Sunday, December 25, 2011

In The Deep Midwinter

So, today has me thinking about holidays and calendars and such. Obviously. And, since I'm already thinking about Greyhawk and Oerth, it's natural that my thoughts turn to the festivals of that world. Midwinter, on Oerth, is celebrated with a festival called Needfest. Looking at this festival (and the others) brings into focus one of the areas where the boxed set directly contradicts the folio. In the folio, the year was 360 days long, with each of the four festivals taking up 6 days. This was changed in the boxed set in response to the article on weather in the World of Greyhawk, where the article's author noted that a year of 364 days, with full seven-day festivals, made the two moons of Oerth move more simply. I think that I will adopt this solution, making this the only place in which I am allowing the boxed set to override the folio.

So, how would the peoples of Oerth celebrate Needfest? Well, first we'll note that the phases of the moons are fixed for the winter solstice, with Luna always being New and Celene being Full. In fact, the characteristic of all four festivals during the year is that Celene, the "Handmaiden", will be Full in the middle of the festival week. This does mean that some lycanthropes will be out wandering during every festival, so the concepts from our world of the Wild Hunt will likely have some sway in how these festivals are celebrated by many of the peoples of Oerth. We can, therefore, expect to see processions of bands of masked or costumed youths in furs wandering about, providing music of some sort (percussive, mainly, such as drums and large bells, plus singing), and demanding food and drink at the houses to which they come (like forceful carolers, perhaps). Those who give freely will get a blessing, while those who are stingy will be tormented by the wandering bands in some fashion (ranging from minor vandalism and theft to outright attacks and magical curses). Bright decorations of evergreen boughs and colorful ribbons will be placed all around settlements and outlying farmsteads. Candles and bonfires will be lit through the night (occasionally leading to tragedies, but that's the accepted price for the midwinter festivities). Songs extolling the virtues of the sun will be sung, food eaten, and drinks drunk.

Those who follow Pholtus of the Blinding Light take a dim (ha!) view of these pagan superstitions, of course, and focus almost entirely on the unconquerable, ever-returning sun without reference to the unholy, demonic lycanthrope scourge who follow the whims of the inconstant moons. St. Cuthbert's followers, on the other hand, have been slowly transforming the rites into a celebration of the wisdom of Cuthbert, adopting and reimagining the pagan celebrations of the people as celebrations of the birth of the god, all while phasing out the costumed begging/thuggery. Perhaps they encourage the caroling, however, and the giving of those alms to carolers.

The Baklunish people don't seem to have the same celebrations of midwinter. Lacking information about their calendar, I can't say for certain what goes on in the far Northwest. I'll think about it, and if I ever have any players go up there, we may find out.

Elves In GURPS Greyhawk, Part I

[This template has been edited, as I realized that I want to fully cover the AD&D abilities.]

[And more edits, 13 Jan 2012]

After considering the abilities of Elves in AD&D, and comparing those abilities to GURPS equivalents, I've arrived at a template which should come close to depicting that fantasy race in similar terms. I have had to give up my dream of a "near-zero point" template for the elven race (though the relatively high point cost should compensate for the loss of "level limits" from AD&D), and I still have to work out the various elven varieties. This template should cover most of the surface elves (at least those from the Player's Handbook), however.

45 points

Attribute Modifiers: DX+1 [20]; HT-1 [-10].
Secondary Characteristic Modifiers: Per+1 [5].
Advantages: Extended Lifespan 4 [8]; Infravision [10]; Resistant (Sleep and Charm Effects*, +8 to resist) [5]; Silence 1 [5].
Disadvantages: Intolerance (Humanoids) [-5]; Sense of Duty (Good People**) [-15].
Racially Learned Skills: Bow (A) DX-1 [1]-10; Broadsword (A) DX-1 [1]-10.
Languages: Elvish (Native) [0]; Gnomish (Accented) [4]; Halflingish (Accented) [4]; Goblinish (Broken) [2]; Hobgoblinish (Broken) [2]; Orcish (Broken) [2]; Gnollish (Broken) [2]; Common (Accented) [4]
Features: Figure Height and Weight as if ST were 2 points lower.

*Includes the spells Sleep, Mass Sleep, Loyalty, Charm, and Enslave. Other effects can be resisted at the GM's discretion.

**Considered to be those who are defined as Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic Good in the Greyhawk material. The Player and the Referee will have to work out how to handle cases of Humanoids who can be considered as being of those alignments, but I'd consider the Sense of Duty to outweigh the Intolerance.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Verdant, Arcadia

In the Fantasy West, there is a town called Verdant. Located in Arcadia County, Verdant is not a large town. In fact, it's hardly more than a General Store, a Hotel and Livery Stable, a pair of Temples (one dedicated to Valentina, and one to Landry), and a Saloon, with a few houses.

The General Store is the centerpiece of the town, being the place that farmers, miners, and ranchers from the surrounding County come to trade for goods they need and can't produce themselves. Run by a man named Afala Corbits and his family, the store is usually just called "Afala's".

The hotel and livery stable is the business of the Laskin family. The accounts and records are kept by Kulino Laskin, the patriarch of the family, though he is starting to give some of those responsibilities to his eldest son, Jerbart, who is otherwise involved with keeping the stables running. Kulino's wife, Latats, runs the kitchen. The children do the rest of the work, along with a few people hired from the farming families of the County. Of an evening, the rowdy youths of Verdant can often be found at the stables, gambling or fighting under the sullen eye of Jerbart.

The saloon is both the center of government for the town and County, and also the center of the roughest elements. Judge Gelorman Wilkar spends his days playing cards in the bar, ruling on cases that are brought to him in between hands. Sheriff Tarbot Numtar can usually be found at the table, along with whichever of the ranchers and farmholders happen to be in town that day.

In the Temple of Valentina, Miss Nekoma, the Holy Dove of Valentina, and her acolytes hold services to the goddess of love. For a donation to the goddess, the acolytes might take a petitioner upstairs for private worship. Judge Wilkar and Sheriff Numtar are fine with the temple being around, but always put the interests of the ranchers, miners, and farmers ahead of those of Miss Nekoma and her acolytes.

Landry's Temple is next to the saloon, and is the province of Shepherd Soduk Kalama. The storm god's pews are generally full each week, with families from the nearest farms, and occasionally even ranchers and miners, coming to listen to the philosophical orations of the Shepherd. The rest of the time, Shepherd Kalama provides counsel for those who are troubled and organizes aid for those in need.

Recently, a man has come to town. No one knows where he comes from, or what he has done. All they know is his name, Palan Tobuk, and that he drinks alone in the saloon. He never takes off his pistol or his hat with others around, and has rarely been seen without his black duster.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Religion In GURPS Greyhawk

Back when the original folio edition of the World of Greyhawk was released, there was little discussion of religion in Oerth. In fact, despite several of the leaders of various areas being defined as Clerics, there is no mention of particular deities or religions at any point (Iuz excepted, but he's not called a god or even a demon in the folio's Gazetteer, as well as Zagig, similarly not termed a god or demigod at this point in time). This leaves me wide open as to defining the religions of Oerth. I want to include St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel and Pholtus of the Blinding Light, as these two are known to have been the original Lawful gods of Gygax's campaign. There are a few others implied, for which I will dip into the boxed set's descriptions for ideas, but will not feel bound to them.

First, I want to note that there's a significant difference in reality between monotheist and polytheist religions. These fundamental differences result in very different ways of approaching the world. To work with this idea, I want to limit some of the ways that each religion is portrayed in game terms. Only monotheist religions will have some of the abilities we usually think of as "clerical", such as undead turning or miraculous prayer. Polytheist religions will more closely resemble traditional gaming magic. So, the advantages True Faith, Blessed, and Divine Favor (from GURPS Powers: Divine Favor) will be the basis of the monotheist clerics' magical abilities, while the abilities of polytheist "clerics" will be simply the basic magic system. In the case of Druids, the reorganization of the basic magic system as the "Tree Magic" system from GURPS Thaumatology will be used. OK, that gets most of the game-specific material out of the way, so let's discuss the religious landscape of the Flanaess.

The monotheist religions are those of St. Cuthbert and Pholtus, certainly, but I am also inclined to present the religion of the far Northwest (Ekbir, Zeif, and so on) as monotheistic, but I'll come back to that. My general impression is that Pholtus is the religion of most of the Flanaess. Edit to add: Pholtus is mainly concentrated around the Great Kingdom, the Pale, Nyrond, Urnst, and so forth. End edit. St. Cuthbert, on the other hand, is the god followed by those in the central Flanaess, such as Greyhawk and Verbobonc, Furyondy and Veluna. I'd say that his worship extends into the area of Keoland and surrounding areas. My impression is that the religion of Pholtus is more inflexible and intolerant than St. Cuthbert's, but the two religions are also specifically active rivals for worshipers. St. Cuthbert is not as intolerant of the polytheists around, but Pholtus is actively trying to eliminate them and any other religion as heretics.

The Baklunish nations in the far Northwest, on the other hand, have been portrayed as polytheist since the boxed set. However, their implied culture is based on one of the most monotheist cultures in real-world history, the Islamic Arabs. The boxed set lists several gods as being Baklunish in origin: Istus (the Lady of Fate), Geshtai (goddess of lakes, rivers, and wells), Xan Yae (goddess of twilight, shadows, and such), and Zuoken (god of physical and mental mastery). I want to incorporate those into the world, so I will imagine that Istus is the True God of the Bakluni. The others will be Archangels fulfilling the Will of the Lady of Fate. There will be other Archangels, but I won't worry about those until I need them. The Bakluni will believe that other monotheist gods are merely different ways of envisioning the True God, Istus, but that polytheists are deluded demon-worshipers. Istus's worship extends into Ket and the areas of the Tiger and Wolf Nomads.

There are three major polytheist religions: Oeridian, Flan, and Suloise. The Oeridians are the religion that Pholtus came from, and they perceive Him as one god among many. The monotheist Pholtus-followers are particularly aggressive about their "backward, demon-worshiping" cousins. Their main gods include Zilchus, the god of power and influence, and Procan, the god of the oceans. There are several other gods, dedicated to aspects of nature in the main, but also notably Heironeous, the god of justice and chivalry, Delleb, the god of the intellect, and Hextor, the evil god of war and discord. Oeridian "clerics" are not particularly distinguishable from magic users, and learn spells as normal. Oeridian religion is scattered in the area of the Great Kingdom (though oppressed by Pholtus monotheism), the Shield Lands and the Bandit Kingdoms, and the areas of Keoland and the surrounding areas.

The Suloise barbarians of the Northeastern peninsula are listed in the boxed set as having three major gods: Kord, god of sports and brawling, Lendor, god of time and tedium, and Wee Jas, goddess of magic and death. Kord is probably their most important god. Their clerics are also very much like traditional magic users. Other areas where Suloise gods hold sway include Hepmonaland and the Amedio Jungle, Keoland and the surrounding areas (mixing with the Oeridian temples in a harmonious way), and the Scarlet Brotherhood's peninsula. In addition, they can be found pretty well represented in the central Flanaess alongside St. Cuthbert's chapels.

Flan religion is almost certainly the Druidic religion of Oerth. The boxed set lists four gods as the major ones of the Flan pantheon. They are Beory, the Oerth Mother, Nerull, god of death, Pelor, god of the sun, and Rao, god of peace and serenity. Iuz is part of this pantheon, and is the incarnate god of oppression, deceit, and pain. Their clerics will use the Tree Magic version of the basic magic system. I may rename the 18 oghams of that system with symbols from the "Glossary of Portentous Runes and Glyphs" of the Gazetteer, but that's pretty low priority. These Druids can be found throughout the Flanaess, but are especially common in Tenh and the Barrens.

So, if polytheist clerics are "merely" magic users by another name, why do they have temples and shrines? Like wizard towers, shrines and temples give a place for priests to live and receive visitors and petitioners. In addition, they give a place for common worship to occur. This has few game system effects, being mainly the way that communities bond and improve their communal order. However, using the GURPS magic system, they can also serve as the location of Ceremonial Magic casting for major spells like Bless Plants.

There are other gods listed in the boxed set as "Common", such as Boccob, Incabulos, Cyndor, Bleredd, Ehlonna, Joramy, Lirr, Myrhiss, Olidammara, Ralishaz, Tritherion, and Zagyg. I'm going to figure that these are, like Zagyg/Zagig, powerful entities similar to the major demons or the powerful modrons or else local gods (so that Ehlonna, for instance, is a goddess whose worship is found in the Gnarley Forest, the Welkwood, and the Suss Forest only). Generally speaking, in fact, these gods are found in specific areas (Iuz in his own land, Zagig mainly in Greyhawk, and so on).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Top Secret And Old School Resolution

One of the insights of the OSR has been the relationship between player and character, specifically as it relates to "skills" and similar systems. The idea is that the player should be able to simply describe what the character is doing, and the Referee will adjudicate the outcome based on that description. So, where a modern player might roll a character's "search" skill, the old school player would describe how the character is searching and where. This is all fine until it comes to technical skills, especially modern ones such as piloting aircraft or computer programming, where the player will either might not have any particular skill in the field or else the Referee might lack any knowledge of how that skill is employed in reality.

Top Secret approaches this situation in three different, but related, ways. The first is the easiest, and is related to the rolled abilities of the character. Things like deactivating alarms and traps, fighting, or charming a contact are covered by these. The player still describes, at least in general (but specific details are helpful, too), how the character is going about it, but the resolution is heavily influenced by the abilities of the character. Next is also easy, and those are "Areas Of Knowledge", or "AOKs". These are the most like traditional gaming skills, and cover abilities like Accounting or Chemistry. They are rated in percentages (though they can go above 100), which can be rolled against directly, or a minimum level set for success.

So far, though, we haven't seen anything about flying aircraft or forging documents (those are not covered under AOKs). Thus, in Dragon magazine and later in the Top Secret Companion, a system of "College Courses" was set out, in which the character would spend a certain amount of money and time and gain a new ability. This was not perfectly integrated, as the legacy systems of such things as martial arts (defined in the original game by the level of "Military Science/Weaponry" or "Physical Education" AOKs) were joined by the College Course system (in which one could learn various martial arts by taking a course). The idea seems to have been that someone with a lower level of Military Science/Weaponry or Physical Education could still learn the particulars of fighting with Judo, Martial Arts, Boxing, or Wrestling. Oddly, Knife Fighting and Swordplay are treated differently in the College Course system, which is something I need to think about in writing the TS retroclone. In any case, the course would also give specific increases to various AOKs or even abilities, and a modest bonus of Experience Points (though members of the Technical Bureau got quite a bit more). Here's an example of a College Course:

Scuba Diving

Cost: $8000
Time: 4 weeks
Prerequisite: Physical Strength 50+, Willpower 75+.
Areas of Specialization: Closed circuit systems, Semi-closed-circuit demand-type scuba systems.
Ability Acquired: Using semi-closed or open-circuit scuba diving equipment, the agent can dive to a maximum depth equal to the next highest fitness rating. For example, a weakling could dive to 185 feet, an average agent could dive to 285 feet, and strong and super agents could dive to depths of 380 and 435 feet, respectively. An agent can swim a distance of 5001-6000 (5000 + (1-100)x(1-10)) feet safely 85% of the time, even at the maximum depth. An agent using a closed-circuit system may dive to a depth of only 30 feet or less for 30 minutes or less. An agent can hold his breath for a number of seconds equal to his Willpower value. Increase Physical Strength and Willpower each + (1-10).
Areas of Knowledge increase: Military Science and Physical Education each + (1-10).
Credit: 60 Experience Points.

Now, there are some things in there which were not well-defined in the original game, such as the note that the agent would be safe "85% of the time" (there's no indication of what happens if that chance is failed; my guess is that it was intended as a saving throw that would automatically prevent any complications that the Referee might have considered throwing the agent's way). There are some abilities gained through College Courses, though, which seem to imply that the ability can't be performed at all by someone who hasn't taken the Course, such as piloting a space shuttle. In addition, there are many College Courses implied which were not delineated in the original material.

This is similar to the skill systems of other games in many ways, but it assumes that the player can use his knowledge to perform various actions that would be covered by skills in some modern games. For instance, the searching example I discussed above. In addition, there's a saving throw against the player's mistakes in the character's abilities, so that, for instance, a player who didn't have the character look in the right place for a particular useful object could be given a roll against the Perception tertiary trait to find it anyway. Alternately, the Referee could simply set a minimum Perception to find the item, with that coming into play if the player failed to properly direct the character.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Solo Gaming And The Fantasy West

So, lately I haven't had a gaming group. There are a couple of ways I could alleviate that. One is Google+ and Constantcon. Another is to find a place and run a game myself. I do plan on doing both of those (I'll play in someone's Constantcon game sooner or later, and I will run a megadungeon-based game using Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox plus my own set of houserules). However, there's a third way, which is solo gaming.

Solo gaming has a long and glorious tradition. There are a few ways to go about it, from getting solo adventures (which are more or less like the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books or adventure gaming books like Lone Wolf) to just making stuff up. Somewhere in between lie the concepts in Mythic Game Master Emulator, which I'll likely be using. Basically, MGME is a systematization of using random rolls to figure out what happens next. It acts like a dice oracle, where you ask a yes-or-no question, roll dice, and take the result as the answer. There are more complexities involved (such as "chaos factor" and "event meaning", plus a structured way of approaching the adventure and an admonition to use logic), and there are even more ways to use the material in the supplement, Mythic Variations, but that's the basic idea.

This, however, is not a review of that product, but is instead a discussion of what my ideal game (or one of them, anyway) would be. As a solo gamer, I get to do that, with no concessions to anyone else's vision. This is both good and bad. It is good in that I get to play in a situation that is exactly what I am looking for when I game. It is bad in that it lacks the wider context that comes when a group of people collaborate on the game. For every thing gained, there is something that must be lost.

So, what would my game be? First, the setting. I envision a sort of fantasy world subcreation that includes those things which are of particular interest to me. In this case, a lot of wilderness with scattered areas of settlement, some of which are larger than others. So far, a typical sword & sorcery RPG world. I'd like the magic to be more subtle than "pulp", with amulets, blessings, and curses rather than fireballs and glowing staves. And in the big change from traditional roleplaying fantasy, I'd like black powder, caplock revolvers and stagecoaches and pony express riders. Not science fantasy, not steampunk, not gonzo, and not historical Old West. More like Eyes of Fire, Pale RiderThe Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, and Ginger Snaps Back than The Wild Wild West or The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., but set in a fictional world that I can play around in and with. Sort of like the relationship between Middle-Earth and the historical Dark Ages.

There's even less literature to explain what I mean, but Louis L'Amour's The Haunted Mesa and The Californios come close to the tone I want to set. The story game Dogs in the Vineyard, which I love, is very much in line with the idea, but I want to play a roleplaying/adventure game, not a story game. If anyone knows of other books or movies that they think might fit the idea, let me know. Edit to add: Durr. Of course Stephen King's Dark Tower books are very much in line with the idea. A couple of others that I thought of later were the Jonah Hex comics and William S. Burroughs's The Place of Dead Roads, though neither really fits the idea well.

In addition to the "fantasy Old West" vibe, I want to include some other aspects. One of the lands will be, effectively, 17th century Scottish highlanders mixed with 14th century Irish with mid-19th century tech. Another will be an area where Chinese and Japanese analogues have colonized. Of course, the whole land will be one of colonization, and there will be some sorts of Native American/First Nations peoples. Perhaps I will make them the "humanoids", and work with the problems of racism that are implicit in fantasy at least since Tolkien. Furthermore, I want to have a Mormon-like enclave.

The magic will be like Appalachian/Ozark Power traditions, Pennsylvania Dutch Hex magic, Hoodoo, Native shamanism, Renaissance magic, and the like.

Anyway, with setting loosely defined, that leaves me to move on to system. Some game systems work better for some styles of play. Plus, since this will be something I am doing for myself, I don't have to worry too much about pacing and similar issues, so I can use a system that is as complex as I can stand (or as simple as I prefer). To that end, and because it already has an excellent magic system that fits my criteria, I am going to use GURPS, with a lot of the "realistic" and "gritty" options turned on. Magic will use the Path/Book magic system from GURPS Thaumatology. Martial arts will exist, but not the Trained by a Master advantage or cinematic skills.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

GURPS Greyhawk: Quivering Palm

Quivering Palm

Default: Pressure Secrets-10.
Prerequisite: Pressure Secrets; cannot exceed Pressure Secrets skill.

The most terrible technique gained by knowledge of Pressure Secrets is that fabled attack which allows the user to set up vibrations in the body of the victim, which ultimately will result in death. The attacker touches his victim (possibly requiring a roll against an unarmed combat skill if in combat, at -2 in addition to hit location modifiers as with other combat uses of Pressure Secrets) and rolls a success of his Quivering Palm technique to set up the deadly vibrations. If the technique is attempted, then the attack will not do normal damage. Any armor DR will protect against this technique entirely, though a strike through chinks in armor or to an otherwise unarmored location will allow the technique to work, and DR from tough skin has no effect. The touch can be attempted casually or in combat; a victim with the Trained by a Master advantage can attempt a roll against IQ-3 or Pressure Points skill to know that the vibrations have begun. Otherwise, no effects are apparent until the victim starts losing HP.

Beginning one hour after the vibrations have been set up a Quick Contest between the victim's HT and the attacker's Quivering Palm technique is rolled. If the victim fails, he loses 1 HP; critical failure makes the loss 3d HP. This continues every three hours until the victim manages to gain a critical success in the Contest or wins three Contests in a row (these results will end the effects of the vibrations) or until he dies. No medical skill other than Esoteric Medicine will alleviate this loss of HP, and only Esoteric Medicine will allow the reason for the loss to be diagnosed. Roll a Contest of Skills between the healer's Esoteric Medicine skill and the attacker's Quivering Palm technique; success alleviates the effects of the Quivering Palm for 24 hours. Three successful Contests in a row will end the vibrations. The person who inflicted the Quivering Palm can remove its effect by touching the target if he chooses (and the target allows himself to be touched). Magical healing or advantages which affect healing can restore lost HP as normal, but cannot end the vibrations.

(Largely, I am putting this here so that I don't need to keep my copy of GURPS Martial Arts 2nd Edition for 3E sitting in my stack of books to use.)

Removing this from the Greyhawk background, this could be renamed "Hand of Death", which was the original name of the ability when it was a skill in GURPS 3E. This version is a technique, obviously, and is appropriate to the martial arts of the Monks of Oerth. Like the Pressure Secrets skill itself, it should probably be treated as a Cinematic Technique.

This version of the technique is OGL. I think that it has been reworded enough to pass muster.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Design Notes: Character Improvement

One of the central aspects of roleplaying games is continuity and improvement of characters. Traditionally, this is accomplished by improving the character's abilities in some manner. The first RPG, Dungeons & Dragons, did this by increasing a single characteristic, the "level", in relation to victory points acquired by the character (called "experience points"). The "level" of the character determined how effective the character was at certain activities related to the character's general stereotypical category, or "class". Everything else was determined by an interaction between the player, describing what the character was attempting, and the Referee, adjudicating and describing the outcome of those actions. In a sense, experience points and level could be considered similar to the Polynesian concept of "mana" (as distinct from the later usage of that term to refer exclusively to magical power in games).

Those victory points, or experience points, were really the central feature of the character. They were originally gained by defeating monsters and other foes and by acquiring money and valuables. There was a long period of adjusting, in various editions, the ratio of experience from defeating foes and gaining treasure. In some editions, treasure outweighs confrontation by 3 to 1 or more, while in others treasure has been nearly completely devalued in favor of defeating foes.

After that, games developed three (or more, but this is what is coming to mind right now) different ways of regulating character improvement. First was the skill check system typified by RuneQuest, in which the use of particular abilities, or "skills", gave a chance of increasing that ability. Of course, there were other methods of improvement in RuneQuest, such as training, but those were artificially limited in order to encourage action. Next, there was the point system, developed by games like Superhero: 2044 and Champions. In this system, experience points were translated directly into character abilities, rather than being used to improve just one ability. In these systems, experience points were generally given in smaller amounts than those in D&D, and more importantly were given for story reasons other than the objective ones defined in early RPGs. This means that, rather than getting victory points for defeating foes or acquiring treasures, characters would gain them for subjective reasons like "achieving goals" or "good roleplaying". The third method was very rarely used, in fact I can only recall one game that used it. This was the method in Traveller, where skills were improved only by long-term training, but other character improvements were acquired by spending money on equipment. In a sense, this is similar to those editions of D&D in which treasure represents the majority of experience points, as money is used to pay for training and also for other improvements.

That last method seems like a good one to me (and to be fair, it is similar to the one in RuneQuest, which also used money to pay for training; the difference is that in Traveller's system, there is no direct improvement for simply acting and RuneQuest limited the benefits of training). It seems like it might be worthwhile, in a game, to expand on it. Consider the various things that we spend money and time on that improve our lives in one way or another. We might go out to a night club and carouse, with the potential of gaining friends and social skills. We might take continuing education courses or go to college. Even shopping for objects or property takes time as well as the money required for the items. And so on.

What a system like this would need is a robust contact system, a time use system taking at least calendar time into account, and a personal trade system that covers availability and time to acquire items or property. Perhaps I will use a system like this in the WRG RPG.

(This post was inspired by a post over on Dreams in the Lich House.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Gamer ADD Strikes Again; GURPS Greyhawk

One of the significant problems with not having a regular gaming group is the tendency for random projects to pop into my mind and gain increased interest. So, I'm adding a third project to my already taxed workload of the WRG RPG and a Top Secret retroclone, converting Greyhawk to GURPS 4th edition.

Some assumptions that I intend to make:

Things in the folio are immutable. Things in the boxed set are influential. Things from the Sorceror's Scroll column are inspirational. Things from the later era don't exist. The year is 576CY. Screw metaplots, this is my Greyhawk.

The setting will be treated as though it is a real place, and that the statistics given are attempts to model that real place in particular game terms. This means that I am free to assume (for instance) that magic works like it does in GURPS without conflict with the AD&D system, since each is simply a model for a "real" magic of the world being described. Ideally, this could mean that any GURPS magic system could be used to model magic, including (but hardly limited to) the basic Magic system or variations thereof, Path/Book, Ritual Path, the various Syntactic systems, Powers, or whatever. However, what I will actually use will be the basic Magic system (for Magic User/Illusionist magic), Divine Favor and True Faith (for Clerical magic and undead turning ability), Tree Magic (for Druidic magic), and Powers (for Psionics). I still have to think about mana levels, but I'm leaning toward near-universal Normal Mana, with the Sea of Dust being a major exception at Low Mana. There will be Alchemy and Herb Lore.

$1 (GURPS) is the same as 1 sp (AD&D), making 1 AD&D gp the same as $20 GURPS. GURPS price lists, especially those in Dungeon Fantasy, will be assumed, unless there is special reason to use the AD&D ones. Because I am nothing if not inconsistent, I'll use the AD&D2E weight of coins at 50 to the pound.

A 1st level character in AD&D will be more or less the same as a 75 point character in GURPS, with every level additional adding about 15 25 GURPS points. For conversion purposes, multi-class characters will be treated as in the tournament modules: count a multi-class character as two levels higher than the multi-classed character's higher level, or three levels higher if triple-classed. I'll work up templates of the classes at level one, probably with variations for different types, for example archers, infantry, and such for fighters. However, templates are not classes, and characters in GURPS Greyhawk are not locked into a particular advancement scheme. They aren't even required to use a template (which exist only for convenience and conversion).

Racial templates for PC races will be held as close to zero points as possible while maintaining the spirit, and as often as possible the letter, of the AD&D descriptions. This may be difficult. I'm going to try and simplify the races, so that (for instance) "Elf" is a race, and all of the different subtypes are cultural variations of that central species. Or not, we'll see.

Because of the existence of monks in Oerth, there will be Trained by a Master and Cinematic Skills available, probably along with Chi Powers. Of course there will be Martial Arts, and not just for monks, but monks will be the specialists in unarmed Martial Arts and pretty much the only source of Trained by a Master (and therefore of Cinematic Skills). Will they be able to use Chambara rules if they have TBAM? Probably. Yes. This does mean that Cinematic Maneuvers would be available, though of course only TBAM characters can improve them above default.

I feel free to completely restructure religions, since they were not, on the whole, defined in the folio. St. Cuthbert and Pholtus are the only two gods of good humanity that must exist (since they were part of the campaign that led to the folio), though I intend to be guided by the lists in the boxed set. Physical manifestations of the gods will be avatars of a sort. The gods themselves will be unapproachable, ineffable forces at the center of realms in the deep Astral plane. Or something like that. Demons and Demigods, on the other hand, will probably be just powerful (sometimes very powerful) individuals.

Alignment will not be a Cosmic Force. It will be merely descriptive. This is a personal aesthetic decision. As a corollary, the cosmology will not be as concretely defined and systematized as in the Great Wheel Cosmology.

In keeping with Oerth's background, there will be no gunpowder or anything like it. Fireworks will be magic spells, and so on.

I'm not sure how I should handle level-drain. I'm still considering what, exactly, it is supposed to model in AD&D, which should help me to model it in GURPS. My current thinking has it that it is a drain of spirit and self-confidence. To that end, I may just model it as the Terror advantage, which can lower a character's point value due to the Fright Check that results. There's even an explicit option to have it take effect by touch attack (but the powerful undead like Ghosts and Specters may not need the touch limitation; I see in GURPS Fantasy that the Wight there is given a Freezing Touch attack, but I'll probably change that to a Terror Touch). Vampires should be modeled as drinking blood in the normal way, and with Infectious Attack/Dominance, though they should probably get some Terror, too.

If you have any suggestions or thoughts, feel free to share them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pop Culture and D&D

Part 8472598249862476097906729560276 in an ongoing series:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Price Points

According to this advertising flyer from 1979, the AD&D Monster Manual and Players' Handbook hardbacks, as well as the Holmes boxed set and other boxed sets were priced at about $10, while the supplements for the D&D boxed set and the adventure modules were about $5. According to the CPI Inflation Calculator, those are approximately equal to $30 and $15, respectively, in 2011 dollars. If I recall correctly, the Dungeon Master's Guide cost $12, which would be about $37.50 today.

So, in today's dollars, the original AD&D set of books would have run about $97.50, for about 470 pages of material that we're still mining to this day.


Friday, September 16, 2011


Beyond the borders of the Paynim Empire lie the lands of the Ablashian barbarians. Comprising a number of tribes (which they call "Counties") both independent and interrelated, the Ablashians have a sophisticated and rich culture that is treated as simple and backwards by the patronizing Paynim envoys to the Ablashian Courts.

Ablashian society is centered on the idea of the contractual obligation (though they would not conceptualize it in this way - their concept would be of reciprocity for favors). A young Ablashian who wishes to rise in society (as a farmer) will indebt himself to a patron by borrowing capital goods, such as cattle, land, a plowshare, and so on. There are traditional amounts of each that are based on the status of the client's family and other matters. In return, the client will pay about half of what could be built from that capital (about half of the expected calves, half of the expected crops less the seed, and so on) for a period of time, usually seven years, then the client will return value equal to the items originally loaned. During this period of time, the client also owes certain responsibilities of loyalty to the patron.

Skilled trades, such as smithwork, are handled similarly, but the prospective smith apprentices himself to the smith in exchange for training. The smith gains the service of the apprentice, and will eventually loan the necessary capital goods to the apprentice when he becomes an independent smith on the same sort of terms (though at a much lesser interest rate).

In addition to these areas of society, there are also intellectual and warrior trades. These are handled much like the skilled trades, with apprenticeship, but since the output of these trades is not so easily quantifiable as material goods, different methods of repaying the training are developed. [Details are vague at this point, but probably include indenturing and such.]

Ablashian government is based on the client/patron-apprentice/master system, in that clients owe loyalty to their patrons or masters. However, there are some necessary institutions which exist to limit the abuses that this basic system can engender. For instance, each tribe has a groups of priests called "Judges". The Judges hold Court at Alehouses (see below) and hear cases brought up by one person against another. Judges are assisted by an order of priest-investigators called "Advocates" whose jobs are to investigate the facts of a case, especially criminal cases, and by the "Counts", who are a group of warriors whose mandate is to find criminals and bring them to justice at the Courts. The Counts are empowered by the Baron, who is given his authority through election by, and from among, the landholders, a position that he will hold for life. Not that life is necessarily long, as the Baron is expected to operate in the front lines of any war the County is prosecuting.

A town is governed by a Mayor, whose position is chosen by vote of the business leaders of the town. There are usually a few towns per County.

There are other priestly castes, as well. Some include:

The Holy Doves: Priestesses (and the occasional priest) of Valentina, the goddess of love and beauty.

Duelists: Wandering devotees of Dullahan, the god of fighting. They can be either a benefit or a bane to a community, and are greatly feared for their immense, nearly magical skills at fighting.

Trappers: Mountain ascetics devoted to mountain spirits. They collect fur pelts to trade in the towns.

Taverners: The maintainers of special temples called Alehouses. The Alehouse is the center of a community, and includes, at the least, a room devoted to the rites of the Holy Doves and the service of alcoholic beverages, and another for the Court of the local Judge.

(There's more inspiration to be found in the American Old West.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Science Fiction Film Space Travel

Note: For the purposes of this post, I am using "Science Fiction" to refer to reasonably plausible scenarios. This includes what is sometimes called "Hard Science Fiction", but is not limited to that, as some minor bending of the rules of reality is acceptable in the interests of the story. Hopefully, what exactly I mean will be made apparent by some of my examples below.

I love Science Fiction movies. I also love Science Fantasy movies, but here I'll just talk about the former. First, my nominations for best Science Fiction movies of several decades:

1950-1959: (tie) Forbidden Planet and The Day The Earth Stood Still
1960-1969: 2001: A Space Odyssey
1970-1979: Alien
1980-1989: Blade Runner
1990-1999: Gattaca
2000-2009: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Of those, I'd say that the 1960s-1980s were the best time for Science Fiction film, and would count those three as far and away the best three of all time (in which specific order? That would vary depending on my mood, I think. Right now, Blade Runner is pretty much leading the pack).

Did you notice something about those? After the 1970s, spaceships are passé. Gattaca has a trip on one as the ultimate goal, Blade Runner mentions them almost offhandedly as something that other people go on, but they're pretty much removed from the table otherwise. Before then, anyone can go into space (with one exception). There's a stereotyped cook in the 1950s who makes bootleg liquor. In the 1960s, there are low-level receptionists on the space stations. In the 1970s, we're back to an updated version of the 1950s-era lowlife spacemen. After that, it's only the élite who travel beyond the bounds of gravity, if anyone does at all.

I've been kinda obsessing on this topic for the last few weeks, in the wake of the effective end of the USA's space program (yeah, yeah, they're working on another one - wake me when it flies, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it won't happen in the next decade or more; don't even get me started on the private space companies). Before we went, space was full of possibilities. Anything could happen, and we imagined so much.

Then we actually got there.

I will never denigrate the achievements of the Apollo program. Landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth was, frankly, an absolutely incredible success. As I've learned more about rocketry and space travel in the real world, it has become more and more apparent to me just how amazing it was.

But, that success is leavened by the lack of anything of real interest to humans on the Moon. Sure, there's a wealth of scientific information that we should be glad we have, and there are potentially valuable resources if we can just work the bugs out of the devices that will hopefully use them. But there's not much that we can use now. We can't plant crops, because the Lunar soil lacks many of the necessary nutrients available in an organic biosphere, so we'd pretty much have to bring those with us. There aren't many useful metals that we don't already have in abundance on Earth. There are no organics, such as petrochemicals, at all. It's an expensive trip with little material return.

When we found that out, it seems, there was a drop in interest in space travel. Some visionaries tried to leverage concepts that would make space productive, but those haven't gotten very far. There are a few industrial processes that might be improved by microgravity, but that hasn't been proven yet. Microgravity might make a useful retirement community for the wealthy (who might desire the reduced strain on aging organs), but that isn't exactly "productive".

Basically, we've learned that space is mostly good for communications and observation satellites (possibly weaponized ones, as well, but those are currently agreed to be banned), which don't really need people. It isn't all that long until they plan to de-orbit the International Space Station, and that would pretty much be the end of space for humans. Sure, we might build another one, but we couldn't even build a new highway system at this point. We can barely maintain the one we already have. I think that we're done in space, and Science Fiction movies have been reflecting that, for the most part. There are occasional examples otherwise: Avatar, for instance, but those border on the realm of Science Fantasy (as, really, does Forbidden Planet. I make no claims to a foolish consistency, and one could dismiss this argument on that basis if one were so inclined. Keep in mind that the idea is that of "plausibility", which varies depending on the state of knowledge). Moon is the big exception, but it is an exception.

So, some other Science Fiction films I really like:

Alphaville: une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965)
Solyaris (aka Solaris, also remade as Solaris) (1972)
Outland (1981)
Escape From New York (1981)
War Games (1983)
Aliens (1986)
Hardware (1990)
Until The End Of The World (1991)
Strange Days (1995)
Hackers (1995)
Koukaku Kidoutai (aka Ghost In The Shell) (1995)
Abre Los Ojos (aka Open Your Eyes, remade as Vanilla Sky) (1997)
Banlieue 13 (aka District B13) (2004)
Children Of Men (2006)
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
District 9 (2009)
Inception (2010)
Limitless (2011)

This is not, of course, a complete list, just what I can think of offhand. Also, I left out some after considering them (such as WALL-E and Paprika), as they went too far into the realm of Science Fantasy for what I am trying to discuss here.

What you see in all of those is that space travel is definitely something that becomes more uncommon with time, and more relegated to élites when it is present. Even Moon fits into this latter category by limiting its spacemen to one individual at a time, not having entire colonies with janitors, receptionists, store clerks, and so on.

For our games, this might mean that it is worthwhile to consider Science Fiction settings that don't include space travel. Even (perhaps especially) cyberpunk, postcyberpunk, and realistic transhumanist settings might start to consider that we might not be getting off of this planet in any significant way.

Some time, I'll discuss the whole Peak Oil/Limits of Growth thing and how that affects this possibility.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Refining My Games Wantlist

A little while ago, I made a list of games that interest me. As I think about that list more, my interest has been refining, and some other games have come around in my interest. So, here's the most recent list of RPGs I would like to play and/or run:

D&D (0E, B/X, BECMI/Cyclopedia, 1E, or Retroclones)
Top Secret
Space 1889
GURPS (depending on background*, with a preference for 4E)
Traveller (any edition, though CT or MT are preferred)
James Bond 007
Cyberpunk 2020
Adventurer Conqueror King System (or any Domain Game system)
Fantasy Wargaming
Flashing Blades
Realms of the Unknown

*Some specific examples, chosen from published backgrounds:

GURPS Voodoo: The Shadow War (updated for GURPS4E and the Path/Book magic system)
GURPS Traveller (with a preference for the G:T revised timeline in the 1120 era)
Transhuman Space
GURPS Bunnies & Burrows
GURPS Reign of Steel

Friday, September 2, 2011

Top Secret Retroclone Character Creation

In the original game, characteristics were rolled on 1d100, and gained bonuses based on the number rolled. So, if the roll were 01-25, you'd add 25 points, making the stat 26-50. This is a little bit complicated, and it results in situations where a roll that was higher results in a stat that is lower (for instance, a 25 becomes 50, while a roll of 26 becomes 41). That annoys some players, even though I don't personally care.

The average roll using the basic Top Secret method comes out to 62.73, with a minimum roll of 26 and a maximum of 100. After experience additions, stats have no theoretical limit, though there are some practical limitations.

I'm thinking that I will include both that method and a simpler method. Instead of rolling 1d100 straight, roll 2d10 and choose the larger die as the tens digit, the smaller die as the ones digit. This results in an average roll of 65.45 with a minimum roll of 10 and a maximum of 100. Perhaps I will include the option of allowing the player to choose which method he prefers.

I'm definitely going to incorporate all of the various secondary and tertiary traits from supplementary material, which basically means that it will include the three traits from the Top Secret Companion and the two traits from "Operation: Zenith", Rasmussen's article from Dragon 120 that introduced the space program as an arena for espionage roleplaying. In addition, there are a few sections in some alternate rules that I plan to incorporate where averages of various attributes are used without declaring a new secondary or tertiary trait. I think that I'll designate some new traits to cover those.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Advice On Refereeing These Games

"…when I'm DMing I'm a combination of Nethack, Captain Bligh, Larry David and Kali. I revel in mayhem, confusion, and horrendous death. But I don't do it to be a jerk or fuck over players; I do it because I love my players and I love my game, and have too much respect for both of them to play kindergarten softball. This isn't World of Warcraft, this isn't T-ball, this isn't Chutes and Ladders; this is Dungeons and fucking Dragons…" - Blair, at Planet Algol

Sunday, August 21, 2011


On the western steppe, nomads range on horseback. Most of these are fairly normal, similar to cultures from our world such as Mongols or Lakota. One of the nomad nations, though, is notable for having a warrior society the members of which aspire to the magical control of bulls for the purpose of riding them into battle.

"Control" is perhaps too strong a word. The Bullriders forge a magical partnership with a particular bull which lasts a lifetime - whether that life is the Rider's or the Bull's. The bulls involved become longer-lived (they can sometimes even outlive their riders!) and more intelligent, which is their benefit from the relationship.

In addition, the tribes of the Davrai (that is the name they give themselves - it means, roughly, "Free People", but their word for "free", davar, is related to the word other peoples use for "cattle") are among the few peoples of the world who have made a place for the beastmen known as minotaurs. It is a rare band that does not have a small group of minotaurs living among them.

On the battlefield, the Davrai are terrifying. Bellows of bulls and minotaurs issue forth from the lines of Bullriders, backed by hundreds of more conventional cavalry. Arrows blacken the sky, propelled by small, powerful recurved horn bows. Paynim legions withstand them only through dint of intensive training in fighting as a unit.

Davrai religion is fairly simple, centering on worship of a Sky God known as the Great Bull and his bride the Earth Mother. Everyday religion is mediated by a group of shamans who build personal relationships with an idiosyncratic group of spirits that is different with each shaman.

A Davrai band usually consists of about 30-300 men and women, with an equal number of children, and anywhere from 3 to 15 minotaurs. The herds consist of about twice that number of cows, along with a bull for every 20 adults, about 2 horses for each adult, and a number of oxen about equal to the number of cows. The oxen are used to draw large carts that carry the women, children, and the household goods of the band. The carts double as tents when shelter is needed.

Every band owes its allegiance to a ruling band, forming clans of between 3 and 10 bands. The clans are organized into tribes consisting of anywhere from 5 to 20 clans. All of the tribes follow a king, though currently there are three kings claiming control of the Davrai as a whole. This results in a smoldering aggression that sees a number of feuds and other violent incidents.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


The Koni (both singular and plural) are a diminutive race of nonhumans who live (primarily) in the hilly country of a peninsula to the west of Payn, known as Konikula. They resemble nothing so much as bipedal rabbits about half the height of a man, though their eyes are forward facing like a dog's. They live in clans, consisting of from about 10 up to 100 or so Koni all living in a single underground complex, called a "Warren". Small warrens will have about 5 times as many entrances as inhabitants, while larger warrens get that ratio down to about 1:1. There are usually numerous smaller tunnels, called "Bolt Holes", surrounding the main warren, up to a mile or so away. Koni like to dig, but only so long as it is purposeful. When the warren gets as large as it needs to be, something that the Koni will instinctively feel, they simply don't dig any more.

Koni warrens typically have a King, who rules with an iron hand. His Queen, in turn, rules him by subtler means. Male Koni are expected to act with deference, and in most warrens are subject to being beaten if they show insolence to the King. The King, in the larger warrens, will have advisers to help him formulate policy. The personalities of the King and Queen are reflected through the whole warren, though not always directly.

The warren usually includes several institutions particular to the Koni way of life, notably the Warreners and the Hoplites. The Warreners are a troop of warriors dedicated to the safety of the warren. The Hoplites, on the other hand, are scouts and messengers, skilled in avoiding notice and moving quickly. A few Koni are unable to find a place for themselves in warren life, and become Mavericks, usually forming into small bands living outside of the warrens, but forming a sort of informal border patrol. This is an essential service to the Koni community, as the little people are fairly territorial, at least with other Koni, and do not much like strangers coming around. Koni from other warrens are seen as odd or even slightly sinister in various ways, and Koni from distant areas are felt to be intruders.

Mavericks, however, crave society (even if they see themselves as "misanthropic"), and are generally susceptible to good treatment, no matter who it comes from.

The ideal Koni life is one of leisure and abundant food, with a mate for the mating season (Koni are not even capable of sexual activity outside of that season, but are very amorous during it). They idealize trickery, so long as it is directed outside of the warren, and generally are known for a sly, sarcastic sense of humor.

Some Koni become herbalists and healers, or even (on rare occasion) magicians. Magician Koni are seen as somewhat "off", and may even be slightly insane due to their traffic with magical powers and spirits. Usually, there will not be more than one magician for every several warrens, and the magician will live like a Maverick, though in a permanent bolt hole, with individual Koni visiting in time of need.

Storytelling is the main Koni pastime. They love stories about heroic Koni, the more tricky the better. Many of their stories bear a striking resemblance to Br'er Rabbit and Jack tales or even Bugs Bunny stories from our world (the famous "Wabbit season! Duck season!" exchange has a close parallel in the story of "Agabar in the Home of the Black Sun Koni", Agabar being a typically trickster-ish Koni hero).

Koni religion is fairly simple, mainly consisting of the above-mentioned storytelling and the perception of various activities and objects as having more or less luck of good or bad variety. Avoiding bad luck and looking for good luck is their main religious preoccupation, so that (for instance) one will see a Koni invariably knock on the post at a gate in a fence or wall, but only if he means to pass through the gate. When in groups, only the first Koni will knock (the luck being seen as traveling through the whole group). Similarly, Koni are frequently seen wearing a leek pinned to their shirt, since leeks are considered to be one of the luckiest of vegetables. Wealthy Koni might wear a truffle instead, as it has the greatest luck of all the foodstuffs, but truffles are expensive and such outlandish frippery might cause ill-feeling if the Koni is not otherwise very well-liked. There are Koni gods and heroes, talked about in their stories (and frequently emulated in deed), but worship consists almost entirely of the obsession with luck or the telling of stories.

(As should be obvious, this is the "hobbit" or "halfling" of the world I'm building. Mechanically, they will probably be very similar, or even identical, to halflings in S&W Whitebox, though I'll probably add the higher level stuff from Brave Halfling Publishing's Halfling Adventurer, up to 8th level.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Retroclone Of Top Secret?

I suppose that I haven't really been talkative lately. Mainly due to the fact that I've been watching a bunch of spy-themed movies and reading TSR's Top Secret and Victory Games/Avalon Hill's James Bond 007. At some point, it occurred to me that there should be a retroclone of one or both of those. I'm starting working on notes toward a clone of the former, but I have some areas that I'd like to ask others about.

First, how much change do I need to make to satisfy legal requirements? Am I allowed, for instance, to keep the same names of characteristics, or do I have to give them synonymous names since the game is not, itself, under the OGL? Can I go so far as to use the "Quick Reference Codes" for weapons that were so prevalent in the various modules (this may not be essential, but it could prove useful in converting those old adventures to the clone system)? Can I just paraphrase and reorganize the rules sections, and present the tables in reorganized form?

Second, what do you think that the modern audience would prefer: a retro look at the Cold War era, or a modern, Homeland Security era game, such as the last two James Bond films seem to be attempting? I'm leaning toward the latter, but I can see a retroclone being targeted at the former, with supplementary material covering the more modern era.

Third, should I consider putting my own spin on some of the rules, such as the hand-to-hand combat section? For instance, I'd like to add ways in swordplay to include cuts to the body and legs, which are absent in the second printing tables. I'd also like to change the system slightly so that wrestling is a little less of a foregone conclusion (for instance) by adding a random element based on relative character traits. Is that a good idea at all?

Fourth, I'm interested in integrating the Top Secret Companion and some of the better Dragon magazine articles (especially those by Rasmussen). However, I don't know if there is some reason that might be a bad idea.

So, what do you think?

Monday, August 8, 2011

eBay As Distribution Scheme

I had a busy weekend. Hope yours was good.

Over on Loviatar, christian is talking about how his new zine is available on eBay. This seems like an interesting idea to me, and a nifty way to distribute zines in general. It made it easy for me to just dip into my Paypal account and pay for a copy. Reminds me of going into the local (Seattle) lefty bookstore and picking up punk rock zines in the '80s. Go in and impulse-drop 50 cents for a couple of badly-xeroxed, handmade magazines, probably put together at someone's office job working for a lawyer or nursing home. Of course, the price has jumped a bit, since it isn't badly-xeroxed on a work copier and inflation has made prices change a bit in the intervening quarter century.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dice Bandwagon

Over at Gothridge Manor, there's a request to show our dice. I totally get dice pr0n, so here's my own modest collection, minus a couple that I forgot to put on the blanket:

Please forgive the blurriness of my crappy camera.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Top Secret

The game that has been occupying my attention in the last couple of weeks more than most is the old TSR Top Secret, the original one, not the later Top Secret/S.I. (which doesn't really interest me). I've been looking for modules for the game and adventures printed in Dragon magazine. I also discovered that there was a significant revision of the hand-to-hand combat rules in the 2nd printing (and the revision is an improvement on the original rules), and that there was a Top Secret Companion which collected many of the optional rules that Merle Rasmussen wrote originally for his column in Dragon. I've also surprised myself by how many issues of Dragon I own that had articles regarding the game.

There are a lot of good old-school elements of the game. Actions are governed by broad categories of competence (and, with the Companion, formal training courses), some of which are universal, such as general athletic ability and the ability to deactivate electronics and mechanical mechanisms, while others are more focused areas of knowledge, such as scientific knowledge or a knowledge of history. This allows a character to attempt actions even in areas in which he is untrained, and to make use of the general knowledge of the player freely. In a sense, there are two separate, but interlocking, skills systems in the game: attributes and areas of knowledge, and training courses. There are also prototypes of more "story" oriented rules presented as options, such as hero points (here called Fame Points and Fortune Points).

Less worthwhile, the combat system uses a variant of D&D's Armor Class system. Weapons are given a Projectile Weapon Value (PWV) or Hand Weapon Value (HWV). This affects the ability of the weapon to hit the opponent. Projectile weapons then cause damage on a fixed table, from 1 to 12 points, while hand-to-hand weapons use a more complex system (described below). Armor modifies damage, reducing it by a percentage, or nearly eliminating damage from weapons below a certain caliber. There are some suggestions of how to handle larger weaponry (machine guns and missiles, for instance) in a Dragon magazine article, but this is not official. Damage is inflicted on a value called "Life Level", which is based on the basic, rolled attributes of the character.

Hand-to-hand combat is divided into various types: non-trained, wrestling, boxing/swordplay (these use the same table), judo, and martial arts. Hand weapons add a damage modifier when using non-trained or boxing/swordplay combat. In the original version, boxing and swordplay were separate, and there was a knife fighting option as well, but the revised system is much better. In a combat round, one character is the attacker, the other the defender. The attacker chooses an attack type secretly (which also determines which damage chart to use in the case of a hit), while the defender chooses two defenses. These are cross-indexed on the tables, and a result determined. This generally consists of a miss or a hit, possibly with a damage modifier, but can also include holds, a change of roles (defender becomes attacker and vice versa), or other results.

Combat has a number of optional rules which can increase the complexity of the game. For instance, injuries can cause temporary and permanent losses to abilities and attributes in addition to the Life Level damage.

Some activities are abstracted greatly. In the optional rules regarding arrest by police, for instance, the character is given a "chance to escape by getaway". This is simply a saving roll against the character's Evasion value, a failure indicating that the character goes to trial (and the trial is similarly abstract).

Further, there are tables of random complications, intended to be used by the Admin (the game's word for the Referee) in cases where she has not built such into the scenario. These include the results of police investigation, the chance that a target (or someone connected to the target) may attempt revenge, the chances that a message is intercepted or jammed, the chance that a surveillance is discovered, and general occupational hazards such as illness or having one's morals offended. There is even a "Campaign Rules" section that includes some notes toward a type of "domain game", with costs of constructing buildings and setting up a network of agents and contacts.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gygax Quiz (You Know, Because It's His Birthday)

Faoladh took the Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz in the World and got 60%!

You are a Gary Gygax Myrmidon. You are mighty in the ways of Gary Gygax. You're probably a First Edition or OD&D player, and I wouldn't be surprised if you had an original copy of the Chainmail rules.

Paladin Code: You completed this quiz without using Google.

I'm not really that knowledgeable about Gary, but I seem to be better than average.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chronologies Vs. Plots

In a discussion on Dreams In The Lich House, we are playing with conceptions of sandbox and railroad style play. As usual, some people are operating from a flawed (in my opinion) understanding of sandbox play and talking about how a "pure" sandbox is this or that thing which is not necessarily so.

Anyway, I started to discuss the difference between a timeline and a preconceived plot:

A timeline does not place any restrictions on what decisions the players can make. The players may choose to confront the mastermind of the timeline or they may choose another route to success. There is no pre-scripted scene involving a necessary confrontation between the mastermind of the timeline and the players. A preconceived game includes the assumption that the players will maneuver their characters in such a way that the mastermind will be confronted, and that scene must occur to resolve the situation either positively or negatively.

I also made the following statement:

Some examples of techniques that I think are mistakes in roleplaying, but which are useful in other entertainment media (and this is not exhaustive): "Boss monsters", cutscenes, climaxes, act structures, and so on. This, by the way, does not mean that in retrospect some of these things might [edit: I meant "won't"] occur, or be imposed on the narrative of the stochastic events, but rather that using these concepts as organizing principles is a mistake.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Apocalypse Now Redux

I love this movie, both versions (though I'll be talking about Redux specifically here). It's an amazing artifact, created almost by accident. It also looks like the sort of thing that results from a proper sandbox. There are location-based encounters (the French villa for roleplaying, the ambush for combat), random encounters ("Never get out of the boat!", inspecting the sampan), and even dungeon-style location-based adventures (Kurtz, of course, at the end of the river). It also includes short story arcs (the USO show at the supply depot and later at the MASH, for instance) created by moving NPCs from one location to another. Some scenes are mythic in scope (the Do Long bridge, the end of the river), while others are more prosaic in tone (the USO show, again, and the supply depot in general).

We can find inspiration for our games in many places, sometimes not even the ones that we think of as directly applicable.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


One of the city-states that is part of the core of the Paynim Empire. The Paynim city-states are all ruled by wizards (or in one case, by a house of vampiric nobility).

Mardras is one of the few Paynim city-states where the ruler truly has the interests of his citizens at heart. It doesn't seem that way to outsiders, though, since he is a powerful necromancer and lays claim to the corpse of any deceased citizen. All citizens live lives of privilege and luxury, served by the dead, and will one day come to serve others as they have been served.

The ruler of Mardras, Choma vel Dilmun, is fairly young as Paynim rulers go, being only in his first century of age. Not being able to access youth spells, he is preparing to become a lich, the better to provide his people with the comfort they have come to expect. He is hoping to do so before his failing body gives out.

The legions of Mardras are mainly animated skeletons and a few zombies, but other undead are found in the armies, as well. Spectral commanders and mummies are notable here. There is quite a lot of tension between Mardras and several other Paynim city-states, in part because the citizens of the other cities look to the inhabitants of Mardras with envy. Choma is wary of these problems, and is trying to defuse the tension by offering trade subsidies to allied city-states. This has so far had little effect on the problems, however.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Other Projects

I try to keep myself busy, I guess. In addition to the WRG-based game, I have other projects that keep me going.

One of them is improving my computer programming skills and working on a sandbox computer rpg with domain-level aspects. I intend to base the general idea of the interface on an old game called Darklands, which is pretty much my favorite computer game of all time. It was a precursor, in many ways, to Fallout, which was designed by the same studio. I'm also looking at Dwarf Fortress as a model, as it includes most of the ideas that I want to pursue, except that its world generation is not customizable in the ways that I want it to be. In addition, its tone is pretty well set at a particular kind of humor that, though I enjoy it, is not what I want for the game I am designing. I'm also looking at the pencil-and-paper game Flashing Blades for ideas on social structure. I've done a little bit of work on this, mostly laying out some general flowcharts.

Another project is a fantasy world that has been in my head for years. I have made some attempts to develop that world design in the past, but I am currently looking at developing it in play. Some of the important exceptions to that are the languages, which I want to develop as, at least, naming languages, if not the whole way to fully-fleshed-out conlangs.

I have an idea in the back of my head to design a game to deal with my ideas of spaceship SF, but I haven't done any work on it yet. It would include a vehicle/spaceship design system, domain-level ideas to cover colony campaigns, and such.

Another computer-based project I've thought about is a multiplayer online game of domain control. I'm still working out how I want to regulate the turn structure of this idea, but right now most of the ideas I have are really too complex for the sort of semi-casual audience I'd be targeting it at.

I've always wanted to write some supplements for Flashing Blades, covering other parts of the world, such as England and Ireland (and Wales, and Scotland), the Low Countries, Spain, Italy, North Africa, Russia, Germany, Poland, and such, even as far away as Japan. It could even be worth it to develop a magic system for it, on the GURPS Voodoo model, but that might be going too far.

Which of these would be most interesting, do you think?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Troll Blogs

Not worth my time to check out. I admit that I did click over when Christian left, to see what was said. Rubbernecking is a filthy habit, but I'm as subject to its siren song as anyone else. However, I won't be going back. What a waste of someone's time and energy it is to make that. Not one constructive point to it, only a stream of vitriol.

Don't bother. It isn't funny, which would be at least a reason for it to exist. It doesn't offer cogent criticism, which would be another. Waste of time and energy, and I have wasted enough discussing it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Useful? Perhaps

Jeff Rients linked to, which seems like it could be valuable. Anyway, that's my profile there.

Since we are losing our local game stores (though a new one just opened in my town), it's getting more difficult to find players. Tools like this should prove valuable.

Pop Culture and D&D

Part 8459074958794875 in an ongoing series:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

[WRG]Thoughts on Combat

In keeping with the idea that I will be using the WRG rules as much as possible, here are my current thoughts on combat.

Hand to hand combat: In a period (30 seconds), each figure involved generates a casualty total in the normal manner. Individual figures will not be rated as LI, except for special cases listed later (and mostly dealing with missile combat). Casualty totals are compared, and the higher total does a wound to the opponent. Determine the nature of the wound by rolling a normal six-sided die for each casualty above the opponent's total and compare to a chart (hit locations? possibly as an optional rule). For multiple combatants, first pair off combatants, with any excess on one side divided up according to a method that takes into account nominal base sizes in the WRG rules (that is, larger base sizes can be attacked by more figures of smaller base size). In a fight with more than one combatant on one side, all combatants on that side generate casualty totals, each using a different random factor roll, which are added together and compared to the total on the other side. If the single figure gets a higher total, all of the figures opposing it might be wounded. Use a modification of the "Risk to the general" rules: for each figure, roll a die (regular six-sided die for "Enthusiastic", averaging die for "Disciplined") and multiply by the excess number of casualties. If the result is greater than the total number of figures fighting against the opposing figure, the figure takes a wound based on the amount of excess casualties. (Example: Abel and Beth are fighting against Xavier. Abel generates 1 casualty, Beth generates 2, for a total of 3 on their side. Xavier generates an astounding 4. Abel and Beth roll dice, with a result of 3 or higher, since the die is multiplied by the excess casualties of 1 and, since there are two of them, the total must be 3 or more, indicating that they take a wound of 1 die in value on the wound chart. If Abel or Beth are "Disciplined", they will take a wound on a roll of 3 or higher, escaping injury 1 chance in 6, while if either is "Enthusiastic", they can escape wounding 2 chances in 6.) Edited to add: If a figure that rates as a model (elephant, chariot, or artillery, or anything that is treated as one of those, such as dragons) in the regular game is fighting against a figure that is normal, but has no armor, then count the normal figure as LI instead of LMI/MI.

Missile combat: This will have the biggest changes. When firing a missile weapon, first determine initiative by rolling a die (type based on "Disciplined" or "Enthusiastic"). The firer with initiative fires first, then the next firer, and so on (any ties roll off). The firer will generate a casualty total and so will the target (using regular hand-to-hand random factors, not the special missile ones of the basic WRG rules). The target's total will be based on a base factor of 1, while the firer's will be based on either a target that is LI (LC if mounted), or the actual target type, whichever is better for the target. The firer will cause a wound based on excess casualties.

Wounds: The lightest wounds will actually be a "recoil" result, which means that the "wounded" figure will attempt to disengage from combat. The opponent may choose to press, which will allow the charge bonus in the next turn but risks being flanked by unengaged opponents, or to let the figure disengage.

Combat sequence: The basic combat sequence will be something like 1) Check morale of all non-player figures that need to do so; 2) Referee adjudicates maneuvers of unengaged figures; 3) Determine initiative for missile fire; 4) Missile fire in order of initiative; 5) Hand to hand combat.

Mounted figures: I still need to think about this, but currently I am thinking that, for horse/camel-sized mounts, a wound has a 50/50 chance of going to the mount or the figure.

Sandboxes and Stories

When I floated the idea of going back to an earlier style of gaming with my last group, one of the hardcore "story games" partisans tended to shout me down each time I'd bring up the subject. One of the discussions that made a strong impression on me was when I'd described going back to the way I gamed as a youth. I described, generally, the idea of a sandbox, in which the referee/worldbuilder designs a setting with plot hooks, locations, and such, and the players interact with that setting to create their own story. Before I could note that this style was overshadowed at a fairly early stage by prepackaged stories, the story games guy began a diatribe about how nobody ever played that way, how it was "abusive" to players, and so on, and so on. I wasn't able to get a word in edgewise.

It didn't occur to me at the time to remember that he is several years younger than I am, and that therefore he might never have experienced what gaming was like before Dragonlance. This might be a major divide in gaming, with the older players having played in Judges' Guild-style settings under referees, and the younger players (by which I still mean people as old as their 30s or even 40s, depending on when they started gaming) having an impression of the "old school" as being railroad adventures with adversarial DMs playing "against" the players. That's the only way I can square his description of "old school" as being "abusive" with my experience of what I consider to be "old school" in gaming. Ah well, missed opportunities and all that.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I will no doubt be coming back to this subject repeatedly, as it is the most difficult aspect of translating WRG Ancients and Medieval to a roleplaying context.

In the basic miniatures game, magic is treated very abstractly. Figures (specialized magicians, generals, or unit commanders) with magical powers are allowed to add or subtract the result of a standard six-sided die to the morale check roll of any unit within a certain distance (150 paces), but also not within a certain distance (100 paces) of opposing religious figures. (I'd house-ruled that magical powers also added 1-6 scouting points, but this was not a part of the rules as printed.)

This is not useful to me for roleplaying. What it does point out, though, is that magical powers should not replicate artillery. The magic of this roleplaying game should be more subtle. Happily for me, there are two magic systems that I can look to for a model, and they happen to be the two magic systems of which I am most fond. These are the system in RuneQuest and the "Path/Book Magic" system in GURPS Thaumatology (originally the "Ritual Magic" system in GURPS Voodoo, GURPS Old West 2nd edition, and GURPS Spirits). My current inclination is to develop a system that incorporates elements of both of these.

This means that a magician in this system will not be the "spike damage" specialist of current roleplaying, but will more resemble the "buff" specialist. Most magic will give targets bonuses or detriments to various abilities, perhaps, though some magical abilities will be more directly applicable. I've been analyzing medieval grimoires, folklore collections, and similar items to determine what people in the past believed they were capable of doing with magical powers. Unsurprisingly, many of these are targeted at mundane activities of limited use to adventurers, such as victory in court and the like, but others are very much of use, such as finding one's way or victory in wrestling. Other described magical operations, like invisibility or finding buried treasure (really!) are especially of interest to adventurers.

I'm still considering whether these should be discrete spells, like RuneQuest, or groups of abilities under a magical path like Path/Book Magic. I do think that some system of magic points will be important, since that gives us a resource management aspect. I may borrow an idea from Fantasy Wargaming, and require magicians to engage in stereotypical activities (studying arcane tomes, chanting, and the like) to regenerate magic points. I might even look to Unknown Armies for ideas on the subject.


Now I've reached the point in thinking about how to use WRG Ancients and Medieval rules for roleplaying in which I need to consider which rolled attributes of a figure will be appropriate and needed. So far in these articles, I've decided on just one, Physique, which will represent the figure's strength, toughness, and general health.

Looking at the missile rules, and thinking of ways to implement them in a game of single figures, I've thought that an attribute that governs hitting and also avoiding being hit might be useful, which I've decided to call Agility. This will determine if a factor is added to the base in order to determine a number of "casualties" in missile fire (remember that wounds and such are governed by the number of casualties generated). If not making use of missiles, it's probably going to end up that the defender will generate a number of casualties to see if he can avoid being hit. I'll probably also apply Agility as a requirement for certain abilities gained, such as stealth, lockpicking, and the like, as well as certain craft skills such as clockmaking. (As an aside, I am leaning toward "all-or-nothing" skills, in which possession of the skill allows an activity that is not allowed to those who do not possess the skill. However, degrees of "mastery" may also exist to determine the quality of craft skills, so that a Master at lockpicking will not be able to pick a Grand Master's locks. That is still something about which I am considering, though.) Anyway, giving an attribute with such limited combat use some other value seems appropriate.

Next, I think that an attribute governing the figure's ability to command is necessary. I am leaning toward Leadership as the name of this attribute. This will provide a modifier to morale of units and a threshold of command, indicating how large of a unit the figure can potentially control (at a certain point, it will become "unlimited"). This attribute will probably be fairly easy to improve as the figure gains in personal ability.

I haven't really discussed the magic and religion rules yet, but I do know that I will be needing an attribute to cover those areas. I do think that the same attribute should apply for both, and I am currently on the fence about what to call it. On the one hand, Power might be appropriate, and is my main preference at the moment, covering the idea of magical aura and holy might. However, some other terms I'm kicking around include Faith (to determine the figure's magical connection to the cosmos), Talent (so that we can talk about "having the Talent" and such), or Integrity (though this one is currently seeming unlikely, it is an alternative to "Faith"). An odd choice might be Charisma, which has been used to describe such an attribute in some cases (the Greek from which it derives means "gifted with grace"), but it might cause confusion with the real-world D&D's usage of that term. I'm sure that other terms might also occur to me, and I will weigh those when and if I think of them.

I'm turning over the need for some other attributes in my mind, such as an attribute governing fatigue (possibly Endurance), general and special knowledge (perhaps Memory), and the like, but right now I am only fairly certain of these four: Physique, Agility, Leadership, and Power (or whatever I end up choosing).

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Book of Knighthood

In the 15th century, Christine de Pizan was a widow credited with being the first female professional author. One of her books, Othea's Epistle to Hector, was full of some fascinating pictures of particular interest to gamers.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

[WRG]The Results of Fighting

When two figures or models fight in single combat, the WRG rules give the result as "wounded", and therefore captured by the enemy (so, a serious wound), or "killed". We should work out what these results mean to our individual figures at the roleplaying level.

My inclination is a dislike of the sort of abstraction represented by "hit points". I prefer that the result should be a descriptive wound which may turn fatal (or be instantly so), similar to what we see in Hârnmaster, CORPS, and the like. So, what I'll do is have a "damage roll" that will give a descriptive wound result that will be applied to the figure until it heals.

Since combat is adjudicated by comparing a number of "casualties" generated by the combat table, we will keep that system. The difference between the two results is the number of dice to roll to determine the severity of the wound, by comparing that total to a characteristic of the figure, probably the "Physique" we've previously discussed. I'll work out the details of this later, but that's a good basis for adjudicating wounds. The wound should have various factors, such as how much it impairs action by the figure, whether it results in unconsciousness, if it is bleeding, if it is infected, how it is treated and how it heals, and so on.

Anyway, just a brief note for reference.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Joining In The Fun

A couple of bloggers are posting about games they'd like to play (not running the games, but playing in them). I thought I'd make a quick list myself.

Roleplaying Games:

Stars Without Number
Gamma World
Transhuman Space
A GURPS-based fantasy game that uses the Path/Book system of magic
RuneQuest (3rd edition)
Space 1889
Flashing Blades
Chivalry & Sorcery (1st or 2nd edition)
Land of the Rising Sun
Celtic Legends
any D&D or retroclone, except for 3.X, 4E, Pathfinder, or partial clones like C&C (I don't consider S&W, LotFPWFRPG, or the like to be "partial" for this purpose)
The Arcanum


Starfleet Battles
Federation & Empire
Sky Galleons of Mars
A Starfire campaign
Dark Emperor
Starship Troopers (the old Avalon Hill version)
Battle Rider (starship combat boardgame for Traveller: The New Era, possibly with Trillion Credit Squadron as a campaign system)
Magic Realm


Hordes Of The Things
WRG Ancients and Medieval
Warhammer 40K
Star Wars Miniatures Battles


There are four distinct roles given to figures in the WRG Ancients and Medieval rules, and one more that is implied (and later incorporated explicitly into Hordes Of The Things). Since I may have some use for those in terms of characters, it seems worthwhile to classify them and discuss them briefly.

First is the obvious role, Casualty Infliction. The purpose for inflicting casualties can vary (the two main ones are to weaken opposing units and to encourage rash follow-up movement), but this is the basic function of a figure on the WRG tabletop.

Next we find Morale Adjustment. This is primarily the role of leader figures, but also standard bearers, holy figures, and magicians in the fantasy supplement.

The third role is Scouting. This is a relatively minor role in WRG, mainly used to see who is allowed to outflank whom. Still, we may find use for this role among adventurers.

The final role of those which are given WRG rules is Construction. This is a fairly broad category which includes mining and countermining, building artillery and siege equipment, destroying or repairing buildings and walls, and so forth.

The implied role is that of Infiltrator, which would include figures that are trained to scale walls, sneak through sewage openings, and the like. It could even include disguises and espionage. This isn't dealt with in the WRG Ancients and Medieval rules, but Hordes Of The Things includes the unit type "Sneakers", which is defined as:

"[I]ncluding all bands of infiltrators on foot, such as bearers of magic rings, master thieves, assassins, ninja or wraiths. They do not fight, but can penetrate or deceive enemy troops to capture a stronghold or attack a general unless precautions are taken."

In considering how to differentiate figures from one another, I should keep these roles, and the things that they imply (such as various manufacturing talents implied by the Construction role, or for that matter other non-combative functions such as artistic endeavors), in mind. Perhaps, inspired by the five levels of training defined by the fighting classes (General, A, B, C, D), I will decide on giving each category a rating (perhaps Superior, Elite, Expert, Trained, and Untrained), allowing each character to select such ratings within limits defined by the rules. One possibility is to allow each figure four total increases to spread among the five roles (though perhaps the Construction role will be further split into various particular roles, so that a Master Carpenter is not also a Master Smith and a Master Harpist; certainly, the Morale Adjustment role will be subdivided, at the very least into Leader, Religious, and Magician, and probably further than that), with each increase giving some ability in that role. This will allow players to define their own "character classes", as it were, by giving them the ability to select what particular mix of abilities they want their figure to have. Character advancement (remember the note on "heroic attributes" from the Fantasy Adaptions section) would then improve the figure's facility with those abilities.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Before I make any more decisions, I need to stop and think about the general tone of the game. What is the design goal? Am I looking at something which simulates Sword & Sorcery fiction? Or perhaps I'm looking to play games of historical fantasy? To that end, let me look at the examples given in the fantasy adaptions section, and the later WRG game Hordes Of The Things.

The army lists they had hoped to do included, "E.R.B. Mars, Middle Earth, Kregen, Novaria, Gor, Dalarna and similar places". Hm. That's a pretty wide range, but it seems to focus mainly on the Sword & Sorcery, pulp side of things. There are specific entries for airboats and radium rifles in the fantasy conversions. In HOTT, we find lists for (or mentions of): Moorcock, Pratchett, Homeric Epic, Arthurian Epic, Carolingian Epic, Irish Epic, Norse Myth, Arabian Myth (including Hollywood Arabesques), Persian Epic, Japanese Epic, Aztec Myth, Hyboria, Barsoom, Spenser's "Faerie Queene", Novaria (L. Sprague de Camp), Fletcher Pratt's Well of the Unicorn (the "Dalarna" mentioned above), Kregen of the Dray Prescott novels, Deryni, Tékumel, Steven Brust's "Vlad Taltos" books, Glen Cook's "Black Company", Egyptian and Chinese semi-historical, the Renaissance (with Da Vinci inventions), and even Napoleonics! Amusingly, I note that WRG had shied away from Gor over the intervening decade, but also dropped Tolkien from the list (probably due to rights issues).

Whew. That's a pretty wide range, indeed. What I get of the sense of it, though, is that the main thrust is toward a sort of heroic, pulp fantasy, but one that treats heroes as only slightly better, in terms of powers and ability, than the common man. So, basically like early D&D. That's a pretty easy choice, then. I'll be keeping that tone in mind as I make design choices.

Happily, at least at first, I don't have to make many huge design choices, though, since I'm still looking at figuring out a way to play WRG Ancients and Medieval, just with single, individual figures instead of units of up to 50 figures with each figure representing 5 or 20 individuals. Many of my design choices are already made for me.