Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Looking at BRP Worlds of Wonder "Magic World"

Recently, the Tinkerage has been looking at the original "Magic World" supplement from the Basic Roleplaying Worlds of Wonder (WoW) set (Steve Perrin and Gordon Monson). This is not to be confused with the later Magic World (2012) by Willis, et al., although both titles share the same BRP roots. But the earlier Magic World is well worth considering, especially as an excellent, light version of the BRP ruleset for fantasy gaming.

Magic World extends on and requires the core WoW Basic Roleplaying booklet, but the system is a minor masterpiece for quick, ready-to-play rules. These days, it's hard to find in print, and the gamer inclined to research this online will have to dig into the wayback machine archives.

Magic World has about the quickest character generation I've come across in the BRP line, almost as fast as Basic D&D. A player can choose to simply roll the characteristics and then start play with the default BRP skills and scores. Or, they can select from one of four professions: warrior, rogue, sage, and sorcerer. Each profession provides some prior experience and skills, which are usually a sum, or multiple of the average, of several characteristics (for example, warriors pick up three weapons at the average of STR, CON, and DEX x 5%). Although these may seem like class descriptions, there are no restrictions on eventual cross-training, and each profession suggests a variety of possible backgrounds. Even the sage is a viable scholar-adventurer, who may be anything from a healer, to a merchant, to an elf-friend. One can imagine rolling-up a Magic World adventurer in relatively short order, selecting a few professional skills, and filling in the default skills as the game goes on. A character will be relying on good initial rolls for good skills, but that's where a little player skill, a willingness to play a character rather than an optimized build, comes in.

Compared to a modern system the line between skill and skill description is sometime blurry and requires some interpretation. The "Cut Purse" skill, for example (DEX x 5% for rogues), includes "skill to Pick Pockets, Cut Purses, Remove Brooches, etc.," which could all be rejiggered as "Thievery" or "Sleight" on the character sheet.

The magic system is compact but robust, with each spell having its own percentile chance to cast (like one of the magic systems in the BGB). Unlike the BGB, Magic World spells are relatively effective (dealing1d6 damage per magic point/level, for instance), so starting sorcerers don't feel under-powered.

Finally, the combat system, although simple, includes scope for critical hits and fumbles.

Recently, reading through Roan Studios' The Bay of Spirits setting book, which is beautifully illustrated but lightly stated out only for D&D, the thought occurred that the ideal would be a compact, robust ruleset that would make it easy to generate characters and play in (almost) any fantasy setting. WoW Magic World seems to fit the bill, and it's interesting to speculate what might have been if this version of Magic World, revised and clarified, had been the basis for Chaosium's later releases.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Tomb of Swords - mini-scenario

The tomb is ancient, the grave, according to local legend, of a prince of the Ellfolk who was a master of the iron sword. Some folk tales say the sword was the prince's wife, one of the shape-shifting fey. If he was wounded, the sword danced above him to protect him, but she could not parry the death that found him, when he drowned crossing a river in a raid.

The place is called Tomb of Swords, and untold adventurers have gone down into the dark, seeking that enchanted blade, and few have returned. Now, the lord's youngest son has gone missing in the same place.

A pair of quarrelsome gargs are camped in the passageway under the standing stones, but they are mere vagrants, newly arrived, and have no interest in the deeps of the tomb.

Beyond them are the outer chambers. Patient adventurers, searching carefully, will find exquisite mosaics, scenes from the prince's life: the hero fighting the enemies of his clan; the hero drinking from the cup of peace when the battle is over; the hero and his sword-wife; the grieving fey laying him in the tomb with sword, helm, and shield, and a golden cup.

The horror lurks in the inner tomb. Every sword, every hero that ever perished in the tomb, takes the form of a roiling, black mass of dust and bone, grasping a hundred corroded swords. Mad, red eyes sometimes wink in the cloud. The sword-ghost cannot be harmed and will never relent. It is possible to parry the rain of blows with sword and shield, and the ghost will not pursue those who flee beyond sight to the standing stone.

The sword-ghost will not attack any mortal with empty hands.

Only one of the Druit gods could defeat this thing in battle or dismiss it by magic. But if a mortal could find the cup of peace and offer a draught from it, then perhaps the many tortured spirits trapped here could be freed.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Advanced Fighting Fantasy damage matrix

A while ago, in a review of Advanced Fighting Fantasy, I mentioned that the weapons damage and armour matrixes (seven digits in a row) are the least elegant part of an otherwise elegant combat system.

Is there a better way to do this? One method would be simply to roll d6, plus any modifers, for damage, which would probably result in roughly the same average damage, but perhaps lose some of the fine balance of the current damage system.

Is there a better way to represent the damage and armour table on the character sheet?

Some simply write out all seven damage values in order:

S. Sword: 1,2,2,3,3,3,4

But note that damage values only ever change by one point, and so instead of repeating figures, we could generate something like this:

S. Sword: 1 [2] [4] 4

What does this mean?

  • The left-most number is the minimum damage: that's the damage from a roll of 1 on the die.
  • The numbers like this [4] are the rolls on which damage increments by one point.
  • The right-most number is the damage on 7+, the maximum.

To use this damage profile, roll the die and check the result against the sequence. For each increment value in the table the roll is equal to or greater than, add one point to the minimum damage, and of course, if the result is 7+, use the maximum damage.

Hence, a sword profile is:

Sword 2 [2] [6] 5

This one takes longer to explain than to read. Is there yet a better way to set it up?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Magic in Arihmere

Inspiration for a loose magic system that avoids the spell-lists and spell-points approach, and is best suited to rules-light, skill-based, or free-form gaming.

On Magic

No one learns magic to become kindly and wise, or to save the kingdom. As nobles rely on land, treasures, retainers, and swords for their power, wizards rely on spells and secret knowledge, which they guard just as fiercely. Hence, there are no colleges of magic or schools for sorcery. Wizards hoard their knowledge, and choose their apprentices carefully, never revealing the whole of their learning.

Magic can do terrible and strange things, certainly, but it cannot alone rule the peasants, reap the harvest, or lead men into battle. For this reason, magic does not claim kingdoms or domains, although the aristocracy often seek out the wise for counsel and aid.

Although there are almost as many traditions of magic as magicians, certain principles are constant:

  • Nothing will come of nothing. A wizard cannot create something from nothing, or effect change without consequences. Hence, a wizard cannot conjure flames out of thin air, although magic can persuade a smoldering ember to spark and leap and burn.
  • Sympathy generates effects; follow the nature of things. Acquiring a personal item makes it easier to follow or charm someone. Dropping a grain of sand into a lock makes it impossible to open, touching a flint to a blade can make it razor sharp.
  • Magic is not orderly. Magic disturbs nature, and hence a spell cannot be recited by rote and expected to work in the same way every time. The effects of a spell cannot be calculated exactly, and all spells must be part invention and circumstance. By the same token, all charms are mutable, and no magic cannot be undone, although the right way may be obscure and surpassingly difficult.
  • Terrible powers have terrible consequences. The more powerful the magic, the sharper the peril. A spell of bear-form may lead the caster to becomes solitary and bearish. A spell for viewing from afar may make the caster obsessed with spying. The Fell Lords know well the price of the hunger for power.
  • There is always another way: wizard's deceive nature, and even where one spell fails, another trick may suffice.
  • No spell is perfect or entire.

Using Magic in Your Game

First, a character must have the second-sight (which means they can always see ghosts and the fey, by the way, and are not easily fooled by appearances) and they must have some schooling in practical magic. It helps to have been an apprentice, or belong to a tradition (witchcraft, sorcery, and so on).

Second, each magician should have at least one study: an area of magic that they have devoted care and attention to. Studies are individual, like skills. Smoke and fire could be one area of study, or luck and chance. A witch might study curses, or the ways of the deep woods (the language of beasts and plants included).

There are, of course, far too many spells to enumerate or list, but when the time comes to cast a spell, an appropriate study always makes bringing a spell to mind more likely.

In terms of working magic, spells fall within at least four categories: tinkering, tampering, bending, breaking. All of these categories show how hard a magic is to accomplish:

  • Tinkering: anything that could seem like exceptional skill or luck: the knot that won't slip, the herb that heals and just happens to be at hand, the object that disappears as though by sleight.
  • Tampering: spells that manipulate probability or temporarily subvert the natural order. The lock that springs open, or the buckle that slips in combat. Easier if the magician can leverage natural conditions (the icy ground becomes deadly slippery, a horse shies, the door jams), luck (the dagger that is not found in a search), or unusual facility (throwing the voice to trick pursuers).
  • Bending: Distorting or temporarily suspending the laws of nature. Drawing a flame out of dry wood, assuming the looks and manner of another individual, lulling a target to sleep or friendship, raising a breeze or a mist, soliciting the opinion of a tree.
  • Breaking: Magic that sets aside nature; things impossible by all other means. Speaking to the dead, causing an object to take flight, stepping into another mind or dream, changing form.

In play, magic should be like any other character action: the player should specify the magic and the effect the character wants to achieve. The GM should decide on the difficulty (from tinkering, which will be of medium difficulty, to breaking, the most difficult) and rule if the spell is possible, based on the character's intentions and study. Bending or breaking spells usually require some study.

When the spell is cast, it takes effect, and the results are described. There are no magic points to consider, but there are always the consequences of magic. In Fighting Fantasy, for example, a failed spell might require a Test for Luck to avoid some dangerous fallout.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Crossing the streams

The Tinkerage is all for adapting and combining the best of different systems, hence BRP Middle-earth and other rules hacks, but here are some recent wild ideas for combining systems and settings.

Magic World & Dragon Warrior's World of Legend

Magic World, although it has some faults, is an excellent BRP-based system customized for gritty, medieval fantasy. Dragon Warriors, the classic British fantasy RPG, has a gritty medieval background with plenty of intriguing details, an authentic sense of the Gothic, and is rich in faerie and folktale lore. The adventures, providing for scenarios and campaigns, are excellent.

Dave Morris, who authored Dragon Warriors with Oliver Johnson, remarks that the essence of the game doesn't lie in the mechanics but in the world itself. So, Magic World's tested, accessible rules could be a perfect match for the world of Legend.

The only rule I would change directly would be limiting the skills of new characters to something near 75%, perhaps by limiting skill point allocations to around +50 at most during character creation. As written, it's possible for a new Magic World character to have at least one skill of 80% or more, and this doesn't fit with Dragon Warrior's characters at Rank 1 being capable but far from over-powered to meet the supernatural foes that inhabit Legend.

BRP & Advanced Fighting Fantasy and Allansia

Thinking along the lines above suggests a step further. BRP is the quintessential rules toolbox system. Advanced Fighting Fantasy, featuring the perilous lands of Allansia in the world of Titan, is the essential eclectic "dungeon and wilderness" fantasy adventure system and setting combined.

Advanced Fighting Fantasy is a great introductory system with a wide array of options, and like BRP it's a skill based system. So it's possible to see a way to quickly create or convert Fighting Fantasy style characters that will use BRP rules and mechanics:
  • Generate the basic characteristics, damage bonus, Magic Points, Hit Points, and so on as usual.
  • Assign skills and skill percentiles using the AFF rules and skill list as guidelines. In AFF there are only four skill "categories", so these could be based directly on one attribute. For example:
    • Combat: STR
    • Movement: CON (representing general fitness)
    • Stealth: DEX (with the exception of Awareness skill, which should be INT)
    • Knowledge (includes Magic): INT
  • Characters in AFF start with either 1 or 2-point special skills. For a 1-point AFF skill, add 30% in BRP, and for a 2-point skill add 50% to the category modifier above. Allocate three 2-point skills and six 1-point skills on this basis.
  • With a little tweaking, the GM can also assign AFF magic styles as Sorcery (a single skill, fixed list of spells) or Wizardry (a skill for each spell, but no limit to the spells that can be discovered or learned).
These ideas are completely untested — cross the streams and who knows what might happen?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Sword Peddler's Sword & Backpack - mini review

A while back, the Tinkerage attempted an XD20-style hack of the minimalist d20 RPG Sword and Backpack.

The Sword Peddler has, without a doubt, done a much more elegant and concise job.

For the purposes of a review, the Sword Peddler's Sword & Backpack rules can be summarized as:

  • To do anything, roll higher than a target number (or your opponent) on a d20.
  • If the roll relates directly to your job, add 5 to your roll.
  • A PC can take up to 5 "hits" – failed rolls – in combat. NPCs and Monsters can take more or fewer "hits" or "rounds" to be defeated.
There's more color and guidance than this, but that's as minimalist and flexible as an RPG can be, while providing a systematic framework for play. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Notes for BRP Encounters

Encounter profiles, or "stat blocks", can be a major stumbling block in scenario design for the busy GM. You're trying to ready an adventure. You have a location, you've sketched out the situation, considered the options and flow of events, and then you have to set up the details of the encounters.

RuneQuest is a fine game, but for any version of RuneQuest this would mean stopping to fill rows of characteristics, skills, and AP and HP for every hit location.

Even for BRP (without hit locations) or Magic World, if you go by the book you complete something like this:

Hill Bandit

STR 12
CON 10
SIZ 13
INT 10
DEX 14
APP 10

Move: 8
Hit Points: 12
Damage Bonus: +1d4

Attacks: Hand Axe 35%, 1d6+1+1d4, Recurved bow 35%, 1d8+2
Skills: Hide 50%, Move Quietly 50%, Ride 75%

Armor: 1d6-1 points leather

Notice the space it takes on the page, and the need to note every detail for a bandit who might be taken down by one or two hits. Of course, you could rely on a bestiary or a published scenario, but you're still scanning and copying out details when the encounter starts.

Now, in an old issue of White Dwarf, you might come across a Stormbringer encounter profile somewhat like this:

Hill Bandit
STR 12  CON 10  SIZ 13  INT 10  POW 9 DEX 14  APP 10  HP 12
Attacks: Hand Axe 35%, 1d6+1+1d4, Recurved bow 35%, 1d8+2
Skills: Hide 50%, Move Quietly 50%, Ride 75%
Armor: 1d6-1 points leather

Which is certainly much more efficient and easier to create. We can work with this to create an encounter notation that takes a fraction of the time a full stat block requires.

The Encounter Note

Here's the format for a compressed BRP note-style encounter line:

Encounter: description
HP x, DEX x, STATS x, Mov x
Attack % (damage), Armour (x)
Skill x%

Which for the bandit above might look like:

Hill Bandit: Tough, sneaky ambusher
HP 12, DEX 14
Hand axe 35% (1d6+1d4), Bow (1d8+2), Leather (2)
Sneak & Hide 50%


Encounter = basic title: description = how this encounter will be played and described

HP x = Hit Points come first; they matter most (and they also show roughly how tough this encounter is)
DEX x = DEX, because the next thing you need to know is the DEX-rank for actions in a round
STATS x = any other characteristics (STR, CON, SIZ, INT, POW, APP) that are significant in this encounter or exceptional for the character; if they're average or not likely to be used, leave out and make them up on the fly
Mov x = movement, but only if faster or slower than standard

Attack % (damage) = combat skill and (damage + damage bonus), Armour (x) = armour type (points)

Skill x% = any significant skills (don't worry about the right name; you know what they're for)

Notes = any other plays/notes that are relevant

The idea in this format is to keep the most important information foremost and minimize clutter and unnecessary detail.