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.