Conan RPG

I don’t remember where I first came across the Conan RPG, but it was the RPG that really opened up my
mind to the idea of a world where magic is not just a tool for flinging fireballs, there does not have to be a clear definition between good and evil and heroes do not have to be world saving noble warriors and wizards who all work together well.

I did not know anything about Conan or Lovecraft at the time, so it really opened up my eyes to a new world.

The game uses the D20 system, but most classes are combat oriented with the scholar being the only magic using class (though not all scholars have to become magic users) and magic being quite limited – there are few spells and most of them come with a heavy cost, such as human sacrifice, demonic pacts, allowing yourself to be brainwashed by a cult or corruption of the caster until they become possessed by a demon.  Magic is not the flash bang type either – there are offensive spells but they do things like draw the heart out of someone’s body.

While I think sticking the D20 system onto it wasn’t perfect (it seems more apparent to me that the mechanics of a game should fit the flavour and sticking a generic system onto it loses some of the flavour.  Engel is another example, where the German version used something that sounds way cooler than D20),
the Conan RPG really opened me up to other genres of writing and other ways to play an RPG.

It seems that the Conan RPG is not for sale any more, but you could probably find it second hand from somewhere.

Happy gamebooking!

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Engel RPG

Engel was a game that I found in Waterstones, but, unfortunately, I did not buy the book.  I do, however
have the pdf.  The illustrations are gorgeous although the font of the text sometimes makes it a bit hard to read.

The setting, however, is excellently detailed and very imaginative.

Engel is set in a post-apocalyptic real world where everything has gone wrong – lands have been flooded, pillars of fire stalk the Earth annihilating everything in their way and hostile insectoid creatures called the Dreamseed are constantly invading and threatening what remains of humanity.

The human race has sunk into some kind of neo-christian facist state where an ageless pope wages war on the Dreemseed and heretics.  The backbone of their defence are the Engel – angelic creatures with special powers.  However, it is disturbing to find out where these creatures come from (something I won’t say here).

You play an Engel, whose powers are determined based on which one of the five orders of archangels they are a member – Michael (leadership), Uriel (scouting), Gabriel (fighting), Ramiel (knowledge) and Raphael (healing)

The game was originally from Germay and it used a deck of cards to determine the outcomes of decisions.  The English version eschewed this for some reason and just chucked in the D20 rules where humans are warriors, experts, aristocrats, commoners, fighters or rogues.  To be honest, I think the D20 mechanics are a bit forced and I don’t understand why a straight translation of the original game wouldn’t work (maybe the publishers thought that a D20 system would appeal more than a deck of cards to Englist speakers).

However, it is the setting that makes Engel stand out – there is much for the players to explore, and there are
plenty of enemies to fight.  And eventually, they might realise that the pope is not all he’s cracked up to be.  That is another great thing about Engel – the twists in the story will make it hard for you to trust anyone as you realise what’s been going on behind the scenes.  would you stand against the pope, or would you follow his orders as he is the best hope humanity has against the hordes of Dreamseed?

You can buy Engel (both the Englist and German versions) from here.

You can read a review of it here.

RPG – Sword Noir

I like Sword Noir – it is a combination of sword and sorcery and film noir (hence the name).  It is a system
where characters are good at what they do, but they cannot do everything and they do not become super human like high level DnD characters.  Characters have attributes and the game makes tests against them.  A character’s background, faculties and flaws gives bonuses and penalties to those tests.  All characters must have a background, some faculties and a flaw.  They can choose what these are and call them what they like, allowing some extra individuality to to characters.

Magic is present, but it carries a huge cost and will almost lead to madness and demonic possession (PCs might end up being NPCs).  This all fits in with the setting creed, which is broken down and explained in detail to show how Sword Noir adventures should work.  It shows that the system and setting of an adventure can be entwined to enhance the whole experience.  Magic is not just a set of tools, but something dangerous and corrupting, in keeping with the nihilistic nature of this world.  Characters are not ultra competent at everything, increasing the sense of danger.

  • Characters can be made up of more than just attributes 
  • It is better when the system and the setting are entwined.

Tunnels and Trolls RPG

What’s not to love about Tunnels and Trolls?

The game does not ignore this thing called balance.  Instead, it cheerfully pushes balance to the floor then kicks it in the nuts while it is down.  There is the DARO and TARO rules – if you roll a double with 2d6 or a triple with 3d6, you roll again and add them to the original roll.  Unless you roll a double or triple again, in which case you roll again and add both values to them and so on, leading to obscene values for stats.  On top of that non-human races can double certain stats.  And what’s more, it’s all dandy with Trollgod (Ken St Andre, the creator of Tunnels and Trolls).

Yes, it’s the game that spits in the face of logic in the name of enjoyment.  Who cares why there are dungeons full of gold and monsters scattered all over the place and that some people are mighty warrior, powerful wizard or all rounders who are quite good at both, or, if your stats are high enough, get to be the paragon class where you enjoy about 3/4 the benefits of warriors and 3/4 the benefits of wizards?  It’s fun!

And what adds to the fun is that the rules are not overly complex.  D6s only are needed (although you might need a few of them!), monsters generally do not need a ton of stats, but a single value called a monster rating which determines how much damage they deal and their hit points.  Stalls in combat are broken by a rule called spite damage.

In combat, you roll a certain number of d6s depending on your weapon, and add a number to that value.  The monster does the same.  The one who rolls the highest deals the difference in damage – any armour that the defender is wearing.  However, for every 6 anyone rolls, they also deal 1 point of damage ‘in spite of’ (hence the name spite damage) armour or who won, and this can really add up when you are rolling 10d6 for a weapon (which you might – I told you about lots of d6s).

Magic is pretty useful, using a points system to cast spells (in 7.5, you use WIZ points to cast spells) and the
spells are useful, despite having ‘comedy’ names.

And then there are the solos.  Tunnels and Trolls has tons of solos as it’s been doing them pretty much since it started.  I’ve written a few myself , so has Scott Malthouse and you can try some quick ones out here.  A lot of the older ones are quite deadly (Ed Jolley has put a lot of TnT posts in his blog and you can find them in the index here. Only one is highlighted yellow, meaning he beat it), but they are quite fun to read.    

And finally, another thing I love about Tunnels and Trolls is the aesthetic.  It hasn’t lost its old school charm.  I don’t know what it is, but I find the whole old school feel comforting.

Want to delve deeper into Tunnels and Trolls?

You can visit Trollhalla.

You can read the Zine for free.

There will be a new edition of Tunnels and Trolls out soon (it is probably out when you rad this).  Take a look!

RPG – Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

Hello,  gamebookers!  Lovely to see you again.  Today, I’ll take about my thoughts after perusing the ADD
Player’s Handbook recently and also my memories of reading the AdD Dungeon Master’s Guide (which was in my school library).

The Dungeon Master’s Guide was the first RPG book that I read, and it blew my mind, partially because I had no idea what the spells mentioned in the magic items section meant.  However, I still loved every bit of it.

Of course, ADD is one of the biggest RPGs of its time, and there is a wide range of treasure to obtain and monsters to destroy, and each of these requires a whole host of stats to think about.  Back in the 70s, it must have been a huge job to juggle so many numbers without computers or a Dungeons and Dragons wiki to base your RPG stuff on.  But somehow they did it, although some of the results to me seem a bit weird.

I would like to know what the creators of DnD were thinking when they created the classes – were they based on any historical information?  Fantasy writing?  The need for a particular gap to fill in game terms?  For example, why must druids have to beat a higher level druid in combat to get to level 12?  There are only 9 level 12 druids apparently, but is that in the country?  The world?  The universe?  Why must clerics only use blunt weapons?  Why do illusionists get their own special class, when the other schools don’t?

Some of the mechanics are funny too.  The monk has the ability to deflect arrows.  How do we determine if the monk can deflect arrows?  Use their save against petrification.  Why petrification, of all things?

And then we get to the numbers and the tables. Oh, my the numbers and the tables – from the thief skills table (why are thieves so good at climbing walls but relatively terrible at everything else?) to the psionic powers table (which has a base 1% chance of being needed for characters who have an intelligence, wisdom or charisma score of 16 or over) to the probability tables in the Contact other Place spell (which plane am I going to?  Now, will I go insane?  Will I get knowledge?  Will I get veracity?).  What I want to know is whether these numbers were carefully tested with some purpose in the game, or were they just added because they ‘feel right’.  There seems to be so many numbers and no logic to how they seem to have been determined.  Also there does not seem to be any reason behind several of the stats in the game.  Why do monks go to level 17?  Why do fighters go up to level 11?

I remember reading the Dungeon Master’s Guide a few years ago and the magic items were equally random.  There was a brooch that could protect you from 101 points of magic missile damage.  Why 101?  There were two magic bags (I can’t remember which ones) where if you put one in the other, there was a chance that it opened up a dimensional portal, or stopped them both working, depending on which one you had put in which.

On the one hand, this is quite complex and there is no easy way to remember any of this.  On the other hand,
it does open up some fun options.  If the system is too simple, then characters would all be too similar and if magic items worked predictably, they would lose some of their magical feeling and seem more like tools.  It would be interesting to engage a fighter in combat, only to discover that they have psychic powers too.  You wouldn’t see that coming, because psychic powers are so rare, you wouldn’t assume that anyone would have them.  I would like to be able to insert a little randomness into gamebooks, but I need to strike a balance between variety and the tedium of unnesessary dice rolling.  For example, the critical hit rule in AFF (that you score more damage on the roll of a double 6) would be a good example of adding a bit of variety and it has the bonus of being applied to die rolls that you are doing already and having a good effect.  I think having to roll 2 dice with the reason to see if you roll a double 6 is a bit much, however.  Having these random events happen are better when applied to die rolls that you have to make anyway (like critical hits).  I have to work out if the effort of rolling a die and referencing a table will be worth the consequences of doing so.  Rolling 2d6 only for nothing to happen on a 2-11 will probably just be annoying.  Also, in the case of a random encounter, the combat has to be a sufficient threat.  Fighting a mad pilgrim in Fabled Lands 1 might be a challenge to a rank 1 character, but a rank 4 character returning to their house in Yellowport after their adventures on the Violet Ocean might just find it tedious.  Working it out can only be done with practice.  I’d better get on it then.

RPG – Mazes and Minotaurs

I love Mazes and Minotaurs, the Ancient Greek themed RPG started all the way back in 1972.

I get a warm sense of nostalgia when I read books like this – the font, the artwork, the way that some of the rules are a bit loose and unrealistic, or, in some cases, state that  they are supposed to be loose and unrealistic.  I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I get that with other books like that such as with Tunnels and Trolls and some retro clones.

For example, Mazes and Minotaurs spits int the face of having different damage for all of the different kinds of weapons.  Heroes deal 1d6 damage with most weapons, 1d3 damage with daggers, or 2d6 damage if they are large weapons.

The game is willing to throw away complexity in order to bring on an enjoyable experience, steeped in the flavour of Ancient Greek heroics.  There are several classes that are not generic fighter, mage, thief, but rather Greek type classes such as amazon, spearman, centaur or elementalist.

Experience is earned based on your class.  Classes are split into three types – warrior, magician or specialist (hunters and thieves are specialists).  Warriors earn glory points by vanquishing monsters and accomplishing heroic feats.  Magicians earn wisdom points for vanquishing supernatural creatures and exploring the unknown.  Hunters get experience for killing beasts (animals) and using hunting, and thieves get experience for acquiring loot and using thievery.

The Greek gods feature heavily too and so do many ancient Greek artefacts.  I always had a thing for Greek myths when I was little and this game allows you to live them.

The new edition provides material almost as entertaining as the game itself and that is anecdotes and letters from players of the game over the years, usually involving arguing over rules and situations.  They are entertaining to read.  I hope that more are published online.

The Mazes and Minotaurs core books are also FREE along with many more resources, which can all be found here.

An RPG you might need to take a bath after playing

In summer 2014, I decided to read a load of RPG sourcebooks for inspiration (although what inspiration, I’m not sure of).  Here are some of my thoughts…

Hello gamebookers!  Today, I present you with a free RPG that takes up 1 page – it is the 2d6 Quick and Dirty Roleplaying game rules.  I don’t remember exactly how or when I found it, but I know it’s been up for a few years.  For some reason, it stuck in my mind.  I think it was because I was a poor student at the time and wanted some free sources of entertainment.  And, thinking about it, it is halfway to being a gamebook system.

The core mechanic is this – ability tests are made by rolling 2d6 and trying to achieve 8 or more (the number could be higher if the task is harder).  Each hero has some traits that may give a +1 bonus to the roll if they are relevant to the test.  It is up to the player to decide what traits they have (as long as they fit in with the genre and that they are not too powerful, such as “immortal”).  They also get a title and some quirks.Opposed tests are done by both parties rolling 2d6 and adding a value based on their traits and also items.  The loser uses the ability to use 1 trait temporarily (ranging from getting it back as soon as combat is over to recuperating for some time, based on whether the combat is a sword fight or a game of chess or something in between).  The loser ends up with no traits (and this could lead to a vicious cycle where, eventually the combatants lose useful traits and so roll lower numbers and lose more).

And that’s the whole RPG.  I think it is halfway to a gamebook system because of its simplicity.  It seems that simple systems are the way to go according to Dave Morris (who is known to rankle at the idea of having to use maps in his Blood Sword books) and Ian Livingstone (who scrapped skill and luck in Blood of the Zombies).

The half that is not provided is the list of traits that you might need.  It is OK to more open in RPGs as the players’ source of feedback is a living person with enough imagination and ingenuity to respond to what the players might come up with.  However, with a gamebook, the author is not there and so your options are the ones that the author thought of at the time of writing, so there is not point in thinking of anything else.  So in that case, the author needs to think of traits that would be useful for the problems that they have presented.

Another thing the system needs is a “hit point” system for characters.  I am not a fan of the rule that characters lose traits in opposed tests, because, as I mentioned above, it sets up a positive feedback loop where the loss of one trait will reduce the chance of the character’s survival, which will lead to the loss of more traits which will further reduce their chances, which will eventually lead to death.  In order to keep it simple, these ‘hit points’ could be a representation of mental and physical fortitude (as the opposed tests could be anything from combat to having an argument).  These points could either be restored straight away or after some time.  That way, for the most part, the only danger the hero needs to worry about is the current one.  Destiny Quest does this well, where everything is restored after a combat.

One last thing that I think they could improve, though this is by no means a necessity, and, unless you care about statistics as much as I do, you probably won’t care, is that I think 2d6 gives too large a bell curve of results, making a bonus too important.  I can explain what I mean if you use anydice for a 2d6 roll.  Rolling an 8 or more has a 42% chance.  If you have a +1 bonus, you need to roll a 7 or more, which has a 58% chance.  That’s a 17% increase for 1 point.  However, after that, you start to get diminishing returns.  If you have a +2 bonus, you have a 72% chance (14% increase) and a +3 bonus gives you an 81% chance (9% increase).  Ages ago, I showed you that if you were having opposed checks and the opponent had a +3 bonus over you, you were pretty much doomed.  That is because the fewer dice you use, the more impact a bonus would give.  I think people use 2d6, because most non gamer houses have that many maximum, but more dice would be better.  Too many would mean too small an effect, however.  for my system, I settled with 4d6.

So, what can I take from the Quick and Dirty system?

  • You can do a lot with skill tests.
  • You can individualise a character very easily
  • Make sure the bonuses are not too game breaking.
  • Don’t have a system where you are punished for losing.  Or if you can’t avoid it, just give them a quick, clean death.