Monday Pointers, 2014-10-27

D4: Possessing the Elf

As plenty of people have pointed out over the past 40 odd years, D&D elves have evolved into Mary Sues, basically prettier, more graceful humans that fight like fighters and cast like magic-users. What could be the reality of this pretty facade? An alternate take on the LotFP (and similar games) Elf class.

D6: What Do Spells Tell Us

In the tradition of exploring the OD&D implied setting an analysis of what setting the Fifth Edition spell lists imply.

D8: More Implications

Speaking of implied settings, what are the implications of the original Fiend Folio as an implied setting.

D10: Rifter Reviews

An entire blog’s worth.

LBB Albums

I know a lot of people associate older versions of D&D with metal music but arguably that’s a latter assumption. A comment on the standard short name for Seven Voyages of Zylarthen post over at Save Versus All Wands claimed it made the commenter think of Seven Seas of Rhye by Queen reminded me I’d been thinking about a 1974 soundtrack for gaming.

Some idea, please add your own:

  • Queen II by Queen
  • Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes
  • Fragile by Yes
  • Demons and Wizards by Uriah Heep
  • The Magician’s Birthday by Uriah Heep
  • 666 (The Apocalypse of John, 13/18) by Aphrodite’s Child

I know I skipped that you might expect but that would be my inspirational music circa 1974 (yes, yes, I know, no Led Zeppelin, sue me). Also, the BOC that would inspire me is later (only barely as On Your Feet or on Your Knees came out in 1975.

I’ve often wondered what my D&D would have been like if I’d been a mere five years old when I got Holmes in 1977 (16 instead of 11). I look back at what I can only call hippie fantasy art of the period from weird wizards (immortalized here in Atlanta by the Mellow Mushroom Pizza mushroom) to Yes album covers and think about the worlds I want to build from them now.

On a totally different tack The “What is the OSR” d20 chart, specifically number 15, gave me some nostalgia for my old high school job at a mall pub in El Paso. I’d close it on Friday nights and come home. To unwind I’d read (often the latest Dragon which was in the Silver age leading up to 100 at the time) and listen to Weather Report (usually Night Passage or I Sing the Body Electric).

101 Days of Rifts: Rules IV

One of my trouble spots with Rifts, probably the biggest after MDC, is the untrained combat system in the Game Master’s Guide and RUE. The actions versus attacks system doesn’t work very well. It’s clunky and didn’t make much sense. If two actions for an untrained character is one attack why isn’t one attack for a trained character two actions. It would be easier to just ignore the additions and go back to the original Rifts method which is common in most Palladium games and just have attacks. The problem with this method is now that four attacks for breathing is the standard for trained characters untrained characters, especially mages, are at a serious disadvantage.

The problem is spells consume a certain number of attacks based on their level. It will take a full combat round for a mage to cast even a spell at levels one to three until sixth level. In that time someone focused on hand to hand combat can cross the intervening space and attack the mage or simply fire a weapon at them. Even if they miss the spell the attack spoils the spell.. It was precisely this issue the article “PPE Channeling” in The Rifter #21 addressed. Of course, that system relied on the Game Master’s Guide actions system to work. Also, as I pointed out in my earlier discussion, the shift from spells casting per turn to per attack in RUE provides the same value if in a slightly different form.

In looking for a substitute I’ve had a couple of ideas. One was to adopt a Champions or Star Fleet Battles like system for staggering attacks. You break the turn up into segments based on the largest number of attacks. The character with the largest number acts every segment and those with smaller numbers acts on segments such that their actions spread evenly over the turn . I’ve rejected this as too complex even though I’ve played my fair share of Hero System (I’m a backer for Hero Fantasy Complete) and Starfleet Battles. I also rejected it as alien to Palladium because I want a solution I can use in all my Palladium games.

A more recent thought has been to use the actual seconds system used in Hackmaster Basic. This is alien to Palladium but not as much as the staggered segments system. Also, it’s pretty straight forward. For those not familiar with the system characters have speeds to reflect how quickly they can reset after using melee weapon or how fast they can fire a ranged weapon or cast a spell with lower speeds indicating faster reset. The initiative roll determines how many seconds you have to wait before your first action. The GM starts the count at 1 second. On a second you can act you can move one second’s movement, take a second long action, begin a longer action, or attack. Longer actions and attacks prevent you from acting until their length (for attacks your speed with the weapon) passes. The biggest issue is it would require a lot of conversion work to figure speeds for each combatant type. Movement would be speed divided by five. You could simplify speed for all weapons to fifteen divided by attacks. It’s a lot of work and could get futzy.

However, about the same time I was think about the Hackmaster system I was re-reading Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles looking for material for my first demo scenario (a HU game) and found my answer. This shouldn’t surprise me as before I’ve contended that TMNT was one of the best generic RPGs if you had the core book, TTMNT, and TMNT: Guide to the Universe. The answer it has is the Wizard Combat Table on page 42. This provided a combat skill which gave castings per melee. It had a handy note on how castings interact with attacks; each casting uses up a melee attack but if the wizard still has castings after he’s out of melee attacks he can keep casting. In the rare case of a caster having more attacks than castings I’d use the alternate. Essentially your total castings much be less than or equal to castings and attacks equal or less than attacks. If one of the two is higher than the other the total of castings and attacks cannot exceed the higher one. It also gives save bonuses to the wizard and penalties to his targets as his level increases. The biggest issue is Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is long out of print. However, the same table is present in Heroes Unlimited: Revised Edition on page 93. That game is available in pdf. It may be in Palladium Fantasy Roleplaying First Edition which is also available in pdf but I don’t have my copy handy to check.

Combining castings with the attacks used by spell level in RUE should give mages some flexibility in combat and uses Palladium rules only. I think this will also work better for a consistent rule across games where often everyone gets the two attacks for breathing being heroes but no advancement unless they take a combat skill such as Heroes Unlimited.

101 Days of Rifts: Side Journey to Nightbane

Rummaging through old files I found one titled ‘Nightbane notes’.

And on 1.0.0.0.0.8 5 Lamat 1 Mol the people shall leave their fields and potteries. They shall gather at the temple. There they shall celebrate the eightieth Calendar Round passing since my glorious ascension. – Pacal, King of Palenque

I wonder if they will, Pacal. Will you be remembered on October 21, 4772? Will there be anyone to remember? As I write this it is December 21, 2013 (insert Mayan date). Many of us think the world ended a year and a day ago and it just hasn’t noticed yet.

Children of the New Creation or Outcasts of the First World
Basic outline: this setting is a riff on Nightbane taking the Dark Day as the Northern Hemisphere winter solstice 2012. Start time will be exactly when the sun reached the Tropic of Capricorn and then 24 hours. Much of the description will be straight from Nightbane.

The question is: did the 4th creation end on that day and the last 24 hours of the long cycle were the creation of the new world?

The Nightlands are the remains of the first world and the Nightlords and their servants are the Mayan cycle equivalent of Qlippoth

The date on it is 2012/08/12 but I can remember working on the idea when I lived in Texas so some of it dates to 2007 or so. I was very interested in using the planned end of the world/end of the Mayan calendar as The Dark Day.

The Qlippoth reference is to a GURPS book, Cabal. Cabal presumes two creations, one mapping to Genesis 1 and one mapping to Genesis 2. The Qlippoth are the remains of the now gone first creation trying to undermine the one that replaced them. With the Mayan calender interpretation that each cycle ends with recreation of the world I wondered “what if the Nightlands” are the remains of the first world trying to use the cycle to recreate themselves.

I’d love to return to these ideas at some point.

101 Days of Rifts: Audience Participation

As I said Saturday I’m now a Megaversal Ambassador. For my first demo game I want to cash in on Guardians of the Galaxy with a comic book space opera game. Generally, I consider all Palladium games comic book games (which is an upcoming post). While the current Guardians book, like its predecessor, is a superhero book to a degree it’s more sci-fi space opera. It is even more so than my first love in comics, The Legions of Superheroes. So, while Heroes Unlimited might be the logical first choice I’m also thinking Phase World is another possibility.

So, audience participation, if you were going to create a Palladium demo game with a GotG like setup which game would you use: Heroes Unlimited, Phase World, or something else?

101 Days of Rifts: Rules III

My buddies and me are getting real well known
Yeah, the bad guys know us and they leave us alone

I get around
Get around round round I get around
From town to town

A classic part of old school campaigns, and Rifts&reg is no exception, is travel. Old school D&D players often use hex maps and I was initially inclined to do so for Rifts&reg Laramie. However, since I sat down to write encounter charts, the next big project, I’ve had second thoughts. What are the important issues with travel on Rifts Earth and how should we handle them in-game.

Referencing Zak S. of Playing D&D with Porn Stars seems to be a habit but again it is appropriate. What can I say, the man makes you think about what you want and how to get it. We can, for Rifts&reg paraphrase Zak and say your characters know more about Rifts Earth than Kevin Siembieda and your GM combined. His point is the characters in the setting know the choices about travelling between two places such as time, danger, and even the amount of knowledge available about that route. As a result the key information in getting between two places is not a map directly but two or more ways of getting there. A map for a game where travel is more about getting interesting places than mapping a large unknown area might be better represented by a network graph than a hex map.

Getting back to Rifts: Laramie let’s take an example. The party is seeking to meet The Great Dream Snake of Yellowstone whose existence is unconfirmed. Perhaps the party has contracted with the Lone Star produced reality program, Demon Hunters. The most recent sighting is at Devil’s Tower to the north and slight east of Laramie. In broad terms there are two general ways to get there: well traveled routes and cross country. In this case the well traveled route would be the remains of the pre-rifts railroads. You would travel south east from Laramie to Cheyenne then in a zig-zagging line north towards Gillette and finish up with an eastern route until you’re almost directly south of the site. A short overland trip of about 20 miles finishes the trip. Using Google Maps on roughly parallel highways (which are just as reasonable but the railroad give the flavor I’m after) this is about 350 miles. A straight line is about 240 miles. The well traveled path isn’t a road so we can assume the same 20 miles a day for riders.

Based on distance and movement rate clearly we want to go overland. The trip is 12 versus 18 days give or take. Why isn’t the other route well traveled (beyond Devil’s Tower having a lot of magic and a place that is generally avoided). Well, the number and risk of encounters is different. Also, your ability to arrive unseen or avoid being detected by someone hunting you is different. What if we developed a table that looked like this:

Point A Point B Route Days Encounter Table Encounter Rate Stealth Hiding
Laramie Cheyenne Trail 2 Eastern Wyoming Traveled 3d6 10% 15%
Laramie Devil’s Tower Overland 12 Eastern Wyoming Wilderness 2d6 40% 60%
Laramie Casper Trail 4 Eastern Wyoming Traveled 3d6 5% 5%
Cheyenne Devil’s Tower Trail 16 Eastern Wyoming Traveled 3d6 10% 15%
Casper Devil’s Tower Trail 13 Eastern Wyoming Traveled 3d6 5%

The encounter rate is how many and what type of dice to roll each day. For every 1 roll once on the encounter table. Stealth is the odds of arriving at the destination unknown while hiding is the chance each day of avoiding pursuers or someone searching for the party.

Now the encounter rate, their danger, and how much delay they might cause is a factor. We can just let the party know the contents of the table as well as the encounter charts because the characters would know this. Also, if they are being chased they know the odds of being found.

A chart like this shouldn’t be hard to draw up. Major points would need one line for each pair on wilderness travel, but route travel would only need to be covered for the nearest points. For Wyoming I might use Laramie, Cheyenne, Casper, Jackson (as a proxy for the Teton region), Rock Springs, Medicine Wheel, and Devil’s Tower. I can fill in later as needed or approximate points along those routes.

This avoids the need to hex map everything while giving the players an easy way to understand their choices. If they need to get to Devil’s Tower within 14 days to stop the summoning of The Eight Demons of the True Diseases or they are heading there to take a rift to the Happy Hunting Grounds while being pursued by a group of traditionalists out to stop their entry overland might be worth the risks. If they just need to take some shots of them searching for a Great Dream Snake but don’t even need to see it before it leaves (think of what you get in an episode of Ghost Hunters) but want to get the film back to make a buck a leisurely, possibly full of delays, but relatively safe trip up the old Union Pacific roadbed probably fits their needs better.

101 Days of Rifts: The Rifter Index Tiddly Wiki

I love The Rifter but sometimes it’s a pain to find what you want or even what’s available for a given game. There are some fan indexes but the ones I’ve seen don’t make it easy to see contents sorted by game line or author. To that end I’ve started a TiddlyWiki indexing issues. Right now it’s fairly empty with contents for only three issues and few details on those but it’s a start.

Right click and save to download

101 Days of Rifts: Burried Treasure Rifter #21

As a general rule in the Buried Treasure series I’ve tried to highlight items of broad use to the OSR community. This time the item is much more limited, at least the reason I selected it limits it to Palladium fans. However, I consider it important for Palladium GMs to at least consider.

For those not familiar The Rifter is Palladium’s house organ. It comes out quarterly and while a periodical it resembles a typical Palladium game book. It is perfect bound and on the heavy but not glossy paper that is Palladium’s norm. In terms of content it has what you’d expect of an RPG house organ: company news and ads, scenarios, setting info, optional rules, and some fiction or comics. However, those last four have much more of a fanzine feel than a professional publication. That is not a criticism. I have enjoyed The Rifter more than I expected. I have a standing order for it at Teahouse Comics in Atlanta, GA. Most issues have material I think any old school GM would find useful. A well picked issue would be perfect for someone using Jeff Rient’s Alchemical Formula.

Issue 21 articles for Heroes Unlimited, three Rifts articles, one Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game article, a general Palladium rules article, and a lot of company info and ads. To be honest it’s a bit sparse with a catalog of Palladium’s fantasy game dressed up as an article and a couple of full-page ads.

The Heroes Unlimited article describes organizations of psions created with organic implants that are the offspring of psionic creature that melds with a computer. It includes background, a point building system, descriptions of the Motherframe creature and their offspring systems, and a character class for the psions created with the system. They have a strong cyber/gene-punk feel and would be at home in a much broader variety of games than just supers. In fact, I can see them fitting in as an odd remnant tech or a post-Scream evolution of AI tech in Stars Without Number. This is probably the most generally useful article in the issue.

The three Rifts articles cover familiars, expand techno-wizardry, and fan fiction. The familiar article has a few rules, some spells, a variety of creatures, and a character class of magic users who work mostly with familiars. While the rules might be adaptable too many of the creatures are either Rifts specific or a bit silly for my taste (baby Cthulthu as a familiar anyone or an air elemental in essentially a bong). The Techno-Wizard rules focus on device creation which ties them strongly to Rifts. Some of the notes and ideas might be useful to Mage: The Ascension players who are members of the Sons of Ether but I’m iffy on that idea. The fan fiction is chapter 21 of The Hammer of the Forge, a Phase World novel that ran through issue 54. I have a soft spot for it but it’s fan fiction.

The fantasy article (as opposed to the catalog) is the beginning of an adventure path (called an adventure campaign) built around the quest of the Mighty Hammer of Ra. It takes up nearly half the pages and includes multiple adventure setups, setting details, and some additional adventure ideas. The individual adventures are pretty spare compared to a Pathfinder adventure path providing a few npcs, a goal, and maybe some items or a map. The setting detail provides some connective tissue. Finally, the additional adventure ideas are in hook, line, and sinker format. Thinking about it this is closer to a Savage Worlds plot point campaign than a Pathfinder adventure path. It could be adapted to non-Palladium setting and rules.

The big feature of this issue, though, is the general Palladium rules article called PPE Channeling . Palladium uses a magic-point system for casting spells. The points are called Potential Psychic Energy or PPE for short. In a classic Palladium move psychic/psionic powers also use a point system but those points are called Inner Strength Points (ISP). Spell level drives the casting times expressed in melee rounds despite the system using spell points. By contrast each psychic attack uses one melee attack. GMs interpreted this to mean that a caster declares his spells when his initiative comes around and they don’t take affect until the end of the round (or a later round for higher level spells).

A combat where three characters of level 4 and 5 got the drop on a level 10 magic user inspired the article. Because casting times were in melee round regardless of level a caster got no better at casting spells. With even lower spells taking a full melee round (technically two could be cast but there were no timing rules) and the fact that merely dodging an attack would disrupt casting magic-users without a fighter wall really could not cast during combat. His solution was to set casting time in melee actions with a certain amount of PPE per action. This made some high level spells after than their low level counterparts but made nearly all spells faster.

This was a pretty big rule at the time and was even included in The Best of the Rifter. With Rifts Ultimate Edition casting times were revised to be stated in melee attacks but still tied to spell level arguably making the article obsolete. I consider it an interesting variant and was planning on using it until I started reading Rifts Ultimate Edition. I’m now torn between using it or the RUE version. I suspect they work out similarly but how many actions/attacks a given spell take changing here and there. I still think it is worth reading especially for Palladium players who don’t have RUE but one of the rule sets still using the melee round rules.

So, while perhaps not the most generally applicable issue of The Rifter I think for Palladium GMs playing anything other than RUE this is a must read if your magic-users are not doing well in combat.

101 Days of Rifts: Rules II

I am going to use MDC by the book.

When I planned a rules post about MDC that was not what I intended to write. I was going to use a Monday Pointers to survey all kinds of MDC house rules. Then, on Thursday I was going to walk through several of these alternatives. Finally, I was going to discuss Jim Stoner’s alternative which I intended to use.

What changed? Three things changed my mind. Two things I found in my research and one classic OSR post combined to change my mind.

The first thing I discovered was MDC to SDC: taking out MDC on the Palladium Forums. Two points in the thread impressed me. While technically the second of the two points in reading the first to make a large impacts was so a LAW rocket which does 1d6*100 SDC will do 1d6 MD (pst by Nekira Sudacne). While at the time I thought it wasn’t true because SDC can never damage MDC I did find the damage amount interesting. With the MDC:SDC ratio set at 100:1 in theory you could house rule a 1d6*100 SDC weapon into an 1d6 MDC weapon. More importantly it gives some perspective on what MDC means both for armor and for magical creatures. In the movies we are okay with rifle fire never harming Godzilla but we expect an anti-tank rocket to get his attention. If we convert a LAW rocket to MDC (because SDC can never harm MDC) that works like we expect. Now, the hand-held MDC pistols are shrunken LAWs in terms of damage just as a LAW is a shrunken cannon. I can’t say KS used this logic back in the 80s to setup MDC but it’s reasonable.

Right before that line the post says in the rifts main book, it says that while a culmination of SDC attacks will never harm MDC (like a 9mm. handgun) a single massive SDC attack will. any explosion or attack that does 100 SDC will do 1 MD. the formula works in reverse. This I knew was not true. Oh, it’s a common house rule that is usually combined with dropping the MDC:SDC ratio to 20:1 or 10:1. However, the Rifts main book specifically says To damage a Mega-Damage Capacity (M.D.C.) structure you must use something that inflicts MegaDamage (M.D.) (pg 38) and Normal weapons do absolutely no damage to mega-structures (M.D.C.), even if the combined total damage is over 100 S.D.C (pg 40). That seems pretty clear-cut that SDC never does MDC. As I said, letting the LAW do 1d6 MDC was a common house rule and is possibly implied in the MDC example which calls a bazooka a mega-damage weapon.

However, what if Nekira Sudacne was referring to Rifts: Ultimate Edition which came out the same year as the thread? Yes, the dates are a little off but maybe some previews were released. In its MDC section it says Only S.D.C. weapons that inflict 100 or more S.D.C points of damage can hurt MDC armor. All other SDC attacks (1-99 points of damage) bounce off the armor like bullets bouncing off Superman. I’m not sure this was a clarification and we’d spent the 90s playing it incorrectly or Palladium had endorsed the house rule. Going back and reading Robotech where MDC was first introduced is no help as it could go either way although I’d still lean towards no SDC attack, even one that does 100+ points of SDC, do not affect MDC.

It is hard to underestimate the affects of allowing single 100+ point SDC attacks to do SDC/100 round down MDC. For one thing, conventional explosives now become useful on Rifts Earth. For that matter, boulders and gravity are now viable. When asked about what is the point of classes not arrayed with MDC weapons and armor in Rifts KS has long emphasized planning and stealth. When large-scale conventional attacks can work this makes more sense. Under the classic interpretation of MDC the two Ewok log pendulums would leave the Imperial walker undamaged. Now, the results could be straight out of The Empire Strikes Back.

Referencing KS’s discussion of how to use low powered classes in Rifts brings me to the third thing to change my mind. In one of the classics of the OSR Trollsmyth riffed on an earlier earlier James Maliszewski writing and argued we should analyze early editions of D&D through the idea that “D&D is always right”. The idea isn’t that the game is flawless but that the game does what it does for a reason. The reason may not even have been conscious and may have evolved in play but it does it for a reason. I decided to try “Rifts is always right.”

So, when the campaign starts we will use MDC as written. If the group doesn’t like how that works out we’ll experiment but for now we will play “Rifts is always right” at least when it comes to MDC.