a taster of what I regard as an excellent magazine and includes the veteran Donald Featherstone on the early years of wargaming in the UK.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

H.P. Lovecraft and me

I've been a reader of fantasy and science fiction for most of my life, but not so much of a horror reader, for example I hadn't read any of Stephen King's fiction before 2008. There is one huge exception though - the creator of the Cthulhu Mythos and a significant artist of the horror form: Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

The first book I ever book was the one pictured above from Scholastic Press, it contained these stories:
  1. The Colour out of Space - one of my favourite HPL stories.
  2. The Outsider
  3. Imprisoned with the Pharaohs - interesting as a collaboration and the lead character is not only named (no less than Harry Houdini), but is far more active than the usual Lovecraftian lead character.
  4. The Transition of Juan Romero
  5. In the walls of Eryx - one of the few really science fiction stories HPL penned.
  6. The Festival
  7. The Shadow over Innsmouth - a classic story with many of Lovecraft's key themes in it.
Since buying this at the tender age of 11 I've been an avid reader of Lovecraft and this was around the time that I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with the Original White Boxed set. Strangely enough I didn't start playing the Call of Cthulhu role playing game immediately after it was released despite being a fan of RuneQuestII and its BRP rules.

I'm going to do some separate posts for some HPL stories, but in the meantime I'd recommend the H.P. Lovecraft literary podcast and the Chtulhu podcast.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Comparative Review: C&C, RQII, WFRP2 Part5 Conclusions

Comparative Review: C&C, RQII, WFRP2 Part5 Conclusions

And at last I reach the end of this protracted series of articles.

It all started back in 2008 with this post on Settings, Characters and Advancement and continued with:

So what has writing all that made me think?

I'll take the games in chronological order:

RuneQuest II

The rules in RQII are comprehensive as the same skill system is used in melee and general task resolution meaning that it is easy for a GM to work out how to check an even that isn't explicitly covered. The two types of magic included with common Battle Magic and Rune Magic give a good basis for a world with magic being commonly available but high powered magic being less freely available. This would also give a GM ideas on how to approach their own rules for magic. There are adequate examples in the rules to show how situations work including melee and magic use. The skill system breaks down slightly at high or low power situations like many percentile based systems and is not that fine grained using a 5% step on increases. The Strike Rank system for initiative is simple and easy to understand, but due to its lack of any randomisation can make combat predictable.

The Gloranthan setting is only given a cursory overview in the RQII rulebook, there is enough to tantalise with its degree of strangeness. Examples being the flat world, the odd races like the ducks and different takes on the trolls, elves and dwarves. This is not a strong element of the actual RQII core book though.

The rules do cover enough that it is easy to start and keep playing with them. The mechanics are structured in a way that permits a GM to work out how to run through a situation so I do class the rules as complete and useful.

Summing Up
RQII is a true classic among RPG games though a lot of the reputation rests on the extensive supplements to these core rules. I still recommend it highly to fellow gamers and play it myself.

Castles & Crusades
The only one of my three choices to still be in print as even WFRP has fallen prey to the cycle of frequent editions now. My review is mainly based on my second printing copy as I bought this and the original printing of the PHB, but haven't really felt the need to add to this. I think my next comparative review project will be the freely available D&D type games such as Swords & Wizardry, Basic Fantasy Role Playing, OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord.

The rules are reasonably comprehensive as they include a general resolution mechanic for checks, "The Siege Engine" as well as combat and magic rules. Resolution uses only a straight forward pass/fail rather than any degrees of success or critical success/failure results.

There is no real setting information provided in C&C as it assumes the default D&D style fantasy mediaeval Europe but contains nothing in particular. This is reasonable to keep down the page count and make the game readily usable with what ever setting a GM favours.

The players handbook does not include a bestiary, so either the fairly simple task of converting D&D monsters can be done or the Monsters & Treasure book for C&C can be purchased. As with the C&C PHB there is not really any explicit setting information other than the default fantasy Europe assumptions. Troll Lord do publish a number of modules and setting books for C&C which can be used or else another setting such as Greyhawk or the Wilderlands of High Fantasy would make an easy fit.

The rules are complete in terms of including all the necessary information to create and advance characters, run combat and magic use and calculate experience earned from encounters. The Siege Engine provides a general resolution mechanism which means that I do have to consider these rules mechanically complete.

The items that are missing apart from creature descriptions are rules for magic item creation, but unlike 3rd edition D&D characters have to be at least 5th level to start creating items. There is an intention to have considerably fewer magic items available to characters than in recent versions of D&D and this does help prevent it.

Summing Up
Castles & Crusades is a straightforward fantasy RPG that is complete and uses a set of rules that are reasonably complete and coherent. It lacks a really distinctive identity, like many of the other games based on D&D, but this makes it easier for a GM to run it in their own world.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd edition
The second edition of WFRP is now out of print and unlikely to be reprinted now that Fantasy Flight Games have released the third edition. This is a pity as I felt that it was a decent set of rules that could be tweaked into a very good game though it suffered from the supplementitis that bedevilled D&D 3e. For example to run games in the empire the GM would probably need the core rulebook, Sigmar's Heirs and the Old World Bestiary.

The rules use mostly a consistent mechanism of D100 rolls for skills and melee with D10 for damage rolls and a few other items. However magic uses dice pools of D10 which is a bit inconsistent even though the system does work. I like the use of mechanics to limit spellcasters not working off an allocation of points or slots in a given period, but on risk of bad things happening with continued spell casting.

The Warhammer world is a good setting with its twists on historical Europe as a basis. I like the differences from the usual high mediaeval tropes of using the renaissance era as the setting for the game.

The entries for the Empire and in the Bestiary in the core book are quite limited and I don't like how poor the maps are in the Empire section. There is a sample adventure included, but ultimately it feels like there is a distinct effort to sell the additional books like Sigmar's Heirs, Old World Bestiary and the various adventures put out by the Black Library.

The rules are complete as such in the main rulebook however because of the extend to which WFRP is tied to its setting there is only a modicum of information provided in the book. So I do feel there should have been a bit more in there, but you could easily run a campaign with just the core book for WFRP2.

Summing Up
WFRP2 has an effective set of mechanics which make it easy to learn and create characters. There is a very well established and fleshed out setting, however the information in the core book is limited and should really have been better. It is a good game, but if really serious about playing in the Old World a GM would need to buy several extra books.

And my final judgement.

My favourite out of these three games is RuneQuest II, because I feel that it has the best combination of rules, setting and adaptability of the three. I would play any of the three games in this review quite happily, but RQII is a long way ahead of the others in terms of my desire to play or run it.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Coming Up

My blogging projects for next year - main one will be a comparative review of the free retro D&D style games available so comparing like with like this time round unlike my last major comparative review.

The proposed games in this project will be:
  • Basic Fantasy RPG
  • Labyrinth Lord
  • Swords & Wizardry

I may be willing to include other candidates if they fit with my criteria: freely available as pdf or other electronic format and trying to create an early D&D game experience (old school if you wish to call it that).

Saturday, December 05, 2009

An interview with one of my gaming heroes

Allen Varney has got an interview at the Escapist with Paul Jaquays. I remember being a fan of the Dungeoneer magazine even prior to its Judges Guild incarnations so this brought back a lot of good memories. I liked Paul's art and scenario designs particularly the excellent Griffin Mountain, Dark Tower and its Runequest relative Duck Tower.