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.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Podcast Review: Cthulhu Podcast

The Cthulh podcast is a quite long established podcast mainly based on readings of stories from H P Lovecraft and other writers of horror stories.

As the name of the podcast reveals the main content is readings of H.P. Lovecraft's famous tales of horror, but there are quite frequent episodes with readings of other authors stories. The supporting content of music from the 1920s and either descriptions of historical events, such as the Scopes Monkey Trial or Prohibition, or readings of books from the period like Teddy Roosevelt's Journey through the Brazilian Wilderness. To be honest I wouldn't miss the music tracks being omitted though they do help to break up the sound of the podcast from being just spoken word. FNH is the main reader of the content and has a clear voice with relatively little in the way of an accent which makes it easy to understand what is going on. With the longer stories like the current serialisation on the Case of Charles Dexter Ward it would be nice to have a compliation show with just the main story in either one large file or a few installments.

The sound quality is clear and free of background noise, but there is no use made of backing music or sound effects on the readings by FNH though some of the other contributors do use these. The podcast is in mono with a 64k bit rate giving reasonably sized files.

I recommend this highly to fans of horror fiction audiobooks as it has good readings of Lovecraft's stories and some interesting new stories being read. The other content is valuable to anyone seeking an understanding of life in the 1920s particularly players of Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu or other roleplaying games using a 1920s setting. This makes a good companion to the H.P. Lovecraft literary podcast that I recently reviewed.

FNH has a number of other current podcasts containing a mixture of content, primarily readings of books, but including reviews of print and play games. These will be reviewed by me in the near future.

Monday, November 09, 2009

London's Unknown Museums: 3 Vestry House Museum

The Vestry House Museum is a local history museum in Walthamstow, London. It is not far from the Walthamstow Central Station in the area known as Walthamstow Village. The building was built as a workhouse and had been used as a police station and private house before being used as a museum.

The collection includes the Bremer Car built by Frederick Bremer in 1892 and the first British 4 wheeled car with an internal combustion engine. There are displays relating to life in Walthamstow in the 19th century including a cell from the time that the building had been used as a police station and on dress from the 18th to 20th centuries. There is an interesting display about the industries that used to be based around Walthamstow mainly in the 20th century and it is interesting to get a feel of what life was like in outer London in those times.

This is a free museum and a visit to this could easily be combined with a visit to the Willam Morris Gallery that I featured in my first post in this series.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Comparative Review: C&C, RQII, WFRP2 Part IV Magic

Comparative Review: Castles & Crusades, RuneQuestII, Warhammer FRP2
Part IV Magic

The three games that I'm comparing have very different approaches in their magic systems. The attitudes to magic in the settings vary greatly with it really being treated as an accepted part of life in C&C or Gloranthan RQ, while in WFRP's Old World spellcasters bear an implied taint of chaos. This applies even to the members of the Imperial wizardly orders and any magic user should have good reasons to fear the witch hunters. The rules in each system are different, but broadly speaking C&C uses slots while RQ and WFRP use magic points. WFRP has risks associated with spellcasting with these being greater as the power of the magic increases.

Castles & Crusades
C&C's magic system is the simplest to describe as it uses what is called a 'vancian' spell slots system that was pioneered in OD&D. These is a split between the arcane magic of illusionists and wizards and clerics and druids using divine magic, but mechanically there is not a massive difference in practice. There is no need to make a roll to see if the casting succeeds, but the target of a spell will often be able to make a saving throw to reduce or avoid being affected.

Spells all have an associated level from 0 to 9 which is used to control which spellcasters have access to them and the level also gives a rough indication of the power of the spells. The spellcasting classes all have a number of slots based on their level which controls how many spells of a given level they can cast per day, this can be increased by a high Intelligence score for Wizards and Illusionists or high Wisdom score for Clerics and Druids. There is an example of this with my character generation appendix B. This can mean that at low levels an arcane caster can become fairly vulnerable after they have used all their daily spells particularly as their only missile weapons are darts and thrown daggers and they will not be able to wear armour meaning that melee is not viable for them. Actually one advantage of C&C over the original versions of D&D is that first level casters will have more than one spell per day so are able to be a bit more use to the party than the one shot weapon an OD&D or 1e Magic User was.

Divine casters can wear some types of armour and use a wider range of melee weapons making them able to keep involved in the action more at low levels than arcane casters. Personally I often like to play clerics as there is a lot of scope for role playing with their engagement with the gods and in why they are out there adventuring.

Magic items can be made by spellcasters, but this is a lengthy process. The level of magic item appearance is much lower than 3e D&D where all Wizards had Scribe Scroll as a first level feat meaning that even low level parties could have huge numbers of spells available after a few adventures. There is not the same tendency for the 'old magic shoppe' to be a feature of settings.

RQ has a split between common Battle Magic and the more powerful and harder to use Rune Magic. Battle Magic is able to be taught to pretty much any character with the limitation on casting from the amount of Power that the character has, so Power does act as magic points. Battle magic spells have a financial cost to learn with this being greater for more powerful spells. A character can keep casting a known battle magic spell while they still have current power points, but an opposed spell can become less effective as it will have to overcome the current Power of the target. The limits on spells known is set by the Intelligence of the spellcaster with number of power points for the spells held in memory being equal to the Int score. So a character with an Int of 11 could have say Bladesharp 3, Healing 2, Strength, Detect Enemies, Speeddart, Detect Magic and Light in memory and any other spells they knew only as options.

There are various ways of storing more Battle Magic spells and Power such as a matrix with a spell held in it or a crystal with a bound spirit that has Intelligence to learn spells and Power to cast them to supplement the character's own abilities. This can mean that experienced characters do have very large amounts of magic available to them and the start of combat consists of large numbers of spells being cast to defend or strengthen the combatants.

Rune Magic is very powerful and requires characters to sacrifice permanent Power points to obtain it. Rune magic is mainly available to experienced characters who can achieve Rune Lord or Rune Priest status though a cult may allow an Initiate member to learn a limited amount of rune spells at a cost. Rune spells can be cast repeatedly by those that have learnt them and are powerful in allowing multiple casts of Battle magic spells or in allowing the caster to protect himself.

Magic items are relatively easily made with Alchemists being able to brew potions of most battle magic spells and Rune Lords and Priests can have the Matrix Creation spell to store a battle magic spell upon an object. Though a Matrix does not provide the power to run the spell.

The pervasiveness of magic in Glorantha is shown by the RQ magic system which helps integrate the setting and the system. The weakness of the earlier RQ rules is in not really elaborating on how magic might be used within society by farmers, etc though healing spells would obviously aid in many lives. There is little in the way of mechanical detail about failed casting attempts unlike fumbles in melee.

Warhammer FRP
WFRP has both regular and ritual magic with several subdivisions within the mainsteam of magic, particularly a split between arcane and divine magic. WFRP uses magic points, but rather than being used with each spell cast a target number has to be reached with the character's Magic characteristic giving the number of dice that can be rolled. Material components can be used to provide a bonus to the roll and help to achieve the target number. If all the dice come up as '1' then the spell automatically fails regardless of the target number, but as the system is based on rolling scores above a target number it would be quite rare to succeed anyway if a 1 is rolled on any of the dice. In this situation the caster also has to make a Willpower test or recieve an Insanity Point.

Arcane magic in WFRP is risky with casters being able to end up with the effects of Tzeentch's curse causing various bad effects on them. This happens when the same number comes up on more than one of the casting dice, so is much less likely for low level casters with a magic of one except when they roll an additional chaos die. The chaos die is usually seen for Hedge Wizards or other untrained arcane casters and they have a high risk in using spells frequently from this as well as the commmon attitude towards magicians in the Old World. The divine casters do have the risk of being struck by the Wrath of the Gods, but this is usually less damaging than Tzeentch's curse and the chaos mainfestations. Spellcasters do take penalties on their die rolls from wearing armour making it hard to go into battle in full plate and still use magic effectively.

Ritual magic in WFRP can be used in a similar fashion to normal magic, but requires planning for the time and resources needed. It does give much more powerful results but at at higher cost if things go wrong. Magic items are quite rare in WFRP as the setting tends to discourage their posession and use and unlike D&D type games it is not common to have even experienced characters with magic.

My feelings about this are that the Magic systems in the three games all work well, but I like the Warhammer system the best for its integration with the game world where casting spells is potentially dangerous due to the taint of chaos that can happen. In WFRP a spellcaster could cast many more spells a day than a C&C caster who would run out of slots or a RQ character who would run out of Power points. However the risks of spellcasting in WFRP make it less likely that this will happen. Compared to 3e D&D I prefer C&C as it has a greater restriction on the creation of magic items which helps keep the availability of these down to the level that the GM prefers by default rather than requiring house ruling to limit it.

RQ's magic systems do capture the flavour of a world where there is pervasive magic use and the most powerful Rune magic comes at a cost for its users. The magic system in RQ can be criticised as being very combat focused in the base rules.

The rest of the review can be found in the following posts:
Part 1 Settings, Characters and Advancement

Part 1a Character Creation

Part 1b Characters and Careers

Part 2 Equipment and Encumbrance

Part 3 Melee

Part 5 Conclusions

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Comparative Review: C&C, RQII and WFRP Part III Melee

Comparative Review: Castles & Crusades, Runequest II and Warhammer FRP
Part III Melee

All three of the games I'm reviewing use detailed combat resolution mechanics with the level of abstraction not being that different between them. Melee in all three games uses a similar round based approach with an intitative system to control the order of events. RQII is unusual in that it does not use a random element in its Strike Rank system.

Strike Rank in RQII is based on a combination of dexterity, size, weapon length or spell power (in number of power points used) and has additonal modifiers for surprise. Larger individuals and longer weapons have a better SR,which is a lower number meaning spears are more effective than in D&D or C&C where the basic rules take no account of weapon length. Third edition D&D does take account of weapon length with the split between reach and normal weapons. There have been numerous optional rules based on weapon speed and reach for D&D, but these have never been a universal feature. In a round a character can act several times at different strike ranks with their actions being able to be broken down into each SR allowing for interaction with other participants in the round, for example moving 3 metres takes one strike rank so if a character is being shot at by an opponent with a loaded bow and a dex of 15 giving a SR of 2, they will move 6 metres from their starting point before the shot hits them.

C&C uses a system of rolling a d10 for initiative with no modifers for high dexterity. Most participants in a melee act once per round except for high level fighters with the Extra Attack ability or participants with the Haste spell cast upon them. The initiative is meant to be rolled each round which prevents luck at the start of the combat allowing one participant to dominate. In practice like many GM's or to be more exact Castle Keepers I actually roll once at the start of the melee and allow the character or creatures bonus for their dexterity to be added to the roll.

WFRP uses an initiative system which does takes a much greater account of participants abilities using a d10 plus the agility score of the character or creature. This inititive order will be last through the entire combat with a new roll being made for anyone or thing joining in the melee.

Armour in C&C is abstracted within the Armour Class (AC) of a character, which is the target number to be rolled on a D20 to injure that character. AC represents how hard it is to injure that opponent rather than to hit him, which matches the old D&D concept of AC. Historically of course D&D used reducing AC as harder to hit while C&C follows the D20 rules convention of higher is better, so a D&D character would have started at AC9 with no armour going down to AC2 for plate and shield while in C&C they start at AC10 and go upwards. An interesting wrinkle is the fact that shields only aid against a limited number of opponents from 1 with a small shield to 3 with a large shield. This aid is in terms of a positive modifier to AC.

Both RQII and WFRP use armour as Damage Reduction(DR) with RQ and the advanced rules in WFRP making this specific to hit locations. RQ always uses location specific armour for DR on attacks.

In the basic rules in WFRP armour is generalised as light/medium/heavy and that DR is applied to any hits recieved. The advanced system requires the hit location and armour to be cross referenced to see how much the armour reduces damage by. The Toughness Bonus (TB) in WFRP is also used to reduce damage from an attack which means that a character with a high Toughness score and therefore TB may be less damaged by a hit than a character in substantial armour with a lower TB. This is what gave rise to the 'naked dwarf syndrome' in WFRP, particularly the first edition. This effect does still occur, but is not so pronounced in WFRP2 though the anomaly of a character with a low Toughness in armour being less able to withstand being hit than a unarmoured (or even naked) character with a high Toughness score.

C&C uses a d20 roll with high as good in melee for the roll to hit and then variable damage depending upon the weapon with anything between a d4 and a d12 being used for damage rolls. Damage is enhanced by the character's strength bonus. Once a defender is reduced to 0 hit points they are unconscious and once at -1 hp or below the character may bleed to death unless treated before reaching -10. If the defender is reduced to -10 by the damage from the attack they are dead instantly.

In RQ the attacker first has to make a successful attack roll, then if the defender does not make a successful parry or defense roll then they are hit. Damage is rolled depending on the weapon using a dice bewteen d4 and d12 with a d20 used to resolve the hit location. If more damage is done to a location than it has hit points available then the limb may be incapacitated or on a hit to the head or chest death result. Any armour on the location hit will reduce the damage by its absorbtion rating. Critical hits ignore armour and impales do an additional amount of damge equal to the maximum for that attack plus the variable damage. Given the total hit points for many characters is only in the range of 10-20 this makes critical hits and impales very lethal.

Warhammer does have the advantage of using a successful attack roll to give the hit location avoiding the need to roll dice again that RQ has. In Warhammer damage is from a die roll plus the attackers strength bonus minus the defenders toughness bonus and armour on the hit location. There is an exploding damage rule called 'Ulrich's Fury', which potentially occurs any time a 10 is rolled on the damage die. The attacker rols again to hit and if succesful rolls another d10 for damage, if this is a 10 then another d10 damage die is rolled and so on until a lower damage roll occurs. It is possible to parry blows, but this requires having enough actions to do so in the melee round. The damage reduces the defenders total number of wounds and if the hit would cause the number of wounds to go below zero a critical hit will result. Player characters are able to use the Fate Point system to avoid certain death, but a GM will not usually make it too easy on them as they may wake up injured and robbed of their equipment, etc.

Warhammer places a greater importance on having allies in combat with this adding a bonus to the attack rolls of the combatants who have allies. Given the fairly lethal nature of WFRP combat this is highly useful in giving an edge. Funnily enough none of the three games actually requires use of miniatures despite the obvious relationship between WFRP and its Warhammer Fantasy Battle sibling, but WFRP does recommend the use of miniatures and a grid.

C&C does have the advantage of a much more rapid melee system than either RQ or WFRP, with a simple roll to injure then roll for damage if successful approach. This will speed up melees with large numbers of participants greatly.

RQ combat does have the disadvantage of requiring relatively high numbers of dice rolls and can be sluggish due to this particularly with inexperienced characters who may have attack rolls in the 20-35% range fighting trollkin or broos. The high level of danger from the lower level of hit points does reduce this a bit and the detail of having hit locations, critical hits, fumbles and impales does help to add descriptive interest to this.

WFRP has a better balance between detail and simplicity than RQ in some ways, for example using the to hit roll for hit location as well. This helps cut down the time for combats to occur, but is not as rapid as in C&C.

Overall the C&C system reflects the D&D trope of very intensive combat as a focus for the game and I prefer C&C compared to 3rd edition D&D because of the fact that its simpler rules without large numbers of skills and talents being used keeps combat faster. In many RQ and WFRP games combat is less frequent due to the lethality and the slowness of its resolution.

The rest of the review can be found in the following posts:
Part 1 Settings, Characters and Advancement

Part 1a Character Creation

Part 1b Characters and Careers

Part 2 Equipment and Encumbrance

Part 4 Magic

Part 5 Conclusions

Monday, November 02, 2009

London's Unknown Museums: 2 Sir John Soane's Museum

Sir John Soane's Museum is a reasonably well know museum, but compared to its close neighbor the British Museum must count as a bit rarely visited. The collection is a miscellany of objects reflecting the original owner, Sir John Soane's tastes. As an architect Soane worked on a number of other buildings, apart from the museum itself, that can be seen around London such as the Dulwich Picture Gallery and Pitzhanger Manor.

My personal highlight from the collection is the Hogarth paintings, with the Election and Rake's Progress being on show here. A pleasing development is more exhibition space is planned with the architectural models due to go back onto public display.

As this museum is at Lincoln's Inn Fields more or less directly opposite the Hunterian museum of Surgery and Medicine it is well worth a trip to Holborn for. The Hunterian will be a subject of one of the entries in this series so that is all I'll add for now.

The Soane Museum is free entry and again I'll encourage visitors to donate or buy items in the shop to help support it.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

C&C, RQ, WFRP review: Appendix C Creating RuneQuest Characters

Just one initially, rolling the dice gets me (3d6 in order - a real nostalgia item for me):

  • Strength 14 - good start and this means with training I can get Con up to 14 and good hit points.
  • Constitution 11 - average
  • Size 11 - average
  • Dexterity 6 - not great, luckily if I get the money it can be trained up a lot
  • Intelligence 14 - another good roll and useful for many things. As this cannnot be increased I'm glad its a good score.
  • Power 12 - high average not really a big help at this point.
  • Charisma 7 - poor, but there are ways to build it up.

And the effects of the characteristic rolls:
  • Attack +0% (+5% Intelligence -5% Dexterity)
  • Parry -5% (-5% Dexterity)
  • Defense +0% (+5% Intelligence -5% Dexterity)
  • Damage +1D4 (Average of Strength + Size 14+11= 25/2 = 12.5 - the .5 means that Tyndall get an increase)
  • Perception +5% (+5% Intelligence)
  • Stealth +0% (+5% Intelligence -5% Dexterity)
  • Manipulation +0% (+5% Intelligence -5% Dexterity)
  • Knowledge +5% (+5% Intelligence)
  • Hit Points: 11 - equal to constitution as he is not large enough or lucky enough to get more.
  • Maximum Encumbrance: (Average of Strength and Constitution) 12

Background: 32 Townsman Starting Money 2D100 = 168 Lucky!

Skills: The percentage in brackets is the base chance with the final after applying his bonuses shown as percentages

Evaluate Treasure(5)10%Listen(25)25%
Read/Write Own Language(10)15%Spot Hidden(5)10%
Map Making(10)10%Camouflage(10)10%
Swimming(15)15%Hide in Cover(05)5%
Climbing(15)20%Move Quietly(05)5%
Hide Item(10)10%Pick Pockets(05)5%
Lock Picking(05)5%
Trap Set/Disarm(05)5%

Starting equipment: Tyndall gets a set of clothing, fire making equipment, belt knife, torches and rope from his background. After that he has to buy equipment and this is where costs soon mount up.

Weapon selection: luckily Tyndall's high strength makes up for his poor dexterity allowing him to use weapons like a spear or crossbow. Every 2 points of strength above the minimum for the use of the weapon allows 1 point of dexterity requirement to be ignored. So he'll take a short spear, medium shield, shortsword, dagger and then his armour will be leather as that is pretty much all he can afford at this point. There is not much point in taking a missile weapon as the only one he can really afford is a javelin in exchange for the shortsword and leather vambraces.

The equipment list with cost in brackets and encumbrance value following.
1H Short Spear (15) -2
Shrt Sword (25) - 1
Dagger (20) - 0
Composite Helm (10) - 0
Medium shield (30) - 2
Leather Byrnie (20) - 1
Leather Trews (10) - 0
Leather Vambraces (10) - 0
Adventurers pack (25) - 2
Fire starter (bow & block) (0)
Total 165 lunars 8 encumbrance.
This will leave Tyndall with only 3 lunars so he needs to be lucky adventuring to replace those.

Ok, so combat stats:

Weapon/Shield NameDamageSRHPAttack %Parry %RangeEnc
1H Short Spear1d6+1+1d421510%10%2
Medium Shield1210%2

Location NameArmour TypeHPAPEncLocation
HeadComposite Helm430.519-20
Left ArmLeather Vambrace31016-18
Right ArmLeather Vambrace31013-15
ChestLeather Byrnie52112
AbdomenLeather Trews410.509-11
Left LegLeather Trews410.505-08
Right LegLeather Trews410.501-04

I'll run Tyndall through the prior experience system in a latter post to show how that works with a character.

Monday, October 26, 2009

London's Unknown Museums: 1 Willam Morris Gallery

Number one in an occasional series on museums and galleries in my native London. Unknown may be hyperboly, but they are less well known than the big ones like the British Museum

Willam Morris Gallery, Walthamstow
The first of these is my most local gallery as I as born not too far away from here in sunny Walthamstow. The gallery is fairly small and is unsurprisingly devoted to William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement. The pieces that I like the most are often the furniture which is unsurprisingly made with excellent craftsmanship as I find some of Morris' textile design in particular to be rather densely patterned for my tastes. There are also various personal belongings of Morris which does help to build a picture of him as a man as well as an artist.

The exhibits include a bequest from Sir Frank Brangwyn RA of paintings, sketches and drawings. This does include some excellent pieces and I probably enjoy these more than most of Morris' work.

My most recent visit was prompted by an exhibition of drawings and paintings of Epping Forest, which runs close to the gallery and at one time extended over much of where Waltham Forest and the other North East London boroughs are.

I'd recommend this gallery to anyone with an interest in Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement or Frank Brangwyn. Otherwise it may not be so high up the list of places to visit, but if you have seen most or all of the major galleries in London it can be worth a visit. Like many local authority supported museums and galleries it is free, but visitors should try and buy postcards or other mementoes to help support these.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Podcast Review H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast

The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast is a fairly new podcast concentrating on discussing H.P. Lovecraft's stories. The show is weekly and coming out on a regular basis at the moment. The regular hosts are Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer, who I believe are assoicated with the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

Each week the presenters discuss one or more Lovecraft stories, with the stories being taken in chronological order. There are excerpts from the stories read by a variety of readers. The discussion is by Chad and Chris with occasional guest presenters, taking a light hearted look at the material and Lovecraft's approach. They do take into account the context of the period and mention the influences upon HPL and his circle. The most recent episode at time of writing is no 15 on "From Beyond" and there is a great enthusiasm for the story and HPL in the discussion.

The sound quality is good as the presenters are professionals in the media industry and downloads from the podcast's own website or iTunes are reliable and fast. There is good use made of sound effects and music in the episodes as well.

I recommend this podcast highly with the only caveat being the presenters do not take Lovecraft's output entirely seriously which is an approach that makes sense to me as like most horror fiction there is a tendency to absurdity. This is particularly true of the weaker earlier works discussed to date. If you want to hear straight readings of H.P. Lovecraft stories then some are available free at Yog-Sothoth dot com or the Cthulhu podcast

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Swords & Wizardry Character

This character was created for the excellent Swords & Wizardry retro roleplaying game, with the old school method of taking the dice as they fell. Feel free to use him as an NPC in your games like the other example characters that I have created. This was with the core set rather than the white box rules.

Erwin the Unwell

3d6=12, 3d6=12, 3d6=4, 3d6=7, 3d6=11, 3d6=8
Human Fighter Level: 1
HP: 7 (1d6+2-1) AC: 14
XP: 0

Strength 12
Dexterity 12
Constitution 4
Intelligence 7
Wisdom 11
Charisma 8

Current gold: 36gp 8sp
Starting gold 130 not too bad.

Equipment:WgtCostTotal wgt/cost
Battle Axe15515/5
Short Bow51522/22
20 Arrows1223/24
Ring mail403063/54
10 Iron spikes5sp73/75.7
Dried rations 5 days573/81.2
50 ft Hemp rope173/82.2
Block and tackle573/87.2
Flint & steel1 73/88.2

Ranwald Torchbearer 1gp
Brill Swordsman 2gp
Vandred Swordsman 2gp

Spent 93 GP 2sp

Erwin is a hypochondriac, forever complaining about feeling unwell and blowing his nose in a large spotted handkerchief. Otherwise he is a strong fighter with black hair roughly cut short to avoid catching in his mail, wearing a helmet and a black cloak over his mail. On his shield there is only a blank green frontage with no symbols as yet as an independent adventurer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Economics of RPG publishing

James Mishler has a blog post on the economics of RPG publishing which does make for grim reading in many ways. Funnily enough I think that pen and paper RPG could grow in popularity due to the recession as the cost per hour of gaming is low if just a set of rules and dice need to be bought, but it is tough for publishers as the price that their products will sell it is low and unlikely to grow. I suspect that most publishing will become pdf only with consumers needing to get their own copies printed rather than any rebirth of print products.

The companies that I do see surviving, apart from Wizards of the Coast with its big corporate parent of Hasbro, are Mongoose Publishing, the Chaosium, Fantasy Flight Games, Steve Jackson Games, White Wolf and Goodman games. I don't claim any special insight, but these are all larger established companies many with diversified product ranges that will help support their RPG publishing activities by sharing of corporate costs like accounting, offices, warehousing and advertising. There will undoubtedly be others but without knowing information that many companies tend to keep under their hat it would be difficult to predict.

It is true to say that the success of D&D in the early 1980s was due to a combination of factors that are not that likely to reoccur with less competition for leisure time as computer games were a small niche then compared to the current widespread of games consoles like the X-Box, Wii and PlayStation and higher disposable incomes than the current period even though the economy did have a rocky patch in the early 1980s. For any roleplayer or wargamer for that matter the main aims would have to be keep recruiting new players so that the hobby survives in some form even if the industry side of it reverts to the cottage industry model that existed in the mid 1970s.

Monday, June 22, 2009

My appendix N

This is from a blog post I saw at the excellent Grognardia blog and it refers to this blog post and the A&D DMG Appendix N of literature that inspired 1e AD&D.

Asimov, Isaac: Foundation Trilogy
Burroughs, Edgar Rice: Barsoom series
Carroll, Lewis: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
Graves, Robert: Greek Myths
Harrison, Harry: Stainless Steel Rat series
Homer: Iliad and Odyssey
Howard, R.E: Conan and Kull stories
Leiber, Fritz: Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories
Le Guin, Ursula: Wizard of Earthsea
Lewis, C.S. : Narnia series
Lovecraft, H.P: Cthulhu Mythos
Moorcock, Michael: Elric, Hawkmoon and Oswald Bastable series
Nesbit, E. : Five Children and It, Phoenix and the Carpet
Smith, E.E. (Doc): Lensman Series
Tolkein, J.R.R.: Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Farmer Giles of Ham and Tom Bombadil

This isn't exclusively fantasy as I didn't just play fantasy RPG, Traveller was another big game for me in the early years of my roleplaying and I also got inspiration from the following films and TV series.

Adventures of Robin Hood - Errol Flynn swashbuckling against Basil Rathbone
Dr Who
Flash Gordon serials
Star Wars: A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back
Star Trek the original series

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Bringing my blog back to life

Well now I'm finally getting some more time I'll try and update my blog regularly, main things will be to complete my comparative review of RQ2, WFRP2 and C&C, more RPG characters and more reviews.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gaming Podcast Review 22 YSDC: Walker in the Wastes

Walker in the Wastes is the new set of game session recordings from the Bradford Players at Yog-Radio. It uses an adventure from Pagan Publishing set in the Canadian Arctic with the characters being part of an expedition to investigate the disapperance of the Franklin Expedition.

So far there have been 8 episodes released with the average running time being around 2 hours 30 minutes.

It has been an interesting listen and similar to the other actual play sessions from the Bradford players that I reviewed before in Horror on the Orient express.

Like most of the podcasts from Yog-Radio the audio quality is very good and I'd recommmend this podcast for anyone that enjoys hearing RPG sessions broadcast.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

New Year projects

Few things to come in the new year:

  1. Complete the comparative review of WFRP, RQII and Castles & Crusades
  2. Start adding some book reviews to the site
  3. Some more podcast reviews
  4. More regular updates
  5. My ideas on houserules, settings and some NPCs for various RPGs.