Monday, 25 October 2010

The Power And The Glory RPG - Bulletpoint version

This is, I believe, all the rules and game format so far and should be complete to play. Ideally I'd like to follow this with a nicer PDF version with a crash course in 1950s/1960s motorsport but this is where we are at the moment.

Buyer Beware - Totally unplaytested.


DRIVE is d6+6, DOOM is 2d6+6, roll 3d6 and allocate at will. Pick a name, nationality, and one sentence "elevator pitch" for your driver. Pick a team for him to drive for.

Stuck for suitably international driver names? Pick up the newspaper and scan the team sheets for last weekend's football. Note that there were very few top-level racing drivers from Asia, Africa (excluding white South Africans), the Middle East or Communist countries in the 1950s and 1960s - off-hand I can't even think of one. Don't let that stop you though.


Lorenzo Totti, Italian, Scuderia Ferrari
Spoilt brat playboy.


Menzies Lynch, Scottish, Ecurie Tipton(*)
Talented and taciturn driver from Highland farming stock.

(*) Does not exist. In-joke moniker for my slotcar racing exploits

Tokens aka The Short Straw aka "Beads"

(This assumes coloured black and white coloured beads or flat marbles in an opaque bag. Adjust according to whatever is available to your group. Playing cards with PLAYER LIVES or PLAYER DIES will also do in which case the former is WHITE and the latter BLACK).

Each player draws one bead from the bag and keeps it secret. It refers to the ultimate fate of the player to your right. White = destined to live. Black = destined to be killed.

Clerk of the Course

Randomize one player as "Clerk of the Course" (quasi-GM). He keeps in front of him the "Gonk", a small item with some motorsport significance that marks his role - spark plug, model racing car, Scalextric car, miniature helmet etc. Ideally this should be period-appropriate - a 1960s racing toy car for a 1960s game etc. When the role of Clerk of the Course changes, pass the "Gonk" on. This acts a reminder as to who is currently in the hot seat. Exactly what your "Gonk" is is left to the ingenuity of the gaming group.

Clerk of the Course sets the scene for the first Grand Prix (a round of play, shorted to GP). Describes location, type of race, weather, reputation etc.

e.g. Monaco GP, a street race around the principality, blazing sunshine, a race notorious for breaking cars, slow-speed crashes and difficult in overtaking.

This may be based upon a real venue (for the enthusiasts) or completely fictional even down to being set in a fictional, Ruritanian nation. In the 1950s some GPs were still being run on closed public roads.

Each GP consists of five hazards. The Clerk of the Course selects the first hazard from the list and it's "victim" and must narrate the run-up to the hazard. Note that harder a hazard the Clerk of the Course throws at the victim the greater the points the victim scores should they overcome it...

The victim then "fights" the hazard in the old Fighting Fantasy style with DRIVE replacing SKILL and DOOM replacing STAMINA. (Both roll 2d6+SKILL. Highest causes loss of 2 STAMINA to other. Repeat until somebody runs out of STAMINA. Check any FF book.)

If the victim wins he scores points based upon the hazard and becomes the new Clerk of the Course and takes control of the "Gonk". He narrates exactly how he overcame the hazard (recovered control, went wide onto the grass to avoid the backmarker etc.)

If he loses, he is out of the game and the bead held by the player to his left is revealed.

If black, the victim died and is out of the game and the Clerk of the Course must narrate the aftermath. The player may still be Clerk of the Course in later GPs.

If white, the victim survived the hazard and the Clerk of the Course must narrate the aftermath. The victim may no longer score points, nor be a victim again but may still be Clerk of the Course in later GPs. He is assumed to not make any impression in subsequent races for this season and does not get mentioned again.

If the victim beats a Race Ending hazard he may not be targeted as a victim again in this GP.

When the victim fails to overcome a hazard, the Clerk of the Course remains in that role and keeps the "gonk".

After five hazards have been resolved, a new GP happens. Randomize Clerk of the Course again.

Repeat procedure until all drivers have run out of DOOM points or a GP starts with just one driver left.

And the end of the season (one or no drivers left or you have run out of time), total points for a winner (if you care). This driver has amassed the greatest reputation even if it is posthumous. Actual race placings (which we ignore) are not particularly relevant (Stirling Moss never won the driver's championship).

In subsequent seasons, surviving drivers may be reused but their DOOM and DRIVE are rerolled. Their scores in previous games may be kept to show their "career" points against their whole career not simply this season but this has no real game effect.

List of Hazards

Those marked (*) are race ending even if overcome. Driver may not be targeted again this race.

HAZARD/DRIVE/DOOM/POINTS/If hazard overcome/Example "Black" outcomes
BLOWOUT(*) 8/4/52/Stops car safely/Crash
HIGH SPEED BLOWOUT(*) 10/8/100/Stops car safely/Crash
SKID 7/10/70/Regains control or stops car safely/Crash
SPIN 11/4/44/Stops car safely/Crash
OFF TRACK 7/6/42/Misses anything hard, returns to track/Crash, ditched, beached
TRAPPED IN BURNING CAR(*) 10/4/60/Escapes/Burns & Smoke inhalation
RISK OF HITTING OTHER CAR 10/4/40/Misses car/Crash
TANGLE WITH BACKMARKER 10/2/20/Misses car/Crash
SOMETHING BREAKS(*) 7/10/90/Stops car safely/Crash
SOLID OBSTACLE 8/8/64/Misses obstacle/Crash
BREAKDOWN(*) 10/2/40/Stops car safely/Crash
FIRE IN PITS 9/8/72/Avoids flames/Burns & Smoke inhalation
DEBRIS 9/6/54/Misses debris/Strikes debris, crash
FUEL LEAK(*) 6/10/80/Stops car safely/Fire, car stops in dangerous place
ANIMAL/SPECTATOR ON TRACK 10/4/60/Misses obstacle/Crash

Extending this list.

Generally speaking, a short, sharp shock (dodging a spectator) has a high DRIVE and a low DOOM because the hazard is resolved quickly. Something that drags on, such as a mechanical failure at speed has a low DRIVE but a high DOOM, requiring several relatively easy rolls to overcome.

Points are simply DRIVE*DOOM with a +20 bonus to all Race Ending hazards.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

D&D Level Drain As Injuries

I recently had two thoughts about uses of Level Drain in D&D variants.

(I don't actually know why these came to mind because I haven't been thinking about D&D much lately, but these ideas come to me none-the-less.)

Level Drain could be used to simulate big, long-term injuries. Hit Point loss gets recovered quickly in game terms with healing spells and potions all over the shop, but Level Drain takes a while - you have to build up the XP to get back to where you were and for a while you aren't as good as you know have been in the past.

So if you were running a "soft" game whereby you didn't want to kill PCs at 0hp, you could rule that 0hp for a PC means "bad injury". The PC is now totally out of it and has to be carried out of the dungeon and next time out, the hp will be recovered but a level has been lost. You can put an in-game gloss on what this injury is exactly but until the level is recovered, the PC is still recovering from it. And if they retire the PC thus depriving him of a chance to recover - well, Fanjion the Fighter's broken pelvis from that fall down the pit never set properly and so he retired in order to run the local spit-and-sawdust boozer.

A 1st level character would be relegated down to 0-level status and forced retirement, his injury losing that little bit of superiority he once enjoyed to the man in the street. Alternatively they could just be dead.

You could also rule that if a physical or mental injury that occurs in-game and cannot possibly be handwaved with "just lost a few hp and had enough to not worry about" (e.g. shot in head at pointblank range, impaled on rusty spike, loss of limb) the hp could be lost and a level or two.

This also leads onto the second idea I had which was weapons that dish out Level Drains, mostly guns and blasters. D&D's "survival under fire" hit points have never really fitted in with guns so perhaps a Star Wars-type blaster could just dish out a Level Drain as it's damage and bypass hp altogether (other than that which is lost as a result of level drain). Perhaps a Save vs Wands to turn that hit into a narrow miss or a Save vs Dragon Breath if the incoming fire is more, well fire-like I suppose.

This would speed up record-keeping since in a firearm/laser fight, 1st level mooks (Stormtroopers) are just alive or dead with a single blow and don't really need hp at all (I believe 4E does something similar to this). It represents that fact that there is really no such thing as a mere flesh wound from a modern or futuristic firearm.

Once you take a blaster hit, you lose hp because of the level and just about everything you do as a D&D character that relies upon game mechanics gets knocked down a bit. Another quirk in this system is that once a PC gets to the high levels where the xp needed to level up is comparitively small (the +x hp per level with no CON modifiers sort of levels) he recovers from Level Drain injuries much quicker.

Everybody hates Level Drain but viewed like this I think it might be one of D&D's best mechanisms.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Croquet Dwarves

This is a picture of two NWOBHM Dwarfs with earrings and ponytails, in a dungeon, playing croquet. In a gamebook. In 1985.

I defy you to find a more Brit Old School picture than this. Go, on I bloody defy you to beat that!

(Jon Glentoran for Warlock No. 7 from the solo adventure The Temple of Testing, December 1985)

Monday, 11 October 2010

This Is Why...

I cannot honestly comprehend how I have had this blog for so long without mentioning The Greatest Roleplaying Game Ever Created Bar None. Please accept this mind-blowing introduction to the game from WD82 as recompense.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Warhammer Army Lists Done Old School

£17.50 army list books? Get stuffed. In Warhammer 1st edition days this was yer army list and served dual purpose as mail order form as well.

Note that S is probably one less than you are expecting (add 1 to get the figures used in 2nd edition onwards), T is bizarrely alphabetic despite being on exactly the same scale as S - C is third letter, add 1 = a modern 4. Also Warhammer did not shy away from fractional M scores in those days. In WFB1 and WFB2 Wizards came in four levels. Constitution was just a spell point system, spells costing Constitution as cast.

On the subject of Warhammer, I noticed this in WD95 (November 1987). There was a serious amount of butthurt on the Stourbridge club's boards back when WFB8 was announced as being only 4 years after WFB7 and this was generally felt to be not playing fair. However, back when WFB3 was released...

That's right three versions in five years in the eighties although Boardgamegeek tells me that WFB1 was 1983, WFB2 was 1984 which makes it three versions in four years, and two in two back at the start. Admittedly Boardgamegeek also tells me that Tony Ackland did WFB1's cover illo and that's bollocks since it was Blanche.

See, they were total money-grubbing bastards even back then.

The Key of Tirandor

News of Mongoose's forthcoming In From The Cold, a retrospective of Dave Morris pieces for the Dwarf reminded me of Key of Tirandor which is included within. Since it's a collection of Dave Morris articles I am assuming that Mike Polling is a pseudonym - a fairly common practise in the magazine industry in order to avoid letting on that the majority of editorial content is written by one or two people. Certainly reading the excellent Fabled Lands blog shows a strong similarity in style.

For me Tirandor was the subject of much curiosity for a very long time. It was serialised in WD49 and WD50 (Jan and Feb 1984) and while I've had a copy of WD50 for nearly twenty years, WD49 eluded me until recently. So I periodically used to come across the second half of this AD&D scenario that appears to be set inside the head of some doo-lally-tat wizard and wonder how on earth the plot had led there.

As originally published for AD&D the scenario is 10 pages long which doesn't sound very much (would cover about two encounter areas for a 3.5E dungeon I think...) but as was typical of the Dwarf in this era, there is a hell of lot of text densely crammed into those pages in the traditional small print. Break out your magnifying glasses anyone thinking of running it today.

Dense tiny text aside this scenario really packs the material in tightly. In the first five pages we get a campaign background to a stand-alone fantasy world, a world map, six high-level pre-gens, two player's introductions, four "handouts" to set the scene (fragments of manuscripts relevant to the party leader's magical research), a journey through three separate locations and two "dungeons" (actually a large house in a swamp and a subterranean city) with 25 and 103 "rooms" respectively.

Dungeon design is massively sped up by having several rooms sharing a single, gnomic description (e.g. G, H, I : Reception rooms; empty, dusty) or just titles (Cooking Area, Sleeping Quarters etc.). It's a good lesson in economical writing when designing dungeons and megadungeon aficionados should take a look at it.

Anyway, to the plot and atmosphere. Heavily spoilered so apply discretion.

Tirandor is the Atlantis of the campaign setting (a setting that lacks Gods and therefore functional Clerics), a mythical land that never existed except it did and as is the norm for this sort of thing, great power lies waiting for whoever can find it.

8th Level MU Kastarys believes it exists and assembles a bunch of 7th and 8th level pre-gens to help him look for it.

It might have something to do with that mountain range just to the south of the campaign start point, the one named THE MOUNTAINS OF TIRANDOR. Not that I'm giving anything away here.

Oh, and pre-gen Zanok has some worthless family heirloom called THE KEY OF TIRANDOR. Apparently this isn't thought to be significant despite the fact that the party are searching for a place called TIRANDOR which is, of course, only a child's tale in a place called MOUNTAINS OF TIRANDOR in a scenario called THE KEY OF TIRANDOR. The artifact called THE KEY OF TIRANDOR therefore can't be very important even though (SPOILER) this place called TIRANDOR which doesn't exist actually does.

Quote "He has no idea of it's significance", suggesting that Int 12 and Wis 13 don't count for much these days.

This strikes me as causing some searching questions about five minutes into the first game session or alternatively never turning up at all as Zanok's player doesn't bother to read his character sheet. My solution would be a separate briefing for Zanok saying that the quest for non-existent TIRANDOR intrigues him because of the old family heirloom and he has agreed to it out of curiosity and a feeling of being fated to it - it then being up to Zanok's player as to when and if the heirloom is mentioned to the other PCs.

Off we go to Tirandor then...

First off is an attack by bandits which appears to be a bit of a random encounter except that when slaughtered their leader drops a gem which Zanok (or whoever is carrying The Key if he is not, for example he's dead already and mysteriously enough the rest decided to keep his it's-useless-right? family heirloom) feels a urge to keep and merge with the rest of The Key. This crops up during the scenario, both apparently coincidental encounters with people who have the other parts of the key and a certain degree of telling the PCs what they feel. I'm always leary of this sort of thing. It needs a party who are happy with being told what they feel and get on it. I'm not sure that many of the people I've ever roleplayed with are like that.

Then we enter the swamps after fighting off 12 fanatic wolves who oddly lack a pack leader (the fight to the death nature of the encounter and lack of alpha male is stressed but never explained). Random encounter table including the wonderful entry "Miscellaneous harmless creatures".

The swamp contains the House of Dorganath our 25-room dungeon. This is where I start to get a miffed with the set-up of the scenario. Dorganath is a pretty neat creation - he is an evil wizard who is mystically tied to the swamps and has a certain amount of Tom Bombadil in him in that he is a partial personification of the land. If one dies the other does, but this is never very clear to the PCs because they won't be hanging around to see the presumable drying out of the swamps after they off him nor is there any real scope of attacking him via the swamp - I can imagine a Mussolini-style piece of civic engineering to drain the swamps therefore draining all his power away but obviously that is never going to happen within the confines of a game session.

Where I start to get a little bit miffed and start to suspect that the scenario might not work for me is the nature of the way this is written - it seems to remove much in the way of player choice. For a start as it is setup the party can wander the swamp and go nowhere or follow the shifting patches of dry land that Dorganath is producing to lead them to his house. No real choice.

The swamps are also one of two areas whereby any attempt to resolve the problem by flying meets a real "you can't do that because it ruins my plot" suggestion which makes it seem daft to give two PCs the ability to fly (Zanok's Wings of Flying and Kastarys' Fly spell) and another access to a Djinn which presumably also flies. (In both instances, the answers are that the house and path cannot be seen when flying and later on any attempt to fly over a solid wall causes the wall to grow and not permit it).

Once at Dorganath's house he has access to a host of not-quite-zombies, animated souls of his victims and those of the swamp. These don't fight but effectively stop the PCs from doing anything that Dorganath/The DM doesn't want them to do. The PCs have to meet him for a chat and then kill him, even if they try to circumvent the plot by breaking in rather than knocking on the door, the plot armour zombies come along and through sheer bloody-mindedness force them back on the right track.

Secondly, a lot of the excellent ideas are opaque to the players. Case in point being Dorganath. Unless the DM has the swamps suddenly turn into virgin pasture within ten seconds of the wizard's death the whole idea will have to be explained later ("Here's what that meant and what was going on") and that's like having to explain a joke. Or like Donnie Darko whereby you have to read the director's website to find out all the stuff he never bothered to explain in the film - a film that I absolutely detest and believe that anybody who rates it is just trying to hide the fact that it's bollocks and they didn't understand it either. Emperors New Clothes and all that. But I digress.

Once out of Dorganath's house and into the mountains, the party runs into the sage Aroyendis. Aroyendis is basically a super being who can't be touched, quotes T.S. Eliot with the players expected to pick up on this OOC in order to twig that this is because of his quote "position at the precise point where all dimensions, all times, all universes, in short, all realities meet." In my book this makes him Yog-Sothoth but then it probably wouldn't because I wouldn't recognise T.S. Eliot unless it was that "whimper not a bang" business.

I'm being pretty down on this but actually I like everything in this scenario except the scenario. I like the ideas, I like the rough progression through the plot/journey but I don't like the way it is implemented with it's DM-exclusive details and lack of meaningful player choice. I like it, but I wouldn't run it this way. I'd much prefer to flesh it out drastically and remove much of the railroad feel.

We'll carry onto the Anak city and then onto metaphysical weirdness in a following post.

(Off topic - thanks to everyone for the kind wishes and words re eye op - very much appreciated and feels much better to be out of purdah so to speak and able to do things myself now. Just a matter of waiting for focusing to sharpen up now.)