Sunday, September 30, 2012

Completely Unrelated to RPGs (maybe)

I really dislike all the Kickstarter projects that keep asking for money so someone can sit in a room and type up their house-rules for Yet Another D&D Clone. However, the Parallella project is completely unlike the endless OSR Kickstarters, instead a working implementation  that just needs some backing to be manufactured.

If you're at all interested in things like MilkyWay@Home (my personal favorite), SETI@Home or Rosetta@Home, this is definitely something you need to look into. For only $99 you'll get one of the boards when they finally get fully funded, which is ridiculously cheap for the level of processing power. I got an email earlier stating that for $199 you get the 64-way processor model instead of the 16-way, which made me bump up my pledge.

Scientific research has been pushed to the bottom of the heap by the Federal Government in recent years, so it's our moral responsibility to contribute personal funds to enable such research to continue. Stuff like the Parallella project will allow important research to continue, cheaply, and possibly produce some really fantastic breakthroughs. Or you could use it to run a porn server. Either way, help the cause.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Adventurer Conquerer King: An honest look

Months ago, I had a mini-rant against Adventurer Conquerer King (ACKS) due to my initial perceptions of the project based purely on conjecture and having seen some pre-release material. I saw a physical copy of the book at NTRPGCon, and punched Tavis Allison in the face; however, I did not buy it at the time, spending my money on Carcosa instead. My plans to order were interrupted by numerous factors, but I finally got around to it earlier this week, my copy arriving Wednesday evening. So what follows is a short, honest assessment of the book. No ranting this time as I'm in a pretty good mood because college football starts in only two hours.

Good Things


Only 14 Levels - It's not exactly rocket science, but cutting off levels at 14 means much less room for power creep. It also means the meteoric rise some characters experience will be quelled due to no place to go after a while.

Limited High Level Spells - If you want to cast anything over 6th level (5th for clerics), you first have to pretty much max out and then research it yourself. Just the fact that those spells aren't on the charts is nice; it lowers expectations at higher levels of play.

Magic Item Research - Goes with the above. I think this is laid out very nicely, and is a serious cash sink for wizards.

Proficiencies - I'm not a big fan of skills in D&D, but these are binary abilities gained as characters level up. My favorite part would have to be the customizability of the base classes, especially if you use a little DM fiat. If a player wanted to play a paladin, for instance, starting him off as a fighter then allowing him to select proficiencies from the cleric list would pretty much do it. No other tweaks required. I like it a lot and might steal this.

Spell Signatures - Isn't this how it SHOULD work in D&D? Dungeon Crawl Classics goes to the extreme with this idea, ACKS not quite so much, but again, probably needs to be in a D&D-like game.

Assassins and Bards - Probably the best versions of these classes I've seen in a D&D-like game in a long time. I'm stealing the assassin.

Charts - Hey, I like charts a lot. While I'd probably never roll on these charts, their presence provides some good ideas.

Neutral Things


Economics - Yeah, this game is all about economics or something, but I don't know...just sort of falls flat. It's not exactly poorly implemented, but for whatever reason I can't buy into the idea that there are 50 people/square mile, even if that was the population density of the "Roman Empire". The authors keep referencing Roman cities and whatever, but they must have glossed over the part of their history books where the Roman Empire was mostly confined to costal regions, large tracts of unconquered land left pretty much alone. Yeah, the cities were densely populated, but I highly doubt rural Gaul, for instance, had 50 fucking people per square mile. That's ludicrous. Plus, what does that really have to do with medieval populations, anyway? Rome went from literally millions of people to sparsely populated by the time the black plague rolled around; did they just forget that?

The worst part is probably the uniformity of prices. What incentive is there to be a merchant in this game if everything costs about the same in all parts of the game world? Is there a guild system not mentioned that is fixing prices or something? Is the teamsters union controlling flow of goods between cities? No idea, but it's unrealistic. I have NO PROBLEM with it being unrealistic; it is, after all, a fantasy game. But don't keep talking about historical stuff if you're going to ignore history when it doesn't suit you. There is an example given about buying a boat in a town. The DM can roll a bunch of times to determine availability and cost. It's not a bad system. My problem with it is just this: how hard is it for the DM to make that determination using their own brain? Again, not against charts and rolling, but that sort of makes the DM irrelevant if everything is decided with die-rolls. Plus, the dumbest part is that in the example given, there is no ship available for purchase. Okay, I can see that. However, if I roll into town, see a ship in the harbor and decide I want to buy it, I'll walk up to the captain and make an offer. He'll probably refuse. If I offer a million gold pieces for a ship worth 50k, do you think he'd still refuse? Fuck no he wouldn't. All that die-rolling removes the roleplaying element out of the game, which makes the economics system completely unlike anything in history. Well, it's exactly like modern times: I order shit from Amazon, and there is no haggling. Either they have the product, or they don't, and it costs a fixed amount. This is nothing like historical reality. Again, fine, it's a fantasy world.

I suppose this is neutral because even for all the gripes I have about the economics system, it's still Not Bad if you want to use it in a game that accepts the outlined premises.

Domain Rules - I have the same complaints about the domain rules as I do with the economics system, namely that they don't really model anything historical, but try to pass themselves off as such. Plus, lots of rolling to determine things; my high-level fighter cracked a lot of skulls even after he was king. He didn't sit around telling people what to do. I know the game has king in the title, but rolling a bunch of dice to handle problems is pretty boring. I dunno, the rules themselves are fine, but I can't see this as being very interesting to play.


Stupid Things


Tax Revenue - "...is coin paid directly to the adventurer by his peasants." What in the literal fuck? I thought this was supposed to be rooted in historical accuracy or something. No one in fucking history sat on giant bags of money except Scrooge McDuck, and he's not even real. It doesn't say 2gp of "worth" or "value" or "services", it literally says coins. This is directly from D&D, which again is FINE if you want to say people actually used money instead of barter (they didn't), but hey, I thought you wanted something more historical..? This sort of thing makes it hard for me to tell the intent of this game.

Elven Spellsword - And Dwarven Vaultguard and Elven Nightblade. The classes themselves are just fine, but these names are gay as hell. When I was reading the class descriptions I was almost embarrassed about these. Elves are fruity enough, there was no need to go with the full-on faggotry.

Really Bad Things


Attack Rolls - This is the only deal-breaker in the game, but it's irritating enough to give its own section. There are two major ways to roll attacks in D&D-like games, and ACKS does neither of them. I'm not a huge fan of ascending AC, but rolling is super easy: d20+STR bonus+class attack bonus. I tell the DM what I got, he compares to the AC of the monster. Pretty easy. Descending AC usually means I have to refer to a chart, so I can either tell the DM my total roll and he looks it up, or I say something like "I hit AC 2". Either way, it works fine. ACKS, however, requires the player to roll over a certain number added to the AC of the monster. So the chart says something like +5. If the monster is AC 4, this means I need to roll 4+5=9 or over on a d20. What's the problem here? It's fucking stupid, that's the problem. In both of the previous two cases, it takes literally 1 second to determine if an attack hit; in ACKS if the DM decides not to tell players the AC of the monster, that's just more fucking math to do for absolutely no reason. None whatsoever. Everyone starts with an attack throw of 10+, why not just roll this into the monster ACs like 3rd edition does? Why the FUCK did you feel the need to lower AC and put this in the attack table? It's just stupid as hell. Arrg. Seriously, the only explanation can be that the designers wanted something "different", but really, it's just ascending armor class made more opaque. That is fucking worthless and dumb. I said I wasn't going to rant, but this is annoying.



Overall, with the exception of the idiotic attack rolls, ACKS is a decent D&D-like game that has a some good things going for it. As a game that tries to unify low-level play with high-level domain management, it leaves a lot to be desired. I browsed my old Mentzer sets when typing this up and cannot see any reason whatsoever to use ACKS over the system described in those books. What someone needs to do is either goad WotC into reprinting the Mentzer sets, or clone the domain rules outlined in those sets. $40 was a bit much to spend on ACKS, I think. The PDF is probably worth the $10, but print it out yourself and skip the hardcover.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chivalry and Sorcery character generation

A couple days ago, Chris sparked a discussion about running "some kind of hardcore medievalist game like first or second edition Chivalry and Sorcery" on G+, which resulted in over 100 replies, nearly uniformly positive of such a venture. Part of the discussion dealt with which edition of C&S to run (I'm going with 6th, Chimera, which is technically a bootleg), either 1st or 2nd. I am not one to argue with fate, so I figured I'd roll up a character for each edition for fun. All random, too. No cheating. How long will this take…

2nd Edition

Since I am most familiar with 2nd, I figured I'd start here. On to the die rolling!


1) Determining Omens At Birth

Yeah, lemme roll that d100 to see how my life begins…it's not indicated whether or not you roll for your Astrological Sign or Aspect first, so I'm going Aspect, then Astrology.

55 - Neutral. That's not terrible.
98 - Pisces. +10 bonus for fighter and thief. That sounds good. Or guildsmen or craftsmen. That sounds boring.


2) Computing Character Prime Requisite Points (CPR)

2d6 = 9 x 10 = 90 + 50 = 140 points. Quite a few points to make the character. I'll wait to figure out race and vocation before assigning any points.


3) Choosing a Race and a Vocation

Let's go human here, as I have no desire to play an elf or monster. I thought about making a goblin, but that requires an inauspicious birth. Also, it's difficult to pick man-at-arms or knight vs. thief when I have NO IDEA what the social class of the character is. Arrg…okay, time to roll that.


4) Determining Social Class

Father's Social Class: d100 = 60. Townsman.

Character's Sibling Class: d100 = 75. 3rd son/daughter. I'm gonna say "son", because if this is going to be remotely hardcore and medieval, I'm not about to play a female character. Actually, if I go the thief route, that could be interesting…as I am the youngest, rolling d6s determines that the other two siblings are male (4, 1st born) and female (5, 2nd born). No chance for property either way. I might come back and use the Death Rule to kill those two off once I determine age.

Character's Family Status: d100 + 10 for Neutral Aspect = 69. Good son/daughter. Better than being a black sheep, but if I go thief that could put a damper on familial relations.

Father's Vocation/Rank: d100 = 78. Blacksmith. Monthly income is 150 sp, which is quite a bit, and starts off with a status of 4.


5) Determining the Prime Requisites

So, two ways to go here…female thief or male man-at-arms. Either one would fit with what I've rolled so far; as a change of pace, I'm going with female thief character. No would would suspect a woman as being a thief in hardcore medieval gaming, and the fact that she has reason to be in the city (unmarried, lives with her blacksmith father) means lots of opportunity to do all sorts of stuff. Small size would also be an advantage. Let's go with that. I'm prepared to have no money, nor property, as she'll just steal it. Suckers.

But first…yeah, Character Size. Isn't this fun? d20 = 4. Light Frame. Reduce bodyweight by d10% (7) + 10% = 17%. Size, d100 = 70. 5'7", which is definitely tall for a female back in ye olde dayes. Weight is 132 * .83 = 110 pounds. Body is 13. Going to mybodygallery.com pulls up this as an example type:



Thin, but not ridiculously so. NO ONE WILL SUSPECT MY THIEVERY!

Dexterity - Let's jack this up as high as possible. A DEX of 25 would be 34 points, which seems extremely expensive, but still leaves 106 points left, or an average starting amount. Since this is my character, I'm going with the 25. DEX CR 19, Move Silent +25%, Hide +36%, Pick Pocket +25%, Disarm Trap +25%, Pick Lock +25%. Already an excellent thief.

Constitution - CON of 14 is "healthy", which seems good for a blacksmith's daughter. 14 points, 3% body, 14% fatigue recovery. +3% Resist Disease, 70% Resurrection chance, 0.4 CON Factor, CON CR 14.

Strength - A lithe female who steals crap doesn't need a high strength…I'll go with a STR of 9 for 9 points, CR 7. Strength Factor .7.

Wisdom - Someone dumb enough to be a thief when their family is rather well-off (relatively) cannot have a lot of wisdom. Plus, she's young, so I'll make this low. How about a 9 (9 points) for "naive"? Slightly below average, but not a complete idiot. CR 6.

Intelligence - While not wise at all, a thievish-type needs to be pretty sharp to not get caught. I'll go with an IQ of 18, "brilliant". That use 20 points, CR 15. It also helps with some thief skills: Find Door +25%, Find Trap +15%, Find Hidden Object +20%. Read Well is 95%, Remember Spell 90% (hey, it could happen), unlimited language facility with 7 points/level. She is going to put some scholars to shame.

Bardic Voice - A BV of 15 seems pretty good; that's 15 points and she is "eloquent". CR 13, so somewhat persuasive.

Piety - As a thief, the character probably doesn't put much emphasis on religion whatsoever, given the medieval mindset of certain doom for breaking a Commandment. She goes to church every week to keep up appearances, but really she's just there to look for potential targets. Piety 4 makes her a "nominal" believer, with a minor chance to call on divine intervention (4%).

Personal Appearance - I have 35 points left, and of course as this is a female character I want to dump a bunch of points into appearance. APP of 20 is 24 points (CR 14), and makes her "attractive". Good for distracting idiots when they're getting their pockets picked.

Ferocity - 11 points left over gives a FER of 11, CR 11. "Determined". Not a leader, but no slouch, either.

Now to determine Charisma…

DEX + WIS + IQ + BV + APP + FER / 6 = 16.33, rounded to 16. Pretty good starting score.

DEX 25 = +3
WIS 9 = -1
IQ 18 = +1
BV 15 = 0
APP 20 = 0
FER 11 = 0
Social Rank = 0

So an overall CHA of 19, CR 16, "Commanding". I guess being smart and good looking can make up for a lot.

Body Levels - 13 + 2 for CON +2 for IQ = 17 * 1.0 (thief/assassin) = 17.

Fatigue - CON + 1d6 = 3, 17 to start.

Carrying Capacity - STR Factor + CON Factor x Weight = .7 + .4 * 110 = 121 DR (or 12 pounds). Wow, that is pathetic. So she can basically wear clothes and carry a dagger, maybe a small bag of loot. Whatever.

Military Ability - 1/12 * (DEX + STR + WIS + IQ + CHA + FER) = 7.58 * 1.0 (thief) = 8 rounded.

Command Level - MA/2 = 4.

Personal Combat Factor - Equal to Military Ability (8), which makes me question the usefulness of having Yet Another number to track. Sticking with light weapons, 1 blow per round, +1 to hit/parry, 3xWeapon Damage Factor (which means Not Bad). Pretty decent for a thief. PCF increases by 1 per level.


6) Special Character Traits

Optional, but really the most fun part about this crap.

Eye Color - d10 = 10. Blue-grey.

Complexion - d10 = 2, dark, tans easily.

Hair Color - d10 = 8, auburn.

Hair Texture - d10 = 9 - 2 (dark complexion) = 7, straight

Eyesight - d100 = 02, farsighted, +5% in Archery and Throwing Missiles. No idea if there's any disadvantage to this; doesn't look like it.

Hearing - d100 = 14, normal hearing range.

Special Traits - d100 = 09, Natural Sense of Distance. 99% accuracy judging distances…that could come in handy.

Character Attitudes - d100 = Character is self-interested and can prove disloyal if it is seen to be in his best interests. Hah, perfect.


7) Phobias

Again, optional…but not really. If there's a table, I roll on it.

d100 = 47, no phobias. Boooooring. Out of curiosity, rolling d100 on the table gives 48, Hydrophobia. That could be fun. Maybe the character will develop that later.


8) Experience Skills

Oh boy, the fun part…since this character is a thief, I have a lot of crap to figure out.

Climbing - 75% + 2% per point of DEX over 12 = 101% + 3%/level. Well, that's nice.

Listening/Watching - Normal human chances here.

Learn Languages - Average of IQ/BV = 16.5 rounded to 17. So a new language takes 9 weeks to learn. Average of IQ/WIS is 13.5, rounded to 14. Takes 18 weeks to learn the written language. Starting with 7 points, I'll put 5 points into Writing Like a Native (whatever starting language we get to begin) and the remaining two points into basic fluency in two more languages. How about Thieves Cant and Latin? It'd probably make more sense to assume the written language is also Latin, since anything worth reading would be in that tongue…I doubt written English in a HARDCORE MEDIEVALIST GAME would be very useful. It also means my character is "extremely educated", and that's alright. Helps with the cover.

Counting - Important! Bahh, start with the minimal 20% as I already blew all the language points. At 2nd level, she'll spend the year (and all 7 points) on becoming an expert, along with Abacus use.

Estimate Distance - 99%, by virtue of the Special Trait.

Understand Simple Mechanisms - SR roll of IQ + WIS x 2 = 54%.

Thievish Experience Skills - This might take a while…

Disarm Trap - 5% + 25% = 30%
Pick Lock - 5% + 25% = 30%
Detect Hidden Door - 3% + 25% = 28%
Detect Hidden Trap - 5% + 15% = 20%
Detect Hidden Object - 5% + 20% = 25%
Hide Object
Pick Pocket - 5% + 25% = 30%
Thief Detecting Thievery
Evade Discovery - 25%, Move Silently + 25% (50%), Hide + 36% (61%)
Mugging and Backstabbing
Evaluate Loot - 50%
Fencing Loot - 20%

Considering I'm starting at Level 1 with no experience points, that gives a base of 1 for all these skills. What's interesting is that the character has bonuses to Move Silently and Hiding, but the actual TES is called Evade Discovery. And that skill isn't even explained. Isn't that great? Also, being a Pisces of Neutral Aspect gives +10% to all thief skills. At least how I understand it. That's cool.

Again, since no XP, can't buy any skills…but I shall roll on the Food Preparation chart. d100 + 15 for being female = 32, so she possessing cooking knowledge. Rolling on Haut Cuisine first = 43, nope. Rolling the rest results in knowledge of Baking Bread, Making Desserts, Cooking Vegetables. Don't ask her to cook any meat or use spices…prepare for bland vegetable soup.


After all that, I have no desire to pro-rate this character, hence I'm done. I'll give her some normal clothing and say she has a "thief outfit" hidden under her bed, along with a dagger somewhere. Fuck this, I'll do the 1st edition character later.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yggdrasill: Kinda boring

So I got the main rulebook for Yggdrasill the other day (Amazon comes through yet again) and did a quick flip-through. My first impressions were that it captures the essence of Norse myth and legend simply due to the layout of the book. It's rather dreary and somewhat depressing; the colors give a definitive melancholic feel to the whole thing. So far so good. I wouldn't want to play Beowulf in the Spongebob universe (hmmm...there's an idea), hence that's not a knock whatsoever, and in fact is a huge positive. I'm not one to push style over substance, but this is a prime example of why PDFs suck and I hate reading them. The physical presence of the book creates a certain feeling that is difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate through electronic means. Anyway, there's that...

Last night I actually read the whole thing, only semi-watching MNF, which sort of fits within the theme of a Norse rpg: the giants of the NFL traveled to a cloudy, misty land, defeated by a surly group of individuals who won the battle due to interference from the gods. Yes, that game was ridiculous. Where are the real refs? Yggdrasill is not ridiculous, and it's a reasonably good game, but it's kind of boring. Nothing about this game really stands apart mechanically. In fact, I kept thinking that Dragon Warriors would be a better system to use as it has a similar feel.

Lots of flavor text help maintain the atmosphere yet provide nothing compelling when it's all over. I can't really say what it is about this game that I dislike, as I don't dislike it at all; it just isn't that interesting. Playing Vikings (the game specifically states its not about vikings due to the temporal component of that term) can go one of two ways: cinematic and badass or realistic and morose. Yggsdrasill goes with the second, attempting to maintain a very historical view of Norsemen. And then it throws in magic and stuff. So, really it's not "historical", but instead Norse myth (good), tries to put those myths in a historical context (also good), and maintains the tone inherent in those myths (great). This does not make a fun game.

I'm not really that interested in being playing mellow games about inevitable doom. Perhaps this game is not directed at me, then, because Norse myth is about fate and dying and gloomy crap. Just like it can be argued that Middle Earth is a terrible roleplaying world (I'm not entirely convinced but I definitely understand the sentiment), this is not a game you pick up and play every so often. It takes a commitment to engage in a game such as this due to the subject matter. This is not a casual rpg whatsoever.

Should you buy it? If you were to ask me to recommend an rpg that accurately captures Norse myth, this would be it. In fact, the only other game with a true Scandinavian bent I can think of is MEGA*, and it pretty much sucks. Yes, I own that, too. But do you really want to play in that environment? I'm sure there are groups who wish to explore such areas in their "serious gameplay", so yeah, get this. If you are looking for something a bit more lighthearted, I suggest the Spongebob Viking game I mentioned above.



*Don't talk to me about Rune...that hardly counts. And of course I own that.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Carcosa

A while back (like two months) I promised a review of Carcosa. Wait, let me start over. It's been two months since I posted anything, and in that time I've bought a lot of new rpg stuff, so I figured I'd do some short reviews the next couple days. And also, I finally read Carcosa cover to cover the other night and can make an accurate assessment.

First of all, I am outraged. Outraged I considered not buying this for whatever reason. See, ladies and gents, this is why you get drunk and act impulsively from time to time: so you wake up one morn and discover a book you don't remember, peruse it, and become enlightened.

Carcosa isn't groundbreaking. Not in the sense of, "Wow, this is new and exciting!" No, in fact, it's a homage to all the pulp science-fantasy that came before it. The author has gone to great lengths to throw in every sort of pulp influence he could think of. The difference between Carcosa and some other works I shan't mention is simply quality. This is a quality book in all ways. The writing is excellent, the production values are superb and you get a real sense of what a fucked up place the planet Carcosa is within a page or two, but never feel like there's some overarching plot that needs to direct your game.

There IS a plot of sorts, but it's nothing more than, "Everything is trying to kill you." And I do mean everything. Cthulhu and his minions live there. That's enough, right? What about all the space aliens and eldritch horrors lurking in the shadows? Dump in a multitude of races hellbent on using each other as human sacrifices to summon said horrors and bind them to service. This isn't a setting meant for playing with your kids, this is dirty, dirty fucked up pulp that leaves you feeling disturbed.

You can easily use Carcosa in a D&D-like game. In fact, it's pretty obvious that's what it's for, and specifically mentions it was designed for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I can see that. However, there are some mechanics included that are rather interesting, namely rolling on a chart to see what dice you roll. For instance, you hit with a dagger. It doesn't do 1d4 damage 100% of the time. No. Instead, it might do 1d8, 1d6, whatever. And this works for everything. The villager with a pitchfork might be a real badass one round to the next. Throw in the idea that hit points are rolled every encounter, using the same method, and it's possible a high level character ends up rolling a couple d4s for hit points while the villagers are using d12s. The randomness creates an entirely new sort of tension due to the uncertainty of combat. Good luck with your powergaming goals 2012 on Planet Carcosa.

Basically, if you like D&D in the way it was initially intended to be played, Carcosa fits in perfectly.