Monday, April 16, 2012

Obscure Games - Lands Of Adventure

In my humble, but deadly accurate, opinion,
this is the best fantasy game cover to date.
Too bad about the game.
Fantasy Games Unlimited made some of the best games that no one played. This one is not one of their best, and is no longer in print, but it is full of good ideas presented badly.

Lee Gold, the force behind the long-running and well-received fanzine Alarums & Excursions, as well as the Chivalry & Sorcery variant Land of the Rising Sun, which presented a highly-detailed, fantasy-Japanese culture just as its inspiration presented a fantastic Europe. With credentials like those, one would think that this game would be a slam-dunk. Unfortunately, it seems that Ms. Gold chose not to actually develop the game. It even reads like a set of notes rather than a set of finished and polished rules.

Full of great ideas, the game leaves out a lot that would be necessary to actual play. Perhaps we could approach this like the Three LBBs of OD&D, but there's something else wrong here. It's more like the notes were never actually used in play before being thrown together and published.

There are a few weird design decisions in the character creation rules. First, there are 11 basic stats. These alternate being created by the roll of a d20 and taking one of the other stats divided by 2 and adding a d10. So, we get CRAFT (or CRF), rolled on a d20, and then DEXTERITY (aka DEX), which is CRF/2 + 1d10. The strangest pair is APPEARANCE (APP), on a d20, and AGILITY (the unusual abbreviation AGY is used), which is APP/2 + 1d10 (justified as "gracefulness of movement"). My immediate inclination would be to change all of the d20 rolls to 2d10, but that's an aesthetic choice, I guess. There are different variations for "specialized characters" (who exchange magical TALENT, or TAL, for technological CRF or vice versa), technology level (higher tech improves CRF and diminishes TAL), or non-human characters. It is actually important to generate Height and Weight, for reasons that will show up in a moment.

Next comes Piety. This is a measure of how much the character lives a religious life. Factors include the likes of "Attends major religious festivals", "Prays daily to deities", "Has Theology (a Knowledge Skill) at 76%+", "Per quest performed at deity's desire in the past year", and the like. It's not made clear whether missing a major festival once would eliminate that point of Piety (and would it come back at the next festival attended?), and that's especially a problem for minor festivals. If a character engages in a Blasphemous Action, then the Piety will drop to a negative value and can no longer be improved without atonement (requiring a completed Quest per point of negative Piety). Blasphemous Actions range from "Refuses to admit a deity exists" on the low end to "Destroys a deity's Holy Place" at the extreme. As an example of the sketched-out nature of the game, the whole description of Piety (not counting the lists of Pious and Blasphemous Actions) is shorter than the paragraph I have just written about it.

Next in the list of things to do in creating a character is figuring out the three kinds of hit points that a character has. These are Energy Points (EP), Body Points (BP), and Life Points (LP). EP are a combination of fatigue and magical power, determined by adding PRUDENCE (PRU), AGY, and STRENGTH (STR). BP are physical structural integrity, and are equal to the character's body weight in pounds divided by 10. LP are health and the strength of attachment of the character's life energy, and are equal to CONSTITUTION (CON). There's a quick note that EP are recovered based on the total of EP and LP remaining to the character, and that other healing occurs by transforming EP into other hit point types (at a ratio of 5 EP per LP or 2 EP per BP), with a chance of success based on the number of LP remaining (and no chance of healing if LP are 0). That's actually pretty clever, if a little convoluted and sketchily presented.

Next up is some stuff about encumbrance and pushing things that are all labeled as optional.

LoA is a skill-based system, as most of the FGU games tended to be. Unlike most such games, though, skills are grouped into categories which all have the same base percentage chance of success. That is, all "WEAPONS - MELEE" skills will have the same base chance, all "KNOWLEDGE" skills start at the same percentage, and so on. Individual skills can be "Specialized", which allows them to be improved above that baseline chance. A character starts with one Specialized Skill per point of PRU, and can have up to twice PRU, gaining one per adventure or game month. Improving Specialized Skills also improves the skill category's base chance by 1% per 10 in the Specialized Skill. There's a bunch of other stuff about how easy the skill is, training time and cost, and such. This is followed by the skill list, which is just a list of skill names divided into categories with some generic advice on adjudicating them (eg "Success in a Communication Skill indicates that the performance is satisfactory.")

There's some notes on how quickly a character moves in the Movement Skills section, which is based on either the character's height or shoulder height (if a quadruped). In the section on Combat Skills, we learn that natural weapons do damage based on the character's BP (and so on the weight of the character). For instance, a Punch does 1xBP/10, while a Kick does 1xBP/8. Observation Skills includes some tables of distances in various conditions at which things can be perceived. Weapons do damage based on the weight of the weapon (only), while Missile weapons have a more complicated calculation involving an "efficiency factor", but the upshot is that an arrow does 7 points, the same as a 3.5 lb. sword. There's a brief note that there are critical hits and fumbles, with a reference to later combat rules.

The armor rules are just strange. Instead of a simple subtraction from damage (or reduction of the chance to make an effective hit), armor multiplies the BP of the character. This is explained as easier than dividing the damage of each blow. I'll just leave it at that.

In each combat Round (12 seconds), there are 6 Phases of 2 seconds each. An attack in a Phase costs EP based on the weight of the weapon compared to the character's STR, ranging from 1-5 EP. This can be reduced by taking an extra Phase per point of reduction. When damage is taken, the character taking the damage can choose to take up to half of it as EP, the rest as BP (or LP if out of BP). On a Crit, the damage is doubled and the character takes LP equal to half of the BP taken. There's also an optional rule for a Critical Hit Location table that gives specific effects.

Magic is divided into four categories: Compulsions, Illusions, Enhancements, and Energy. Compulsions compel various behaviors or emotional states, Illusions affect senses, Enhancements improve various skills, and Energy has a number of relatively subtle physical effects (for instance, Energy can create an aura of damaging energy that only affects EP, can bind inanimate objects together, or can affect the intensity of other people's magical spells). There are guidelines given as to how to create spells of each type, giving the amount of EP that the spell requires and the difficulty of success with casting. Spell types can be combined as well to create more complex effects. One example given: MAGIC BINDING (Distant/Immediate Illusory Rope & Inhibit Escape), which is a combination of an Illusion and a Compulsion.

Miracles are dependent on spirits, gods, and demons. A character with a high Piety and Miracle Skill category base chance is more likely to get the attention of an appropriate entity. However, there is another way of getting this attention, which is Thaumaturgy. This is basically a way of using Magic to Invoke a Deity through a special type of Spell. Diabolists are people who sell their soul (that is to say, their LP) to a Demon in exchange for power.

Blah blah blah, animals, humanoids, skin shifters/weres. Dragons have ridiculously high BP and consequently base damage for their natural weapons, plus armor multipliers. Undead have no LP and so can't heal anything other than EP, but Ghosts (for instance) don't have any BP either. Vampires, oddly, don't seem to be able to heal BP at all.

Anyway, that's a quick overview of the basic notes in the main rule book. There's more in the "Culture Packs". Only two Culture Packs were ever published for the game (and were included in the boxed set), for Mythic Greece and Medieval England. Lee Gold was apparently heavily influenced by Robert Graves, as a lot of the concepts in those two Culture Packs are from his works.

So, like I said, a lot of neat ideas. Terrible presentation, and like OD&D there's a great need for the Referee to make interpretations of sections that are not really clearly discussed. This could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing, depending on the needs of a particular game.


  1. 0 comments?

    and this is likely to be the only one blog post about LOA in the whole web.

    People must just read posts, because writing replies is too demanding, or otherwise the world is really dying and we will be surrounded by Dungeons & dragons zombie fans very soon. How sad.

    1. Oh, I don't think it's so much that as it is that I have very few followers as yet. My blog is growing (especially in response to this series, actually), but I have a long way to go before I have the kind of audience enjoyed by the likes of Jeff Rients, Beedo, or -C (which is really all I hope to one day achieve).

    2. I thought i was the only one who was writing posts about obscure rpg's. Nice to meet a "comrade" :)

      I personally liked your posts a lot, i hope you will continue writing. And - if i am given the permission of giving an advice- don't pay too much attention to audience, the important thing is to find like-minded people, and those will always be a few in a lifetime.

    3. Thanks! I'll always keep this blog focused on the things that matter to me. I have a few more obscure games I want to review and discuss (CORPS, Celtic Legends, Lords of Creation, The Swing, a few others), but after those I may be taking a break from this series for a bit.

      I am still thinking about what I want to do when I am not writing about obscure games specifically, though!