Monday, December 29, 2014

Legends of the Wulin - It exists!

A very elusive game for those of us who are crazy about wuxia is Legends of the Wulin. Eos Press made a game a few years back called Weapons of the Gods, based on a comic I have never been able to track down. The next step in the evolution of that game system have been mentioned in hushed whispers, but sightings are few and far between. The publisher does not even sell the game from their own website!! I went so far as to pledge for a Kickstarter where one of the bonuses on a higher pledge level was not only the board game the crowd funding campaign was all about, but also a copy of the hard to catch RPG. Now it's mine! Noble Knight Games suddenly had a copy, and I grabbed it as fast as I could! Yah! 

Nothing is so sweet to a collector as finding that thing you have been looking for. The system looks interesting, but a bit fiddly. It's very clearly made by someone who knows a thing or two about Chinese culture, and the visuals are quite impressive with glossy paper and a lot of art. This baby increased the shipping weight and costs quite a bit!

Now it's mine. It will be interesting to see how it stacks up compared to Tianxia.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Playing in Tekumel, with Fate

I have been quite curious about Tekumel a while now. More and more Tekumel texts have assembled on my sagging shelves, and I have decided to take a dive into the deep end and run a game in the new year. Bethorm arrived and I blogged about my impressions. Having read a bit more in it I'm now pretty clear I wont run that game. It's a bit too fiddly for me. But, the game system I have been using lately, Fate, might do the trick.

Fate is a very different game. Different from almost all other traditional games I've been playing for all these years. Trying to adapt Fate for Tekumel I've found one of the reasons for that. If you were to become enamoured by Savage Worlds or GURPS and wanted to convert your old game to that new system, is would mainly be a question about how to map the different systems to each other. Magic works in one way in the original system, and then the question is how to make the target magic system to behave that way. Fate is different. I have found that when I started to do a "generic" conversion it felt a bit rough in places. It turns out that the game you want to play will strongly influence how you do it.

My first idea for a Tekumel game centred around a clan house. I figured it would be easiest to keep the game within one clan, within one location and centre is around interaction between clan siblings.

It turned out to be harder than I thought to model this by figuring out how to make the rules for the usual cabal of magic-user, cleric and fighters. I dived deep into the intricacies of Tekumel metaphysics and magic and suddenly I had a game where magic way more complicated than anything else in the game. But, magic was not intended as the big focus of the game! I found out it is very easy to use the so called "Fate fractal" to take that literally and recursively deep into a tailspin of complexity.

That was when I realized what I wrote above, the game you want to play will strongly influence how you do it. Fate is a game system that change depending on how you handle it. Once again I had been fooled. Once again the strangeness of it all had exposed how I had approached the game I was planning with an approach that the rules was something I brought to the game, not something that adapted to the game. I wonder if I will ever feel comfortable with that!

Now I have a set of Fate rule guidelines for a Tekumelian game, and once I have written it all down from my handwritten notes I will put them up for perusal.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A solution to echoing empty rooms in a dungeon

Some people might remember that I have written before about the empty dungeon. For some people that is not a problem. They like the exploration of the dungeon environment to be a resource management challenge. Personally I like the idea of the challenge, but I have been thinking of "compressing" the experience a bit. If nothing else, it's variation. Right?

Ken St. Andre posted this on his blog a while ago. I had opened it in a tab on my browser and did not get around to reading it for real until now. That is a neat idea on how to do the "compressing" of your dungeon.

For those who want the executive summary, the idea is to make each room a index card, shuffle and deal a matrix of cards and those are the levels of your dungeon. Nice idea.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Old D&D editions and clones - Brave Halfling's Delving Deeper

As some of you might be aware, the delivery of the Brave Halfling boxed set edition of Delving Deeper was a long and miserable story. But, it arrived in the end and it was not a disappointment.

Now, there are nothing here to really excite me. I must admit that first of all. The game is not like LotfP or Ambition & Avarice. But, it does not try to be. Delving Deeper is trying to be faithful to the OD&D edition, and does a decent job of it. I guess you can split hairs and list all the differences, but let us not forget they have to differ from the original game for legal reasons! If OD&D is your kind of flavour, this is not a bad clone to pick up. When I compare it to the original it feels quite close actually. In some cases more close than e.g. Swords & Wizardry Whitebox (which I will write about at a later date).

The first thing that strike me is the pretty box. The front illustration is excellent, and filed with action. Nasty monsters fighting dungeon delvers, it's right there on the tin, so to speak. I really like Mark Allen's artwork and I like the uniformity it gives the game. One nice thing is the amount of illustrations in the monster book.

Having mentioned the books I guess I have to mention that this edition is not three small booklets. It's five books, but in the books "Volume I", "Volume II" and "Volume III" are mentioned, which looks confusing. I like that there's a book for players and one for referees. I'm less thrilled with a whole book of treasures. So often those books are just rehashes of "classic D&D items", i.e. boring retreads of Gary's campaign. A booklet with random tables for generating new content for both monsters and treasure would be my choice. I did say something about this not being intended to be what LotfP is, right? Maybe I should appreciate this for what it is.

The rules for naval combat, aerial exploration and wilderness exploration are compact but looks usable. Probably the only rules for building fortifications I'd ever use would have to be short! That is the feeling about almost everything in this game. It's to the point, solid and usable. I might actually go for this game for the same reason I go for my BRP book, it's simple and workmanlike, even though it lacks bennies, card based initiative and new exciting mechanics. It almost wins me over by not even trying to be selling itself.

One little sweet thing included in the box (did I say I love the box?), is the Blackmarsh setting by Robert Conley. Very classic, with a lot of the feel you get from looking at a map of Blackmoor. It guess that is not a coincidence. It became available before the game arrived at my doorstep, so I got it and for a while entertained the idea of playing Heroes and Other Worlds in that setting. That never came to be, but it is a good canvas for adventure. I'm not sure I'm all done with the sandbox settings of Robert Conley yet! Delving Deeper is not a bad rules set for exploring something like that. It's basic, but that's the point.

Now where do I have my graph paper, pencils and hex paper?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Bethorm - making the first character

What a better way to get to know a rules set, and to get a feel for the book than to make a character! I took the dive, and Biyúnu hiViridáme was the result. Here are some thoughts that arose through the process.

There are eight different sections in chapter three, character generation.
  1. Clan
  2. Personal Info
  3. Religion
  4. Attributes
  5. Personal Traits
  6. Skills 
  7. Defence Values
  8. Contacts
I find it interesting that stats or attributes come first on the fourth step. So, first it starts with your clan. Anyone who knows even a little about Tekumel knows that its social structure is not like your pseudo medieval fantasy at all. The individual is not the central social unit, but the clan. Here is the first step wherein you have to start looking ahead in the book, and then go back again. You have a attribute called Prestige, and it's a sum of your clan influence, and your professional influence. But, you wont know the latter until much later in the procedure. To be fair, this is actually noted in the rules, that you will have to go back and forth a bit.

The step where you note down your personal information is where the prudes and close minded people who raged about D&D5 and its gender and race inclusiveness gets to go bananas. If you like you can roll on tables to get to know not only the biological sex, but also the gender identity and gender expression of your character. I'm almost disappointed the dice gave me such a middle of the road result.

Naturally the step about Religion will matter. Tekumel is, like Glorantha, not only a game where the gods are real, but religion affect all social interplay and interaction. This is my first stumbling block. To me, the gods of stability varies from staid and bland to slightly attractive and convincing in their outlook. Nothing really sticks out, and it feels like classic rpg pantheons. Then there's the gods of change, which varies from the grotesque to the repulsive. I have something of a hard time understanding why anyone would worship them. But, it's part of what makes Tekumel attractive, to make sense of its very different social mores. I also note that the author of Bethorm suggest most people are not all that ideologically engaged in their religion. Might make sense.

When we finally come to the stats it turns out there are not that many of them. Traits and Skills are also very unsurprising. It's a classic Advantage/Disadvantage system, and skills strongly based on their dependent stat. I did find the list of the former fewer than expected, and the latter more numerous than expected. By not focusing too strongly I managed to buy 7 skills.

Since Defences are bases on your skill rankings, it makes sense you calculate them after you have bought skills. But, I have a hard time figuring out exactly how it's supposed to work. Are your Melee Defense based on the lowest of those skills listen? An average? The highest? Dependant on what you use in a particular situation? This section could have been clearer.

Finally we have the most involved section, Contacts. Remember how I mentioned Prestige was something you had to go back and forth to calculate? Now you get to do it again, for every contact you buy and stat out. Sure, you can skip on the stat out part for them, but you need to figure out their clan, if they belong to a certain lineage and go all the way to the end of the book to find the listing of professional ranks. I think I managed to get the costs right on my three contacts. This probably is where a newcomer to Tekumel will stumble a bit. What kind of character do you want as a contact? Many different clans? All walks of life, or people who can help you professionally. The GM will have to guide their players a bit there I think.

After all that, Biyúnu hiViridáme the arrogant and hot headed merchant negotiator novice and worshipper of Hrü'ü was finished!

There are a few things in the character generation process I find interesting. The first thing you encounter is the clan. Before you even know a thing about your character you will decide what clan she belongs to. Then there's the Advantages/Disadvantages. I'm not sure I like them any more. Back when me and my friends generated characters for Ars Magica 2nd ed. we all thought it was great fun. One legged dwarfs, colourblind and with deadly enemies as well as humongous skill ratings gained from those odd ball flaws. Good times. But, there are some good hooks for role playing in there.

Finally, though, there are the contacts. It's interesting that those are not a Advantage you buy, but something everyone has. It kind of squares the circle doesn't it? You start with the social context, and end with the social context. If there's one thing character generation does, it is pointing the players in the direction for the playing of the game. This way it's emphasized that a lonely individual in Tekumel is an anomaly. If there's one thing I'm missing, that would be the "Fate fractal", where everything can be thought of as a character, with Aspects and Skills. Since that idea took root in my brain, any kind of social role playing makes me want to add stats and skills to organizations. Maybe it can be done within the confines of Bethorm, I have actually not thought that through until the end.

It was fun making a character! To exercise the system I will probably try to make a spell casting priest as well. But, that's all for now.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Bethorm - first impressions of the rules

Today I had a day off from work, and unusual for me, I managed to plow through a lot of the rules, and made my first character. Here are some impressions.

After my first positive post about the weird creatures finally being illustrated, it's natural to start off with the visuals. The book is set in two columns, a constant flow of text and the font is sans serif. I'm really not friends with that choice. But, what is worse is the fact that the sections flow into each other. Section 3 is Character Generation, but after all the 3.1 and 3.1.1 and 3.1.2 sections which sometimes feel very cluttered and chopped up, you will find yourself in 4 and 4.1 and 4.1.1 etc without noticing! Add to this the fact that some things are referenced out of order and I find the organization to be less friendly that it should be. Some page breaks would have been nice.

Here it's worth diving into a few facts about how the book is organized. Before you get as far as character generation, you will have read sections on how to set up a typical campaign and a time line of the world. Then you come to making your character, which starts with clan and lineage before you get to anything else. Here you not only get the to the point step by step procedure, you also get an explanation of what a clan is, how the work and interact. This is interesting.

It's clear that Jeff has focused on making the setting become clear and understandable by integrating it into the teaching of the rules. I think this is a very good idea for a setting like Tekumel. It really works. Reading through it, you get a good idea of lot of Tekumel concepts and how they relate to a thing you can grasp, the character. It might make the book be a bit wordy when referencing, but as a starter game for Tekumel this is the way to go. Good thinking! I really like that.

So, the rules and procedures then. Here I found Bethorm to be a bit puzzling. Actually, it made me think a bit of Palladium. Now, I know Palladium Books has got a reputation, but I do not make the comparison with the intention of doing that connection. It's just that the wall of text, interspersed with line art, feels very much like a book from Palladium. Also, there are abilities, calculated abilities which generate points, long list of skills which seems to be a bit odd in its focus and lots of modifiers and fiddly bits. Basically, it feels very old school, and not in the rules lite variety that has become the flavour of choice in OSR circles.

You will do some calculations, and thumbing back and forth in the rules while doing your character, and running a grapple or a called shot will make you break out the rules and do some thinking before you move on. That's how these rules come across. In theory it looks easy, just roll low on 2d10 and doubles are good/bad crits. Simple, if it weren't for all the details. The proof of the pudding will be trying it at the table, I guess.

Next I'll post my thoughts on the character generation, how it works and what it emphasize.
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